Beauty & the beast some.., p.13
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       Beauty & the Beast: Some Gave All, p.13

           Nancy Holder
 
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  “I have ordered the footage.” He pressed his hands together and inclined his head. “I shall seek enlightenment.” He was making fun of himself a little. Cat warmed a bit.

  Maybe he wasn’t so bad.

  “And may I say that if you would stop eating sugar, you wouldn’t wrinkle. It’s called White Death for a reason.”

  “Wrinkle?” she repeated.

  “Oh, it’s very faint,” he assured her. “Only someone who would really scrutinize you would notice.”

  Like you? Like Vincent? Cat rarely took the time to be insecure about her looks. She had more important things to worry about. But this answered the basic question: Sky was bad.

  “And you should try a colonic. Lemon and ginger. A great detox.”

  Cat wasn’t sure what a colonic was. But it had the word “colon” in it so she figured that she had a good idea what it entailed. No pun intended.

  She cleared her throat. “Okay, let me know when the footage gets sent over. I’m going to run down some leads. We can meet up later. How about we debrief over lunch?”

  He hesitated. “You don’t mean in the precinct dining room. What they serve in there is not food.”

  “When have you had time to eat there?” she asked skeptically.

  “I had breakfast there this morning.” He made a face. “Or what they’re calling breakfast. I can feel my bowels shutting down.”

  “Well, we could eat someplace else. You worship Shiva, right? So, Indian food?”

  “I don’t worship Shiva,” he began. “How about I pick out a restaurant and introduce you to food that will extend your life, not send you to an early grave.”

  “Sounds yummy,” she quipped. But he didn’t realize she was joking. “Just text me the name and I’ll meet you there.”

  She took her leave and dialed Tess’s cell phone number. She was going to go back over the six original crime scenes to see if she could find anything that might connect them to the fresh leads J.T. had sent over. Tess didn’t pick up. Cat looked over at her closed office door. Senya Fitzwilliams, Tess’s secretary, was seated at her desk outside. She caught Cat’s eye and said, “Captain Vargas got waylaid on her way here. There’s another demonstration.”

  Poor Tess, Cat thought. She went out the back and then circled around to the front of the building. Since as a detective Cat dressed in street clothes, there was no way for any of the protestors to identify her as a cop unless they spotted her badge. She made no move to conceal as she joined a large mob—there might have been as many as five hundred people completely blocking the street. Police officers on horseback watched carefully; squad cars with blue marbles pinballing in their grates had closed the street completely, and traffic cops were diverting angry motorists. In New York, you had to file for a permit to hold a demonstration. But this looked spontaneous. Men and women were jeering and booing at Tess, who was standing on the steps leading into the precinct flanked by the mayor and the NYPD Chief of Police. Signs read STOP JACK THE RIPPER and VARGAS STEP DOWN. There were camera crews. People were recording on their smartphones. What a mess.

  “We have every faith in Captain Vargas,” the chief was saying into a microphone as Tess gazed calmly at the surging mob. Rarely had Cat been more proud of her. And she was grateful that it was Tess up there and not her. She had no ambitions toward becoming a captain.

  She waved at Tess, but she didn’t think Tess saw her. Then she phoned J.T. and said, “There was footage of Julia Hogan at an ATM machine in Brooklyn. From four days ago. Her transaction was never completed. Sky’s going to get the footage.”

  “I’m guessing that we’re both thinking beast attack,” J.T. said.

  “We are. Tess is stuck here. There’s another demonstration. I’ll go to Karl Tiptree’s apartment myself.”

  “With or without Sky?”

  “Without,” she said firmly. “I’m not bringing him into this at all.” She grimaced. “Which leaves him on his own if the footage shows up in his inbox while I’m gone. And if there’s evidence of a beast attack…”

  “On the bright side, if he is the beast-maker or the operative of same, he already knows what he’s going to see on the footage. He’ll have to lie to you about what’s on it. Since I’ll make sure I get it blind copied to my email address, we’ll catch him lying to you.”

  “There is that,” she deadpanned.

  “Is Tess okay?”

