Detective Delia Peabody arrived on the scene of what has to be the third potential victim in what she called the Yule Goat series. She hadn’t shared that unofficial title with Dallas, but McNab thought it was solid.
“Where’s Dallas?” Officer Trueheart asked as he held up the crime scene tape for her to duck under.
“I haven’t been able to reach her,” Peabody answered.
“But her vehicle is already here,” Trueheart’s response was immediate. “I thought she beat us all. But the first on scene hasn’t reported in either.”
Peabody wondered if the sinking feeling in her stomach was the famous gut Eve was always talking about. Peabody frowned as she remembered she hadn’t heard from Dallas since yesterday afternoon. She approached another Yule Goat skeleton. Metal bands formed the legs, torso, and thin horns of a traditional holiday goat. Traditionally, straw was used to cover the metal bands so there would be a goat, sometimes with ribbon. However, McNab had told her about the other Swedish tradition in the 2010’s in which the Yule Goat was burned. Crime scene analysts had determined that these goats and their victims had also once been wrapped in straw before being set aflame.
Peabody waited for the clear from a harried looking crime scene tech and applied Seal-It before turning on her recorder.
“What do we know?”
“Same as the other two sites,” Trueheart reported. “Owned by the Time Group, Yule Goat skeleton inside, same approximate size. One victim that we’re aware of inside the Yule Goat.”
Peabody looked up at the torso of the third victim which, like the other two before it, was currently trapped inside the barrel of the Yule Goat.
“Crime scene swab for DNA?” Peabody caught a glint of light off something.
“False reading,” Trueheart responded. “The tech got a hit, but went off mumbling about crime scene contamination.”
“Go find me that tech,” Peabody ordered sharply as she stood under the skeleton. She appreciated that Trueheart hadn’t asked questions. Peabody stared up at the fat diamond hanging just below the lower rib of the yule goat, fused to the skeleton of the victim.
“Detective Peabody?” the head Crime Scene tech on site stood behind her. “You asked to speak with me?”
“Who was the false positive on the DNA results?” Peabody asked softly, making sure her voice didn’t carry. There were altogether too many people present.
“It came up for Detective Dallas based on some samples found near the structure,” the tech explained. “However, with her being assigned to the case, we assumed she cut herself on something before we arrived.”
“Take another sample,” Peabody commanded. “Your eyes only and copy Commander Whitney.”
Peabody looked back at the torqued skeleton within another skeleton and tried to reach Dallas again on her communicator. In her head there was a steady litany of denial.
Peabody didn’t know what to say. She worked to find her composure and informed him , “I need to speak to Roarke.”
Summerset went paler than usual and ushered Peabody inside without further comment. Together they silently marched up the stairs, Galahad winding between their legs meowing for attention.
“Roarke, Detective Peabody of the NYPSD to see you,” Summerset announced her as the door opened.
Roarke looked up from his desk frowning. “Peabody,” Roarke greeted her warmly standing to come to her side. “I’m afraid you’ve beat Eve home.”
Peabody took a deep breath, but she couldn’t meet Roarke’s eyes. “At twenty hundred hours the NYPSD responded to a scene in Washington Heights. Inside we found the remains of one victim. Preliminary ID is Detective Eve Dallas.”
“When’s the last time you spoke to her?” Roarke questioned softly, even as he pulled up a program on his computer.
“Yesterday,” Peabody answered. She felt like she should have known something was up, but she didn’t tell him that either. Instead she offered the same faint hope she’d clung to. “I know you weren’t working on the current case, but you should know the victim’s are burned to death. It’s only a preliminary ID.”
Roarke looked through the news on his screen as if deep in thought. “You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t fairly certain.”
“There was a diamond was present on the body, and the victim was wearing a ring. Both closely resemble her jewelry.” Peabody watched as Summerset excused himself. He looked as distraught as she’d ever seen him.
“Do you believe that it’s her?” Peabody guessed he was going for something more casual than the raw plea that was spoken.
Peabody knew she should have stuck with the evidence. It was difficult for her to put reality into words. “Roarke, I’m so sorry.I don’t think we have a reason not believe it’s her. We got final ID on the first vic yesterday morning. She’s an up and coming Broadway star. The killer wants attention.”
