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Authors: J. D. Robb

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #Crime, #Crime & mystery, #Thrillers & Mystery

Innocent in Death (10 page)

BOOK: Innocent in Death
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New Jersey was as deep as the Hudson in her voice as she beamed welcome and cooperation.

“You process castor beans at this facility.”

“Sure do. We process a variety of agricultural products for nonconsumptive use. Your castor oil’s used in some industries as a lubricant. Not so much in the U.S. of A., but we export. It’s also used in the preparation of leather goods. We export that, too, and ship directly to certified clients nationally. You want to see the processing operation?”

“Probably not. Do you have accounts for the oil in New York?”

“I sure can check on that for you, Lieutenant. That’d likely be for artisans, craftsman, and like that there, ones who like to use natural products only. You want I should get you a list?”

“Yeah, I want you should. As soon as you tell me why you’re handing all that over with a smile.”

“’Scuze?”

“You don’t ask questions, Stella. You don’t do any dance about privacy of accounts. Just sure, here are the names.”

Stella flashed her teeth again. “Yeah, sure. I got the memo.”

“What memo would that be?”

“From the top dog. It got sent out first of the year. Full cooperation from all managers, department heads, supervisors, and yadda-yadda is expected to be given to Lieutenant Eve Dallas if and when she has occasion to request information or services. Right?”

“Right. I’ll need an employee roster, too. Current, and back the last six months.”

“You got it.” Stella pointed her index finger, thumb cocked. “Give me five, okay?”

“Sure.”

As they waited, Peabody cast her eyes to the ceiling and whistled a tune.

“Shut up, Peabody.”

“I’m just wondering what it’s like to be married to a guy who owns so many things you don’t know the half of them.” Then she gave Eve an elbow nudge. “He sent out a memo.”

“It takes the fun out of it. He cut out my intimidation perk.”

“Saves time, though. And it’s really considerate. He’s always thinking about you.”

“Weird.”

But it was nice to hear it, even though it made her feel only more stupid about how she’d behaved that morning.

She would run cross-references and searches on the lists provided. That she could do back at Central, or at home. For the moment, they’d knock on a few doors. Starting with Hallie Wentz.

Hallie lived in a two-story townhouse, running her business on the street level. Eve would have tagged her as the exact opposite of Stella Burgess. Hallie was tall, slim, wearing fashionable ankle-breakers. Her eyes were cool and suspicious as she studied Eve’s badge.

Obviously, she hadn’t gotten the memo.

“What’s this about? I’ve got a client coming by in ten minutes. Cops aren’t good for business.”

“Craig Foster.”

“Oh.” Hallie blew out a breath, glanced toward a doorway. “Listen, my kid’s in the next room. She’s pretty upset about what happened. I really don’t want her to have to talk to the cops about this. Not until she feels better.”

“Actually, we’re here to talk to you.”

“Me? About Mr. Foster? Why?”

“We’re talking to everyone who was on school grounds yesterday.”

“Right. Right. Wait a minute.” She walked to the doorway, peeked in, then eased the door nearly closed. “Studying,” she said to Eve and Peabody. “Kid’s a gem. What do you need to know?”

“We’ll start with why you were there.”

“Show and Share Day. Em wanted to take Butch in for it. Our African Gray. Parrot?” she explained. “He’s a big guy. She couldn’t handle his cage herself, so I carried it to class for her.”

“You signed in at eight-twenty, didn’t sign out until ten-forty-two. How far did you have to carry Butch?”

“It’s a big school,” Hallie said, coolly again. “Are you interrogating all the parents?”

“It’s not so big it took you better than two hours to deliver a parrot. Did you see or speak with Mr. Foster yesterday?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“But you’ve had occasion to see and speak with him in the past.”

“Sure. Em had him last term. He seemed like a good one. She did really well in his class, and he showed a lot of interest in her.”

“Did you have any interest in him?”

Hallie drew a breath. “I don’t hit on Em’s teachers, and if I did, I’d go more for the little blonde who runs the Drama department. I’m gay, for God’s sake.”

“You have an assault on your record, Ms. Wentz.”

“Fuck that.” Temper sparked like flying embers. “That idiot son of a bitch deserved the broken shoulder, and a hell of a lot more. You know what he called my Em? Lesbo spawn.”