  Cat considered her words. “Tess has always been able to take on whatever’s been thrown at her. I don’t think she’s loving this, but it won’t break her, if that’s what you’re asking.”

  “It is,” he said softly.

  He really loves her. I hope this works out for them.

  “I’m sure she’s glad you’re here,” she added.

  “It’s just… you guys like this kind of stuff. All this danger.”

  “No, J.T. We like solving cases.” Actually, he had a point. Chasing after perps, preparing for action, even the firefight last night, tragic as it had proven to be, had given her a rush. A detective’s job was both physical and mental. The perfect combination, as far as she was concerned.

  They disconnected and she took a squad car to Tiptree’s last known address. Vincent had visited the crime scene after CSU had cleared it and come away with no beast evidence. The 125th had received the workup from the citywide homicide squad. To Cat’s exacting eyes, it had been light on facts. No one had dug deeply into Tiptree’s activities. Maybe someone had told them not to.

  Maybe that someone was the beast-maker who had bought serum from Tiptree.

  The apartment was empty now and Mrs. Steinmetz, the landlady, accompanied her, unlocking the door herself. Mrs. Steinmetz told her that the police had given her the name of a company that cleaned crime scenes. They had ripped up the carpet and scrubbed the walls with bleach. It had taken four coats of dark green paint to hide the bloodstains, and the floor had been completely ripped out and replaced. But word must have gotten out that someone had been murdered in the apartment, because she was having no luck getting it rented out. In fact, three tenants—the ones directly across the hall and on either side of Mrs. Steinmetz—had given notice. The savagery of the attack had started a panic.

  “Please feel free to do all the looking you want,” the woman said, leaving Catherine to it. “I would prefer to stay out here.” She swallowed hard. “I’m sure you understand.”

  That was good; Cat could conduct a more aggressive search without a landlady hovering over her. Mrs. Steinmetz shut the front door, effectively sealing Cat in, and Cat went to work. First she did a sweep of each bare room. It was so much easier to clear a crime scene devoid of furnishings and possessions. But that also meant that all the good stuff had been taken. Even the curtains were gone. No doubt bagged and tagged and on their way to testing.

  She was nothing if not thorough. Wearing gloves, she pulled out the plug-in stovetop burners and looked underneath them. She unscrewed the air vents and felt around in the space. She examined the toilet tank. She walked across the living room. A board creaked. She stopped and walked back over it. More creaking. Dropping to her knees, she pressed on the board. It was loose but it hadn’t been pried up.

  As she began to rise, she happened to turn her head to the left. A faint outline on the wall flush with the baseboard suggested that it had been patched.

  Meaning that the wall had been damaged—not too surprising given the level of violence described in the police report. She got up and walked over, then used a martial arts back kick, employing the force of the sole of her foot, to break the plaster exterior. Jagged pieces fell to the floor, revealing a small hole. She crouched down.

  And in that hole was a metal canister—about the length of her index finger, and the circumference the approximate size of her index, middle, and ring fingers compressed into a bundle. A vial.

  “Huh,” she murmured. It was a miracle that it hadn’t been spotted by whoever had done the repairs. She’d check into that, make sure they hadn
’t meant to leave it there until the heat died down and someone came to retrieve it.

  It was crimp-capped shut, meaning that she couldn’t simply unscrew the lid. Not that that was a good idea anyway. For all she knew, what was in here was some kind of nerve gas that created irreversible brain damage.

  She took a picture of it and emailed it to J.T. Then she felt along each wall, knocking at intervals to see if there were any more hollowed-out hidey-holes. She took her time, since this might be the only opportunity she would have to get in here. A swift glance at her watch told her that she needed to call Sky to cancel lunch.

  She dialed Sky’s phone and he answered right away.

  “The bank’s cooperating,” he said by way of greeting. “They’re looking for the correct date and time to get the footage to us. They said most likely scenario would be that they’d just email it.”

  “Good work,” she told him, crossing her fingers that J.T. would hack in faster and take a look without leaving a footprint that he’d done it. The longer she knew J.T., the greater her admiration for him. He might save an extra dose of snark for her now and then, but the combination of his loyalty toward Vincent and his brilliance and dedication to solving cases and keeping Vincent safe made him a keeper.

