WEEKEND IN DEATH
Dane Dawson knocked on the door of the mid-town brownstone apartment he'd shared with his ex-wife, Ginny, until ten months before. The security had been changed and he could no longer palm himself in.
“At least you didn't cancel this week,” she said as she opened the door. “Meka's all ready for you.”
“No 'hello'? No 'how ya doin'?” He hadn't really expected a pleasant greeting but not the sour look on her face either.
“Daddy, you're here!” nine-year-old Meka skipped through the living room to the entryway, a big smile on her face that more than made up for her mother's greeting or lack thereof.
“Hi, Pumpkin!” Dane said, scooping her up in his arms. “Let's blow this joint!”
The girl giggled as she slipped her thin arms into the sleeves of the fluffy pink coat her mother held for her.
“I'll bring her back tomorrow afternoon,” Dane told Ginny before he and his daughter disappeared down the spiral stairs to the entry hallway.
“Are we going to see 'Smallfry'? Please! Please!” Meka begged, her blue eyes, so like her mother's, shining with excitement.
The G-Flick was all the talk of the under-twelve crowd, and Dane had known it would be the first thing they'd do together. “Sure!”
They stood in line, waiting to buy tickets at the nearest Plex. The smell of soy dogs from the street vendors engulfed them, but Dane told his daughter that they'd have lunch after seeing the flick. The line moved slowly, mostly moms and dads taking their own smallfry to see it. The person just behind Dane and Meka moved a little too close and Dane began to move away, pushing the girl in front of him.
Dane never heard it, neither did anyone else nearby, but he felt it as the bullet entered the back of his neck. He began to slump, alerting Meka that something was wrong. Before he hit the ground, the shooter had slipped away. It was only when the girl began shrieking, “Daddy! Daddy!” that others in the line knew that anything had happened.
Eve rarely worked on Saturdays if she didn't have a big case going. But this weekend, with Roarke Off-world on a business trip, there was nothing to keep her home in the mansion, certainly not Summerset, her husband's majordomo. She'd rather do paperwork than deal with Roarke's man on her own. By noon she'd run out of insults to trade with the gaunt man in his funereal black suit and left for her office without a word.
She was at her desk when the call came in that a man had been shot at point blank range in front of the midtown Plex, and the shooter had easily gotten away. Pulling on her blazer, Eve made sure her gun was in place, and called for transport.
“What've we got?” she asked the street cop who'd been first on the scene. He recognized her immediately--everyone knew Lieutenant Eve Dallas, at least everyone on the NYPSD and most of the citizens of the Big Apple.
He stood up straighter and quickly saluted. “Mr. Dane Dawson, standing in line with his nine-year-old daughter for the newest G-Flick, shot by someone else in line. No one heard or saw anything.”
Eve was sure the gun man used a silencer.
“What about the kid?”
“She's still hysterical.”
Eve looked over the scene. The ME had been and gone, and they were loading the body into an ambulance to take it to the morgue. A female officer was attempting to calm a child with long blond hair and a bright pink coat, but not getting anywhere. Eve strode over to them, deciding to take a hard line, even though she felt like wrapping her arms around the girl. “Kid, carrying on is not going to bring Daddy back!”
The kid was suddenly still.
“We've tried to reach the mother, but she's not answering,” the uniform said. “What do we do with her?”
Eve knew the kid would need to talk to someone and made a mental note to call Dr. Mira the first chance she got. Meka might be the only one who could tell them what happened, but not until the shock of the situation had worn off. Eve knew that would take a while. “I'll take her back to Cop Central,” she said. “Find someone to kidsit until we find the mother.”
“She's out with Gavin.” The girl's voice was faint but surprisingly calm now.
“Do you know where they were going?” Eve asked.
She shrugged. “My mother never tells me anything.”
“This Gavin, what's his full name?” Eve asked. Maybe if she kept the kid talking she wouldn't freak out again.
“Sounds like a food store,” Eve commented.
