Authors: J. D. Robb
“The one he left me for, of course.” She started to push to her feet, swayed, sat again, pale as death. “Marcella Horowitz.”
“Ms. Horowitz was out of town, that’s verified, at the time of his death. I’d like to verify your whereabouts, Ms. Pettigrew.”
“You think I’d hurt him, kill him? I loved him.” Now she pressed a hand to her heart. “Despite everything, I loved him. He’s the love of my life.”
Eyes brimming, she looked up at the portrait. “I’m like Grand that way. We love forever. How did it happen? How did this terrible thing happen to Thaddeus?”
With her eyes steady on that pale face, those shocked eyes, Eve pressed. “Your whereabouts, Ms. Pettigrew.”
“Here. I was here.” Darla fumbled a napkin off the coffee tray, dabbed at her streaming eyes. “I rarely go out. I told you my grandmother isn’t well. I’m her primary caregiver.”
“Was anyone with you?”
“Grand, of course. The day nurse left at five. She’s very pleased with Grand’s progress. We took a short walk yesterday afternoon, then the nurse helped her bathe.
“I can’t think, I just can’t think! Oh, Thaddeus.”
“And after the nurse left,” Eve prompted.
“We had dinner about six, I think. Grand was already tired—she tires so easily. It frustrates her, as she’s always been so active. By around eight, I had her in bed, and we watched a vid. She drifted off watching it, but I sat with her, finished watching it. I went to my own room to read. I keep an intercom by the bed so I can hear her if she’s restless or ill. I checked on her before I went to bed. I think by midnight. I woke about three, I think. I don’t know why. I thought I heard her, but when I went in to check, she was fine. Sleeping. I went back to bed.
“I haven’t been out of the house since we took the walk with Donnalou—the nurse. Thaddeus,” she murmured as those brimming eyes spilled over again. “I just can’t believe it. Did I wake because I sensed … That’s crazy, I know it’s crazy, but I woke and felt something was wrong. I thought it was Grand.
She pushed to her feet. “I’m sorry, you have to excuse me a moment. I need a moment.” She rushed out of the room.
“Man. This hit her hard.”
“You think?” Eve said, cold and cynical. “You’re married for a chunk of your life to a guy who decides to ditch you for a younger skirt, and
takes the bulk of the money from a company you co-own—and maybe, like the divorce, didn’t want to sell. Are you going to still have stars in your eyes over him?”
“Well, probably not,” Peabody admitted. “But some people do hang on to what was. And maybe hold on to hope they can get it back. Like if Roarke pulled something stupid like that, you wouldn’t be able to just turn off how you feel about him.”
“Maybe not. But I’d have already peeled the skin from his body, fried it up, and fed it to the wolves.”
“Huh.” Peabody drank more coffee. “Some people just get their hearts broken. Still…”
She trailed off as a panel in the wall opened, and a woman stepped out.
Eloise Callahan was no longer the vibrant young bride in the painting, but she wore her ninety-plus years well. Her hair, still blond—with, Eve assumed, plenty of assistance—waved around a face where beauty hadn’t faded. It lived in the bones, in the eyes the same blue as the chandelier.
She looked frail, a little pale, but had obviously gone to some trouble to counteract that with expertly applied enhancers, with the silky flow of black pants and a rose-pink tunic.
Peabody surged to her feet, actually stammered. “Oh-oh, Ms. Callahan.”
“Detective Peabody.” Her voice, like the silk, came soft and smooth as she slowly crossed the room. “What a treat! Ariel said we had visitors, and finally told me who. I am such a fan! Eve Dallas. Oh my.” She clasped Peabody’s hand, then Eve’s before she lowered herself into a chair.
“I want to thank you both for all you do for the city I love. I came here to lose myself after I lost my love.” She looked to the painting. “Beautiful, weren’t they? The city, its energy, kept me going, helped
me push myself back into the world, back into the work Bradley and I both loved.”
“I … my granny marched with you,” Peabody blurted out.
“Oh? Did she? Who’s your granny?”
