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Authors: J. D. Robb

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“Maybe one day I’ll gear myself up to get another office job, but it’s tough knowing I’ll get asked why I left my last job so fast.”

Roarke pulled a case from his pocket, took out a card. “Contact me when you’re ready to look for that office job.”

Rachel glanced at it. Her eyes popped wide. “Are you freaking kidding me?”

“Not in the least. I value strong women who know how to listen and care. I married one.”

Staring at the card, Rachel shook her head, slowly, side to side. “This is a really strange night. Do you know who this is, Una?”

“He’s a police consultant.”

“It’s frigging Roarke.” At Una’s blank look, Rachel shook her head and laughed. “Una’s a little insular, what with shaking off the asshole she married, working, raising a kid. I’ll explain later,” she said to Una.

“You joined the group due to the asshole you shook off?” Eve said to Una.

“He used to hit me, knock me around, and make me have sex.”

“Say the word, Una.” Rachel patted her arm. “Say it.”

“Rape.” Una breathed in and out. “He hit me, and he raped me when he got drunk, when he felt like it. I was afraid to do anything about it for a long time. I was always afraid. I was more afraid after Sam because he said how he’d hurt Sam, or he’d take him and I’d never see him again. He even went to jail once for it, for a while, but it just made it worse. He always found us. Then, like Rachel, I heard about the group. I didn’t say anything the first couple times—nobody makes you. Then I finally talked about it. Natalia helped me and Sam get into a shelter, a really safe place. I got a divorce. He didn’t care so much after that. I don’t know why.”

“She doesn’t get child support,” Rachel said. “He’s supposed to, but he doesn’t, and she doesn’t report it.”

“He leaves us alone. That’s enough. Rachel told me this apartment was going up, and I’d saved, but it wasn’t enough. Then Darla helped. She said one day I’d help someone else. Maybe Arlo doesn’t know where we are. Maybe he does, but doesn’t care. But you’re always afraid.”

“You talked about all of this in the group?”

“Sure.” Rachel shrugged. “That’s the point.”

“Did you name the man who assaulted you, or the business, did you use your ex-husband’s name?”

“Probably. You start getting wound up. I probably said something that like asshole Tyler—James Tyler’s the asshole. And I know Natalia counseled Una not to let Arlo make her live in fear. You, well, you need to put a name on that fear to beat it back, you know?”

“Yes. I need to speak to the other women in the group. I need full names.”

“I guess I know a couple, but I don’t see…” Rachel trailed off before her eyes popped wide again. “Oh my God.”

“Rachel, we can’t betray a confidence.”

“Jesus, Una, don’t you see where she’s going? Oh my God, you’re saying you think someone in the group is doing this? Is killing guys who screwed with us? Killing them.”

She shifted until she faced Una, until she gripped her arm. “That’s making us a part of it, Una. Whoever’s doing it, they’re making us part of murder. We won’t be part of that. Una, we’ve got kids. We’re trying to be people they can be proud of, depend on. We can’t be part of this.”

“Nobody in the group would do something like this,” Una insisted.

“Then give me names,” Eve said simply, “and we’ll clear it up.”

When they left, Eve had three more names, and a possible fourth, as the women disagreed whether one of the group was Sasha Collins or Cullins. They did agree however, she’d recently joined the group after an assault by an ex-boyfriend, and was somewhere in her late twenties or early thirties.

“And so are we off to another interview?” Roarke asked.

Eve, already busy searching for a Sasha Collins or Cullins, just
shook her head. “I’m going to set up interviews at Central tomorrow. Bring them in.”

She kept working as they stepped out of the elevator. “I’ve got a Sasha Cullins who filed a police report on an assault six weeks ago. One Grant Flick, pled guilty—likely because he jumped her outside her apartment building in front of witnesses—is currently serving his time.”

She put her PPC away. She’d nail down the rest at home, have Peabody arrange the interviews.

“You’re thinking,” Roarke began when they crossed the small lobby, stepped outside again, “now that you have several names, the odds of identifying the entire group tip in your favor.”

