"Well, Lieutenant," Summerset said, "it seems that you have actually managed to arrive home early for once."
Eve frowned, not at the implied insult in his words, but because they lacked their usual bite.
"Are you feeling feverish, you old scarecrow?" she retorted. "You sound almost happy to see me."
Summerset hesitated instead of exchanging barbs with Eve, worrying her further. "Roarke will be happy to see you, at least," he finally said. "He's in...a bit of a mood."
"Did something happen at work?" Eve asked. “Or...it's not his family in Ireland, is it?" She was struck by a sudden burst of fear at the thought, then decided that Summerset didn't look concerned enough for it to be that. Still, when Galahad arrived to greet her by twining around her legs, she scooped him up and held him close against her chest, taking comfort in his furry warmth.
"No, it's nothing like that" Summerset said. "It's a business related problem, but perhaps it would be better to let him explain it to you. Why don't you go on up to his office? I'll have dinner ready in about fifteen minutes."
It was more of a directive than a request, but worded politely enough that Eve found it a little creepy. "Fine," she said curtly, tossing her coat on newel post in an attempt to normalize things.
To her relief, Summerset picked up the coat and eyed it disdainfully, saying, "At least there are no bloodstains this time."
Eve headed up the stairs, calling back over her shoulder, "Sorry to disappoint you." The butler might have smiled faintly for just a second, but then again, it was probably her imagination. After all, his stone face would probably crack if he actually did smile.
She found Roarke scowling at a screen filled with rows of incomprehensible numbers. Well, incomprehensible to her, anyway, though they probably made perfect sense to him.
"What's wrong?" Eve asked lightly. "Can you only afford to buy half the planet rather than the whole thing?"
The irritation in his face eased slightly, though not completely. "You're home early, darling," he said, and although he rose from his seat to kiss her cheek, Eve could sense the tension lingering in his voice and body.
"Yeah, well, people were taking a break from killing each other for a change," she replied. Meanwhile, Galahad squirmed impatiently in her arms, and Eve set him down on the floor. "You're too heavy to carry for long, anyway."
"You feed him too much bacon," Roarke said with amusement, although he still looked kind of pissed off. But since it didn't seem to be her that he was pissed at, Eve chose not to be offended.
"You spoil him, too," Eve pointed out. Perhaps sensing the subject of their conversation, Galahad looked up hopefully. "Sorry," Eve told him, holding up her empty hands. "No bacon on me right now."
As the cat stalked off sulkily, Eve asked casually, "So what's bothering you?"
Roarke sighed and ran a hand through his long, silky black hair, briefly distracting Eve by making her think how much she'd like to do the same.
"There's a vacant office building I've had my eye on," Roarke said.
"And what's so special about this particular office building?" Eve asked.
"On the surface, not much," Roarke replied. "It's old and plain, but solidly built. The previous tenants decided to expand operations and moved into shinier and sleeker headquarters. But for our needs, it's perfect. You know that I've been wanting to expand An Didean by building an adjunct school."
"So you want this building for the school," Eve said.
"The location is ideal," Roarke said, the frustration fading as his eyes lit up with enthusiasm. "It's only a few blocks away from the shelter, and the offices can easily be converted into classrooms. There's a large conference room that can be converted into an auditorium for guest lectures or vid screenings. There's also a cafeteria where meals can be prepared, and there's even a courtyard with some greenery where the students can eat lunch outside on a sunny day, or just relax between classes."
"It sounds ideal," Eve agreed. "So what's the problem--is the price too high?" She found that hard to believe, since Roarke could probably buy ten similar buildings and consider the total little more than pocket change.
Roarke shook his head. "I offered fair market value for the building, and for the sake of the school, I'd be willing to go above that if necessary. The problem is that the owner refuses to sell to me at any price."
Eve raised an eyebrow. "That doesn't sound like a smart business decision. You said the building is vacant, right? That means it's not bringing in any rental income."
"I should emphasize that the owner won't sell to me at any price," Roarke said, a slight edge of bitterness sharpening his voice. "He refuses to deal with a thief, he says. Won't take my dirty money no matter how much I offer."
"I see," Eve said. In the past, she too had judged Roarke by rumors--some true, some not--of his less than savory past. But all she said was, "So who is this paragon of virtue?"
"Howard T. Stanford," Roarke replied.
"That's a stuffy name if I ever heard one," Eve joked in an attempt to lighten the mood. "Does the T stand for Tightass?"
She was rewarded with a smile from Roarke. "No, I believe it stands for Timothy. He has a reputation for being a man of stern and unyielding principles."
"Reputation doesn't always live up to reality," Eve said.
"In this case it does," Roarke said. "I've looked into him, and he doesn't have so much as an unpaid parking ticket on his record. He has strict standards for his employees--anyone caught breaking or even bending the rules will be terminated. However, honest mistakes are forgiven, and he provides generous benefits to his employees, from the executives down to the janitorial staff. On multiple occasions, he has paid the medical bills for a seriously ill employee or employee's spouse or child when the family would otherwise be driven into debt."
"So he's a prince to his staff, but has no love for ex-thieves," Eve said. "Or rather, alleged ex-thieves."
"There is a personal element to his dislike for me," Roarke admitted. "His brother was a curator at a museum where a certain valuable painting was...ah...liberated."
"And you were responsible for this liberation?"
"I was the prime suspect, although of course nothing was proven," Roarke said. A smile crossed his lips at the memory, but quickly faded. "The brother nearly lost his job over it. In the end, he wasn't fired, but he was passed over for a promotion that he was up for. I'm not sure how the brother feels about it, but Stanford evidently still holds a grudge."
Roarke sighed. "I may have set my past aside, but no matter how much I've changed, no matter that I'm even a police consultant now--something I never would have believed myself, back in the day." He smiled briefly before continuing, "To some people, I'll never be anything more than a criminal, albeit a successful one."
HIs tone of voice was light, but Eve could hear the touch of pain and bitterness beneath the outward humor. She laid her hand over his and said gently, "But I know how much you've changed, and what you gave up for my sake. Although truthfully, I don't think you've changed that much."
Roarke gave her a startled look and she explained, "I don't mean that in the way Stanford does, of course. What I mean is that you were always a good man deep down. You stole to survive, and yes, also for the thrill of it at times. But even back then you had your own code of honor. Maybe it wasn't quite the same as mine, but you had lines that you wouldn't cross.
"When you started helping with my investigations, maybe it was just for my sake at first. But it's more than that now. You care about getting justice for the dead, and about helping the victims who are still alive. That's why you built Dochas to help women like your mother, and An Didean to help kids like you and me who didn't have anyone else to rely on."
"Eve," Roarke said hoarsely, his eyes glinting with unshed tears.
"Maybe this Stanford guy can't see what a good man you are, but I do," Eve said. "I know that doesn't help you with the building, but--"
"My darling Eve, it helps more than you could possibly know," Roarke interrupted, lifting her hand to his lips and kissing it reverently.
The touch of his lips on her skin sent a little tingle up her spine, and Eve smiled. "Still, I wish there was something more I could do."
"Don't worry about it," Roarke said. "I haven't given up yet. Perhaps I can use an intermediary to purchase the building for me, although I suspect Stanford will be watching for that now that he knows I want it. At worst, I'll have to find a new location. But for now, why don't we take a break and go have dinner?"
They ate a delicious meal and had some very satisfying sex for dessert. In the morning, Roarke seemed back to his normal self and went off to work cheerfully enough.
Eve, however, was brooding. Roarke was always putting aside his own work to help with hers. Now this time he was the one who needed help, but what could she do? It wasn't like she could throw Stanford in jail until he agreed to sell, although the thought was tempting.
The truth was that she had never taken much interest in Roarke's work before. Money being shifted around in abstract numbers and figures didn't mean anything to her unless they were related to murder. The most that she ever did was to put on a fancy dress and some face gunk to socialize at some party or dinner for Roarke's business associates, and she did so only grudgingly.
She knew that Roarke didn't hold it against her, which only made her feel even more guilty. It made her feel like the scales of their marriage were out of balance, like she wasn't pulling her weight. Buying the building wasn't a matter of life and death, but it clearly meant a lot to Roarke, so it meant a lot to Eve, too. Surely there must be something she could do for him, something more useful than putting on a dress and making small talk at a party? But she was damned if she could think of what that might be.
