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Authors: Heather Graham

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BOOK: The Death Dealer
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Raif shook his head solemnly, showing his badge. “Sorry.”

“Cops,” she said with annoyance.

“Yeah, cops,” Tom supplied.

She stared at Joe. “But you’re not a cop,” she said. Her voice had changed. It had turned low and sexy. Candy Cane, not Lori Star. How did she know? he wondered. Was she really psychic? Was it his manner? Or just a wild guess?

“Mr. Connolly is a private investigator, and he’s with us,” Raif said.

Joe blessed the fact that he’d managed to keep a great relationship with the NYPD.

The woman still had the chain on the door. “I didn’t do anything illegal,” she said defensively.

“We haven’t come to arrest you,” Raif said.

“Then you should go away,” she suggested, and started to close the door.

Joe put out hand to stop it. “Miss Star, we really need to talk to you. Just for a few minutes.”

He was convinced that she didn’t have any extraordinary talents—not
paranormal
talents, anyway—but he still very much wanted to talk to her.

She stared at him with wide, powder-blue eyes. Then she sighed, closed the door most of the way and undid the security chain.

“Come in,” she told them resignedly.

She was a small woman, thin, but cosmetically “enhanced” in the breast department, and pretty in a hard-edged way. She wasn’t exactly a high-class hooker, but it didn’t look as if she’d hit bottom yet, either. She had blond hair—enhanced, too, but decently done—and small, sharp features. As she let them in, he saw that she was wearing a silk kimono, but beneath it she had on sweatpants and a Mötley Crue T-shirt.

“Sit down, I guess,” she said, indicating a sofa and two chairs in the living area, which was also the dining area and was connected straight to a typical studio kitchen.

He chose one of the chairs across from where she sat on the edge of the couch. Raif took the second chair, so Tom was left to sit next to her on the couch, perching uncomfortably a few feet away. She picked up a pack of cigarettes, shook one out and lit it.

“Do you mind?” she asked. “Say no—this is my apartment, and I can smoke here if I want to.”

“It’s your funeral,” Raif said with a shrug.

“I still like the smell of smoke,” Joe told her, smiling.

She flashed him a smile in return.

“How long have you been a psychic, Miss Star?” he asked politely.

She hesitated, a strange look on her face. “I’m really an actress,” she said.

Tom made a choking sound. She flashed him a cold glare. “I’ve been an extra in three movies now,” she said.

“Oh, yeah?” Tom asked. “Did you play a hooker?”

Joe shook his head, tempted to put a bag over the man’s head. Tom was too used to interrogating suspects with whom it was necessary to take a hard line.

In this case, though, a hard line wasn’t what was called for.

“Miss Star, please, we need your help,” he said. He had been ready to dismiss the woman’s claims himself, but something about the way she had looked when he’d asked her how long she had been a psychic had given him pause.

After all, who the hell was he to doubt anyone? He’d thought a corpse had spoken to him from a Gurney at the morgue.

She hesitated, looking at him. “Honestly?” she asked. And at that moment, there was something raw and young and vulnerable about her features that got to him.

She was scared.

“Yes, honestly.”

She looked around at the three of them. “This is off the record, right? You guys have to keep what I say between us.”

“If you know anything about an attempted murder…” Raif began.

She shook her head. “I don’t know anything about an attempted murder. Except for what I saw. In my mind.”

A shadow seemed to pass over Raif’s eyes. From now on, he wasn’t going to believe her. Tom seemed to have withdrawn, as well.

“What did you see, in your mind’s eye, and how did it all happen?” Joe said quickly, before either of the other men could say anything to shut her down.

“I was here. At home. Getting ready for the night.”

Tom made a choking sound again.

Joe flashed him a frown. “Were you here alone?” he asked.

She nodded. Then the words suddenly started spilling out. “I sat down here. Right here. On the sofa, like I am now. I lit a cigarette, and I was going to watch some TV before I went to change clothes. But then…it was so weird. All of a sudden it was as if I was in a car. As if I were really there. I could see the traffic in front of me. I was someone else. And I was gunning for a car. A green Cadillac. I knew the car. I knew where it was, because I’d been following it. It was as if I was me, but at the same time I wasn’t me. It was as if I was a passenger in someone else’s body. Oh, God, it was awful. As if I could feel all this hatred…I—the me that wasn’t me—knew not to hit the car myself, but I’m—he’s—a good driver and could make people swerve and stuff. So I…he…she…I don’t know which…did, and then…wham. Crash. There was metal and glass, and a word in my head….”

