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Authors: J. D. Robb

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

Innocent in Death (8 page)

BOOK: Innocent in Death
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She turned as Peabody came in with Williams. “Can’t this wait?” he demanded. “It’s a difficult enough day without me having to leave my class with a supervisor droid.”

“Then let’s not waste time. Did you leave your classroom at any time between ten and eleven yesterday?”

“Second period, Monday. That’s a group study session. Yes, I stepped out for a few minutes.”

“To do what?”

“I used the restroom. I drink a lot of coffee.” To prove it, he moved to the AutoChef, programmed a cup. “I always step out for a short time during that class.”

“That classroom is on the same level, the same section as Foster’s. You see anyone? Anyone see you?”

“Not that I recall.”

“You keep a locker in the fitness center.”

“Some of us do. It’s easier than bringing a change of shoes every day.”

“You don’t just have shoes in your locker, Reed. In my experience, when a man keeps that many shields close to hand, he has plans for them.”

There was a brief hesitation, then Williams took a slow sip of coffee. “The last I checked, condoms weren’t illegal.”

“But I ask myself, what might Principal Mosebly have to say about such a generous supply of them in your locker? Or the board of directors, the board of—what is it?—education.”

“Again. Condoms aren’t illegal.”

“Still. What might they think about one of the staff here scoring booty in the locker room, so close to all those innocent young minds and bodies?”

“Carrying protection is just that—carrying protection.” In a nonchalant move, he leaned back as he drank his coffee. “You have a weapon strapped on, but as far as I know, you haven’t stunned anyone in the building.”

“Early days yet,” Eve said lightly. “What else I was thinking was how about those innocent minds. Those innocent bodies. Pretty little girls, so easily lured.”

“Well, for Christ’s sake.” At this, he set down his coffee quickly, shoved out of his slouch against the counter. “That’s despicable and it’s disgusting. I’m not a pedophile. I’ve been a teacher for fourteen years, and have never touched a student in any way that could be considered inappropriate.”

“By whose scale?” Eve wondered.

“Listen. I don’t like girls. I like women. I like women a great deal.”

Eve was more than willing to buy that claim. “Enough to bang them on school property?”

“I don’t have to answer questions like this. Not without a lawyer.”

“Fine, you can call one when we get downtown.”

Shock replaced temper. “You’rearresting me?”

“Do you want me to?”

“Listen, listen. Jesus.” He raked his fingers through his hair. “So I’ve had a few encounters. It’s not a crime, but it is questionable behavior as far as my job is concerned. But those encounters were with consenting adults.”

“Names.”

He tried a little charm with a smile that asked for understanding. “Lieutenant, this can’t possibly have any bearing on why you’re here. And a couple of them are married.”

“A couple of them.”

“I like women.” That smile widened. “I like sex. It doesn’t hurt anyone.”

“Craig ever notice you liking sex in the locker room?”

“No.”

He said it too quickly, and Eve saw the lie. “He was a straight arrow, wasn’t he? He comes across you having an encounter, he’s going to be shocked. Maybe pissed. He threaten to go to the principal?”

“I had no problem with Craig; he had no problem with me. Ask anyone.”

“I will. We’ll talk again.”

“Kind of slimy,” Peabody commented when he’d left.

“Kind of a motive. He was lying about Craig knowing about his locker-room games.”

She wandered as she spoke and brought the layout of the locker room back into her head. Lots and lots of places for nooky, she decided, if you wanted it that way.

“Maybe he can’t talk Craig out of reporting it, or just fears he will at some point. Protects himself, his job, his lifestyle. He was out of his classroom while Craig was out of his. Opportunity. Puts him, at the moment, top of my list. Let’s take Hallywell.”

“Do you want me to bring her in here?”

“No, let’s try this one in her element.”

Bells chimed as they stepped out of the lounge. Immediately kids poured out of classrooms to swarm the corridors, to send the noise level soaring. They looked and sounded, to Eve’s mind, the way she imagined locusts did when they swarmed over…whatever locusts swarmed over.

Or like ants, Eve thought, scrambling out of their hill. Out of self-preservation, Eve would have ducked back into the lounge until the deluge passed, but one of the kids aimed straight for her.

“Lieutenant Dallas. Excuse me, please.”

Little blonde, Eve thought, sharp eyes. “Rayleen.”

