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Authors: J. D. Robb

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

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BOOK: Innocent in Death
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“We don’t know that, Mrs. Foster. Did anyone come to your apartment today, before your husband left for work?”

“No. He leaves so early. He likes to use the fitness center at the school. He takes good care of himself. He does. We do. Elizabeth.”

“You’re doing fine. How much more of this?” Elizabeth demanded.

“Was your husband having problems with anyone at the school?” Eve asked.

“Craig? No. He loved it there.”

“How about prior relationships? Did either one of you have trouble with a former relationship?”

“We were together two years before we got married. You know how you meet someone, and it’s just it? Your whole life is there, that minute. That’s what it was like for us.”

Eve stepped forward, then sat so her eyes were level with Lissette’s. “If you want to help, you need to be straight with me. Absolutely straight. Did he gamble?”

“He wouldn’t even buy a lottery ticket. He was careful with money.”

“Did he use illegals?”

She bit her lip. “Um, we did a little zoner in college.” Her gaze slid toward Elizabeth’s.

“Who didn’t?” Elizabeth patted her arm.

“Recently?”

“No.” Lissette shook her head at Eve’s question. “Absolutely not. He could be dismissed for any illegals use. Plus, he really feels strongly about setting examples for his students.”

“Were you having financial problems?”

“Nothing serious. I mean, we had to juggle a little sometimes, especially since Craig wants to save. Sometimes I spend more than I should, but he’s so careful it balances out. He saves for things. Important things. He…he took tutoring work last year for extra money. Then he used it to bring my mother to New York for Christmas. He knew how much it would mean to me, so he worked extra and he bought my mother a shuttle ticket, and paid for her hotel because we don’t have room. He did that for me. No one’s ever going to love me like that again. No one could. Not ever in my life.”

Because the tears started again, Eve rose. “I’m sorry for your loss, and appreciate your cooperation at this difficult time.” Crappy words, she thought. And the only words. “Is there anyone you’d like us to contact for you?”

“No. No. Oh, God, Craig’s parents. I have to tell them. How do I tell them?”

“We can take care of that for you.”

“No, I have to. I’m Craig’s wife. I have to do this.” She got shakily to her feet. “I have to see him. I don’t know where he is.”

“He’s with the medical examiner now. I’ll contact you as soon as you’re cleared for that. Do you have someone who can go with you?”

“I’ll go with her. No, Lissy, I’ll go with you,” Elizabeth insisted when Lissette teared up again and shook her head. “You just sit for a minute while I walk Lieutenant Dallas and Detective Peabody out. Sit right here, I’ll just be a minute.”

She moved quickly, and purposefully, not stopping until they’d reached an intersection in the maze. “How was Craig murdered?”

“I didn’t say he was.”

Elizabeth turned, looked dead into Eve’s eyes. “I know who you are. I keep up with who’s who in New York. Lieutenant Eve Dallas, Homicide.”

“I don’t have any information to give you at this time. Mr. Foster’s death is under investigation.”

“That’s bullshit. Just bullshit. That girl just lost the love of her life. Like that!” Elizabeth snapped her fingers. “She needs answers.”

“She’ll have them, as soon as I do. How well did you know him?”

“I met him a number of times. He’d come in every now and then, and Lissy would bring him to company parties and events. Sweet boy. Dopey in love. Bright. He struck me as bright, like Lissy is. Two bright young people getting started with their life, their careers. You’re bright, too, from everything I’ve read, heard, or seen of you. You get those answers for Lissy. You get her that much to hold on to.”

“That’s the idea.”

3

EVE LOOKED TO FIND THE FIRST OF THOSE ANSWERS at the morgue. The air always smelled just a little too sweet there, like a careless whore who’d used perfume instead of soap to disguise some unpleasant personal odor. Tiles—floor and walls—were an unrelieved white, pristine and sterile.

There was a vending alcove where staff or visitors could order their choice of refreshment, though Eve imagined many who passed by would prefer something stronger than the muddy soy coffee or sparkling soft drinks.

She strode down the white-tiled corridor where, behind thick doors, death lay in sealed drawers or on slabs waiting for the right questions to be asked.