“What does Commander Whitney think?”
“That the NYPSD is now dedicating all its resources to find this killer,” Peabody answered. “That as long as Mira clears you, you’ll be given full access to assist, as long as you agree that regardless of the final identification our goal is to bring this person to legal justice.”
“With a NYPSD officer potentially down, I’m surprised you beat the press to the notification,” Roarke gestured to the bigger display screens, where he’d synced the current news feeds. “There’s nothing.”
“Chief Medical Examiner Morris is in charge of the autopsy. He has been ordered to report his findings directly to Commander Whitney. The crime scene tech has also been advised to be silent.” Peabody sat down as Summerset returned with tea for both of them. “We’ll have to loop Feeney and McNab in if you want EDD assistance.”
“McNab for now,” Roarke agreed. “I’ll call Mira and set something up for tonight.”
“Roarke,” McNab greeted Roarke with a firm handshake, and then surprised him with a hug. Roarke looks like he hadn’t slept well or at all. Peabody didn’t think she’d ever seen him with such dark circles under his eyes.
“Can you grant me access to the files from my office or do we need to move to Eve’s?” Roarke sounded surprisingly composed.
Peabody assumed he was doing the same thing as her and McNab, hiding their pain behind composure and the desire to do the job. It occurred to her that they’d probably all learned that particular coping mechanism from Dallas.
“I can rig everything up here.” McNab set to work logging them into Central’s computers. Peabody knew Roarke could do it without their help, probably without them even knowing. She appreciated that he hadn’t.
Peabody pulled the evidence bags from her satchel and handed them to Roarke. Each contained a separate item from the victim: a teardrop….and a ring.“Can you confirm that these belong to Dallas?”
“Yes,” Roarke’s hand trembled only slightly as he took the bag from her. “She’d never tolerate me tracking them, but I know them.”
“You weren’t helping on the case?” Peabody prompted gently. “She doesn’t have any notes about it in her file.”
“It didn’t seem necessary. It was taking more time than I think Eve would have liked, but it was a low tech case, and I’m in the middle of a fairly complex merger,” Roarke explained. He too looked like he was thinking a million little things could have stopped this. “Last night I had dinner in Washington with a Senator. She knew I would be gone.”
“McNab, pull up her probability scans,” Peabody ordered. She helped herself to a steaming mug of coffee from the AutoChef before looking back to the wall mounted display. “As you can see, she was running probabilities on the next Time Group warehouse set to used as a murder scene. We’ve yet to speak with the owners, but they only own ten properties in the city and three of them have been murder scenes. We’re stepping up our search.”
“Dallas’ vehicle was found at the site of the third murder scene. The third murder scene was not the most likely location given the probability scan shown,” Peabody explained as McNab started to populate a map with colored pins on a second screen.
“Red are murder scenes, blue are Time Group properties,” McNab explained quickly. “The location feature in her vehicle was damaged upon inspection. So it’s unclear if that’s where she actually went, or if that’s where she was moved.”
“So the location of the third victim was the third most likely site?” Roarke had connected another keyboard and was looking into more detail on each property. Peabody thought McNab had a sweet touch with technology, but watching Roarke work was different. “Eve would have gone if she had a gut feeling.”
“She should have told someone though.” Peabody could feel frustrated fear leaking into her voice. “I was out doing an interview of the ex-husband for the second victim, but she should have logged her movements with the computer at least. Her case files just show her logging out for the day.”
“Using her communicator, could the killer have altered her records?” Roarke questioned. Peabody knew that he had access to swankier technology although he often worked to get the best out of the NYPSD tech.
“Not without her voice print, and I’m fairly confident Eve wouldn’t give that to them,” Peabody confirmed. “So for some reason she left it off the books.”
“Or she received false intel,” McNab stated triumphantly, wiggling in excitement from his chair. “Take a look at this.”
Information flowed across the screen-one of the tip messages that the division got pertaining to their cases. This tip sheet was flagged for the lead detective: immediate follow up about a man with a large moving van spotted at one of the Time Group Properties. Peabody, taking a lot of time to look at it, realized it was just slightly off. It was not the official document it had purported to be. However, when frustrated and looking for a break in the case, Peabody can see how Dallas would have overlooked it.
