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Authors: J. D. Robb

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“What?”

With a smile, Mira came the rest of the way in, took a scan of the board. “Your profile of Darla Pettigrew is very astute. Your correlation to her relationship with her grandmother, what her own ambitions, emotional development, expectation may have been, may be through that relationship, strikes as accurate.”

Mira eased a hip on the corner of Eve’s desk. “Your summation there, and theory, lean heavily on your belief she’s killed. How confident are you that’s the case?”

“I’ve run probability scans that—”

“No, not what a probability scan calculates. How confident are you?”

“Ninety-five percent. I’d say a hundred, but there’s always a chance I’m wrong, and I have to factor that in.”

As she spoke, Eve turned to her board, hooked her thumbs in her belt loops, studied Darla’s photo.

“I have to factor in that she buzzed for me right off. Straight off, and I can’t shake it. So because I’ve looked at her from the start, that could influence the rest.”

“I’d love a chance to speak with her, evaluate her myself.”

“I want her in the box.” Eve turned back. “I need a reason to get her there. I’m working on that.”

“Then I’ll leave you to it.” Mira straightened. “So far, her violence has focused on men, and specifically men who have wronged women in her support group. But that violence would, unquestionably, spread to anyone who attempts to stop her from enacting her form of justice. So while, for the moment, she sees you as a kind of colleague, that will change.”

“Yeah. I figure to give that one a little push later today.”

“Then be careful.”

“One question,” Eve said as Mira started out. “Is a bag of soy chips some sort of lunch?”

“No,” Mira said, and kept going.

“Damn it.”

Eve considered pizza, and also the consequences if the scent escaped into the bullpen. Chaos, rioting. Besides, she just wasn’t hungry enough to waste a good slice.

She tried soup—noted she had several kinds. Roarke was a sneaky son of a bitch, too. She opted for a cup of minestrone—and a bag of soy chips.

Peabody came in as she was downing it. “The next…” Peabody sniffed the air. “That’s not Vending soup. That’s real soup.”

“So?”

“Well, it’s just … Smells really good.”

Eve turned, programmed another cup. “Here, and shut up about it.”

“Man, thanks. Mae Ming’s here, and I shot you the basic details from the Brinkman run.”

“Take Ming. I’ll take the morgue, and swing by the lab for Harvo.”

“Good deal for me.”

“Depending on timing, you take the other two we have coming in. Then tag Brinkman, get her in here. If you get more names, get them in here.”

“You can count on it.”

Eve grabbed her coat, dropped the bag of chips in her pocket. “I am. Don’t touch my AC.”

She walked out to the bullpen, scanned her cops, scanned the board, and noted Baxter and Trueheart had indeed caught one. In fact two, as they’d caught a murder/suicide.

She glanced toward Trueheart, who sat grim-faced at his desk working on a report. He’d lost a lot of the green, she thought, but part of what made him a good cop was his ability to feel the weight of the job.

She could see a lot of weight on his face at the moment.

She had a serial killer on her hands, Eve thought, but she had men who needed a boss.

She walked to his desk. “Detective.”

“Sir.”

“Where’s your partner?”

“He’s in the break room, getting some coffee. We just got in from—”

“Yeah, I see the board.”

“It looks like a domestic dispute. They were in the middle of a contentious divorce and custody deal. Two kids, eight and ten. He went to her place. No forced entry, so it looks like she let him in. He stabbed her multiple times, then slit his own throat.”

“The kids?”

“In school, that’s a blessing. A neighbor heard her screaming, couldn’t get in because he’d bolted the door. Neighbor called it in, but it was too late. She had a sister. The kids are with the sister.”

“Trueheart, sometimes there’s nothing for us to do but write it up. There’s nobody to hunt down, bring in, put in a cage. We can only write it up and close it.”

“I know it, Lieutenant. Baxter said the same.” He let out a breath. “I’m writing it up.”

All they could do, she thought again as she headed out. Dealing with the times that was all you could do was part of the job. And you hoped it pushed you to do everything you could when you could.

She let New York roll over her as she drove to the morgue. Nowhere near peaceful now as its noise, hurry, color, anger, amusement rolled. You couldn’t live and work in a city with all of that, with the intensity of all of that, and not hit times when you could only write it up. And times, she needed to believe more times, you could and would do everything.

So she walked that white tunnel for the third day running determined. Committed. And seriously pissed off.

Morris walked out of the double doors before she reached them.

“Dallas. You just caught me on the way to lunch.”

She pulled the chips out of her pocket. “Trade you for a quick summary.”

“I do have a fondness for chips.” He stepped back in; she followed.

And saw three bodies on three slabs.

