Dark in Death – J.D. Robb

On the mega screen bloody murder played out in classic black and white for an audience of one hundred and seven. With the sharp screech of violins, violas, and cellos that number dropped by one. Unlike the character of Marion Crane, Chanel Rylan didn’t scream or flail at the shock of violent death. In row twenty-seven in theater three of Vid Galaxy in New York City’s Times Square, she let out little more than a mouse squeak as the ice pick plunged into the back of her neck. Her body gave one quick jerk; her hands batted at the air and up-ended the mini bucket of popcorn in her lap. Her last breath escaped like a long sigh. She died in the dark as blood circled black down the drain on the screen. No one noticed. With all eyes, all attention riveted to the screen, no one noticed the killer slip into the aisle and walk away from dark deeds. When Lola Kawaski hurried back in, dropping into her aisle seat, she cursed in a whisper, “Damn it, I can’t believe I missed the big, classic scene. And I’m going to have to miss the rest. I’m kicking myself for agreeing to be on call tonight, but we’ve got an emergency coming in, so—” In apology, she patted Chanel’s arm. The movement caused her dead friend’s body to shift, slumping against Lola. Lola’s initial amusement—leave it to an actor to go all dramatic—flipped to alarm. Then the screaming started.

Lieutenant Eve Dallas stood over the body. Someone had dragged said body into the aisle in a useless attempt at first—or more accurately last—aid. Now the scene was totally fucked. So was her evening at home. She’d actually walked in the door on time for once, out of the claw swipe of late February wind and into the warmth of a Summerset-free house, as Roarke’s majordomo was off on his winter vacation. She’d even beaten Roarke home and experienced the odd and rare sensation of having the big-ass fancy house all to herself. And the cat. She’d considered squeezing in a workout—contemplated just jogging from room to room; if she managed to hit them all that would equal a pretty damn serious workout. Instead, she wandered into the big front parlor with its art, antiques, and rich colors. She decided she deserved a big red circle around the day on the 2061 calendar, and she put on the fire, poured a glass of wine, sat in one of the butt-cuddling chairs.

The cat sat at her feet, eyed her suspiciously. “I know, weird, right? I’m just sitting here.” Kicking out her legs, she crossed her booted feet at the ankles. “Maybe I could get used to it,” she said, lifting the wine for the first sip. Her communicator signaled. “Or maybe not.” Two minutes later, she grabbed her coat from the newel post where she’d tossed it. And Roarke walked in. The wind followed him, tossing his black-as-midnight hair around that remarkable warrior-poet face. His perfectly sculpted mouth curved, those wild blue eyes smiled at her.

Then he noted she shot her arms into the coat rather than stripping it off. He said, “Uh-oh.” “Sorry. Five damn minutes home, and I caught one. DB at a vid palace in Times Square.” “An unhappy ending for the DB.” Ireland cruised through his voice. And as she wrapped her scarf around her neck, he left the door open to the cold. “Opening scene for my cop.” He caught her face in his hands, kissed her—taking his time with it, despite the cold wind and the call of duty.

“I’ll see you later,” she told him. “Maybe even sooner. There’s a glass of wine in the parlor. I’d just poured it.” He gave her another, briefer kiss. “I’ll think of you when I drink it.” Less than ten minutes after she’d walked in, she started out. “Don’t forget to feed the cat.” “As if he’d let me.” Now Eve imagined Galahad’s belly was full, and Roarke had enjoyed her wine while she studied a woman identified as Chanel Rylan by her vid-watching friend.

Eve stood alone in the theater, having already taken the report of the first officer on scene. She studied the blood on the back of the chair—first in from the aisle—and the smeared drops helpful civilians had stepped in when moving the body. Eve opened her field kit and, with her hands and boots sealed, crouched down to do her job. She pressed the victim’s right thumb to her Identi-pad. “Victim is identified as Chanel Rylan, mixed-race female, age thirty-two. No marriages, no offspring, no current cohab.” She took out her gauges for time of death. “TOD eighteen-thirty-one. No defensive wounds visible. ME to confirm.

” Prepared to turn the body, Eve looked up and over at the familiar clomp, and watched her partner start down the slanted aisle. Pink, fuzzy-topped boots, pink magic coat, and today’s scarf a long snake of variegated blues. Peabody wore a matching cap over a flip of dark hair. “So much for the night off.” Peabody studied the victim. “Then again, she’s got nothing but nights off now.” “Seal up. I want to turn her. First on scene reports the wound’s at the base of her neck.” Peabody stripped off her outdoor gear, sealed up.

