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Authors: Heather Graham

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BOOK: The Death Dealer
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None of them seemed to be frightened by the note that had been found with Thorne’s body.

Thorne Bigelow had been a very wealthy man. A well-known man. And though murder happened all too often, it was the sad truth that a murder with a hook—like a victim who was regularly in the headlines and a mysterious note making reference to a long-dead storyteller and poet—intrigued the media more than most deaths did.

It was only happenstance that Thorne Bigelow had been a very rich Raven. The Ravens didn’t demand that a member be wealthy, published on the topic of Poe’s life and works or world-renowned, though sometimes they were. Thorne Bigelow had written a book on Poe that was considered to be the definitive work on the man. Bigelow was honored far and wide for his knowledge.

And he had been poisoned. Poisoned with a bottle of thousand-dollar wine.

He loved wine, perhaps even to excess. And he had died of it.

À la Poe.

“The Black Cat.”

Or perhaps “The Cask of Amontillado.”

The killer didn’t seem to have been too
precise
about which story he meant Bigelow’s death to parallel. He
had
made his intentions clear in the note he’d left at the scene, though.

Quoth the raven: die.

The police were pretty much at a standstill, though why the media were harassing them so strongly about the case, Genevieve wasn’t certain. Thorne Bigelow had only been dead a week. She knew from personal experience that bad things could go on for a very long time before a situation was resolved. If it hadn’t been for her family’s wealth and her own disappearance, the sad deaths of many of the city’s less fortunate might have gone unsolved for a very long time.

But Bigelow was big news.

“My darling, there you are!”

Genevieve looked up. Her mother—it was still strange to call Eileen
Mother,
when she had grown up believing that she was her aunt—was standing before her. Eileen, only in her early forties now, was stunning. Her love for Genevieve was so strong—not to mention that without her persistence, Genevieve would surely be dead now—that it was easy to forgive the lies of the past. Especially since Genevieve knew what family pressure was like, and that her mother had been far too young to speak up for herself when Gen had been born.

But Eileen Brideswell had finally decided that a New York that embraced reruns of
Sex and the City
would surely forgive her a teenage, unwed birth. What she might once have been damned for now passed without notice by most in the city.

And after all, Genevieve had loved Eileen all her life.

“Here I am,” Genevieve said cheerfully.

“He didn’t show,” Eileen said.

“No.”

Eileen hesitated. She was very slim, and had classic features, the kind that would make her just as beautiful when she turned eighty as she was now. But at the moment, her expression was strained.

“What?” Genevieve asked, suddenly worried by what she saw in her mother’s eyes.

“There was a terrible accident on the FDR.”

Genevieve leapt up. “When? Joe uses—”

“About an hour ago. The reports are just coming out now. One man was killed—don’t panic, it wasn’t Joe—and a number of other people were injured.”

Genevieve sat back down and fumbled in the pocket of her black silk skirt for her cell phone. “That bastard better answer me,” she muttered.

“Joe Connolly,” came his voice, after three rings.

She could hear music in the background. An Irish melody. He was at O’Malley’s, she thought.

“Joe, it’s Genevieve.”

“Hey. You still at your big soiree?” he asked.

“Yes. I thought you were coming.”

“I couldn’t make it past the traffic.”

She let out a sigh. All right. That might be a legitimate excuse.

“Ah.”

“I’m at O’Malley’s.”

“Yes, it sounded like O’Malley’s.”

He was silent. It felt like an awkward silence. Was she being too clingy? Good God, did she sound disapproving, as if she were his wife or something?

Stop,
she warned herself. She had to be careful of expecting too much from him. It had seemed, after she was rescued, after Leslie had…died, that they were destined to be close. The best of friends, needing one another.

But then it was as if he had put up a wall.

She gritted her teeth. She needed him now. Cut and dried. Needed his professional help. He was a private investigator. Finding people, finding facts, finding the truth. That was what he did. And she needed to hire him. She wasn’t asking any favors.

“Well, have fun,” she said.

She clicked the phone closed before he could reply.

Eileen looked at her. “Don’t worry, dear.” Her mother sat down beside her and patted her knee. “It’s all going to come out fine.”