She was expecting a snide remark from Summerset when she left for work but he merely nodded at her and said nothing, which strangely put her in an even worse mood. He was always telling her what a lousy wife she was--or at least implying it--and right now she thought maybe he was right.
Eve stomped into her office and slammed the door behind her. An unsuspecting Peabody walked in a few minutes later in her ridiculously bright pink coat, calling out a chirpy, "Good morning!"
"What's so good about it?" Eve snarled.
Peabody blinked in surprise and said, "What put a burr up your butt this morning?"
"Are you saying there's something wrong with my butt?" Eve demanded.
"Not at all," Peabody replied hastily. "In fact, it's a very fine butt. Aesthetically speaking, it's probably nicer than McNab's scrawny ass, but I adore it because I adore him."
"Please, I do not want to hear about McNab's ass," Eve groaned, and Peabody grinned. Eve made a show of glaring at her, but privately had to admit that her partner's banter had lifted her spirits a bit. "Sorry for biting your head off."
"It's okay, I've got a hard head," Peabody replied, still grinning. "Is it safe now to ask what put you in such a bad mood?"
Eve explained what had happened, and said gloomily, "I'm just not good at this wifely stuff. One of those socialite types would probably be good at schmoozing at all those fancy parties and know the right people to talk to about getting Stanford to sell the building."
"I think that if Roarke wanted to marry a socialite, he had plenty of opportunities before he met you," Peabody said. "Obviously the kind of wife he wanted was a kick-ass cop, and you are very good at kicking ass."
Eve couldn't help but smile. "I am great at kicking ass. Unfortunately, I don't think that's going to be very helpful in this situation."
"Probably not," Peabody agreed. "But have you considered just talking to this guy? If he's so honest and honorable, then maybe he'd be willing to take the word of a cop that Roarke's intentions are good, even if he isn't willing to take Roarke's word."
"I don't think it will be that easy," Eve said skeptically, but Peabody had a point. She was Roarke's cop, as he affectionately liked to call her, so she'd use her cop skills to try and help her husband. And the first thing that a good detective did was to gather information on the subject of her investigation.
Fortunately, it was a slow day for murder in New York, so she had time to run a quick search on Stanford. She didn't learn much more than Roarke had already told her and honestly wasn't expecting to, but did it anyway just to be thorough.
As Roarke had said, Stanford was squeaky clean and had no police record at all, not even a single speeding or parking ticket. He was wealthy--not as rich as Roarke, but then again, few people were, and he certainly had enough money that he and Roarke would have crossed paths in various business and social functions.
Stanford was, again as Roarke had noted, generous about spreading his wealth around. The two of them supported several of the same charitable organizations, which must have made for some awkward meetings.
As for the personal side of his life, records showed that Stanford had been widowed several years ago. He had an adult daughter who was his second-in-command at his company and would likely take over the business when he eventually retired, according to the news articles that Eve skimmed. The daughter had briefly married and gotten divorced more than a decade ago, and had sole custody of her thirteen-year-old daughter.
Eve also looked up the brother that Roarke had allegedly wronged, and discovered that he had since retired from his position at the museum, and now seemed to spend his time traveling around the world with his husband. She didn't know whether he held a grudge over the past theft, but he certainly seemed to be enjoying his retirement, judging by all pictures and comments he posted on social media.
However, none of this information was helpful, as all of Stanford's relatives were as squeaky clean as he was, so there was no leverage to hold over him. Maybe having a young granddaughter might make him more sympathetic to the children that An Didean provided shelter to, but Eve was sure that Roarke would already have played the sympathy card if he had thought it would make a difference.
What Eve needed was more information, and she knew where to get it, although it would probably cost her. But this was for Roarke, so she sucked it up and called Nadine, saying, "I need a favor."
Eve could tell that Nadine arrived even before she walked through the door by the sounds of hungry and excited detectives descending on doughnuts like a pack of starving wolves.
"I invited you here," Eve pointed out. "You don't have to bribe them to let you into my office."
"But it doesn't hurt to stay on their good side," Nadine said with a smile. "So that they'll feel generously inclined towards me the next time I want a favor. And I saved a couple for you."
She set a small pink cardboard box down on Eve's desk. Eve opened it to discover a French cruller and a chocolate-glazed with sprinkles.
"I have to admit, I'm feeling generously inclined although I should probably be the one bribing you this time," Eve said, taking a bite out of the cruller.
"For now, you can start with some of the coffee I know you have in your Auto Chef," Nadine said. "And later you can write the intro for my new book." Eve groaned and Nadine added impatiently, "You don't have to write an essay, just a little blurb about what a great writer I am and how accurately I portrayed the case, blah blah blah. Don't forget that I took time out of my busy schedule to help you out today."
"Fine, you'll get your intro," Eve said grudgingly, taking another bite of cruller to console herself. "Now give me the scoop on Stanford."
Nadine went over his history in more detail, although most of it simply confirmed what Eve already knew. "He is pretty inflexible in his moral standards," Nadine said. "But he has respect for those who serve--whether it's the police and military who protect the public, or those who minister to the less fortunate, like the people who work at homeless shelters and free clinics. He donates generously to police charities--he donated the funds for new equipment and uniforms for the Police Athletic League last year."
"So, he might be willing to at least hear me out because I'm a cop?" Eve asked.
"I'm not sure," Nadine replied. "He respects the badge, but your association with Roarke might cancel that out."
"Doughnuts aside, you haven't been very helpful," Eve complained. She finished the last bite of cruller and started on the chocolate-glazed, deciding that she might as well at least enjoy the sugar even if the information hadn't panned out.
"Oh ye of little faith," Nadine chided. "Do you really think I'd come here empty-handed? Doughnuts aside, that is. I happen to know that Stanford is attending a big charity fundraiser the day after tomorrow, one that Roarke has also been invited to. I don't know whether you can change Stanford's mind, but you'll have the opportunity to meet him face to face and give it your best shot." She smiled, adding, "He has a reputation for being stubborn, but I'll put my money on you out-stubborning him any day."
"Thanks...I think," Eve said dryly. "But why does me being a good wife always seem to involve putting on a fancy dress and attending a boring party?"
"We all have to make sacrifices," Nadine said, rolling her eyes. "It must be such a hardship, being married to an insanely gorgeous and rich man."
"I'm fine with the gorgeous part, and I'm mostly okay with the rich part although it gets kind of weird at times," Eve replied. "It's just the dress-up and socializing stuff I object to."
"That's the fun part," Nadine said, then laughed at Eve's expression of disbelief. "Anyway, I have one last piece of information for you: Stanford's granddaughter Celia is a big fan of Mavis, and she's supposed to be attending the event with her grandfather. He dotes on her, so if you can get her on your side, maybe she can work on softening up Grandpa for you."
"Anytime," Nadine said cheerfully. "I've got to run--I'm due back at the studio in half an hour. Don't forget about that intro!"
She waved as she hurried out of the office, and Eve sighed to no one in particular, "The things we do for love."
"You want to what?" Roarke asked incredulously.
"Be your plus-one for that charity event," Eve said defensively. "You got a problem with that?"
"Who are you and what have you done with my wife?" Roarke asked.
"Haha, very funny," Eve said. "And how come you didn't ask me to go with you in the first place?" Oddly, she felt slightly offended that he hadn't asked even though she normally wouldn't have wanted to go if he had.
"I thought I was being a considerate husband, since you usually regard such events as a method of slow torture," Roarke replied. "What brought on the change of heart?" He thought it over for a moment, then asked shrewdly, "This wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that Stanford is also on the guest list?"
"Maybe," Eve growled, annoyed that he'd seen through her so easily. "I'm not sure if he'll listen to me, but Nadine says he respects cops, so I figured I could at least give it a shot."
"I appreciate that, Eve," Roarke said. "But you really don't need to worry about it. This is my problem, not yours."
Eve raised her chin and gave him a stern look, the kind that she'd give a rookie she was about to lecture. "We're married. I thought that meant we were a team. Which means that your problems are my problems." She jabbed his chest with an accusing finger. "And if you don't like that, Ace, well then, that's just tough shit."
"Peace," Roarke laughed, throwing up his hands in surrender. "I will gladly accept your help, my darling Eve. Besides, far be it from me to actually turn down an offer from you to dress up for a social gathering."
