Pagina principale Portrait In Death

Portrait In Death

Lieutenant Eve Dallas faces a serial killer who offers his victims eternal youth by taking their life…After a tip from a reporter, Eve Dallas finds the body of a young woman in a Delancey street dumpster. Just hours before, the news station had mysteriously received a portfolio of professional portraits of the woman. The photos seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary for any pretty young woman starting a modeling career. Except that she wasn't a model. And that these photos were taken after she had been murdered.Now Dallas is on the trail of a killer who's a perfectionist and an artist. He carefully observes and records his victim's every move. And he has a mission: to own every beautiful young woman's innocence, to capture her youth and vitality-in one fateful shot…
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Lieutenant Eve Dallas faces a serial killer who offers his victims eternal youth by taking their life…

After a tip from a reporter, Eve Dallas finds the body of a young woman in a Delancey street dumpster. Just hours before, the news station had mysteriously received a portfolio of professional portraits of the woman. The photos seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary for any pretty young woman starting a modeling career. Except that she wasn't a model. And that these photos were taken after she had been murdered.

Now Dallas is on the trail of a killer who's a perfectionist and an artist. He carefully observes and records his victim's every move. And he has a mission: to own every beautiful young woman's innocence, to capture her youth and vitality-in one fateful shot…





* * *



J. D. Robb





Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Epilogue





* * *





Librs.net


Благодарим Вас за использование нашей библиотеки Librs.net.





J. D. Robb



Portrait In Death





Eve Dallas and husband Roarke – #18



The light of the body is in the eye

– New Testament



A mother is a mother still,

The holiest thing alive.

– Samuel Coleridge





Prologue




We begin to die with our first breath. Death is inside us, ticking closer, closer, with every beat of our heart. It is the end no man can escape. Yet we cling to life, we worship it despite its transience. Or perhaps, because of it.

But all the while, we wonder of death. We build monuments to it, revere it with our rituals. What willourdeath be? we ask ourselves. Will it be sudden and swift, long and lingering? Will there be pain? Will it come after a long, full life, or will we be cut off -violently, inexplicably-inour prime?

When is our time? For death is for all time.

We create an afterlife because we cannot rus; h through our days chased by the specter of an end. We make gods who guide us, who will greet us at golden gates to lead us into an eternal land of milk and honey.

We are children, bound hand and foot by the chains of good with its eternal reward, and evil with its eternal punishment. And so, most never truly live, not freely.

I have studied life and death.

There is only one purpose. To live. To live free. Tobecome. To know, with each breath, you are more than the shadows. You are the light, and the light must be fed, absorbed from any and all sources. Then, the end is not death. In the end webecomethe light.

They will say I am mad, but I have found sanity. I have found Truth and Salvation. When I have become, what I am, what I do, what I have created will be magnificent.

And we will all live forever.





Chapter 1




Life didn't get much better. Eve knocked back her first cup of coffee as she grabbed a shirt out of the closet. She went for thin and sleeveless as the summer of 2059 was currently choking New York, and the rest of the Eastern seaboard, in a tight, sweaty grip.

But hey, she'd rather be hot than cold.

Nothing was going to spoil her day. Absolutely nothing.

She pulled on the shirt, then with a quick glance at the door to make certain she was alone, did a fast, hip-shaking boogie to the AutoChef for another hit of coffee. A glance at her wrist unit told her she had plenty of time if she wanted breakfast, so what the hell, she programmed it for a couple of blueberry pancakes.

She went back to the closet for her boots. She was a tall, lean woman, currently wearing khaki-colored pants and a blue tank. Her hair was short, choppy in style, and brown, with lighter streaks teased out by that mean and brilliant sun. It suited her angular face, with its wide brown eyes and generous mouth. There was a shallow dent in her chin-a feature her husband, Roarke, liked to trace with a fingertip.

Despite the heat she'd face when she stepped outside the big, blissfully cool bedroom, outside the big, blissfully cool house, she pulled out a lightweight jacket. And tossed it over the weapon harness she had draped over the back of the sofa in the sitting area.

Her badge was already in her pocket.

Lieutenant Eve Dallas grabbed her coffee and pancakes out of the AutoChef, plopped down on the sofa, and prepared to enjoy a luxurious breakfast before clocking in for a day as a murder cop.

With a feline's psychic sense when food was involved, the fat cat Galahad appeared out of nowhere to leap on the sofa beside her and stare at her plate with his dual-colored eyes.

"Mine." She forked up pancakes, and stared back at the cat. "Roarke may be an easy mark, pal, but I'm not. Probably already been fed, too," she added as she propped her feet on the table and continued to plow through her breakfast. "Bet you were down in the kitchen at dawn sidling around Summerset."

She leaned down until they were nose to nose. "Well, there won't be any of that for three beautiful, wonderful, mag-ass weeks. And do you know why? Do you knowwhy?"

Overcome with joy, she caved and gave the cat a bite of pancake. "Because the skinny, tight-assed son of a bitch is going on vacation! Far, far away." She almost sang it, riding on the bliss of knowing Roarke's majordomo, her personal nemesis, wouldn't be there to irritate her that night, or for many nights to come.

"I have twenty-one Summerset-free days ahead of me, and I rejoice."

"I'm not sure the cat shares your jubilation." Roarke spoke from the doorway where he was currently leaning on the jamb watching his wife.

"Sure he does." She scooped up more of the pancakes before Galahad could nose his way onto the plate. "He's just playing it cool. I thought you had some interstellar honcho transmission to take care of this morning."

"Done."

He strolled in, and Eve added to her considerable pleasure by watching him move. Smooth, long-legged, graceful in a way that was pure and dangerous male.

He could give the cat lessons, she mused. Grinning at him, she decided there wasn't a woman alive who wouldn't be thrilled to have that face next to hers over breakfast.

As faces went, it was a masterpiece, carved on one of God's more generous days. Lean, with edgy cheekbones, with a firm, full mouth that could make her own water. All this was framed by a sweep of glossy black hair, and highlighted by Celtic blue eyes.

The rest of him wasn't bad either, she thought. All long and rangy and tough.

"Come here, pretty boy." She fisted a hand in his shirt, gave him a yank. Then sank her teeth, with some enthusiasm, in his bottom lip. She gave it a lazy flick of her tongue before settling back again. "You're better than pancakes any day."

"You're certainly chipper this morning."

"Damn straight. Chipper's my middle name. I'm going out to spread joy and laughter to all of mankind."

"What a nice change of pace." There was amusement riding along with the Irish in his voice. "Perhaps you'll start now by going down with me to see Summerset off."

She grimaced. "That might spoil my appetite." Testing, she polished off the pancakes. "No, no, it doesn't. I can do that. I can go down and wave bye-bye."

Brow lifted, he gave her hair a quick tug. "Nicely."

"I won't do the happy dance until he's out of sight. Three weeks." After a joyful shudder, she rose and foiled the cat by putting the plate out of reach. "I won't see his ugly face or hear the squeaky sound of his voice for three orgasmic weeks."

"Why do I think he's probably thinking something very similar about you?" Sighing, Roarke pushed to his feet. "I'm as sure about that as I am that both of you will miss sniping at each other."

"Will not." She picked up her harness, strapped on her weapon. "Tonight, to celebrate-and make no mistake, I'm going to celebrate-I'm going to lounge around the living room and eat pizza. Naked."

Roarke's eyebrows winged up. "I'll certainly enjoy that."

"Get your own pizza." She shrugged into her jacket. "I have to wave bye-bye now. I'm due at Central."

"Practice this first." He laid his hands on her shoulders. "Have a good trip. Enjoy your vacation."

"You didn't say I had to speak to him." She blew out a breath at Roarke's calm stare. "All right, all right, it's worth it. Have a good trip." She stretched her lips into a smile. "Enjoy your vacation. Asshole. I'll leave off the asshole, I just wanted to say it now."

"Understood." He ran his hands down her arms, then took her hand. The cat darted out of the room ahead of them. "He's looking forward to this. He hasn't taken much time for himself in the last couple of years."

"Didn't want to take his beady eyes off me long enough. But that's okay, that's all right," she said in a cheerful voice. "Because he's going, and that's what's important."

She heard the cat screech, the curse that followed, then a series of thuds. Eve was fast on her feet, but Roarke beat her to the stairs, and was already sprinting down there to where Summerset lay in a heap along with scattered piles of linen.

She took one look at the scene at the bottom of the stairs and said, "Oh, shit."

"Don't move. Don't try to move," Roarke murmured as he checked Summerset for injuries.

Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Eve crouched. Summerset's always pale face was bone-white and already going clammy. She read shock in his eyes, along with considerable pain.

"It's my leg," he managed in a voice gone reedy. "I'm afraid it's broken."

She could see that for herself by the awkward angle it took below the knee. "Go get a blanket," she told Roarke as she pulled out her pocket-link. "He's shocky. I'll get the MTs."

"Keep him still." Moving fast, Roarke whipped one of the tangled sheets over Summerset, then dashed upstairs. "He could have other injuries."

"It's just my leg. And my shoulder." He closed his eyes as Eve called for medical assistance. "I tripped over the bloody cat." Gritting his teeth, he opened his eyes and did his best to smirk at Eve though the heat of the fall was rapidly turning to a cold that made his teeth chatter. "I imagine you think it's a pity I didn't break my neck."

"Thought crossed by mind." Lucid, she thought with some relief. Didn't lose consciousness. Eyes a little glassy. She glanced over as Roarke came back with a blanket. "They're on their way. He's coherent, and pissy. I don't think there's any head injury. Take more than a spill down the stairs to crack that stone anyway. Tripped over the cat."

"For Christ's sake."

Eve watched Roarke take Summerset's hand, hold it. However she and the skinny baboon dealt with each other, she understood the man was more Roarke's father than his own blood had been.

"I'll get the gates, clear the MTs through."

She headed to the security panel to open the gates that closed off the house, the expansive lawns, the personal world Roarke had built, from the city. Of Galahad there was no sign, nor Eve thought sourly, would there likely be for a while.

Damn cat had probably done it on purpose to spoil her good time because she hadn't given him enough pancakes.

So they would hear the sirens, she opened the front door, and nearly staggered against the wall of heat. Barely eight, and hot enough to fry brains. The sky was the color of sour milk, the air the consistency of the syrup she'd so cheerfully consumed when there'd been joy in her heart and a spring in her step.

Have a nice trip, she thought. Son of a bitch.

Her 'link beeped just as she heard the sirens. "Here they come," she called to Roarke, then stepped aside to take the transmission. " Dallas. Shit, Nadine," she said the minute she saw the image of Channel 75's top reporter on screen. "This isn't a good time."

"I got a tip. Seems like a serious tip. Meet me at Delancey and Avenue D. I'm leaving now."

"Hold on, hold on, I'm not going down to the Lower East Side because you-"

"I think somebody's dead." She shifted so Eve could see the images on the printouts she'd spread over her desk. "I think she's dead."

It was a young brunette in various poses, some candid from the looks of them, others staged.

"Why do you think she's dead?"

"I'll fill you in when I see you. We're wasting time."