“Mom…” The word seemed a bit strange, but Genevieve loved to use it. “Mom, I’m worried about
you
now. You’re a Raven, and…”

Eileen sighed. “Oh, darling, don’t worry. I’m a fringe member, at best. Poor Thorne. I like being a member, I love all the reading and discussing we do, but…honestly, I’m just not worried.”

“Mom, he was
murdered.

“Yes.”

“By someone who apparently wasn’t impressed with his work on Poe.”

“And I’ve never written a book,” Eileen assured her.

Genevieve sighed, rising. “But you
are
a Raven.”

“Along with many other things.”

“Can’t help it. I’m worried about you. Henry is driving you home, right?”

Eileen frowned. “Yes, of course. What about you? Are you leaving, too?”

“I’m going to drop by O’Malley’s.”

“Oh.” Eileen frowned worriedly.

“I’ll be all right,” Genevieve assured her. “I’m in my own car, but I know where to park. I’ll let security see me out and I won’t leave O’Malley’s without someone to walk me to my car. Okay? I’ll be safe, I promise. Hell, I think they ask your approval before they hire anyone at O’Malley’s.”

Eileen laughed, but there was a slight edge to it. “I do not tell them who they can and can’t hire. I’ve simply always enjoyed the place, and I’m a friend of the owners.”

“And I’m safe there,” Genevieve said very softly.

Eileen still appeared worried, Gen thought. Then again, these days she was worried every time Genevieve was out of her sight.

But Genevieve had gone back to living in her own apartment. Not that she didn’t adore Eileen or love the mansion. She just loved simplicity—and her independence.

It was sadly ironic that they both seemed to be frightened for each other these days, just when they had become so close.

She couldn’t help worrying about Eileen in the wake of Thorne’s murder, though. Eileen was a Raven, and though the police discounted the idea, it seemed to Gen that Thorne had been killed specifically because he was a Raven, not just because he was a published Poe scholar.

Admittedly, it was quite likely the book that had brought him to the killers attention, and it was true that Eileen had never written a book. She had way too many charities and women’s clubs to worry about to devote much time to being a Poe fan.

Still, the connection made Genevieve uneasy, and she wanted Joe involved.

That was it, cut and dried.

Or was it so cut and dried?

Maybe she was lying to herself; maybe she wanted to see Joe for personal reasons, too. God knew there was enough about him that was easy to see. He was intelligent, funny, generous and a little bit rough around the edges. Sexy and compassionate. A hard combination to resist.

And he was in love with a dead woman.

She tried to dismiss the thought. She and Joe were just friends precisely because of what had happened. They had seen one another through the hard times and come away good friends.

Yes, she had a multitude of emotions raging within her where Joe was concerned. But what was becoming a growing fear for her mother’s safety was the driving force in her desire to see him now.

She rose, kissing her mother’s cheek. “I’ll be at O’Malley’s. I’ll call when I’m leaving, and I’ll call when I get home, all right?”

Eileen flushed, then nodded. “Did you enjoy the exhibit?”

Genevieve nodded. “I think we raised a lot of money. I think Leslie would have been happy.” Leslie, who had been either gifted or cursed with extraordinary powers, had been an archeologist. She had loved history; she had revered it. Tonight had been planned in her honor, and they were going to use some of the funds raised this evening to respectfully reinter some of the bones Leslie had dug up on her last dig, the one that had ended up costing her life.

Genevieve dropped another quick kiss on her mother’s cheek, then hurried out.

The night was a little cool, making her glad she had chosen a jacket rather than a dressier stole. Not so much because it was warmer, but because it would fit in a hell of a lot better at O’Malley’s.

The attendant brought her car, and in minutes, she was taking the streets downtown. As she drove, she turned on her radio.

She was in time to catch the news, and the topic was that evening’s accident on the FDR, which was still being sorted out. There were brief interview snippets with several of the survivors, and Gen sat up straighter, alarmed, at the sound of one name.

Sam Latham.

CHAPTER 2

Sam Latham.

Another Raven.

Coincidence?