“That’s right. We got lucky with these two, because Fassley, particularly, is sociable, she’s in the group now to reach out, to lend others support. So she gets closer to other members. She and Ruzaki are friends, neighbors, even coworkers. They talk, share. So, between them, we get more names.”

“And you’ll find one who knows another, and so on.”

“That’s the dream.” She glanced up at him as they walked. “Would you really hire her? Fassley?”

“If she passes a background check, proves competent—as I expect she would on both counts. She has quality. I appreciate quality. And will you, Lieutenant, take a closer look at this James Tyler?”

“Unless he ends up in the morgue before I close this, yeah. If he went at her, he’s gone at others. I can reach out to somebody in Special Victims, put him on the radar.”

“You’re worried someone will end up in the morgue.”

Eve scanned the street, the sidewalk, the people strolling or stampeding along.

“It’d be crazy to risk going after another target tonight, but she could easily do the crazy. And no matter how hard I’m leaning toward
Pettigrew right now, I don’t have enough. Hell, I don’t have anything. Not anything to justify a search warrant, not even enough to put a stakeout on her place.”

“Because anyone in the group would have, at the core, the same motivation.”

“So I have to find more.”

“Then you will,” he said when they reached the lot. When they got into the car, he glanced at her briefly. “You know you must, so you are, looking beyond what your gut tells you. You’re working to identify and interview everyone in the group.”

“That’s just basic cop work.”

“That may be.” He wound the spiffy new car up the levels. “But as you do it, you’re eliminating. You crossed two off your list tonight. You know they weren’t covering for each other,” he added.

“Not impossible, but not probable. Neither own vehicles, neither have licenses to drive and never have. Both have young children—and it’d be easy to check if either got somebody to watch the kids while they went out and murdered somebody. And they’re both the wrong build. No place private or secure enough in that building to kill people. If they have access to a place that is, that brings yet somebody else into it.”

“And you think this is a solo act.”

“Feels like it. I don’t think the killer signs the poems Lady Justice as a dodge. That’s how she sees herself.”

“I agree. As someone enforcing justice, and a lady.”

Frowning, Eve shifted. “I hadn’t juggled in the second part. Sees herself as a lady. Not just female. Maybe. Maybe that’s part of it, part of her. Something to think about. Me, it irritates the crap out of me when somebody calls me lady. But she embraces it.”

“Define
lady
,” he invited.

“Delicate female wuss.”

Laughing, he grabbed her hand, tugged it to his lips. “And yet you are, and always will be, my lady.”

“That doesn’t charge my batts. You define
lady
—outside the marriage rules.”

“In general terms then? A woman well-mannered and well-bred—”

“Leaves me out.”

He simply rolled over her. “It can also mean a woman of rank, of course. Which would include you in the world of cops. And a woman generous and caring of nature.”

“One out of three for me then.”

“Darling Eve, no one would call you well-mannered or well-bred, but it’s clearly two out of three. Regardless, your killer may see herself as any or all of those examples, or simply have enjoyed the ring, we’ll say, of the title.”

He might find it insulting, but he thought like a cop. A good cop. Since he would find it insulting, Eve didn’t mention it.

“Yeah, there’s that. But you know Justice Warrior has a ring, Justice Seeker, and so on. Non–gender specific. She’s proud of being, you know, a lady.”

“Ah, well there you have a fine point. It’s back to Women For Women, isn’t it then?”

“That’s how I see it.” She studied the house as they rolled through the gates. “What’s a lady with a penis?”

“Possibly conflicted.”

“No, I mean a guy lady—the male version.”

“If I’m following, I suppose a lord.”

“Yeah, that could fit you.”

“I’d as soon not be a lady with a penis, if it’s all the same.”

“Forget that part.”

“Happily.”

“Lords sort of rule their domain. It’s a strong word,
lord
. Lady—I go back to wuss. But not in the killer’s mind. It’s something to be proud of.”

“You’re circling back to Darla Pettigrew.”

Yes, she thought, but wondered how he saw it. “Why do you figure that?”

“Well-mannered, well-bred. You could even add a kind of rank as the granddaughter of a legendary star. Caring enough to help a fellow group member.”

Yeah, he thought like a cop.