“Yes, ma’am. Was Mr. Foster murdered?”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because I looked you up on the computer, and that’s what you do. You investigate murders. You’ve done a lot of them. My father said you would have been here yesterday because it was a suspicious death. But that can mean accident, natural causes, or self-termination, too. Is that right?”

“Yeah, that’d be right.”

“But you’re here again today, and asking questions again today, and everyone’s talking about what maybe happened.”

Rayleen pushed at her long curls, held back today with a pair of white barrettes in the shape of unicorns. “A lot of people are asking me because I was the one who found him. I don’t want to tell them what isn’t true. So was Mr. Foster murdered?”

“We’re looking into it.”

“I don’t see how he could have been because he was too nice, and because this is a very safe school. Did you know it’s considered one of the top schools not only in the city, but in the state of New York?”

“Imagine that.”

“I’m the top of my class here.” With another of those prissy smiles that made Eve want to twist the pert little nose out of joint, Rayleen tapped a finger on the gold star she wore on her lapel.

“Whoopee.” Eve started to skirt around Rayleen, but the girl danced backward.

“But if Mr. Fosterwas murdered, my mother’s going to be even more upset. I’m her only child, you see, and she worries about me. She didn’t want me to come to school today.”

“But you’re here.”

“We had a discussion. My parents and I. I have perfect attendance, and that’s factored into my overall rating. I didn’t want to miss class. Melodie didn’t come, though. My mother talked to hers, and Melodie had bad dreams last night. I didn’t, or I don’t remember. I liked Mr. Foster, and I wrote how much I’m going to miss him in my diary. I wish he didn’t have to die.”

“It’s rough.”

Rayleen gave a wise and soulful nod. “Maybe I could help. Maybe I’ll remember something that will help. Or I’ll hear something or see something. I’m very smart, and very observant.”

“I bet. You leave it to us.”

“I don’t know what’s going to happen now.” Her violet eyes glimmered with tears. “No one tells us. I worked hard on the project for Mr. Foster, and now I don’t know if I should finish it. I have to go to class now.”

“Tough being a kid,” Peabody observed as Rayleen walked off with her head down. “Tough when you have something like this spoil the innocence you only have for a handful of years anyway. She’s never going to forget walking into that classroom and finding him.”

“Murder doesn’t leave anyone innocent. It shouldn’t. Let’s track down Hallywell. Hit Dawson, too.”

They learned Ms. Hallywell hadn’t come in for classes, but found Dawson in the chem lab, instructing the students on a project. When he spotted Eve at the doorway, he told his students to begin, then stepped out.

“Do you need me? I can only take a few minutes.” He angled himself so he could see through the half-opened doorway, to what his students were up to. “They’re doing a simple test to identify an unknown substance, but I’ll need to keep my eye on them.”

“Unknowns such as what?”

“Oh, sugar, salt, cornstarch, baking powder.”

“Why not just taste it?”

“Well. Ha-ha. That would be cheating.” He sobered, eased the door closed a little farther. “Is it true about Craig? He was poisoned?”

“Word travels.”

“At light speed. Arnette’s admin overheard her talking on the ’link to the school’s legal counsel. Then saw Dave, told him, who ran into me, and so on. I can’t believe it.”

“Do you know what ricin is?”

“Ricin?” His eyes widened. “Yes, yes, of course. But…but Craig, how could he have been poisoned by ricin?”

“That’s what we’re going to find out. Do you know how to make it? Ricin?”

“I…not precisely,” he said after a moment. “But I can look it up if you’d like me to. It should only take me a minute.”

“That’s okay.” She peered around him, studied the equipment. “Could you make it in there?”

“Ah…” He pursed his lips. “I could probably manage it, between the equipment here and what I could requisition or jury-rig. You want me to make ricin, Lieutenant? I’d have to get permission,” he said with apology. “No toxics are permitted in the labs, or anywhere on school property for that matter. But if it would help, I’m sure—”

“No, but thanks. So…how often does one of the kids sneak in and manage to build a stink or smoke bomb?”

He smiled, and he reminded Eve of an amused monk. “Oh, at least once a term. I’d be a little disappointed if they didn’t. If children don’t push the edges now and again, what’s the point of being a child?”

For now, Eve checked Dawson off the list and drove to Mirri Hallywell’s apartment. It was a few blocks from the Fosters’, and she didn’t answer the door.

