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Authors: J. D. Robb

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“We’re good.”

“If you’d wait in the parlor? May I bring you a refreshment?”

“We’re good,” Eve repeated. “We’d like to speak to Ms. Pettigrew.”

“Let me check if she’s available. Ms. Callahan is aware of your arrival and will be down directly. Please sit.”

“Is Ms. Pettigrew on the premises?” Eve asked.

“I will check if Ms. Pettigrew is available,” she said again, and walked out.

Seconds later, the elevator slid open. Eloise walked out with a tiny black woman in a blue tunic and black baggies.

“Lieutenant, Detective, it’s good to see you again. This is the wonderful, if strict, Donnalou Harris, my nurse and keeper.”

“Oh now, Miss Eloise.” Donnalou gave a hearty laugh as she stepped forward to shake hands. “I’m pleased to meet you both. As you can see, Miss Eloise is feeling feisty this afternoon. I’m going to be out of a job pretty soon now.”

“Oh now, Donnalou,” Eloise said in a near perfect mimic. “Let’s get comfortable, have some coffee. And don’t give me that look,” she told Donnalou. “I’ve had enough tea these last few months to last me two lifetimes. And didn’t you give me a clean slate this morning?”

“Almost clean,” Donnalou corrected, but gave Eloise an indulgent look. “One cup, because you could charm the toes off a frog if they had any.”

“Let me just send for Ariel.”

“The droid went to see if your granddaughter’s available,” Eve told her.

“Oh, she’s out. I convinced her to get out of the house, go to the salon. It took some doing, but she needed to get out and about. She’d only go if Donnalou promised to stay until she got back. And I’m nearly back to fighting weight.”

“Nearly,” Donnalou confirmed.

“I see,” Eve said. “Do you expect her back soon?”

“I’m not sure.” Eloise picked up the remote to signal the droid. “Is this about Thaddeus, about your investigation? We heard that another man … I’ve tried to keep her occupied so she wouldn’t watch the reports, but she’s been hoping there would be word. That you’d found who’s doing this.”

“It must be hard on her,” Peabody said, sympathy fully in gear. “I know being able to lean on you, talk to you must help.”

“Nobody’s more loving than Miss Eloise,” Donnalou confirmed. “She pestered Miss Darla—with love—to get her to go out awhile, do something for herself. The girl’s selfless. I’m going to miss the pair of you.”

“No, you’re not, because you’re going to come visit. If Darla’s not back by the time we have our coffee, or when you need to leave, I can tell her what you want her to know. Although, I’m trying to keep her mind off all this. Best of all, I’ve convinced her to take a trip with me in about a week.”

“Two weeks,” Donnalou corrected. “No flying for two weeks more.”

Eloise rolled her eyes. “Two weeks. We both need a change of scene, and I think some time basking in the sun on the C
ô
te d’Azur will do the trick. I’m going to book a villa, have the whole family come.” Her face lit up when she spoke. “I miss my kids! And I’ve had more than enough of being an invalid.”

“You don’t look like one,” Eve observed. “You seem stronger than you did even a couple days ago.”

“Every day—with this slave driver.” She patted Donnalou’s hand. “And, of course, with my darling Darla. I just … Darla!” Her smile bloomed bright when Darla hurried in. “I didn’t know you were back.”

“I was in the kitchen. I found the most beautiful strawberries at the market, so I was going to surprise you both with a tea party.”

“No tea!” Eloise said with a laugh. “Please let it be coffee.”

“Well…” When she got a nod from Donnalou, she smiled. “Coffee it is. Just let me tell Ariel. She found me back there, told me we had guests, so I have her putting it all together.”

“You sit down, Miss Darla. I’ll take care of it.” Donnalou got up.

“Thank you.” Darla sat beside Eloise as Donnalou went out. “She’s
an absolute treasure. I don’t know what we’d have done without her. I hope you haven’t been waiting long. I went straight back to the kitchen when I got home, didn’t check in with Donnalou or Ariel. I had marketing.”

“We haven’t been here long.”

“Grand convinced me to get out.” She looked at her grandmother, wiggled her hand and its pale pink nails. “And you were right, as always, Grand. I needed to get out, but next week, we’re both going for the works. I already booked a day.”

“Heaven.” Eyes closed in anticipatory bliss, Eloise let out a happy sigh. “Absolute heaven.”

“And I’m sorry, Lieutenant, Detective, I’m stalling a little. Trying to hang on to the good feeling just a bit longer.” Lips trembled, then firmed. “You have news about Thaddeus?”