Eve motioned in the MTs as she scowled at the 'link. "I'll send a black-and-white-"

"I didn't give you a heads-up so you could fob this, and me, off on uniforms. I've got something here, Dallas, and it's hot. Meet me, or I check it out alone. Then I go on the air with what I've got, and what I find."

"Fucking A, what a day this is turning into. All right. Stand on the corner, get a bagel or something. Don't do anything until I get there. I've got a mess to clean up here first." Blowing out a breath she looked over to where the MTs examined Summerset. "Then I'm on my way."

She clicked off, jammed the 'link back in her pocket. She walked back to Roarke, and couldn't think of anything to do but pat his arm while he watched the medicals. "I've got a thing I've got to check out."

"I can't remember how old he is. I can't quite remember."

"Hey." This time she gave his arm a squeeze. "He's too mean to be down for long. Look, I'll ditch this thing if you want me to stay around."

"No, you go on." He shook himself. "Tripped over the goddamn cat. Could've killed himself." He turned, pressed his lips to her forehead. "Life's full of nasty surprises. Take care, Lieutenant, I'd as soon not have another one today."





***




Traffic was mean, but that suited the ruination of her mood. A maxibus breakdown on Lex had everything snarled from 75th, as far south as she could see. Horns blasted. Above, traffic copters clipped and hummed among the air traffic to keep the rubberneckers from jamming the sky as well. Tired of sitting in the sea of commuters, she flipped her siren, then punched into a quick vertical. She cut east, then headed south again when she found some clear road.

She'd called Dispatch and informed them she was taking an hour personal. No point in reporting in that she was following the crooked finger of an on-air reporter, without authorization or any clear reason.

But she trusted Nadine's instincts-the woman's nose for a story was like a beagle's for a rabbit-and had tagged Peabody, her aide, with orders to detour to Delancey.

There was plenty of business being done on the street. The area was a hive of delis, coffee shops, and specialty stores that crowded along on sidewalk level and served the inhabitants of the apartments above them. The bakery sold to the guy who ran the fix-it shop next door, and he'd diddle with the AutoChef for the woman who ran the clothes store on the other side, while she ran across the street to buy fruit from the stand.

It was a tidy system, Eve imagined. Old and established, and though it still bore some scars from the Urban Wars, it had rebuilt itself.

It wasn't a sector where you'd want to take a stroll late at night, and a couple of blocks south or west you'd find the not-so-tidy communities of sidewalk sleepers and chemi-heads, but on a sweltering summer morning, this slice of Delancey was all business.

She pulled up behind a double-parked delivery truck, flipped up her On Duty light.

With some reluctance, she left the cool cocoon of her vehicle and stepped into the hot, wet wall of summer. The smells hit her first-brine and coffee and sweat. The more appealing hint of melon from the fruit vendor was overpowered by the rush of steam gushing out of a glide-cart. It carried the distinct odor of egg substitute and onions.

She did her best not to breathe it in-whoate that shit-as she stood on the corner scanning.

She didn't spot Nadine, or Peabody, but she did see a trio of what she took to be shopkeepers and a City Maintenance drone having an argument in front of a green recycle bin.

She kept an eye on them while she considered calling Roarke to check on Summerset. Maybe there'd been a miracle and the medical techs had glued his bone back together and he was, even now, on his way to transport. As a result of the morning trauma, he wasn't taking three weeks vacation. But four.

And while he was gone, he'd fall madly in love with a licensed companion-who would have sex with that freak unless she was paid for it-and decide to settle down with her in Europe.

No, not Europe. It wasn't far away enough. They'd relocate in the Alpha Colony on Taurus I, and never again return to this planet called Earth.

As long as she didn't call, she could hold on to the silver threads of that little fantasy.

But she remembered the pain in Summerset's eyes and the way Roarke had held his hand.

With a mighty sigh, she pulled out her pocket-link. Before she could use it one of the shopkeepers shoved City Maintenance. Maintenance shoved back. Eve saw the first punch coming even if Maintenance didn't, and he ended up on his ass. She shoved the 'link back in her pocket and headed down the sidewalk to break it up.

She was still three feet away when she smelled it. She'd walked with death too many times to mistake it.

The living were currently rolling around on the sidewalk, being cheered on or berated by the people who popped out of storefronts or stopped their hike to work to watch the show.

Eve didn't bother with her badge, but simply hauled the guy on top up by his shirt, and planted her foot on the chest of the one still on the ground.

"Knock it off."

The shopkeeper was a little guy, and wiry with it. He jerked away, leaving Eve with a handful of sweaty shirt. The blood in his eye was from temper, but his lip was sporting the real thing. "This is none of your business, lady, so just move before you get hurt."

"That's Lieutenant Lady." The guy on the ground seemed content to stay there. He was paunchy, he was winded, and his left eye was already swelling shut. But as she didn't have any love for anyone in any sector of maintenance, she kept her boot weighted on his chest as she flipped out her badge.

The smile she sent the shopkeeper showed a lot of teeth. "You want to take bets on who's going to get hurt here? Now back off, and shut it down."

"A cop. Good. You ought to throw his sorry ass in a cage. I pay my taxes." Shopkeeper threw up his hands, turning to the crowd for support like a boxer circling the ring between rounds. "We pay out the wazoo, and dickheads like this screw us over."

"He assaulted me. I want to file charges."

Eve spared a glance at the man under her foot. "Shut up. Name," she demanded, pointing at the shopkeeper.

"Remke. Waldo Remke." He fisted his bruised hands on his narrow hips. "Iwant to file charges."

"Yeah, yeah. This your place?" She gestured toward the deli behind her.

"Been mine for eighteen years, and my father's place before that. We pay taxes-"

"I heard that part. This your bin?"

"We paid for that bin twenty times over. Me, Costello, and Mintz." While sweat ran down his face, he jerked a thumb toward two men standing behind him. "And half the time it's broken. You smell that? You fucking smell that? Who's gonna come in our places to do business with that stink out here? This is the third time one of us has called for repair in the last six weeks. They never do shit."

There were mutters and murmurs of agreement from the crowd, and some joker called out: Death to fascists!

With the heat, the stink, and the blood already spilled, Eve knew the harmless neighborhood crowd could turn into a mob on a dime.

"Mr. Remke, I want you, Mr. Costello, and Mr. Mintz to step back. The rest of you people, get busy somewhere else."

She heard the rapid clop behind her that could only be cop shoes on pavement. " Peabody," she said without turning, "move this crowd along before they find a rope and lynch this guy."

A little breathless, Peabody jogged up beside Eve. "Yes, sir. We need you people to disperse. Please go about your business."

The sight of the uniform, even though it was already wilting in the heat, had most of the crowd sidling away. Peabody adjusted her sunshades and her hat, both of which had tipped during her jog up the sidewalk.

Her square face was a bit shiny with perspiration, but behind the tinted lenses, her dark eyes were steady. She shifted them to the bin, then to Eve. "Lieutenant?"

"Yeah. Name," she said and tapped her boot on the city worker's chest.

"Larry Poole. Look, Lieutenant, I'm just doing my job. I come out here in response to a repair call, and this guy's up my ass."

"When did you get here?"

"I ain't been here ten minutes. Son of a bitch didn't even give me a chance to look at the bin before he's in my face."

"You're going to look at it now. I don't want any trouble from you," she said to Remke.

"I want to file a complaint." He folded his arms, and curled his lip when Eve helped Poole up.

"They dump all kinda shit in here," Poole began. "That's the problem, see? They don't use the proper slots. If you dump organic in the nonorganic side, it stinks up the whole business."

He limped to the bin, then took his time strapping on his filter mask. "All they gotta do is follow directions, but no, they'd rather complain every five fricking minutes."

"How's the lock work?"

"Got a code. See they rent it from the city, and the city keeps the codes. My scanner reads the code, then… Crap, this one's busted."

"I told you it was busted."

With some dignity, Poole straightened, and stared at Remke with his blackened eyes. "The lock and seal's busted. Kids do that sometimes. It ain't my damn fault. Who the hell knows why kids do the shit they do? Probably busted it last night, dumped some dead cat inside from the smell of it."

"I'm not paying because your locks are defective," Remke began.

"Mr. Remke," Eve warned. "Save it. It's unlocked, unsealed?" she asked Poole.

"Yeah. Now I'm gonna have to call a crew down here for cleanup. Damn kids." He started to pry up the lid, but Eve slapped a hand down on his.

"Would you step back, please. Peabody?"

The smell was already making her queasy, but Peabody knew it was about to get worse. "Wish I hadn't had that egg pocket on the way here."

Eve got a grip on the lid, shook her head at her aide. "You eat that crap? What's wrong with you?"

"They're pretty good, really. And it's a quick fix." She sucked in a breath, held it. Nodded. Together they pushed up the heavy lid.

The stench of death poured out.

She'd been crammed into the organic side of the bin. Only half her face showed. Eve could see her eyes had been green-a sharp, bottle green. And she'd been young, probably pretty.

Death, spurred on by the heat, had bloated her obscenely.

"What the hell did they put in there?" Poole pushed up, looked inside. Then immediately stumbled away to retch.

"Call it in, Peabody. Nadine's on her way. She got hung up in traffic, or she'd be here by now. I want you to keep her and her camera back. She'll give you lip, but you keep this block clear."

"Somebody's in there." All the anger had drained from Remke's face. He simply stared at Eve with horrified eyes. "A person."

"I'm going to need you to go inside, Mr. Remke. All of you. I'll be in to speak with you shortly."

"I'll look." He had to clear his throat. "I might-if it's someone from the neighborhood, I might know… If it'll help, I'll look."

"It's hard," she told him, but gestured him over.

His face was pale, but he stepped up. He kept his eyes closed for a moment, then set his teeth, opened them. Even the faint hint of color drained out of his cheeks.

"Rachel." He fought not to gag, and stumbled back. "Oh God. Oh God. It's Rachel-I don't know her last name. She, Jesus, Jesus, she worked at the 24/7 across the street. She was a kid." Tears began to track down his white face, and he turned away to cover it. "Twenty, twenty-one, tops. College student. She was always studying."

"Go inside, Mr. Remke. I'll take care of her now."

"She was just a kid." He swiped at his face. "What kind of an animal does that to a kid?"

She could have told him there were all sorts of animals, animals more vicious, more deadly than anything in nature. But she said nothing as he walked to Poole.

"Come on inside." He laid a hand on Poole 's shoulder. "Come inside where it's cool. I'll get you some water."

" Peabody, field kit's in the car."

Turning back to the body, she clipped the recorder onto her lapel. "All right, Rachel," she murmured. "Let's get to work. Record on. Victim is female, Caucasian, approximately twenty years of age."





***




She had the barricades up, and the uniforms who responded keeping the curious behind them. Once she had the body, the bin, the surrounding area on record, she sealed up and prepared to climb into the bin.

She spotted the Channel 75 van at the end of the block. Nadine would be steaming, Eve thought, from more than the humidity. She'd just have to wait her turn.

The next twenty minutes were grisly.

"Sir." Peabody offered a bottle of water as Eve climbed out.