“It depends, doesn’t it, on if she sees herself that way.”

When he parked, she got out of the car, walked to the door with him. “I’m going to nail down those names, get that going. Are you interested in poking into somebody’s business?”

“My favorite game.”

“Both Eloise and Darla are licensed to drive. None of the vehicles registered to Eloise fit the description of the one seen at the club or the Pettigrew house. There’s no vehicle currently registered in Darla’s name—not her married name, not her birth name. But maybe she’s got herself a couple of buried accounts, maybe a vehicle registered under another name that goes with them.”

She shrugged out of her coat, tossed it over the newel post. “You up for that?”

“Delighted—with a caveat?”

“It that a sex euphemism?”

“Not in this case.” He took her hand as they walked upstairs. “You’ve had a handful of hours of sleep the past two nights combined. You get your names confirmed, get Peabody started on the interviews. I look into this.”

“I don’t see the caveat.”

“No coffee—and you’re in bed, sleeping, inside two hours.”

“How am I supposed to work without coffee?”

He gave her a pat on the butt. “Inner strength.”

While Eve worked and Roarke poked, Arlo Kagen sat on his usual barstool in his usual bar drinking his usual beer and a bump.

In fact his third beer and bump of the evening. The bar—a hole-in-the-wall called Nowhere—served cheap greasy food the booze helped slide down.

Arlo had already finished his mystery meat burger and limp soy fries while he bitched and belched at the Yankees versus Red Sox on the screen.

He didn’t give half a rat’s ass about baseball, considered it a pussy game, but the bartender refused to switch to Arena Ball.

He slurped up more beer, considered ordering some nachos, then noticed the woman come in.

Looked like a street-level whore to him, with the skirt up to her crotch, the fishnet stockings, the tight sweater with half her boobs—nice boobs—spilling out.

She had a lot of purple hair tumbling around to hide half her face—trying to hide the ugly pucker of a scar slashed down her right cheek.

Not much to write home about from the neck up, he thought. But she had it going on from the neck down. In Arlo’s view a woman’s face didn’t much matter when sex was all they were really good for.

He could use a quick bang, if the price was right.

She slid on the stool beside his, ordered a beer in a squeaky voice.

Since she looked like she’d come cheap, and a cheap BJ suited him better than a pussified ball game, he gave the bartender the sign.

“Put it on my tab.”

She looked at Arlo with grateful brown eyes from under the purple hair. “Thanks, handsome.”

“No problem. Haven’t seen you in here before.”

“New turf for me. Just taking a load off. Slow night.” She took a tiny sip of the beer set in front of her, gave him a little flirt. “You come in here a lot?”

“Most nights.”

“I guess I’ll come in more now that I know you hang here.” She took another tiny sip of beer. “Maybe you wanna party?”

“Might. What’s the rate?”

She gave him a smile, ducked her head, tapped a finger on the beer. “You already made a down payment.” She took another sip as she reached over, pressed her hand to his crotch. “You want more, why don’t you finish your beer?”

She leaned in, leaned close. His gaze fixed on her breasts. He didn’t see her pour the contents of a vial in his shot glass.

“Then we can go outside, work out the rate.”

A hell of a lot better than a ball game, he decided. He drained his beer, tossed back the bump. “Let’s go.”

They walked out together, his hand squeezing her ass—and her hand signaling the droid and car on the device in her little purse.

He started to stumble before they reached the corner. She just laughed, held him up, steered him to the waiting car.

“Let’s go for a ride, big guy.”

“Give you a ride. Give you a helluva ride, bitch.”

He passed out before she gave him the second dose. Deciding better safe than sorry, she pinched his nose, tipped back his head, and poured the sedative down his throat.

Pleased, Darla settled back, conserving her energy for the main event.

 

16

The dreams came
,
sliding in like curling fingers of fog over a pool of exhaustion. In them she heard the screams of the tortured and tormented rising shrill behind a wide black door. Duty bound, she fought to open it, to break it down, to find the way through while the screams pounded in her head.

Behind her, above her, around her, a voice, calm and quiet as a spring breeze, spoke.

“They get what they deserve.”

“It’s not for you to say.”

