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Authors: J. D. Robb

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“He didn’t send for you. You weren’t there for my interview with her anyway.”

“Uh-uh.” Peabody put her stubborn face on. “Partners. You have to risk an ass-frying, my ass is in the pan with yours.”

“I didn’t need the visual of your ass bumped up against mine in some damn pan. Ass partners,” she muttered, and pushed through the doors when Peabody snorted out a laugh.

Morris had one of his favored bluesy numbers going and wore a suit in forest green. Cord, stone gray like his tie, wound through the braid he’d doubled up at the back of his head in a loop.

He currently had his hands in Pettigrew’s open chest.

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends. This poor soul won’t fight another battle.”

“He didn’t get to fight the last one,” Eve pointed out.

“No, he didn’t. No defensive wounds though he suffered more trauma than our previous guest. I have no argument with your on-scene conclusions, Dallas. He hung by the wrists, from above, and his weight, his struggle eventually dislocated both shoulders. An electric prod—the same dimensions as the one used on McEnroy—was used to beat, burn, sodomize. I estimate at least four hours between the first burn and the last.”

“She’s … dedicated.”

“I’d say that’s an accurate term for it. It takes a kind of dedication to torture another human being for hours. There’s no sign of gagging, so he’d have screamed, likely have pleaded. COD would be severe blood loss from the amputation. He was, as was McEnroy, alive when she used the blade. The same blade, in my opinion, that was used on McEnroy.”

“Was he drugged?”

“As before I put a rush on the tox report. It’s the same mix. In this case, the first dose was administered into the palm of his hand.”

“Okay, okay, that’s how it’s done.” Nodding, Eve circled the body. “He comes to the door to let her in. She introduces herself, offers her hand. She’s got the syringe palmed. He wouldn’t even have time to react. She just leads him out to the waiting car, and she’s got him.”

“He ingested the second dose.”

“Probably in the car.” She could see it. Yes, she could see it very clearly.

“Puts him out,” she continued. “Whoever’s driving helps her get him inside once they get where they’re going, maybe helps her string him up.”

“Only one deviation I’ve found thus far,” Morris told her. “Have a look at his toes.”

He offered her, then Peabody, microgoggles. Peabody eased back a step.

“That’s okay. I can see fine from here.”

Eve adjusted hers, bent down with Morris. “With McEnroy, there were scrapes and bruises on the balls and heels of his feet. He’d swing, you see, when the prod struck, or jerk. And his feet would beat on the floor or ground. But in this case—”

“Yeah, yeah, I get it. She elevated him a little higher. He barely had his toes on the floor surface, so he’s digging in with them to stay up, to try to relieve the weight on his arms and shoulders. They’re scraping over the floor when he swings. Anything under the toenails?”

“Funny you should ask.” Smiling, Morris straightened. “Yes, I scraped substance from under them, sent it to the lab. It’s not fiber, so not a rug or carpet, not fabric. I don’t think it’s wood. Stone or concrete perhaps.”

“Good, that’s good. She didn’t think of that, did she? Wanted him to hurt so she didn’t think of that.”

“One can never overestimate a human being’s capacity for cruelty.” Morris drew off his goggles, met Eve’s eyes. “But this one runs wide and runs deep. I hope you’re closer to her than she is to the next.”

“We think she’s using a support group for women to pick her targets,” Peabody told him.

“That’s cruel in itself, isn’t it? To take that circle of compassion and outreach to inflict suffering. Ah well, we’ll do what we do. I’ll have the full report to you this afternoon.”

“Appreciate it.”

Eve dug credits out of her pocket as they walked out, then tossed them to Peabody. “Cold caffeine.”

Peabody went for two tubes of Pepsi—hers Diet. “You okay?” she asked when Eve rubbed the cold tube against her forehead.

“Yeah. Little headache.”

“I’ve got blockers.”

“No, it’ll pass.”

“Are you worried about Tibble?”

“No. We did our job. If he has to give us a smack for it, we take the smack, then go out and keep doing our job.”

