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Authors: J. D. Robb

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BOOK: Vendetta in Death
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“Lady Justice,” Roarke reminded her. “You and I know very well one can justify anything if they believe or want enough.”

“You’re right.” She gestured with her wineglass. “You’re damn right. Still, what if Grand—she calls her Grand—wakes up while you’re out, comes looking for you? How do you explain that? Oh, I just went out for a walk or whatever—and left you alone.”

“But if Darla attended the support group, she’d have left Eloise alone.”

“Not really. Last time she went—last December—she talked about worrying her grandmother was coming down with something. They have a nurse come in during the day, but they both stated Darla’s the main caregiver, and the one in charge in the evenings, through the night. Droids.”

Eve ate as she considered it. “Crowded club, dim lights. Could she send a droid? Pettigrew couldn’t have had more than a couple minutes with the LC, so would he have made her for a droid?”

“How long does it take you to make one?”

Eve huffed out a breath. “I’m a cop. A really well-made droid could pass for a short time, especially in dim light. It lowers the risk, and it hits the irony meter hard re Pettigrew. Another droid to drive—or you have the one droid order autopilot at least until the target’s compromised. A droid could easily lift an unconscious man, or a dead one.”

“Death by droid?”

“No, no, she needs to do that herself.” Needs the blood, Eve thought. Needs to hear them scream.

And ultimately, needs to cut away what makes them men.

“Sure, with her knowledge she’d be able to program droids for violence and block detection,” she considered. “Probably. But she needs to confront, torture, kill. She’s not going to be a passive observer to that. Lady Justice has to act.”

She stabbed some steak, then narrowed her eyes. “Better—maybe better. How good is she at the programming, the creation? Maybe you’ve programmed a droid to watch over Grand while she sleeps. One who can send you a notification if you need to abort and get home, or get cleaned up—torture’s messy—and get up to her. You can program a droid with medical skills, same as you do a beat droid, a domestic, a sex droid with whatever skills are needed.”

“Risky,” Roarke pointed out. “If something happened to her, something went wrong while she was out of the house, how to explain it?”

“But nothing’s gone wrong, has it? They’ve got a domestic droid,” Eve added. “At least one that I saw. She piled on the shock and grief, Roarke. I mean piles and piles of it, and that just keeps hitting me wrong. It’s off. Are you going to feel all that for a man who screwed you over? Still feel all that for two years?”

Studying Roarke, Eve considered.

And he sighed. “I know that look.”

“I’d never get over you. If you screwed me over like that, it would crush me—I’d do my best to make you pay for it, but it would crush me.”

“No graphic example of making me pay?”

“They’d never find what was left of your body.” She smiled with it. “But the point is, I wouldn’t let people see it. If I grieved, if I still had feelings, they wouldn’t see it. Or not like that.”

“Well, to be fair, not everyone is capable of controlling their reactions, their emotions.”

“Two years. I’m going to buy she’s carried all this emotion for him around for two years when he stole what she built herself, when he tossed her aside for a younger—lots younger—woman with bigger tits? And at the same time, the group leader has notes on how Darla seemed to have turned a corner, how she seemed steadier and all that, but was still angry and bitter.”

Eve scooped up the last of the potatoes. “Steadier,” she continued, “maybe steadier because she’d worked out a plan, a solution. She bonded with the women in the group—that’s in the notes. She brought in gifts for Christmas. She gave one of them money to help her get a safe place to stay. She found her…”

She trailed off, searching, then grabbed the wine. “Tribe. Sort of.
Her tribe, and designated herself as their warrior, their avenger. Justice seeker.”

Pushing up, she went back to the board, circled, circled. Roarke stayed where he was, watching, enjoying watching her work.

“Maybe one or more of them joined in with her, but I don’t think so. I don’t see it—at least not yet. She’s doing it for them. For herself, sure, but for them. For women who get screwed over, who get knocked around, forced, harassed. All of it. She’s going to take care of the tribe first.”

“Not to toss a spanner in the works, but if she continues to kill men connected to women in the group, isn’t she bringing the investigation to her own door?”

