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Authors: J. D. Robb

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“I suspect she has no man in her life now, nor does she wish to have that sort of connection. She may have female friends or companions, but men? Animals to be butchered, predators to be hunted. She believes in what she’s doing, and so is only more dangerous.”

“She’s not done.”

“No, I don’t believe she is. If she has a job at this point, it’s likely something she can do alone, or where she can flex her hours.”

Shifting, Mira uncrossed, recrossed her legs. “As you noted in your report, she must have a place, a private area where she can carry out her torture, where she can take these men without being detected. I also agree with Morris. She has some medical skill or has practiced the castration. The amputations were much too clean and precise for
them to be done by a novice. Additionally, our ME’s belief that a ceremonial-style blade was used says the castration—the unmanning, as you put it—is the main mission.”

With a slow nod, Eve thought it through. “The hunt, the lure, even the torture, those are as much for her entertainment as punishment. The purpose, the point, is severing their manhood, removing that, taking that, so they die without it. Sexless.”

“Yes.” Mira smiled as if at a clever student. “Exactly that.”

“She’s able to project the persona, the image of what each of her victims wanted. That’s part of the game, the entertainment,” Eve added. “She’s the attractive, available redhead McEnroy would invite into his privacy booth. Then the type of LC Pettigrew favors so he let her into his house. I think with Pettigrew it would have been quick. Hi, come on in. But with McEnroy there had to be some flirtation, some verbal foreplay. This wasn’t a business transaction. She had to be what he was looking for. And even though it was quick, she had to be what Pettigrew expected.”

“She studies them, adapts.”

“Acts?” Eve leaned forward. “I’m wondering if she has acting skills, experience, abilities. She has targets, and not just these two. They won’t all be quick and done like Pettigrew. She has to entice, lure, meet specific expectations to put the men she selects into the situation where she can take them out.”

“That’s certainly possible,” Mira agreed. “But she believes in her mission, her goal. She prepares—that’s the control. She becomes—that’s part of the preparation. No doubt she practices. She has time, she has the space and the means. The wardrobe, for instance, the hair, whether wigs or styling, the transportation, the drugs. All that takes means. She’s made an investment.”

Mira tilted her head. “Does this, too, apply to Darla Pettigrew?”

“Yeah, the means, the acting skills—potentially. The shoes.”

“Shoes?”

“One of the other women told me she came off rich—expensive shoes. She’s got the private home—a big one where she lives with her grandmother. The grandmother’s recovering from an illness, and in addition you can see they’re tight. That’s the shaky corroboration on the shaky alibi.”

“And does Pettigrew have acting experience?”

“Not that shows, but the grandmother does. Big-deal actor. Eloise Callahan?”

“Really?” Shifting again, Mira blinked. “Yes, a very big deal. She’s brilliant, revered. And she’s quite the activist, too.”

“She knows Peabody’s grandmother, they did the activist thing together.”

Mira let out a light laugh. “That shouldn’t surprise me a bit. Callahan’s also well known for her philanthropy. From what I know of her it’s hard to picture her involved in torture murders.”

“She doesn’t have to be involved, directly. It strikes me that the granddaughter may have picked up some tips over the years. Acting, makeup, wardrobe. Even, what’s it—staging. The whole thing is full of drama, right down to the poems and the name she’s given herself.”

“Yes, there’s a flair for the theatrical. Is that how she struck you?”

“No. The opposite. Quiet, unassuming—even, I don’t know, plain. But she overplayed the grief and shock. It just hit wrong. It looked, sounded, genuine, but it hit wrong. It’s all I’ve got,” Eve admitted with a shrug. “She hit me wrong.”

Sitting back again, Mira took a moment to process. “Well, she would be in the age group I’ve profiled. She would have means, and motive, and the privacy. She attended the support group. You have ample reason to consider her a suspect.”

“Right now, she’s prime. But I can’t get a warrant on a hunch.” Eve rose, and as she set the cup aside found herself surprised she’d actually finished the tea. “Thanks for the time.”

“Be careful. She’s vicious,” Mira added. “Once that part of her is unleashed, she’s vicious.”

“Hey, me, too.”

As Eve headed back to Homicide, Darla ran a few errands. With the rain, both she and the day nurse agreed to cancel Grand’s walk. But Darla enjoyed the rain, strolling in it as she stopped in the bakery for Grand’s favorite cannolis, moved on to the market for some fresh fruit.