“You said ‘we.’” Smug, Peabody bopped her shoulders. “Ass partners.”

Back in the car, Eve sat for a moment, then cracked the tube. “We’re going to tell a second woman the guy she lived with liked to have some strange when she wasn’t around. She may get her bitch on over that—and we’ll be the ones that falls on.”

“It’s hard to get bitchy about the bitch on when we had to tell her the guy’s dead, and now we’re going to tell her he’s dead because he went off with the strange.”

“Here’s the thing.” Eve drank. “He cheated—on his ex with the current. Why the current believes he wouldn’t cheat on her is beyond me, but that’s usually how it goes. But, thinking from the killer’s perspective, there’s no evidence this one drugged women, raped them, abused them. He hired them. We’re going to talk to the booker, see if he went for the violent end of things with LCs, but there was no sign of that in the bedroom setup. The toys were toys. No illegals, just aids. You add the money in—him maneuvering the ex with the company she started. But even with that, he doesn’t reach the level of McEnroy.”

“But she went at him harder.” Following, Peabody nodded. “The other way around would make more sense.”

“Yeah. So that’s not in play. It’s not—from a twisted thinking—the punishment fits the crime. It’s either escalation or she had more reason to want Pettigrew to suffer.”

“Taking us back to the ex.”

“To the ex, to someone else he screwed with, or to the current.” Eve pulled out. “Let’s go to Brooklyn.”

“Okay, warrant’s in.” Peabody studied her ’link. “Jenkinson and Reineke are on tap to handle it. And … hey, the offices for Discretion are on the way to Brooklyn. We’d have time to hit there before we talk to Horowitz.”

“Even better. Plug it in.”

As she did, Peabody frowned. “They might want a warrant, too. Discretion, right?”

“We’ll risk it. They have a dead customer,” Eve pointed out. “One who got his johnson whacked off. Seems they’d want to prove one of their LCs didn’t do it.”

“That’s an angle. Do you think if sex was your job it’d get really boring, or more exciting because you were always mixing it up?”

“I think because it’s not just sex that’s the job, it’s pretending attraction to somebody who put me on their credit card—or, lower level, picked me up on the street, and on the upper levels you actually have to have conversations with the john like you give a rat’s ass what they think about anything—I’d rather work the night shift in some factory that tests cat food.”

“Like they have to taste it, the cat food? They don’t do that, do they?”

“How the hell do I know? I don’t work at a cat food factory. There!”

She spotted a curbside slot, hit vertical, did a one-eighty in midair, and dropped down.

“I woulda walked,” Peabody managed. “I’d’ve been happy to walk blocks. Loose pants. And more no cardiac arrest.” Because her legs still trembled, she eased out carefully to stand on the sidewalk.

“It’s starting to rain,” Eve pointed out.

“A walk in the rain’s refreshing.”

“A walk in the rain’s wet.” Pleased, Eve walked into the soaring downtown office building.

A small horde of business types moved at a quick pace in the lobby. To elevators, from them, with briefcases, suits, earbuds, take-out fake coffee.

She walked straight to the security desk, held up her badge. “Discretion.”

The short man with thin, graying hair gave them a once-over. “Sign in please, with the name of the party you’re here to see.”

“I’ll know the party when I get there. What floor?”

“Twelfth floor, east bank.” He checked his log screen. “Twelve hundred for the main office.”

Eve scrawled her name, waited for Peabody to do the same, then headed for the east bank.

They got on the elevator along with more business types. She tuned out the talk of marketing strategies, Jenny in accounting’s birthday, brainstorming sessions, lunch meetings as the damn car stopped on every damn floor to let some off, let more on.

She grieved for the glides at Central.

Everything smelled like too much perfume, cologne, fake coffee, somebody’s mid-morning muffin, somebody else’s fear sweat.

On twelve she stepped out into a moment of blessed quiet.

Discretion’s office, behind double-frosted glass doors, held more quiet yet, and the faint scent of … she didn’t know what the hell, but it was good—and probably discreet.