“Murder-suicide,” Morris said when he saw her study the other bodies.

“Yeah, I know. Baxter and Trueheart. The husband’s way of settling a divorce and custody dispute.”

“She fought. I can tell you, even before my full exam, she fought. She didn’t go down easy.” He patted Eve’s arm, stepped over to Kagen.

“On the other hand, he didn’t fight. Couldn’t, as he was drunk, then drugged. My summation includes the belief that the initial stimulant to bring him around failed. He was too far under. It’s the same barbiturate, the same stimulant as the other two victims. It’s simply in this case, the victim had consumed nearly three pints of beer and three shots of rye whiskey prior to the addition of the barbiturate.”

“It’s why she didn’t do as much damage as she did with the second victim. Maybe. The broken arm, that’s symbolic, as he’s left-handed, beat his wife.”

“Yes, dominant left. He also had a very good start on cirrhosis of the liver, and other health issues. His first wounds, and the last? Only three to four hours between. You’re quite right, she didn’t have or didn’t spend as much time with him.”

“No point torturing him until he’s conscious. And I think she may have had to break off. Then she had to get him back before one of the residents came home from night shift work. Used to be on the job, so he was helpful.”

“A stroke of luck.”

“So was the hair Peabody found that I’m hoping Harvo’s nailed down for us. He tell you anything else?”

“The scarring on his knuckles indicates he used his fists regularly over the years. The damage to his body tells me he drank to excess just as regularly, had a poor diet, sketchy dental hygiene. Not helpful.”

“You have to know the vic to know the killer. She knew all of this. He was likely the easiest mark of the three, and still she made mistakes. Gave him too much of the drug, had to rush her kill so she didn’t check the body well enough to make sure she didn’t leave anything.

“She’s getting sloppy,” Eve concluded, “and also taking bigger risks. She sat right at the bar with this one, long enough to order a drink, have a conversation, with the bartender right there. So…”

She tossed him the chips. “Thanks.”

Eve thought it through on her way to the lab. Definitely sloppy to overdose him. She had to know him for a heavy drinker. Then again, big guy, and she didn’t want to risk him having any fight left in him.

Sloppier yet to leave the hair.

Not the lavender wig. So she got rid of the disguise before she went to work on him.

She had to bank on Harvo matching the DNA.

When she reached the lab, Eve angled for Harvo’s glass-walled domain. The queen of hair and fiber sat on her stool at a leg of her work counter. She wore what could be termed a lab coat providing your definition thereof stretched wide, as her version was a bunch of inexplicable symbols scrolled over a field of bright spring green.

Her own hair, drawn back in a little bouncy tail, matched the field. A tiny glittery stud—green ranked as the day’s color—winked on the side of her nose.

She had tunes going, bouncy like her tail of hair, as her fingers—tipped in more green—danced over her screen.

She glanced over as Eve stepped in, shot out a smile. She snapped her fingers three times. The music shut off.

“Hey, Dallas. Hanging tough? Just finished your deal. Take off a load,” she invited with a gesture to another stool.

“I’m good, thanks. A little pressed.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know how that rides. So your hair had your vic’s blood and skin tissue all over it. And see, like, some started to scab over, so he was still breathing when she lost it on him—and it stuck in the blood. Just his blood and tissue, btw.”

“Could you get DNA?”

“Old hair, Dallas. Old, dead hair, no root. What you sent me came from human hair, yeah, but old. It came from an enhancement.”

No DNA, she thought. Not as big a turn in luck as she’d hoped.

“A wig?”

“Possibly extensions or lifters, but I say wig at a solid eighty-five percent. And no cheapie deal. Human hair, almost all non–color treated, so whoever sold or donated it had true black hair.”

“Almost all?”

Harvo swiveled, brought up a magnification of the hair on-screen. “Just a touch—tiny—of silver there. And that’s color added—hard to tell how much because this strand broke off. It’s not root to tip, but a partial.”

Eve didn’t bother to ask how she’d know all that. No need to question the queen.

“And that’s a pro color—Numex brand, Lightning Strike. So I’m seeing what’s most likely some drama streaks,” Harvo told her, “because most people aren’t going to add silver to a wig except for that.”

“Because most people remove the gray—or silver.”

All cheer, Harvo tapped a finger in the air. “Exactamundo. Now, maybe somebody wanted to add age in—like for a costume or whatever. In any case, there’ll be some silver streaked or dashed like through
the wig. The hair? I’m saying Asian. It’s good, thick, healthy. That costs. And it’s been well-maintained. Professionally maintained, with professional-grade products. Specifically, Allure Hair Enhancement Conditioner.”