“Already has,” Eve agreed. “Maybe she didn’t expect us to connect the group this fast, but she’s smart. She brings up the group herself. She can’t know we already know about it, but she brings it up herself to throw suspicion away if we move in that direction, or someone else mentions it.”

“Of course. Why would she mention it if she used it to select her prey?”

When Eve glanced back at him, her eyes were flat and cool. All cop. “She thinks she’s got it all covered. And she’s done a pretty good job of it. I’ve got no probable cause. None, zip. I just know.”

“How many in the group?” Roarke asked.

“It averages about fifteen.”

“When do they meet again?”

“Not soon enough. Not for another ten days. She’s already got another lined up. It’ll be soon, really soon. But who and where and why? She’s the only one who knows.”

Shaking her head, she jammed her hands in her pockets. “And I could be wrong, just wrong, and it’s someone else in the group. Someone we haven’t interviewed yet, who hasn’t connected yet. So I need
to put this aside, dig into what I’ve got. Painted concrete and a list of first names.”

“Isn’t it likely some of the women bonded outside the group? Met outside the group for additional support? Forged friendships?”

“Yeah. Leah Lester indicated as much, but none of the three women we’ve interviewed knows full names—or admits to it.” She aimed a stare at Darla’s ID shot again. “Except … Darla gave money to another member of the group. What did she do, just hand her a wad of cash? Unlikely.”

“Didn’t you say the money was to help the other woman secure a safe place to live?”

“Yeah, yeah, let’s just give that a push.”

She went back to her command center, found what she needed, tried Darla’s ’link.

“Hello, yes, Lieutenant. Have you found who killed Thaddeus?”

“We’re pursuing a line of investigation. You may be able to help.”

“Oh, of course. Anything. Just— I’m going to take this in the other room, Grand, and have Ariel make us that vid snack.”

Eve heard the murmur of a second voice, saw Darla give a quick smile. “You know I will.” The screen wobbled a little as Darla moved from what Eve could see was a bedroom done in elegant rose and cream.

“I’m sorry, Lieutenant. I was just helping Grand settle in for the evening. We’re actually going to watch
The Icove Agenda
. She wants to see it again now that she’s met you. It’s been a…” Her voice shuddered, tears swirled. “Just a horrible day. We both need some entertainment. What can I do to help you?”

“You made a monetary gift to another member of the support group last December.”

“Oh.” Distress rippled over her face. She ran a hand over the hair still drawn back in a tail. “That’s confidential.”

“Not anymore. I need the full name of the recipient.”

“Lieutenant, the entire framework of the group is built on mutual trust. And I don’t see that helping a—an acquaintance applies to this awful thing.”

“Two men connected to women in the group are dead. It applies. From what I’ve already learned, Una needed financial assistance to rent an apartment for herself and her young son.”

“He beat her!” Fury spiked, hot and fast. “She was living in a shelter.”

“Did she go to the police?”

Darla shut her eyes, and when she opened them, sorrow lived in them. But Eve had seen that fury, that fire.

“No, at least not the last I heard. He said he’d kill the boy if she did. She’d gotten a restraining order months before, for all the good it did. She was terrified. I can’t—I can’t talk to you about her private business. It’s not right.”

“Do you want your ex-husband’s killer brought to justice?”

“I—of
course
I do!”

“Give me her name before someone else dies.”

“You put me in a terrible position.”

“Let’s try this. Where did you transfer the money?”

As she pressed a hand to the side of her face, Darla’s eyes watered up again. “Oh God, how is that not just as bad? I wanted, I just wanted to do something good, something positive. I wanted to end a period of my life where I’d spent so much time wallowing in bitterness and self-pity into something positive.”

“And you did.”

Eve heard Eloise’s voice, saw Darla turn her head, watched her tears spill over. “Oh, Grand.”

“Tell Lieutenant Dallas what she needs to know, Darla. It’s the right thing, and your friend will understand that. Do the right thing, sweetie.”