The waiting area held deep scoop chairs, each with an individual screen. Maybe to preview choices of companions, she thought.

A single female—late twenties, silky blond hair, sharp green eyes, and a red suit that showed just a hint of black lace at the cleavage—sat at what looked like an antique desk or excellent replica.

She swiveled away from her comp screen, smiled. “Good morning and welcome to Discretion. How can I assist you?”

Eve pulled out her badge. “Manager.”

The smile faded. “We’re fully licensed and inspected.”

“Not my area, not my question. We need to speak to whoever runs the show, regarding a dead guy.”

“Wh—how— Please wait.”

She didn’t call back from the desk, but popped up and rushed away on shoes so high Eve wondered she didn’t suffer nosebleeds.

“You’ve got to give them classy,” Peabody decided. “The colors, the furnishings—and those are real miniature orange trees over there. In blossom. What a great smell.”

Okay, Eve thought, so that was it.

Another woman came back—tall heels again, these with toes so pointed Eve imagined they could jab a hole in brick. A good two decades older than the desk girl, she had an air of what Peabody would have called class.

The dark suit with its short skirt showcased excellent legs; the fitted jacket, an excellent body. Her hair, a kind of caramel, coiled tidily at her nape. Her skin, a few shades lighter, all but glowed, and her eyes, sea green, showed only polite curiosity.

“I’m Araby Clarke. Why don’t we speak in my office?”

“Okay.”

She gestured, led them to a wide doorway, into a long hall. “I’m sorry, I didn’t get your names, but I swear … have we met?”

“Don’t think so. Lieutenant Dallas, Detective Peabody.”

“Oh, of course! No, we haven’t met until now.” She gestured again into a spacious office. “But I did see the vid, and admit I’ve followed you and Roarke, and you, Detective, whenever there’s media. Please sit.”

The office suited her, deep cushioned chairs in dull gold, glass tables holding glass vases and exotic flowers. Art of beautiful men and women—oddly romantic rather than sexual. And a view of command through the window behind the long, glossy desk.

“You gave Kerry quite a jolt.” She sat, crossed her killer legs. “She said someone was dead. Is it someone I know?”

“Thaddeus Pettigrew.”

That polite curiosity flashed away. Eve wouldn’t say the woman jolted, but she registered distress. “Oh no. Oh, I’m very sorry to hear this. He’s been a client for years.”

“Years. As in?”

“I’ll have to check, but I believe at least a decade.”

So, not a new habit, Eve thought. “I’m going to need you to check on that, and several other things.”

Araby sat back. “You put me in an interesting position. Under most circumstances we would refuse to answer any questions regarding a client. Even with a warrant, I would contact my legal department and do what could be done to void that.”

“He was murdered, Ms. Clarke.”

“I realize that, or why would Dallas and Peabody be in my office? And that’s precisely why I won’t demand a warrant. I do want just a moment to talk to my legal people. I’ve owned Discretion for sixteen years, and we’ve never had anything like this happen. I want to make certain I do the right thing for everyone involved. If you’d just give me a minute.”

When she hurried out, Eve nodded. “She’ll give us what we ask for.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, because she wants to. She liked him—at least the way you like a longtime, regular customer. We’ll get what we came for.”

So Eve settled back to wait.

 

11

Eve shoved her way over the bridge to
B
rooklyn
,
weaving through
,
leapfrogging over the thick river of vehicles heading in the same direction. The river clogged when neck-craners slowed to study the delivery truck and sedan with crunched fenders along with the police cruiser dealing with the encounter in the breakdown lane.

Eve cursed them all for idiots, hit lights and sirens, pushed into vertical for a whooshing half a mile. During which Peabody clutched the chicken stick like a lifeline.

“Do they hope to see blood and bodies?” Eve ranted. “Is it: Oh look, honey, an accident. Break out the freaking popcorn.”

Once they crossed the bridge, Eve eased back a bit to follow the computer prompts to the address in Cobble Hill—and Peabody flexed her aching fingers.

