“Lieutenant Dallas and Detective Peabody.”

“Oh. Um . . .” He flashed a very white smile. “If you’ll come this way?”

Through the door was a maze, a rabbit warren of rooms off angled corridors. The lab assistant negotiated them on flapping gel sandals. He paused at double steel doors, swiped his card, spoke his name. “Pachai Gupta.”

The security blinked green in acceptance, and the doors slid open into a large lab. Eve felt a weird juxtaposition as her friend Mavis’s voice wailed out about love on the wild side over the pristine red and white room. Strange equations and symbols held frozen on one of the wall screens while something bubbled blue in a heated beaker. A woman with short, sleek red hair hunched over a microscope while her foot tapped to Mavis’s grinding beat. Another lab coat diligently worked two comps at a long white counter. He sported a short stub of a ponytail and ragged skids.

In the center of it, amid the coils of tubing, the sparkling electronics, the busy screens, and the forest of test tubes, beakers, and specimen dishes, stood Justin Rosenthall.

He wore a lab coat like other men wore a tux, perfectly fitted and somehow elegant. His gilded mane of hair gleamed under the bright lights. Vid-star handsome, poetically pale, he removed a beaker from its heater with tongs and set it in a bath of water. Steam hissed and curled.

Through the thin curtain of it, Eve saw his eyes, tawny as a lion’s, fix intently on some sort of gauge.

“What’s he working on?” she asked their guide.

“An antidote.”

“To what?”

“To evil.” At her raised eyebrows, Pachai flushed, shrugged.

Eve heard a low beep. Justin lifted the beaker again, slid it into a container, sealed it, set another gauge.

Only then did he step back, look over.

“Sorry.” There was an absent charm in his smile, in his movements as he crossed to them. “The timing’s crucial. You’re the police?”

“Lieutenant Dallas, Detective Peabody, NYPSD.”

“Dallas. Of course, you’re Roarke’s wife.” His smile warmed as he extended a hand. “It’s nice to finally meet you. How is Roarke? I haven’t seen him in . . . it’s probably been a year. More.”

“He’s good. This isn’t a social call, Dr. Rosenthall.”

“Justin. No, of course not. Sorry. How can I help you?”

“You know Jennifer Darnell, Coby Vix, Wilson Bickford.”

“Yes.” His smile faded. “Are they in trouble? I can assure you they’ve been working very hard against their addictions. It’s a hard road, and there will be stumbles, but—”

“They were murdered early this morning.”

Behind her, Pachai let out a strangled gasp as Justin just stared at her. “What? Sorry, what?”

“They were murdered between two and two-forty this morning in the building where they were squatting.”

“Dead? Murdered? All?

“How?” Pachai took Eve’s arm, then quickly released it. His eyes were liquid onyx swimming under inky lashes. They only shimmered more intensely when Justin laid a hand on his shoulder.

“Pach, let’s sit down.”

“No. No. I’m sorry, but how can they be murdered? I saw them only yesterday.”


“Pach,” Justin repeated, gently. “Music off,” he ordered. The redhead called out a protest when Mavis stopped wailing.

“Not now, Marti.” Justin rubbed his temple. “There’s no mistake?”

“No. When did you see them last?” she asked Pachai.

His lips trembled, and tears continued to swarm those heavy-lidded eyes. “Before Jen and Coby went to work, after Wil got off. We had coffee. We have coffee almost every day.”

“You were friends?”

“Yes. We—I—I don’t understand.”

“No, neither do I,” Justin said. “What happened?”

The lab rat with the stubby ponytail had turned and, like the redhead, watched.

“Early this morning Wilson Bickford was stabbed to death, Coby Vix was bludgeoned to death, and Jennifer Darnell was strangled.”

Pachai began to weep, and the harsh sobs bore him down to the floor, where he covered his face with his hands.

Justin turned ashen. At her station the redhead sat very still, staring at Eve as if she’d spoken in an ancient foreign language. The other man slumped back in his chair, shuddered, then closed his eyes, lowered his head.

No one spoke.


In the silence, Eve gave Peabody a signal, and responding, Peabody moved to Pachai. “I’m sorry for your loss,” she began in the comfort voice she used so well. “Let me help you. Let me help you up. Why don’t we go over here, sit down?”

“How could—was it—I’m sorry,” Justin said. “I just can’t think. They were attacked? In the building on West Twelfth?”


“But why, for God’s sake? None of them belonged to a gang, none of them had any valuables to speak of. Was this just some random killings?”

“Do you know anyone who’d wish them—any one of them—harm?”

“No. No, I don’t. They were turning their lives around, and the three of them had formed a strong bond. Their own small support group.”

“They were addicts.”

“In recovery,” Justin said quickly.

“Was there anyone who they—again any one of them—used to associate with prior to their recovery who might have resented the fact that they were getting clean, staying clean?”

“I don’t know, but if so, they didn’t mention it to me. If there was someone, something, one of them might have told Arianna. Arianna Whitwood. She was the therapist of record for all three of them.”

“Your fiancée.”

“Yes.” He looked away, pressed his fingers to his eyes. “My God, they were so young, so hopeful.”

“You gave them permission to squat in that property.”

“Yes. They couldn’t make the rent on Jen’s apartment. She’d fallen behind before she’d made the commitment to recovery. Pachai told me they were sleeping on the street. I thought . . . it would be a roof over their heads until they found a place.”

“You formed an attachment to them?”

“To Jen, then through her to Coby and Wil. She was so determined, and you could see the light coming back into her. You could see her finding her quiet. It was gratifying. Even inspiring.”

“I guess I’m curious why you didn’t float them the rent.”

“I wish I had.” Mouth tight, he glanced over to where Peabody murmured to Pachai. “We have a policy not to lend money to anyone in the program, but to try to find another way to help, to guide them to help themselves. I never imagined . . . The three of them together should have been safe. God knows, each one of them had experience on the street, handling themselves.”

“I have to ask where you were between one and four this morning.”

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