Home > Obsession in Death (In Death #40)(8)

Obsession in Death (In Death #40)(8)
J.D. Robb

“This may have been planned for some time, considered, studied. We may find Bastwick said something, publicly, or something offhand that was overheard, about you that triggered this person’s disgust more recently. Not rage, not yet.”

Eve looked toward the murder board again. “But that could come. Bastwick was also a prominent woman in her field. This might be a reason for the choice. This was a well-planned killing, and well-controlled. Goal-oriented. And one that was committed in hopes, I believe, of some acknowledgment. If it had been a selfless act – as the message attempts to convey – there would have been no message.” She looked back at Mira for confirmation. “Right? You do somebody a favor and mean it, you don’t want the glory from it.”

“No, not if it’s genuine. This was done looking for a return. From you.”

“The killer wants my attention, I get that. If I don’t give it, he’ll escalate. If I do… he’s going to kill again anyway. He liked it. Plus, if someone’s the object of your… affection, for lack of better, don’t you want to keep giving?”

“Yes, but you always want appreciation, acknowledgment, even reciprocation. Eve, you want some sort of return.”

“Either way I handle this – unless we’re all wrong and it was really about Bastwick – he’s not finished. If I stay on it, there’s a better chance I can stop him, I might be able to calculate who might be next.”

“Eventually you’ll be next. Eventually you’ll disappoint him, and he’ll feel betrayed by you. Idols always fall, Eve.”

“I’d be next at some point anyway.”

Mira said nothing, just sat for a moment, sipping at her tea. “If this had been a taunt – a catch-me-if-you-can sort of communication, I’d be less concerned. But this isn’t a contest. This was a kind of offering.”

She breathed in, set the cup aside. “I’ll analyze the correspondence myself. We’ll look for a repeater. Someone who’s written or tried to contact you in some way multiple times. Someone who sees, and it will show, a relationship with you. This may have also escalated through the correspondence.

“I haven’t read Peabody’s report as concisely as I must,” Mira admitted. “But what I did read indicates the killer was very controlled, very careful, had previous knowledge of the victim’s security and habits. So he studied her, stalked her, or is in some way privy to her habits. He’s also studied you, and while he wants your attention, he does not wish to be caught or stopped. ‘Your true and loyal friend,’ ” Mira said. “Indicates he believes he is, and that he is the only one capable or willing to stand up for you. Roarke should be careful.”

“Roarke?”

“Your husband didn’t punish this woman who showed you disrespect. How can he be worthy of you?”

“If you think he’d target Roarke —”

“Not yet,” Mira interrupted, “but eventually he may. He may be compelled to eliminate those close to you in order to feel closer to you himself. For now, it’s an enemies list – if he has one. But I promise you, he knows those you love, your friends. Your partner.”

Eve rose again. “Peabody? My men? Mavis – God, the baby?” She hadn’t gone there, hadn’t considered. And now that she did… “I’ll pass the investigation on. I’ll step back. Step out.”

“No.” Mira shook her head. “You were right, I was wrong. Stepping back wouldn’t change his motives, and might even escalate his needs. You’ll have to be very careful how you react in any public way, what you say that can and will be reported in the media. He’ll hang on your every word, your every gesture. And his feelings about those words, about those gestures, will be his truth. You’re not just the primary investigator, Eve, not merely connected to the victim in this person’s mind. You’re a target.”

“I need to protect the people around me,” Eve said – and Mira, she thought, was one of them. “So I’d better get to work.”

3

A reverent hush lay over the law offices. Eve supposed when one of the partners had been murdered by someone she might have represented – had he chosen another victim? – a hush of some sort was warranted.

She barely had to show her badge before a woman in a smoke-gray pin-striped suit and sharp red heels glided through double glass doors.

“Lieutenant, Detective, I’m Carolina Dowd, Mr. Stern’s administrative assistant. I’ll escort you to his office.”

“Quiet around here,” Eve commented as they left the plush maroon-and-gray reception lobby for dignified corridors.

“We’re all considerably subdued, as you can imagine. Ms. Bastwick’s death is a shock to all of us, and an enormous loss.”

“Have you worked here long?”

“Fifteen years.”

“You know all the players.”

Dowd spared her a glance as they passed offices, doors all discreetly closed. “It’s a large firm, but yes, you could say I know everyone.”

“Anyone spring to mind who wanted Bastwick dead?”

“Absolutely not. Ms. Bastwick was respected and valued here.”

She turned – opposite direction from Bastwick’s office, as Eve remembered from her prior visit.

“You knew Fitzhugh.”

“Yes. Yes, I did, and I’m aware you’re to be credited for finding the person responsible for his death. I hope you’ll do the same for Ms. Bastwick.”

Dowd nodded to two people – one male, one female – who got busy fast at their desks in a swanky outer office. Then she knocked briskly on another set of double doors – these solid wood.

“Lieutenant Dallas and Detective Peabody, Mr. Stern,” she said when she pushed both doors open.

Stern, who’d been standing, hands clasped behind his back, contemplating the bold and steely view of New York out a wall of windows, turned.

“Please, come in.” He crossed a thick Persian carpet spread over glossy wood floors, hand extended. “Aaron Stern. Terrible day. Terrible. Can we get you something? Tea? Coffee?”

“We’re good.”

“Please, sit down.” He gestured to a sitting area that reminded Eve of an English parlor with its curvy chairs, delicate coffee table, and fringed settee.

She recalled Bastwick’s office – all sleek, polished, and glass.

“Thank you, Carolina.” He sat, folded his hands on his knees as his admin silently backed out and closed the doors.

“We’re sorry for your loss, Mr. Stern,” Peabody began.

“Of course. It’s a great one. Leanore was not only a partner, but a personal friend.”

He had a golden look about him, Eve thought, the rich man’s winter tan, the burnished hair, thickly curled, the tawny eyes. The boldly patterned red tie struck against the charcoal suit to give him an air of vibrancy.

She figured it played well in court.

“When did you last see or speak with her?” Eve asked.

“Yesterday, on a ’link conference. We take light hours this week so everyone can enjoy the holidays, but Leanore and I consulted on some ongoing cases. Carolina sat in, as did Leanore’s paralegal. This would have been ten yesterday morning. We worked for about an hour, and were to convene in person this afternoon.”

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