Authors: J. D. Robb
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #Crime, #Crime & mystery, #Thrillers & Mystery
“Yes, of course.”
“Maman,we’ll go out, and let them…
, someone killed Craig.
Eve stood back as the mother comforted the daughter, as she helped the grieving widow into boots, coat, scarf.
“I’ll take her to breakfast,” Cicely told Eve. “There’s a place down the street. We’ll be there if you need us.”
“Thank you.” Eve waited until the door shut behind them. “Took the same cup every day.”
“Fits his MO,” Peabody said. “Routine.”
“Yeah, so he not only habitually drank the same thing every day, but out of the same thermos. Used that same thermos for over a year. Maybe, for efficiency’s sake, the killer bought a dupe, just switched the cups.”
“We can run the make and model, retail outlets.”
“Yeah, we can. Let’s do the room first. Let’s go to work, Peabody.”
THERE WAS NOTHING IN THE APARTMENT THAT spoke of murder. No poisons hidden away in secret compartments, no threatening correspondence or incriminating photographs.
There was, as far as Eve could see—as far as she could
—only the lives of two everyday people whose marriage had still been shiny and new.
The shared work area held his professional debris, and hers, as well as silly, sexy e-mails they sent to each other. Signs, Eve thought, of that first rush of love and belonging where nothing was more important or immediate as the two of you. There were ’link transmissions to and from Lissy and her mother, one from Mirri Hallywell who’d talked to both the Fosters—confirming a study date with Craig and chatting with Lissy about a date with someone called Ben.
The night before he died, Craig Foster had outlined the pop quiz he would never spring on his students, and had put nearly an hour into a paper on the economic and social developments post–Urban Wars.
The screen saver on the comp unit was a wedding portrait—Lissette in flowing white, Craig in formal black, sharing what Eve assumed was their first kiss as husband and wife.
“It’s a tough one,” Peabody commented when they were back in their vehicle. “Looking around that place, everything’s new. Everything was just getting started. Now it’s done. The good wine glasses—had to be a wedding gift—barely used. Matching towels and shower curtain, dried flowers from her wedding bouquet, the disc of the ceremony and party. It’s tough.”
“It’s tougher because nothing in there pointed to motive. They don’t have money, they don’t use illegals, the probability of either of them having an affair at this stage is next to zip. So what was his secret?”
“People have them. Little pockets they keep to themselves. Things a man wouldn’t share with his wife.”
Frowning, Peabody shook her head. “At their stage, and from the vibe, I don’t see them keeping secrets.”
“That’s what makes them secret,” Eve muttered, and hunted up parking near the school.
Inside, they passed through security, waited to be cleared. She saw a couple of staff members crossing the main hall. Each wore a black armband. “Let’s go over the timing and movements. If the ricin didn’t come from home, it came from here.”
Peabody pulled out her memo book. “Vic signed in at six-forty-two. His wife’s statement has him leaving the apartment about six-thirty.”
“He walked. Find an apartment close to work so you can walk and save transpo costs. It would take seven, eight minutes to walk it, so it’s unlikely he made any stops on the way. Nothing open at that hour on the route. Closest twenty-four/seven is three blocks west.”
Peabody nodded. “There’s a deli a block over, but it doesn’t open until seven.”
“Okay. So he puts on his coat, gets his briefcase, his packed lunch, kisses his wife good-bye, and walks to work. Comes in the main, like we did. Goes through security, gets signed in. He’s going to work out, so he’d go to his classroom, store his stuff for the day. Coat, gloves, hat, scarf. Briefcase, which contains his last meal.”
She headed that way now, taking the most logical route. “No one interviewed mentioned seeing or speaking to him before he made it to the fitness area. He goes upstairs first.”
She stopped at the classroom door, uncoded the police seal, entered. “Puts the briefcase on the desk, stows the lunch in the drawer, hangs up his coat. Efficient guy, orderly guy,” she murmured. “Wears the workout gear in. Takes his duffle with his school clothes with him down to the fitness area.”
“Affirmative.” Peabody read her notes. “We’ve got the duffle with his workout gear in it.”
“Goes down to the main level,” Eve continued as they backtracked. “Goes down to work out, leaving his classroom—including his go-cup—unattended.”
They walked back out, toward the fitness area. “According to wit statements, he’s already in the gym, on the machines, when he’s first seen.”
“Reed Williams, approximately seven-ten.”