“It’s fake,” McNab confirmed after scanning it. “Otherwise, her log would have tagged her as following a lead in the field. Once opened she has to select a response. She could have flagged it for someone else or sent it up. If she tagged it as a field follow up her log would have updated.”
“So the killer managed to get a fake tip sheet into the system-without triggering the logs that a normal tip sheet would have. Keeping it off the record. But the message is still in her system for us to find.“ Roarke followed the trail of information.
“Dallas followed the information and the killer has lured her to a location where they’re waiting,” McNab confirms. “At least that’s how it plays to me. “
“And since we’re short handed in the holiday season the killer can be fairly certain she’ll come alone,” Peabody concluded. “But we still have a record after all.”
Roarke smiled viciously. “If they’ve made one mistake, they’ve made more. And killing Eve was the biggest one.”
“Get me a location where it came from,” Peabody ordered. She’s a good investigator, she was trained by the best, if they give her something she will drag Dallas’ killer to justice. “Give me something I can follow up on.”
It wasn’t that simple, despite how Roarke and McNab started tracing on respective workstations, both of them talking in highly complex computer geek that Peabody found sexy, but was above her head. Looking at Roarke she wondered what was going through his head. He’d been so focused since she had told him of Dallas’s death. This Roarke is not so different than the one Peabody has known for many years, but like herself, Peabody knew it was just a surface act. All of them had one going as they tried to solve the case, and to ignore the gaping hole in the room.
“We’re going to have to tell the division tomorrow that Dallas is gone.” Peabody wanted to cry. She was an emotional person, she just didn’t have the energy. Maybe when the case was over, she could let it all out. Right now she just wanted to catch the killer and nothing else mattered. Except for inconvenient truths like telling the rest of the NYPSD and the world that Eve Dallas was dead.
“Thought we were trying to keep a lock on it?” McNab gripped her hand. His voice sounded more alert and also concerned. “The media will have a field day. It’s not everyday we have to admit to losing one of our best and brightest. Eve Dallas murdered.” McNab paused as his voice started to go rough. When he spoke again it was steadier, “I couldn’t get through telling anyone. I still keep waiting for her to show up.”
“We can’t keep it hidden anymore. Dallas is lead on this case, and no one's seen her in days.,” Peabody had just finished up a very unpleasant meeting with Whitney and the Chief. “Morris is biting everyone’s head off in the morgue, Mira asked for leave. We work with detectives. It’s a miracle it’s stayed quiet this long.”
“I know you have a suspect now, but are we sure he won’t just go to ground once the media gets ahold of Dallas’s death? He can’t top that. There’s no reason to keep killing. On top of that, are we going to be able to bring this guy in alive if the whole division knows?” McNab didn’t sound too concerned about the end state of the killer. Peabody hadn’t discussed this issue with him.
“Whitney’s tagging the division into a meeting at seven hundred,” Peabody felt herself dropping into sleep. “We’re gonna bring him in for Dallas.”
Commander Whitney came into the room and it went instantly silent. He didn’t wait, just took the podium as McNab ran the graphics.
“At this time, we now have a suspect in the Yule Goat Murders thanks to the hard work of Detectives Peabody and McNab and assistance by civilian consultant Roarke. Mr. James Woodson, boyfriend of the second victim,” Whitney explained as several shots of the suspect were flashed on the screen. “Detective Peabody interviewed him yesterday after EDD traced communication from him to this office. We’ll be moving ahead with his apprehension after this meeting.”
Officer Trueheart raised his hand before asking. “When did he communicate with the office?Who did he communicate with?”
Commander Whitney took a deep breath, and looked as serious as Peabody had ever seen him. “EDD assisted by civilian consultant Roarke confirmed that the suspect sent a false tip sheet to Lieutenant Eve Dallas. As a result of that tip sheet it is our current understanding that Dallas followed up to the Time Group property. At this time, we have preliminarily identified the third victim as Lieutenant Eve Dallas of the NYPSD.”
Peabody didn’t know how to describe the reaction in the room. Stunned, she thought. Honestly stunned.