“I’d just ordered a bowl of minestrone. McNab offered to come with, but I told him to eat, and take mine to go. I figured if you wanted EDD, we’d just tag him.” Since Eve considered Peabody’s skinny, wildly fashionable main man an e-ace, if she did, she would. Together, they turned the body. Eve parted the victim’s blood-matted blond hair. “Single puncture wound, base of the skull. Not a flat blade. Stiletto maybe, or an ice pick. Hand me microgoggles.

” Eve fit them on, her eyes huge and whiskey brown behind the lenses as she leaned over. “Smooth, small, and deep. Looks about three inches deep. No hesitation marks visible.” She rocked back on her heels, still crouched on long legs as she studied the chair. “The killer had to be sitting right behind her. I can’t see any angle to the wound. The theater’s dark, people are watching the screen. All he has to do is lean up a little and jam it into her. In and out.

A couple of seconds. If this hit the brain stem, she wouldn’t even have time to say ouch.” She stood now, hooked her thumbs in the front pockets of her trousers. A tall woman and lean with it, she took a penlight from the kit to examine the aisle, the seat directly behind the victim’s. “You can call in the sweepers. Long shot he left any trace on the seat—or that we’ll be able to separate it from the hundreds of other asses who’ve sat in it—but maybe we’ll get lucky.” She scanned the space, raking her fingers through her short chop of brown hair. “No cams in the theater. I’ve got a uniform getting security discs from the lobby, the concession area, anywhere there are cams. A place this size …” “Ten theaters, two floors, with the two mega screens upstairs,” Peabody supplied.

“This is one of the smaller theaters in here, mostly for classic vids. Looks like, what, it holds maybe three hundred.” “Two seventy-five.” Eve had already checked. “Uniforms have over a hundred people holding in the theater next door. The friend of the vic and three potential wits holding in another. Call the dead wagon, Peabody, and let’s get a uniform to sit with her until she’s bagged and tagged.” “She was really pretty.” “Yeah, I bet that’s a comfort to her now.” She retrieved her coat, scanning, thinking, assessing as she put it on.

“It’s cold. Cold and precise. And cowardly. A stab in the back, in the dark. Didn’t need to see her face, to watch her die, so some emotional detachment.” Eve took one last look at the body—objective, but not detached. Chanel Rylan was hers now, and that was as attached as it could get. “Start with the big group,” she told Peabody as they walked out. “Hold on to anyone sitting in the vic’s section, or directly across the aisle. Anyone who touched the body.

” “The killer could be one of them. Could still be here.” “Could be,” Eve agreed. “That would be ballsy. Stab in the back in the dark, not ballsy. But killing in public, even in the dark, takes some balls. We need a search for the weapon. All bins and recyclers, all areas. If the killer hung in, he had to ditch the weapon.” Eve paused a moment in the wide, dimly lit corridor that led to the various theaters.

“Me? I’d do the jab, stick the weapon back in my pocket, and slip out.” Hands on hips, she studied the setup. “Who’s going to notice? Somebody needs a pit stop, wants more popcorn. He wouldn’t even have to leave the building. He could just walk into one of the other theaters down here, take a seat in the back. “We need to check and see what time the other vids let out, which ones ended before the body was discovered. If any did, he could have just walked out like the rest.” Eve signaled to a uniform. “Nobody touches or uses any trash bin or recycler. I want the sweepers to do a full search.

That includes bathrooms. Which theater houses the audience from the crime scene?” “That’s number one, Lieutenant. A Dog and His Day. Kid-friendly early show. It let out at eighteen-thirty-five, so it was between shows when first on scene arrived to secure the scene.” “That answers that,” Eve murmured. “Peabody, start in theater one. Where’s the friend of the victim?” “We’ve got her and three others in separate areas in number five. The three jumped in to try to assist, compromised the body and the scene. All three were seated in the proximity of the victim.

” “Okay. Peabody, go ahead and pull in McNab. We’re going to need more hands anyway, and he’s likely to get here and review the security feed before either of us finish with the wits.” “Will do. Dallas, some of the wits are probably going to need to use the bathroom before we’re done.” “Hell, you’re right. Officer, have a team clear the unisex facilities on the second level. Odds are slim the killer went up there to ditch the weapon, if he did ditch it. But clear it first—sealed up and on record. Anyone who needs to go needs to be accompanied by an officer.