“No! Josie?” Eloise let out a bright laugh, clapped her hands together. “Josie, really? How marvelous! I’ll be damned. I remember Josie so, so well. What a spitfire. Tell me she’s still with us.”
“Yes, ma’am, and still a spitfire.”
“Of course she is.” She laughed again, full and rich. “Oh, what times we had. You tell Josie that El sends her the very best. God, what times we had,” she repeated. “Changed the world some, too, by God! Is that black coffee?” she asked Eve.
“Could I just…”
Bemused, Eve handed Eloise her cup.
“Darla’s so strict about my caffeine intake these days. It’s juice, meds, water, juice, meds, water.” After a roll of her lovely eyes, Eloise sipped the coffee, sighed in pleasure. “That’s what I’m talking about.” She took another sip, then handed the cup back. “Our secret,” she said with those crystal eyes sparkling.
“She takes such good care of me—too much of her time doing so. I’ve been under the weather recently, and I’m past the age where I just bounce back. Pissed me off, if you want to know the truth.” She sighed again. “Now tell me, what brings New York’s finest to my door today?”
Before Eve could respond, Eloise glanced toward the arch. Age, Eve concluded, hadn’t hurt her hearing. At the sound of footsteps, Eloise grinned. “Uh-oh, busted.”
Darla, composed again, stepped in. But grief lived in her swollen, red-rimmed eyes. Age also hadn’t dimmed Eloise’s vision.
“Darla!” When she pushed to her feet, wobbled a bit, Eve moved quickly to steady her. “What’s the matter? Sweetie, what happened?”
“Oh, Grand.” Composure cracked, and fresh tears spilled through the fissures. “It’s Thaddeus. He’s dead. Thaddeus is dead.”
“Dead?” Eloise opened her arms as Darla rushed into them. “Oh, my poor, sweet girl. Here now, you sit.” She steered Darla to a sofa so she could sit beside her, keep an arm around her. “I’m so sorry, Darla. So sorry.”
She looked over at Eve as she soothed and stroked. “Jesus, I’m slow this morning. You’re Homicide. I should have known it was something like this, but I was so delighted to meet you both, I didn’t take the next step.”
“You should rest,” Darla began. “You shouldn’t get upset.”
“I’m fine, just fine. You stop. We’ll get you a soother.”
“No, no, I have to feel. I have to get through it. Oh, Grand, someone killed Thaddeus.”
“I know. I know. We’ll get through it together. How did it happen?” Eloise asked Eve.
“We’re investigating. I can tell you he left his residence in the company of an as yet unidentified female at approximately nine
. last night. His body was discovered at his residence several hours later.”
“At?” Eloise frowned as she hugged Darla to her side. “Outside? You didn’t say in, but at.”
Sharp mind, too, Eve concluded. “That’s correct.”
Eloise started to speak, then as Darla continued to struggle beside her, appeared to change her mind. “He lived with a woman. But I’m sure you know that, know about Marcella. So the woman wasn’t she?”
“Also correct, as Ms. Horowitz was out of town at the time, and with several other women. We will, however, speak with her and confirm.”
“How can we help?”
“We need to verify Ms. Pettigrew’s whereabouts from nine
. to five
Darla sobbed, struggled to compose herself. “They think I hurt Thaddeus.”
“Oh, don’t be silly. You’re upset, but you’re not stupid. They need to know to eliminate you from suspicion. You were married, sweetie, and—I’m sure they know, too—he tossed you aside for Marcella.”
Eloise cuddled Darla close.
“Darla was here.” She spoke firmly, eyes direct on Eve’s. “We were watching a vid. I’m afraid I fell asleep—I tire out much too easily. But we were settled in for the night. You checked on me,” she said to Darla. “I don’t know the precise time, and I admit I was half-asleep, but I remember you laying your hand on my forehead to check for fever. Which I haven’t had in weeks.”
She squeezed Darla’s hand. “Darla moved here with me, at my request, during the divorce. Thaddeus, his betrayal, hurt her very deeply.”