“Why not? Why do you get to decide?”

“I don’t.” Pulling her weapon, Eve clicked it on full, blasted it at the door. “The law does.”

“Who makes the law? Men.” The single word snarled. “And you do their bidding.”

“Try that bullshit on somebody else.” Disgusted, Eve searched along the wall, stark white against the black door, for another opening.

Those screams, never ceasing, ripped at her.

“You defend them, even knowing what they are, you stand for them. I stand for the women they abused. I stand for their victims.”

She couldn’t find a way in, couldn’t find a way to stop the screaming.

“You stupid, self-righteous
bitch
! You’ve made them victims.” She pounded a fist on the wall, took a running leap to kick at the door. Black against white. White against black.

“I bring them justice. They suffer, then their suffering ends. Their victims suffer endlessly. You know! How can you defend them? How, when you know what they’ve done? When it was done to you?”

“Oh, shut the fuck up.”

She whirled around, furious to find herself in a small room, an empty room, only the white walls, the single black door. “I’m going to find you. I’m going to stop you. I’m going to put you in a cage.”

“Why do you care about them?”

The voice, so reasonable, came from everywhere.

“You were betrayed, abused, beaten, raped, trapped, terrified, helpless. You know what we’ve endured as women. You know men use us. You know they thrive on it. But you would turn on me like this? You would seek to stop my justice? Why?”

No way in, Eve thought. No way out.

“Why? Because you’re sick, sadistic. Because you pervert the justice I took an oath to uphold. Because, you twisted excuse for a female, I’m a cop. I’m goddamn fucking Eve Dallas.” She yanked out her badge. “Lieutenant, murder cop, NYPSD. And I will find you. I will open this bullshit door, and I’ll find you.”

This time when she spun around, badge in hand, kicked the door, it burst open.

The screams snapped off. An insistent beeping replaced them.

Shot awake, she slapped out in the dark for her communicator.

“Shit, shit, shit. Block video. Dallas.”

Dispatch, Dallas, Lieutenant Eve. Report to 53 West 179th. Dead male possibly connected to current case. Officers on scene.

“Acknowledged. Contact Peabody, Detective Delia, request McNab, Detective Ian, accompany her. I’m on my way. Dallas out.”

Roarke brought her a mug of coffee. “I’ll be going along and you’ll have two EDD men.”

“For what it’s worth. Sorry.” She held up a hand as she got up. “Didn’t mean it like that. You’re already dressed. What time is it?”

“Not quite half-five. If you’ll trust me to get your clothes, you can grab your shower.”

“Fine. Good. Thanks.” She shoved at her hair as she strode toward the bath. “That’s Ruzaki’s ex. That’s Arlo Kagen’s address. I checked it last night.”

So, Eve thought, she’d be waking up a pair of her detectives to go check on Ruzaki and Fassley, to question them.

For what that was worth, too.

When she came out, he’d laid what she needed on the bed. A thin sweater caught somewhere between gray and blue, dark gray trousers, boots of the exact same hue, a gray jacket with hints of that between color threaded through.

She looked at him, his dark suit, perfectly knotted tie. “You’re dressed to go take a meeting or something.”

“It can wait.”

“What was it about?”

“This? The villa hotel in Italy. It’s near to done.”

“Oh.” She started to dress, watched him contemplate the choices on the AutoChef. Something, she imagined, they could eat on the go, because he wouldn’t want her to go without.

Because he thought of her.

“I have to shut this down, shut her down.”

“You do, yes. And so,” he said, so matter-of-factly it swelled in her heart, “you will.”

“I can’t imagine now, just can’t, why I used to fight, why I used to resent you helping, you being a part of what I do.”

He settled on pocket omelets. She could smell the bacon he’d programmed in them. “Might be my criminal past.”

He said it as a joke, but she felt emotion squeeze her throat. “Roarke.”

“Hmm?” He glanced back, saw her face. “Now, what’s this?”

“You make everything better, even when you don’t. That’s not exactly what I mean, either. I said before I’d never get over you, but it’s more than that. I’ve been trying so damn hard not to let what happened to me, what’s part of me because it did, get into this case. I think I’m doing pretty well with that, but I couldn’t be, I wouldn’t be if you weren’t with me on it.”