"Enjoy it, because it's a one-time only offer," Eve warned him.
"Ah, but I thought we were a team," Roarke said, grinning as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close.
"Me and my big mouth," Eve grumbled, but the warmth of Roarke's embrace more than made up for any dressing up or socializing she'd have to do.
A couple of nights later, Eve was feeling less sanguine about the whole deal, but she tried to think of the fancy dress and jewelry as armor of a sort, the way she'd put on an armored vest when going after a dangerous suspect.
Expect that police gear never left her feeling so exposed. Her black silk gown left her arms bare and the neckline dipped low to show off her diamond pendant. Smaller diamonds sparkled in her ears and on her wrists, and tiny crystal chips had been sewn onto her dress, presumably to match them.
The dress was ankle-length but slit up high on one side, exposing more of her legs than she was comfortable with. On the bright side, at least it gave her easy access to the weapon she had strapped to her thigh. She wasn't expecting to need one, but Eve preferred to be prepared for emergencies, and going weaponless would leave her feeling more naked than any skimpy dress could.
They were in a huge ballroom with a live orchestra playing, and there were couples dancing in the center of the room. One side of the room was lined with buffet tables filled with various fancy foodstuffs, and there were small tables along the other walls where people could sit and eat, although most of them were circulating around the room chatting with other guests while they carried their little plates and glasses of champagne.
"Would you like something to eat, Eve?" Roarke asked.
"Maybe later," she replied distractedly , scanning the room for her target.
"You look so intense," Roarke said, sounding amused. "I realize you're on a mission, so to speak, but this is a party. Why not have a little fun while you're here?"
Eve gave him a baleful look. "If I wanted to have fun, I'd be at home in sweats on the couch, eating a tub of ice cream."
"And I appreciate your sacrifice," Roarke said, lifting her hand to his lips and kissing it in a courtly manner. "After this is over, you may have all the ice cream you like. As for the sweats, I must admit I like this outfit better, but you look beautiful in anything to me."
Several people standing nearby smiled at them, and Eve was about to tell him to knock it off with the sentimental crap in public, when she spotted a familiar face--no, two of them.
"Hey Dallas, you made it," Nadine said, walking up to them. She was wearing a knee-length dress made of something red and shiny, with matching stiletto heels. She was wearing some jewelry too, but Eve barely noticed because her attention was caught by the accessory on Nadine's arm: a handsome man in a bronze-colored suit and black shirt, with a matching bronze cord woven through the long braid hanging down his back. In other words, Chief Medical Examiner Li Morris.
Eve stared at them in surprise while Roarke said smoothly, "How lovely to see the two of you" as he kissed Nadine on the cheek and shook Morris's hand.
"So, are the two of you here...together?" Eve asked once she'd recovered from her shock. "As in dating?" She wasn't entirely sure how she felt about the idea.
Nadine looked a little flustered and actually blushed. "There are a lot of big shots and celebs here tonight, so I thought it might be a good opportunity to make some connections or sniff out some juicy gossip. And, well, I needed a date, so..."
"What happened to the rock star?" Eve asked.
"Oh, he's history," Nadine said dismissively. "Nothing dramatic--we were both just too busy with our work to spend much time together, and we ended up drifting apart."
"Good, so I won't have to track him down and beat him up for breaking your heart," Eve joked, but her gaze slid over to Morris, who smiled.
"Nadine was kind enough to drop off a preview copy of her latest book, since I make a brief appearance in it," Morris said. "After that, we ended up talking about my profession."
"It's fascinating when you think about it," Nadine said. "And moving as well. With his work, he speaks for the dead who cannot speak for themselves. I started thinking that it would make a good idea for a book."
Eve's hackles went up and her protective instincts kicked in--she didn't want to see Morris having his past dug up and exposed to a media frenzy. Even if Nadine didn't write about how he'd tragically lost his lover, the media would inevitably dig it up if he became the subject of a bestselling book and possibly a vid.
But before Eve could get too worked up, Nadine said, "It'll be a novel this time, since Li is a bit shy about being in the spotlight. And besides, I figured it would be good to stretch my wings and try something new."
Eve relaxed, silently chiding herself for thinking Nadine would exploit a friend's grief. Sure, she could be a pain in the ass when she was pursuing a story, but she also had a strong sense of honor and integrity.
"I'm just giving Nadine some background information," Morris explained. "I'm sure her fictional hero will lead a much more exciting life than I do." He and Nadine laughed and smiled at each other, as if sharing an inside joke. It was not the same kind of intimacy that she and Roarke shared, but there was an air of affection and familiarity. And they both looked...happy.
Someone waved at Nadine from across the room, and she said, "Excuse me for a moment. That's the manager of a certain celebrity that I've been trying to get on my show."
After she left, Eve turned to Morris and asked, "So are the two of you an item?"
"If you mean is this a date with romantic intentions, then yes it is," he replied. "We've only recently started seeing each other, so I can't say that it's true love everlasting, at least not yet. But we are enjoying each other's company and taking our time getting to know each other. Of course I'd met her before through you and Roarke, but we never did much more than exchange a few pleasantries."
"Are you happy?" Eve asked.
"Yes," Morris said, "I am. I will always care about Ammy, and I will always miss her. But she wouldn't want me to mourn forever, any more than I would want her to wallow in grief if our positions had been reversed. Nadine is smart and fun to be with. She's fierce and ambitious, but she's also compassionate. As I said, I don't know yet if this relationship will turn out to be long-term, but I feel certain that we will always be friends."
"Then I'm happy for you," Eve said sincerely. If anyone deserved happiness, then Morris surely did. And so did Nadine, for that matter. She had never thought of them as a potential couple before, but they seemed to fit together well. Certainly they were no more mismatched than she and Roarke had been.
When Nadine returned, she told Eve, "I see Stanford over there, if you want to take a shot at him." She pointed at a table over in the far corner of the room, then added, "But not literally, please."
"Very funny," Eve said sourly. "Stick with reporting, Nadine. Comedy's not your strong suit."
Nadine just smirked. Morris said nothing, but his eyes twinkled with amusement. He offered Nadine his hand and said, "Would you care to dance, my lady?"
"I would be honored," Nadine replied. She took his hand and they headed out onto the dance floor.
"They make a nice couple," Roarke observed.
"It's a little weird, but yeah, they do," Eve said. "I think Nadine will be good for him."
"And he for her," Roarke said.
"I hope so, anyway," Eve said. "I'm going to head over and talk to Stanford now."
"Good luck," Roarke told her. "I'll save a dance for you."
"That's not really incentive for me to hurry back," Eve retorted. If getting dressed up for fancy parties was not her thing, then dancing was doubly not her thing.
She approached Stanford's table and got a closer look at Roarke's nemesis. He was an older man of middling height and weight with thinning gray hair. There was nothing particularly outstanding about him appearance-wise, but there was warmth and affection mixed with a touch of exasperation in his eyes as he gazed at the teenage girl sitting across from him.
"Come now, Celia, surely you can tear your attention away from your pocket 'link for just a little while?"
"In a minute, Grandpa," the girl said without looking up from her 'link, which was almost the exact same shade of pink as Peabody's coat, Eve noticed. "I'm messaging a friend."
"You can talk to your friend some other--" Stanford started to say, but broke off his sentence and looked up in surprise when he saw Eve approach.
That also got Celia's attention, and her jaw dropped as she finally looked away from the 'link screen. "Oh my god!" she squealed. "You're Eve Dallas! I've seen you in the Icove vid! Well, the fictional you, not the real you, but of course I've seen the real you on the news. Sorry, I'm babbling, aren't I? This is just so mag!"
"I'm sorry to interrupt," Eve said politely. "But could I have a few minutes of your time, Mr. Stanford?"
Before he could reply, Celia said, "Oh please do interrupt! This party has been sooo boring until you got here!"
With a resigned expression, Stanford motioned to a chair and said, "Please have a seat, Lieutenant Dallas. I know why you're here, but I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed."
Eve sat down and said, "I understand that you have your grievances against Roarke, but he's not the same man that he was in the past."
