Peabody slid into the car as Eve took the wheel. “I got lots of pops on gossip and society pages. He and Arianna are quite the item. She’s a looker. And really, really rich. Not Roarke rich,” Peabody said, referring to Eve’s husband, “but she’s up there. Or the Whitwood Group—headed by her parents—is. She’s thirty-four, a therapist, again specializing in addictions. From the fluff pieces I’m skimming, it looks like they met four years ago, and were engaged last fall. The wedding’s set for next month, billed as the wedding of the year. And . . . oh, she had a brother. Chase, died at the age of nineteen. OD’d. She was sixteen. The Whitwood Center opened three years later.
“Oh, listen to this. Rosenthall had a sister. She made it to twenty-two before she OD’d. He was on track to becoming a topflight cardiac surgeon. Switched his focus after his sister’s death.”
“A surgeon. Gave that up,” Eve commented, “to work with junkies. Like his sister, like his fiancée’s brother. Day in and day out, seeing them, listening to them, treating them, hearing bullshit out of them. Something could snap.”
“Cynic alert. Honest, Dallas, from what I’m reading here, the guy sounds like a saint. A studly saint. Saint Studly of Rosenthall.”
“Do you know why the saints are all dead?”
“Because dead’s the only way you can pull it off. Living’s messy, and everyone living has some dirty little secret. That’s why we have jobs.”
“A dirty little secret that has a renowned and studly doctor slaughtering three recovering addicts?”
“Somebody did it. He’s got the connection, he’s got the skill, and according to our source, he’s the one who gave them the green light to squat there. If he’s so saintly, why didn’t he float them a couple months’ rent?”
“That’s a good question.”
“It’s one I’m going to ask him.”
Old, time-faded brick housed the Whitwood Center. No flash, Eve noted, no gloss—at least not on the exterior—so the building sat comfortably in the old Meatpacking District.
With Peabody, she walked in the front entrance. The lobby area was large and quietly furnished. Comfortable chairs, simple art, some plants gave off the atmosphere of a living area rather than a waiting one despite the reception counter manned by two people.
The man, early thirties, continued to work on his comp while the woman, a few years younger with a pretty face and earnestly welcoming eyes, smiled in their direction.
“Good morning. How can we help you today?”
Eve approached the counter, laid her badge on it. “We need to speak with Dr. Rosenthall.”
“I see.” The woman didn’t so much as blink at the badge. “Is the doctor expecting you?”
“I couldn’t say.”
“His offices are on the second floor, east. One of his interns or his assistant should be able to help you.”
“Stairs to the left, elevators to the right.”
As Eve angled left, the woman continued. “You’ll want to take the right corridor, go over the garden breezeway, then take the first turn to the left.”
“It’s nice work,” Peabody said as they started up. “The work they’ve done on the old building. Kept its character. It’s comfortable, and it doesn’t shout, ‘We’re really rich philanthropists.’ ”
On the second floor they walked by several doors, all discreetly shut, with their purposes or a doctor’s name on a plaque.
They passed people in lab coats, in street wear, in sharp suits, and in tattered pants. Eve noted the security cameras, and the card slots and palm plates on some of the doors. They passed a nurse’s station and the waiting area across from it.
Then they came to the garden breezeway. Below, through treated glass, a central fountain gurgled in a fantasy of flowering plants, shrubs, trees in riotous bloom. White stone benches offered seating, bricked paths wound in an invitation to stroll.
“That says, ‘We’re really rich philanthropists,’ ” Eve commented.
“But in a really pretty way.”
They made the left into a small blue and cream reception area. The woman behind the counter tapped her earpiece, turned away from the smart screen where, it looked to Eve, she’d been working on updating a complex schedule.
“Can I help you?”
“Lieutenant Dallas and Detective Peabody.” Eve held up her badge. “We need to speak with Dr. Rosenthall.”
“Is there a problem?”
“There almost always is.”
The woman didn’t look pleased by the answer, and reminded Eve of Dr. Mira’s admin. The dragon at the gates of the NYPSD’s shrink and top profiler.
“Dr. Rosenthall’s in his lab this morning.”
“Where’s his lab?”
“I really must insist you tell me your business before I disturb the doctor.”
“I really must insist you take us to his lab.” Eve tapped her badge. “And this has a lot more insistence than you because it can arrest you for interfering with a police investigation.”
“I’ll check with the doctor.” The words sounded as sour as the woman’s face looked. She tapped her earpiece again. “Yes, Pach, would you tell Dr. Rosenthall two police officers are here and insist on speaking with him. Yes. No, they won’t say. Thank you.” She waited a moment, staring holes through Eve. Then scowled. “Very well.”
After another tap, she spoke to Eve. “The doctor’s lab assistant will come out and take you back. The doctor will see you.”
She aimed her nose in the air before turning back to her screen.
Moments later a side door opened. The man who came out had deep brown skin and large, heavy-lidded eyes nearly as black as his crown of curly hair. He wore a standard white lab coat over jeans and a red T-shirt that asked, “My petri dish or yours?”
“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.
“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.”