Vendetta in Death (In Death #49)

“Holy shit.”

Odd, Eve realized, it wasn’t an incident she thought about, but now she could see it all again, clear as glass. “I’m about half-dressed, my support tank’s ripped at the strap, so Feeney turns to me—puts his boot on the asshole’s chest, and turns to me. He looks right in my face, just my face, and asks me to say what happened, so I did. Then he tells me to put on my shirt, wait in his office. So I did, and almost lost my shit then.”

Yeah, she thought, clear as glass.

“I wanted Homicide like I never wanted anything, and I didn’t know if I was going to get written up, dismissed, or if my lieutenant was going to shrug it all off as a done deal, tell me to do the same, just let it go.”

She glanced over at Peabody. “And I’d have to swallow it, because I needed the badge more than my pride.”

“I get that,” Peabody murmured. “I really get that.”

“Then Feeney comes in, and he digs this really crap bottle of whiskey out of his file cabinet, pours some in a couple of coffee mugs, tells me to sit. And how he needs me to file a formal report, and how I have to speak about the incident to Mira. Man, last thing I wanted, but he’s not hearing that. He’ll keep it quiet, he tells me, because he knows otherwise some can blow back on me, but I have to follow through, and he’ll have my back. And he tells me Detective Fuckface will be taking early retirement. Nobody, he says, nobody puts hands on one of his. Then he tells me to drink up, to suck it up, because it won’t be the last time I have to bust some fucker’s balls.”

“I love Feeney.” Peabody blinked damp eyes. “I totally do.”

“Yeah.” She spotted the shining downtown tower that housed Leah Lester’s employer, Universal Financial. “The fact is,” she said as she started hunting for parking, “if he hadn’t stood up for me, I’d have swallowed down what I had to swallow to stay on the job, to stay in Homicide. I could kick the fucker’s balls, but without Feeney’s backing, I couldn’t have done much else. He showed me what made a real cop, and what made a real boss, that night. I guess, come down to it, what made a real man.”

She hit vertical so fast Peabody yipped like a Pomeranian, then zipped across the lane, shimmied down into a spot.

“Score.”

“A little heads-up next time,” Peabody managed. Then she stepped out on the sidewalk, lifted her face, sighed. “It’s really starting to feel like spring. I’m going to stop by a flower stall on the way home and buy a whole bunch of daffodils. Hey, I should buy some for the bullpen!”

“Do that, prepare to eat them.”

They had to walk down to the corner, cross the street, but Peabody nearly bounced in her pink boots. “I bet they taste like spring.”

“You could find out.”

They crossed with the surge of pedestrians who may or may not have been happy it felt, sort of, like spring. Most seemed in too big a hurry to notice.

The big shiny building had glass entrance doors—blast-proof—a sprawling tiled lobby, and heavy security. To keep it simple, Eve pulled out her badge, held it up for one of the three guards. “What’s the floor, Peabody?”

“Sixty-second floor, Universal Financial.”

“You can stow your weapons here.”

“No,” Eve said, again keeping it simple. “Scan the badges, clear us through. We’re on NYPSD business.”

He didn’t like it, curled thin lips, but scanned and verified. “If you insist on keeping your weapons, you’re required to have an escort.”

“I’ll take them up, Jim.” The female guard stepped out of the security booth, gestured across the lobby to a bank of elevators. “Jim’s a little bit of a jerk,” she said when they were out of earshot. “It’s nothing personal.”

“Okay.”

The guard swiped her card at an elevator, then stepped in with Eve and Peabody before holding up a hand at the next person trying to get on. “Sorry, please wait for the next available car.”

Once the doors shut, she swiped her card again. “Going express,” she explained. “Otherwise it could take twenty minutes to get up to sixty-two this time of day.”

“Appreciate it.”

“Hey, we’re all just trying to keep people safe, right? Anyway, I know somebody who’s a cop. Well, we just met, really, but she’s a cop in your division, Lieutenant. Dana Shelby.”

“Officer Shelby’s a good cop.”