“Nothing feels right.” Darla closed her eyes again, drew a breath. “She was trying to scrape together enough money for an apartment so she and her little boy could move out of the shelter. She’d gotten a job, but she just didn’t have enough. I paid the security deposit and first and last month’s rent, to give her a start, a chance. A place downtown. I honestly can’t remember the address. I’d have to look up the transfer.”

“Her name. I’ll find her.”

“It feels wrong,” Darla countered. “Una Kagen. Her little boy’s Sam. She’d never hurt anyone.”

“It’s imperative we contact members of the group. Do you have any other names?”

Darla began to rub the spot between her eyebrows. “I had coffee a few times after the meetings with Una and Rachel—they were close in age, both single mothers, and became friends. Una would know her full name. I think she’s the one who helped Una find the apartment. It was in Rachel’s building if I remember right.”

“Okay, that’s helpful. Thank you.”

“Please, Lieutenant, these women have already been through so much.”

“And I’ll do my best to prevent them from going through more. Thank you again.”

“She took back her maiden name,” Roarke said when Eve ended the transmission. “She’s Una Ruzaki since the divorce finalized in February. Hold a moment,” he added, as he continued to work his PPC. “There’s a Rachel Fassley at the same address. One marriage, widowed, one son, age six.”

“You keep being handy.”

“My mission in life. Are we having a trip downtown?”

“It’s always better to deal face-to-face. I’m going to say, first, you don’t have to go with me. Second, a man might skew things. But third,
it’d be good to have someone else’s impressions, especially if I can get to both of them. And when you put on Charming Roarke, it usually skews to the positive.”

“It’s easy, darling.” He swept a fingertip down her cheek. “Charming’s my default.”

“I wouldn’t go that far. You drive,” she added as they started out. “I want to look into the restraining order.”

When they got outside, she studied the vehicle he’d ordered out of the garage. Sleek, shiny, and cherry red, with doors that opened up in an arch rather than out.

“What is this?”

“New,” Roarke said easily and got behind the wheel.

Inside, the dash looked like the pilot’s cabin of a luxury off-planet shuttle. “How many vehicles do you need?”

He answered smooth as cream, “I’ve yet to find out.”

When the engine gave a throaty roar, when they flew along the driveway, she wished she’d taken the wheel.

Next time.

She spent her time on her PPC. “TRO against Arlo Kagen, age thirty-one, granted to Una Kagen. We’ve got a history of domestic disturbance reports spanning three years prior. Kagen did three months for misdemeanor assault—out in ninety days with probation, mandatory anger management. Bullshit. Guy’s got a serious drinking issue—it’s clear from what’s on the reports. Tunes up the wife or goes on a rampage. She filed for divorce, got the TRO, and he went at her again. Charges dismissed there, as he claimed she went at him—and they both had injuries.”

“More bullshit.”

“Yeah, it is.” She switched to Rachel Fassley. “Fassley’s husband of three years was killed during a robbery attempt five years ago. It looks like he tried to intervene, got stabbed multiple times. I don’t see any
thing … Hmm. Her employment history. Office manager until she had the kid, then professional mother status. Into the outside workforce last fall. Office manager—different office. Back to PM status after three months.”

“You assume something happened at the workplace.”

“Can’t assume,” Eve said. “But there’s nothing else. No reports filed. None filed during the three-year marriage on the husband.”

Eve sat back, let it cook. “I want to talk to both of them.”

 

15

Roarke opted for a lot near the apartment building on the
L
ower East Side. Considering the ride, Eve couldn’t blame him for rejecting a street slot, even if they found one.

Plus, since the piss-trickle rain had finally stopped, it wasn’t a bad night to walk a few blocks.

“I still have to try to run down the concrete, the epoxy,” Eve commented.

“You’ll learn that Mildock’s been in business more than a century, and the floor you’re looking for may have been poured long, long ago.”

She’d thought of that herself, but still scowled. “That’s not helpful.”

“Alternately, it may be a newer pour, or a resurfacing before the color sealer. I’d push more on the epoxy, which would need refreshing every decade or so if the floor gets any real traffic.”