“You helped me so much, Grand.” The picture of grief, Darla pressed her face into her grandmother’s shoulder. “You helped me get through it.”
“We’ve helped each other.” The sweetness in the tone vanished as Eloise looked back at Eve.
Here was a woman with fiber and spine.
“More, Darla had her own company, one she’d worked so hard to build, and he cheated her out of her fair share, insisted as part of the divorce they sell it.”
“If you’d built it, Ms. Pettigrew, how did he force you to sell?”
Still holding Eloise, Darla wiped at her eyes. “Because Grand’s wrong,” she said with a sigh. “Sometimes I can be stupid. I gifted him the majority. It was supposed to be for tax purposes, estate purposes. I believed that, and I believed him. And I simply didn’t notice he used
that majority to draw funds from the company until it was too late. I had to agree to the sale or the company would sink. And me with it. And, to be honest, I didn’t have the spine to fight him. But I got through it, with Grand’s help. She pushed me until I finally agreed to go to a support group, and they helped, too.”
Big buzz, Eve thought. “What support group is that?”
“Women For Women. Going showed me I wasn’t alone, and I hadn’t been stupid as much as I’d simply loved and believed someone who’d betrayed me. I haven’t been in months now because I did get through it. I did!”
“And you wouldn’t leave me when I was ill.” Stroking, Eloise spoke gently. “You should go back for a booster, sweetie. We all need our women to encircle us in hard times.”
“Maybe. Yes, maybe I will.”
“In this group,” Eve said, “you shared the issues and details of your marriage, divorce?”
Darla cast her swollen, red-rimmed eyes down. “Yeah, that’s the point. To share. It’s private—you agree to that going in, and that helps encourage you to share, to open. We all only use first names.”
“Did you attend any meetings with a Jasmine or a Leah?”
Darla’s shoulders drew in. “I—it’s confidential. I don’t feel right saying yes or no.”
“It may help with the investigation.”
“I don’t see how—”
“It’s not your job to see how,” Eloise put in, still gentle but firm. “It’s theirs, sweetie.”
Darla sighed. “It still doesn’t feel right, but yes. A Leah and a Jasmine were both in group, at least for a while. As I said, I haven’t been in months, and I’m pretty sure both of them stopped coming even long before that. How could that help? How could that have anything to do with Thaddeus?”
“We’ll find out. I want to thank you for your cooperation and your time.”
“Lieutenant,” Darla began as Eve and Peabody rose. “I know we were no longer married, but … Will you tell me if you find a suspect? If you find who did this to Thaddeus?”
“We’ll relay any information that’s appropriate.”
“Thank you. I’ll walk you out.”
“I’ll do that.” Eloise also got to her feet. “I need to move, remember? And I’m starving, Darla. Would you go back and see that breakfast gets going?”
“Absolutely! I’m so glad you’re hungry. Grand’s appetite hasn’t been the best,” she explained. “I hope you find the person who did this. I hope you find them soon.”
Darla went out, and Eloise slowly started forward.
“What did you want to say?” Eve asked her.
“You’re very astute. Two things, actually,” she said as she led them into the foyer. “First, I’m going to say I’m not sorry he’s dead, but that’s personal. I’m sorry for Darla because this upsets her, and she’ll grieve. The other’s a question. The way you said he’d gone with someone, then hours later his body … Left outside his house. I’ve spent far too much time watching the screen these last couple of weeks since I’m better but not all the way back. Was this, was Thaddeus like the man—I can’t recall the name—left outside his apartment building?”
Word would be out soon enough. “There are similarities.”
“Oh dear God. I’ll keep her away from the news as much as I can. That will crush her. Find him.” She took both Peabody’s and Eve’s hand. “Find who’s doing this. I hope we’ll see each other again, in happier times.”
s going to flip when
“Which is, of course, the main point of this exercise.”
“Just getting it out of the way,” Peabody said breezily as they got in the car. “Darla Pettigrew’s alibi’s shaky, and she has motive.”
“On the other side, her grief seemed genuine. So did her devotion to her grandmother.”