“You got a brand on that, too?”

“Dallas.” Harvo spread her hands. “Who you talking to?”

“You got a brand,” Dallas repeated, this time as a statement. She wanted to ask if Harvo was sure about the wig, but didn’t. She did know who she was talking to.

“She posed as a street level. Purple hair. The bartender said purple, like lilacs, not black. He was two feet away. Even in dim light, he couldn’t mistake the color. Why does she change wigs? Why does she wear a wig when she’s torturing them?”

“Above my pay grade on that. Could just be she likes different looks for different, you know, tasks.”

“Costumes?” Eve turned a circle, paced. “Just like you said. Is it all costumes? Part of the role? Wouldn’t she want them to see her when she’s got them in her control? When they’re helpless? Wouldn’t she—”

She stopped, turned back. “They do. Son of a bitch. They do see her, as she sees herself. Lady fucking Justice.”

“Well, Lady fucking Justice wore a top-of-the-line, human hair, professionally maintained wig when she offed this guy. That I can tell you.”

“Yeah. Yeah, she did. Thanks, Harvo.”

“Here to serve.”

Eve stopped at the doorway. “What’s all that?” she asked, circling a finger toward Harvo’s lab coat.

“On the coat? Dallas, that’s the periodic table. Better life, and better death, through chemistry, right?”

“Hard to argue. See you around.”

 

18

Eve walked back into
H
omicide
,
saw
P
eabody

s empty desk
.

“Peabody?” she asked Baxter.

“In Interview.”

No point in pushing in on that, she decided. “I may need a stakeout team tonight. Looking at maybe nineteen to twenty-three hundred. You and Trueheart volunteered.”

“Yeah, we’re selfless that way. Is this the Lady Justice case?”

“She’s on a streak, and I can’t see her breaking it. One potential target’s out of town, but the other’s got a fancy deal later tonight. She may try to scoop him up from there.”

“Have tux, will travel.”

“You’re not going to the fancy deal. You’re going to sit on a big, fancy house. I need to know if and when my prime suspect leaves. Any vehicle, but so far she’s used a dark town car. You see that vehicle or a white all-terrain, a silver sedan leave the residence, you tag me, and you follow.”

“Hear that, kid?” Baxter said to Trueheart. “It’s time for stakeout snacks.”

“If she hasn’t gone after him by twenty-three hundred, she’s taking a pass. But … stick an hour after that.” She rattled off the address, strode to her office.

Programmed coffee, pulled out her ’link.

“Lieutenant, aren’t we chatty today?”

“Not chat. And shouldn’t you be buying up some third-world country and crowning yourself king instead of answering your ’link?”

“I did that this morning.” Roarke smiled. “And just finished a lunch meeting where I approved the plans for my palace. What can I do for you?”

“What’s the black-tie deal Brinkman’s going to tonight?”

“Ah, it’s the annual Spring Gala hosted by Our Planet and benefitting various environmental causes.”

“Great. Can you get us in?”

He said nothing for a moment. “Since I assume you haven’t just been injected with a drug that causes you to want to socialize, and in a formal setting, I further assume this would be work.”

“Both assumptions are accurate. I figure she might try for Brinkman there. She likes the risk, likes to dress up in costume—and that’s what these deals are, essentially. Just an excuse to put on the fancy. Peabody’s interviewing a couple of other women, so we might come up with other viable targets, but right now Brinkman’s high on the list. I want the option of being there to shadow him, and if I get lucky, take her down.”

“Watching you take down a suspect is one of my top forms of entertainment. Especially when you’re in formal dress. It just adds that touch of piquant.”

“I don’t know what that means, but fine. Can you get us in?”

“As it’s held in the grand ballroom of my Palace—hotel in this case—I certainly can. Shall I arrange for Trina to come in, see to your hair and so on?”

Eve breathed in and out her nose. “That was mean.”

“I know, but also entertaining. I’ll see you at home then.”

“Yeah. Do not tag Trina,” she added, and clicked off.

With her coffee in hand, she put her boots on the desk, studied the board.

“What part would you play on this one? A server? That’s what I’d do. Easy to spike a drink if you’re the one serving it. All you’d need to do is guide him away. And doing it in front of all those people, that audience? Yeah, you’d love that. Big step up from a shithole bar.”

Eve drank coffee, considered.

She could go as a guest. That would work, too. One of many of the rich and fancy.

“But how do you keep the grandmother unaware?” she wondered. “Or am I wrong there? Is she part of it? Either way, either way, we have to have another conversation. I need another look at the two of you before tonight.”

Eve stayed as she was when she heard Peabody’s boots clomp toward her office.