Stanford gazed at her intently, and a bit quizzically. "I've looked into you, and from all I've heard, you are a hardworking, honest detective with a strong sense of justice. Therefore, I'm puzzled as to how you ended up with a man like Roarke. Of course, his money would be enough for many women, let alone his looks and charm--"
"His money doesn't matter to me," Eve interrupted. "If anything, it's a more of a detraction. Sure, the little luxuries like real coffee and red meat are nice, but it also means having to dress up and make nice with people I don't know at parties like this one. No offense."
"None taken," Stanford said, looking a little amused, which Eve hoped was a good sign.
"Exactly!" Celia said. "It's such a bore."
"It's for a good cause, Celia," Stanford gently reminded her.
"Oh sure," Celia agreed. "I mean, I'm all for helping the charities, don't get me wrong. But do most of the people here really care about helping out, or are they just here to be seen with the right people and make a show out of doing good? Wouldn't it be more efficient if everybody just gave their money directly to the charities, including all the money that's being spent on food and drinks tonight?"
Maybe the girl wasn't as silly as she seemed at first glance, Eve thought. "You have an astute granddaughter," she told Stanford.
He nodded with a touch of pride, then said to Celia, "True, my dear. But unfortunately, it's a necessary evil, as many of the people here need the incentive of seeing and being seen in order to get into the giving mood."
"There's no point in being charitable if other people don't see how generous they're being," Eve said cynically.
Stanford raised an eyebrow, and Eve realized that he probably included Roarke in that category. "Roarke cares about making social and business connections, yes," she said, "but he also cares, period. In particular, he's passionate about An Didean. If you've researched us, then you must know that we both had...let's say, less than ideal childhoods. He wants to give the kids at An Didean a second chance, a fighting chance at having a better life."
"I believe you are sincere, Lieutenant," Stanford said. "But I also believe that even good people can be blind to the faults in their loved ones."
"Oh come on, Grandpa," Celia said before Eve could say anything. "You're still holding a grudge over how Roarke supposedly wronged our family when even Uncle George doesn't care about it anymore." To Eve she explained, "That's actually my Great Uncle George who worked at the museum that Roarke supposedly robbed." Turning back to her grandfather, she added, "Even though there's absolutely no evidence that he did."
"I know about that incident," Eve said carefully.
"Anyway," Celia continued, "I suppose he was upset about it at the time, but he says that time and age have provided some objective distance. He even jokes that it's because of the robbery that he met his husband. That would be Uncle Alex, who worked on the new security system that was installed after the robbery. They were immediately smitten with each other and the rest is history."
"Just because things worked out for George does not negate the fact that a crime was committed," Stanford said.
"You don't even know that Roarke was the one who stole the painting," Celia argued. "You're the one who's so big on justice, and doesn't the law say 'innocent until proven guilty'? Besides, even if he was involved, Roarke works for the police now. Isn't that proof enough that he's changed?" She glanced at Eve and sighed, "All for the sake of love...that's so romantic!"
"That was a fictional account in a Hollywood vid," Stanford said sternly. "You don't know anything about the real man."
"But it's true that he helps the police, right?" Celia asked Eve.
"He has served as a police consultant in various cases, yes," Eve replied. Seeing the implacable expression on Stanford's face, she decided to try another tactic. "Whatever you think of Roarke, can we at least agree that An Didean is a worthy cause? The school that Roarke wants to build will help a lot of troubled children. Can you do it for their sake, if not for his? And if you're still suspicious that he has some kind of ulterior motive, I'm sure I can arrange for An Didean to open their books to prove that there's no fraud or money laundering going on."
"Lieutenant Dallas, I--" Stanford started to say, when Celia let out a loud, ear-piercing squeal that made both him and Dallas wince.
"OHMIGOD--Mavis Freestone?! Ohmigod, ohmigod, I'm your biggest fan! I have all your recordings!"
Mavis was dressed fairly conservatively--for Mavis, anyway. She wore a gold and black striped dress that stopped at mid-thigh, and knee-high black leather boots trimmed with gold studs. Her hair was black, with just a light dusting of gold glitter in it.
"Thank you, biggest fan," Mavis laughed, enveloping the girl in a spontaneous hug. "Hey Dallas, sorry I'm late. We just finished the session at the recording studio and I came right down here."
"No problem," Eve said. "Thanks for coming on short notice."
"Wow," breathed a starstruck Celia. "First Eve Dallas and now Mavis Freestone. I can't believe it! Grandpa, thank you so much for bringing me here! I know I complained about it being boring, but I was totally wrong. This is so exciting--my friends will never believe it!"
"I'm glad you're having fun, dear," Stanford said with a slightly pained smile, which Celia didn't seem to notice. Mavis casually drew Celia a short distance away as she regaled the girl with stories about the recording session she'd just finished--close enough to keep her within sight of her grandfather, but far enough that Eve could talk to him with a modicum of privacy.
"You've really gone all out to impress me, or at least to impress my granddaughter," Stanford said wryly.
"As a cop, I'm willing to use whatever resources I have to get the job done," Eve said without shame. "And Mavis is a friend, so it didn't take much to get her to drop by. And even if impressing your granddaughter doesn't help my cause, the worst that happens is that Celia gets to meet her idol, so at least one person is happy." She paused and corrected herself, "No, two people. Mavis is here as a favor, but genuinely appreciates her fans and enjoys meeting them."
"You are an interesting woman, Lieutenant," Stanford said, looking as though he didn't know quite what to make of her. "Why go so far for Roarke, and why does he want this building so badly?"
"To answer your first question, that's easy," Eve replied. "Because I love him, and because despite what you think of him, he's a good man. As for the second, well, Roarke's story isn't mine to tell, although if you ask him, maybe he'd be willing to tell you some of it. But what I can say is that he cares about making life better for the kids at An Didean, to give them the chances that we never had."
"So I should feel sorry for him because he had a difficult childhood?" Stanford asked sharply.
"He wouldn't want anyone's pity, and certainly not yours," Eve snapped back, then took a deep breath and reminded herself that she was trying to be diplomatic. "Look, you asked me why Roarke wants the building, so I'm telling you that it's because he cares about the kids at the shelter, and he cares because he--because both of us--can relate to what they're going through."
Eve wasn't willing to bare her soul or Roarke's any further, and it probably wouldn't make much difference if she did. Stanford would likely think it a sob story designed to win his sympathy. So she decided to approach the issue from another, more personal angle.
"It's obvious that you love and treasure Celia," she said. "And I'm sure that Celia has always felt safe and loved. The children at An Didean don't have that kind of protection and reassurance. If Celia were ever alone and in trouble, wouldn't you want there to be someplace that she could go to for help, someplace that she would be safe?"
Stanford flinched--just a little, but enough to be noticeable--at the thought of his granddaughter in trouble. He wasn't ready to give in yet, but her remark had struck home, Eve thought with satisfaction.
"Lieutenant, I..." Stanford's voice trailed off as he looked around. "Speaking of Celia, where is she? Wasn't she with your friend?"
Eve scanned the room for Mavis, and saw her talking with Roarke. She and Stanford headed over to them, and she saw Roarke's eyes widen with surprise, although he quickly schooled his features into a polite and friendly smile.
"I see that you've met my lovely wife," Roarke said. Stanford just nodded at him curtly but his attention was focused on Mavis.
"Mavis, where did Celia go?" Eve asked.
"Oh, she said she had to run to the ladies' room," Mavis replied. "But I think the real reason was that she got a call on her 'link." She added with a smile and wink, "I think it was from a boy. She told me there was someone she was crushing on."
"A boy?" Stanford asked, startled.
"Oops, I guess I let the cat out of the bag," Mavis said. "Please don't be upset with her."
"I'm not upset, just surprised," Stanford said. "I think of her as a little girl still, but I guess she is at the age when girls start to like boys and vice versa. Thank you for being kind to her. I know it really made her day."
"She made mine, too," Mavis said, smiling with such earnest sincerity that Stanford couldn't help but smile back. "It's not that long ago that I was working in a dive where the customers paid more attention to their drinks than my singing. I still find it completely magalicious that people like Celia love my music and call themselves my fans."
"I'm sure that Celia finds you, uh, magalicious too, Ms. Freestone," Stanford said.
"Oh, please call me 'Mavis'."
"Thank you, Mavis," Stanford said. "And it was quite...interesting...meeting you, Lieutenant Dallas" He hesitated, then gave Roarke another nod. "If you'll excuse me, I had better go look for Celia now."
"Well, at least that went better than our last exchange," Roarke said.