She sucked in another breath, held up a hand until she got herself under control. “He said that to me, so all I did was warn him to knock it off. But he kept it up, and started calling out things during the game. He called her a dyke. As in, ‘You can’t hit for crap, you little dyke.’ It wasn’t the first time he’d tossed out ignorant homophobe comments at a game, but they were tossed at me, not shouted out so she could hear. Nobody talks to my kid that way. I’d had enough.”

If the rundown were true, Eve was surprised the woman hadn’t aimed for the asshole’s skull rather than his shoulder. “Did Mr. Foster have anything inappropriate to say to your daughter?”

“Hell no. He was a decent guy, as far as I know. A good teacher, made his class fun for the kids. Emily liked him, a lot. She’s upset and confused over this. I don’t want her to be any more upset and confused than she has to be.”

“Then tell us why you were on school grounds for two hours and twenty-two minutes.”

“Jesus. I hung around in the class awhile, talking to some of the kids and Janine—Mrs. Linkletter—about Butch. Getting him to talk for them. Then…Listen, does this have to go on the record?”

“It depends on what ‘this’ is,” Eve told her.

“It doesn’t apply to what happened, so I just want you to say—if you agree it doesn’t—it doesn’t have to get around.”

“All right.”

“I slipped down into the kitchen. Laina Sanchez, the head nutritionist, moonlights for me. She’s not supposed to take outside jobs. I don’t want her to get in any trouble.”

“She won’t, not over that.”

“We just talked about an event we have coming up next week. A change in menu the client wanted. I had a cup of coffee while I was there. I didn’t have a meeting until eleven, and it was only a couple blocks away, so I hung. That’s it.”

“Okay. She’ll verify that?”

“She will, but listen, don’t ask her about it at the school, okay? Mosebly gets wind, she’ll come down on Laina.”

“Are you and Laina involved?”

Hallie relaxed enough to grin. “Not like that. I used to date her sister, a half a million years back. I helped her get the position at Sarah Child when they needed a new nutritionist. She’s got a two-year-old kid to feed, and another well on the way. She and her husband need the money I can toss her.”

“We’re not looking to jam her up.” Something more here, just a little more, Eve thought. “Did you see anything or anyone out of the ordinary?”

“I didn’t. Classes were just starting when I went down to the kitchen. Second period would have been going on when I left. I’d help if I could. Something bad like this happens around my kid, I want to know who, what, and why. I can’t protect her otherwise.”

Maybe protection was an angle, Eve mused, as they traveled the block and a half to the next name on the list.

“She goes after a guy with a bat because he calls her kid names.”

“You’d have done the same,” Peabody pointed out.

“Hard to say as I’m not a lesbian and don’t have a kid, but, yeah, the guy sounds like he earned his knocks. What might a parent do to protect? Maybe it wasn’t a parent or a teacher Foster had something on, if indeed he had something on anyone. Maybe it was a kid.”

“What can you have on a six-to twelve-year-old?”

“Naive Free-Ager. Kids do all sorts of sticky things. Maybe he caught one of them stealing, cheating on an exam, giving out bj’s in the bathroom, dealing illegals.”

“Jeez.”

Eve worked it through. “Calls the parent in for a little chat, warns that this will have to be reported. The kid will require disciplinary action, counseling, maybe expulsion. One of the top schools in the state, according to Straffo’s annoying kid. You don’t want your kid kicked out or something dicey going on the record. It can’t be reported if Foster’s dead.”

“Talk about involved parenting. I’ve been checking on any parent conferences the vic had on his schedule for the week before the murder.”

“Let’s look for repeat conferences. And when we get the warrant, we’ll see if any student name recurs with other instructors.”

None of the others on the list were currently at home. They got a sullen teenage girl at one residence who reported that her parents and the little creep—who Eve assumed was her younger brother—were at a basketball game. At another the droid housekeeper informed them that the mother had taken
young
miss to karate practice, and that the father was tied up at a late meeting.

Back at Central, Eve campaigned for her warrant, and did a mental victory dance when she copped it without breaking a sweat. Her only disappointment was that it was too late in the day to catch anyone at school to access the records she wanted.

She started to run her cross-references, stopped. She was already at the end of shift. She could work at home and lure Roarke into it. It would be a kind of peace offering for that morning, she supposed.

They’d have some dinner, and she’d bring him up to date. Since they were his employee and client lists she’d be running, it seemed only fair he had a part of it.