She pushed through the doors of an autopsy room to see Chief Medical Examiner Morris already at work to the wicked rhythm of what she thought might be Dixieland jazz. His sealed hands were bloody to the wrists as he lifted Craig Foster’s liver from his body to the scale.

“Ah, why don’t I go score you a Pepsi.” Peabody was already taking a step back. “Thirsty work. Be right back.”

Ignoring her, Eve continued into the room. Morris glanced up, his eyes behind his microgoggles canny and faintly amused. “She still queezes when I’m cutting.”

“Some never get past it.” When had she? Eve wondered. Too long ago to remember. “You’re getting to him quickly. Appreciate it.”

“I always enjoy working on your dead, and feel you enjoy me having my hands in them. What’s wrong with us?”

“It’s a sick old world. How about the tox?”

“Music off,” he ordered. “I assumed you’d want that straight away, and put a red flag on it. Still snowing?”

“Yeah, it’s crap out there.”

“Personally, I enjoy the snow.” He worked smoothly, weighing the liver, taking a small sample of it. He wore a sleek black suit under his protective smock, with a silver shirt that shimmered as he moved. His dark hair was in one tightly coiled braid, looped at the neck and twined with silver cord.

Eve had often wondered how he managed it.

“Want a look?” He put the sample on a slide under his scope, gestured to the screen. “The tox confirms poisoning. Ricin, very concentrated, very lethal. Very quick in this case.”

“Ricin? That’s from beans or something, right?”

“And you win the trip for two to Puerto Vallarta. Castor beans, to be precise. Ricin’s made from the mash after processing. It was used as a laxative once upon a time.”

She thought of the state of the body, the crime scene. “It sure as hell worked.”

“Superbly. His liver and kidneys failed, and there was internal bleeding. He’d have had severe cramping, rapid heartbeat, nausea, very likely seizures.” Morris studied the screen as Eve did. “Ricin dust was used—and is still used on occasion—in bioterrorism. Injection of ricin was a favored assassination method before we discovered handier ways.”

“Your all-purpose poison.”

“Very versatile. The lab will process, but I can tell you it appears he drank it—in his hot chocolate.”

“His wife made the chocolate.”

“Ah. I love domestically inclined females.”

“I don’t see her for it. Married a handful of months, no obvious motive. And she copped to making it without a blink.”

“Marriages, even new ones, can be a terrorist camp.”

“Damn right, but she’s not popping for me. Yet anyway.”

“Good-looking young man,” Morris commented. “Athletic build and, I’d say, a harmonic homogeny of races.”

“Harmonic homogeny.” Eve shook her head. “You kill me. He was a teacher—history, private school, Upper West Side. Left his lunch in his classroom, habitually. Ate at his desk Mondays, habitually. No security cameras in the classrooms or corridors. Private schools aren’t required to have them. Wouldn’t have been hard for anybody to doctor his drink. What we’re missing at this point is why anyone would. Guy’s coming off as a nice, harmless mensch.”

“Someone, I’d say, didn’t like your mensch. This kind of poisoning isn’t just lethal, it’s extremely painful.” Hands deft as a violinist’s, Morris removed the heart. “He didn’t live long after he ingested it, but while he did, he suffered a great deal.”

She looked back at the body. What did you do, Craig, to piss somebody off this much? “His wife wants to see him. She’s notifying his parents, and I assume they will, too.”

“After nine this evening. I’ll have him prepared for viewing.”

“I’ll let them know.” She frowned back at Morris. “Where the hell do you get castor beans?”

He only smiled. “I’m sure you’ll find out.”

Peabody, slightly shamefaced, loitered by Vending. “Before you say anything, here’s a nice cold tube of Pepsi. And I put my time to good use. I’ve started runs on the staff members at Sarah Childand verified life insurance policies on both the vic and his wife. Vic gets his through work bennies. Fifty thousand, with the wife as beneficiary.”

“Pretty piddly motive.” Eve took the tube, pleased that it was, indeed, nice and cold. “We’ll hit their financials, see if she had any major debts. Maybe she’s the gambler, or the one with an illegals habit.”

“But you don’t think so.”