One at a time, and the facility is subsequently recleared before the next. Got that?” “Yes, sir.” “Do employees have facilities, a locker area, break room?” “Ah …” “Find out, have it closed off. Let’s get started, Peabody.” Eve moved down the long, curving corridor to the double doors of theater five. She saw the woman seated with a female uniform in the rear row of the far right section. A man and woman together, one man alone, all with two officers, spread out in the far left section. Nobody looked very happy. Eve went to the lone woman first, gave the uniform the nod to step out. “I’m Lieutenant Dallas.

” “Chanel … I don’t understand.” Eve sat. The chairs here were wider, deeper than those at the crime scene. “I’m sorry, Ms. …” “Kawaski. Lola Kawaski.” “I’m sorry, Ms. Kawaski. You and Ms. Rylan were friends.

” “Besties, roomies. I needed a roomie when I busted up with my boyfriend like, God, like, ten years ago. Chanel had just moved here, and she was one of the aps. We just hit it off straight-out. We’ve been there for each other through all the thin and thick. And now …” Lola pressed fingers to eyes red from weeping. “I’m very sorry for your loss. I know it’s hard right now, but I have questions I need to ask. You may be able to help us find who did this to her and why.” “There’s just no why.

” Lola sobbed into her hands. “No why.” There was always a why, Eve thought. “Was Chanel involved with anyone? Maybe she had a bad breakup?” Lola shook her head, began to wind her long tail of brown hair around her fingers. “Nobody serious right now, or in the last year or so. She had a serious, back like four or five years ago, but they busted. Not mean or anything. Just busted when he got a break, a part in a home-screen series. But they shot it up in Canada, west Canada. So they busted.

Chanel was happy for him, you know, but she was New York. Broadway. She worked plenty in swing, too.” “Swing.” “It’s like the supporting cast in a play, and you have to learn lots of the parts because you’re going to play more than one character. She worked at Broadway Babies, too. It’s a restaurant in the theater district where the waitstaff sings and performs while they serve you. She worked really hard.” “Did she beat someone out for a part, cause resentment there?” “It happens. People in the business know it happens.

I know lots of them through Chanel. They get pissy, maybe, or depressed, but they don’t kill each other. She had lots of friends. She dated around, but not serious. She was bi. We didn’t … I’m just straight, and we were like sisters. She kept it light dating after Damien. She was happy for him. He’s still out there—Canada, and New L.A.

—in another series. But it broke her heart a little, too.” “So she dated a lot of people, competed for a lot of parts.” “Yeah, that was, like, her life. I’m not going to say everybody loved her, but a lot did, and a lot really liked her or respected her. I don’t know anybody who’d do this to her. Who’d just … It doesn’t feel real.” “Why don’t you tell me what happened tonight? You and Chanel decided to see this vid. Why this vid, at this theater, at this time?” “That’s easy. It’s classic, and we’re both really into classic vids.

We try to come every couple weeks. If Chanel’s in a play, we work it around rehearsals or workshops or performances. She was in auditions for one now—second callback—so we came to the six o’clock because she had the night off, and we were going to go out to dinner, then to this club for open mic. She loves to hit open mics. It helps her rev for a big audition. It was just a girl-pal night on the town.” “So you came here often.” “At least a couple times a month. Mondays if she didn’t have a shift at the restaurant because the theater’s dark. Wednesdays if she was between plays.

Sometimes we’d hit a matinee on my day off if she wasn’t in rehearsal.” “So coming here was a routine for you. And just the two of you?” “Mostly. We’d double-dated here a few times, but mostly people aren’t as into classic vids as we are. It’s, you know, our little thing.” “Tell me about this evening. Walk me through it.” “Okay.” Lola took a deep breath, swiped her hands over her face. “Chanel was juiced up because she thought she nailed the first callback.

We met for a drink when I got off work.” “Where?” “Toodles, over on Seventh. I work just a couple blocks from there, so she met me. We hit happy hour, split a half carafe of house wine and a plate of mini pierogies. We just talked about stuff, like always. Her callback and, oh, Carmine, this sweet teacup poodle I neutered today. I’m a vet. Then we walked to the theater, talking about the first time each of us saw Psycho, and how it freaked me so I didn’t take a shower for months, and how she watched it over and over to study Janet Leigh’s performance.” “Did you notice anyone who seemed to be listening to your conversations? Paying too much attention?” “No. I just didn’t.