"Thanks." She glugged down ten ounces before taking a breath, but couldn't quite wash the taste out of her mouth. She used a second bottle on her hands. "Keep those guys on ice." She nodded toward the deli. "I'm going to deal with Nadine first."

"Did you get an ID?"

"Her prints popped. Rachel Howard, part-time student at Columbia." She swiped at the sweat on her face. "Remke was right on the age. Twenty. Bag and tag," she added. "I can't get cause of death, hell I can't get a gauge on time of death the way she's been baking in there."

She looked back at the bin. "We'll see what the sweepers find, then let the ME have her."

"You want to start the knock-on-doors?"

"Hold off until I talk to Nadine." Tossing the empty bottle back to Peabody, she headed down the sidewalk. One of the gawkers started to call out to her, then shrunk back at the look on her face.

Nadine stepped out of the van, looking camera fresh and mad as a cat. "Damn you, Dallas, just how long do you think you can keep me blocked?"

"As long as it takes. I need to see those printouts. Then I need you down at Central for questioning."

"You need? You think I give a rat's ass about what you need?"

It had been an ugly morning. She was viciously hot, she stank, and the breakfast she'd so gleefully consumed was no longer settling well. The steam from the glide-cart where the operator was doing double his usual business thanks to the people who hovered, hoping to get a closer look at somebody else's death, added another greasy layer to the heavy air.

It didn't even occur to her to reign in her temper as she stared at Nadine, looking fresh as a spring morning, with a cup of iced coffee in her pretty, manicured hand.

"Fine. You have the right to remain silent-"

"What the hell is this?"

"This is your Revised Miranda warning. You're a material witness in a homicide. You." She jabbed her finger at a uniform. "Read Ms. Furst her rights, and escort her to Central. She's to be held for questioning."

"Why you stone bitch."

"Got it in one." Eve turned on her heel and walked back to confer with the ME.





Chapter 2




Inside the deli, the air was cool and smelled of coffee, of lox, of warm bread. She drank the water Remke offered her. He no longer looked like the human rocket about to launch. He looked exhausted.

People often did, in her experience, after violence.

"When's the last time you used the bin?" she asked him.

"About seven last night, right after I closed. My nephew usually closes, but he's on vacation this week. Took the wife and kids to Planet Disney-Christ knows why."

With his elbows on the counter, he rested his head in his hands, pressed his fingers to his temple. "I can't get that girl's face out of my head."

And you never will, Eve thought. Not completely. "What time did you get in this morning?"

"Six." He let out a long sigh, dropped his hands. "I noticed the… the smell right off. I kicked the bin. God almighty, I kicked it, and she was in there."

"You couldn't have helped her, but you can help her now. What did you do?"

"I called it in. Reamed the operator. Costello and Mintz, they got here, I don't know, about six-thirty, and we had a bitch session over it. I called back about seven 'cause nobody'd showed up. Called I don't know how many times, worked myself up good, too, until Poole got here. That was about ten minutes, I guess, before I punched him."

"You live upstairs?"

"Yeah. Me and my wife, our youngest daughter. She's sixteen." His breath shortened. "It could've been her in there. She was out last night until ten. That's curfew. She was out with a couple of her friends. I don't know what I'd do if… I don't know what I'd do." His voice cracked. "What does anybody do?"

"I know this is hard. Do you remember hearing anything, seeing anyone, last night? Anything that comes to mind?"

"Shelley got in right on time. We're strict about curfew, so she walked in at ten. I was watching the game on-screen-mostly waiting up for her, though. We were all in bed by eleven. I had to open, so I turned in early. I never heard a damn thing."

"Okay, tell me about Rachel. What do you know about her?"

"Not a lot. She's been working at the 24/7 for about a year, I guess. Mostly days. Some nights, but mostly days. You'd go in, and if she wasn't busy, she'd be studying. She was going to be a teacher. She had the sweetest smile." His voice cracked again. "Just made you feel good to look at her. I don't know how anybody could treat her like that."

He looked back outside, to the bin. "I don't know how anybody could do that to her."

With Peabody at her side, Eve walked across to the 24/7. "I need you to get in touch with Roarke, find out how Summerset's doing."

"He went on vacation today. You had it set on your calendar, with a trumpet fanfare and shooting stars."

"He broke his leg."

"What? When? How? Jeez."

"Fell down the damn steps this morning. I think he did it to spite me. I really do. Just check. Tell Roarke I'll be in touch as soon as I sort through some of this."

"And send your concern and support." Peabody kept her face admirably sober when Eve shifted her eyes and pinned her. "He'll know it's bogus, but it's what people do."

"Whatever."

She stepped inside. Some sensible person had killed the chirpy music that played in every 24/7, on or off planet. The place was a tomb, filled with grab-it-and-go food, overpriced staples of everyday living, and a wall of AutoChefs. A uniform loitered at the entertainment disc display while a young male clerk sat behind the counter. His eyes were red and raw.

Another young one, Eve thought. Clerks at 24/7's tended to be kids or seniors who would work ridiculous hours for stingy pay.

This one was skinny and black, with a shock of orange hair standing straight up off his head. He sported a silver lip ring, and a cheap knockoff of one of the more popular wrist units.

He took one look at Eve and began to cry again, silently.

"They said I couldn't call anybody. They said I had to stay here. I don't want to stay here."

"You can go soon." She jerked her head to send the uniform outside.

"They said Rachel's dead."

"Yes, she is. Were you friends with her?"

"I think there's a mistake. I think there's been a mistake." He swiped a hand under his nose. "If you'd let me call her, you'd see there's been a mistake."

"I'm sorry. What's your name?"

"Madinga. Madinga Jones."

"There's no mistake, Madinga, and I'm sorry because I can see you were friends. How long had you known her?"

"I just don't think this is right. I just don't think this is real." He scrubbed at his face. "She came to work here last summer, early last summer. She's going to college, she needed the job. We hang out sometimes."

"You were close. Were you involved, personally involved?"

"We were buds, that's all. I got a girl. We'd go clubbing sometimes maybe, or catch a new vid."

"Did she have a boy?"

"Not especially. She kept it loose, because she needed to study. She dug on school."

"Did she ever mention that somebody was hassling her? Maybe somebody who didn't want to keep it loose?"

"I don't… well, there was this guy we met at a club, and she went out with him once after, to like some restaurant he owns or something. But she said he was too grabby, and she shook him off. He didn't like it much, and kept after her for a while. But that was like months ago. Before Christmas."

"Got a name?"

"Diego." He shrugged. "I don't know the rest. Slick looking, fancy threads. Told her he was a cruiser, but he could dance, and she liked to dance."

"The club?"

"Make The Scene. Up by Union Square on Fourteenth. He-did he mess with her before he put her in there?"

"I can't tell you."

"She was a virgin." His lips trembled. "She said how she didn't want to just do it to do it. I used to rag on her about it, just for fun, you know, because we were buds. If he messed with her." The tears dried up, and his eyes went marble hard. "You gotta hurt him. You gotta hurt him the way he hurt her."

Outside, Eve dragged a hand through her hair and wished for her sunshades. Wherever the hell they were.

"Broken leg," Peabody informed her. "Jammed shoulder and some damage to the rotator cuff."

"What?"

"Summerset. Roarke said they're going to keep him overnight, and he's making arrangements for in-home care as soon as he can be released. He racked the knee of the unbroken leg, so it'll be a while before he's on his feet."

"Shit."

"Oh, and Roarke says he appreciates your concern, and will communicate same to the patient."

"Shit," she repeated.

"And just to add to your joy, a communication came through, from Nadine's representative. You have an hour to request and complete an interview, or a formal complaint will be filed by Channel 75 on behalf of Ms. Furst."

"She'll have to stew." Eve plucked Peabody 's shades out of her uniform pocket, and put them on. "We need to notify Rachel Howard's next of kin."





***




The single thing Eve wanted when she reached Central was a shower. It was just one more thing that would have to wait. She headed straight to what the cops called The Lounge, a waiting area for interviewees, family members, potential witnesses who weren't active suspects in an investigation.

There were chairs, tables, vending machines, a couple of screens to keep those who waited occupied. Nadine, her crew, and a sharp-looking suit Eve assumed was the rep were the only current residents.

Nadine surged to her feet immediately. "Oh, we're going to go a round."

The suit, tall, slim, male, with a waving mass of brown hair and cool blue eyes, tapped her arm. "Nadine. Let me handle this. Lieutenant Dallas, I'm Carter Swan, attorney for Channel 75, and here as representative for Ms. Furst and her associates. Let me start out by saying that your treatment of my client, a respected member of the media, is unacceptable. A complaint will be made to your superiors."

"Yeah." Eve turned away to one of the vending machines. The coffee here was crap, but she needed something. "Ms. Furst," she began as she coded in her ID, then cursed under her breath when she was informed her credit was at zero. "Ms. Furst is a material witness in a criminal investigation. She was asked to come voluntarily for questioning, and was not cooperative."

She dug in her pockets for coins or tokens, came up empty. "I was within my rights, and my authority, to have your client brought in, just as it was within her rights to bring your fancy ass in here to annoy me. I need the printouts, Nadine."

Nadine sat again, crossed her long legs. She fluffed her streaky blonde hair, smiled thinly. "You'll have to show your warrant to my representative, and when he's verified its authenticity, we'll discuss the printouts."

"You don't want to play hardball with me on this."

Nadine's eyes, a feline green, sparkled with temper. "Oh, don't I?"

"Under state and federal law," Carter began, "Ms. Furst is under no obligation to turn over any property, personal or professional, without a court order."

"I called you." Nadine spoke in a quiet voice. "I didn't have to. I could have gone straight to Delancey, filed my story. But I called you, out of respect, out of friendship. And because you got there first…" She paused long enough to aim a hot glare at one of her crew. He seemed to shrink under it. "You shut me out. This is my story."

"You'll get your goddamn story. I just spent the last half hour in a pretty little row house in Brooklyn with the parents of a twenty-year-old girl, parents I watched fall to pieces, bit by bit when I told them their daughter was dead, when I had to tell them where she'd been all fucking night."

Nadine got slowly back to her feet as Eve strode across the room. They stood now, toe to toe.

"You wouldn't have found her if it wasn't for me."

"You're wrong. It might not have been me, but somebody would've found her. Five, six hours in a recycle bin, ninety degree temps outside, a good one-twenty inside that box, somebody would've found her pretty quick."

"Look, Dallas," Nadine began, but Eve was on a roll.

"He probably thought of that when he shoved her in there, when he sent you the images. Maybe he got a kick out of thinking about the poor son of a bitch who found her, about the cop who'd have to wade around in there with her. You know what happens to a body after a few hours in that kind of heat, Nadine?"

"That's not the point."

"No? Well, let me show you what the point is." She yanked the recorder out of her pocket, then marched over to plug it into the unit. Seconds later, the image of Rachel Howard, as Eve had found her, shot on-screen.

"She was twenty years old, studying to be a teacher, working at a 24/7. She liked to dance and collected bears. Teddy bears." Eve's voice slashed like a razor as she stared at what had become of Rachel Howard. "She has a younger sister named Melissa. Her family thought she was at the dorm where she had friends, pulling an all-nighter as she did once or twice a week, so they weren't concerned. Until I knocked on their door."