  The front door opened and Mrs. Steinmetz said in a small voice, “Did you find anything?”

  Cat had already debated informing her of the hole, and decided not to. For all Cat knew, Mrs. Steinmetz was an accomplice, or the beast-maker. Not disclosing damage during a police search might not gain the department any new fans, but she had to control the investigation as best she could. If she told Mrs. Steinmetz about the hole, it was possible that the bad guys would know she’d found the serum. But it might be quite a while until Mrs. Steinmetz discovered the damage—hopefully after the case had been solved. Since the landlady claimed that she never actually came into the apartment, Cat pinned her hopes on that scenario.

  As with all police work, Cat had to assess how much of her resources—in this case, time—to allot to each aspect of a case. She could spend a week going over each square inch of this apartment, or she could assume that she had already found the pearl in the oyster and move on.

  “I’m finished,” she said, deciding on the latter. “I was actually here just to verify some of the measurements in the report.”

  “Oh, I have a floor plan I can give you,” the woman said. “Come with me.”

  Cat followed her into an overheated apartment that smelled of boiled cabbage—to Cat, a stereotypical New York City smell—and she occupied herself with looking at the many framed photographs on the walls as Mrs. Steinmetz fetched a stack of folded flyers from a dresser.

  “I had these made up for potential renters,” she said, handing one to Cat. “I haven’t gotten rid of a single one.”

  Cat unfolded it to see a floor plan, a breakdown of utilities and deposits, and a little bit of history about the building. As she put it in her purse, she said, “This will be very helpful. Thank you.” She gestured to the photograph. “I couldn’t help but notice this picture. The young woman looks so much like you.”

  The woman smiled proudly, her anxious demeanor transforming on a dime. “That’s what Dr. Tiptree said. He said she had my eyes. That’s my grand-niece, Heidi. She’s a graduate student at Northam now.”

  Something tugged at the back of Cat’s mind. She took a quick picture of it with her phone as Mrs. Steinmetz returned the flyers to the dresser. “What’s her field?”

  “Biology of some sort.”

  Another beat as Cat worked to keep her poker face. She had to be J.T.’s lead, Heidi Schwann.

  “I’m afraid it’s a little too advanced for me. She and Dr. Tiptree used to talk about it together. I’d let him know when she was coming for a visit. We’d have some tea and cookies and play cards.” She paled, as if the fact of his death was creeping back into the forefront of her mind. “I think he might have been a little sweet on her but of course he was way too old for her. He was always respectful. I don’t think she ever knew.”

  Maybe, but maybe not. Cat tried out a scenario where Tiptree recruited Heidi to assist him in beast-making, or possibly, creating the fear serum. Maybe he simply examined her research. A third option was that she had spied on J.T. for him. It was possible that she’d ransacked his office and given the signal to have him kidnapped.

  “Does Heidi live here with you?” Cat asked.

  “Oh, no. She has a place closer to the university. I’m glad of that, especially with everything that’s happened.” Mrs. Steinmetz cocked her head. “I did tell the other police officer about this. I believe he even went to speak to Heidi about Dr. Tiptree.”

  Cat went on high alert. She had seen the file for the Tiptree homicide and there’d been no mention of a Heidi Schwann. Either the documents she’d seen had been redacted—censored—or someone had impersonated an officer and come to dig for information. Possibly they’d been searching for the vial, too.

  “Huh,” Cat said casually, “I must have missed that report. Do you happen to remember the name of that officer?”

  Mrs. Steinmetz managed a wan smile, nothing as genuine as the real pleasure she had taken in talking about her grand-niece. “Yes. It was Officer Coffey. I thought that was such a funny name.”

  Whoa, Cat thought, and a kaleidoscope of possible scenarios spun through her mind. She allowed them as much of her attention as possible, since each one could demand a different set of answers. That meant that she would have to ask Mrs. Steinmetz different sets of follow-up questions. But she was starting to feel the pressure of time, so she attempted to keep her next question as broad as possible, to cover as much ground as she could.

