Authors: J. D. Robb
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #Crime, #Crime & mystery, #Thrillers & Mystery
“Don’t remind me. Stupid damn friendships. They always cost you.”
“You’re so soft and sentimental, Dallas.”
“Yeah, I love that about me.” Judging the snow, the insanity of New York drivers in same, Eve swung into a parking lot two blocks from the address. “I’m not trying for street parking in this snowing crap.”
“I can use the exercise. I, like, ate my way through the holidays, and am expecting McNab to spring for something resembling chocolate for Valentine’s Day, so I need to lose in advance. What are you getting for Roarke?”
“For Valentine’s Day?”
“I just got his Christmas stuff five minutes ago.” She stepped out of the car, remembered the scarf stuffed in her coat pocket. Pulling it out, Eve swung it around her neck.
“Two months ago. And it’sValentine’s Day. For sweethearts. You need to get him a gooey card and a sentimental token. I already got McNab’s. It’s a talking picture frame with our names inscribed on it. I put this shot of the two of us his father took at Christmas? He can keep it in his cube in EDD. Roarke would like something like that.”
“Roarke already knows what we look like.” A minicoupe skidded at the light, fishtailed into the crosswalk, and earned the curses and snarls of pedestrians.
She loved New York.
“Oh, speaking of pictures, I’ve got a new crop of Belle. Have you seen her since you got back?”
“No. Is she asking for tats and belly rings already?”
“Come on. She is so seriously adorable. She’s got Leonardo’s eyes and Mavis’s mouth, and—”
“God help us if she inherits their fashion sense along with it.”
“She smiles at me, every time I pick her up.” Above her scarf, under her watch cap, Peabody’s eyes went to brown goo. “People say that’s gas, but she smiles at me. She’s getting so big, and she’s…”
While Peabody rhapsodized about Mavis’s infant daughter, Eve listened to the music of New York. The blasting horns, the arguments, the rumbling ad blimps from overhead. Through them were the voices, a rat-a-tat of conversations, a litany of complaints.
“So, what are you going to take her?”
“What? Taking what? Where?”
“To Belle, Dallas, when you go to see her. The gift?”
“What gift?” Seriously stymied, Eve stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. “Why do I have to take a gift?”
“Why?Didn’t I do the shower thing, with gifts, then the hospital thing?”
“Yes, but when you go to visit the baby at home for the first time, it’s traditional to—”
“Who makes this up?” Seriously aggrieved, Eve jabbed a finger into the marshmallow puffiness of Peabody’s winter coat. “I demand to know who makes these rules. It’s madness. Tell me who it is, and I’ll have them committed for psychiatric evaluation.”
“Aw, Dallas, you just need to bring her a little teddy bear or a pretty rattle. It’s fun shopping for baby stuff.”
“My ass. You know what’s fun?” Eve hauled open the door of the office building. “Finding out who poisoned some poor slob of a history teacher. That’s my idea of fun. Any more talk about shopping, gifts, babies, gooey cards, or Valentine’s Day, my boot’s going so far up your ass you’ll think the toe’s your tongue.”
“A week at the beach sure sweetened your mood. Sir,” Peabody muttered when Eve’s look fried off the top layers of her skin.
Eve turned on her heel toward the security station, and badged the guard. “Lissette Foster.”
“Just a minute, please.” He ran the badge number, the ID ploddingly, thoroughly. “Yes, sir, you’re cleared. Lissette Foster…Foster, Foster. Here we go. She’s with Blackburn Publishing. Editorial. Uh…that’s on the ninth floor. Bank of elevators to your right. Have a productive day.”
“Yeah, you bet. Native of Martinique,” Eve began as they stepped into an elevator to be assaulted with quiet, mind-melting music. “Student visa, most like, work visa maybe. She’d get her green card by marrying a U.S. citizen. And keep her status here as his widow.”
“Easier ways to get a green card.”
“Sure. But maybe things weren’t working, and divorce within two years cancels out the green. Maybe there was more going on in those Wednesday night sessions with Hallywell than studying. You got a job here, you want a life here. Killing to keep it isn’t a stretch.”
They stepped off into a small reception area where a woman sat behind a white counter. She wore a headset and a big, welcoming smile.
“Good afternoon!” she said, so enthusiastically that Eve’s eyes slitted. “Welcome to Blackburn Publishing. How may I help you today?”
“Of course. I can certainly find out if Ms. Foster’s free. May I say who’s here to see her, and the nature of your business?”