As she spoke his name, Darla reached out to take her grandmother’s hand.

“We’re actively pursuing several lines of investigation. Eloise said you’re aware there’s been a third murder.”

Darla cast her eyes down, nodded. “It’s why Grand talked me into getting out. It’s all so horrible.”

“The three men who were murdered all have connections to women in your support group.”

While Eloise gasped, Darla fluttered a hand to her throat. “I—I don’t understand.”

“McEnroy connected to both Jasmine Quirk and Leah Lester. You connect with Thaddeus Pettigrew. Una Ruzaki’s ex-husband, Arlo Kagen, was murdered last night.”

“Dear God, Darla! To think I’ve been urging you to go back to that group. You can’t, you simply can’t until this is all settled.”

“I don’t understand.” Now Darla pressed a hand to her temple. “I simply don’t understand.”

“It’s possible one or more of the women in the group is behind the murders.”

“Oh no, no. That’s not at all possible. These women are victims.”

“This must be hard for you.” Peabody spoke gently, kindly. “A group like this, all of you become close. I’ve spoken with several of the women myself, and understand what they’ve been through.”

“But … how? We only use first names. How could you find them to speak to?”

“It’s our job to find them.” Speaking briskly, Eve looked directly in Darla’s eyes. “To interview them, check alibis, opportunities, frame of mind. You knew some of these women, by full names.”

“Yes.” Darla let out a trembling breath, worked up swimming tears. “But we kept that confidential. It’s a matter of trust.”

“Not in a murder investigation.”

“Believe me,” Peabody put in, “we’re treating the women we speak with as compassionately as possible. We don’t want to add to their trauma.”

“But it does, you see. Unless you’ve been through the betrayals, humiliation, the violence, you can’t understand. You can’t know.”

“Darla, they have to do their job.” Eloise took Darla’s hand again, rubbed it between both of hers. “Someone is killing these men. One of the men was Thaddeus.”

“I know. I know, but…”

Donnalou came back, wheeling a cart. “Coffee party,” she said cheerfully, then stopped. “What is it? Miss Eloise—”

“I’m fine. I’m fine. But would you get Darla a soother? I don’t think coffee’s what she needs.”

“Of course, right away.”

“You don’t understand,” Darla murmured when Donnalou hurried out again. “We share intimate details of our lives in our group. We bare our souls to each other. None of them are capable of doing this.”

“They’re your friends.” Peabody leaned forward, all understanding. “Your sisters. It’s sometimes really hard to see inside a friend, a sister, who can hold a very dark secret.”

“I won’t believe it. Unless … someone infiltrated the group somehow. With this terrible purpose.”

“Any suggestions?” Eve asked. “A name?”

“No, no, I swear!”

“Peabody, read off the list of full names we have, the women we’ve already interviewed. If you can add to that, Darla, it would be very helpful.”

Eve watched her as Peabody read, saw the flicks of anger quickly masked by downcast eyes. The tightening of the jaw. And if she wasn’t mistaken, the tiniest of smirks.

Satisfaction.

“I—I don’t know all of those names. Not the full names. I knew a few, yes. Like poor Una, and Rachel. And I haven’t been back since Grand took ill. Not since the end of last year. It must be someone new, someone I don’t know. Or, I’m sorry, you’re just wrong.”

“Here’s a nice soother.” Donnalou came back in full caregiver mode. “You drink that up, Miss Darla. You look a little pale. You drink that up, and I’m going to take you upstairs so you can lie down for a bit.”

“Yes, yes, I think I want to lie down for a while. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I need to lie down. I feel sick. I don’t feel well.”

“You come on with me then.” Donnalou helped her up. “You can drink this upstairs. I’m going to tuck you in for a nice nap. Haven’t I said you need more sleep? Sleep’s a healer,” she continued as she led Darla out.

“My poor girl,” Eloise murmured. “So many shocks, and after wearing herself out looking after me. Well, I’ll be looking after her now. I’m very sorry we couldn’t be more help.”

“We appreciate the time,” Eve said as she rose.

“I hope you find who’s doing this quickly. Darla won’t get over this until you do.”

“Yes, I’m sure you’re right. We’ll see ourselves out.”

Eve waited until they were back in the car.

“You were right,” Peabody said before she could speak. “All along. It shocked her we had all those names, that we’re looking directly at the group. More, it pissed her off at first. Not the kind of pissed off when you think a friend is getting a raw deal.”

“No, not that kind of pissed. And she’s working out how she can change the focus. Either to someone she doesn’t care about, or away from the group. She needs a little time to work it out. She’s a planner.”