She’d used the excuse that she needed to get out, to walk, to keep busy to help settle herself over Thaddeus. Both Grand and the nurse, she thought as she examined bunches of the tart green grapes Grand liked, had been so understanding, so sympathetic.

God, she loved that.

She’d seen the hints of pity, too, for a woman discarded and betrayed who still loved, and could grieve for the man who’d hurt her.

She enjoyed the pity quite a lot.

But they’d never understand how true love and deep hate could live in the same heart.

Thaddeus hadn’t known her. After all the years she’d shared her bed, her body, given him her trust and devotion, he hadn’t seen her through the disguise.

He hadn’t known until, in the last moments of his life, as the blood drained from him, she’d taken off the mask. He’d looked so puzzled, she remembered—fondly—staring at her as life poured out of him.

And he’d said her name, finally said her name,
Darla
, like a question. His last word had been her name.

And that, oh that, had been delicious.

“Excuse me.”

Darla came back to the moment as another woman nudged her impatiently.

“I need to get by.”

“Oh! I’m so sorry. My mind wandered.” With an apologetic smile, Darla shifted, chose some grapes, some berries.

When she finished in the market, she stepped back outside. Opened her umbrella, gave it a little twirl.

She felt lighter than air!

She hummed a bit as she walked, as she replayed her scene with the police. Perfect, just perfect, in her recollection. The shock, the grief, the struggle for composure.

So much fun! She hadn’t known how much fun she’d have.

Maybe she’d worried, just for a moment, when she’d realized Grand had come down. But then that had turned out perfectly, too.

To have her sweet grandmother—and the acclaimed Eloise Callahan—vouch for her, essentially relate the same story, the same timeline.

And how smart had it been to run up to check on Grand when Thaddeus passed out. The police could hardly suspect her of killing anyone when she had her much-loved grandmother to tend to.

She had to admit it was fun to match wits with Eve Dallas. It felt as if they were characters—the leads—in a vid. Only she was directing it, too. And writing it. She’d designed the costumes (at least her own).

And she already had the next act written.

Walking home in the rain with her market bag, her bakery box, she smiled, even did a little dance inside her head.

All those years, she thought, all those years with Thaddeus, she’d been so devoted, so faithful.

So weak.

She’d created a company—herself! Used her brain, her skills, her energy to make it into something solid. Not earthshaking, but solid and respectable.

She’d done that.

And she’d let him take it from her, just as he’d taken her self-respect. At least she’d learned from the group that she wasn’t alone. In fact, she wasn’t nearly the worst case. So many women used, abused, betrayed.

They had a champion in her now. She’d given them Lady Justice.

She swiped into the house, put her umbrella in the stand, her jacket in the closet.

After carrying the marketing to the kitchen, she ordered the droid to make tea while she herself arranged the fruit, the pastries on pretty plates.

A treat for Grand.

She checked the time, deemed it perfect. Grand would have finished her physical therapy, and would be settled in the upstairs parlor.

She wheeled the cart into the elevator. Inside she arranged her face into what she thought of as a brave smile—keeping her eyes just a little sad.

When she wheeled the cart in, Eloise and the nurse sat already deep into a game of Scrabble.

“Cannolis.” Eloise rolled her eyes. “There goes the waistline.”

“Not yours, Grand. I bet Donnalou worked you hard.”

“She’s a slave driver.”

Donnalou, a tiny woman with a quick laugh, just shook her head. “I can barely keep up with her these days. And she’s already hit me with a seven-letter word on a triple.”

“Then you both deserve a treat.”

“Sit down with us, Darla.”

“No, you two go ahead.” Darla bent over to kiss Eloise’s cheek. “I’ve got a few things to do. Keeping busy’s the best right now.”

“Don’t push yourself too hard, Darla,” Donnalou advised. “You look tired.”

“Don’t worry. I might take a lie-down while you’re here. We’ll see. Now, Grand, don’t you trounce Donnalou too hard.”

“No promises.”

Laughing, Darla got back in the elevator. And took it all the way down to her lair. Keeping an eye on the monitor and the Scrabble game, she checked to be certain the droid had thoroughly cleaned the floor, the restraints. And of course Lady Justice’s uniform.