  “Did Dr. Tiptree have any visitors on a regular basis?” She smiled. “I know that might be in the report, but since I’m here, I may as well ask.”

  “Would you like some tea?” Mrs. Steinmetz said hopefully. The interview was shaking her up. For that, Cat was sorry. But although she would like to be gentle, her focus had to be solving the case. Preparing tea would make the elderly lady feel helpful and create a bond with her. Cat would make a bit of time for that.

  “Yes, that would be so nice. Do you have a restroom I might use?”

  “Down the hall. First left.”

  Cat thanked her and went into the bathroom. She whipped out her phone, hoping for bars, and murmured “Yes” when she found she had excellent cell coverage. She immediately called J.T.

  “I got the picture of the cylinder,” he said as soon as the connection was made. “Did you open it?”

  “Couldn’t,” she said, “and I didn’t think I should, anyway.” She moved on quickly. “I’m in the apartment of Tiptree’s landlady. I’m sure she’s Heidi Schwann’s great-aunt. I’m sending you shot of a photograph on her wall to confirm.” She texted it.

  “Hold on.” He came back on the line. “Oh, my God. It is Heidi.”

  “Well, she and Tiptree were friends. Or friendly. He would come to Mrs. Steinmetz’s apartment when Heidi was over and she’d talk about her work.”

  “Which was…?”

  “Mrs. Steinmetz has no clue. She just made the tea.”

  “I’m supposed to have lunch with Heidi in about an hour,” J.T. said. “To talk about her becoming my TA next semester. She emailed my university account about twenty minutes ago to confirm.”

  “Are you kidding? So she doesn’t have a clue that you were abducted right in front of her?”

  “Or… that’s the way she’s playing it.”

  “I have more. Mrs. Steinmetz just told me that the other police officer who interviewed Heidi about Tiptree’s death was named Officer Coffey.”

  J.T. was silent for a moment. “It’s time to reconsider the plan to disappear into the Yukon,” he said dolefully. “Luckily, Vincent and I look good in flannel.”

  “But remember, ‘Coffey’ didn’t know if Vincent had been transformed into a beast by Muirfield. I think that’s significant, given wha
t he did know. And if Heidi’s keeping your lunch date, she may really be unaware of what happened to you last night.”

  J.T. exhaled slowly. “Or she may be incredibly ballsy. So now what?”

  “I’ll bring you the cylinder. Then I’ll follow you to your lunch with Heidi. I’ll protect you, J.T. She won’t see me and I’ll be armed. And you’ll wear a wire.”

  He moaned. “And the fun just keeps on coming.”

  “I. Will. Protect. You,” Cat enunciated clearly.

  “Yeah, that’s what they said to President Kennedy,” he quipped. “Where are my Tums?”

  “I’ll be over soon.”

  “I’ll be here. So, hey, have you heard from Vincent? I’ve called him three times and no answer. And you know what that meant last night.” He made a “grr” sound.

  “He must still be at the ruins of the warehouse,” Cat said, prickling with anxiety.

  “Don’t you want to go check on that? Instead of spying on my lunch with Mata Hari? So I can cancel?”

  “We don’t know that she’s complicit.”

  “And the moon is made of green cheese.”

  “Don’t worry, J.T.,” Cat said. “I’ll be there soon.”

  She ended the call and walked back into the living room. Mrs. Steinmetz was busily arranging china plates laden with slabs of coffee cake and silver forks on a small table. Her pleasant bustling contrasted sharply with Mr. Riley’s poignant efforts to deal with Lafferty’s death. Cat renewed her pledge to him to get to the bottom of all this. Maybe right this minute, Vincent was finding answers.

  “I can’t stay long,” she said gently, taking a seat and picking up her fork. “I hate to be so personal, but do you happen to know if Heidi is seeing anyone special?” Detectives were always looking for connections, preferably with threads that could be followed and investigated.

  “I believe she is,” the woman said sweetly. “She’s very excited for him. He just got tenure at the university. He does research into… let’s see… things that glow.”

 
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