She turned away, looked at Nadine now. "Her mother went right down on her knees, collapsed like all the air had gone out of her body. You'll have to run over there with your crew when we're done. I'm sure you'll get some good image for your story. That kind of thing, all that suffering, it really pumps the ratings."

"This is uncalled for." Carter snapped the words out. "This is intolerable. My client-"

"Be quiet, Carter." Nadine reached down for her leather portfolio bag. "I want to speak with you in private, Lieutenant."

"Nadine, I strongly advise-"

"Shut up, Carter. In private, Dallas."

"All right." She unplugged her recorder. "My office."

She didn't speak as they walked out, said nothing as they moved to the glide that would take them up to her division.

They moved into the bullpen, and the initial calls of greeting trickled into silence as both women moved straight through.

Eve's office was small and spare, with a single narrow window. She shut the door, took the chair at her desk, and left the other, badly sprung chair, for Nadine.

But Nadine didn't sit. What she'd seen, what she felt was clearly printed on her face. "You know me better. You know me better, and I didn't deserve to be treated this way, didn't deserve the things you said in there."

"Maybe not, but you're the one who pulled in a rep, you're the one who jumped down my throat because I blocked you from a story."

"Fuck it, Dallas, you arrested me."

"I did not arrest you. I remanded you into custody for questioning. You've got no sheet out of this."

"I don't give a damn about the sheet." Sick and furious, she shoved at the chair. It was a gesture Eve understood and respected, even as the flying seat caught her on the shin.

"I called you," Nadine spat out. "I notified you when I was under no obligation to do so. Then you cut me out, you haul me in, and you treat me like a ghoul."

"I didn't cut you out, I did my job. I hauled you in because you have information I need, and you were being pissy."

"Iwas being pissy?"

"Yeah, you were. Christ, I need coffee." She pushed up and bumped past Nadine to her AutoChef. "And I was feeling pissy, so I didn't take time for our usual dance. But for treating you like a ghoul, I'll apologize, because I do know better. You want a hit of this?"

Nadine opened her mouth, closed it again. Then let out a puff of steam. "Yes. If you respected me-"

"Nadine." Coffee in hand, Eve turned. "If I didn't respect you, I'd have had a warrant in hand when I came into The Lounge." She waited a beat. "Are you making it with that suit?"

Nadine sipped coffee. "As a matter of fact. I made copies of the printouts for you before I headed to Delancey-where I would have been considerably earlier if Red hadn't nipped the fender of another car." She drew them out of her bag.

"EDD's going to need your 'link."

"Yeah. I figured." The battle was over, and they stood facing each other. Two women scraped raw by the job.

"She was a pretty girl," Nadine commented. "Great smile."

"So everyone says. This was taken while she was at work. You can just see the candy display. This one… subway, maybe. And this, I don't know. A park somewhere. They're not posed. Just as likely she didn't know they were being taken."

"He stalked her."

"Could be. Now this. This is posed."

She held up the last printout. Rachel was in a chair set against a white wall. Her legs were crossed, her hands neatly folded just above the knee. The lighting was soft, flattering. She wore the blue shirt and jeans she'd been found in. Her face was young and pretty, lips and cheeks rosy. And her eyes, that strong green, were empty.

"She's dead, isn't she? In this picture, she's already dead."

"Probably." Eve shifted the image aside, and read the text of the transmission.

SHE WAS THE FIRST, AND HER LIGHT WAS PURE. IT WILL SHINE ON FOREVER. IT LIVES IN ME NOW. SHE LIVES IN ME. TO RETRIEVE THE RECEPTACLE, GO TO DELANCEY AND AVENUE D. TELL THE WORLD, THIS IS ONLY THE BEGINNING. A BEGINNING FOR ALL.

"I'm going to tag Feeney, have him send somebody from EDD to pick up your 'link. Since we're so full of respect here, I don't have to tell you that certain details, such as the contents of this transmission, need to be kept out of the story entirely or played down during the investigation."

"You don't. And bulging with that respect, I don't have to ask you to keep me in the loop, or for the series of one-on-ones we'll conduct throughout this investigation,"

"Guess not. Don't ask me for one now, Nadine. I've got to move on this."

"A statement then. Something I can tag on that will show viewers the NYPSD is pushing forward."

"You can say that the primary on this investigation is pursuing any and all possible leads, and that neither she, nor this department will stand by when a young woman is treated like garbage."

Alone, she sat back down at her desk. She did need to get moving, and her first stop would be the ME. But right now she had another duty to perform.

She called Roarke's private 'link, got the bland message he was unavailable at this location, and was bounced to his admin before she could cut the transmission.

"Oh. Hi, Caro. I guess he's busy."

"Hello, Lieutenant." The pleasant face smiled. "He was just finishing a meeting. Ah, he should be free now. Just let me transfer you."

"I don't want to bother-damn." She was bouncing again. She shifted uncomfortably as she heard the quick series of beeps. Then it was Roarke's face on-screen. Though he, too, smiled, she could see he was distracted.

"Lieutenant. You just caught me."

"Sorry I didn't call in earlier. I haven't had much breathing room. Is he, um, doing okay?"

"It's a bad break, and he's irritable. The shoulder and knee-and other assorted bumps and bruises-complicate it. He took a hard fall."

"Yeah. Look, I'm sorry. Really."

"Mmm. They'll keep him until tomorrow. If he's recovered enough to be released, I'm bringing him home. He won't be able to get around on his own initially, so he'll need care. I've arranged it."

"Should I, you know, do something?"

This time the smile seemed more at ease. "Such as?"

"I have absolutely no idea. You okay?"

"Shook me up, considerably. I tend to overreact when someone I care for is injured. Or so I'm told. He's almost as annoyed with me for dumping him in the hospital-as he called it-as you are under similar circumstances."

"He'll get over it." She wanted to touch him, brush those lines of worry away that were haunting his eyes. "I mostly do."

"He's been the only constant in my life, until you. Scared me brainless to see him hurt that way."

"He's too mean to stay down for long. I've got to go. I don't know when I'll be home."

"That makes two of us. Thanks for calling."

She ended the transmission, and after one more pass, loaded the printouts in her bag. Heading out, she swung by Peabody 's cube. " Peabody, we're moving."

"I got the victim's class schedule." Peabody jogged to keep up with Eve's ground-eating stride. "And a list of her instructors. Also the names of her coworkers at the 24/7. I haven't started to run them yet."

"Do it on the way to the morgue. Plug in photography and imaging. See if any of them have an interest."

"I can tell you that straight off. One of her electives was Imaging. She was acing it, too. Hell, she was acing everything. She was really smart." She dragged out her PPC as they headed down to the garage. "She had the Imaging course Tuesday evenings."

"Last evening."

"Yes, sir. Her instructor was Leeanne Browning."

"Run her first." She sniffed the air as they crossed the garage. "What's that smell?"

"As your aide and boon companion, I must inform you, that smell is you."

"Oh hell."

"Here." Digging in her bag, Peabody came out with a little spray bottle.

Instinctively Eve stepped back. "What is that? Keep it away from me."

" Dallas, when we get in our vehicle, even with the air on full, it's going to be tough to breathe. You are rank. You're probably going to have to burn that jacket, and it's too bad, because it's mag."

Before Eve could dodge, she aimed and fired, and kept firing even as her courageous lieutenant yelped.

"It smells like… rotten flowers."

"The rotten part is you." Peabody leaned closer, sniffed. "But it's much better. You'll hardly notice it from ten, fifteen feet away. They probably have really strong disinfectant at the morgue," Peabody said cheerfully. "You could wash up, and maybe they've got something for your clothes."

"Just button it, Peabody."

"Buttoning, sir." Peabody scooted into the car and began her run on Leeanne Browning. "Professor Browning is fifty-six. Affiliated with Columbia for twenty-three years. Married, same-sex style, to Angela Brightstar, fifty-four. Upper West Side address. No criminal record. Also second residence, the Hamptons. One sib, brother, Upper East Side, also married, one child, son. Twenty-eight years of age. Parents still living, retired, with residences Upper East Side and Florida."

"Run criminals on Brightstar and the family."

"Brightstar's got a little pop," Peabody said after a moment. "Illegals possession twelve years back. Personal stash of Exotica. Pled guilty, did three months community service. Brightstar is a freelance artist, with a studio in residence. Brother's clean, so are the parents, but the nephew's got two tags. One illegals possession at age twenty-three, and one assault last spring. His current residence is Boston."

"He may be worth talking to. Bump him up on the list, and we'll see if he's been visiting our fair city. Get Professor Browning's class schedule. I want to work her in today."

In the morgue, Eve strode down the white corridor. Yeah, they used strong disinfectant, she thought. But you could never quite hide it. The business of the place snuck into all the cracks and crept into the air.

As directed, she found Rachel Howard already on a slab, and ME Morris working on her. He wore a long green cover over his lemon yellow suit. His hair was pulled into a trio of ponytails that waterfalled, one over the other down his back. And somehow didn't look ridiculous spilling out from his protective cap.

Eve stepped up to the body. She could see Morris's work, and she could see the cause of death. The autopsy wouldn't have put the tiny, neat puncture through the skin and into the heart.

"What can you tell me?"

"That the toast will always fall jelly-side down."

"I'll put that in my file. The heart wound do the trick?"

"It did indeed. Very quick, very neat. A stiletto, an old-fashioned ice pick or similar weapon. He wanted no muss, no fuss."

"He? Was she sexually assaulted?"

"Using he in the general sense. No sexual assault. A few minor bruises, which may have been caused during transport. No muss, no fuss," he repeated. "He bandaged the wound. I've got traces of adhesive around it. A nice, neat circle. Probably NuSkin, which he removed when he was done. And this." He turned Rachel's hand, palm up. "Small round abrasion. Most likely from a pressure syringe."

"She doesn't look like the sort to pop illegals, and that'd be a strange place to skin pop. He injected her with something. Tranq, maybe."

"We'll see when we get the tox screen. No violence to the body but for the puncture. There are, however, very mild ligatures at the wrists, at the left knee, on the right elbow. See here."

He picked up a second pair of microgoggles.

"Restraints?" she asked as she took the goggles. "It's a funny way to restrain someone."

"We'll discuss the fun and games of bondage another time. Take a look first."

She fit on the goggles, bent over the body. She could see them now, the faint and thin lines that showed blue through the light.

"Wires of some kind," Morris said. "Not rope."

"To pose her. He used the wires to pose her. You can see the way the wire wrapped over one wrist, under the other. He folded her hands on her knee. Yeah, crossed her legs, wired her to the chair. You can't see them in the photograph, but he'd have taken that out during imaging."

She straightened, took one of the printouts from her bag. "This jibe for you with that theory?"

Morris pushed up his goggles, scanned the image. "The positioning works. So he takes pictures of the dead. That was a custom a couple of centuries ago, and it came back into fashion early this century."

"What kind of custom?"

"To pose the dead in an attitude of peace, then take their picture. People kept them in books designed for the purpose."

"It never fails to amaze me just how sick people are."

"Oh, I don't know. It was meant to comfort and remember."