How many millions of people were there in the city?

Gen frowned as the newscaster went on to talk a bit about the man that had been killed, though she was relieved to hear that his young niece had been saved by a man who had left the scene after rescuing the little girl and pulling her uncle’s body from the car moments before the explosion that had destroyed it.

Joe?

How many millions of people in the city? she taunted herself.

No way.

That would be too much of a coincidence.

But Joe should have been on the FDR right around that time, on his way to the Met.

As she neared O’Malley’s, she noticed a number of people on the streets and was grateful to see that the lights in the area were bright. Maybe she was more spooked by what had happened to her than she’d thought. She parked, pleased to find a spot right outside the bar.

At the door, she hesitated.

She’d been coming here what felt like all her life. It was an authentic Irish pub, and her family was authentic New World Irish. This was pretty much the first place she had come after she was rescued, and it was one of the few places where she had felt truly comfortable, one of the few places where people hadn’t stared, where she hadn’t felt as if she needed to describe her ordeal in detail, so that people would save their pity for the dead women and not waste it on her.

She wasn’t uncomfortable about going into O’Malley’s.

She
was
uncomfortable about confronting Joe.

What if he was with a woman? He might not have skipped the Met just because of traffic.

Then she would sit at the bar, have a soda and chat with the bartender. She didn’t know who was on, but whoever it was, she would know him. Just as she would know a dozen of the old-timers who came here. Guys who had long since retired. Perhaps they had lost their wives, perhaps they’d never been married, but they liked to come to O’Malley’s. It was comfortable. The beer was good, the food was tasty and the prices were reasonable.

No matter what was up with Joe Connolly, she would be fine.

She pushed open the door.

Joe wasn’t with a date. At least, she didn’t think so. He was leaning against a bar stool, shirtsleeves rolled up, tie loosened.

“Hey, Joe.” She walked over to him.

Joe was a regular at the pub, too. She knew that he spent a lot of time here because he liked it. Because the beer was good, and the food was tasty and the prices were reasonable. But it was still more her place than his, she told herself. Even if he fit in just fine.

He was playing darts with Paddy O’Leary and Angus MacHenry. Regulars. Neither one of the octogenarians really drank much. She usually found them drinking soda, water or tea—hot Irish breakfast tea, always with sugar and milk.

She greeted both of them as she got closer.

The older men paused to kiss her cheek and offer her giant smiles. “Y’ doin’ okay?” Angus demanded.

“On top of the world,” she assured him.

“Y’ sure, lass?” Paddy demanded, searching out her eyes.

“I’m just fine.”

She’d been saying the same thing for a year now, but with Angus and Paddy, it was all right. They asked after her every time they saw her, took her word that she was doing fine and moved on.

Joe threw his dart. It was just shy of a bull’s-eye. He walked over, and also offered a hug and a kiss on the cheek. It was awkward, though. As if he were simply going through the expected motions.

They were friends, she told herself. Like she was friends with Paddy and Angus.

Except that Paddy and Angus could have been her great-uncles, while Joe was young and straight and pretty much the perfect man.

Too damned perfect.

“Aren’t you supposed to be up at the museum, girl?” Paddy asked.

“I
was
at the museum,” she said. “Now I’m here.” She smiled to take any sting out of the words.

“Ah, a great night, eh?” Angus asked, rubbing his white-bearded chin.

“It was a very good night,” she agreed. Then she hesitated. “I need to speak with Joe,” she said. “I don’t mean to mess up your game or anything.”

“Ah, don’t be silly, child,” Paddy told her.

“Get on over there with the girl, Joseph Connolly,” Angus said cheerfully. “Ye can knock the socks of the both of us old geezers later.”

Joe arched a brow, but he didn’t complain; he just reached for his jacket and said, “Certainly, gentlemen. I’m delighted to speak with Genevieve. At any time.”

His words were polite, almost gallant, but then, Joe was always polite. It seemed to come naturally to him.

But he seemed distant. He indicated an empty booth, and she took a seat. He sat across from her and ordered “another beer” as soon as the waitress arrived. Gen asked for a soda and frowned. Joe had apparently had a few drafts already.