It proved to be a lively street with a scatter of restaurants, a few shops, a small park where a number of people walked dogs or watched kids risk broken bones on playground equipment.

Marcella’s mother had the ground floor of a triple-decker with its own little patio off the side. It also boasted a narrow driveway currently occupied by a dark blue town car.

Eve pulled in behind it. “That matches the basic description of the car the wit saw at Pettigrew’s. Run the tags,” Eve told Peabody as they got out.

“It’s registered to Bondita Rothchild.”

“Might be interesting.” Eve walked to the door, pushed the buzzer.

The woman who answered was tall, slim, and blond. Not Marcella, Eve thought, but by the family resemblance, related.

“Lieutenant Dallas and Detective Peabody.” Eve offered her badge.

“Yes, we’re expecting you. I’m Rozelle, Marci’s sister. This is just horrible. Marci’s a wreck. Claudia—that’s our friend who was with us—is back making her tea because Marci won’t take a soother. I just … I’m sorry, I guess I’m a wreck, too. Come inside.”

The entrance opened into a generous living space where someone had turned on lights and lamps to combat the gloom from the insistent drizzle outside. They’d lowered the privacy shades as well.

Marcella sat on a sofa, a chocolate-brown throw over her lap, and cuddled close to her mother.

Bondita, spotting Eve and Peabody, wrapped a protective arm around her daughter. They all looked exhausted.

Another blonde, this one tall and curvy in black skin pants and a flowy white shirt, hurried from the back with a tray.

“Our friend, Claudia Johannsen. These are the police, Claudia. Go ahead and take Marci her tea.

“You drink this now, Marce.” She used the firm tone of a veteran schoolteacher, a determined mother, or a sturdy nurse. “We’re all here for you. You drink some tea, too, Bondi. And you come sit down and have yours, Roz. Officers, can I make you some tea?”

“Lieutenant, Detective,” Eve corrected. “No, thanks. Ms. Horowitz—”

“Since that’s two of us here, why don’t you go with first names,” Rozelle suggested. “It’s just easier.”

“All right. Marcella, we’re very sorry for your loss. We understand this is a difficult time for you.”

“Difficult? Difficult?” Her voice pitched up three registers on the three syllables. “Is that how you think it is for me? The man I love is dead!”

Okay, Eve thought, it’s going to be one of those.

Before she could continue, Sympathetic Peabody shifted into gear. “Marcella, we want to help. We’re here to do everything we can to find out who did this to the man you love. As hard as it must be for you, we know you want us to find those answers, so we need your help. Thaddeus needs your help.”

“Thaddeus!” Marcella wailed it.

“Stop now.” Bondita hugged her, rocked her. “Stop now, Marcella, or I’ll have to make you take a soother.”

“Nothing could make me stop feeling. How could this happen? How could this happen to Thad?”

“It’s our job to find out,” Eve told her. “There are questions we need to ask you so we can go out and do that job.”

“You talk to the police now, Marce,” Claudia insisted. “We’re here with you.”

“I’m sorry, sit down, both of you.” Bondita waved a hand. “My husband and I managed to raise a son and two daughters without ever having the police at the door. None of us are behaving well.”

“I want to know what happened to Thad.” Once again Marcella’s voice rose up, pitch by pitch. “I deserve to know!”

“Mr. Pettigrew left the residence you share with him last night at approximately nine
P.M
.”

“He told me he was staying in,” Marcella interrupted.

“That may be, but he left the residence at that time in the company of an as yet unknown female.”

Her slumping shoulders shot back, stiffened. “He did not!”

Eve just pushed on. “He left with said unknown female, and with her, got into what is described as a dark town car.”

“But you said— Mom, didn’t she say his—his—Thad was home when he…”

“His body was discovered by a neighbor out walking his dog early this morning, outside the house. His verified time of death was two-twenty this morning. The nine-one-one call from the neighbor logged in at three-forty-three.”

“Where was he all that time?” Marcella demanded. “Did he come back home, then someone broke in, and killed him, and left him outside?”