And she missed him, she admitted as she shut down for the day. She missed
them
.

Just as she pushed back from her desk, Peabody poked her head in. “There’s a Magdelana Percell out here, wants to see you.”

The center of Eve’s belly sank, then tightened like a fist. “Did she give you the nature of her business?”

“She said it was personal. I don’t remember her from any of the lists we’re working on, but—”

“No, she’s not on any. Send her back, then go home.”

“Home? But it’s only twenty minutes past end of shift. Whatever will I do with this unexpected largess?”

“Report to my home office, oh-eight hundred. We’ll catch some of those names before they go wherever the hell they go all day. Then we’re at the school. Warrant came through.”

“Score for our team. Dallas? I can hang if you’d rather.”

“No, I don’t rather. Send her back.”

It was no big, it was no deal, Eve reminded herself. She’d just see what Percell wanted, then go home. Forget about her.

It wouldn’t be the first time she had some ridiculous conversation with one of Roarke’s formers. It was unlikely to be the last.

She heard the telltale click of girl shoes on the aging floor, and made herself feel ridiculous by pretending to flip through a hard copy of a report.

When she glanced up, Magdelana was all sultry smiles in a sleek black suit with a silky fur collar.

“Thanks for seeing me,” she began. “I’m not sure you remember, but we met briefly last night. I’m—”

Eve wasn’t going for the smile, and she sure as hell wasn’t going for sultry. Her tone was flat. “I know who you are.”

“Oh, well then,” Magdelana said after a beat. “What a maze this place is! The hub, I suppose, of New York’s law enforcement. And this is your office?” She glanced around, scanning the dented file cabinet, the skinny window, the battered desk. Her perfect eyebrows winged up. “Not what I expected, really. It is Lieutenant, isn’t it?”

“That’s right.”

“Hmmm. I hope I’m not interrupting some vital sort of police work.”

“As a matter of fact…”

Magdelana blinked those emerald eyes once. “This is awkward. I was hoping it wouldn’t be. I wanted to come here, to see you, to ask if I could buy you a drink when you’re finished your work.”

“Why?”

“I suppose I wanted to make it clear I didn’t want to cause any trouble.”

Eve leaned back in her chair, swiveled idly. “Have you killed anyone since entering my jurisdiction?”

“No.” There was a quick, sharp smile. “Not since then.”

“In that case, we’re clear.”

“Eve.” Her voice was smooth, as was her move as she eased a hip onto Eve’s desk. “I only wanted to reassure you that what was between me and Roarke was over long ago. We were practically children when we were involved. You don’t have a thing to worry about.”

Eve cocked her head. “Do I look worried?”

“I don’t know you, so how can I say? Roarke did mention I wouldn’t like you, and I suppose I’m just contrary enough that I wanted to prove him wrong. So I hoped we could have a drink, and diffuse any potential problems. Especially since he’s going to be helping me with some of my affairs.”

“Funny.” And the fist in her belly went slippery and sick. “You look like the type who can handle her own affairs just fine.”

“Business affairs. We’d both know Roarke has no equal when it comes to financial affairs. Or, let’s be honest,
any
sort of affair.” She gave a light laugh. “But this is strictly business, I promise. After we had lunch today and he agreed to work with me, it suddenly occurred that you might think it was something other than business. After all, he’s a gorgeous and alluring man, and he and I were…”

“Werewould be the operative verb.”

“Yes. Absolutely. You see, I caused him pain a long time ago, I don’t want to be responsible for that again. If things work out as I hope, I’ll have business in New York for some time. I’m hoping we can all be friends.”

She knew bullshit when it was being tossed at her by the shovelful. “You know, Ms. Purcell, I’m at absolute capacity in the friend department. You’ll have to apply elsewhere. As for Roarke and his business, that’s his deal. As for you, let’s get this straight: You don’t look stupid, so I don’t believe you think you’re the first of Roarke’s discarded skirts to swing back this way. You don’t worry me. In fact, you don’t much interest me. So if that’s all?”

Slowly, Magdelana slid off the desk. “The man is just never wrong is he? I don’t like you.”

“Aw.”

She moved to the door, then stopped, leaned on the jamb as she looked over at Eve again. “Just one thing? He didn’t discard me. I discarded him. And since you don’t look stupid either, you know that makes all the difference.”

BOOK: Innocent in Death
12.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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