” “Okay, keep going.” “So we got here early enough to get popcorn and drinks and good seats. The classic theater’s never full, especially on a weeknight, but I really like the aisle seat. And I wanted one especially since I was on call. I hate when people pick their way across the aisle in front of you during a vid. We just settled in, hung out for a couple minutes until it started.” “Did anyone speak to either of you? Out in the lobby, in the theater? Did you notice anyone who made you feel uncomfortable?” “No, we were talking to each other. I mean, the guy at the concession stand asked if we wanted the special but we didn’t.” “Okay. Your initial statement said you came back to your seat and found Chanel.

Why did you leave the theater?” “I was on call, and my ’link vibrated. Right after Marion had dinner, had the talk with Norman Bates. I had to go out to the lobby to take it. I work at Pet Care, and we run a twenty-four-hour emergency clinic. There’s a vet assistant and a couple of support staff in the clinic at all times, but one of the vets is on call for emergencies. Gloria, the assistant on duty, said we had an emergency coming in.” “What kind of emergency?” “A dog, struck by a car, and the owner was bringing him right in. I had to go—if the dog needed surgery or had to be put to sleep, they needed a vet. I got some information from Gloria, but she didn’t have much because the owner was panicked and running with the dog. I gave her instructions because he’d probably get there before I could, then I went back to tell … to tell Chanel.

I—I sat down for a second, said how I’d missed the big scene. You know, the shower scene, and I was sorry, but I had to go into work. I …” Lola covered her face now, rocked. “I put my hand on her arm, I think. I think. She just sort of tipped against me. I started to laugh, I think. Drama queen. Then I … there was blood. I could feel it, smell it, and she wasn’t moving.

I’m a little, ah, not sure exactly then.” Her hands shook as she lowered them, and her eyes blurred as she tried to focus on Eve. “I think I started screaming. I think I tried to drag her up, and I was screaming for help. I think people were like shut up, sit down. But other people came over, and I think somebody ran for an usher or security or I don’t know. The lights came on, and the vid stopped, and Chanel was lying there.” “Lola, did you see anyone come out when you were in the lobby on your ’link? Did you pass anyone going in or out of the theater?” “I don’t think so. I was kind of annoyed to be called out, then, well, some poor dog’s hurt, so I was pretty much focused on talking it through with Gloria.” “How long do you figure you were out of the theater?” “I’m not sure.

Maybe four or five minutes. I don’t think more than that. Well.” She shut her eyes. “Wait. I saw it was the nine-one-one signal we use for emergencies. I got up, went out. I went all the way out to the lobby because even with the soundproofing you can kind of hear the vids, just enough to be distracting. I still had my drink, so I walked over to the area where you can sit and eat if you want. I guess there were a few people there, waiting for the next show.

I tagged Gloria back, talked to her—a couple minutes, maybe three, because she’s still a little green and I wanted to be sure she prepped. Then I walked back. So however long that was.” “Did you see who was sitting in the row behind you?” “I didn’t notice. You mostly notice the people in front of you, if they get in the way. Behind or around, if they’re talking or rattling, you know. It was nice and quiet in the vid. People who go to classics are usually really respectful.” “What about the dog?” “The dog? Oh, oh, God, the dog. I had to tag Gloria.

The officer asked me not to say why, just that I had an emergency of my own, and to pull in Carter or Lori.” “About how long after you took the emergency tag did you tag them back, tell them to get another vet?” “I’m not sure, really not. I guess fifteen or twenty minutes. Maybe even longer. I just forgot about that poor dog.” “Understandable. I’m surprised the clinic didn’t tag you again after the owner brought the injured dog in.” “He hadn’t gotten there, Gloria said.” Eve only nodded. “He must’ve been running a long way.

Is there someone we can contact for you, Lola? Someone you’d want to stay with you?” “I don’t think I can go back to our apartment yet. I just don’t think I can stand that until I … I’m sort of seeing this guy. Maybe I can go to his place for a while. Maybe.” “Do you want us to contact him for you, have him come and get you?” Eyes welling again, Lola nodded. “Give me his contact information. We’ll take care of it. I’m going to have the officer take you out to the lobby, stay with you.” “Will you talk to me again? When you know … when you know, will you tell me?” “Yes. And if you think of anything else, you contact me.