Considering, Peabody looked back at the house. “It’s hard to believe she’d leave her grandmother alone, potentially for a number of hours, while she’s recovering from a long illness.”
As she pulled away, Eve glanced at the rearview mirror. “Big house. I bet there are a lot of private, soundproofed rooms where you could torture a man to death while keeping tabs on Granny.”
Peabody’s eyebrows rose. “You like her for it?”
“She’s on the list.”
“You really think she’d torture, mutilate, and kill McEnroy and her ex while her ninety-odd-year-old grandmother’s sleeping in the same house?”
“That’s exactly why it’s damn good cover—because that’s going to be the expected reaction. She’s on the list,” Eve repeated. “High on the list. Interesting she brought up the support group before we asked.”
“You think that’s suspicious?” Baffled, Peabody shifted to study Eve’s profile. She knew her partner, understood Eve felt a vibe she hadn’t. “I mean she was talking about how her grandmother helped her, and one of the ways was to nudge her into a support group.”
“Not suspicious necessarily, but convenient. Convenient for us, too. We’ve got the connection now. High probability one or more of the support group killed two men. Let’s track down the woman who runs the group.”
“Already on it. They’ve got a web page,” Peabody said as she worked her PPC. “No names or contact numbers—that anonymous deal, I guess. There’s like, a mission statement.
“‘Women For Women offers support without judgment for women from women. We stand for each other through divorce, infidelity, loss, harassment, rape, depression, recovery, and whatever difficulties you face as a woman.
“‘Our group offers a unique understanding of the issues women face in their daily lives. If you need someone to listen, we’re here.’”
Peabody scrolled on. “It says the group’s led by a licensed therapist who will provide recommendations for shelters, legal representation, rehabilitation facilities upon request. McNab showed me a few tricks,” she told Eve. “Let me see if I can dig out the IP, a name, a location.”
“Meanwhile, plug in the meeting site. We’ll try that.”
Peabody programmed the address, then rolled her shoulders, started punching keys.
Eve gave Peabody silence, and herself some thinking time as she headed back downtown.
Big house, she thought again. And there’d been a garage so probably a vehicle. Very private residence. Good potential.
Then again, the grandmother had seemed on the frail and shaky side, like a woman recovering from a bad illness. Wouldn’t hurt to check that, just make sure the pneumonia thing wasn’t a cover.
Low probability there. Which made it tough to see a devoted granddaughter leaving her frail and shaky grandmother alone for however long it took to lure the target, get the target back to the very private residence.
But … way overblown on the grief for a cheating ex.
Darla mentioned a day nurse, Eve thought. Maybe she’d hired a night nurse, someone who’d cover while she was busy elsewhere. Maybe off the books.
“Holy shit, check me!” Bouncing, Peabody pumped a fist in the air. “I got it. IP’s registered to Kendra Zula. Hold on, I can get the address. Hey, it’s a couple blocks from the meeting site. We’re already on our way.”
“Thanks. Want me to run her?”
“What do you think?”
“I think you want me to run her. Jeez, she’s only twenty-one. A student at NYU. Parents cohabbed, no marriage. Father’s living in Kenya, like Africa. No sibs. Mother lives at the same address. Natalia Zula.”
“Mother runs the group, daughter set up the page,” Eve surmised. “Run the mother.”
“Natalia Zula, age forty-four, and yeah, a licensed therapist. Licensed since ’56. She has a practice, specializes in women and kids. Looks like she runs the practice out of the same address.”
“Then it should be easy to find her.”
She found the address, a slim duplex on the edges of NoHo. Someone had painted the front entrance door a deep blue. On the small pad up the short steps from the sidewalk sat a boldly striped pot where something poked up green through the soil.
Good security, Eve noted as she rang the bell. A woman’s voice—not a comp—answered, “How can I help you?”
“Lieutenant Dallas and Detective Peabody, NYPSD. We need to speak with Natalia Zula.”
She must have come on the run, as the door swung open before Eve finished, and the woman who answered breathed fast. “Kendra.”
“Is fine as far as we know. We’re here about another matter.”