“Mr. Pettigrew wasn’t killed inside the residence.”

“How do you
know
?”

“It’s my job to know,” Eve snapped back. “He opened the door to the female because he believed she was the licensed companion he had booked for the evening.”

“That’s a lie! A lie, a terrible lie, and I won’t listen.”

To Eve’s bemusement, Marcella literally clamped her hands over her ears.

But when she started to lurch up, her mother held her in place. “Sit still, Marcella. Be quiet. Can you prove that?”

“We’ve verified it, yes. He made the booking yesterday. It appears his system had been hacked, and the booking was canceled. This individual took the place of the LC he’d hired. Subsequently, she drugged him, led him out to the waiting car. He was taken to another location.”

“I don’t believe you. I don’t believe any of this. Thad would never, never do that. He would never cheat on me.”

Really? Eve thought. Unlike the way he cheated on his wife with you?

“You’re stating you were unaware Mr. Pettigrew regularly used the services of Discretion, a company that facilitates customers who wish to hire licensed companions.”

Marcella’s eyes streamed like a toddler’s after being told she couldn’t have candy. “He never did that.”

“He used their services for at least nine years.”

The tears dried up, and a mutinous expression replaced them. “Maybe, maybe he did before we fell in love, but—”

“And has continued to use their services every few weeks up until his death.”

“You’re trying to ruin everything for me.” She bunched her fists, actually shook them. “Saying horrible things to ruin my life. I want you to go. Get out.”

“That’s enough, Marcella. Claudia, would you take Marcella back to my bedroom? She needs to lie down.”

“Of course. Come on with me, Marce.”

“She’s lying, Claudia.”

“Let’s just go lie down. You have to rest. It’s an awful day.”

She tugged Marcella up, got a firm arm around her.

“You’re a horrible person,” Marcella spat at Eve.

As Claudia pulled Marcella out, Bondita pressed her fingers to her eyes. Rozelle shifted over, stroked her mother’s arm.

“I apologize, Lieutenant.”

“I’ve been called worse.”

“Not in my home.” She dropped her hands, took her daughter’s. “She believed she loved him, believed he loved her. She’d made him the center of her world. Learning this will be nearly as shattering for her as his death.”

“Were you aware he used LCs?”

“I was not. I’ll admit I wondered if he’d stray, or simply tire of Marcella. She’s young, and naive, and, well, demanding. But he seemed genuinely devoted to her. They seemed happy together. Are you saying this woman, the one who posed as an LC, killed Thaddeus?”

“Yes.”

“It makes no sense. I can’t think of anyone who’d want to kill Thaddeus.”

“No,” Rozelle agreed. “It doesn’t make sense. We had this trip planned for weeks. And he surprised Marci with the extra day. He asked me to arrange it, a surprise because, apparently, she complained she wouldn’t be able to get all the treatments she wanted in the two days. I couldn’t get the extra day because they were fully booked—then there was a cancellation, so I grabbed it. She was so excited.”

“When did you book the extra day?”

“Just two days ago. It was really last minute, so Claudia had to scramble to work in the extra day. Thad even arranged for champagne and flowers in our suite.”

“You all had rooms in the same suite?”

“Yes, it’s a two-level, their best. Marci treated—or, realistically, Thaddeus treated us to the suite.”

“I need to go up to my daughter.”

“Bondita, before you do, can you tell us the last time you used your car?”

“My car? What does that— Oh my God! You think … We weren’t even here!”

“It would just help to have that information.”

“Two days ago, for my volunteer work. And to run some last-minute errands before the trip.”

“Who else has access to your car?”

“My husband, of course. He has his own, but we have the codes to each other’s. Before you ask, I know he was home because I spoke to
him last night, just a check-in, around midnight. He had friends over for a poker party—something he likes to do if I go out of town. We spoke, not long, as they were on the last hand of the night. He had at least six people here, you can check.”

“Thank you. We will if we find it helpful. We appreciate your time.”