“Are you driving?” she asked him.

He shook his head. “Nope. Don’t worry. I came by subway. You know me.”

Do I?
she wondered.

“So how was the party?” he asked her.

“Great. I actually think you would have enjoyed it.”

He shrugged. “I’m sorry. I intended to come.”

She nodded. “My mother wanted to see you.” Oh, that was horrible. Laying a guilt trip on him when she knew how much he liked Eileen.

“How is she?”

“Fine. Not as worried as I think she should be.”

He arched a brow. “Ah. The ‘Poe Killing.’”

“You don’t appear to be too concerned, either.”

Again, he shrugged. It bothered her that he seemed so distracted. “I wish I could lose sleep over every terrible thing that happened, but I can’t. We all need to keep a certain distance. It’s the key to sanity and survival.”

“I want you to take the case.”

He drummed his fingers on the table for a moment. “Gen,” he said softly, giving her his attention at last, “your mom isn’t one of the key players in that organization. She doesn’t write about Poe. Hell, she belongs to a zillion clubs, most of them trying to make the world a better place. I can’t see her as a target.” His argument was rational, and the same one Eileen had given her.

“You can’t know that,” Genevieve said.

He inhaled, looking off into the distance. “Gen, I’m thinking about heading out to Vegas.”

She was stunned, and upset that his sudden announcement hurt her so badly. Sure, he was tall. Rugged, handsome. Frigging charming, even.

But she had led a life that didn’t include a lot of wild dating, and that was by choice. If she had wanted…well, there had been plenty of willing men out there, if for no other reason than that she was rich. She had just thought that…

She shook her head. “Fine. Move to Vegas,” she said with a shrug. “But take this case first.”

“Gen, I’m willing to bet this murder was committed by someone who just wanted to kill Thorne—the Poe angle was just a convenient smoke screen.”

“Prove it.”

He looked away for a moment.

She leaned forward urgently. “Joe, did you know that Sam Latham was driving the first car that got hit in that accident on the FDR today?”

“What?” He looked at her with a frown.

“Sam Latham. He’s a member of the New York Poe Society, another Raven.”

“And I’ll bet that at least two-thirds of the other people involved were all members of some society or other. We’re social creatures. Usually,” he added.

She shook her head, irritated. “Joe, the New York Poe Society is not a huge group. The local membership is pretty small. Both Thorne Bigelow and Sam Latham are…were on the board. As is my mother.”

For a moment, at least, that seemed to pique his interest.

“Joe, there are only nine other board members, and two are Bigelow’s family members. Jared, his son, and Mary Vincenzo, his sister-in-law. Then there are Brook Avery, Don Tracy, Nat Halloway, Lila Hawkins, Larry Levine, Lou Sayles and Barbara Hirshorn. There were twelve in all, but Thorne is dead. And now Sam is in the hospital.”

“Genevieve…it was an accident. I’m sure I don’t know Poe’s stories as well as the Ravens do, but since he died in the middle of the nineteenth century, I don’t think any of his characters murdered anyone with a car. Somebody was probably driving recklessly, might have been drunk, might have been an asshole, but it was an accident.”

“Or maybe the driver was pretending to drive recklessly, but he was really trying to hit Sam.”

“No,” he told her firmly. “I saw it, and it was an accident.”

“You saw the whole thing?”

He hesitated. “I saw a lot of it.”

“A lot of it?”

He didn’t answer her at first. It was as if he hadn’t even heard her. He was frowning, as if he were deep in thought.

“Joe?”

“I told you, I saw most of it. And before that…before that, I saw the guy who probably caused it. He could have hit any car on that highway. He was driving like a maniac.”

“Did you get a look at him?”

“A saw a car weaving through traffic, and my instinct was to stay the hell away from it. Genevieve, I’m not a traffic cop.”

He was irritated, which surprised her.

“What did the car look like?” she asked.

He shook his head, still looking irritated. “Some kind of sedan. Black, dark blue, maybe dark green.”

She wasn’t sure why, but she was certain he was angry with himself, and not with her.