“She wouldn’t mind going after one of us, to pay us back for trying to spoil those plans.”

“Saw that, too? Good.” Eve drove out of the gates. “Watch your back. And take a cab home.” Eve pulled over, dug out the fare.

“No, I’ve got enough.”

“Take it, and take a cab. Go home, bake a pie or something to clear your head.”

“I might.”

“Then get ready. She’s going to want to move tonight. We boxed her in some, and she won’t waste time.”

“I’ll be ready,” Peabody said as she got out. “You watch your back, too.”

“Count on it.” As she drove, Eve contacted Baxter. “Change of schedule. Move up the stakeout.”

“To when?”

“To now.”

 

19

Eve figured
L
inus
B
rinkman might appreciate a heads-up on being a target of a homicidal, sadistic whack job, even if it interrupted his massage.

She intended to start with him, then work her way through the list of potential targets. Talking to each of them face-to-face about their schedules, their habits, and yeah, their asshole behavior might give her a solid lead toward Darla’s next target, her planned method.

She leaned toward Brinkman anyway, and the evening’s gala.

With parking at a premium and traffic thick, she squeezed into a loading zone, flipped on her On Duty light.

Brinkman lived in an old, well-restored building right on Park, with a doorman, a scattering of terraces, and a pricey view.

The doorman, in steel gray with silver trim, gave her a once-over.

“May I assist you? Are you visiting a resident?”

“Brinkman, Linus.”

“Are you expected?”

“No.” She pulled out her badge. “Brinkman, Linus,” she repeated.

“Is there a problem, Lieutenant?”

“Yes.” She left it at that, moved around him, and would have pulled open the wide glass door if he hadn’t moved nimbly to beat her to it.

“Wynona at the desk will clear you.”

“Okay.”

She crossed a quiet lobby with its white marble tiles, the conversationally arranged chairs in subtle gray, the massive table with its massive floral arrangement.

Wynona—Eve assumed—sat behind a deeply carved counter Eve thought looked as if it had once been a bar. Her hair, scooped back at the temples, fell in burnished brown waves down the back of her simple black suit.

She smiled her practiced smile. “Good afternoon. How can I assist you?”

Eve badged her. “Linus Brinkman.”

“Of course. I’ll let Mr. Brinkman know you’re here.”

“No. I’ll just go up.”

“I’m afraid I just came on twenty minutes ago. I can’t tell you if Mr. Brinkman is in residence. If I could call up—”

“No,” Eve said again, and moved to the elevator. “Clear it.”

“Of course.” Wynona didn’t look pleased, but cleared the elevator.

Eve rode up to the third floor in the silent car with the light scent of a spring meadow scenting the air.

In the third-floor hallway, a table held a slim arrangement of flowers. It held as quiet as the elevator as she walked over soft gray carpet, past wide white doors—all with solid security.

She pressed the buzzer on the corner unit, waited.

Mr. Brinkman and Ms. Gerald are unavailable at this time. You are free to leave a message here or at the desk in the lobby. Enjoy your day.

“NYPSD.” Eve held up her badge. “Dallas, Lieutenant Eve, on official police business.”

Your identification will be scanned for verification.

“Yeah, yeah,” she muttered, and waited again.

Your identification has been verified, Dallas, Lieutenant Eve. Please wait.

She waited.

A woman in an actual maid’s uniform, complete with frilly white apron, opened the door. Eve judged the woman with her short bob of blond hair, stoic blue eyes, in her mid-forties.

“I’m sorry, Lieutenant Dallas, Mr. Brinkman and Ms. Gerald aren’t available. Is there something I can do to help you?”

“You need to make them available.”

“But you see, Ms. Gerald is in the master suite with her technicians and consultants.”

“Fine. Where’s Brinkman?”

“I’m not sure he’s arrived home as yet. His technicians and consultants would be in the adjoining parlor area.”

“Let’s go.”

“But—”

“Do I look like I have time to waste?” Eve demanded. “The pair of them can get fancied up after I talk to Brinkman and leave. Show me where.”

Stoic or not, the maid looked nonplussed—and intimidated. She gestured, began to lead the way through a large living area full of fuss and color, past a bar area with oversize leather chairs, and to double doors, where she knocked.

“Is that Linus?” The impatient demand snapped out as the maid opened the door to a bedroom—lots more fuss and color—where another blonde reclined in a salon chair while a team in flowing red lab coats fiddled with her hair—miles of it—her face—currently covered with some sort of pink goo—and her feet.

“No, Ms. Gerald. It’s—”

“Did I say I wasn’t to be disturbed, Hermine? Did I?”