A ghrá
.” He crossed to her, touched her face. “I’m with you on this, on all. Whether you like it or not.”

He made her laugh, a relief. “I know it. Like now, for instance, when I don’t want that damn egg thing, which I
know
has spinach in it, but you’ll just keep at me until I eat it.”

So she snatched it up, took a bite. “See?” she said around it. “Spinach.”

“Ah, and how well we know each other.”

“Yeah, yeah. I have to shut this down,” she said as she dressed. “Once I do, why don’t we go check out that hotel thing?”

He paused as he poured more coffee. “You want to go to Italy?”

Yeah, they knew each other, she thought. So well, she heard his surprise, felt it.

“Here’s the thing. Okay, two things. After I shut this down, I need a couple days. I need to just clear it out, and Italy would work. Which is something I’d never have said a few years ago like, oh, sure, Italy would work. Second thing, I know you haven’t been as hands-on with
this project as maybe you’d like to be. So you could be that, I could clear it out. A couple of days.”

He held up four fingers.

And damn, her heart just swelled again.

“See, I knew you’d do that, which is why I figured on three, because you’d have to compromise. Three days, once I shut this down.”

“Three days it is.”

“Solid.” She grabbed her badge, ’link, comm, the rest of her pocket debris. “I’m going to pull Baxter and Trueheart in to go talk to Ruzaki, make sure she and Fassley don’t have fresh blood on them, and so on.”

“You don’t believe that for a moment.”

“No, but you gotta cover the bases.”

Before she could walk out, he picked up the egg pocket, smiled. “You do, don’t you?”

She rolled her eyes, but ate it as they went downstairs. She contacted Baxter, set that in motion.

When she stepped outside, she realized spring had definitely broken winter’s back. She felt the change in the air, a softness to it.

She got in the car—hers this time, not the slick one—waited while Roarke programmed the address.

“I had this dream.”

“Yes. I was about to bring you out of it when your comm signaled. You didn’t seem upset so much as … pissed.”

“I was pissed.”

She told him about it as he drove.

“I get the dumb-ass subconscious symbolism. The whole black-and-white thing. I think in black-and-white.”

“Not at all,” he disagreed. “Your scope of gray may be limited—from my view—but you have a scope. It’s your killer who sees in black-and-white.”

“Huh. I guess I like that better. She also sees men, as a sex, as a species, as just evil. I felt that before, but it feels more right now. She may have started with a list, from the support group, but she’d never stop there. She’s a serial killer now,” Eve stated. “And she wants to rack up as many as she can.”

“One who wants to be seen as a hero,” Roarke added. “And that’s something you obviously believe matters or you wouldn’t have dreamed of it.”

“I do think it matters. How she sees herself, and how she wants others to see her.”

Not yet dawn, too early for ad blimps or the smoking carts, for the angry snarls and snags of traffic, New York seemed almost peaceful.

“I forgot to ask you. Mavis said you were meeting with Jake on something yesterday.”

“I was, yes. He’s volunteered to teach now and again at An Didean. To teach music, songwriting—and so would his bandmates.”

“That’s … That’s seriously good of him, them.”

“It is. But then, he’s a good man and one who appears to be geared toward giving back. I took him up on the offer right quick.”

Roarke pulled up behind the barricades where early-rising gawkers gathered. It was never too early, Eve thought, or too late to take some time to view someone else’s tragedy.

She hooked on her badge, turned on her recorder, and ignored the crowd as she strode through the barricade.

Eve spotted the officers on scene, moved to them.

“Officers.”

“Keller and Andrew, Lieutenant.”

“We’re here with Brigg Cohen,” Keller put in, tapping the burly, balding man between them. “Brigg used to be on the job. He called it in.”

“Cashed in my twenty ten years ago,” Cohen told her. “Had this beat
before these greenies moved in. Lived right here.” He gestured to the building behind them. “Sixteen years.”

“Why don’t you run it through for me?”

“I work night security, eight to four for Lisbon Corp. Clocked out, had some breakfast at my usual place, walked home. The DB’s laid out just like you see him. That would be four-fifty-eight.”

