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Authors: J. D. Robb

Vendetta in Death (20 page)

BOOK: Vendetta in Death
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“Trying to make a Free-Ager out of her?”

“All Free-Agers are gardeners, but not all gardeners are Free-Agers. Anyway … We’re meeting the owner? The bar?”

“No, the bartender-slash-manager. The owners are a couple of guys in Newark who, according to them and the bartender, haven’t been in the place for weeks. We’ll get more out of the guy who worked the bar last night.”

When they reached it, Eve studied the exterior.

A long, long way from McEnroy’s watering grounds, Nowhere suited its name. It hunched between an empty storefront advertising it was for sale or lease, and a pawn shop with its steel doors locked down.

Its single window, dingy with grime, framed a swirl of neon—currently dark—reading
NOWHERE
. While security included triple police locks and a sign with a toothy dog claiming that Bulldog Alarm system guarded the building, it didn’t include a door cam.

She didn’t have to see the interior to recognize a drinking establishment where the patrons came to down the cheap until they had enough of a buzz to stumble out and face their crap-filled lives.

A dim excuse for a light came on inside. She saw movement, then heard the locks snap open.

The man who stood in the door had a lot of snarled ink-black hair with brassy streaks falling past his shoulders. The shoulders were wide, the arms bearing sleeve tats and biceps that bulged.

Dark circles dogged bleary brown eyes. Even his sneer looked tired.

“You the frigging cops?”

“Lieutenant Dallas, Detective Peabody. You the frigging bartender?”

“Yeah. Shit.” He jerked a thumb in aggrieved invitation. “We got the licenses posted, right there.”

She noted them, and further noted she hadn’t been wrong about the establishment. A dump of a dive, she concluded, for cheap and serious drinking, fellowship not required.

“We’re not here about your license, Mr. Tiller.”

“Whatever you’re here about better be good enough to roust me out of bed at this hour.”

“Murder good enough for you?”

“Ah, fuck.” He walked away, flipped up the pass-through to go behind the bar. He pulled a bottle from under the bar along with a shot glass. Poured the shot, downed it. “What’s it to me?”

Eve stepped up to the bar, brought Kagen’s ID shot up on her PPC. “Do you know this man?”

“He dead?”

“He is.”

“Yeah, I know him. A regular. Regular asshole.”

“When did you last see or speak to him?”

Tiller jabbed a finger at a stool. “He was sitting there last night, bitching about the ball game on-screen. Doesn’t like baseball, and too fucking bad. I do, and I run the bar.”

“Was he alone?”

“Come in alone, like always.” Tiller pulled out another bottle, a tall glass. Eve didn’t know what he poured, but it smelled like seaweed. He spiked it with another shot.

“What time did he come in?”

“Hell, I don’t know. Ordered a beer, a bump, some grub. His usual. Had another, bitching about the game. I said how he could take off if
he didn’t like it. Not like he tips worth a shit anyhow. But he orders another round. I got some regulars watching the game, so I tell him to zip it or I’ll boot him.”

“I bet he zipped it,” Peabody said, trying some flattery.

Tiller shrugged, downed half of the spiked seaweed. “I booted him before, he knows I’ll do it again.”

“Did he talk with anyone else, interact, leave with anyone?”

“Yeah. Some street snatch walks in, takes a stool, orders a brew. He plays big shot, has me put it on his tab. He runs a weekly, pays up or he don’t get served.”

“What did she look like?” Eve demanded.

“Like a street snatch.”

Eve knew his type. Hard-ass, didn’t like cops, and hoped to shrug them off.

Not going to happen.

“Tiller, would you rather have this conversation in the box at Central?”

“You can get off my case,” he tossed back. “What the fuck do I know? I work the bar, I hold this crap joint together for a shitty paycheck, shittier tips, and the shithole apartment upstairs. Might not even have that much longer, as the dickwads who own the place and don’t put a goddamn dime into it start talking about selling it off. Bad frigging investment. I do my job, you get it? And my job isn’t to pay attention to some pross. I got her a beer, that’s it.”

“Try again. How old was she?”

“Fucking A.” He wasn’t happy, Eve judged, but he knew when he hit up against another hard-ass—and one with a badge. “Old enough to drink. Probably old enough to have a kid old enough to drink.”

“Give me a range.”

“Shit. Maybe forty. She looked used up.”

“Race?”