” Eve reached into her own pocket—almost surprised to actually produce cards. Gave one to Lola. Eve called the uniform back, gave her the friend’s contact information. Then turned her attention to the three people across the theater. She chose one at random, sat down beside him. “I’m Lieutenant Dallas.” “Um. Mark Snyder.” “You came to the vid alone, Mr. Snyder?” “Yeah.

I wanted to absorb it, without distractions. I’m a film student. I, ah …” He clasped his hands together, stared at the blank screen. “I’m working on my master’s at NYU. Oh boy, this is really, really real.” Though she’d run him, Eve judged him to be in his early twenties, a young black man with wild and improbably red dreads, a bar stud through his left eyebrow. “Why this vid?” “Hitchcock. I’m doing a paper on Hitchcock, and this particular work is a major part of the paper. But I, but I—Sorry.” He pressed a hand to his stomach, spent a couple of seconds breathing.

“I—I love film. I want to direct. The classics are a particular inspiration to me. I come here a lot. The classics, at least two or three times a month and, in general, probably twice that. It’s a different, ah, experience watching in a theater than on a home screen or a mobile.” “Where were you sitting?” “In the same row as … the same row. In the center seat. We were the only ones in the row. I like to sit alone as much as I can, but I sort of knew them—the women.

I mean, I’d seen them here off and on, and I knew they’d be quiet. Not talking during the vid or being distracting, so I sat in the center seat.” “Tell me what happened.” “It was—it was right after Bates cleans up the bathroom, after the shower scene. He’s going to wrap Marion’s body in the shower curtain, put her and her luggage and the money she stole and wrapped in newspaper in her car and sink it in the swamp. Perkins is amazing, he’s perfect. You believe him. You believe he’s horrified, panicked, protecting his crazy mother. I was studying the work, his expressions, his body language, and she started screaming.” He took a moment to swallow.

“The woman on the aisle, I mean. It jerked me out, pulled me out of the story. I was annoyed for a second, but then I realized it was one of the women in the row, the ones I sort of knew. So I knew something was really wrong, because they’re respectful. And the way she was screaming—I’m sorry, I don’t know her name. The one with the darker hair. I stood up. I could see something was wrong with the other woman. The blond woman. I thought she’d gotten sick or something.

I started over, and the couple there?” He gestured to the man and woman seated in another section. “They started over, too. From the other side. They were together on the other side, so we got there, and … there was blood, and the screaming, and they said—the other couple—to go for help, to get the lights on while they laid down the one with the blood in the aisle. I ran out, and part of me—in my head—kept running. Like a vid in my head. But I grabbed somebody from the lobby, and told him somebody in number three was hurt really bad. We needed an ambulance. They needed to turn on the houselights. She was bleeding really bad.