“Yes, ma’am. But it’s the police.”

“I don’t care if it’s God. I’m fricking meditating.”

Eve stepped forward, scanned the woman tucked under a puffy white blanket. “Lieutenant Dallas. Tell me where to find Linus Brinkman and you can go back to meditating.”

“Oh, for— I don’t know, do I?” She opened one annoyed blue eye while the tech massaged the pink goo into her face. “Go away.”

To solve the issue, Eve turned to Hermine. “Adjoining suite?”

“Ah…” No longer so stoic, Hermine crossed the room, knocked on another door, cracked it open. “Mr. Brinkman,” she began.

Another tech pulled the door wider. “He hasn’t come in yet. We’re on the clock. He’s going to miss his massage!”

With alarm bells sounding in her head, Eve strode back to LaDale. “Have you spoken to him since he landed?”

“No, because he hasn’t bothered to answer his ’link. I talked to him when he was on the shuttle, and that’s it. Now he’s ruining everything.”

“What’s his car service?”

“How the hell am I … Hermine!”

“Yes, ma’am. Mr. Brinkman uses Luxe Rides.”

Eve dragged out her ’link, got the contact.

“Will you get out? How am I supposed to fricking relax? Ulysses! I’m going to get lines in my face from all this stress.”

“Never,” he purred, and began slowly, carefully removing the goo.

Disgusted, Eve walked out of the room, stood by the door.

“Luxe Rides. Abigail speaking.”

“Lieutenant Dallas, NYPSD, regarding Linus Brinkman. Did your company pick him up at the transportation center this afternoon?”

“Could I please have your badge number, as that information is confidential?”

“Christ.” Eve rattled it off. “Check it. Fast.”

“Just one moment.”

The screen went to holding blue while Eve paced.

“Thanks for waiting. Mr. Brinkman canceled that pickup, as his trip was extended. How else can I help?”

“How did he cancel it?”

“Ah, I see we received the cancellation from his office at two-ten this afternoon. Is there a problem?”

“Yeah.”

Eve clicked off. Hermine, who’d hovered, eased closer.

“Lieutenant, Mr. Brinkman contacted Ms. Gerald, from the shuttle, after that. I know it had to be nearly three, as the stylists and technicians were here, setting up for her. There’s been some sort of mix-up.”

“You think?”

Furious, Eve headed out, using her ’link as she went. “Baxter.”

“We’re nearly there.”

“I want to know if you see anyone go in or out. I think she has another one in there already.”

“Can you get a warrant?”

“I’m working on it. Any activity, in and out of the gate, on the grounds, any, tag me.”

She toggled from him to Peabody as she sprinted across the lobby.
“She broke pattern,” Eve said as soon as Peabody answered. “I’m going to the transpo station to view the security feed, but she had to pick Brinkman up there when he landed.”

“How did—”

“I’ll explain later. Tell the cab to turn around. Meet Baxter and Trueheart at the Callahan house. They’ll be staked out shortly.”

“I’m getting out, taking the subway. It’ll be faster.”

“Fine.” She jumped in the car, tried Roarke.

“Three in one day,” he said, “and a gala tonight.”

“Forget the gala. She snagged the target. Under my fucking nose.”

His easy smile vanished. “Where are you?”

“Heading to the transpo center to see how she did it. I need something, some fucking thing to wrangle a warrant because I know she’s got him in there.”

“I’ll meet you at the station. You may need an EDD man,” he said before she could protest.

“Yeah, yeah, I may. Gotta go.”

And thinking EDD, she tagged McNab. “Clear it with Feeney. I need you on an op. Clear it and hook up with Baxter, Trueheart, and Peabody at Eloise Callahan’s address. Check with them on where they’re staked out.”

“On it. Do you want the van?”

She considered; though she hoped not, why risk it? “Yeah, yeah, bring the van. Move it.”

She hit the sirens, the lights, and moved it herself.

Even with that, a double-parked delivery van, then a jackhammer-wielding road crew cost her valuable time.

She pushed her way through the transpo center to the private shuttle terminal. When she pulled to the curb, jumped out, security blocked her way.

“You can’t leave that vehicle there.”

She pulled out her badge. “I’m a cop. I need—”

“Then you oughta know the law, am I right? No unattended vehicles in this zone. Move it or lose it.”

“I need to see the feed for—”

He expanded his chest. “You ain’t seeing nothing till you move that ride. Parking’s through that gate.”

“For Christ’s—” She considered arguing, seriously considered kicking his ass. But calculated either would take more time than just parking her damn ride.