"Maybe he wants to remember her," Eve mused, "but I think more, he wants to be remembered. I want her tox screen."

"Soon, my pretty. Soon."

"She didn't fight, or wasn't able to fight. So she knew him and trusted him, or she was incapacitated. Then he transported her to wherever he took this." She slid the image back in her bag. "She was either dead already, or he killed her there-I'm betting he did it there-bandaged her so she didn't bleed through the shirt, then he posed her, took his shots. He transports her again and dumps her in a recycler across the street from where she worked."

She began to pace. "So maybe her killer's from the neighborhood. Somebody who sees her every day, develops an obsession. Not sexual, but an obsession. He takes pictures of her, follows her around. He comes into the store, and she doesn't think anything of it. She's friendly. Probably knows him by name. Either that or someone from college. Familiar face, trusted face. Maybe he offers her a ride home, or a ride to school. Either way, he's got her.

"She knew his face," she murmured, looking down at Rachel, "just as well as he knew hers."





***




Mildly refreshed by a spin in the detox tube at the morgue, Eve pulled up at the curb in front of Professor Browning's high-dollar building.

"I thought teachers got paid worse than cops," she commented.

"I can do a standard run on her financials."

Eve stepped out of the car, then cocked her head and her hip as the doorman rushed over.

"I'm afraid you can't leave… that here."

"That is an official vehicle. This," she added, flipping it out, "is a badge. Since I'm going in there, on police business, that stays out here."

"There's a parking facility very nearby. I'd be happy to direct you."

"What you're going to do is open the door, go inside with me, and inform Professor Browning that Lieutenant Dallas, NYPSD, is here to speak with her. After that, you can come out here and direct people to Morocco for all I care. Clear?"

It appeared to be as he scuttled to the door, coded through security. "If Professor Browning was expecting you, I should've been informed."

He was so prim and pompous about it Eve gave him a fierce grin. "You know, I've got one just like you at home. Do you guys have a club?"

He merely sniffed, and danced his fingers over a keyboard. "It's Monty, Professor. I'm sorry to disturb you, but there's a Lieutenant Dallas at the desk. She'd like clearance to come up. Yes, ma'am," he said into his earpiece. "I've seen her identification. She is accompanied by a uniformed officer. Of course, Professor."

He turned to Eve, lips so thin they could have sliced paper. "Professor Browning will see you. Please take the elevator to the fifteenth floor. You will be met."

"Thanks, Monty. How come doormen always hate me?" she asked Peabody as they moved to the elevator.

"I think they sense your disdain, like pheromones. Of course, if you told them you were married to Roarke, they'd immediately fall to their knees and worship you."

"I'd rather be feared and hated." She stepped inside. "Fifteenth floor," she ordered.





Chapter 3




The elevator opened on fifteen where a domestic droid was waiting. He had black hair slicked back over a round head, and a thin mustache over his top lip. He was dressed in a formal suit, the kind Eve had seen characters wear in some of Roarke's old videos. It had a jacket with a short front and long tails at the back, and the shirt beneath looked stiff and impossibly white.

"Lieutenant Dallas, Officer," he said in a fruity voice, heavy on the Brit. "Might I trouble you for identification?"

"Sure." Eve pulled out her badge, watched a thin red line shoot through the droid's eyes as he scanned it. "You're top-line security?"

"I am a multifunction unit, Lieutenant." With a slight bow, he offered the badge back to her. "Please follow me."

He stepped back to let them exit the elevator. There was a kind of lobby, or entrance area with white marble floor tiles, glossy antiques topped with urns that were elegant with flowers.

There was a tall white statue of a nude woman, with her head tipped back and her hands in her hair as if she were washing it. There were artfully arranged flowers at her feet.

On the walls were framed images-photographic and multi-media. Additional nudes, Eve noticed, that were more romantic than erotic. Lights of filmy draper and diffused light.

He opened another set of doors and bowed them into the apartment.

Thoughapartment. Eve mused, was a poor word for it. The living area was enormous, full of color and flowers and soft, soft fabrics. More art decorated the walls here as well.

She noted wide doorways right and left, another leading down the side of the room and calculated that Browning and Brightstar didn't live on the fifteenth floor. Theywere the fifteenth floor.

"Please be seated," the droid told them. "Professor Browning will be right with you. And might I offer you some refreshment?"

"We're fine, thanks."

"Family money," Peabody said out of the side of her mouth when they were left alone. "Both of them, but Brightstar's seriously loaded. Not Roarke loaded, but she can roll naked in it without worrying. Angela Brightstar'sthe Brightstar of Brightstar Gallery on Madison. Swank artsy joint. I went to a showing there once with Charles."

Eve stepped up to a painting that was slashes of color, lumps of texture. "How come people don't paint houses or something? You know, stuff that's real?"

"Reality is all perception."

Leeanne Browning entered. You couldn't say she came in, Eve thought. When a woman was a good six feet tall, lushly built, and draped in a glistening robe of silver, she entered.

Her hair was a long fall of sunlight to her waist, her face equally striking with its wide mouth and deeply indented top lip. Her long nose tipped up at the end, and her wide eyes were a vivid shade of purple.

Eve recognized her as the model for the white statue in the entrance area.

"Excuse my appearance." She smiled in the way a woman smiled when she knew she made an impression. "I was posing for my companion. Why don't we sit, have something cool, and you can tell me what brings the police to my door."

"You have a student. Rachel Howard?"

"I have a number of students." She arranged herself on a poppy colored sofa, as cannily, Eve thought, as the art was arranged on the wall. And for the same purpose.Look at me, and admire. "But yes," she continued, "I know Rachel. She's the sort of student who is easily remembered. Such a bright young thing, and eager to learn. Though she's only taking my course as a filler, she does good work."

Her smile was lazy. "I hope she's not in any trouble-though I must admit, I think it's a pity if young girls don't get in some trouble now and then."

"She's in a great deal of trouble, Professor Browning. She's dead."

The smile vanished as Leeanne pushed herself straight. "Dead? But how did this happen? She's just a child. Was there an accident?"

"No. When did you see her last?"

"At class, last night. God, I can't quite think." She pressed her fingers to her temple. "Rodney! Rodney, bring us something… something cold. I'm sorry, I'm so very sorry to hear this."

The flirtation, the smug female arrogance was gone now. Her hand dropped into her lap, then lifted helplessly. "I can't believe it. I honestly can't believe it. You're certain it's Rachel Howard?"

"Yes. What was your relationship with her?"

"She was a student. I saw her once a week, and she attended a workshop I give the second Saturday of each month. I liked her. She was, as I said, bright and eager. A pretty young thing with her life ahead of her. The sort you see on campus year after year, but she was just a little brighter, just a bit more eager and appealing. God, this is horrible. Was it a mugging? A boyfriend?"

"Did she have a boyfriend?"

"I don't know. I really didn't know very much about her personal life. A young man picked her up after class once, I recall. She was often in a clutch of young people-she was the sort who was. But I did notice her with another boy on campus a couple of times-that struck me because they looked so striking together. The Young American Hope. Thank you, Rodney," she said as the droid set a tray with three glasses of frothy pink liquid on the table.

"Is there anything else, madam?"

"Yes, would you tell Ms. Brightstar I need her."

"Of course."

"Do you remember her mentioning anyone named Diego?"

"No. Honestly, we were not confidantes. She was a student, one I noticed particularly because of her looks and her vitality. But I don't know what she did outside of class."

"Professor, can you tell me what you did last night, after class?"

There was a hesitation, and a sigh. "I suppose that's the sort of thing you need to ask." She picked up her glass. "I came straight home, so I'd have gotten here about nine-twenty. Angie and I had a late supper, talked about work. I had no classes today, so we stayed up until nearly one. We listened to music, we made love, we went to sleep. We didn't get up this morning until after ten. Neither of us has been out today. It's so bloody hot, and she's working in the studio."

She shifted, held out a hand as Angela Brightstar came into the room. She wore a blue smock that fell to mid-calf and was a rainbow of paint splotches. Her hair was a curling mass, the color of port wine, and currently bundled on top of her hair and anchored with a trailing scarf.

Her face was delicate, fine-boned with a pink, doll-like mouth and vague gray eyes. Her body seemed very small and lost inside the baggy smock.

"Angie, one of my students was killed."

"Oh, sweetheart." Angie took her hand, and despite the paint splotches, sat beside her. "Who was it? How did it happen?"

"A young girl, I'm sure I mentioned her to you. Rachel Howard."

"I don't know. I'm so bad with names." She brought Leeanne's hand to her cheek, rubbed it there. "You're the police?" she asked Eve.

"Yes. Lieutenant Dallas."

"Now see, I know that name. I've been puzzling over it since Monty called up, but I can't put it in the right slot. Do you paint?"

"No. Ms. Brightstar, would you verify what time Professor Browning got home last night?"

"I'm not very good with time either. Nine-thirty?" she looked at Leeanne for confirmation. "Somewhere around there."

There was no motive here, Eve thought, no vibe-at least not yet. Curious, she opened her bag, selected one of the candid shots of Rachel.

"What do you think of this, Professor Browning?"

"It's Rachel."

"Oh, what a pretty girl," Angie said. "What a nice smile. So young and fresh."

"Could you give me your opinion on the image itself. Professionally."

"Oh." Leeanne took a deep breath, angled her head. "It's quite good, actually. An excellent use of light, and color. Nice angles. Clean and uncluttered. It shows the subject's youth and vitality, centers that so the eye is drawn, as Angie's was, to the smile, to how fresh she is. Is that what you mean?"

"Yes. Could you set up a shot like that without the subject being aware?"

"Of course, if you have good instincts." She lowered the image. "Did the killer take this?"

"Possibly."

"She was murdered?" Angie wrapped an arm around Leeanne. "Oh, this is awful. How could anyone hurt a young, sweet girl like that?"

"Sweet?" Eve echoed.

"Just look at her face-look at her eyes." Angie shook her head. "You can tell. You can look at her face and see the innocence."

As they rode back down in the elevator, Eve brought the images of Rachel into her head. As she'd been, and as he'd left her. "Maybe that's what he wanted," she murmured. "Her innocence."

"He didn't rape her."

"It wasn't sexual. It was… spiritual. Her light was pure," she remembered. "It might mean her soul. Isn't there some deal, some superstition about the camera stealing the soul?"

"I've heard that. Where are we headed now, Lieutenant?" Peabody asked.

"We're going to college."

"Icy. A lot of college guys are totally hot." She hunched her shoulders when Eve sent her a bland stare. "Just because McNab and I are in a committed, mature relationship-"

"I don't want to hear about your committed, mature anything with McNab. It gives me the creeps."

"Just because," Peabody continued, undaunted as they crossed the lobby, "doesn't mean I can't look at other guys. Any woman with eyes looks at other guys. Okay, maybe you don't because, hey, what would be the point?"

"Perhaps I should point out that we're investigating a homicide, not going off on a man-ogling spree."

"I like to multitask whenever possible. Speaking of which, maybe we could get some actual food. That way, we could investigate, feed the body, and ogle."

"There will be no ogling. Henceforth, ogling is forbidden at any and all junctures of active investigations."