“Who gives a shit?”

“I do.”

“White probably. I keep the lights down, okay? It’s not like we get high-class in here.”

“Hair color.”

“Fuck me!” He drained the rest of the seaweed, then frowned as if the taste had jogged something. “Purple.”

“You’re sure?” Eve pressed, thinking of the black hair. “Light or dark?”

“Shit, purple-purple, what I know? Like those smelly flowers on the big bushes.”

“Lilacs?” Peabody suggested, and he half toasted her with his empty seaweed glass.

“Yeah, that stuff. Covered half her face now that I think about it. But you could see a scar down her cheek. She wasn’t nothing to get wood over, you ask me, but that don’t matter to Kagen, the asshole.”

“He left with her?”

“Yeah. She left a damn near full beer and takes him off for a bang or BJ. Not my business.”

“What time did she come in? What time did they leave?”

“Jesus!” Muscles and tats rippled when he threw up his hands. “I don’t the fuck know. You can drag my sorry ass to Central, and I still won’t know. I had customers, okay? The cheap-ass owners won’t even pay for a server. I’m on my own, every frigging night, six to two.”

“Did you have the Yankee–Red Sox game on the bar screen?”

He gave Eve his tired sneer. “Shit yeah, what else?”

“What inning was it when she came in?”

He opened his mouth, closed it again. Narrowed his eyes. “Bottom of the fifth. One out, runner on second. Jeraldo takes a ball, then knocks
a nice blooper to right field. Runners on the corners. And what does that asshole Murchini do? He hits into a double play, retires the side with two on. She walked in about when Murchini came to the plate.”

“Okay. What inning did they leave?”

“Huh. Wait a minute.” Replaying the ball game tweaked his interest, just enough. “I’m getting her beer and the Sox go three up, three down. So bottom of the sixth. Cecil fouls back the first pitch, low and outside for ball one, he takes the next pitch, misses the corner, ball two, then he hits one to the hole. Sox shortstop’s all over it, but Cecil beats the throw to first.”

He nodded to himself. “Yeah, bottom of the sixth, they walk out with Unger coming up to bat, Duran’s on deck. Sox catcher goes to the mound to settle the pitcher down. They walk out.”

“Unger’s a monster,” Eve said conversationally. “What’s he batting, .330?”

“Yeah, that’s right. A guy who can walk out with a man on, no outs, Unger coming to the plate, the score tied two to two, that’s an asshole.”

“Can’t argue that. Would you say Kagen was drunk?”

A little less annoyed, Tiller shrugged. “He don’t ever leave here sober. Not my problem.”

“Have you seen the woman before?”

“Not in here. Outside, one street snatch is the same as the next, you ask me.”

Eve nodded to Peabody, who pulled the two sketches on her PPC, offered it to Tiller. “Did she look like either of these women?”

“Nowhere near classy like that one, nowhere near sexy like that one. Look, you ask me, no way that used-up pross offed Kagen anyway. Not unless she had somebody do it, and what for? It’s not like he had anything worth taking.”

“Did she take the stool beside him? Were there other seats, empty booths, chairs?”

“Yeah, she sat next to him. Sure there were empties. Not like we pack ’em in here, especially on weeknights.”

“Do you think they knew each other?” Peabody asked.

“Don’t know, but I haven’t seen her in here before. We get prossies come in now and then, trolling. He’d bite now and again, if they came cheap. He’s a cheap bastard, but paying for it’s the only way he’d get it, you ask me.

“Look, you gonna let me get some sleep anytime this frigging century?”

“Yeah. We appreciate your cheerful and selfless cooperation.” Knowing the futility, Eve still left a card on the bar. “If you see her again, or remember anything else, contact me.”

“Right.”

She imagined he tossed the card before the door closed behind her.

“You don’t want to have Yancy work with him?” Peabody asked.

“He wouldn’t cooperate, and we can’t make him. Plus, he didn’t really see her.”

“But, the scar,” Peabody began.

“He saw the scar because she wanted him to see the scar. He remembers that, the hair color, the fact she came off as a used-up street LC because that’s what she wanted people to see.”

With the long coat sweeping behind her, Eve shot her hands into her trouser pockets. “He gave us plenty. She knew Kagen used street level, liked them cheap. She knew he’d be drinking in there, and by that time would already have a couple in him. All she has to do is offer him a bang or BJ at a bargain price, and he’s going to go with her. All she has to do is distract him for a couple seconds, spike his drink, and he’d go with her.”