“I don’t know why I went back in, because in my head I was running away. The woman of the couple—not the one with the, with the one who got hurt, but the couple who tried to help. She’s a— God, I can’t find my words. A physician assistant. She said that, and she had blood on her, and she told people to stay back. I sat down, I just sat down because I didn’t think I could stand up. And then the police came.” “Did you notice anyone sitting in the row behind you?” “Not behind me, but behind them. At the end of the row. I really didn’t want anyone in my box, if you know what I mean. Within my area. In front, beside, behind. And there were lots of empty spots. I saw somebody slide into the row behind right after the houselights went down, and would’ve moved if he’d come toward the center. But he just sat behind them.” “A man.” “I … I don’t know. I didn’t look so much as sense. The houselights were down, and the opening credits starting to roll. I hate people who come in late, so I sensed the movement, figured I’d just move if he came into my box, but he didn’t. Or she. Honestly, it was dark, and it didn’t matter if it was a man or a woman to me. It was a corner-of-the-eye sort of thing.” “Was he or she there when you heard and reacted to the screams?” “I don’t know.” “You stood up, started across the row. Was there anyone behind the women?” “Give me a sec, okay?” He shut his eyes. “I’m going to visualize it. I don’t want to, but I will. I’m watching Anthony Perkins embody Norman Bates, because he does. He becomes and you as the audience believe. And she screams. To my right, she screams. The really, really pretty blonde is slumped over the brunette with the soft eyes. The brunette’s screaming, struggling to lift her friend. And I know something’s very wrong. Very wrong, so I stand up. Some people are yelling for her to shut up, but I know something’s just wrong, so I start over, and see the man and woman start over from the other section. And … “No.” He opened his eyes. “Nobody was sitting behind them when I stood up. The whole row behind was empty.” “Okay, Mark, that’s very helpful.” Eve dug in her pocket to give him a card. “If you think of anything else, if you get a better sense of the person who sat behind them, contact me. Do you need a ride home?” “I think I want to walk. I think I need to walk.” He got up when Eve did. “You think the person who sat behind them killed her.” “I need to find out.” “I wish I’d looked. I wish I’d just turned my head a couple inches to the right and looked. I have good visual skills. If I’d looked, I’d be able to tell you what the person looked like. But I didn’t look. I just thought: Good, not going to push into my box, and the vid’s starting. Then I was inside the vid until the screams. Forty-five seconds.” “What’s forty-five seconds?” “Sorry, the shower scene. It runs for forty-five brilliant, terrifying seconds. I just wonder if the last thing she saw before … if the last thing she saw was murder.” Forty-five seconds, Eve thought when he walked away. More than enough time to kill. 2 While sweepers in their white suits sucked and brushed and tweezed and collected, Eve sat at the back of the crime scene working on her notes. The scene itself, the witness statements, the timing, and what she knew about the victim already told her a great deal. When McNab bounced in on his plaid airboots, the symphony of hoops on his earlobe glinting in the bright houselights, she paused in her work. “Reviewed the feed straight through from the time the vic came in—that’s seventeen-forty-eight— until the first responders entered. Eighteen-thirty-nine. Nobody left through the lobby or using emergency exits from your TOD until the show let out in number one at eighteen-thirty-five. Then you’ve got maybe a hundred and fifty, and at least forty percent of them under twelve, streaming out.” “Odds are he walked out with that group.” Eve looked down to row twenty-eight. “He kills her, slips out of here, walks down to the other theater. Just has to hang there for a few minutes, then stroll out with a bunch of kids. “We need to look for people coming in earlier, hanging out in the lobby. Anyone who moved toward the theaters when the vic did. And anyone who came in directly after her. Most probably solos. See who we can match with the group leaving from one.” “I can cover that.” He slipped his hands into two of the half dozen pockets in his atomic-blue baggies. “You ever see it? Psycho?” “Yeah. It’s in Roarke’s collection. He’s a fan of the Hitchdick.” “The what?” “The director guy.” “Is that really his name?” “Something like that.” “Huh. So really creepy vid. Seriously old and creepy. Maybe it’s not just chance, right? Maybe some psycho picked Psycho, and the vic? Wrong place, wrong time.” “Nope. Specific target.” Eve rose as Peabody came in. “The vic’s friend and vid mate’s a vet. On call for emergency detail tonight. And she happens to get a nine-one-one from the clinic that takes her out of the theater right before the vic’s jabbed. Plus it’s looking bogus.” “The friend didn’t get the tag?” Peabody asked. “No, she got it. The clinic got it. Some guy claiming his dog got run over and—” “Oh, poor doggie!” Eve sent Peabody a sour look. “There was no dog. The dog was bullshit, a ploy to remove Lola Kawaski and give the killer a clear shot at Chanel Rylan. “Timed it,” Eve continued. “The timing’s perfect. And so’s the research. The killer knew Rylan would be here, knew Kawaski was on call, knew when the