She stopped speaking. She was trembling, her face ashen. Either she really deserved her shot at Hollywood, or the fear she was feeling was real.

“Miss Star?”

She looked at him, as if she had forgotten that he was there.

“And the word? What was the word?” Joe persisted gently.


Nevermore,
” she said.

CHAPTER 5

“I’m going to the meeting tonight,” Genevieve told Sam. “No matter what’s going on. I can’t help it—I’m worried about my mother. About all of you.”

“Because of Thorne’s murder,” Sam agreed.

“I know he made plenty of enemies, and the Poe angle could just be the killer’s way to throw people off track, but…well, what did you think of his book?”

“I think it was a good book,” Sam said. “The man could write.” He looked past her for a moment, then turned back to her and asked, “I take it you saw that ‘psychic’ on TV?”

She nodded.

“You believe in psychics?”

“I don’t know what I believe.”

She heard a sound then and turned around.

Joe was there, leaning against the wall, arms crossed over his chest as he watched her. She swore silently.

“Joe, hi. Come on in,” Sam said.

She rose uneasily. “You two know each other?” she said.

“We met years ago,” Sam said. “Joe and Matt Connolly were cousins.” He stared at her. “But I guess you knew that.”

“I never knew Matt,” she said.

“Oh, right,” Sam said uncomfortably. “Anyway,” he said, “Joe and I actually go way back.”

“A long way,” Joe agreed pleasantly. “So how are you doing?”

“Hanging in,” Sam said. He must have noticed the way Joe looked at Genevieve—as if she had committed a sin—because he looked curiously from one to the other.

She hoped she wasn’t looking guilty. She shouldn’t feel guilty. She hadn’t actually lied to Joe.

As if trying to diffuse the tension, Sam asked her, “So Joe is working for you, right?”

“Yes,” she said, meeting Joe’s eyes.

“She’s an amazing woman. She hires me, but she still likes to do all the work herself,” Joe said dryly.

She forced a tight smile. “I thought I’d drop by to see a friend,” she told him. “You did say you’d been held up.”

“So I did.”

“Hey, Joe, do you know if they’ve questioned all the drivers, trying to figure out who hit me?” Sam asked.

Joe nodded. “Not that it did much good. Apparently, if you’re a crook in this city, you find a dark sedan with mud on the license plate so no one can read the number. A lot of people noticed a dark sedan driving dangerously. Some say it was blue, others say it was forest-green, and one man is positive it was black. What do you say?”

“No idea. I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful,” Sam said. “Really sorry.”

Joe moved farther into the room to stand by the bed. “Sam, do you think the driver might have been gunning for you?”

Sam had nice brown eyes. They were intense as he stared at Joe, then Gen. “I’m praying not. I’m praying that someone else didn’t die because of me, and that a dozen people aren’t laid up in a hospital like I am—because of me.”

“Do you think the Poe Killer is after more members of the society?” Joe asked.

“Hell if I know,” Sam said bitterly, shaking his head. “That psychic says so, huh?”

Genevieve expected Joe to say something derisive, but he didn’t. He just waited for Sam to go on.

“My wife is afraid it’s true, though,” Sam said. “Really. Afraid…Oh, God. I’m sorry, Genevieve, I shouldn’t be talking to you about fear.”

There they were. Back to her ordeal once again, she thought. Why wouldn’t people let it rest?

“Sam, please,” she said awkwardly, avoiding Joe’s eyes. She knew he was angry with her for leaving the apartment.

Too bad. He would just have to get over it.

“There are many kinds of fear,” she said to Sam. “And I’m afraid, too. Afraid for my mother.”

“The police haven’t said anything about needing to protect you, right?” Joe said to Sam.

“No. But Dorothy has decided that she wants to hire off-duty officers to guard my room,” Sam said, shrugging. “I honestly don’t know what I think, but God knows, I have time here to try to figure it all out. But if it’s going to make Dorothy happy, I guess it’s fine to bring in some security.”

“That’s never a bad idea,” Joe said, to Genevieve’s surprise. Had he changed his mind on his conviction that Bigelow’s murder had nothing to do with Edgar Allan Poe and the Ravens?