As they rose, Peabody spoke up. “We could give you the names of some good grief counselors. It might help Marcella.”

“Yes. Rozelle, I want to go up to Marcella.”

“You go. I’ll get the names. She wouldn’t have had a clue,” Rozelle said quietly as her mother went out. “Marci, I mean. If she had, she’d have told me, or Claudia. Maybe not Mom, not right away, but she’d have told me or Claudia.”

“Why not your mother?” Eve asked.

“Because she knew our parents didn’t really approve, at least at first. Thaddeus won them over, for the most part. He really seemed completely devoted, made her so happy, indulged her. But he was older, divorced, and they’d hoped for something, someone different for her.”

Rozelle paused, pressed her fingers under her eyes.

“She’ll get over this,” she said. “She doesn’t think she will, but she will. Once it gets through he’d cheated on her, she’ll get over it, move on. She’s young. But for now, a grief counselor would help.”

After Peabody gave the names, Rozelle showed them out. Eve studied the town car as she walked to her own.

“It’s not going to fit. You’d have to figure, if the family—speaking of which, she mentioned a son, so let’s find him—but if the family’s covered, why use this car? People in the house, maybe going in and out, they’d notice if the car came and went. So it’s not going to fit.”

Eve got behind the wheel, took a moment. She shook her head, pulled out of the drive. “She’s a girl.”

“Well,” Peabody said. “Yeah.”

“No, not a woman, not a female. A girl. The youngest of the family, and they baby her. You can see it, the dynamics there. Maybe she loved Pettigrew, maybe at least she thought she did, but the older sister’s got it right. She’ll get over it, move on. She’s not going to torture, mutilate, and kill two men because the one she lived with hired LCs. That takes purpose. She doesn’t have one.”

“That came loud and clear,” Peabody agreed. “And I’m going to say she struck me as the type who’d squeal if she saw blood. I can’t see her slicing off a dick.”

“People take care of her. She doesn’t take care of people—for good or ill. They also didn’t talk about the big gorilla.”

“What big gorilla?”

“You know, the fact that she cheated with Pettigrew on his ex when she wasn’t his ex. He cheated with her, but everybody was real careful not to mention it. Like the big gorilla in the room everybody pretends not to notice.”

“Oh, oh, elephant. It’s the elephant in the room.”

“That’s stupid. You can’t ignore a freaking elephant who wouldn’t be able to fit in most rooms anyway. Plus, there’d be massive piles of elephant shit. Try not noticing that.”

“I think that’s actually the point of the saying.”

“Which just makes it stupid. You could pretend to ignore a gorilla because some people bear a freaky resemblance thereto.”

Considering that, Peabody pursed her lips. “I knew this guy at the Academy who sort of did.”

“There you go. In any case, they all avoided that area of discussion, and they’d all know. Just like they all know she’ll go through the hysterics, then settle down and move on. But let’s check on the brother anyway.”

Peabody worked it while Eve fought the traffic wars back over the bridge.

“He was at the poker party,” Peabody reported after a brief conversation on her ’link.

“Should’ve figured it.”

“He left about eleven because he had an early series of meetings today. And he’s at a conference in Connecticut right now. He left this morning about seven. I did a run while I talked to him, Dallas. He comes off pretty squeaky clean. One marriage—eight years in. Two kids. He doesn’t have a license to drive, doesn’t own a vehicle.”

As Eve avoided contact with a compact that swerved into her lane, she snarled. “A lot of people shouldn’t have one.”

“Grew up in New York, moved to Hoboken after the first kid from the timing on his data.”

“It’s not going to be him. They’re not going to be involved. Just not enough there for the level of violence. It’s a vendetta.”

She pulled into the garage, thrilled to be finished, for now, with the hordes of people who shouldn’t have a license to drive.

“I’m going to say it again. You don’t have to do this thing with Tibble.”

“I’m going to say it again,” Peabody countered as they got out of the car. “Your ass, my ass.” She made a fist, pumped it. “Pan.”

Eve just shook her head.

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