She looked pale, Eve noted. Pale and tired.

“Please,” Peabody said. “I need coffee.”

“Go.”

At the AutoChef Peabody let out a long breath. “I’ve got another name—another of the women. I’ll contact her after this. And I’ve got another name—or two in this case—of potential targets.”

“Sit down.” Because her partner looked beaten down, Eve gave up her chair, pointed to it. “And sum it up.”

“First, Ming’s got an alibi for the first two nights. Visiting her family in Maine. I’ll check it out, but it’s going to hold. She got back yesterday afternoon. She has a roommate, another female, and they were both home until around eight, when the roommate went out. She says she went to bed about eleven—tired—and didn’t hear the roommate come in. But saw her this morning about seven-thirty, and the roomie said she got in about one. Big date. It’s sketchy, but it’s not her, Dallas.”

“Check anyway. The targets?”

“Gregory Sullivan and Devin Noonan. They’re all grad students at NYU. There was a party right before the Thanksgiving break, a lot of drinking, some illegals—she didn’t hedge there or deny she’d had her share of both. She went into the bedroom to get her coat, ready to head home. They both came in behind her, locked the door. She says Sullivan’s the one who forced her onto the bed, but Noonan helped hold her down while Sullivan dragged off her pants. It’s loud, nobody hears her calling for help. They took turns with her.”

“Did she tell anyone?”

“No.” Peabody scrubbed a hand over her face. “They told her she’d asked for it, the way she’d rubbed up against Sullivan when they danced. Everybody saw how she did, how she asked for it, then they left her there. She pulled on her pants, went home, got sick. The roomie had already left to go back home for the break, so she was alone. She’d seen flyers for the group on campus, and decided to go when she kept having nightmares. She started going early December.”

“Was Pettigrew there when she told the story, named her rapists?”

“Yeah. She said she started crying, couldn’t finish at first, and Pettigrew came over to her, held her.”

“Will she file charges?”

“I didn’t think so, but after we talked, she said she wanted to. She
wants to talk to her mother first. She wants to tell her mother what happened. She told her roommate after she started going to the group, but she hasn’t been able to tell her mother. I think she’ll come back, Dallas, and file.”

“Good. Why don’t you run the targets? I’ll take the next woman.”

“No, I’m good.” To prove it, Peabody downed the rest of the coffee. “I’m good. I just needed a break. I can interview the next one.”

“When you need to stop, you stop.”

“Not yet.” Peabody rose. “Bad as it is, it feels positive, letting them talk it out, showing I believe them. I’ll go write it up, check the alibis before the next comes in.”

“Peabody. You’re doing good work.”

“I’ll feel like I am when we close this—and closing it includes helping put assholes like this Sullivan and Noonan in cages.”

And that’s what they’d do, Eve thought.

She ran the two names, found Sullivan had several alcohol-and illegals-flavored bumps. And a few weeks in a classy rehab center. His limited employment history stayed confined to a few weeks a year in the family business. He played lacrosse and tennis while he studied business and finance and floated on his trust fund.

She knew the type.

Noonan mirrored him closely—though he played golf and tennis, and put in some time working a couple months a year at the country club in Connecticut both families belonged to.

She gathered what she had, and this time instead of contacting Special Victims, she went in person, spent time discussing strategy with a couple detectives she knew and the lieutenant in charge.

And considered it time well spent. Positive.

With Peabody back in Interview when Eve returned, she read her partner’s report, added her own notes from the trip to SVU and her runs.

Noting Peabody hadn’t had time to check the alibi, she reviewed the information and began to process it herself.

While Eve talked to the roommate, Linus Brinkman disembarked from his private shuttle. He’d enjoyed a Caesar salad, a bowl of smoked tomato soup, and two glasses of pinot noir on the flight.

That, in addition to a very successful trip, put him in the finest of moods.

He clouded a bit when he saw the chauffeur holding a sign with his name.

“I’m Brinkman. Where is Viktor?”

“I’m sorry, sir, he took ill shortly ago. I’m here to see you’re not inconvenienced. Please, let me take your bag.”

Brinkman handed it over, but his frown deepened. “They sent a droid? You’re a good one, but you’re a droid.”

“Yes, sir. I was immediately available and dispatched to ensure you weren’t required to wait for another replacement. I am, of course, fully programmed and licensed as a chauffeur. Your car is just out here.”

“All right, all right. I don’t have time to waste.”

“Exactly so.” The droid rolled the bag toward the car, opened the rear passenger door.

Brinkman saw the woman as he started to climb in. “And who would you be?”

“I’m Selina, sir. The company sent you a companion to compensate for the trouble.” She offered a hand, injected the drug into Brinkman’s palm.