“What time did Williams sign in?”
“So what was Williams doing between six-forty-five and seven-ten? We’ll have another chat with him. Mosebly stated she saw the vic in the pool area as she was leaving it at approximately seven-thirty.”
“Signed in at six-fifty.”
“Bunch of early birds. We’ll follow up with her, too. And sooner than later,” Eve added when Mosebly strode toward them.
“Lieutenant, Detective. I was alerted by Security that you were here.” She wore unrelieved black today—skirt, jacket, boots. “I’d appreciate it if you’d check in with my office when you come to the academy.”
“Thought you might have shut down for the day,” Eve countered. “Considering.”
“After meeting with our mental health counselors, I decided against it. It’s felt the students will benefit more from routine, and being with each other, able to talk openly about their fears and feelings. We had a moment of silence this morning, and are planning a memorial for later this week. Has there been progress?”
“The investigation is ongoing. What did you do before you took a swim yesterday?”
“You signed in at six-fifty. What did you do?”
“Let me think. So much has happened since…I went to my office to check my day planner, and organize for the day. I had an eight o’clock. Why?”
“It’s in the details. Did you see anyone? Talk with anyone prior to the swim?”
“Yes, actually. I spoke briefly with Bixley as I came in. He was clearing the steps—the snow? I asked him to be sure to check them periodically during the day. And I saw Laina Sanchez, our chief nutritionist, as she came in right behind me. I made some comment about the weather, I believe. Then I went to my office, spent some time reviewing my day. Took my swim.”
“Did you go through the fitness area?”
“No, I used the staff locker room to change into my suit, then went straight into the pool. What happened to Craig, Lieutenant? Rumors are flying, and it’s only more upsetting for all of us not to know.”
“He was poisoned. Can anyone access the fitness area?”
“Poisoned?”She took a step back. “Dear God. Did he eat anything out of Vending? Out of the lounge, the cafeteria? I need to speak with Laina right away.”
“He didn’t get it from the school’s supplies.”
Relief, instant and full, flashed on Mosebly’s face. “Thank God. It’s terrible,” she said quickly. “Of course, it’s terrible that something he brought from home was responsible. But I have to think of the students, the rest of the staff.”
“So, it was an accident, then. An allergic reaction of some kind.”
“It’s homicide,” Eve said flatly, and saw the relief drain away. “Principal Mosebly, I need to know the whereabouts of everyone who was here that morning before class. And up to the time Foster had his lunch. Can anyone—staff, students—access this area?”
Eve nodded toward the doors for the staff fitness center.
Mosebly’s hand fluttered at her heart. “I have to know what happened. If this was a deliberate act, the students could be at risk—”
“I have no reason to think they are. It was specific. Answer the questions.”
Mosebly pressed her fingers to her temples. “It’s staff only from this side. Key cards are required. The students have their area, which is accessed from the other side of the pool. The staff may use the aquatic area before and after classes when there is no scheduled practice for meets. Swim meets. Oh, my God. Poison.”
“Key card,” Eve said, and gestured to the door.
Mosebly drew one from her pocket, swiped it.
Eve entered. It was a small, efficient area not currently in use. Cross-trainers, weights, mats. Her gym at home was larger and had juicier equipment, but she thought it was a well-designed space. And a nice perk for the staff.
“Foster made regular use of the machines?”
“Nearly every day. The staff is encouraged to use the facility. Most do, once or twice a week. Some, like Craig, made better use of it.”
Eve nodded, wound her way through the room, out a second set of doors. The locker room was clean and, again, efficient. Counters, toilet stalls, three showers on each side, separated by opaque glass. Men’s, women’s.
“Which of these lockers was his?”
“We’re not assigned specific lockers,” Mosebly explained, in the hurried tones of someone who, obviously, wanted to be elsewhere. “If the light on the keypad is red, it’s in use. When green, one simply uses it, locks it with any six-number code.”
“I see three here on red.”
“Some use a locker routinely, keep their gear in there for convenience.”
“I’m going to want to see the contents.”
“You can’t just open a locker that someone’s using.”
“Yes, I can. Peabody?”
“Locker and storage facilities in educational complexes, offices, and public buildings aren’t protected under the Privacy Laws,” Peabody stated as Eve drew out her master. “In the course of a police investigation, a duly authorized member of the NYPSD may access such storage.”