“No, I don’t think so.” Eve cracked the tube, swigged as they walked. “Unless there’s more money somewhere, the fifty doesn’t do it for me. And if there was marital discord, let’s say, a spouse generally goes for contact, for the personal. This was nasty, but remote. He pissed somebody off.”

Peabody rewound her scarf, replaced her gloves as they hit the doors and the cold exploded like an ice boomer. “Rejected lover, colleagues in competition.”

“We’ll want to look closer at Mirri Hallywell.”

“Parents of a student who he disciplined, or who wasn’t doing well in his class.”

“Jesus.” Eve jammed her hands in her pockets, and discovered she’d lost yet another pair of gloves. “Who kills because their kid gets a big doughnut in a history class?”

“Parents are weird and dangerous creatures. And I worked up another theory. Maybe it was a mistake.”

“It was ricin poisoning, and Morris’s take is that the dose was intense and quickly lethal.”

“See, what I mean is, maybe one of his students was upset with him.” Peabody mimed a sulky face. “I’ll fix that meanie Mr. Foster. Doctors his drink thinking he’ll maybe get sick. Oops.”

“Not entirely stupid.” They climbed into the vehicle, where both hissed out the breath the blustery cold had them holding.

“Jesus, Jesus, why is there February?” Eve demanded. “February should be eliminated altogether for the good of mankind.”

“It is the shortest month, so that’s something.” Peabody actually moaned as the heat came on. “I think my corneas are frozen. Can that happen?”

“They can in fucking February. Let’s stick with Foster’s nearest and dearest first. We’ll go by their building, talk to a few neighbors. Most particularly the retired cop.”

“Once a cop,” Peabody nodded, and began to blink cautiously to help her potentially frozen corneas thaw out. “If there was anything off going on, he’d probably have noticed.”

Henry Kowoski lived on the second level of a four-story walkup. He opened the door only after scanning Eve’s badge through his security peep, then stood, taking her measure.

He was a stocky five-eight, a man who’d let his hair thin and gray. He wore baggy trousers with a flannel shirt and brown, scuffed slippers. In the background, the entertainment screen was tuned to the Law and Order channel.

“Seen your picture on screen a few times. In my day, cops didn’t angle for face time.”

“In my day,” Eve countered, “the world’s lousy with reporters. Going to let us in, Sergeant?”

It might have been the use of his rank that had him stepping back with a shrug. “Sound off,” he ordered the screen. “What’s the beef?”

The place smelled like it had been just a little too long since laundry day, and not long enough since takeout Chinese night. The space was what realtors liked to call “urban efficient,” which meant it was one room, with a stingy bump for a kitchen, a short, narrow cell for a bath.

“How long were you on the job?”

“Thirty years. Last dozen of them out of the Two-Eight.”

Eve searched her mind, pulled out a single name. “Peterson the L.T. when you were there?”

“Last couple years, yeah. He was a good boss. Heard he transferred out a while back, moved clear out to Detroit or some such where.”

“That so? I lost track. You’ve had some complaints about the tenants up above here? Fosters.”

“That’s damn right.” He folded his arms. “Playing music—if you can call it that—all hours of the day and night. Stomping around up there. I pay my rent, and I expect my neighbors to show some respect.”

“Anything else going on up there but loud music and stomping?”

“Newlyweds.” His mouth twisted. “Deduce. What the hell do you care?”

“I care since Craig Foster’s in the morgue.”

“That kid’s dead?” Kowoski took a step back, sat on a ratty arm chair. “Fucked-up world. It was fucked up when I picked up my shield, and it was fucked up when I turned it in. How’d he buy it?”

“That’s under investigation. Any trouble between them? Upstairs?”

“With dove and coo?” He snorted. “Not likely. Sooner lock lips than eat, from what I’ve seen. If there was yelling, it wasn’t a fight—if you get me. The girl’s a noisy lay.” Then he puffed out his cheeks, blew out air. “I’m sorry about this. They pissed me off, I won’t say different, with the noise up there. But I hate hearing he’s dead. Young guy. Teacher. Had a smile on his face every time I saw him. Course if you’ve got yourself a woman looks like her who’s ready to bang you every five minutes, you’ve got a lot to smile about.”

“How about visitors?”