Meka giggled. “It does, doesn't it?”
“Do you know what he does?”
“He says he's an artist, but...”
“But you don't like his stuff?”
“There isn't much to it. I did better in first grade,” she said loftily.
“Did you really?”
“Well, maybe not. But you know what I'm saying, don't you? He's a loser!”
“Your mother never told you where they were going?”
Meka shook her head, making her hair swing. Then suddenly, she shut down again. “My daddy's really dead, isn't he?” Her face clouded over, and the light that had flashed in her eyes when she was slamming Gavin vanished completely.
“I'm afraid so.”
“Daddy was supposed to take me last weekend, but he had to work and Mom was so mad! I was just disappointed and now...”
“You liked your dad?”
“He was, like, the frostiest!”
They went directly to Central and up the glides to Eve's office. The kid's eyes took in everything on the way. Eve hoped the candy thief had left something in her newest hiding place in the closed case file drawer. Meka could use a sugar rush right now, and so could Eve. There was one bar left, so she broke it in two and held the larger piece out. The girl took it and crammed it into her mouth.
“Didn't you have lunch?” Eve asked.
Meka shook her head.
Eve could have gotten her a stale cheese sandwich from Vending or a tube of pepsi, or programmed the AutoChef in her office, but she had a better idea. With a sly smile, thinking about dumping the kid on Summerset, she said, “Let's get out of here.”
She didn't have to look at Meka's face to know that the kid's eyes widened as they drove through the gates and up the winding drive to the house. She remembered the first time she'd seen it, the towers and turrets, the sheer size of it.
“It's a castle!” Meka exclaimed.
“Not exactly.” Eve stopped in front of steps up to the front door and got out, knowing the car would be parked for her by an annoyed Summerset, and led Meka up to the double doors.
Summerset was lurking just inside as usual with the fat black cat, Galahad, at his ankles. “Feed the kid,” Eve ordered, “and then bring her up to me.” She walked to the elevator, feeling two sets of eyes boring through the back of her head. “Office,” she said as she got into the car, not knowing how it would get her there, but certain it would.
Summerset took the girl into his kitchen, a room Eve rarely visited. “I do not cook soy dogs,” he set the record straight as he studied her.
“That's OK. I don't really like them.” Meka wrinkled her freckled face. “I'm Meka. Who are you?” She might be hungry, but she wasn't sure she could eat anything. The image of her father on the sidewalk, the blood spreading onto the neck of his collarless shirt...
“The Lieutenant said you should eat,” the tall thin man in the black suit intoned, bringing her back to the present. “You may call me Summerset.” Eve would have been surprised by the smile on his face.
“You wouldn't happen to have any real meat would you?” she asked. “A real, honest-to-goodness hamburger would be really good.” She still wasn't sure she could eat it, but having it in front of her might tempt her enough that she could.
By the time Summerset appeared in Eve's office doorway, Meka at his side, Eve had completed some research and made some calls. Peabody was on her way over, reluctantly leaving her cohab, McNab on her day off, to come and help Eve kidsit. “I don't know what to do with a nine-year-old until we locate her mother,” Eve had admitted.
“You think I do?” her partner had replied. “But I'm game.”
Dr. Mira would see Meka first thing the next morning, even though it was a Sunday. She advised that they just keep her as calm as possible until then.
“How do I do that?” Eve had asked.
“Trust your instincts,” Mira advised, but Eve didn't think she had any where kids were concerned.
Now she looked at the girl, whose eyes were scoping out the setup Rourke had installed for Eve, including the latest in comps and screens.
“Far out!” Meka said, particularly intrigued by the amount and variety of tech.
“The child is fed,” Summerset announced, and turned on his heels to leave them. The girl was now back in Eve's hands, but she wasn't certain what to do with her next.
Frowning, Eve reasoned most kids liked computers. “You like to play games?” Maybe if Meka lost herself in one of the idiotic programs, she'd 'stay calm'.