She double-checked her supply of drugs. More than enough for one more, she decided, but she might need to send a droid out to score. Especially since Grand, thank God truly on the mend, would need a slightly stronger dose of the sleeping draught to keep her safe and dreaming through the night.

She’d send the droid she’d named Jimmy—mid-twenties, tough face with a small scar on the right cheek. He could meet the dealer later that night, refresh her supplies.

She imagined her own doctor would prescribe something to help her sleep—given the circumstances. But she really didn’t have time for that.

She needed to select the costume for the next scene.

 

13

When
E
ve walked back into the bullpen
, J
enkinson

s new obscenity of a tie greeted her. When he signaled her over to his desk, she scowled at it.

“Why, I ask sincerely, would a grown man, a cop, a veteran detective of the NYPSD wear an atomic-green tie with screaming yellow rubber duckies all over it?”

“They’re not screaming, they’re quacking. And it’s what you call whimsy.”

“It’s what I call felonious assault on the eyes. Did you get the notes and names from Natalia Zula?”

“Yeah, we got ’em—and her daughter was home.” Though he sat and Eve stood, he managed to look down his nose at her. “She said my tie was mag. Just saying. You got the discs on your desk. And check it.”

He thumbed back toward Reineke, his usual partner. Obliging,
Reineke hitched up his pants leg to reveal screaming yellow rubber duckies on atomic-green socks.

“Jesus, you’re coordinating now?”

“Just the luck of the draw,” Reineke claimed. “Anyhow, Zula and her kid were both cooperative. Some shaken up at the idea one of the group might be killing people. The kid wants her mother to come in, give you a thumbnail shrink sketch on the members. Mom’s conflicted.”

“She may have to get unconflicted.”

“They’re tight,” Jenkinson put in. “We got the feeling the daughter was going to work on the mom about it.”

“I’ll take that for now. Thanks for the assist.”

She went to her office and plugged in the disc.

She scanned the names, the notes attached to each. Some of everything, Eve mused. Rape, abuse, emotional bullying, cheating partners, dumped by lovers, scammed, slapped, screwed over, beaten, belittled, badgered.

Some, by the notes, angry, some depressed, others guilt-ridden or ashamed. A lot of desperation and shattered egos.

Natalia had noted down if the woman mentioned children, her job, another relationship, a friend or family member, and whether those were supportive or combative.

She’d added whether or not the woman had reported the rape, abuse, or assault, if the woman had removed herself from the situation or remained in it.

Careful notes, Eve decided, and always nonjudgmental. Might pay to have her come in, give those thumbnails to Mira. Shrink to shrink.

Pausing, she took time to shoot a memo to Mira asking her if she agreed, and if so, would she contact Zula.

Then she read, with interest, the notes on Darla.

11/59: Husband left her for younger woman (had an affair with same during the marriage). Husband currently living with younger woman. Divorce entailed the sale of the company she’d built—his demand. Discovered he’d manipulated a majority share. Now living with grandmother.

Appears educated, bright, financially stable.

Appears emotionally shattered, feels worthless, unattractive, undesirable, foolish, bitter. Still in the grieving stage over death of marriage, broken trust, sexual betrayal.

Briefer notes illustrated progress or lack of same, mood, ability to connect with others in the group through the early part of 2060.

3/60: Appears stronger emotionally though cannot yet let go of her anger and sense of betrayal. I see a definite and encouraging bond with others in the group, a willingness to listen, sympathize. She no longer breaks down when she speaks of her own situation, but speaks with bitterness of her ex and the woman he left her for. Credits her grandmother for giving her support and strength.

Anger, bitterness, Eve thought. That she could buy. And that didn’t jibe, to her mind, with the floods of grief.

5/60: More interactive, more easily offering support and sympathy to others. Stated, emotionally, the group, the other women have helped her find purpose again, find self again.

7/60: Am told confidentially by Una that Darla gifted her with several thousand dollars to assist Una in renting an apartment. Showing generosity and friendship, a willingness to offer a hand up.

12/60: Brought small gifts for the group for the holiday meeting. Seemed very upbeat—though expressed some concern re grandmother, who is feeling poorly. Left early.

And that was the last entry. Sitting back, Eve thought it through.

She could play it two ways. One, the group support, the healing time, and blah blah brought Darla out of her hole, helped her shake off the negative feelings, focus on the positive. Helped her bond with other women and lift herself back up to a productive life.