Eve simply took out her badge again. “We’ll explain all that to Ms. Foster.”
“Oh.” The woman’s eyes bugged as she stared at the badge. “Oh, my. Excuse me.” She swiveled around, spoke into the mouthpiece of her headset in a hissing whisper. “Lissette Foster.” Clearing her throat, she darted a glance back at Eve. “Lissette, there’s someone here in Reception to see you. It’s apolice officer. I don’t know. I really don’t. Okay.”
With her smile strained at the edges, the woman turned back to Eve. “She’ll be right here. If you’d like to sit—”
By the time Eve had unwrapped her scarf, a woman was striding out on ice-pick heels. Those alone indicated some level of insanity to Eve. The heels were cherry red, the pencil-slim suit stone gray. Inside it was an excellent body.
Lissette Foster had luminous skin, heavy-lidded, and currently annoyed, nut-brown eyes. Her hair was nearly the same shade and worn ruler-straight to brush her shoulders.
She moved with purpose, Eve thought. Like a woman with a fire in her belly. It might have sparked from anger, from ambition, or passion, but it was hot.
“You’re police?” Lissette demanded in a brisk tone made exotic by the French accent.
“Lieutenant Dallas, Detective Peabody. We—”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake! I told him we’d keep the music down. Arrest me then.” Drama quivering, she held out her arms, wrists together. “Arrest me for playing music after the ungodly hour of nine P.M. on a Saturday night. I should be dragged away in chains! Just because some retired cop has
is no reason to have police coming to where I work. Does he want me to get fired?”
“Ms. Foster, we’re not here about your music. We’d like to speak with your privately. Your office would be best.”
“Office?” Lissette let out a very lusty laugh. “I’m an editorial assistant. I’m lucky I’ve got a cube. What’s this about?”
Eve turned now to the woman at reception. “I need a private room. Office, conference room, lounge, whatever. I want it now.”
“Certainly, certainly. The conference room isn’t booked right now. You can—”
“Fine.” Eve looked back at Lissette. “Let’s go.”
“What’s this about? I have a meeting with the boss in…oh, God, ten minutes. She hates anyone to be late. If you think you can pitch a story idea to someone at my level, I can promise you, you’re wasting your time.”
She wound her way through a maze of cubes and narrow hallways, past offices with tiny windows, corner offices with views to kill.
“Look, I shouldn’t have talked that way about Sergeant Kowoski. Maybe the music was too loud. My husband and I were playing around, pretending we were at some hot club. We were probably a little drunk, and a little loud. I don’t want any trouble.”
She stepped into a room with a dozen chairs around a wide table, long counters along each side wall and screens front and back.
“Can we do this quickly? I really don’t want to be late for my meeting.”
“We’d like you to sit down.”
“This is ridiculous.” Blowing out a breath, she yanked out a chair, sat. Then came straight back to her feet again, with alarm in her eyes. “Oh, God. Has something happened to my mother? Was there an accident?
How did you tell someone the person she expected to be waiting for her at home wouldn’t be there tonight? Or any other night? Eve remembered. You told them fast, without flourishes.
“It’s regarding your husband, Mrs. Foster.”
“Craig? He’s still at school.”
“I’m sorry to tell you, your husband’s dead.”
“That’s a terrible thing to say to someone. That’s a vicious, terrible thing to say. I want you to leave, right now. I’m going to call the police—the
police—and have you arrested.”
“Mrs. Foster, my partner and I are the real police, and we’re the investigators on your husband’s death. He died today at approximately twelve-thirty.”
“Of course he didn’t. He didn’t. He was at school. That’s his lunch break, and he sent me an e-mail just after noon. I packed his lunch this morning. He’s at school, at the Monday faculty meeting right now. And he’s fine.”
Her breath began to come quick, choppy. Her color was fading even as she fumbled a hand behind to brace the table as her legs went out.
“You should sit down, Mrs. Foster,” Peabody said gently. “We’re very sorry for your loss.”
“No. No. Was there a bomb? Was there a bomb at school? Oh, my God. Is he hurt? Is Craig hurt?”
“He died,” Eve said flatly. “I’m very sorry.”
“But he…But he…You could make a mistake. You must have. I should call him. You’ll see. I should call him. But he’s in his Monday meeting. He’s not allowed to have the ’link on when he’s in his Monday meeting. We’ll go there.” She pushed away from the brace of the table, swayed. “We’ll go to the school and to Craig. I need my coat. I’ll just get my coat.”