Dorothy and Sam’s mother returned just then. They both greeted Joe and spoke with him about hiring private security. He put through a call to a friend, and before he and Gen left the hospital, an off-duty officer was sitting in the hallway.

 

“I thought you were going to wait at your apartment for me,” Joe said a few minutes later, as they got into his car after dismissing Gen’s driver. He looked at Genevieve and saw that she was blushing slightly. Whatever she said, it would be an excuse, he knew. She obviously felt guilty. But then her chin lifted.

Guilty and defiant, he amended. Ah, yes, that was Genevieve. Then again, that defiance was part of what had saved her life.

“I
was
staying in and waiting, but then you called and said you’d be late. And I told you I’d find something to do to fill the time.”

“Good one,” he said.

“Hey, Joe, you’re the one who said the whole Poe thing was a smoke screen.”

He groaned. “Whether it is or isn’t, don’t you think you should be a little bit careful for a while?”

“It’s my mother I’m worried about,” she said. “She’s the Raven, not me.”

“Still…”

She gazed at him sharply. “What changed your mind?” she asked.

He was driving, but the traffic was light enough that he was able to look over at her before turning his attention to avoiding a kid on a skateboard who had just swerved into the street.

“Nothing has changed my mind,” he said, knowing it was what he wanted to believe, rather than the truth. To accept the fact that he believed a two-bit hooker—
actress
—had experienced a genuine psychic vision was more than he was ready to admit.

And yet it appeared, even to him, that it might be true.

After so many years prying into the lives of others, he had a good sense for whether people were lying or not. And Candy Cane, or Lori Star or whatever her real name was, hadn’t been lying.

Not only that, she was scared.

“So…” Genevieve asked, “where are we going?”

He cast a quick glance her way, a slight smile curving his lips. “I thought we should take a self-guided Poe tour. Just a pleasant walk around a few places our long-gone poet might have haunted. What do you think?”

She looked back at him, smiling quizzically herself. “You’ve acquired a new appreciation for the literary life and times of Edgar Allan Poe?”

“Don’t be silly. I’ve always been an aficionado,” he assured her.

Ten minutes later, he found a garage where he could park for a few hours without spending half a month’s rent, and they started walking.

There was something special, almost magical, about Lower Manhattan, he thought. It had nothing to do with Wall Street and all the money that changed hands there, or even the vibrancy of the people who were always rushing around following their own agendas.

Maybe it was magical, he thought, because he had learned to see it through Leslie’s eyes.

New York wasn’t just Wall Street and big bucks, or the egos of celebrities and business moguls. Nor was it any longer the huddled poverty of the thousands of immigrants who had made their way here, first via Ellis Island and now via Kennedy Airport.

It was both, and it was more.

He and Genevieve walked. They toured the area around Lower Broadway, pausing at Trinity Church, looking toward the empty place where the World Trade Towers had once stood, which gave them both pause.

Finally they moved on.

“Are we actually on a
thinking
tour?” she asked him, curious and amused.

“I’m sorry. Does it feel like I’m just dragging you around aimlessly?” he asked her.

“Hey, I like to walk. Just so long as we’re not walking because you don’t want me going home by myself,” she said.

He couldn’t help but ask, “Is it so bad for someone to be worried about you?”

She looked away. “I don’t want to spend my life being a burden, being someone others have to worry about all the time.”

“Hardly a burden,” he said gruffly.

And so they kept going.

“This has been my home my whole life,” she said, “and I still love being here. I love to go into Trinity and St. Paul’s. I love to go in and look at George Washington’s pew, and wonder what it might have been like when we were a country fighting for its independence.”

He flashed her a smile. “Yeah, cool, huh?”

And amazing.

They were near Hastings House, in fact, near the area where she had been held prisoner underground. He saw no deep-seated bitterness or fear in her eyes, and she had just told him that she had moved on, that she loved this part of town.

Was it true?

Whether it was or not, Lower Manhattan, the area around St. Mark’s, and his small cottage up in the Bronx, were places where Poe had spent time when he was in New York.

“‘The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne the best I could,’” he quoted aloud.

Genevieve arched a brow at him. “Is that word-for-word?”

“I think,” he said with a shrug.

“So you know more about Poe than you’ve admitted?”