“Oh God.” She pressed a hand to her heart. “My daughter, Kendra, stayed over with a friend last night. I was afraid— Sorry. Can I see your identification?”
Eve pulled out her badge, studied the woman as the woman studied the badge.
Tall, well built, but that ebony skin would be hard to disguise, and the unsub wasn’t—according to the wits—black. She had diamond-edged cheekbones, huge dark eyes, and black hair that spilled to her shoulders in dozens of thin braids.
She wore a simple, well-cut navy suit, sensible shoes, and a crisp white shirt.
“Thank you. Please come in. Perhaps we should go into my office.”
She had the faintest accent, musical, precise, and led the way down the hallway into a room with a small desk, a couple of good-size chairs in soft gray, a sofa in navy. The art on the walls depicted flowers in meadows, quiet forests, winding rivers.
“Please sit. May I offer you tea?”
“We’re good, thanks.”
Natalia sat behind the desk, folded her hands on its surface. “How may I help?”
“You run a support group, Women For Women.”
“I do, but this is a confidential matter. Any who attend are promised that confidence.”
“Two men have been murdered, Ms. Zula. Your group connects them.”
She sat back abruptly, as if punched. “But no. We have no men in the group. It’s only for women.”
“A woman killed them.”
“Ah.” She closed her eyes a moment. “I can assure you, our group promotes support, understanding, steps toward peace, recovery, stability. We do not promote or sanction violence.”
“That may be, but there’s a connection. Both men were involved with women who attended your group. The women attended your group because of experiences with these men.”
Worry clouded those dark eyes now. “I see. But surely these men were connected in other ways to have been killed together.”
“Not together. Nigel McEnroy was murdered night before last.”
“I heard this. I don’t know the name, but I heard of his murder.”
“You’ll also hear Thaddeus Pettigrew was murdered, the same method, last night.”
“I— This is terrible, but I don’t understand. You’re saying these men didn’t know each other?”
“Not that we can ascertain. Two women who worked in McEnroy’s office have given either me or my partner statements attesting to the fact that he drugged and raped them. They both attended your group. Pettigrew’s ex-wife, whom he left for another woman and, according to her statement, cheated her financially as well, attended your group.”
“But…” She lifted a hand, pressed it to the base of her throat. “You cannot believe these women somehow worked together to kill.”
She holds calm, steady, Eve thought, despite the growing concern on her face.
“Evidence indicates more than one person may be involved. And I believe there will be other men, other murders unless we identify and stop this person or these persons.”
“I don’t know how to help you.”
“We need the names of women who’ve attended your group sessions over the last three years.”
“But I cannot.”
“We can and will get a warrant.”
“No, no, I mean to say I literally cannot. Above even the need to keep confidential, I have only first names—and many may not use their real name even then. I keep no records from the group. It is simply a place, a safe place, where these women can come when they feel the need, where they can say what they need to say and not be judged.”
“You have notes. How could you remember who comes, what they need, what’s happened to them if you didn’t keep notes?”
“I have notes, yes, with first names.” With those deep, liquid eyes trained on Eve, Natalia turned her hands palms up. “Please understand I want to help, but if I gave them to you, how could any of the women trust me? If you get a warrant, I will have no choice but to obey the law.”
“All right. Peabody, see if Yancy’s got the sketch from the McEnroy witness.”
“I’m sorry I can’t give you what you want without this,” Natalia continued. “I feel if another dies, I’m responsible, too. And yet, the ones who come to us are hurt or frightened, broken or despairing. A woman beaten who blames herself for the blows. A woman discarded who wonders why she wasn’t enough. I was one of them once.”
“It would help if you give us your whereabouts between nine last night and five this morning.”
“I understand. I also connect.” And still calm, still steady, Natalia took a breath. “Last night I was with a man. His name is Geo Fong. He’s a good man, I think, but I’ve been wrong before. We’ve been seeing each other for several months, and I don’t think I’m wrong. Last night, I made him dinner. He came at seven, and after dinner, we went upstairs and were together. My daughter, as I said, was at a friend’s. He left only shortly before you arrived.”