She blew out a breath. “Odds of me hitting anything on either are slim to none. What it gives me is a match when we find the kill zone.”

He took her hand. “I wager I could dig up blueprints of Eloise
Callahan’s home here in New York without too much trouble. Then you’d know if a basement area exists.”

“A garage does. I saw it. But I like basement better. Or there might be another outbuilding behind the main house.”

“I’ll have a look when we get home again.”

They paused outside the building, both studying the layout, the security.

“I’d say the odds of the basement or subfloor of this building having a top-grade epoxy finish in Burnished Gold are too long to measure.”

Eve nodded. “Decent, working-class, reasonable security, but nothing approaching top-of-the-line. Door cam, and it looks like it’s in working order. We can take a look at the feed from the last couple nights, just to eliminate, but this isn’t it. It’s not going to be a multi-resident building. Not private enough.”

Eve glanced up. “They’re both on the fifth floor. Let’s take Ruzaki first, and see if we can pull Fassley in. Hitting them together’ll give me a sense of the dynamic.”

Ignoring the buzzer, she mastered into a small lobby that smelled lightly of pine cleaner and somebody’s take-out Chinese. She eyed the pair of elevators suspiciously.

“Let’s risk it.” Roarke called the car, tugged her inside. The elevator smelled exactly like the lobby.

When they exited on the fifth floor, she caught the pine, but not the Chinese.

“Right across from each other,” Eve noted, glancing from one apartment door to the other. “Ruzaki’s got police locks and a door cam.”

“Violent ex-husband,” Roarke surmised. “Still worried there, I’d say. Just the standards on Fassley’s, so either she can’t afford the extras, or she isn’t worried about someone forcing his way in.”

“I’m betting on the second.” Eve pressed the buzzer on Ruzaki’s door.

It only took a moment for the cautious voice to come through the intercom. “Yes?”

“Lieutenant Dallas and civilian consultant, NYPSD.” She held up her badge. “We’d like to speak with Una Ruzaki.”

“About what?”

“Ms. Ruzaki?”

“Yes.”

“It would be easier if we came in to speak with you.”

“Would you hold your badge a little higher? I’m going to contact the police and verify it.”

“Sure. Contact Cop Central.”

While they waited, Eve heard the murmur of entertainment screens, occasional kid squeals. Then the locks opened.

“I’m sorry. It’s better to be careful.”

“No problem.”

A quiet-looking brunette, Eve thought, mixed race, about five-three, on the thin side. She was dressed in what looked like plaid pajama pants, a white T-shirt, and bright red house skids.

“What’s this about? Sorry, come in.”

The living area was decorated in quiet colors like the woman, except for an area sectioned off in a kind of playroom. That held brightly colored blocks and toys in a bin. Another section held a small table and chairs. The tablet, the glass of something fizzy indicated Una had been sitting there when they arrived.

“Your name’s come up during the course of an investigation. We believe you might be able to provide additional information.”

Her fingers twisted together to match the nervous expression on her face. “What kind of investigation?”

“I’m Homicide.”

“Oh. God. Wait.” She hustled down a short hallway, peeked in a room, then quietly closed the door. “My son. He’s only three. I don’t want him to wake up and hear … I don’t know anything about a murder. Is it someone I know?”

When her lips pressed together, Eve read both hope and dread on her face.

“Do you know Nigel McEnroy or Thaddeus Pettigrew?”

“No, I … wait, I heard about that killing uptown. The McEnroy person. I heard about that. I don’t know … I know someone named Pettigrew, but she’s a woman.”

“Darla Pettigrew. Thaddeus Pettigrew was her ex-husband. You may have missed the reports that he was also murdered.”

“I—I’m sorry. I don’t understand. I didn’t know either of these men.”

“You knew women connected to them, women in your support group.”

She went very stiff. “I go to a support group for women, it’s confidential. It’s anonymous. We only use first names.”

“I’m aware of that. I’ve spoken to Natalia Zula, who formed the group. I’ve spoken to three other members, ones connected to the victims.”