"He didn't say anything to you," Eve replied.
"True, but at least he didn't call me a liar and a thief," Roarke said lightly. "If he does come around, it'll be due to you two ladies charming him." He kissed both Eve and Mavis on the cheek.
"I don't know how much difference I made," Eve said doubtfully. "He seems pretty stubborn and I don't think I changed his mind about you."
"I appreciate you making the effort anyway," Roarke said, kissing her again.
"I think he's a nice man under all that bluster," Mavis said. "He comes off all strict and stern at first, but you can tell that he's a softie deep down, especially when it comes to Celia. She's a real sweet kid. I promised to send her tickets to my next show. Maybe she can bring her crush."
"Maybe I should have you work on convincing Stanford to sell," Eve said.
"No one can resist our Mavis," Roarke agreed, and they all laughed.
Eve actually enjoyed the party for the next fifteen minutes or so. It wasn't so bad, spent in the company of her best friend and the man she loved. She even deigned to eat a plate of those fancy little hors d'oeuvres, which were actually pretty tasty, although the ones that Summerset made for their home parties were better. Not that she'd ever tell him that.
Just as she was contemplating getting more of those cheesy pastry puffs, Stanford came up to them, saying anxiously, "I can't find Celia anywhere."
"Mavis said she went to the restroom," Eve said. "Did you check there?"
"Yes," Stanford replied. "Obviously I couldn't go in, but I waited outside for a few minutes, and when she didn't come out, I asked a woman who was going in to check for Celia. She said that Celia wasn't there." Looking increasingly panicked, he continued, "I've been looking for her everywhere and I can't find her!"
"Calm down," Eve said. "Have you tried calling her 'link?"
"Yes, but she's not answering."
"Is it possible that she just went home?" Eve asked. "She said earlier that she didn't want to come here in the first place. Maybe she caught a cab home?"
"Celia is a good girl, even if she's been acting like, well, a teenager," Stanford said. "She wouldn't just leave without saying anything. Besides, she was thrilled to meet you and Ms. Free--you and Mavis. I don't think she'd run out while her idol is still here."
"I know she's a good girl," Mavis said. "But as you said, she is a teenager. She sounded really smitten with her crush. Maybe she snuck out to meet him?" As Stanford was about to protest, she added, "She hasn't been gone long. Maybe she was just planning a quick meet-up, and to get back before you noticed."
"Obviously, he noticed," Eve said. "Did she tell you this boy's name?"
"Sorry, no," Mavis replied.
"Do you know who it might be?" Eve asked Stanford.
"I have no idea," Stanford said helplessly. "I've met some of her friends from school, but they're mostly girls, and she didn't seem to regard the boys as anything more than friends."
"We don't know for sure that she's with this boy, but check with her friends to see if they know," Eve said. "And we'll check with the staff and security here to see if they've seen her. It's a big building; she could still be here. She could be hiding in a quiet corner or a stairwell talking to the crush on her 'link." She kept her voice calm and matter-of-fact for Stanford's sake, but she was starting to get a bad feeling about this.
"I know the head of security here," Roarke said. "I'll ask her to start looking for Celia--discreetly."
"Thank you," Stanford said without hesitation, his concern for his granddaughter apparently trumping his dislike of Roarke.
"I don't want to alarm you, Mr. Stanford, but I have to consider all possibilities," Eve said. "You're a wealthy man, and wealthy men often make enemies. Do you know of anyone who might want to harm you or your family?"
"No," Stanford replied. "I mean, of course there are people I've offended, business deals that have gone sour. But nothing that would warrant someone going after me, let alone my...my granddaughter."
His voice shook with fear, and Mavis reached out to touch his arm reassuringly. "Hey, we don't know that anything's happened to Celia yet. It's Dallas's job to look at worst case scenarios, but it's more likely that Celia is still here somewhere, or at worst, that she's stepped out to meet her boyfriend. Either way, I'm sure we'll find her soon."
"Thank you, Mavis," Stanford said quietly.
"I'm sorry to have to bring up another worst case scenario," Eve said. "But what about a kidnapping for ransom? Have you ever had to take precautions for anything like that?"
Stanford shook his head. "I am wealthy, yes, but not nearly as wealthy or famous as your husband. I donate to charity and attend functions like these occasionally, but mostly I keep a low profile, as does my family. We taken reasonable precautions--my home and my daughter's home have top of line security systems, but we don't go around with bodyguards. At least, I never thought we might need one until now."
Fear crept back into his voice, along with guilt. "Celia didn't even want to come tonight. But she was staying with me because her mother is out of town on business, and I didn't want to leave her at home alone. How am I ever going to face my daughter if anything happens to Celia?"
"Don't panic just yet, Mr. Stanford," Eve told him. "Please call Celia's friends and see if they've heard from her, or know anything about the boy she has a crush on. In the meantime, I'll tag my partner and have her standing by, just in case we need to start an official search."
While Stanford was contacting Celia's friends, Eve called Peabody on her 'link. Fortunately--or perhaps unfortunately, depending on your point of view--she was able to talk to McNab at the same time, as the two of them were in bed together when she called.
"Argh!" Eve cried. "Turn off the video if the two of you aren't decent!"
Actually, the rumpled sheets covered McNab up to the waist, while Peabody had pulled them up over her breasts to more-or-less preserve her modesty, but it was quite obvious what they had been doing under those sheets. Eve shuddered at the thought.
"Don't sweat it, Dallas," McNab said cheerfully. "All the important bits are covered, so we're decent enough."
"McNab, I do not want to think about your bits," Eve groaned.
Peabody laughed and said, "What's up, Dallas?"
Eve explained the situation, and their expressions quickly turned sober. "It may be nothing," she said. "The kid might have just gone home, or snuck off on a date with the secret boyfriend, but just in case, I want you guys standing by."
"Should we come down there?" Peabody asked.
"Not yet, but be ready to move if and when I call you," Eve replied. "And put some damn clothes on!"
"Lieutenant?" Stanford asked as she signed off. "I'm speaking to Celia's best friend Katie right now. She doesn't know where Celia is, but she says that Celia has been talking recently about a boy she met online."
"Let me talk to her," Eve said, and Stanford handed over his 'link. A girl about Celia's age stared back at her through the video screen, her eyes filled with a mixture of excitement and anxiety.
"Wow, are you the real Eve Dallas, like in the vid?" Katie asked.
"Yeah, I'm Dallas, but vids aren't real," Eve said. "What's real is that your friend might be in danger. What do you know about this boy?"
"Not much," Katie replied, looking chastened. "They got to chatting on a Mavis fansite where Celia likes to hang out, and they had a lot of interests in common. You know, liking the same music and vids and books and stuff."
"What's his name?" Eve asked.
"I don't know his full name," Katie said. "He calls himself Jordy, which might or might not be his real first name. Celia said he's older, like in high school. She's been kind of secretive about him."
"Secretive?" Eve asked, getting a stronger feeling that this was turning into something serious and not just a childish escapade.
"Not like in a bad way," Katie said hastily. "Not in a 'we're gonna run off together' kind of way. Just kind of coy and playful, you know? I figured she was just having fun crushing on the guy. She knows better than to run off with some stranger that she met online."
Eve talked with Katie a little longer, but she didn't know anything else about the mysterious Jordy.
She handed the 'link back to Stanford, who said helplessly, "I just don't understand it. Celia is a good girl, a responsible girl. We've taught her to be cautious about talking to strangers online. Do you really think she went to meet this boy?"
"I don't know," Eve replied, noticing that it hadn't yet occurred to him that Jordy might not be a boy at all, but an adult predator posing as one in order to lure in naive girls.
She was spared from having to bring up that possibility when a security guard came up to them and said, "Excuse me, Mr. Stanford, Lieutenant Dallas. Roarke and Chief of Security Nakagawa would like to see you in the Chief's office."
"Maybe they've found out something about Celia," Stanford said hopefully. Eve thought that was likely; she just hoped it wasn't bad news.
Mavis seemed uncertain of what she should do, so Eve told her, "Will you stay here and keep an eye out in case Celia comes back?" She privately thought that was unlikely, but having something constructive to do at least made Mavis feel better.
They followed the guard to the Security office, where they met Nakagawa. She was an Asian woman who was a few inches shorter than Eve, with black hair pulled back in a neat bun, and a stern, no-nonsense expression on her face.