He offered her a sheepish grin. “When I was a kid, my folks bought a video of
The Raven.
The movie had little to do with the poem, but Vincent Price, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre were magnificent. It was pretty silly, really. They turned the poem into a battle between magicians. But I watched it over and over, and then went on a Poe binge.”

She laughed. “Maybe you should be a Raven.”

They were on Nassau Street now. “I think it would have been right about here,” Joe said.

Genevieve frowned. “What would have? I don’t think Poe lived here.”

“No, but not far away,” he said, flashing Genevieve a smile. “No. I’m thinking about ‘The Mystery of Marie Roget.’ It was based on a real murder case that put New York City into a state of upheaval. Journalists had a field day. Politicians were shaken to the core…and Poe wrote his story. The girl who was killed lived on Nassau Street. Her name was Mary Rogers, and she’d worked at a cigar shop where Poe had almost certainly been. She was considered to be beautiful, and she was from a good family whose fortunes were in bad shape. Her mother opened a boarding house on Nassau Street. And it was from Nassau Street that she left…and never returned. The summer of 1841 was stifling. A steamboat ran across the river to New Jersey, and people went to escape the heat and the crowds. It was like going to a park to play. P. T. Barnum staged wild west shows over there, and people flocked to someplace called Sybil’s Cave to drink the waters, which were considered to be restorative. Anyway, three men took the ferry over one day, several days after she disappeared, and as they were walking north along the river, heading for the pavilion at Sybil’s Cave, they spotted something in the water. It was Mary Rogers. Poe turned Mary into Marie and he moved the whole thing to Paris. He had already written ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue,’ and he wanted to use his Parisian detective, C. Auguste Dupin, to solve another mystery.”

Genevieve was staring at him.

He shrugged. “Hey, it’s common knowledge.”

She laughed. “So common I didn’t know it. I did see
The Raven,
though, and I loved it. And of course, I’ve read the poem. I’ve even been to his grave site in Baltimore,” she admitted.

He turned and walked toward Broadway again. “Poe didn’t live here when Mary Rogers was killed—he had left the city for a job in Philadelphia. But he lived here from eighteen-thirty-seven to thirty-eight, and there was a bookstore near here, owned by a Scot named William Gowans, where Poe spent a lot of time. Gowans was totally eccentric and only catered to those he considered serious readers. The shop where Mary Rogers worked was only a few blocks north, and Gowans roomed at the boarding house Mrs. Rogers kept. So they were all acquaintances, one way or another.”

Genevieve cocked her head, looked at him with a slight grin tugging at her lips. “You’re very serious about your Poe facts—for a man who said that that note was just a smoke screen.”

“And it might be.”

“Then why are we here?”

“Might as well get the feel for what’s going on,” he said.

He started walking faster, though he didn’t realize how fast until he heard the sound of her footsteps as she tried to catch up.

“Joe?”

“Yeah?”

“There was poison in Thorne’s wine. That doesn’t have anything to do with ‘The Mystery of Marie Roget.’”

“I know.”

“Then…?”

“Right now, I’m just trying to get a feel for Poe himself, and his life and times.”

“Ah.”

“New York back then…the Five Points area was like a haven for thugs, drug dealers, murderers and thieves. I think the population of the city back then was about three-hundred thousand.”

“Wow,” Genevieve said dryly.

He laughed. “Okay, nothing by today’s standards, but back then, it was huge. Just like now, people came here from all over to make a living. You know, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere? Well, that’s always been true before. So Poe came to New York with his sights on becoming financially secure and finding real respect for his talents. According to those who knew him, he was a fine literary critic—but a vicious one at times.”

“The best critics are vicious at times, so they say.”

Joe shrugged. He indicated the doorway to an old bar. The Dingle Room. A sign boasted that it had stood on the same street for over two hundred years, acting as a tavern for over one hundred of them.

“Think he might have lifted a beer or two here?” Genevieve asked.

“Maybe. Meanwhile,
I’m
thirsty. And hungry.”

They went inside, and not only did the place appear to have been in business as a tavern for more than a hundred years, Joe wasn’t sure it had been cleaned in all that time, either. But answering the question Gen had asked, there was a sign above the bar that read:
Edgar Allan Poe drank here. Imbibe and find your inner genius.

Those words were followed by a hand-painted addendum that said:
At least, we think he drank here
.

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