“But I’m not. I didn’t know them.” Stress spiked through her voice. “I don’t know anything.”

“Would you like your drink, Ms. Ruzaki?” Though Roarke spoke gently, quietly, she jerked. “Let me get it for you.”

He walked over, got it off the table.

“You knew Darla’s last name,” Eve pointed out.

“She did me a favor. She helped me.” Una took the glass from Roarke with hands that trembled.

“You seem nervous,” Eve commented.

“I have police in my house talking about murders. And my group, that’s private. Yeah, I’m nervous.”

“Why don’t you tell us where you were last night, and the night before, between nine
P.M
. and four
A.M
.”

“Oh my God, I’m a suspect. How can I be a suspect about murders of men I didn’t even know?”

“It’s a routine question. Can you answer it?”

“I was here.” Her eyes darted from Eve to Roarke, back again. Not in evasion, to Eve’s gauge, but with the look of prey frozen before a predator’s pounce. “I was home. I have a three-year-old. I—I’d have been studying. After I put Sam to bed, about eight, I pick up around here, then I work or study. I’m taking courses, online business and management courses. Ah—ah, night before last we had an interactive lesson from nine to ten. I can show you! And I stayed on with a couple of the other students until about ten-thirty. Then I got ready for bed. I didn’t go out at all. I have a baby.”

“And last night?”

“I studied until about ten. Then— Oh! Rachel came over. My friend. We had a glass of wine and talked until about eleven. Rachel, she watches Sam while I go to work.”

“That would be Rachel Fassley? Another member of the group?”

“It’s private,” she said as tears filled her eyes.

“Una.” Roarke drew her attention with that same gentle tone. “Would you be more comfortable if I asked Rachel to join us?”

“I don’t want to drag her into this. I just—”

“We’re going to talk to her anyway.” Eve spoke crisply, letting Roarke hit the soft spots. “We can do it separately or together.”

“I— All right. Don’t scare her. I can show you my work, show you I was online.”

“We’ll get to that,” Eve said, and gave Roarke a nod. When he went out, she leaned into Una.

“When we came in, you thought—worried—we were here about something else.”

“I thought maybe it was something about my ex.”

“You had difficulties with him.”

“We’re divorced. I have a restraining order. He has visitation rights with Sam, but he never uses them, and I’m glad. I’ll tell you about Arlo if I have to, but I can’t tell you about what the others talked about in the group. It’s private.”

“But Darla did talk about her ex-husband?”

“Please don’t ask me. Please.”

“How about telling me the last time you saw or spoke with her?”

“Right before Christmas. She helped me get this apartment, she paid two months’ rent and the security deposit. Nobody’s ever done anything like that for me before. She’s so kind.”

“But she hasn’t been back to the group.”

“No. I keep hoping, because I want to thank her again.”

“You don’t know how to contact her?”

“No. Even if I did, it would be rude. She knows where I live because she helped. If she wanted to talk to me, she could. We don’t invade each other’s privacy.”

She looked up as the door opened, and relief spilled out when a woman—trim, blond, in flannel pants and a sweatshirt—came in.

“Oh, Rachel.”

“Easy does it, Una.” She had a sharp, native New Yorker voice and a no-nonsense attitude as she walked over, sat next to her friend. She gave Una a pat on the knee. “Okay, what’s all this about murder?” She took a glance at the device in her hand, set it on the table. “My boy’s across the hall sleeping. I’ve got a monitor on him in case.”

“We’re investigating the murders of Nigel McEnroy and Thaddeus Pettigrew.”

“I heard there was a second one, but … Wait a minute. Pettigrew. That’s not Darla’s ex, is it?”

Una gripped Rachel’s hand, nodded.

“Well, shit.”

“Two members of your group,” Eve continued, “or former members, had a connection to the first victim.”

“Who?”

“Rachel, we can’t—”

“Una, honey, two murders. Cops gotta do their job. My husband was killed. Best man I ever knew. The cops did their job, and the one who took him away from me and our son’s in prison because they did.” She looked back at Eve. “Who?”