Because he should have noted the car. He should have known the exact color, make and model. He should have gotten the license plate. He was an ex-cop, and in his own mind, he thought he should have done all those things, because the driver had ended up killing someone.

“It
was
you!” she exclaimed suddenly.

“What?”

“It was you.” She knew it beyond a doubt, without need for verification. Oh, yeah. It sounded just like Joe, saving a life, then walking away. The man hated the limelight.

“I was not driving drunk!” he said indignantly.

“I’m not talking about the driver,” she said.

A curtain seemed to drop over his eyes, along with a lock of his wheaten hair.

“What was me?” he asked warily.

“The missing hero.”

He waved a hand in the air, his gray-green eyes as expressionless as steel.

“What are the odds? I’m not sure myself. Eight million who live in the city, how many million more when the work force is at its peak? During rush hour—”

“It was you,” she said. “There were eyewitnesses, and you’ll be identified eventually.” She saw his hand where it lay on the table and grabbed it. He winced. She turned it over. There was a big scrape mark on his palm.

“Look, I really don’t want a media frenzy. You understand that.”

“Yes, I do,” she said quietly. Life could be so odd. She had met Joe when he and Leslie MacIntyre had discovered the horrible pit in the subway tunnel where she had been taken after she’d been kidnapped by the monster who’d been stalking the streets of Lower Manhattan. His other victims had wound up dead. Leslie had been killed in the showdown.

Joe had been devastated.

But that day he and Genevieve had formed a certain bond. Maybe because they were both broken in a way.

Genevieve wasn’t certain if she had made it through because she had been smart, because she had stroked the killer’s ego or only because her instinct for survival had been desperate and strong. She had relied on herself in the awful days when she had been a prisoner, and in the aftermath she had created a block against those memories.

What had been harder to handle had been the press. Finding the right words to say at all times. Her uncle—who had raised her as his own child—had been a fierce taskmaster. She had been born to privilege, and he had taught her to be responsible. He had made her tough, had expected her to work hard and then harder.

After the rescue, she had been treated as if she were as fragile as a thin-shelled egg, though she had told the truth about her ordeal. Even so, rumors had found their way into the press that were more horrible than anything she’d been through, and for much too long she had been an object of pity. She appreciated that people could be compassionate, but she loathed being pitied, loathed the possibility that she might end up in the papers again.

She looked at Joe. “But it
was
you, on the highway, who saved that child, right?”

“Keep your voice down.”

“Joe, my voice
is
down.”

“I won’t be able to work if this gets out. Come on, please. Don’t say anything to anyone.”

She lowered her head, smiling. Leave it to Joe. It was all about the work. She forced the smile to go away. “Take this case, Joe.”

He groaned. “Are you blackmailing me?” he demanded.

Her smile deepened. She hadn’t thought of that, but it wasn’t a bad idea. “Maybe. Now, come on, I’ll drive you home. It’s late.”

“No, but I’ll see you home.”

“Joe, you’ve had a few.”

“I meant that I’ll drive
with
you to your place and take a cab from there.”

“I’m okay, Joe. I carry Mace now, and I can take care of myself,” she said firmly.

Hmm. She was touchy, she realized. Friends saw friends home all the time.

Maybe being defensive was a good thing if he thought that he needed to look after her. She definitely didn’t want
his
pity or to have him as a guardian. She was tough enough to take care of herself. She had proven it. She had survived. And she meant to keep doing so. She had thrown herself into self-defense classes, and she spent hours on a treadmill, getting fit.

Running.

As if she could outrun the past.

“I know you can take care of yourself, but I’d still like to see you to your place. And I’d like you to promise you’ll keep your mouth shut about me helping out at the accident,” he said firmly.

“Joe, I’ll keep my mouth shut. And you can see me home,” she told him gravely, “
if
you promise to take on the case.”

“I don’t understand why you’re so afraid, Gen. Really. I simply don’t believe your mother is a target.”

“Joe…” She hesitated. She didn’t know herself why she was so concerned. Her mother hadn’t been a close friend of the dead man. Eileen and Thorne had been casual acquaintances, at best, brought together only by their membership on the board.

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