“We’ll try her ’link numbers,” Eve said as they started back down again. “I think we’ll take this out of the school, at least for now. Further interviews at the subjects’ residences. We’ll take it home to them. We’re going to go through the female staff’s data, cull out the more attractive. Odds are we’ll find one or more who’ll admit to dancing in the gym with Williams.”

Even as she reached the outside door, it opened, letting in a blast of cold air, Mirri Hallywell, and a thin reed of a man.

“Excuse me. Oh. Oh. Lieutenant Dallas. Were you looking for me?”

“That’s right.”

“I was…we were…We went to see Lissy. This is Ben. Ben Vinnemere. We went to see Lissy, and she told us you said Craig had been murdered.”

“Mirri, why don’t we go upstairs? We can talk upstairs. You should sit down.” Ben turned his brown eyes on Eve. “We’re all a little shaky. Is it all right if you talk to us upstairs?”

“That’s fine.”

“We couldn’t stay.” Leaning against Ben, Mirri started up the first flight of stairs. “It seemed intrusive. She has her mother there, and that’s best. I don’t know what to do for her. Do you think we should go back?”

“Not today,” Ben replied. “We’ll do whatever we can to help her tomorrow. She needs today. So do you.”

When they reached her door, he took Mirri’s key, opened it himself. “I’m going to make some tea. You sit, and I’ll make some tea. Lieutenant?”

“I’ll pass.”

When he gave Peabody an inquiring look she nodded. “Tea would be great. It’s Peabody. Detective Peabody.”

“I feel numb,” Mirri stated. “In my chest, and the back of my skull. She said he’d been poisoned. Ricin. Ben knew what that was.”

“I’m a copy editor for the
Times
,” he explained as he got cups out of a cupboard in the kitchen alcove. “I know all sorts of things.”

“He explained, but I don’t see how…I can’t see why.”

“Where were you yesterday morning between ten and eleven?”

“Me?” Still wearing her coat, Mirri dropped into a chair. “Ten? Drama Club meeting. We’re working on the spring play.”

“The entire hour.”

“Yes. Well, I had to go down, check with Home Science. They’re designing some of the costumes as part of their grade this term. I’d forgotten to take the disc of designs when I’d been in there the day before.”

“You signed in just after eight yesterday. Your first class isn’t until nine.”

“I tutor some students on Mondays and Thursdays. Eight to eight forty-five. I was late, actually. I don’t understand why…” Suddenly realization and shock rippled over her face. “Oh, yes, I do. Ben.”

“They have to ask, Mirri.” His voice was calming as he came back with her tea, pressed the cup into her hands. “They have to ask questions, gather information. You want to help, don’t you?”

“Yes. Of course. Yes. I’ve never been questioned by the police before. Now twice in two days, and knowing what happened to Craig…”

“Did you see anyone outside the classroom during that period?”

“Let me think a minute, the whole day’s turned into a messy jumble in my head.” She closed her eyes, took a slow sip of the tea. “Yes. I remember seeing two of the boys going to the library. Preston Jupe and T. J. Horn. They use the ‘research’ ploy a few times every week if they can manage it.”

She opened her eyes again. “If there was anyone else, it just didn’t register. I was thinking about the play, and annoyed with myself for forgetting the disc.”

After giving Peabody her tea, Ben sat on the arm of Mirri’s chair, laid a hand gently on her shoulder.

“Are you aware of any friction between Craig and any member of the staff?”

“I’m not. I wasn’t. Honestly, I don’t think there was any to be aware of.”

“Did you have sexual relations with Reed Williams?”

“No! Oh, God. Absolutely not.” She blushed crimson, right up to her hairline. “Ben, I never—”

“It’s all right. Is that the one Craig called Casanova?”

Mirri winced. “Yes. He asked me out a couple of times, but I wasn’t interested. He’s too slick and studied. And besides, it’s complicated when you work with someone, so I didn’t want to get started down that road.”

“Do you work out, use the school facilities?”

“Not as often as I should.” She blushed again, just a little this time. “Hardly ever, actually.”

“Did Craig ever discuss Reed William’s sexual activities with you?”

“This is very uncomfortable. I guess I mentioned to Lissy, a few months ago, that I was thinking about going out with Reed. I was having a really long dry spell. She said something to Craig about it, because he told me that Reed was involved with someone he shouldn’t be involved with, and he thought I should steer clear. I did.”

BOOK: Innocent in Death
3.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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