Authors: J. D. Robb
“Let’s roll him— Wait,” she added as she heard a voice—firm and impatient—call her name. “Crap. McNab! You and McNab roll him, finish with the body. Contact the sweepers, the morgue. I’ll deal with this.”
“Good luck with that,” Peabody said under her breath as Eve walked to the barricades and the camera-ready and chin-jutted Nadine Furst.
The crime beat reporter might have ranked as friend—and a good one—but that didn’t make her less of a pain in the ass at the moment.
Glancing past her, Eve noted she’d brought the rock star with her. Looking casually scruffy, a streak of royal blue through his jet-black hair, Jake stood with Roarke. The two of them chatted as if they held freaking martinis at some high-class bar.
“I tagged you a half a dozen times yesterday,” Nadine began.
“I was busy.”
Nadine narrowed feline-green eyes. “You’re never too busy when you can use me, and my research team, on an investigation.”
“I was really busy, and you don’t want to shove into my face right now.”
“Oh, don’t I?”
“No, you fucking don’t.” Eve gestured her through the barricades, then gripped her arm—hard—pulled her away from the body toward the corner of the building.
Watching them, Jake rocked back on the heels of his scarred boots. “Think it’ll come to blows?”
“Odd, I always wonder the same.”
“Nadine’s pretty steamed. So’s your cop from the looks of it. You come to many of these … events?”
“Too many. Your first?”
“Yeah. Pulled an all-nighter at the studio. Thought: Hey, I’ll head over to Nadine’s, wake her up. She’s already up, dressed, and here I am.”
A tall man, he easily looked over the heads of people still pressing at the barricade. “I don’t get it. I gotta say, I don’t get why anybody wants a line of work where they deal with something like what’s lying out there. But both our women do. Can’t figure it.”
“The one who put him there thinks she stands for justice. She doesn’t, but, in their different ways, our women do.”
While they talked, their women bumped heads in a pitched battle.
“I want a one-on-one, right here. Now.”
“You can’t have one,” Eve tossed back. “And you don’t even have a camera with you.”
“I can have a camera here in ten frigging minutes.”
“Nadine, did you happen to notice the dead guy back there?”
“I noticed the dead guy. The third of his specific type of dead guy. I set an alert to signal me when you landed another naked, castrated dead guy. You’re giving the media the runaround when the public—”
“Don’t throw the right-to-know bullshit on me now. Three in three days. Do you think we’ve been sitting around playing goddamn mah-jongg or something?”
“I think you don’t even know what mah-jongg is, and you could have returned a tag from someone you know you can trust.”
“I didn’t have time!” Eve threw up her hands, paced in a circle. “I don’t have time now to stand here and argue with you. I didn’t have time to give you some damn sound bites. You need to back off.”
“I’m doing my job just like you’re doing yours,” Nadine shot back. “You know damn well I can get the information you feed me on the air, I get it out, and it might help. Just like you know I’ll hold anything you tell me to hold.”
“It’s not that. It’s not fucking that. It’s not about you, not about the you-and-me deal. Sometimes it’s just about the work. About the bodies piling up. About not having enough left over to deal with anything else.”
Nadine paused, held up a finger. Paced in her own circle. “Okay, all right. Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to go get coffee—for everybody. Then I’m coming back, with a camera. If you can’t give me a one-on-one or a statement, I’ll take one from Peabody or McNab. With three bodies in three days, you need media support to get public support, whether you admit it or not.”
She did know it. Didn’t like it, but knew it. “I don’t know when I or the detectives involved will be available.”
She would, Eve thought. And since neither of them was wrong, she eased back herself.
“I’m not drinking any fake coffee. I have high standards. Where are you going to get real coffee?”
“I have my ways. And besides being an Oscar-winning screenwriter—”
“Yeah, that’s going to get old.”
“Never.” The annoyance, frustration shifted to a smug smirk. “Plus a bestselling author and Emmy-winning newscaster, I have a goddamn rock star with me. We can get real.”
“No real, no camera time. That’s a deal breaker.”
“We’ll get real.”
“Meanwhile, off my crime scene. And tell Roarke to come through.”
She turned on her heel, walked back to Peabody and McNab.
“McNab, you and Roarke can move into the building. Check the door cam feed, start on the vic’s apartment.”
She stopped, frowned. “What’s that?”