She jumped back in, drove through the gate, pulled into a priority, reserved spot, ignored the automated warning telling her she had no authorization. She flipped on her On Duty light, giving the warning a hiccup while it processed the new data.

And sprinted back to the terminal.

“Wasn’t so hard, was it?” curb security asked with a smirk.

“Bite me,” she suggested, “and contact your head of security.”

“Cop or no cop, you can’t talk to me like that. I oughta—”

She grabbed his shirtfront in a fist, jerked him to her. “If you don’t get your head of security in the next five fucking seconds, I’m arresting your dumb ass for impeding a police officer in the course of her duties, for obstruction, and if I don’t get that feed in time, I’m going to kick in accessory to murder.”

“You oughta get a grip.”

She got a grip, on her restraints, and had him holding up his hands, backing off. “Throttle back, just throttle back. I’m just doing my job here.”

“Five, four, three—”

“Okay, okay.” He tapped the mic on his lapel. “I need Darren out here. Some cop’s going nutso.”

It took under a minute for six-foot, four-inch Darren to stride out. He had a tough-looking body in a black suit—with just a hint of bulge
where his sidearm rested. He had dark skin, hard, dark eyes, a shaved head, and a kick-ass look about him Eve could respect.

“Let’s see the badge.”

Eve held it up. “NYPSD. I’m investigating a series of homicides, and believe one of your passengers was abducted from this center this afternoon. He’d be the next.”

“Abducted? That seems far-fetched.”

“Linus Brinkman. He would have arrived on a Lodestar private shuttle, coming from Las Vegas, at approximately fifteen-thirty this afternoon. Someone not Brinkman canceled his car service and set up a replacement. I need to see the feed, at the gate, out here at pickup. Check the manifest, for God’s sake.”

“There are privacy laws that require a warrant for—”

Fury flashed and poured out of her hot enough to have Darren breaking off.

“Three men, abducted, tortured, castrated. You keep up with current fucking events in New York, Darren?”

His eyes changed. “Yeah, I heard about it.”

“Check the manifest. If Brinkman got off the shuttle, he’s right now hanging naked by the wrists.”

“That sounds like bullshit, Darren. This one’s nutso.”

“Quiet, Len. Come on with me, Lieutenant. We’ll start with the manifest.”

As they turned to go in, another car pulled up. Roarke got out; the car drove on.

“Sir,” Darren said. “I didn’t know you were scheduled today.”

“I’m not. Lieutenant.”

“Do you own this place?” Eve demanded.

“Not entirely. Darren, I hope you’re assisting the lieutenant in every way.”

“Yes, sir. We’re just going in to check the manifest. Didn’t put it to
gether,” he muttered as he walked them in. “Saw the vid last year, but didn’t put it together.”

“What the hell does that have to do with anything?” Eve snarled out.

“Just saying.” He walked straight to the check-in counter. “Monika, check for the arrival of Linus Brinkman.”

“Lodestar. Company shuttle,” Eve added.

“I don’t have to check. I know Mr. Brinkman. He arrived right on time. I even waved to him as he walked through to meet his driver.”

“Security feed. Now.”

“What gate, Monika?”

“One. Gate One.”

“Come with me.”

He crossed the terminal lobby, swiped through a door, and kept going at a quick pace. He swiped through another door in what was basically a tunnel, and they entered the security hub.

He brushed aside one of the two men monitoring the various gates and exits, dropped into the chair, got to work himself.

“You said fifteen-thirty?”

“That’s right.”

“Monika said on time, so…” He swiped, tapped, shifted feeds.

Eve watched Brinkman, casual pants, light jacket, rolly bag and briefcase, march through the gate. After a quick wave toward the counter, he kept walking.

“Follow him,” Eve ordered.

“Let me switch cams. You can see he walked out on his own, and … here we go, that must be his driver.”

“Not his driver. Enhance, zoom. Zoom on the driver—and I want a printout of him, full body, close-up face.” As Darren zoomed in, Eve swore under her breath. “It’s a droid.”

“Doesn’t look like a droid.”

“Closer. Go in closer.”

“Fine, but … son of a bitch, you’re right.” Darren let out a low whistle. “That’s one damn top-grade droid.”

“That’s how she does it. That’s how,” Eve muttered. “Droids. Brinkman’s asking questions. Probably where’s my usual guy. This one’s programmed to give some reasonable answer. And he’s going with the droid. Outside, move outside.”

“They’re heading to pickup—at the island. At least that’s where a car service would wait. Give me a … Yeah, moving out. Droid’s opening the back door.”

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