“This is invasive and unnecessary. It’s obvious to me that whatever substance caused his death was in something he brought from home.”
Eve leaned on the lockers. “See, it’s not obvious to me. And in matters like this, you can say
“You can’t possibly believe any member of this staff would wish or cause Craig harm.”
“Sure I can.”
The first locker held a pair of women’s air sneaks, a cosmetic kit including lip dye, deodorant, hair gel, lash enhancer, several sample-sized tubes of skin-care creams, some fragrance.
“I may be a layperson in this arena,” Mosebly said tightly, “but it’s very clear Craig suffered some tragic allergic reaction to something he ate or drank. And, again, to something he brought from home.”
“Yeah, I’d say that’s clear to you because anything else would be really crappy publicity for the school.”
The next locker had the men’s version of the first. Shoes, a toiletry case that included a comb, some hair product, skin cream. There was a pair of swim goggles and an underwater headset.
“It’s my responsibility to protect the reputation of this academy. I’m going to contact our lawyers immediately.”
“You do that.” Eve moved to the next locker as Mosebly strode out. “Unlikely candidate for this.”
“I don’t know.” Unable to resist, Peabody made a rude and childish face at Mosebly’s back. “She’s got a pissy attitude if you ask me.”
“Sure. But if she was going to do Foster, big odds she’d have done it off school property. We’ll take a closer look, in case the school loyalty’s a facade, but I can’t see her wanting to bring scandal to her hallowed halls or a smear to her standing as the principal. Well, well, lookie here.”
The next locker had the requisite shoes, and a very slick faux-leather toiletry case. The products inside were more high-end than the others had been. Among them was a generous supply of condoms.
“Funny place to keep those raincoats,” Peabody commented. “Unless you’re planning on getting action in the school locker room.”
“Which I’m just betting is against the rules.” Eve took out a little pill case. “Looks like Stay-Up to me. Naughty boy. RW,” she added, reading the initials etched on the case. “Reed Williams is my guess.”
While Peabody went to pull Williams out of class for questioning, Eve continued to follow the course of Craig’s morning and walked to the staff lounge.
She passed a couple of young boys who gave her long stares. Silently, they held up passes.
look like a hall monitor?” she demanded.
“We’re required to show our passes to adults. Staff and parents,” one told her.
“Do I look like a parent?”
“You go wandering around here a lot?”
“We have passes.”
“Yeah, yeah. Answer the question.”
“We’re going to the library for research material for our science project.”
“Uh-huh. Were you out of class any time yesterday before noon?”
They slid sideways glances toward each other before the first boy spoke. “Maybe we were going to the library for research material yesterday, too.”
“We showed Ms. Hallywell our passes.”
The second one gave a careless shrug. “Sometime. Are we in trouble?”
“You’re going to be if you don’t answer the question. In case you’re wondering, I don’t give a rat’s ass if you were sneaking off to drink beer and gamble.” She ignored the delighted snort from the first boy. “I want to know what time you saw Ms. Hallywell, and where you saw her.”
“It was second period, the last half. Um. Ten-thirty or like that. She was coming down Staircase B. Over there. How come you want to know?”
“Because I’m nosy. Where was she going?”
“I dunno. Teachers don’t have to tell you. Teachers don’t have to tell you, but you have to tell them.”
“Yeah, it’s always been like that.”
“If you’re not a teacher or staff, and you’re not a parent, you’re supposed to have a pass.” The first boy gave her a narrow stare.
“Report me. Now get lost.”
They took off at a darting run, shooting glances back over their shoulders. “Probably building a homemade boomer for their science project,” she muttered, and took out her notes. From ten to eleven, Foster taught his advanced class, utilizing the third-floor media room. “Interesting.”
She used her master on the lounge door. With classes in session it was unoccupied. In her mind, Eve saw Craig zipping in, grabbing his reward soft drink, post workout, preclass. Chatting vids.
Most, if not all of the staff would have been in the building by then, and certainly the majority of the students. And Foster’s thermos sat easily accessed by anyone in his second-floor classroom.
Just as it had while he’d worked out, while he’d taught his advanced class.
What would it have taken? she wondered. A minute? Two? Step in, open the drawer, pour in the poison. Or just switch go-cups. Close it up, walk out again.
A smart killer would have had a backup plan in case anyone had come in. Just leaving a note for Craig. Just needed to check a paper. Easily done if you kept your head.