Peabody pursed her lips. "You're really mean today."

"Yes. Yes, I am." Eve took a deep gulp of hideous air, and smiled. "I feel good about that."





***




The announcement of sudden, violent death drew many reactions. Tears were just one of them. By the time Eve had spoken to a half dozen of Rachel's friends and instructors at Columbia, she thought she might wash away on the sea of tears.

She sat on the side of a bed in a dorm room. The space was tight, she thought. A closet jammed with two beds, two desks, two dressers. Every flat surface was covered with what Eve thought of as mysterious girl stuff. The walls were plastered with posters and drawings, the desks with disc boxes and girl toys. The bedspreads were candy pink, the walls mint green. In fact, the whole place smelled like candy somehow and made her stomach rumble.

She should've taken Peabody 's advice on the food.

Two girls sat directly across from her, locked in each other's arms like lovers as they wept, copiously.

"It can't betrue. It can't betrue. "

She couldn't tell which one of them was wailing the words, but she did note that the longer they howled, the more dramatic their grief. She began to think they were enjoying it.

"I know this is hard, but I have to ask you some questions."

"I can't. I justcan't!"

Eve pressed the bridge of her nose to relieve some of the pressure. " Peabody, see if there's something to drink in the fridge over there."

Obediently, Peabody crouched down in front of the mini-coldbox and found several tubes of Diet Coke. She opened two, brought them over. "Here you go. Take a drink, and some deep breaths. If you want to help Rachel, you have to talk to the lieutenant. Rachel would do that for you, wouldn't she?"

"Shewould. " The little blonde didn't cry well. Her face was blotchy, her nose runny. She slurped at the soft drink. "Rach would doanything for a friend."

The brunette, Randa, was still blubbering, but she had the presence of mind to get some tissues and stuff them in her roommate's hand. "We wanted her to room with us next term. She was saving up for it. She wanted the whole, you know, college experience. And it's not so bad when you split a triple."

"She'llnever comeback. " The blonde buried her face in the tissue.

"Okay, Charlene, right?"

The girl lifted her gaze to Eve. "Charlie. Everybody calls me Charlie."

"Charlie, you need to pull it together, help us out. When did you see Rachel last?"

"We had some dinner at the cafeteria, before her Imaging class last night. I'm on the food plan, and you never eat enough to use all the credits, so I treated her."

"What time was that?"

"About six. I had a date with this guy I'm seeing, and we were hooking up at eight. So Rach and I had dinner, and she went to class. I came back here to change. And I'll never, never see her again."

" Peabody." Eve nodded toward the door.

"Okay, Charlie." Peabody patted the girl on the arm. "Why don't we go for a walk? You'll feel better if you get some air."

"I'll never feel better again. Never, never."

But she let Peabody guide her away.

When the door closed behind them, Randa blew her nose. "She can't help it. They were really tight. And Charlie's a drama major."

"Is that what she's studying, or is it just her personality?"

As Eve hoped, Randa's lips trembled into a smile. "Both. But, I don't feel like I'll ever get over this either. I don't feel like I'll ever think about anything else."

"You will. You won't forget it, but you'll get through it. I know you and Charlie, and a lot of the other people I've talked to, liked Rachel."

"You just had to." Randa sniffed. "She was just the kind of person who lights things up. You know?"

"Yes," Eve agreed. "Sometimes people are jealous of someone like that. Or they dislike them because of what they are inside. Can you think of anyone who felt that way about Rachel?"

"I really can't. I mean, she only went here part-time, but she made a lot of friends. She was smart. Really smart, but she didn't geek."

"Anybody who wanted to be a better friend than she did?"

"Oh, like a guy?" Randa drew a breath now. The tears were drying up as her mind became occupied. "She dated around. She didn't sleep around. She was really firm about not giving it out until she was good and ready. If a guy pushed, she'd turn it around into a joke until they got to be friends, or if that didn't work, she'd walk away."

"She ever mention somebody named Diego?"

"Oh, him." Randa wrinkled her nose. "God's gift, Latino type, hooked onto her at the club. She went to dinner with him once, some Mex restaurant hesaid he owned. He tried to put the moves on her, wasn't too happy when she deflected. Came by campus once and got a little hot because she laughed him off. That was a few months ago, I guess."

"Got a last name for him?"

"No. Um, short guy, too much hair, soul patch. Always wearing those cow-kicker boots with little heels. But he could dance."

"Anybody else try to put the moves on her?"

"Well, there was Hoop. Jackson Hooper. He's a TA, ah teacher assistant-English Lit. Another one of those God's gifts, but whitebread style. He racks girls up like pool balls, and Rachel wouldn't play. He came on pretty strong, following her around. Not stalking her," Randa qualified. "Just being where she was a lot, and making plays. We all figured it was because she was the first girl to turn him down in his life, and he didn't want to spoil his streak."

"Did he end up where she was just on campus, or did it happen elsewhere?"

"She said he came into the store where she works a couple times. Just hanging around and being charming. She got a kick out of it, actually."

"When did you see her last, Randa?"

"I didn't make dinner, had to study. She was talking about bunking here after class. She did that sometimes on her evening classes. She's not really supposed to, but nobody cared. Everyone liked having her around. But when she didn't show, we just figured she'd gone home. I didn't even think about it."

Two fresh tears trickled down her cheeks. "I didn't think about her at all. Charlie was out, and I had the room to myself. All I thought was, how nice and quiet it was so I could study. And when I was thinking that, somebody killed Rachel."





***




They tracked down Jackson Hooper at another dorm. The minute he opened the door, Eve knew word had spread. His face was a bit pale, and his lips trembled once before he firmed them into a thin line.

"You're the cops."

"Jackson Hooper? We'd like to come in and speak with you for a few minutes."

"Yeah." He dragged his hand through a tousled mop of sun-streaked hair as he stepped back.

He was tall, and he was built. The kind of body created through regular workouts or through stiff fees for body sculpting treatments. Since he was a teaching assistant, his quarters were even smaller than the ones she'd just come from, and he was probably strapped for cash, she opted for workouts.

That meant he was strong, disciplined, and motivated.

He had chiseled looks-the All-American boy-clear skin, blue eyes, firm jaw. It was easy enough to see why he'd rack up available coeds.

He dropped into the spindly chair at his desk, and gestured vaguely toward the bed. "I just heard about ten minutes ago. I was heading to class and somebody told me. I couldn't go to class."

"You dated Rachel."

"We went out a couple times." He hesitated, then rubbed his face as if coming out of a long sleep. "Somebody's already told you. Somebody's always hot to talk. I wanted to go out with her again, and yeah, I wanted her in the sack. She wasn't having any."

"That must've irritated you," Eve commented and wandered over to the framed photographs grouped on his wall. They were all of him, in various poses. A nice little pile of vanity, she thought.

"Yeah, it did. I don't have any trouble getting girls in bed. I'm good at it," he said with a shrug. "So I was a little steamed when she wouldn't go for it, then kept turning me down when I asked her out. More, I was like, well, baffled. Hey." He flashed a white, straight-toothed smile as he gestured toward the photographs. "Prime merchandise."

"But Rachel wasn't buying it."

"Nope. So I was steamed, and I was baffled. But then, you know, I was interested. Like, what was it going to take. And what was it with this girl anyway? So I got hooked." He lowered his head into his hands. "Fuck."

"You followed her around."

"Like a pet droid. I'd find out she was going to a club, or heading to the library, whatever, and I'd be there. I trotted over to the place she worked just to talk to her. Borrowed my roommate's scooter so I could talk her into letting me take her home a couple times. She'd let me. I didn't worry her one damn bit."

"Did you fight with her?"

"I shot off my mouth a few times. She'd just laugh, then what could you do? Another girl would've told me to screw myself, but she'd just laugh. I think maybe I was in love with her." He dropped his hands. "I think maybe I was. How do you know?"

"Where were you last night, Hoop?"

"I was going to catch her after her class, see if I could talk her into a cup of coffee, or some pizza. Something. But I got hung up. A couple of the guys got into a shoving match, and I had to break it up. She was gone when I got over there. I beat it to the subway, figuring maybe I could catch her there, and when I didn't I took it over to her place in Brooklyn. But the light wasn't on in her room. She always turns the light on in her room when she gets home. I hung around maybe an hour-I don't know. Went and had a beer, walked back, still didn't see her light. Then I said what the fuck, and came back here."

"What time did you get back?"

"I don't know, close to midnight, I guess."

"Anybody see you?"

"I don't know. I was irritated and feeling sorry for myself. I didn't talk to anybody."

"What about your roommate?"

"He's banging a girl off campus. He's there more than here. He wasn't around when I got in. I didn't hurt Rachel. I didn't hurt her."

"Where'd you have the beer?"

"Some bar-a couple blocks up from the subway over there." He gestured vaguely to indicate Brooklyn. "I don't know the name."

"These pictures look professional," Eve commented.

"What? Oh yeah. I do some modeling. It's good money. I'm writing a play. That's what I want to be-a playwright. You have to live pretty lean to make it. So I pick up coin where I can. TA, dorm monitor, modeling. I got certified as an LC last year, but it's not what I thought it would be. I never figured sex could be work-and boring."

"Got a camera?"

"Yeah, somewhere. Why?"

"I wondered if you liked to take pictures, too."

"I don't see why… oh Rachel, her Imaging class." He smiled a little. "I should've thought of that one. As TA I could've monitored that class, hung out with her." The smile faded. "I'd've been there last night when class ended. I'd've been with her."





***




"Keep him on the short list," Eve told Peabody as they headed back to the car. "He had motive, means, and opportunity. We'll run him a little deeper, see if anything pops."

"He seemed really torn up about it."

"Yeah, really torn up over a girl who laughed at him, who wouldn't fall at his feet begging for his pretty penis, and who let her friends know she'd turned him down."

She slid into the car. "He's got an ego the size of Saturn, and as a model potential knowledge of photography, and access to the necessary equipment. He knew where she lived, where she worked, he knew her movements and habits. She trusted him because she believed she could handle him. So we'll take a good, long look at him."

She headed back to Central to tie up loose ends. The tox report on Rachel Howard was waiting for her. At least she hadn't known what was done to her, Eve thought as she scanned it. Not with all those opiates in her system.

So he'd tranq'd her, she thought, leaning back in her desk chair. Before transport, or during? Either way, he had a vehicle. Or he'd lured her somewhere. An apartment, a studio. Had to be private. Then he'd slipped her the drugs.

If it was the last scenario, she'd known him. She was too smart to be lured by a stranger.

She was his first, he'd said. But he'd been well prepared. Step by step. Selecting, observing, recording. Youth and vitality, she thought. He'd wanted to own them. And her innocence.

She'd walked out of class at nine. Had he waited for her? She spotted him, flashed that smile. Maybe he offered her a ride home, but she turned him down.Going to study with pals, but thanks. A couple of her classmates had verified that. She told them she was going to stay on campus, study with some friends.

He couldn't afford to be seen, so how had he lured her?

Staged the run-in, she decided. He was good at staging. Maybe he's on foot. Easy to meld and blend. But he has to make her take a detour, has to get her into his vehicle. Can't take a chance on public transportation.