big shower scene would hit, and anybody who’d shelled out to see this vid would be focused on the screen.” “Or covering their eyes.” McNab wagged his thumb at Peabody. “I did … so,” Peabody admitted. “None of the people I talked to saw anything. One guy thinks maybe he noticed somebody leaving, but it’s an indefinite maybe. He was in the back, watching the slice and dice with his date’s face buried in his shoulder.” “Timing,” Eve repeated. “He had it worked out.” “And he knew her,” Peabody put in. “Yeah, knew her, chose her, stalked her, studied her. The question is why. The vic was an actress who supplemented that income working at someplace called Broadway Babies.” “I love that place! We love that place.” McNab grinned at Peabody. “Dorky fun.” “I like dorky fun. Jeez, she might’ve waited on us.” “The friend says the vic was up for a part. Maybe somebody didn’t want her to get it. Killed in a theater.” Eve shrugged. “It could play. No current relationship, no recent breakups, but maybe she brushed off somebody who didn’t like being brushed. She was a switch-hitter, so we look at both teams.” “It feels a little impersonal for relationship revenge,” Peabody pointed out. “Agreed, but we look so we can close that line off. Plus there’s enough personal in it for that look. This night, this theater, the bogus dog emergency. McNab, copy the security feed to my home unit. I want to take a look. And why don’t you give whoever’s in charge here the bad news that this theater will be sealed off and shut down until further notice.” “No prob.” “I got one more.” “I’m here to serve, LT.” “The animal clinic. Pet Care on Seventh. Hit that on your way home, will you? See if you can tap where that emergency call came from. If you need to take the e-toys in, tag me, and I’ll get the clearance.” “All over it and back again.” “Peabody, since you like the Babies place, let’s go swing by there, see what we see.” “Yay!” Eve saw her partner and the e-ace bump wiggling fingers—their strange little gesture of affection —before McNab pulled a bright purple earflap hat over his head and long blond ponytail. Since they didn’t mortify her by locking lips, she ignored it. Outside, she and Peabody hiked the two blocks to the overpriced underground lot through the unrelenting insanity of Times Square. They wound through the drunks, the revelers, the gawking tourists, the hustlers, and the street-level licensed companions while lights flashed and mega screens hawked designer fashion worn by pouty and sexually ambiguous models. Eve caught the eye of a street thief, watched him wisely turn on his heel and head fast in the opposite direction. His coat—likely with several of the loot pockets already holding wallets and wrist units—flapped around his legs. Eve skirted around construction barriers. If it wasn’t drunks, thieves, and tourists, it was some guy in a hard hat jacking a hole in the street. She went into the relative quiet of the lot, opted to take the stairs down. “Are we going to do notification after the restaurant?” “I did it.” Boots clanged on the metal steps. “Just the parents, and they live in Wisconsin.” Shocked faces, glazed eyes, choked voices. “I talked to a couple people who work the concession. They knew her. Not personally,” Peabody added. “But they knew her face, said she was always friendly. She sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to one of them a couple months ago. Small popcorn, medium Diet Coke, and for a comedy, she added gummy bears.” “Creature of habit,” Eve said when they reached the car. “It makes it easy to stalk and study and plan. We need to run the staff. Even the ones not on tonight. People who saw her regularly, got to know her habits.” “How’d he make the tag to the vet place, make it so close to the murder?” “A good question, and one I hope McNab finds the answer to.” “A partner? A partner makes the tag.” “Maybe.” “It’s more logistical than the killer making it: Have to do it outside the theater—then come in again, sit down again, kill her, get up, walk out again. More likely someone notices that. The in, sit, stand, out, in, and all that.” Eve didn’t disagree—up and down, in and out brought attention. But she wanted verification. She parked again, a half block from where her navigation system put the restaurant. This time she copped a street-level spot. In a loading zone, but flipping on her On Duty light covered that. “I know I told you what a mag time we had in Mexico, and thanked you about a zillion times.” “So don’t do it again.” “What I didn’t say,” Peabody continued, “mostly because I wanted to see if the results stuck, was how McNab conked on the shuttle on the way to the villa. Just dropped out, and he extremely loves flying. And after we got there and basked, had a couple of birdbath margaritas, took a swim, he conked again—even before we continued to bask with sex—and slept dead out for twelve solid.” “Like you said, he needed a break.” “And he got one. You and Roarke made it so he got one. I’d’ve been okay if he’d slept the entire time we were there, but the twelve solid really helped. So we had lots of sex.” “This is how you say thank you?” “We had lots and lots of sex,” Peabody said, unabashed. “Lots of drinks, lots of sitting around doing nothing, lots of everything that wasn’t work. And it’s stuck. He’s got his bounce back.” “McNab always bounces.” “But it’s the real deal again. The natural bounce. It’s a load off, Dallas. I just wanted to say.” “Good. Good,” she repeated when