“A false tip report was sent from the suspect’s computer to Lieutenant Dallas the evening before the third victim was discovered,” McNab continued the report. “After an interview Peabody was able to determine that suspect rented a vehicle of the size necessary to move a Yule Goat. Additionally, he owns a small farm in upstate New York. He leases the land out to a local farmer who grows straw. He is one of the ten people who owns a stake in the Time Group. He was aware of their vacant holdings.”
“So who wants to volunteer to be on the takedown squad?” Peabody asks. “Remembering that we’re bringing the suspect in to face justice like Dallas would have wanted.”
Every hand in the room went up.Commander Whitney selected a team to assist with the takedown. Every officer involved looked grim. Peabody had never heard a team so silent.
“You all report to Detective Peabody who is now the lead detective on this case,” Commander Whitney told them. “Today we lost one of the best of us. We will take the time to grieve fully later. Counseling and other resources will be available. Until then let’s bring him in.”
Peabody’s link was buzzed off instantly, and judging from flashes as she’d walked through the bullpen, news had gotten out about Dallas. Peabody had seen Nadine’s name flashing across her communicator more than once. For the last ten minutes, though, it had been Roarke on repeat.
“Roarke is trying to get through again.” McNab’s communicator was also flashed. “Just take the time to answer it.”
“I don’t know what to say,” Peabody told him. “I don’t think catching Woodson really helps.”
“Roarke never doubted you’d catch him,” McNab reminded her. It had never come up actually, but Roarke had worked beside them never saying a word. And certainly never blaming either of them for his wife’s murder. McNab continued softly, “Delia, we knew her. Eve was ours. She is ours to grieve, with the others that loved her. Including Roarke. Dallas wouldn’t want you to avoid her husband.”
“Come on,” Peabody led the way to Dallas’ office. “If I’m going to break down I’m doing it in Dallas’ office. I’m not going to ruin her rep in public now.”
Once the door was secured Peabody hit the button to call Roarke back on a secure line. She didn’t want leaks of this getting back to the press or anyone else in their division. This conversation was private.
“Roarke,” Peabody tried to smile when his face appeared on the screen. “I have an update for you if you want.”
“I have somebody who wants to talk to you,” Roarke responded instead. He looked to be in far better spirits than Peabody was expecting. Instead of the steady, expressionless man they’d been working with for the last few days, Roarke looked almost happy.
“Good job Peabody,” the voice of Eve Dallas flooded through the secure line, and Peabody found herself sitting down in a chair. McNab went white and sat in visitors chair. “I hear you solved the case.”
“What?” Peabody found herself asking. She could feel the tears flooding her eyes. “Dallas? How?”
“Woodson got the drop on me like he planned,” Peabody started paying attention to the background detail and saw that Dallas was sitting in a hospital bed. It didn’t look like a hospital she was familiar with. “But I was never intended to be the third victim. He had a grand finale planned. He had several of us out at his farm. We escaped this morning.”
“Nearly froze to death doing it,” Roarke added, but he looked incredibly proud. And relieved. Peabody imagined the relief was strong on her face as well.
“Well,” Peabody was at a loss for words. She could feel her eyes filling with tears, and dabbed at the corners trying to hold them back. “I’m so glad to see you Dallas.”
“I talked to Commander Whitney,” Dallas was drooping as she continued. Given what Roarke just conveyed, Peabody wouldn’t be surprised if she had been drugged for her own good. “We’re all getting some time off, and he’ll release a press statement about my survival. You’re going to close the case as primary. Your first collar as lead detective.”
“Best ending ever,” Peabody could feel the tears trailing silently down her face. She knew there was no stopping them.
“Stop that,” Dallas scolded gently even as Roarke started to make noises about her resting.
“You’re both coming to dinner tomorrow so we can thank you,” Roarke took the communicator back. “Now, go and tell Woodson he’ll have living witnesses to testify against him.”
The communicator cut off, and Peabody launched herself at McNab half laughing and half crying. She wasn’t able to help herself.
“Can’t keep Dallas down,” McNab laughed the relief apparent in his voice as well. “Congratulations Detective Peabody, on closing your first case.”
The press conference was a zoo with Commander Whitney having to correct the earlier statement about Dallas’ death. Roarke Industries released their own statement confirming that Dallas was alive and receiving medical treatment. By stopping Woodson they’d managed to save Dallas and the three other women trapped with her, all set to be lit up on Christmas Eve as the grand finale.