“Jasmine Quirk, Leah Lester.”

“Jasmine, Leah.” Rachel shut her eyes. “Let me think. Didn’t they come as a set, Una? I mean one brought the other in, if I remember right. It’s been awhile since they came around. I think one of them moved. They worked together, and the big boss raped them.”

“It’s their story, Rachel.”

“And they’ve already told me,” Eve put in. “You’re not disclosing anything I don’t know. Nigel McEnroy was the big boss.”

“Holy shit.” Rachel blew out a breath.

“Let’s get where you were out of the way. Last night,” Eve said, “and the night before. From nine
P.M
. to four
A.M
.”

“I’d have been going through the nightly battle of getting my boy in bed about nine, both nights. Once I won the war—I always win—I had my weekly marathon with my mom—she and my pop live in Florida now, so we blab on the ’link for an hour or so every week. Then I conked out watching some screen. Last night, same battle, same victory. Then
I paid some bills, folded some laundry, and to reward myself, came over here with a bottle of wine, gabbed with Una for a while. I guess we broke up about eleven. We had work the next day.”

“Your data indicates you have professional mother status.”

“Yeah, I do, and I need it.” Direct in every way, Rachel pinned Eve with a hard look. “You can be a jerk about it and report me, but once a week Una and I clean the public areas of the building. We get a break on the rent that way. It’s under the table. I also get a little bit from Una for watching the adorable Sam. I don’t report either.”

“It sounds as if you’re an enterprising woman,” Roarke said, and earned a smile.

“I’m a widow with a growing boy. I have to be enterprising.”

“Why are you in the group?” Eve asked.

She heaved out a breath. “Gotta go there. Okay. I managed a small office, and gave that up after we had Jonah. Chaz and I both wanted to give him a full-time parent for the first couple years, and Chaz made a lot more than I did. I was starting to think about maybe easing a toe back into the workforce, just part-time, when that hyped-up junkie son of a bitch killed my husband.”

Now Una moved closer, slid an arm around Rachel. “So I stuck with professional mother status until Jonah started school. Then I took a job managing another small office—a father-son deal. Travel brokers—brokered luxury resorts and houses worldwide. Good hours, decent pay and benefits. I could walk Jonah to school, then go another couple of blocks and be at work. I had a friend who picked him up with her kid, took him home after school. Everything close by, so I’d swing by and get him around five, and be able to put dinner together, spend the evening with my kid. It was perfect.”

“Until?”

“The dad portion’s off for a few days, traveling to check out some new properties. The son portion locked the office. I didn’t see him do
that, didn’t notice until he came at me. We were going to have some fun, that’s what he said. Let’s have some fun while he’s shoving me against the wall, grabbing my tits, trying to pull my clothes off. I’m going to admit that at first I was so shocked I just kept asking him to stop and trying to stop his hands. Then I got pissed, really pissed, and I kneed him in the balls just like my pop taught me. First time I had to use the move, but it worked.”

“Good for you,” Roarke said.

“Yeah, well, I went a little nuts after, yelling at him, threatening to sue or go to the cops, and he just started laughing. He told me to go ahead, how nobody would believe me. His father owned the place, and his father would believe him, and I’d be out on my ass without a reference. Shit like that. The guy’s rich, spoiled, good-looking, with a wife and a kid. He says how I’d be smart to just lie back and enjoy it because I’m fucked either way.

“And he was right, I could see it. I’ve got a kid to think about. So I grabbed my things and got out. Refiled for professional mother status. I didn’t know how much it shook me until I caught myself making excuses for not going out, and when I had to, looking over my shoulder. And that started pissing me off.”

When Una offered her fizzy water, Rachel took it, drank, breathed out. “Thanks. Anyway. When I saw this flyer for the group, I thought maybe that’s something to do. At least I can talk about it. I couldn’t afford to get my head shrunk, but this was free. And it helped, a hell of a lot. Some of the women, most of them, had it a hell of a lot worse than me, and more than that, they listened, they cared. Now I go for them, for the ones who need someone to listen, someone to care.

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