she reached for the door of the restaurant. She opened it to a blast of voices raised in song, and the smell of Italian cooking that made her stomach yearn. Eve stepped to the hostess podium, where the woman behind it beamed a smile, held up a finger, then joined her rather stupendous soprano on the chorus. People at tables, in booths stopped twirling pasta, stabbing meatballs, forking up chicken piccata to applaud. The music dropped away into the clatter of dishes, the hum and buzz of conversation. And the waitstaff, all clad in sleek black, continued to serve and clear as if belting out some Broadway standard just came with the field greens salad. “Welcome to Broadway Babies. Do you have a reservation?” “I have this.” Eve palmed her badge, tipped it up. “Oh! Oh dear, is there a problem, Officer?” “Lieutenant. I need to speak to whoever’s in charge.” “Of course. That would be Annalisa. If you’d wait here, I’ll get her.” As she scurried away, the party at a long table in the center of the room burst into mad laughter all at once. As if taking his cue, one of the bartenders began to sing as he poured wine. Across the room, a waitress did a hands-on-hips dance toward him, made it a duet. “I love this place! It’s just so much fun.” Fun, Eve thought, if your idea of same equaled waitstaff singing and dancing around your table while you were trying to eat. Or, Jesus, actually pulling you up from your seat, spinning you around while singing in your face. Then again, the man currently being spun and sung to and, good God, the woman the bartender grabbed up—after actually leaping over the damn bar—both appeared to enjoy it all just fine. It took all kinds. The hostess hurried back, accompanied by a woman with whipped-cream-white hair, tiger-gold eyes, and a statuesque body tucked into a bold blue dress. “Good evening, I’mAnnalisa Bacardo,” she said, with the faintest accent that went with the scents of Italian food. “How can I help?” “Is there somewhere more private where we can talk?” “Of course.” The polite smile never wavered. “I would like to ask what we might be discussing.” “Chanel Rylan.” “Chanel?” The smile only widened. “Surely Chanel couldn’t be in any trouble with the police. She’s …” Something in Eve’s flat, direct gaze caused the smile to fade. “Yes, of course. If you’ll come with me.” Annalisa led them back, through the swinging kitchen doors, into the heat and chaos of the heart of a busy restaurant. “My office is through here—I need to be close. Giavanni!” She called out, then rattled off a spate of Italian before she opened a door, waved Eve and Peabody through. The office largely consisted of a desk, a couple of chairs, and walls covered with photos. “Our staff, over the years—twenty-two years—performing all over the world. Off-planet as well. Here, Chanel.” She tapped a photo of the doomed actress, spotlighted, arms outstretched, face lifted. “What’s happened to her? She’s been hurt?” “I’m sorry to inform you Chanel Rylan was killed tonight.” “But no.” Going as pale as her hair, Annalisa braced a hand on the desk, slowly lowered into a folding chair. “No, she’s … An accident?” “No, not an accident.” “I … A moment, please.” She clasped her hands in her lap, shut her eyes. “I’m rude,” she managed. “Please sit down. Please sit.” “Could I get you some water, Ms. Bacardo?” “Annalisa,” she murmured, eyes still closed. “I’m Annalisa. There is wine over there. I would very much thank you for bringing me a glass of wine.” She sat in silence until Peabody touched her hand, put a glass of wine in it. “Thank you.” She sipped, sipped again. “They’re my children, my family. Some will only perform here, in this happy place. Some will go on to more, to much more. They’re my family. Please tell me what happened to her.” “She was killed tonight at the Vid Galaxy, Times Square.” “You have the murderer?” “Not at this time.” “You must.” Those tiger eyes went bright and hard. “You must find and punish who did this. She was sweet and smart and talented. She brought joy. Those who would kill one who brings joy have no place in the world. What can I do to help you put him away from the world?” “Do you know anyone who’d want to hurt her?” “I promise you I don’t.” “Someone she was involved with, romantically, sexually?” “She had many romances. She brought joy there, too. Lightly,” Annalisa added. “Her work was first. No one serious, no one angry.” “Competitors, in her work.” “Ah, there is drama and strife and camaraderie and even a little madness in such work. But I know of no one. She was talented and worked hard, but not destined to be a star. That takes more. She was happy to have what she had, to do work that satisfied and fed her, to make a living doing what brought her joy and gave it. Some are more ruthless, yes? Some don’t have a care for bruising feelings or crushing opportunities. She didn’t have that quality. I think this must have been a madman, and someone who didn’t know her.” “Maybe you noticed someone who paid too much attention to her, who came in, watched her.” “The tourists come and go, though some come back when they visit New York again. We have regulars, and family groups who often come to celebrate a birthday or anniversary. I noticed nothing like this. If one of the others had, I would have been told. Family,” she reminded Eve. “And family looks out for each other. I want to help, but there’s no one I know who would have hurt her.” “That helps.”

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