He wants her face in the media-his image-so he knows she could be recognized after the murder. And he could be described. So, no subway, no buses, no cabs. Private vehicle.

But why did she go with him?

She began to write her report, hoping that some of the facts she put in would trip over into theory.

Her desk 'link beeped.

" Dallas." Captain Feeney's hangdog face slid onto the screen. Noting the crumbs at the corner of his mouth, she leaned closer to the 'link.

"You got danishes up there?"

"No." He swiped the back of his hand over his mouth. "Not anymore."

"How come EDD always rates pastries and stuff? Murder cops need sugar substitute the same as the rest."

"We are the elite, what can I say. We're finished with Nadine's 'link."

"And?"

"Nothing that's going to help much. He transmitted the images and text from a public comp at one of those dance, drink, and data joints. Transmitted it just after six hundred hours, but he shot it out earlier, with a hold. Shot it out about two. Straight job-he didn't bounce it around. Either he doesn't know how, or he didn't give two shits. Those places are crawling that time of night. Nobody's going to remember some guy who popped in for a brew and used a 'link."

"We'll check it out anyway. Location?"

"Place called Make The Scene."

"Pop."

"Mean something?"

"It's a club she frequented. Thanks. Quick work."

"That's why we're the elite, and get danishes."

"Bite me," she muttered and cut him off.

She swung into the bullpen. There were no danishes, she noted. There weren't even crumbs. She'd have to settle for a Power Bar from vending or take a chance on the food at the data club.

Surely it couldn't be worse than a Power Bar.

" Peabody, we're in the field."

"I was just about to have this sandwich." She held up a wrapped lump.

"Then you should be thrilled to be able to demonstrate those multitasking skills. Eat and roll."

"This is bad for the digestion," Peabody replied, but she stuffed the sandwich in her bag, grabbed her tube of OrangeAde.

"EDD's got the location of the transmission to Nadine."

"I know. McNab told me."

Eve pushed through the crowd on the elevator and studied her aide's face. "I just got off the 'link with Feeney, his superior-as I am yours. So why is it my aide and his detective are chatting about the information in my investigation?"

"It just happened to come up-between kissy noises." She smiled, pleased when Eve's eye twitched. "And sexual innuendos."

"As soon as this case is closed, I'm putting in for a new aide-one who has no sexual drive whatsoever-and transferring you to Files."

"Aw. Now that you've hurt my feelings, I'm not inclined to share my sandwich."

Eve held out for ten seconds. "What kind is it?"

"Mine."

It was also some sort of fake ham drowned in fake mayo. Eve was forced to shift to auto on the trip, then grab Peabody 's tube of OrangeAde to try to wash down the two bites she scrounged. "Christ, how do you drink this crap?"

"I happen to think it's refreshing, and find it goes very well with the shortbread cookies I have for dessert." She took the tiny package out of her bag and made a production out of opening it.

"Give me a goddamn cookie, or I'll hurt you. You know I can."

"My fear is almost as great as my love for you, Lieutenant."

Eve found a slot on the second level, curbside, and zipped up the ramp at a speed and angle that had Peabody 's lunch lurching dangerously in her belly.

Delicately, Eve brushed cookie crumbs off her shirt. "Smartasses always pay."

"You never do," Peabody said under her breath.





Chapter 4




In the daylight hours, the action at data clubs whittled down to the geeks and nerds who thought they were living on the edge by hanging in a joint that offered a holoband and sports screens.

The stations were silver, and so small, so crammed together that even the shyest nerd was virtually guaranteed a free feel of a neighboring butt during peak hours.

The holoband was in mellow mode, with soft guitars and whispering keyboard with the vocals going for plaintive croon. The girl singer was dressed in black to match her glossy skin. The only spot of color was her stoplight red hair that fell over most of her face while she murmured something about broken hearts and minds.

The clientele was primarily male, primarily solo, and since no one looked distressed or interested in Peabody 's uniform, Eve figured a sweep of the place wouldn't net an Illegals hound enough of a cache to fill a dwarf's pocket.

She made her way to the sluggishly circling central bar.

There were two servers, a human male and a female droid. Eve opted for the one that breathed.

His dress was trendy-the loose shirt in sunset colors, the small army of multicolored loops riding up the curve of his left ear, the crop of spikes in the crown of his ordinary brown hair.

His shoulders were wide, his arms long. There was a sturdiness about him that told her he had a few years on the afternoon clientele. His face was white, edging toward pasty.

She pegged him at mid- to late twenties, probably a grad student, a shaky step up from geekdom, earning his tuition by manning the stick and chatting up the patrons.

He stopped playing with the small computer set on the bar and offered her an absent smile. "What can I do for you?"

Eve set her badge and the smiling image of Rachel Howard on the bar. "You recognize her?"

He used a fingertip to nudge the image closer and gave it the earnest study that told her he was fairly new at the job. "Well, sure. That's, ah, shoot. Rebecca, Roseanne, no… Rachel? I'm pretty good with names. I think it's Rachel. She's in here most every week. Likes, ah, whatzit?" He closed his eyes. "Toreadors-orange juice, lime juice, a shot of grenadine. She's not in trouble, is she?"

"Yeah, she's in trouble. You remember the names and the drinks of all the patrons here?"

"The regulars, sure. Well, especially the pretty girl regulars. She's got a great face, and she's friendly."

"When was the last time she was here?"

"I don't know, exactly. This is one of my part-time jobs. But the last time I remember being here and seeing her was maybe last Friday? I work the six to midnight on Friday. Hey, look, she never caused any trouble in here. She just comes in now and then with some friends. They grab a station, listen to tunes, dance, keyboard. She's a nice girl."

"You ever notice anyone hassling her?"

"Not so much. Like I said, she's a pretty girl. Sometimes guys would hit on her. Sometimes she'd hit back, sometimes she'd blow them off. But nice. Things get zipping in here after nine, especially weekends. You get the cruisers, but this one always came in with a friend, or a group. She wasn't looking for a one-nighter. You can tell."

"Uh-huh. You know a guy named Diego?"

"Ah…" He looked blank for a moment, then drew his eyebrows together in concentration. "I think I know who you mean. Little guy, cruiser. Likes to strut around. Got some good moves on the dance floor and he's always flush, so he didn't leave alone very often."

"Did he ever leave with Rachel?"

"Shit." He winced. "Sorry. Not her type. She flicked him off. Danced with him. She'd dance with anybody, but she wasn't after that kind of action. Maybe he tried to put the squeeze on her a few times, now that you mention it, but it wasn't a big deal. No more than Joe College."

"Joe?"

"Big, good-looking college guy used to shadow her in here sometimes. All-American looking guy. Got kinda broody when she'd be up there dancing with somebody else."

"You gotta name?"

"Sure." He looked more baffled than nervous. "Steve. Steve Audrey."

"You're an observant sort, aren't you, Steve?"

"Well, yeah. You work the bar, you see everything once. Probably twice. It's sort of like watching a play or something every day, but you get paid for it."

Oh yeah, he was new at this, Eve thought. "You got security cams?"

"Sure." He glanced up. "When they're working. Not that they show much once the place gets jumping. Light show hits at nine, when the music changes, and everything starts flashing and rolling. But we don't have much trouble here anyway. It's mostly college kids and data freaks. They come in to hang, to dance, keyboard, do some imaging."

"Imaging."

"Sure we got six imaging booths. You know, where you can cram in with your pals and take goofy shots, then mug them up on a comp. We don't have an X license, so it's got to be clean. No privacy rooms either. What I'm saying is, the place gets busy, but it's still low-key. Tips suck, but it's pretty easy work."

"I'm going to need to see the discs for the last twenty-four hours."

"Gee. I don't know if I can do that. I mean, I just work here. I think you have to talk to the manager or something, and he's not here until seven. Um… Officer-"

"Lieutenant."

"Lieutenant, I just work the bar, mostly days, maybe twenty hours a week. I talk up the customers, give them a hand if they have trouble with the stations or booths. I don't have any authority."

"I do." She tapped her badge. "I can get a warrant, and we can call in your manager. Or you can give me the discs, for which I'll give you an official NYPSD receipt. All that will take time, and I don't like wasting time when I'm on a murder investigation."

"Murder?" His white face lost even the hint of color. "Somebody's dead? Who? Oh man, oh man, not Rachel." His fingers inched away from the picture that remained on the bar, and crawled up to his throat. "She'sdead?"

"You ever have anything but sports on-screen here?"

"What? Ah, music vids after nine."

"I guess you don't watch much news."

"Hardly ever. It's depressing."

"You got that right. Rachel's body was found early this morning. She was killed last night." Eve leaned companionably on the bar. "Where were you last night, Steve?"

"Me?Me?" Terror rippled across his face. "I wasn't anywhere. I mean, sure, I was somewhere. Everybody's somewhere. I was here until about nine, and just went on home-got a pizza on the way, then watched some screen. I'd put in eight on the stick, and just wanted to flake, you know? I'll get you the discs, you'll see I was here."

He dashed off.

"Pizzaand screen doesn't alibi him for Rachel Howard," Peabody pointed out.

"No. But it's getting me the discs."





***




It was only two hours past end of shift when Eve drove through the gates toward home. She considered it a major accomplishment. Of course, she calculated she had at least two more hours to put in before she called it a day, but she'd be putting in the time from her home office.

The house looked its best in summer, she thought, then immediately shook her head. Hell, it looked its best at every season, at any time of the day or night. But there was something to be said about the way that rambling elegance of stone showed itself off against a summer blue sky. With the rolling sea of green grass surrounding it, the splashes and pools of color from the gardens, the lush shade spilling along the ground from the trees, it was a miracle of privacy and comfort in the middle of the urban landscape.

A far cry from a downtown recycle bin.

She parked, as was her habit, in front of the house, then simply sat, drumming her fingers on the wheel. Summerset wouldn't be lurking in the foyer, ready with some sarcastic observation about her being late. She wouldn't be able to jab back at him, which was just a little annoying now that she thought about it.

And he wasn't there to be irritated by her leaving her car in front instead of stowing it in the garage. It almost compelled her to put it away herself.

But there was no need to get crazy.

She left it where it was, trudged through the smothering heat, and into the glorious cool of home.

She'd nearly turned to the monitor to ask Roarke's location when she caught the faint drift of music. Following it, she found him in the parlor.

He sat in one of the plush antique chairs he favored, a glass of wine in his hand, his eyes closed. It was so rare to see him completely shut down, she felt a little twist under her heart. Then his eyes opened, that shock of blue, and when he smiled the pressure released again.

"Hello, Lieutenant."

"How's it going?"

"Better than it was. Wine?"

"Sure. I'll get it." She crossed over to the bottle he'd left on the table, poured a glass for herself. "Been home long?"

"I haven't, no. A few minutes."

"Did you eat?"

His eyebrows arched, the eyes beneath warming with humor. "I did, if one considers what's available at the hospital edible. And you?"

"I caught something, and yours couldn't have been worse than what I can get at Central. So you went by to see Mr. Grace and Agility?"

"He sends you equally fond thoughts." Roarke sipped his wine, watched her over the rim. Waited.