He may have cashed out, but he still reported like a cop. Advantage us, Eve thought.

“I still pay attention to what’s what,” he continued, “so I see he’s gone like the two other DBs I heard about. Naked, beat to shit, missing his works. Got that message on him. Nobody reported, like, a poem, but I figure you held that back. I know the greenies here had to be close by, probably scratching their butts, so I called it in, stood by until they meandered along.”

Andrew rolled her eyes; Keller just grinned.

Eve spotted Peabody and McNab trotting up. She signaled for McNab to stand with Roarke, gestured Peabody forward.

“DB’s pretty beat up,” Cohen continued. “But from the build and what I can see of his face, I’d say it’s the asshole lives down the hall from me. Name’s Kagen, Arlo Kagen. He’s got a sheet, not surprising, as he’s a mean drunk.”

“When’s the last time you saw Kagen?” Eve asked him.

“Tonight, when I was heading to work. That’d be about nineteen hundred, seeing as I grab a bite on the way. He was heading out about the same time. Likely to go get his drunk on. He generally gets it on at Nowhere, a dive bar just a couple blocks from here.”

“Have you noticed anyone in or around the building who doesn’t belong? Somebody who set off your buzzer?”

He shook his head. “I sleep till fourteen hundred most days, maybe walk around in good weather. We got the tat parlor, the hair place, a couple cheap eats, and get some of the street levels off the stroll who
patronize ’em. I head out for work pretty much the same time every day, so I’m not here all that much, and when I am, I’m sleeping.”

“Okay, appreciate the help.”

“Don’t much like finding a DB at my door. Hope you close this down sooner than later. I’m gonna go get some rack time. You know where I am.”

Eve waited until Cohen went in the building. “Any chance he touched the body, compromised the scene?”

“Not one in a million,” Keller told her. “Brigg likes to rag on us, but he’s solid.”

“He’s a grizzled old fart,” Andrew put in, but with affection. “And he’s got a rep as a good cop for a reason. We caught a break with him finding the DB.”

“All right then. You can start knocking on doors.”

“We’re off shift at six hundred. Okay to put in the OT?”

Eve nodded at Keller. “Check with your LT. I’d like you on this. Peabody, let’s ID the body, just to cross that off. McNab, and Roarke if you’re still in this, you can start on the e’s once we do. The building’s got a door cam. Let’s find out if it actually works.”

She took her field kit from Roarke, walked to the body, crouched down to verify the ID.

Peabody hunkered beside her. “I didn’t think she’d hit again so fast. She’d go for another, yeah, but not three days in a row.”

“She’s goal oriented. And she’s on a streak. You don’t mess with a streak. Victim is identified as Kagen, Arlo, age thirty-one, of this address. As with the two other victims, his body shows severe burns, bruising. His left arm’s broken, most probably from a severe blow. Dig into it, Peabody. See if he was left-handed. Severe facial bruising—broken nose, some broken and missing teeth. His genitals have been severed and removed.”

She put on microgoggles, leaned in. “Looks like the same weapon
or same type, the same method. ME to confirm. TOD three-fifty-six. COD most probably blood loss from amputation. ME to confirm.”

Eve pulled out an evidence bag, slid the poem into it, sealed it, read through it.

He used his fists against his wife,

So with cruelty and violence he lived his life.

Though she gave him a child to cherish,

He stroked her fears until all hope perished.

This death he earned by my decree,

Now mother and son are finally free.

LADY JUSTICE

“She can’t stop,” Eve mumbled. “The world she’s created and her place in it are too important to her.”

And that world was black-and-white.

“Vic was left-handed,” Peabody told her. “That’s why she broke his left arm. He probably led with his left when he beat his wife. It makes it specific. More specific,” she corrected. “And you know what? This isn’t just the third in a row. It’s the third in a row who hurt or cheated on a spouse. All of them were married. Pettigrew and Kagen were divorced, but they committed their crimes—what she’s using—while married.”

Eve sat back on her heels. “You’re right about that. She’s going after the men who are or were married first. We can narrow down the next potential by factoring that in. That’s good, Peabody.

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