“Her mother was here a couple days ’round Christmas. Got some other young people who came in and out now and then. And a couple of loud parties. Both of them came home stumbling drunk New Year’s Eve, giggling like a couple of kids, shushing each other.”

He shook his head slowly. “Fucked-up world. You’re wondering about criminal activity? You got yourself a couple of straight arrows with these two, you want my take. Up every morning, off to work, back every evening. Socializing now and again, sure, but these were homebodies. Shoulda stayed home more, I guess, and out of that fucked-up world.”

They spoke with the handful of neighbors who were home, and the rhythm remained stable. The Fosters were a happy and newly married couple, young urban professionals who enjoyed each other.

“We work three angles,” Eve decided as they headed back downtown. “The vic, the school, the poison. They’re going to intersect somewhere.”

“Maybe through the science department. We can find out if they were studying poisons, or ricin in particular.”

“Dawson’s a science teacher,” Eve considered. “Let’s do a deeper run on him. You tag him meanwhile, ask about what gets mixed up in their lab.”

“Got it. And if we’re leaning toward somebody in the school, or affiliated with it, we should check the students’ records. See if Foster had any go-round with one of them, or the parents of same.”

Eve nodded. “Good. Let’s look at the staff members we’ve verified were in the building before classes started. If I were going to slip something in somebody’s go-cup, I’d want to get it in before the place got crowded. We’ll write this up, then start digging.”

“Hate to dig on an empty stomach. Not to be a whiner, but we haven’t had a dinner break, and it’s nearly eight. Maybe we could—”

“Eight? Dinner?”

“Jeez, Dallas, just a hoagie.”

“Shit, shit.Shit! Dinner. Eight. French place. Fuck, fuck. Why is it nearly eight?”

“Well, because the Earth rotates on its axis while it orbits around the sun. You’re supposed to be somewhere.”

“Roarke. Corporate wife duty.” Eve wanted to pull at her hair. “I missed the last two, and I can’t do the no-show again. Le Printemps. That’s it.”

“Le Printemps? Ooh-la-la! That’s megachic. Totally. And it’s Upper East Side. Hate to point this out, but we’re low on the Lower West Side.”

“I know where the hell we are.” She batted her fist on the wheel as she spun into the garage at Cop Central. “I have to go. I have to do this. I’m already late. Goddamn it.”

“The case is going to hold for the night,” Peabody pointed out. “We’ve got nothing but paperwork now anyway. I can write the report, and we’ll do the runs and the digging in the morning.”

“Copy the report, my home and office units. Anything else in your notes that strikes you. Get out, get out! I gotta get to this stupid French place.”

“Aren’t you going to go home and change first?”

“Into what? I don’t have time.” Then she grabbed Peabody by a fistful of puffy coat. “Do this one thing for me. Tag Roarke, tell him I’m on my way. Caught a case, running late, but I’m heading there now.”

“Okay.”

“I can’t do it. He’ll see I’m in regular clothes, and he told me I should take a change into work, but I nixed it. Like I want to go prancing out of Central in some fancy dress.” Aggravation all but streamed out of Eve’s pores. “Do you know the grief that causes me?”

“Honestly? I don’t know how you suffer through it. I’d crack like an egg in your place.”

“Oh, bite me and tag Roarke.”

She all but shoved Peabody from the vehicle, and was whipping the wheel and speeding out.

She couldn’t remember what she’d tossed on that morning, and since she was driving like a maniac, couldn’t afford the time to check herself out. The traffic, thestupid snow, the need to weave and dodge made switching to autopilot an impossibility.

She probably smelled of death.

Well, it was his own fault, she decided. He’d married her, hadn’t he? It wasn’t as if she hadn’t made full disclosure on what a crappy wife she’d make for a man like him.

She’d had to go and fall for a man who owned the lion’s share of the known universe, and had to—on occasion—trot out his wife for that odd and awkward mix of social business.

He wouldn’t complain that she was late. In fact, he wouldn’t even be annoyed with her. If a cop had to get married—and God knew they were better solo—she couldn’t do better than hooking up with a man who understood that the job messed with personal plans. Constantly.

And because he wouldn’t complain or be annoyed, she felt even more guilty for forgetting the dinner, and more determined to beat the hellacious traffic.

BOOK: Innocent in Death
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