"We've located security footage of Celia," she said without any preamble, and nodded at a tech sitting in front of a bank of monitors.
"Good news or bad?" Eve whispered to Roarke.
"I'm not sure," Roarke replied. "But at least we may have a lead now."
"Celia did head towards the restroom, but she didn't go in," Nakagawa said as the tech played back the vid footage for them. Celia stood in the hallway outside the restroom, talking to someone on her 'link. There was no sound, and the 'link screen wasn't visible from the camera angle, but Celia looked happy and excited when she ended the call and hurried off.
"After that, she left the building through the side exit here." Footage from different cameras showed Celia making her way out of the building.
"She just left, without anyone noticing?" a distraught Stanford said.
"We have security stationed at all entrances and exits," Nakagawa explained. "However, their job is mainly to prevent unauthorized persons from entering, not to stop anyone from leaving."
"I'm sorry," Stanford said. "Of course you had no reason to stop her, but this is just so upsetting."
"I understand," Nakagawa said. "And actually, the guard at that exit did notice her. He might have been concerned about a girl that age leaving alone, but as you can see, there was a group of people leaving at the same time, and he thought that she was with them."
"Clever, or possibly lucky," Roarke murmured.
"Clever and foolish at the same time," Eve said, keeping her voice lowered so that Stanford wouldn't overhear. "But teenagers often are."
"And here," Nakagawa was saying, "is footage from outside the building."
They could see Celia walking out the exit and down the street. At the corner, almost out of the camera's range, a grey sedan pulled up beside her. She seemed to be speaking to someone inside the car, then the door opened and she got in and the car drove off.
"And that's all we have, I'm afraid," Nakagawa said. "It appears that she didn't leave under duress, but..."
"But anyone luring out an underage girl in secret is probably not up to anything good," Eve said grimly. "Run that footage for me again." The tech replayed the vid, and Eve frowned as she watched. "You can't see the license plate from that angle. Can't see the driver, either."
"What on earth was she thinking?" a horrified Stanford exclaimed. "Leaving without saying anything, driving off with...God knows who was in that car?"
"The car doesn't look familiar?" Eve asked. Stanford shook his head. "Are you sure?" she persisted. "Think again. Did you notice this car, or for that matter, any other car that might have been parked near your residence?"
"You think this person might have been stalking Celia?" Stanford asked, looking even more alarmed. He paused to think, then replied, "No, I don't recall seeing any unfamiliar cars parked near my house, but I wasn't watching for anything like that, so it's possible that I just didn't notice."
"I want to send a copy of this over to EDD and have McNab take a look at it and see if he can get anything useful from it," Eve said.
"Whatever you need, Lieutenant," Nakagawa assured her.
Eve had just called Peabody and McNab and told them to get to Cop Central when another security guard walked into the office.
"Excuse me, Chief, Lieutenant," he said. "We were outside looking for witnesses who might have seen Celia leaving in the car. A few people saw the car but didn't get a good look at the driver or license plate. But we did find this in the street not far from where the car picked up Celia."
He held up a plastic bag containing a badly cracked pink pocket 'link. "I picked it up with a handkerchief so that I wouldn't get my fingerprints on it, and I bagged it in case you needed it for evidence," he added.
"Good work..." Eve peered at the name tag on his uniform. "...Addison."
"Thank you, ma'am," Addison said, looking both pleased and a little sheepish. "I watch a lot of cop vids. I loved the Icove vid, by the way."
"Uh...thanks," Eve said, silently cursing Nadine. She knew she was never going to stop hearing about the Icove vid, and no doubt a sequel would be made soon based on Nadine's new book.
But she quickly forgot her irritation when Stanford went pale and exclaimed, "Celia would never go anywhere without her 'link! I've often joked that she's so attached to it that it's as much a part of her as an arm or a leg."
Eve and Roarke exchanged a look. "The driver tossed it so that it couldn't be used to trace their location," Roarke said.
"This has gone beyond a girl sneaking out on a date without permission," Eve said. "I'm going to officially call it in as a missing person case. I'll put an APB out on the car, but there are a lot of gray sedans in the city."
"I may be able to get something from her 'link history," Roarke said. "She's been using it to talk to Jordy, so there should be videos and message logs stored in it."
"It's damaged, though," Addison said doubtfully. "It might not be in working condition."
Roarke looked amused at the thought of a minor inconvenience like that stopping him, but to be fair, Addison wasn't familiar with Roarke's e-skills. "I've worked with worse," was all Roarke said. "I'm sure I'll still be able to extract the data." He turned to Stanford, adding, "With your permission, of course."
"He's your best shot at getting the information quickly enough to find Celia before anything happens to her," Eve told him, silently praying that "anything" hadn't already happened. "I can send it to Cop Central, but it will be faster if Roarke does it."
"Then please, do whatever you can to find her," Stanford said.
"I have a console you can work with," Nakagawa offered.
"Thank you," Roarke said.
"Seal up before you handle that 'link, Ace," Eve said, pulling out a small can of Seal-It from the sequined clutch purse that went along with the fancy dress.
"You keep Seal-It in there?" a startled Roarke asked, then smiled. "I should have known."
"I like to be prepared, just in case," Eve informed him. "Although it's a pain trying to fit things into these stupid little purses. Next time I have to get dressed up, have Leonardo make me a dress with pockets--deep ones."
"It will be difficult to design something both practical and aesthetically pleasing," an amused Roarke said. "But I'm sure Leonardo will rise to the challenge." He held out his hands to be sealed up, then got to work on the 'link while Eve called in the APB.
It didn't take long before Roarke said, "I've got something."
"That was fast, even for you," Eve said.
"The damage was mainly to the outer case," Roarke replied. "The inside was mostly intact. Here are some of her video calls with Jordy."
He brought it up on the console screen, showing a dark-haired boy in his late teens. Eve supposed that his pretty face, brooding eyes, and pouty lips might be appealing to a thirteen-year-old girl. The conversation itself was nothing special, some talk about music and vids that they liked, and a little flirting.
"I know him," Stanford said, recognition dawning on his face. "'Jordy'--I should have made the connection, but I haven't seen him in over a year. That's Jordan Matthews, my secretary's son."
"Did he and Celia know each other?" Eve asked. "Prior to this, I mean."
Stanford shook his head. "They had never even met, as far as I knew. Let me explain...Karen, Jordan's mother, had gone through a nasty divorce about a year and a half ago. She said that Jordan took it hard, started hanging around with the wrong crowd and getting into trouble at school. Nothing too serious--cutting class, talking back to teachers, that sort of thing. So as a favor to her, I arranged for Jordan to get a summer internship working at our office, mostly simple clerical work. We hoped that it would do him good to have some structure and responsibility, and that the chance to earn some spending money would appeal to him."
"Let me guess, it didn't turn out so well," Eve said.
"No, it did not," Stanford sighed. "He treated it like a punishment, and did his work begrudgingly and with the bare minimum of effort. That would have been bad enough, but he was caught stealing money from the petty cash fund. It wasn't much, but I couldn't keep him on after that. And even if I'd been willing to overlook it, poor Karen was mortified. She apologized profusely and had him resign before I even had a chance to fire him."
"So he has reason to hold a grudge against you," Eve said.
"But that was more than a year ago," Stanford said, looking bewildered. "If this is revenge, why wait so long? And it isn't as if I pressed charges against him. The worst that happened was that he was forced to quit a job that he didn't want in the first place. I offered to help Karen get him into a counseling program, but she was very embarrassed about the incident, and said she would handle things herself. I never heard anything about Jordan after that. I had hoped that it was nothing more than a bit of youthful rebellion, but I didn't want to embarrass Karen further by asking about it. Maybe I should have."
"Whatever you did or didn't do, this is on Jordan, not you," Eve said. "From my point of view, all you did was give him a job and have him resign when it didn't work out. And even if you had wronged him, that doesn't give him the right to kidnap an innocent girl."
"Thank you," Stanford said. "Although I'm afraid that won't be much comfort if anything happens to Celia."
"We'll do our best to find her and bring her home safely," Eve told him. She was just about to call Peabody and McNab, when the latter called her first.
"I've enlarged and enhanced the image of the car as much as I can," McNab said. "I've got the make and model, but not the license plate. We don't have a good image of the driver, either, since Celia is blocking him from the camera's view."