"Okay, okay." She dropped into a chair. "How's he doing?"

"Well enough for someone who fell down a flight of steps this morning. Which he wouldn't have done if he'd use the flaming elevator. Snapped his fucking leg like a twig, ripped bloody hell out of his shoulder. Well."

He closed his eyes again, tapped his fingers on the arm of his chair. Opened his eyes again. And made her wonder if he went through that same routine when he was settling down after dealing with what he liked to call one of her "snits."

"Well. They've got the leg in a skin cast and brace, and tell me it'll fuse like new. A clean break. The shoulder's likely to trouble him longer. He's sixty-eight. I couldn't remember that this morning. You'd think he'd use the elevator when he's got an armload of something or other. And why he'd bother with linens when he should've been getting himself out the door for holiday is another that's beyond me."

"Because he's a stubborn, tight-assed son of a bitch who has to do everything himself, and his way?"

Roarke let out a half-laugh and drank more wine. "Well, so he is."

And you love him,Eve thought.He's your father in every way that counts.

"So, you're bringing him home tomorrow."

"I am. My ears are still ringing from his annoyance that he isn't home tonight. You'd think I'd locked him in a snake pit rather than seeing he's in a private suite at the best medical facility in the goddamn city. Fuck me, I should be used to that sort of thing."

She pursed her lips when he shoved out of the chair and headed back to the wine bottle. "I guess you bitch to him about how I complain when you dump me in a health center. Maybe the two of us can arrange for you to have some hospital time. Then Summerset and I will finally bond."

"What a happy day that'll be."

"Had a crappy day, haven't you, ace?" She set her glass aside and rose.

"Tomorrow promises to be just as delightful. He's not happy with the idea of having a medical aide in-house here for the next week or so."

"Can't blame him. He's feeling stupid, uncomfortable, and pissed off. So he kicks at you, because he loves you best." She took the glass from Roarke's hand, set it down. "That's what I do."

"From the bruises on my ass, both of you must love me desperately."

"I guess I do." She linked her arms around his neck, fit her body to his. "Why don't I show you?"

"Are you taking my mind off my poor mood?"

"I don't know." She rubbed her lips over his. "Am I?"

"Well." He gripped her hips, pressed her closer. "Things are looking up."

She snickered, and bit him. "We're all alone. What should we do first?"

"Let's try something we haven't before."

She eased back to study him. "If we haven't done it yet, it must not be anatomically possible."

"You've such a gutter mind." He kissed the top of her nose. "I love that about you." He drew her back to him. "I was thinking of dancing in the parlor."

"Hmm," she decided as she swayed with him. "It's not bad. For starters. Of course, in my earlier fantasy, we were naked while we were dancing."

"We'll get there." Relaxing, making the effort to relax, he brushed his cheek over her hair. This was what he needed, he thought. She was what he needed. To hold onto. To sink into. "I haven't asked about your day."

She was drifting now, on the music, on the moves. "About as crappy as yours."

She'd wanted to ask him about Browning and Brightstar. He probably knew them, or of them. They were the sort he'd know, and in a way that might give her an edge on them. But it could wait. She'd just let it wait until she didn't feel all this tension balled inside him.

"I'll tell you later."

She rubbed her cheek to his, then skimmed her lips there, teasing her way to his mouth. With a long, low sound of pleasure, she trailed her fingers into his hair and used her lips, her teeth, her tongue, to seduce.

The worries of the day slid away as she filled him. The warmth with its promise of heat, the lazy desire that was sure to turn to urgency. While he guided her in small circles, she led him in this more intimate dance with kisses that drugged the mind, with hands that aroused the body.

As her mouth became more demanding, she tugged the jacket off his shoulders, then raked her short nails up the back of his shirt.

He could feel the music, a kind of rising pulse inside him as he tasted the flesh of her throat. What beat inside him beat for her, and always would. Her fingers were busy now with the buttons of his shirt even as he shoved her own jacket down her arms.

She shook herself free of it before clamping her teeth, small, nibbling bites, on his bare shoulder.

"You're getting ahead of me," he managed.

"Keep up." Nimble and quick, she unhooked his trousers and closed her hand over him.

His blood surged, stealing his breath so that he fumbled with her weapon harness. Though he hit the release, the strap tangled with her half-open shirt. "Bloody hell."

Her laugh was muffled against his mouth, and her hands were ruthless.

She could feel his heart raging against hers now, just as she could feel his struggle for control. But she'd make him lose control this time, until he thought of nothing but her, felt nothing but that burn in the blood.

She knew how the need would build in him-in her-gathering fast and hot, as painful as a fresh bruise, spreading until the system screamed for release.

That was what he brought her, what they brought each other.

They dragged each other to the floor, rolling over the rug as they pulled and tugged at clothes, as hands rushed over damp flesh and mouth sought mouth.

She wanted him wild, mindless, raging, and knew his body-its weaknesses, its strength-well enough to exploit both. She waged power against power and felt a fresh spurt of excitement when his breath caught on her name.

His hands were rough, she wanted them rough, as they raced over her. His mouth was hot, voracious when it closed over her breast.

Feeding, he fed her so that even as she flew over that first whippy edge, she could crave more.

When he clamped his hands over her wrists to still her hands, she didn't struggle. She would let him believe he had the control, let him take and take until he thought them both sated. She arched, offering herself to that greedy mouth, and absorbed every shattering thrill.

And when she felt him brace to plunge inside her, she rolled-quick as a snake-and reversed their positions. Now her hands cuffed his wrists, and her body pinned his.

"What's your hurry?"

His eyes were madly blue, his breath in tatters. "Christ, Eve."

"You'll just have to wait till I'm done with you."

Her mouth crushed down on his.

His system was one raw nerve, and she scraped pleasure over it without mercy. His skin was slick with sweat, his heart a painful hammer blow against his ribs, his blood already screaming in his ears. And still she used him.

He heard himself say her name again, again, then lost his own words in a frantic spate of Gaelic that might have been prayers, might have been curses.

When she rose over him, her skin gleaming in the last red lights of the dying sun, he was beyond any speech.

Now her fingers linked with his, and she took him in.

She bowed back, her body a slim and lovely arch of energy, and it shuddered, shuddered, as his did. Then she shifted her gaze, fixed her eyes on his. And rode.

He lost his senses, lost his mind as she drove him. Sensations pounded him, too hard, too fast for any defense. As his vision dimmed, he could see her face, and those dark eyes focused so intently on him.

Then he went blind as the pleasure shot through him, a hot bullet, and he emptied himself into her.

They were both still quivering when she slid down to collapse in a sweaty heap beside him on the floor. He could hear, as the roaring in his ears began to subside, her wheezing gasps for air.

It was good to know he wasn't the only one who'd been knocked breathless.

"It's gone dark," he managed.

"Your eyes are closed."

He blinked, just to make sure. "No. It's dark."

She grunted, and still wheezing, flipped to her back. "Oh yeah, it is."

"Funny, with all the beds in this house how often we end up on the floor."

"It's more spontaneous, and primitive." She shifted to rub her butt. "And harder."

"It's all of that. Should I thank you for doing your wifely duty?"

"I object to any term that contains the word 'wifely,' but you can thank me for fucking your brains out."

"Yes, indeed." His heart was still knocking, but he nearly had his wind back. "Thanks for that."

"No problem." She stretched, luxuriously. "I've got to go grab a shower, and put in some time on the case I caught today." She waited two full beats. "Maybe you'd like to give me a hand."

He said nothing for a moment, just continued to contemplate the ceiling. "I must have looked fairly pitiful when you came home. I get sweaty, burn up the carpet sex, and now you voluntarily decide to ask me for help on a case. What would be another word for 'wifely'?"

"Just watch it, pal."

When she sat up, he ran a hand affectionately up her back. "Darling Eve. I'd be happy to give you a hand in the shower, but then I've got some work of my own to see to. This business today's put me behind. But maybe you could tell me about it before we go our separate ways for the next couple hours."

"College girl, part-time clerk at a 24/7," she began as she rose to gather up scattered clothes. "Somebody killed her with a single stab to the heart late last night, and crammed her body into a recycle bin on Delancey, across from where she worked."

"Cold."

"It gets colder."

She told him of the images, the tip to Nadine, as they went upstairs to shower. It helped, she'd discovered, to run through the steps and stages of a case out loud, particularly with an audience who picked up on the nuances.

Roarke never missed a nuance.

"Someone she knew, and trusted," he said.

"Almost has to be. She didn't put up a fight."

"Someone who blends at the college," he added, grabbing a towel. "So if he or she was seen loitering, nothing would be thought of it."

"He-or she-is careful." Out of habit, she stepped into the drying tube and let the warm air swirl. "Methodical," she added, raising her voice. "Tidy. A planner. Mira's going to tell me, when she profiles, that the killer probably holds a job, pays bills in a timely fashion, doesn't make trouble. Has a knack with imaging, so I'm betting it's either a serious hobby or a profession."

"There's something you haven't said," he added as Eve stepped out of the tube. "You haven't said he's already looking for his second."

"Because he's not." She scooped a hand through her hair as she walked into the bedroom. "He's already picked number two. He's already got the first images locked."

She chose ancient gray pants and a sleeveless tank. "The data club might be a trolling spot. I'll see what I find on the security discs and the employee files." She glanced over her shoulders. "You don't happen to own Make The Scene."

"Doesn't ring," he said easily as he put on a fresh shirt. "I've a few data clubs around the city, but most of mine are close to schools or on campus. More traffic, i.e., more profit."

"Hmm. Did you ever go to college?"

"No. School and I had a poor relationship."

"Neither did I. I can't relate. It's like another planet. I'm worried I'll miss something there, if there's anything there, because I can't relate. I mean, take this professor. Why is she teaching Imaging classes? She doesn't need the money, and if she wants to work in Imaging, why not just do that?"

"Those who can't, teach. Isn't there some saying along those lines?"

She gave him a blank look. "If you can't do something, how the hell can you teach somebody else to do it?"

"I haven't the vaguest idea. It may be she enjoys teaching. People do."

"God knows why. People asking questions all the time, looking at you for the answers, for approval, whatever. Dealing with fuck-ups and smartasses and pompous jerks. And all so they can go off and get jobs that pay more than you make to teach them how to get the jobs in the first place."

"Some might say very similar things about cops." He gave the dent in her chin a quick flick with his fingertip. "If you're still at it when I'm done, I'll give you a hand."

She fixed a smirk on her face. "If you're still at it when I'm done, I'll give you a hand."

"That's a very nasty threat."





***




In her office, Eve headed straight to the kitchen and the AutoChef to order up coffee. At her desk, she loaded the discs from the data club, then absently picked up the statue of the goddess Peabody 's mother had given her.

Maybe it would bring her luck, she thought, and setting it down again, ordered the disc images on screen.

She spent the first hour threading her way though the disc, studying the crowd, the movement. The lighting was poor, dim in corners, harsh and jerky on the dance floor. If she needed to ID anyone specifically, she'd probably need the EDD magicians to clean it up. But for now what she saw was a young crowd, mixing, mingling, cruising.

As advertised Steve Audrey was at the bar until nine when the light show burst in