“Maybe you could tell her Londa said hi. Sixty-two,” she announced and stepped off when the doors opened. “Just let me clear this with Universal’s security.”

She walked to the counter, had a word with one of the people manning it. More people sat in the cushy gray-and-black waiting area busily working their handhelds. Still more breezed in and out of various doors in their power suits.

The entire area smelled of privilege in the wisps of expensive perfumes and real leather.

In under a minute, a square-jawed man with a shaved head and a black suit stepped out of a side door, gave Eve and Peabody a quick glance before walking to Londa.

“Got it from here. Appreciate it, Londa.”

“No prob, Nick.” Londa sent Eve and Peabody a little salute before she headed back to the elevator and the guard crossed to them.

“Nick Forret, head of security for Universal. How can I help you?”

“We need to speak with Leah Lester.”

With a nod, he turned to the counter. “Is Ms. Lester in her office?”

“I’ll check, Mr. Forret. Yes, sir. Her office ’link is engaged, with a do not disturb.”

“Then don’t disturb her,” Forret said mildly. He gestured to another door. “I’ll take you back to Ms. Lester’s office. Do you expect any difficulties, Lieutenant?”

“No. Ms. Lester may have information that could assist us in an investigation.”

They didn’t go far, though Eve noted Lester had moved up beyond cube status to the next level. Her office door was shut with the red DND light blinking. Ignoring it, Forret issued one sharp knock, opened it.

The woman at the desk jabbed a finger in the air out of range of the ’link even as she continued a conversation in the calmest of tones. “Absolutely, Mr. Henry, that is fully understood. I’d be more than happy to discuss all of this with you tomorrow, as planned.”

Eve let the conversation roll as she looked around the office. Smaller than hers at Central, but it did have a bigger window. No frills, no fuss—she respected that.

“I look forward to meeting you, sir, and very much appreciate the chance to show you what we can offer you as a member of the Universal Financial family.”

The minute she signed off, her polite, professional expression went to snarl. “Damn it! Did you see the DND? I’ve been working on getting this face-to-face with Abner Henry for weeks.”

“Lieutenant Dallas, Detective Peabody.” And with that Forret stepped out, shut the door.

To add to it, Eve held up her badge. “NYPSD, Ms. Lester. We need a few minutes of your time.”

“Cops?” The irritation shifted to puzzlement, then jumped straight to panic as she surged up. “My parents? My brother? What—”

“It has nothing to do with your family.”

“Frankie.” Now she pressed a hand to her heart, sank into the chair again. “Oh God.”

“Or Frankie,” Eve added. “We’re here about Nigel McEnroy.”

Color flew back in her face—a good face, Eve noted, more than pretty, with refined features, lips carefully dyed a quiet coral. Her eyes changed, too, the clear, pale blue of them going glacier cold.

“I’ve got nothing to do with McEnroy or his company, and nothing to say, either. I left his company’s employ more than a year ago. Now if you’ll excuse me—”

“Nigel McEnroy is dead.”

Something flickered in those eyes, then she sat back, blew out a breath, lifted a hand to skim it through her carefully styled mane of gold-streaked red hair. “Dead? As in …God. How do I feel?” she murmured. “I don’t know how I feel. Not sorry,” she decided. “It’s not a crime to not be sorry.”

Hit the core straight off, Eve decided. “Can you give us your whereabouts from nine P.M. last night until four this morning?”

“Why …Jesus, was he murdered? He was murdered, and you’re looking at me.” She shut her eyes a moment, then picked up a little red ball from her desk, started squeezing it. “Things follow you no matter what you do. Someone killed him, that’s what followed him. And that follows me.”

“Your whereabouts?”

“I …I was with Frankie from about eight until about midnight. We just started dating. We met for dinner at Roscoe’s, then we caught some music at the Blue Note. He walked me home—that’s his thing, he always takes me home—and I got in about midnight. I went to bed—alone. That’s my thing, but I’m about to try to change that. I left for work this morning about eight.”

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