"That's all right, we know who the driver is," Eve replied. "His name is Jordan Matthews. See if there's a car registered to him or his mother, Karen Matthews."
"You're right, a car matching our description is registered to a Karen Matthews." McNab joked, "I don't know what you need me for, Dallas. It seems like you practically have the case solved already."
"Not yet," Eve said. "We know who he is, but we still have to find him--and Celia. Put out an updated APB on the car with the license number and Jordan's picture. And Peabody?"
"I'm right here, Dallas."
"Contact the mother and see if she knows where her son might have gone. Or if he has any friends who might know."
"I'm on it!"
"I've been looking up Jordan's social media accounts," Roarke said. "The one that he used to communicate with Celia appears innocent enough, talking about school and music and vids. But with others, he does a lot of complaining about how his father doesn't care about him, and how his mother treats him like a criminal and watches him like a hawk, so he can't have any fun."
Eve peered over his shoulder to look at the console. "Apparently, he thinks that's the fault of his holier-than-thou former boss who got all bent out of shape about him 'borrowing' a few credits, even though he's got more money than he knows what to do with." To Stanford, she added, "His words, not mine. Apparently he has been nursing a grudge over the past year, after all."
"So this is because of me," Stanford said, looking guilt-ridden. Before Eve could try to dissuade him, he said, "I know what you said is true, that Jordan is responsible for his own actions, but still, the fact remains that he targeted Celia because of me."
Eve knew that there was nothing she could say to make him feel better, so she didn't try. The only that would help was to find Celia, alive and unharmed. Her cops were working hard tracking down leads, and now there was nothing to do but wait, which was the part that Eve hated most.
Her 'link signaled an incoming call and she glanced at the screen eagerly, expecting word from Peabody or McNab. She cursed under her breath when she saw that it was from Nadine, and ignored it. When Nadine called again a minute later, she answered the call and snapped, "I don't have time for this, Nadine."
"Mavis told us what's going on," Nadine replied, not seeming to take offense at Eve's tone of voice.
"She shouldn't have," Eve said impatiently. "A child's life is at stake, and I don't have time to give you an interview right now."
"For Chrissake, Dallas, I know that," Nadine said indignantly. "Sure, when this is all over, I'll ask for an exclusive, but right now, I'm asking as a friend, not a reporter. Is there anything that Li and I can do to help?"
"Oh," Eve said, feeling a bit guilty as her anger dissolved. "Sorry. And thanks, but I don't think so. I appreciate the offer, but I've already got my people running down some leads."
"Would it help to release Celia's picture to the public?" Nadine asked. "I'm not asking because I want a scoop. Just wondering if it would help to have more eyes looking for her."
Eve considered her offer for a moment, then replied, "No, not right now. Maybe later if we aren't able to locate her, but right now I don't want to spook the guy who took her if he hears the police are looking for him."
"Okay, for now I'll just lend Mavis some moral support," Nadine said. "She's really worried about the kid. Call me if you change your mind."
"Will do," Eve said, and ended the call. Peabody called her a few minutes after that.
"I spoke to Karen Matthews and she feels terrible about what happened," Peabody said. "She said that Jordan was going through a hard time after the divorce, which you already knew. Things got even worse after he was caught stealing at work. His mother grounded him and cut off his allowance, and he responded by stealing some money from her purse and running off to stay with his father. Except that dear old dad had just married his second wife, the one that broke up his first marriage, and he didn't want a kid around cramping his style."
"That's cold," Eve said.
"You're telling me," Peabody agreed. "With nowhere else to go and no money left, Jordan eventually came crawling back home. Mom made him attend family counseling sessions, although he just sulked through most of them. He started going back to school--grudgingly, but he went, and he graduated a few months ago by the skin of his teeth. His grades weren't good enough to get into a good university, so he enrolled at a local community college. And since Mom was still not giving him an allowance until she was sure he could behave responsibly, he got a part-time job at a fast food place to earn some spending money. Which he complained a lot about, but he stayed out of trouble and seemed to be settling down. He had stopped complaining and seemed more upbeat lately, so Karen thought he was finally turning things around."
He was upbeat because he'd found a purpose, Eve thought. He'd found a way to take revenge on Stanford through Celia. He might have stumbled across her by accident online, but there was also a good chance that he'd deliberately sought her out.
"Jordan had been behaving well enough that she let him have the car tonight when he claimed he was working the late shift at his job," Peabody continued. "She doesn't know where he might have taken Celia. The only place she could think of that he might run to would be to his father, but that's not likely after their last encounter."
"And his friends?" Eve asked.
"He hasn't had much contact with his old friends, the ones that his mother knew of," Peabody replied. "And she didn't know the names and contact information for what she called 'the bad crowd'. But I did talk to his coworkers, and one of them said he mentioned something about an abandoned building where he would go to smoke or drink."
"Abandoned," Roarke murmured thoughtfully. "Or...perhaps not abandoned, but just vacant?"
"You don't think..." Stanford said, meeting his gaze. "Could it be the building that you wanted to buy? It's vacant, but it still has a security system that would alert my staff and the police if anyone broke in."
"I could be wrong," Roarke said. "But on the other hand, he could have found a way in. Perhaps used his mother's console to get access to the passcodes?"
"We don't have any better leads right now," Eve decided. "Let's go take a look."
"I'll meet you there," Peabody said.
"I'm going too," Stanford said firmly. "I can't just sit around and do nothing if Celia might be there. Besides, you'll need me to get into the building."
Eve could see that it would be useless to argue with him. "Fine, but you're waiting in the car." To Roarke, she added, "And so are you."
"As long as you have backup with you when you go in," Roarke said, a little too cooperatively. If he thought she was in trouble, she knew he'd come after her no matter what he said.
"I mean it," Eve insisted. As they headed out to the car, she whispered, "I need you to keep Stanford safe."
"I will," Roarke replied. "As long as you keep my cop safe."
They got into Eve's car, with Roarke riding shotgun and Stanford in the back seat. Under other circumstances, it would have been an awkward combination, but both men were too focused on finding Celia to care about anything else.
"No sign of the car," Roarke said. "Maybe my hunch was wrong, after all."
But then Eve got a call from Peabody, who said, "A patrol car spotted a gray sedan heading in your direction. They didn't get close enough to read the plates, but there appeared to be two people in the car, and what are the odds that it's a coincidence?"
"I wouldn't take that bet," Eve replied. "Tell them to follow the car, but to hang back and don't close in without my command. We don't want to scare Jordan into doing something reckless."
"Roger that," Peabody said. "I'm five minutes away from your location; see you there soon."
Eve pulled into a parking spot across the street from the building: close enough to give them a good view, but far enough away that they wouldn't spook Jordan. Or so she hoped, anyway.
They didn't have to wait long before the gray sedan pulled up in front of the building. Jordan got out, dragging Celia with him. Her wrists were bound, and he held onto her arm with one hand, and appeared to be holding a taser in the other. It was probably legal issue, the kind a woman might carry for self-defense while walking home alone.
Stanford saw it, too, and she saw him tense up and clench his fists. "I know how you feel, but stay calm and let me handle this," Eve warned him. "Rushing in without thinking is likely to get Celia hurt."
He still looked angry and upset, but nodded and remained seated in the car. The man might be stubborn, but at least he was sensible, Eve thought approvingly.
Celia was weeping and pleading, "Jordy, please let me go. I still don't understand why you're doing this."
"Because your grandfather and my mom messed up my life," Jordan snarled. "So I took a few credits out of petty cash, so what? He could've looked the other way, for Mom's sake if not mine. She's been working for him for like, twenty years, for Christ's sake. But no, he kicked me out on my ass for making one mistake. After that, my mom made a big deal about how I'd embarrassed and disgraced her. She cut off my allowance, even cut off access to my personal account where my paychecks were deposited--money I earned working for your asshole grandfather. She watched me like a hawk--it was like being in prison. Finally I played along, pretended to be contrite and get with the program so that she'd ease up on me.
"And then I saw you online, sweet little Celia. You'd posted a vid of you and your friends at a Mavis concert. We'd never met, but I knew who you were. Your doting grandpa has pictures of you all over his office. I decided that I'd befriend you and use you to get to him. And you made it so easy--you were so flattered to have an older boy interested in you."
