Eve connected the dots. “And Pachai?”
“Childhood friend. They were tight, like brothers. The friend played around with recreationals, liked them too much until he was flying on Ups and Bounce, crashing on Chill. Then he was just one more OD when Pachai found him dead—two days dead. Justin wants people invested who work for him, people who know all the sides, all the layers, and have a reason to be here.”
“He wants it personal.”
“Yeah, and it is.” She looked over at Pachai, then down at her folded hands. “This happening to Jen and the others, people who had a real shot at redemption, who really put it all into kicking it? That’s personal, too. For all of us.”
“Understood. If you know how it works, you know I have to ask. Where were you between one and four this morning?”
“In bed.” Her gaze tracked up, met Eve’s. “Alone and asleep. I had a date, but it didn’t go anywhere. I got home just after midnight. I’ve got a roommate, but she had a date and it did go somewhere. She didn’t get home until six this morning.”
She gave Eve a narrow look. “Anyway, from what you said, how they were killed? The three of us would’ve had to go batshit together, break in to that place, and kill them like a pack.”
“That’s a thought, isn’t it? I appreciate the time. If you think of anything, contact me or my partner.”
Eve moved on to the last.
“Ken Dickerson,” he said. “Did they maybe get attacked on the street?” He watched Eve with horror and hope. His face, pale and thin, showed signs of fatigue. “Maybe they ran,” he continued, in a voice that hitched in a battle against tears. “And the people who attacked them went at them when they got to the building.”
“It just doesn’t seem real,” he murmured, rubbing at his damp, tired eyes. “I feel like I’m going to wake up and none of this happened.”
“How well did you know the victims?”
“I . . . God. I don’t know. To talk to. Not like Pach, but we hung out a couple times. My uncle manages a Slice, and I helped Jen, then Coby, get jobs there. I mean, I asked my uncle if he could give them a try. He’s good about giving people a chance.”
“Did you ever go to the place they were staying?”
“Once. The restaurant’s close to where I live, so I go in a lot. I walked back with Jen and Coby one night. My uncle gave them some food. And we hung out.” He smiled a little. “It was nice.”
“Did they own ’links?”
He blinked in puzzlement. “Sure. Everybody has at least one ’link.”
“Do you know anyone who’d want to hurt them?”
“I don’t see why anyone would. They were harmless. They didn’t have anything, didn’t hurt anybody. Jen was studying so she could do secretarial work. She wanted to work in an office. That’s not much to ask.”
No, Eve thought. It wasn’t much to ask.
When Justin came back in, he looked drained. “If you could give Arianna a few minutes, she’ll meet you in the Meditation Garden.”
“Is there anything more we can do?”
“Not at this time.”
“Will you keep me—us—informed?”
“I can do that. If anything occurs to you, anything at all, let me know.” She signaled Peabody, who put her hand on Pachai’s shoulder before rising.
“Arianna Whitwood, down in the gardens,” Eve told her. “Did you get anything?”
“He was in love with Darnell,” Peabody said as they headed down again. “He didn’t hesitate to tell me, or that he thought maybe she felt something back. No alibi, but he gives off this gentle, kind of sweet vibe. I can’t see him slaughtering three people.”
“On the other hand, he and everyone in that lab knew all three vics, and where they were squatting. At least two of them—and I’d add Rosenthall as a third—had been there, knew the setup. That weighs. There are going to be others who knew them and the setup from Get Straight, and Slice. This wasn’t random.”
“No. Random doesn’t fit.”
“Oh boy, a quiz. Deliberate break-in through the back, and the other killers—because I can’t see it being one guy—got into the front, attacked them in a frenzied but systematic manner. Wrecked the place, but as far as we know took nothing but their ’links—and at least one of them had the protective gear, so no blood on his—or their—clothes. It’s most probable they brought the weapons—a knife, scalpel, and some sort of bludgeoning tool—with them. Prepared, premeditated, and target specific.
“Did I pass?”
“Not bad.” They passed through an atrium on the main level and into the burgeoning gardens. “Not bad at all,” Eve said with a look around.
“Totally mag. Peaceful. Kind of Zen. Look, butterflies.” A smile broke over Peabody’s face. “Butterflies just make you happy.”
“They’ve got that buggy body and those creepy little antennas. People don’t think about that because they get distracted by the wings. I always wonder if they have teeth. They must have tiny, sharp little teeth.”
“You’re not spoiling my happy.”
Eve took the path marked Meditation Garden, angled through blossoms and butterflies. She saw Arianna on one of the stone benches, the diamond on her left hand on fire in the streams of light. She wore a leaf-green suit with a foam of lace and high, razor-thin heels of the same color that showcased long legs. Her hair, a rich, nutty brown, was wound up in some complicated twist that left her exceptional face unframed. Everything about her said classic and class, and reminded Eve of Mira.
At their approach, Arianna turned her head. Her eyes, a color caught somewhere between green and brown, sparked with anger.
“Lieutenant Dallas. I’d hoped to meet you, but not like this. Detective Peabody. Can we sit?” She did so, folded her hands again. “I wanted to talk to you here. I’d hoped to find some quiet here. But not yet.”
“You were the therapist for all three victims,” Eve began.
“Yes. They would have made it. I believe that. On a professional and personal level, I believe Coby and Wil would have made it. I know Jen would have. She’d come so far in such a short time. She’d found the quiet.”
“Dr. Rosenthall used that term. The quiet.”
“Yes, I guess I picked it up from him.” Arianna laid a hand on her heart. “Addiction is never quiet. It’s violent or sly or seductive. Often all three. But Jen found her quiet and her strength, and was helping Coby and Wil find theirs.”
“Other addicts, not making such progress, might resent them for theirs.”
“That’s true. They would have told me if anyone was pressuring them, threatening them. Jen was addicted to heroin, preferred it in the mix they call Chill on the street. She often bartered her body for hits. Her mother was the same, her father was her mother’s dealer—she thinks.”
“She did some time in the system,” Eve put in. “Juvie, group homes, foster homes.”
“Yes. She had a troubled, difficult childhood. Jen ran off when she was sixteen, and continued that troubled, difficult life up until nearly four months ago when she woke up after a binge. She’d lost three days, and came back to herself covered in cuts, bruises, filth, her own vomit in some basement flop with no recollection of how she’d gotten there. She got out, began to walk. She thought of the next score, thought of just ending her life, and she came to Get Straight. Instead of walking on, trying for the next score, or ending her life, she went in.”
“This wasn’t her first try at rehab.”
“No.” Arianna turned her head to meet Eve’s eyes. “She’d had three court-assigned rehabilitations, and none of them took. This time, she chose. She walked in on her own. She was ready to be helped, and they helped her. Justin and I were there that day. She often said that was the beginning for her. When we met.”
Arianna looked away again as her voice roughened.
“Withdrawal is hard and painful, but she never gave up. She brought Coby in. We encourage recoverings to sever ties with people who are part of their addiction, but she wouldn’t listen. She saved Coby, simply because she wouldn’t give up on him either, and then Wil. They loved her, and their love for her and each other proved stronger than the addiction. That’s a kind of miracle. And now . . .”