Or, as she put her shattered self back together, listening to the other women—the betrayals, abuse—she re-formed into something twisted. Began to see herself as a kind of champion—an avenger.

Finding her purpose.

“And nothing here, just nothing here to push that either way.”

She gathered her things, went back to the bullpen and Peabody’s desk.

“Whatever it is shut it down, or bring it with you to work as we go.”

“Where are we going?”

“To light a fire under Dickhead at the lab. I want to know what Pettigrew had under his toenails.”

Peabody scrambled up, grabbed her coat. “I’ve been crossing the names Jenkinson and Reineke got from Zula with McEnroy’s list of victims and targets.”

“And?” Eve said as they walked.

“Some matches—it’s just first names, so I expected to match some. I thought I’d reach out to Sylvia Brant at Perfect Placement, see if she’d give me full names on the matches. Go from there.”

“Good angle, do that.”

“Just me?”

“If there are more than ten, I’ll take half, otherwise you push this angle.”

“You don’t think it’s going anywhere.”

“It could. Definitely could,” Eve countered as she suffered through the confines of a crowded elevator. “We have two already crossed. On one hand, the odds would say it’s a long shot for another. But offices have gossip trains, and somebody else might have gotten on, tried the group after the two we know of left.”

“Because they’d have mentioned another if they knew another.”

“Right. So it’s worth looking.”

“What’s your angle?”

“I want that substance, then I need to think. Some of the women in that group filed police reports. Not all, not even close, but some did. So I’m going to see what I can dig into there. First names, reported crime or offense, what other information comes out of Zula’s notes. She lists their first attendance, so that gives a time frame. And I’ll push Zula for more if I need to.”

“Do you want me on that?”

“I’ve got Mira on it, actually. You take your angle. Work it here, or take it home.”

“You’re still looking at Darla Pettigrew,” Peabody commented as they—finally—pushed out into the garage.

“Just something there—and Zula’s notes didn’t make me think otherwise.” In the car, Eve paused a moment. “First vic—a rapist, a vicious, ugly son of a bitch who drugged, raped, and threatened women. Second vic—cheated on his wife, then ends up with the woman he cheated on her with. He likes to bang LCs. He manipulated—and we can even say cheated—the ex out of a lot of money. But he doesn’t reach the level of vicious and ugly that McEnroy does. So why is he next on her list? Why is his torture more violent?”

“Okay. You’re going with it was personal because it was Darla.” Peabody considered as Eve drove out of the garage. “But it could just be
timing. He was next because she could get to him next. And the level of violence is characteristic escalation. Especially since there was no lull between.”

“Also true,” Eve admitted. “All of it.”

“And it could be the level of the crime or sin or offense—however she looks at it—isn’t the point. It’s all the same to her.”

Eve frowned over that. “That’s good.” Though she hated to admit it. “That could be true.” Still, she picked at it. “And it may be the timing goes to, yeah, who she can get to—and who she felt closest to in the group. Who she felt deserved or needed her brand of justice most. That’s something to add in there.”

“Maybe Natalia Zula would have some insight. Who she feels clicked, or made friends—maybe on the outside. Lester said some of them met for coffee or whatever.”

“Yeah. We’ll look there, or have Mira work with Zula there. Two good angles in a row, Peabody.”

“Woot.” Then she sighed. “I wish I didn’t get this feeling like something was off with Darla Pettigrew, too. I don’t know if I got it on my own or if I picked it up from you.”

“Right now, let’s play the angles.”

When they walked into the lab, the white-coated lab nerds worked busily at their counters, at their stations, inside their glass-walled rooms. Eve headed straight for chief lab tech Dick Berenski—not so affectionately known as Dickhead.

He hunched at a computer, his thin black hair slicked back over his egg-shaped head. His spidery fingers crawled over keyboards, slid over touch screens as he rolled on his stool from tool to tool at his workstation.

He spotted Eve, gave her the gimlet eye. “We’re working on it. Your
DB isn’t the only DB in the city. Plenty of live ones, too, need analysis.”

“How freaking hard is it to ID a substance sent to you hours ago—and flagged as priority?”

“Every other fricking substance comes in here’s flagged.”

He had a point, she knew, but she also knew how he operated. He was chief because he was damn good—and he was Dickhead because he liked squeezing out a little extra.