She looked around, dazed. “Silly, so silly. I couldn’t remember where I was for a minute. I need…what is it?”
“Sit down, Mrs. Foster.”
“No, we have to go. To the school. We have to—” She jumped at the sound of a knock. A blonde in power red stepped in.
“I’d like to know what’s going on here. Lissette?”
“Elizabeth.” Lissette wore the dull look of sleepwalkers, and survivors. “Am I late for the meeting?”
“Peabody.” Eve nodded toward Lissette, then moved to the blonde. “Who are you?”
“I’m Elizabeth Blackburn, and who the hell are you?”
“Dallas, Lieutenant, NYPSD. I’ve just informed Mrs. Foster that her husband’s dead.”
“He’s…what? Craig. Oh, sweet Jesus. Lissy.”
Perhaps it was the pet name, or the tone of grief in it, but as Elizabeth started across the room, Lissette simply slid to the floor. Elizabeth went down on her knees, gathered Lissette up.
“Craig. My Craig.”
“I’m sorry. Lissy, Lissy, I’m so sorry. Was there an accident?” she demanded of Eve.
“We’ll need to speak with Ms. Foster about the circumstances.”
“All right, all right. My office is to the right, end of the corridor. I’ll bring her there to you as soon as she’s able. She needs a few minutes, for God’s sake. Just wait in my office.”
They left Lissette in the arms of her boss. There were a number of curious looks from offices and cubes, but no comment until they reached the corner office at the end of the hall. At that point a little brunette popped out like a jack-in-the-box.
“Excuse me! That’s Ms. Blackburn’s office.”
“Where she just asked us to wait.” Eve yanked out her badge. “Go back to work.”
Inside was a glossy workstation, a cushy sofa, and two pretty chairs. A fairly stunning flower arrangement stood on the table under the south-facing window.
“If she faked that reaction,” Peabody began, “she’s got major talent.”
“Not so hard to fake if you practice. But yeah, it seemed genuine. Go on out before they get here, have someone show you her cube. I want to know what she has in there.”
“On that one.”
Eve wandered to the windows, pausing long enough to note what Lissette’s boss kept on her desk. A framed photograph of a girl somewhere in her blossoming teens, a loaded disc file, a pile of memo cubes arranged in a pyramid, and a file that revealed artwork for what was likely a disc cover when Eve flipped it open.
Outside the windows, snow continued to fall on the city in thin, slick flakes. An airtram chugged through it holding a clutch of miserable passengers.
Personally, she thought, she’d stick with the vicious traffic on the slick streets below.
She turned as Peabody stepped back in.
“Nothing much, and not a lot of room for it. Files, memos, notes on current work. She’s got a wedding picture of her and the vic in a really nice frame. I’m betting wedding present. Some snaps of him, or them, pinned to the cube walls. Oh, and a little file of ads and pictures from decorating magazines. That’s about it.”
“All right. We’ll give her another minute, then we’ll take this back in the conference room. We’ll swing by the morgue next. I want to know exactly what killed Craig Foster.”
It didn’t take a minute. Seconds later Lissette came in, leaning heavily on Elizabeth Blackburn.
“You’re just going to sit,” Elizabeth told her. “And I’m going to sit with you. I gave her a soother,” she said to Eve, then jutted her chin pugnaciously before Eve could speak. “And don’t even think about starting on me about it. She needed something. It’s mild, and won’t keep her from talking to you.”
“You her boss or her legal rep?”
“I’m whatever she needs me to be right now.”
“Are you sure?” Lissette’s voice was cracked and raw, and carried the awful pain of fading hope. “Are you absolutely sure there’s no mistake? That it’s Craig?”
Knowing her strengths, Peabody took point. She moved to the couch where Lissette sat with Elizabeth. “I’m very sorry. There’s no mistake.”
“But…He wasn’t sick. We had full medicals before we got married. He was healthy. People don’t just…Did someone hurt him? Was there an accident at the school?”
“We need to find out why and how this happened. We have to ask you questions. You can help us find out.”
“I want to help. I want to know. I love him.”
“Let’s start with this morning. You said you packed his lunch.”
“I did. I always do.” Her eyes fluttered, widened as she shot a hand out to grip Peabody’s arm. “Was something wrong with the sandwich? He liked that awful processed poultry substitute. Did it make him sick? Oh, my God.”