Peabody held up the evidence bag. “A hair, a black hair—not the vic’s, he’s medium brown. It was stuck to the dried blood on the back of his shoulder. We got a hair, Dallas.”
“Good work, good catch. They get sloppy,” she murmured, and felt a turn in the investigation as a physical twist in her gut. “They almost always get sloppy.”
“The wagon’s on the way,” McNab told her. “Sweepers, too.”
He shot a wave to Roarke, pointed toward the building. Eve glanced around to see them walk off—Roarke in his king-of-the-business-world suit, McNab in his mint-green baggies and shiny electric-blue jacket, toward the dead man’s apartment building.
“Let’s flag the hair priority for Harvo.”
“Already did. I can get one of the sweepers to get it to her first thing. It’s probably wig hair, but even then, the queen of hair and fiber will ID it.”
“Yeah. Pull one of the support uniforms to sit on the body until the wagon gets here. We need to hit the apartment. When we’re done here, you’re doing a one-on-one with Nadine.”
“Me? She’ll want you, and—”
“She’s not getting me, not for the camera. I’m going to give her a little more on the side. She’ll hold it, and maybe dig in enough to find something we’ve missed.”
“Okay. Jeez, I wish I’d done something with my face.”
“Your face is your face,” Eve said as they walked. “Live with it.”
“You can live with it and make it a little better. So, really weird time to say it, but it’s great about Mavis, Leonardo, and a baby coming, right? We celebrated our asses off when she told us. Leonardo’s walking about six inches above the ground.”
“They’re good at it, all of it. The couple thing, the family thing, the parent thing.”
They moved into the building. The claustrophobic lobby wasn’t nearly as clean as the vic’s ex’s, and smelled more like old piss than pine. Still, it had reasonable security, so she had hope for the door cam feed.
She ignored the elevator. The vic had lived on the third floor.
“We got lucky with the nine-one-one caller,” she told Peabody as they climbed. “Used to be on the job, works a security night shift. Made sure the scene stayed secure until we had cops on-site.”
“I know Keller and Andrew a little, and they’re solid.”
“Struck me the same,” Eve agreed.
“I feel like our luck’s turned.”
“Yeah. So did Kagen’s—the wrong way. I talked to Kagen’s ex last
night. Might have been talking to her when he got taken. Fuck it.” She wanted to scrub her hands over her face, to yank at her own hair. Barely resisted. “I hauled Baxter and Trueheart out of bed to check on her—and her neighbor, who’s also in the group.”
“Rachel Fassley. I read your report. We’ve got names, Dallas. Luck
“Not soon enough,” Eve said as she mastered into Kagen’s apartment.
Peabody took one look at the space—efficiency-style room with an unmade pullout with questionable bedding, the scatter of dirty clothes, the empty beer bottles, the pile of unwashed dishes. Sighed.
“Just your average pigsty. Why do average male pigsties smell like old beer farts and grungy socks?”
“Because both have a home there. Suck it up, Peabody. We do what we have to do. Then we’re going to wake up whoever runs a local bar where the wit—who lives down the hall—says Kagen liked to drink the beer he farted out in here.”
“Great. Just a mag way to start the day.” Peabody mimed rolling up her sleeves. “At least it’s a small apartment.”
It didn’t make the job more pleasant, but they’d finished the search by the time McNab and Roarke came to the door.
“Got the feed.” McNab held up a disc. “We have the vic exiting just after nineteen hundred. Alone, and wearing a brown jacket, brown pants, tennis shoes. Another male exited at the same time, walked in the opposite direction.”
“That’s our wit,” Eve told him. “Former cop, lives down the hall. He’s clear. No house ’link on premises, no pocket ’link. You’ve got that bargain-basement comp to work with. No hidey-holes, no happy clues, no illegals.”
“No sense of hygiene from the look and aroma,” Roarke added. “The range of the door cam doesn’t reach to where his body was left.”
“And the killer would’ve known that. She’s not stupid. She does her research. Flag the comp for transport, McNab, for what it’s worth. Peabody, go down and give Nadine her camera time. She’s bringing coffee.”
McNab’s face lit. “What kind of coffee?”
“You’ll get yours, Detective. Flag the comp, and when it’s in EDD, dig in.” She looked at Roarke. “You should go home—or wherever you planned to be. We’re done here for now.”
“I could use some coffee.”
“You’ll get yours, too.”
She walked out with him.
