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Home > In Death #7 - Holiday in Death(5)

In Death #7 - Holiday in Death(5)
Author: J.D. Robb


Eve glanced over her shoulder, saw Peabody in the center of the hallway. “What?”

“I have the security discs. Two uniforms are initiating door-to-doors.”

“Okay.” Eve rubbed her hands over her face. “Let’s seal the place up, take everything to Central. I have to inform the next of kin.” She shouldered her bag, picked up her field kit. “You’re right, Peabody. It’s a heck of a way to start the day.”

CHAPTER TWO

“Did you run the ‘link number on the boyfriend?”

“Yes, sir. Jeremy Vandoren, lives on Second Avenue, he’s an account exec for Foster, Bride and Rumsey on Wall Street.” Peabody glanced at her notebook as she relayed the rest. “Divorced, currently single, thirty-six. And a very attractive specimen of the male species. Sir.”

“Hmm.” Eve slipped the security disc into her desk unit. “Let’s see if the very attractive specimen paid a call on his girlfriend last night.”

“Can I get you some coffee, Lieutenant?”

“What?”

“Can I get you some coffee?”

Eve’s eyes narrowed as she scanned the video. “If you want coffee, Peabody, just say so.”

Behind Eve’s back, Peabody rolled her eyes. “I want coffee.”

“Then get some — and get some for me while you’re at it. Victim arriving home at sixteen forty-five. Pause disc,” Eve ordered and took a good look at Marianna Hawley.

Trim, pretty, young, her shining brown hair covered with a bright red beret that matched the long swirl of her coat and the slick shine of her boots.

“She’d been shopping,” Peabody commented as she set the mug of coffee at Eve’s elbow.

“Yeah. Bloomingdale’s. Continue scan,” Eve said and watched as Marianna shifted her bags, dug out her key card. Her mouth was moving, Eve noted. Talking to herself. No, she realized, Marianna was singing. Then the woman shook back her hair, shifted her bags once again, stepped inside the apartment, and shut the door.

The red lock light blinked on.

As the disc continued, Eve saw other tenants coming and going, alone, in couples. Ordinary lives, moving forward.

“She stayed in for dinner,” Eve stated, looking now with her mind’s eye, through the door, inside the apartment.

She could see Marianna moving around the rooms, wearing the simple navy slacks and white sweater that would later be cut from her body.

Turn the viewing screen on for company. Hang up the bright red coat in the front closet, put the hat on the shelf, the boots on the floor. Tuck away the shopping bags.

She was a tidy woman who liked pretty things, preparing for a quiet evening at home.

“Fixed herself some soup at about seven, according to her AutoChef.” Eve drummed short, unpainted nails on the desk as she continued the scan. “Her mother called, then she called the boyfriend.”

While she clicked off the time frame in her mind, she saw the elevator doors open. Her brows winged up, disappearing under the fringe of bangs on her forehead. “Well, ho ho ho, what have we here?”

“Santa Claus.” Grinning, Peabody leaned over Eve’s shoulder. “Bearing gifts.”

The man in the red suit and snowy white beard carried a large box wrapped in silver paper and trimmed with an elaborate bow of gold and green.

“Hold it. Pause. Enlarge sector ten through fifty, thirty percent.”

The screen shifted, the section Eve designated separating, then popping out. Nestled in the center of the fancy bow was a silver tree with a plump gilded bird.

“Son of a bitch. Son of a bitch, that’s the thing that was in her hair.”

“But… that’s Santa Claus.”

“Get a grip on yourself, Peabody. Continue scan. He’s going to her door,” Eve muttered, watching as the cheerful figure carried his glossy burden to Marianna’s apartment. He pressed her buzzer with a gloved finger, waited a beat, then threw back his head and laughed. Almost instantly, Marianna opened the door, her face glowing, her eyes sparkling with delight.

She scooped back her hair with one hand, then opened the door wider in invitation.

Santa tossed one quick glance over his shoulder, looked directly at the camera. Smiled, winked.

“Freeze video. The bastard. Cocky bastard. Print hard copy of image on screen,” she ordered while studying the round, ruddy-cheeked face and sparkling blue eyes. “He knew we’d view the discs, see him. He’s enjoying it.”

“He dressed up as Santa.” Peabody continued to gape at the screen. “That’s disgusting. That’s just… wrong.”

“What? If he’d dressed up as Satan it would have been more appropriate?”

“Yes — no.” Peabody moved her shoulders, shuffled her feet. “It’s just… well, it’s really sick.”

“It’s also really smart.” Eyes flat, Eve waited while the image printed out. “Who’s going to shut the door in Santa’s face? Continue scan.”

The door closed behind them, and the hallway remained empty.

The timer running along the bottom of the screen marked at twenty-one thirty-three.

So, he took his time, Eve mused, nearly two and a half hours. The rope he’d used to tie her, and anything else he might have needed, would have been in that big shiny box.

At eleven, a couple got off the elevator, laughing, a little drunk, arm in arm as they passed Marianna’s door. Oblivious to what was going on inside.

Fear and pain.

Murder.

The door opened at half past midnight. The man in the red suit stepped out, still carrying his silver box, a smile wide, almost fierce, on his red-cheeked face. Once more he looked directly at the camera, and now there was madness glowing in his eyes.

He was dancing as he got on the elevator.

“Copy disc to file Hawley. Case number 25176-H. How many days of Christmas did you say there were, Peabody? In the song?”

“Twelve.” Peabody soothed her dry throat with coffee. “Twelve days.”

“We’d better find out if Hawley was his true love, or if he has eleven more.” She rose. “Let’s talk to the boyfriend.”

Jeremy Vandoren worked inside a small box in a hive of small boxes. His stingy cubicle held a workstation just big enough to accommodate his computer and phone system and a three-wheeled chair. Pinned to the flimsy walls were printouts of stock reports, a theater schedule, a Christmas card showcasing a well-endowed woman wearing strategically placed snowflakes, and a photo of Marianna Hawley.

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