“Have a car waiting,” Peabody continued. “Not in front, around the corner, down the block. Of the three, this one was probably the easiest.
Not necessarily the quickest, but the easiest. Dim, grungy bar, target’s already at least half-hammered.”

“You’re right on that, all the way right.”

The police work continued at the crime scene, but the gawkers had lost interest.

Peabody climbed into the car. “That was smart, using the ball game to jog his memory. He was a pissy wit to begin with, but using the ball game changed the angle. How does anybody remember all that?” she continued as Eve pulled away. “I mean the inning and who’s where, even balls and strikes and all that.”

Eve glanced over. “Because, for Christ’s sake, it’s baseball.”

“I like baseball okay,” Peabody said. “But I don’t—”

Eve shot up a hand. “Baseball is not to be
liked okay
. Revere it, or do not speak of it.”

“Well, okay, I can revere the players look frosty in those cute uniforms.”

“You make me sad, Peabody. You make me very sad.” When Peabody started to speak, Eve shot up her hand again. “Don’t say anything else to make me sad enough I’m compelled to punch you.”

“We could talk about murder. That won’t make you sad enough to punch me.”

“Wise choice.”

“It’s not talking about you-know-what to ask what time the bartender hit with the you-know-what with the things that happen on the segments discussed.”

“Since I was working when said game happened, I can’t say, as such things vary according to the specific game, players, calls, and so on. Look it up.”

“Look up the … can I use the actual words, or will you feel compelled to punch me?”

“You get a pass. Look up last night’s Yankees game, run a replay on the bottom of the fifth.”

“I can do that.” Peabody got to work, then cringed. “Please don’t punch me, but I’m not sure I completely followed who was where in the game when he said she came in.”

“Murchini’s coming to the plate. There’re runners on first and third.”

“Okay, got it, wait … Oh, he
is
frosty. Time’s eight-fifty-three.”

“A little earlier this time. Check the bottom of the next inning.”

“Okay, okay.”

“The Yankees have a man on first, with Unger coming up to bat. You’re going to have a time-out as the Sox’s catcher talks to his pitcher.”

“Got it, got it. Gee, this Unger guy is seriously built. We’ve got nine-seventeen.”

“Didn’t waste time, did she?” Eve mused. “Got him out pretty quick.”

“Dallas, given the TOD, she spent nearly seven hours with Kagen.”

“Maybe she wanted more time. Maybe she overdosed him some since he’d already had so much alcohol in him. Maybe she had other things to do in there.”

She pulled into the garage at Central, into her slot.

“Darla Pettigrew,” Peabody said as they got out. “If we look at her, and I know that’s where you’re leaning, so if we look at her? One of the maybes is she had to take some time out to do something for or with her grandmother. I mean she started earlier, so what if she had to come back, spend some time with Eloise, either to establish an alibi or because Eloise needed something? I just don’t think the relationship there’s faked, on either side.”

“I don’t, either. And that’s good, Peabody,” she added as they got in the elevator. “That’s good. It costs her some time, time she makes up on the other end. TOD’s three-fifty-six, wit finds the DB, calls it in at four-fifty-eight.”

“If she’s staked out the target’s building—and she had to at some point, right?—she’d probably know when the wit got home, knew her window. I mean, why take chances?”

“She knew her window,” Eve agreed. “I bet she cut it close, but she knew her window. He’s dead about four, and she has to get him loaded up, transported up to 179th, laid out before Cohen walks home, arriving right about five. Yeah, she cut it close.”

“It works for me.” Used to it, Peabody barely sighed when Eve shoved off the elevator for the glides. “I see how it plays, so it works for me. But I don’t see, right now, how we prove it.”

“We’re going to write it up, send a memo to Mira to update any applicable profile. We’re going to interview the other women identified as part of the support group. We’re going to see if the DB told Morris anything new, then we’re going to nag the shit out of Harvo on the hair.”

“So, another day in paradise.”

“We’re going to run down that hair, Peabody. And we’re going to pay another visit to the legend and her granddaughter.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. One step at a time.”

She headed straight to her office, coffee, her board, and her book.

It infuriated her to add the third victim.

“Okay, bitch,” she said aloud, “you got your hat trick, but I’ll be damned if you notch a fourth.”

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