"What...what are you going to do to me?" Celia asked, her voice trembling.
"I'll ask grandpa for a nice fat ransom," Jordan replied. "I'll use the money to start over and go someplace far away my jailer mom and my jerkass dad. Be a good girl, and I won't have to hurt you."
"My grandfather will have missed me by now," Celia said. "He might have called the police."
"They'll never think to look for you here," Jordan said smugly. "Who would ever suspect that I'd hide in one of your grandfather's buildings? It was easy enough to look up the security codes on my mom's PPC when she took a break while working at home. Normally she'd be more careful, but she's let down her guard since I starting playing the role of the good son."
"Please, Jordy," Celia begged. "Let's just go back. I promise won't tell anyone that you kidnapped me. I'll just say that we went on a joyride. If you apologize, I'm sure that Grandpa will forgive--"
She cried out in pain as Jordan slapped her across the face. Eve reached across to the back seat to place a restraining hand on Stanford's shoulder as he reached for the car door.
"If he won't forgive me taking a little cash, he's certainly not going to forgive me for running off with his little girl!" Jordan shouted. "And you're lying anyway, aren't you? If I let you go, you'd head straight to the cops!"
Eve reached under her skirt to pull out the stunner she had strapped to her thigh. "Peabody will be here any minute," Roarke said.
"He's about ready to explode," Eve said. "I can't wait any longer." She glared at him sternly. "The two of you stay here--I mean it!"
She ran across the street, weapon in hand, silently cursing her long skirt and fancy shoes. Next time she went to one of Roarke's events, she was going to stash a change of clothes in the trunk.
Fortunately, Jordan was preoccupied with yelling at Celia, and didn't see Eve until she was a few yards away.
"NYPSD!" Eve shouted, pointing her stunner at him. "Drop your weapon and let the girl go!"
Jordan stared at her at surprise, then shoved Celia at her and ran off. Eve was forced to stop and catch the girl before she hit the pavement.
"Are you all right?" Eve asked.
"Yes," Celia said shakily, tears still running down her face.
Just then a car pulled up, tires squealing, and Peabody jumped out. Eve gently pushed Celia in her direction, saying, "Take care of her. I'm going after him." Then she hiked up her skirts and ran after Jordan.
Fortunately, she was wearing flats instead of high heels, even though they still weren't ideal running shoes. Even so, she quickly gained on Jordan, who turned around with a panicky look on his face and pointed the taser in her direction.
She kicked it out of his hand, incidentally sending a black velvet-covered shoe flying. Then she slammed him down on the ground and planted a knee on his back, saying, "Jordan Matthews, you're under arrest for kidnapping, and attempting to assault a police officer."
Peabody appeared beside her, grinning as she handed Eve a pair of handcuffs. "Aw, you should have saved some of the fun for me," she said.
"You should've got here faster, then," Eve retorted. She cuffed Jordan's hands behind his back, none too gently, ignoring his squeals of pain. "How's Celia?"
"Physically okay, but pretty shaken up," Peabody replied. "The bastard tased her after he got her into the car. She's with Roarke and her grandfather now."
"Takes a big man to hurt a little girl," Eve said scornfully as she hauled Jordan to his feet.
"I wasn't going to hurt her," Jordan protested.
"Get this trash out of my sight," Eve said in disgust, shoving Jordan towards Peabody. "Read him his rights and take him in for booking before I lose my temper and do something his lawyer will probably call 'police brutality'."
A short time later, Jordan was cooling his heels in a holding cell while Eve took Celia's statement. She was huddled in a chair with Roarke's jacket draped over her shoulders, and her grandfather was sitting next to her with one arm wrapped around her protectively. Peabody gently fussed over her, handing her a cup of hot cocoa from the vending machine.
Roarke sat quietly on the side, letting Peabody and Stanford minister to Celia. Since he'd been essential in helping to find Celia, and since Stanford didn't seem to be objecting to his presence, Eve decided to let him stay.
Celia explained how she had met "Jordy" online. "I didn't realize who he was at first," she said. "But after we'd gotten to know each other, he told me about what happened with his job at Grandpa's office. He said he felt really bad about what happened, and he asked me not to tell Grandpa about us until he'd found a way to make up for what he did. He said he wanted to become someone worthy of being my boyfriend." She flushed and said, "I was really stupid, wasn't I?"
Eve privately agreed, but since the girl realized her mistake, there was no point in rubbing it in. "Jordan is the one responsible for his own actions and crimes," she said. "But in the future, you should think twice before trusting people who ask you to keep secrets from your family."
"I will," Celia promised, still red-faced.
"What happened tonight?" Peabody asked, tactfully changing the subject.
"I called Jordy to tell him about meeting Mavis and Lieutenant Dallas," Celia replied. "He asked me to meet him outside. He said that with everything going on at the party, Grandpa wouldn't notice I was gone if I snuck out for just a few minutes. He said he couldn't wait to finally meet me face to face. He pulled up in his car and wanted to go for a short drive. I told him that I couldn't leave, but he promised he would have me back soon. Still, I didn't want to worry Grandpa, so I took out my 'link to message him that I'd stepped out but would be back soon, and he got angry and snatched it away and threw it out the window. I asked him what he was doing, and he jabbed something into my side, and I felt this sudden burst of pain."
"He tased you," Eve said.
"I think I blacked out for a little while," Celia continued. "And when I came to, my hands were tied up and the car door was locked. He told me not to try anything, or he'd hurt me so bad that the taser would feel like a tickle." Her eyes filled with tears. "I'm so sorry, Grandpa! I never should have gone off with him!"
"Everything's going to be all right, sweetheart," Stanford assured her, pulling her close and gently kissing her forehead. "Yes, you shouldn't have left without telling me, but he was Karen's son, someone you thought you could trust. The main thing is that you're safe now, thanks to Lieutenant Dallas and her people." He paused, then looked across the room. "And Roarke." Roarke inclined his head in acknowledgment.
Celia calmed down and Eve finishing taking her official statement. "You can go now," Eve said. "I'll have an officer drive the two of you home."
"Thank you so much, Lieutenant Dallas!" Celia said, throwing her arms around a startled Eve. "I was so scared! Thank you for saving me."
"You're...er...welcome," Eve said, awkwardly patting her on the back. "Just doing my job. And Roarke helped a lot, too. He was the one who figured out that Jordan took you."
To her relief, that caused Celia to thank and hug Roarke, who handled it with much more composure. After Celia released him, Stanford held out his hand.
"Thank you for saving my granddaughter," he said gravely. "I was quite hostile to you when you asked to purchase my building, but when Celia went missing, you stepped in to help without hesitation, and without asking me to reconsider in exchange."
Roarke took his hand and shook it firmly. "I may have stepped across the legal line in my youth, but I would never negotiate over a child's life. If you change your mind about the building, I certainly won't say no, but even if you'd said you would never sell, I would still have helped Celia."
"I believe you," Stanford said, then turned to Eve. "And I believe you now, Lieutenant, when you say that your husband is a good man."
"I can't change my past," Roarke said. "But I promise that all my business dealings now are strictly legitimate." He smiled at Eve. "It would be difficult for my detective wife to have a husband involved in shady dealings. And I value her more than I value any amount of money."
"Ah, that's so romantic!" Celia declared, and everyone laughed
"I would be happy to see you turn that vacant building into a school, Roarke," Stanford said, and smiled at Celia. "Perhaps it can turn a bad memory into something positive. Call my office later, and we'll work out the details."
They shook hands again, and Stanford left with his granddaughter. When they were alone, Roarke told Eve, "Well, it seems that you are a better business negotiator than you thought. You got Stanford to sell, even if it was by unconventional means."
Eve shook her head. "No, that was all you. You convinced him with your actions that you are the man I said you were."
"Then let's both take the credit," Roarke said with a grin. "You and I make a great team, Eve." Then he pulled her into his arms and kissed her.
"Not at the police station," Eve protested.
"I'm just thanking you," Roarke said. "You not only saved my business deal, you saved an innocent girl as well. I'm proud to have such an impressive wife."
"Yeah, well, you're not half bad yourself," Eve said, feeling pleased with herself. After all, she had managed to help Roarke with his work for once, even if it hadn't turned out quite the way she had planned. She was so happy that she let him kiss her again, and didn't even worry that any of her cops might see.