“You’re asking yourself if you could have saved him,” Roarke said as they started down the steps. “You couldn’t have. He’d left before you had his ex-wife’s name, before you knew he existed.”
“No, we couldn’t have saved him. It doesn’t make it any easier, but we couldn’t have saved him.”
She walked over to where Nadine and Jake waited, took the black coffee Nadine held out.
“Doughnuts, too. Jake insisted.”
“You’re all right, Jake,” Eve decided as she took a cream filled.
“Anybody who starts the day like you did earned a doughnut.”
Eve glanced at Peabody, shook her head as she watched her partner carefully applying lip dye. “What’s that we say, Detective Face?”
“About what— Oh. Yeah.” Peabody smiled a little. “Our day begins when yours ends.”
“Jesus.” Jake just shook his head. “Cops.”
While Peabody did the one-on-one, Eve stepped aside to check in with Baxter.
“Is that a doughnut?” Baxter demanded when he came on-screen. “Where’d you get it? Are there more?”
“Yes. The rock star. No. Status.”
“Well, shit, now I want a doughnut. When we got here, Ms. Ruzaki was up and getting breakfast into her kid. Cute kid,” he added. “Both of them still in pajamas. Ms. Fassley, also up and trying to drag her kid out of bed to get breakfast in him. He’s a pistol. Trueheart checked the security feed. No sign either woman left the premises at any time after you and Roarke exited.”
Baxter glanced toward a door where Eve clearly heard the sound of kids whooping it up. “He’s in there with them now—in Ruzaki’s place. She’s shaken up, and it doesn’t read grief and sorrow, just shock. And some nerves about being a suspect.”
Now he leaned back against the wall beside the door. “Both women agreed to show us their ’links, let us look through their comps for any communication. We can do that, it’s pretty straightforward, and save EDD the trouble.”
“Do that, clean it up. I’m not looking at either of them, but we fill the holes.”
“Want my take?”
“It’s why you’re there.”
“These two are too busy raising kids and making rent to cook up a plot to kill three guys.”
“Yeah, that’s my take. But fill the holes.”
“Are you sure there aren’t more doughnuts?” he asked.
She cut him off.
When she glanced over to where Peabody still talked to Nadine, she frowned, and Roarke strolled to her. “They’re wrapping it up. She did well.”
“Great. Do you need transpo?”
“Actually, I’m catching a ride with Jake. I’m going to give him a quick tour of An Didean before I go to work and he goes to bed. Nadine’s going in to work as well.”
“She’ll be watching for it.”
Eve wanted to say Darla, but said, “The killer. She’ll be watching for the media, the reports, the reactions. She wants some credit, some attention. She always did. That’s why she wrote the poems. Peabody!” she shouted when she saw the camera lower. “With me. Now! Gotta go. No.” She jabbed a finger in his chest before he could lean in for a kiss. “No mushy stuff on a crime scene.”
He simply caught her finger, then arched eyebrows when Nadine and Jake exchanged a pretty serious goodbye kiss.
“She’s not a cop.”
“Well, if kissing my wife is off-limits, see that you take good care of my cop.” Then he tugged her finger to his lips, made her roll her eyes. “She won’t outsmart you, Lieutenant. Not for long.”
When he walked away, she looked back, watched the morgue team load the body bag in the wagon. Not for long just wasn’t good enough.
She opted to walk the handful of blocks to the bar, spare herself the frustration of finding a place to park.
“It’s going to be a beautiful day.” Peabody lifted her face to the breeze.
Eve jammed her hands into her pockets. “Tell that to the dead guy.”
“Well, he’d be dead even if it was going to be a crappy day.”
“That’s a point.”
“So, pretty day, and it’s supposed to stick awhile. I talked Mavis into going with me, bringing Belle, to the community garden over the weekend if we’re clear. Lots of things we can help plant this early in the season.”
Baffled, Eve turned her head and stared. “Mavis is going to plant stuff? In the ground?”
“It’s fun to dig in the dirt, and good luck when a pregnant woman plants.”
Eve couldn’t figure where the fun was in dirt, but it took all kinds. “Hasn’t she already been planted?”
“Hah! Good one.” All but bouncing down the sidewalk, Peabody gave Eve a cheerful elbow poke. “It’s good to get out in the fresh air, plant living things. Plus, Bella learns how to make flowers, vegetables grow, how to take care of them.”