“Not another droid, are you?” he demanded, already slurring his words.

“Not at all.” She offered him a glass of wine. “Flesh and blood, just like you.”

He was out cold before the car pulled away from the center.

“Stop by the salon, Wilford, then we’ll go to the market.”

“Yes, Ms. Pettigrew.”

“Afterward, you’ll take him in the usual way. Chain him up.”

“Of course, Ms. Pettigrew.”

“I gave him enough to keep him out for a few hours, so when you’re done, you can shut down.”

“As you wish.”

Yes, she thought. Just as she wished.

Between interviews, Eve had Peabody relay the results, give her the names, information. She did the runs, checked alibis herself—and found the loan officer who coerced or attempted to coerce female applicants to provide him with blow jobs for loan approval a strong candidate.

Maybe he’d—finally—lost his job and done six months in a cage, but she doubted that would be enough for Lady Justice.

When a hollow-eyed Peabody came in, Eve rose. “Run this one for me on the way.”

“Where?”

“We’re going to pay Darla Pettigrew another visit. A follow-up, we’ll call it,” Eve said as she grabbed her coat. “I’m going to spring you after, but I want the sympathetic element there.”

“I’m so frigging full of sympathy it’s giving me heartburn. I’ve got brothers, Dallas.” They stopped at Peabody’s desk for her jacket. “I’ve got an amazing dad, uncles, cousins. I’ve got McNab. Roarke, Leonardo, Charles, the guys in the bullpen. I know men aren’t all pigs and users. But, Jesus, these men? I don’t have bad enough words.”

“They’re going to pay. Not with their lives, but they’re going to pay.”

“I think it’s hearing it, one after another, all in a kind of horrible
lump that’s hit me, you know? We see worse, we know worse, but this is one after another.”

“They’ll pay,” Eve said again, and forced herself to stay in the elevator all the way down to the garage. “When we’re done with Darla, go home.”

“I can stick,” Peabody told her. “I can see it through.”

“There’s not much to see through, and there might be later tonight. I’ve got Baxter and Trueheart to sit on the Callahan residence. If she heads out tonight, I’ll pull you in.”

“What are you doing after Darla?”

“I’m going to have a talk with Linus Brinkman. I don’t need you on that. No sympathy factor required. I’ve dumped names on SVU, and I’ve got Nadine sniffing out what can be sniffed on Ryder Cooke. I have a feeling he’s going to get a surprise when he comes back to New York.”

“This is making me feel better,” Peabody decided when they crossed the garage to the car. “This last one? She goes to stay with her sister after her ex-boyfriend puts her in the hospital. And he’s in the wind, so they can’t find him. Then her sister’s little dog is poisoned. A little dog, Dallas. And the sister’s car gets its tires slashed, the windshield busted. Has a rock thrown through the living room window, shit like that.”

She settled into the car. “Meanwhile she says she’s seen him—in the subway or on the street—but the cops haven’t found him. She’s scared to stay with her sister, but she’s got no place else to go.”

“We’ll find him. We’ll get him. Do a run on him now.” Keep busy, Eve thought. “Reach out to the investigating officers, get the file.”

Peabody took out her PPC to get started.

“Two other assault charges—and both dropped when the complainant pulled back. Spotty employment history, no known address.” Peabody glanced over. “Can I take the lead on this? I know it has to wait unless she goes after him, but he really is in the wind, so I don’t see how she’d nail him down before the cops. But if I could work it—”

“It’s yours. Let me know what you need when you need it.”

Eve drove while Peabody reached out to the investigators on the original assault, then the investigators in Queens on the sister’s dog, house, car.

Eve might have said something about maintaining objectivity—which is what she didn’t hear in Peabody’s tone, see on her partner’s face. But she knew that kind of involvement, that kind of determination could fuel the drive to re-angle and close a case.

And she had to admit, as she pulled up to the Callahan gates, she didn’t feel particularly objective herself at the moment.

She identified herself, got clearance, drove through when the gates opened.

“The asshole has a friend he couch surfed with for a couple months before the assault who claims he hasn’t seen or heard from him since. And stated the victim of said assault got hysterical easily, was sort of paranoid and clingy. Claimed the asshole had ended the relationship days before the assault, and how she probably got mugged and decided to point the finger.”

“That’s bullshit.”

“That’s accessory after the fact.”

“That, too.” Peabody glanced up when the car stopped. “Okay, I’m putting it away for now, shifting to sympathetic mode.”

They got out. Before Eve could press the buzzer, the female droid opened the door. “Good afternoon, Lieutenant, Detective. Please come in. May I take your coats?”

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