“Box seat, Mets game—if I get the results in the next sixty seconds.”

“Who wants to go to a game solo?”

“Two seats. Clock’s ticking.”

He smiled at her, and what she read in the smile just pissed her off. “You already have the results, you little weasel.”

“Now, now.” Still smiling, he patted his hands in the air. “I got ’em, and I was getting ’em refined when you came stalking in.”

He slid down the counter again, swiped another screen. “What Morris sent over’s scrapings of painted concrete.”

He tapped the screen again to bring up a bunch of figures and symbols only a nerd could translate. “So we work out the type and grade of concrete, the color and brand of the paint. Top grade, all around.”

“What does that mean?”

He gave her the gimlet eye, and the smug smile. “See, that’s what I’m going to tell you now that we got it. Means he dug those toenails into high-dollar painted concrete, not your cheap or mid-priced stuff like you’d perhaps see in some recreation center—but more country club–like. Skirt around a pool, say, or somebody’s finished-off fancy basement, a high-traffic lobby maybe. Perhaps an upscale apartment kitchen or john, like.”

“Okay.” Eve placed her bet on that fancy basement. Private. She’d add a bet for soundproofed. “I need more.”

“I’m working on it!” And indeed those spidery fingers got busy.
“We’re getting you a brand on the concrete. Yeah, yeah, see here—top grade. Six thousand psi, so you can eliminate big commercial buildings. You’d need a minimum of ten thousand psi there. So what you’ve got is most likely residential or a smaller building—like a duplex, a four-decker. Could be a pool skirt, garage floor, like that. It’s, there it is, it’s Mildock concrete. That’s not going to narrow it too much.”

He might be an irritating son of a bitch, Eve thought, but he knew his job inside and out.

“Keep going.”

“I’m gonna say, he dug in to get through the epoxy—epoxy, not paint.” He swiped, tapped, swiped. “Uh-huh, uh-huh. You’ve got nonslip additives here, so it’s going to be a floor, not a wall. It’s good stuff, like I said. Kreet-Seal brand. Their number EX-651, goes by Burnished Gold. Some waterproofing in there, so basement, kitchen, garage. Not likely around a pool, and not likely exterior. You’d want special epoxy for those heavy wet areas, and this isn’t.”

“Mildock six thousand psi concrete with Kreet-Seal Burnished Gold epoxy—nonslip, light waterproofing.”

“That’s it. It’ll have dings and scratches on it.”

“Yeah.” Maybe he’d earned those box seats. “Get me the written report.”

“You’re freaking welcome,” he called after her, shook his head, muttered, “Cops.”

Then checked his PPC for the next Mets home game.

“Do you want me to run this down?” Peabody asked Eve.

“I’ll get going on it. You play those angles—and cross-check the names. It’s easy enough from here to drop you back at Central or at home. Where do you want to work on this?”

“I’ll take home, and the quiet. Plus, we’re going down to Mavis’s for dinner—if we’re clear. I can bake something for dessert. Baking’s good play-the-angles time for me.”

“Whatever works.”

“I can walk from here, no problem. Pick up a couple things on the way home. It’s barely raining.”

“That works, too. If you hit anything, let me know.”

“Count on it. Hmm, spring shower. I think lemon meringue pie.”

As Eve got in the car, she wondered how anybody could think and bake at the same time. But apparently Peabody could manage it.

As she drove, she started a search on the in-dash on contractors who installed—she learned the term was
poured
—Mildock concrete floors.

She also learned there were a shitload of them who serviced the city.

She switched to the epoxy, got another shitload, narrowed it somewhat by filtering in the specific brand. From there she merged the two searches to see what companies both poured and painted.

She played with it in her head. Possible to do the whole job—pour the concrete, seal it up. Or possible to paint the seal on an existing floor.

Good news, she thought: They’d match the floor with the substance under the vic’s nails when they found the location.

Bad news: Finding the location from the type of concrete and sealer used on some sort of floor was going to be more luck than skill.

With her mind spinning it, she was almost surprised to drive through the gates. Maybe working while driving was her baking and thinking.

Green stuff speared up along the drive, and more green hazed the trees. Maybe, just maybe, despite the chilly rain (because of it?) spring was pushing winter aside.

She parked, grabbed her stuff. She decided she’d take a break, hit the gym for a sweaty workout to thoroughly clear her head before she got back to work.

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