“And the night before?”
“With my daughter. We had dinner out, went to the vids. Then we came home and talked until almost midnight. She believes she’s in love. He seems a nice boy. I hope he is. She’s my world, Lieutenant. I can swear to you, I would do nothing that would hurt her. And if her mother took a life, she would be deeply hurt. Lost.”
With the faintest smile, Natalia turned around a framed photo to show Eve and Peabody a pretty girl with her mother’s eyes.
“My world,” she said again. “Her father left when she was only a baby. I came to America with my parents—they are doctors. They hoped I would follow that path, but I fell in love, and then there was Kendra. It hurt my heart when he left, but I had her. I had my world. And then there was a man, one I thought a good man. I let him into our lives. I learned, when my beautiful girl was just fifteen, he had … touched her. She was afraid to tell me at first, and I was blind. But when she did, finally did, I took her to a doctor. I took her to the police.”
“What happened to the man?”
“He’s in prison. And he will be for a long time more. He had pictures of my child he’d taken when she didn’t know. When she was in the shower, or in bed. I was here, but I didn’t see. He forced himself on my child, told her he would deny and I would believe, told her he would kill me. Told her many things. But he’s in prison now, and my girl is well. She trusted me, and we trusted the police. If ever I had it inside me to kill, he would be dead.”
Peabody rose, held out her PPC. “Do you recognize this woman?”
Natalia studied it, rose, took the PPC to the window to look at it in stronger light. “I think she’s very beautiful, but I don’t think I know her. I don’t think she comes to our group. I would say yes if I did. I wouldn’t give you more, but I would not lie.”
“I believe you. We’ll get the warrant. Have you shared your story in group?”
“Of course.” She lifted her ringless hands. “How can I ask for trust if I don’t trust? But he’s in prison.”
And justice was met, Eve thought.
“If you’d give my partner Mr. Fong’s contact information, we’ll verify.”
Natalia gave it, then rose. “I hope you’re wrong. I hope you find it’s no one who’s come into our circle.”
You can hope, Eve thought. But I’m not wrong.
She headed to the morgue next.
“Push for the warrant, Peabody,” she said as she drove. “First names only don’t give us much, but it’s better than nothing. And I want to talk to whoever booked Pettigrew’s LCs. Let’s see if he had a type.”
“On that. Do you want me to contact Zula’s alibi, see if it holds up?”
“Yeah, we’ll get to it. It’s going to.” When her ’link signaled, she answered through the in-dash. “Dallas.”
“This is Bondita Rothchild, Marcella’s mother. We’re en route to the city, and should be there within the hour.”
“All right, Ms. Rothchild, we’ll come to you.”
“I’m taking Marcella home with me. I don’t want her in that house.” She rattled off an address in Cobble Hill, which meant a trip across the river into Brooklyn.
“We’ll come to you,” Eve repeated. “About ninety minutes.”
“I’ll expect you to be respectful of Marcella’s delicate emotional state,” Bondita added before she clicked off.
Once they’d parked, started down the tunnel, Peabody checked her own ’link. “The warrant’s in the works.”
“See who’s loose in the bullpen. I’d rather a detective, but a uniform will do. Have them serve it, get the data.”
As they approached Morris’s doors, her comm signaled. “What now?” Then she read Commander Whitney on the readout, and had a pretty good idea what now. “Dallas. Sir.”
“Lieutenant. You’re needed in The Tower for a conversation with Chief Tibble.”
That proved a higher what now than she’d expected. “Commander, I’m in the field, currently at the morgue about to speak to Dr. Morris regarding Thaddeus Pettigrew, who all evidence indicates is the second victim in my current investigation. We also have an interview with Pettigrew’s live-in scheduled in ninety minutes.”
“Report to The Tower at thirteen hundred hours.”
“Yes, sir.” She stuffed her comm back in her pocket. “Geena McEnroy.”
“She went straight to the top,” Peabody commented. “At least we’ve got some time to interview Horowitz.”