“Do you have Wicked Witch?” Meka asked. “That's one of my dad's games.”
Eve knew from her research that Dawson was a partner in a company that produced cutting edge graphics for computer games, especially VR. But she had no idea whether that was one of the games on her system. She dug out the controller and handed it to Meka. “The games are under 'Games'.”
Meka rolled her eyes, but quickly found the one she wanted and began to play.
Eve took a chance and asked, “Why didn't your father take you last weekend?”
Meka frowned. “He and Denny were working on a new game and they had a meeting to present it to an investor or something.” Suddenly her mood changed again. “I guess he'll never finish it...and I'm never going to see him again.”
“Did you see the man who did it?” Eve asked, knowing as she said it that it was probably too soon to ask, but they didn't have any other leads, no other wits.
The girl shook her head. “Daddy...” she sniffed back incipient tears, “...Daddy was standing behind me. I...I guess the man was behind him.”
“But you know it was a man,” Eve persisted. She'd gotten the kid to talk about it. Maybe she could get more out of her, at least her first impressions.
Meka's forehead scrunched up. She was really trying to remember. “When Daddy began to fall, I saw someone move away from the line. I...I think it was a man. Yes, I'm sure.” She was struggling to maintain her composure. Eve thought that was a good thing. “You don't know what it's like to see your own father lying on the ground in front of you like that. Dying!”
But Eve knew only too well what that was like. Except in her case, she'd been glad he was dead. Once more, she felt the urge to put her arms around the child. Awkwardly, this time she did. Strangely, it felt right. But of course, that was the moment Peabody chose to show up.
“Didn't think you had it in you, sir,” her partner said.
Eve immediately broke the hold. “Peabody, Detective Delia this is Meka Dawson, the vic's daughter.”
“Uh, hello,” Peabody said as the two of them scoped each other out. Finally, Peabody's eyes swiveled back to Eve. “Any leads?”
Eve shook her head. “Not even a complete description of the perp. But Meka's certain it was a man.”
“Well, that lets out half the population. What about motive?”
“Dane Dawson was a partner in a firm that created graphics for video games--”
“Frosty!” Peabody interrupted.
“--so there's the partner, some rivals, I guess, and the ex.”
“It wasn't my mother. And it definitely wasn't Gavin.” It was Meka's turn to interrupt.
“Mom's main squeeze,” Eve told her partner. “Meka's not particularly fond of him, so if she says he wasn't the one, he wasn't.”
“So where do we start?”
“We find Mom and Dawson's partner and work from there,” Eve decided.
Peabody nodded in agreement. It was the logical way to go, and she knew that Eve was logical to a fault. “Too bad Roarke's away,” she said. “He could probably give you all the background you need on the games business.”
“Yeah, well he is. I guess he was one of their rivals,” Eve mused.
“I forgot he had his fingers in gaming.”
“Among many other things.”
“Roarke?” Meka's ears had perked up at the name. “You mean the gazillionaire?”
“The one and only,” Peabody said with a big grin. “You didn't know that Dallas was Roarke's cop? That this is his place? I thought everyone knew that.”
Meka looked at Eve slightly differently, but before any of them could pursue that, Eve's 'link chirped.
“We've located the mother.” Even if they couldn't see his face, which they could, Baxter's voice was unmistakable. “You want us to bring her in to the precinct?”
“I've got the girl at the house. Bring her mom here.” Eve was counting on the vic's ex being as impressed by her digs as her daughter was. She'd found that it had a tongue-loosening effect.
It was Trueheart who delivered Ginny Dawson to Eve a half hour later.
“Meka! You're alright!” the woman cried.
“We told you she was,” Trueheart said, but then he left immediately, with further instructions to obtain Dawson's computers and file discs from his office and apartment.
Although Ginny obviously had to see her daughter with her own eyes, Eve noticed, that she didn't reach out for the girl, just looked her over from the doorway. Not much affection there.
“If you mean I wasn't killed like Daddy,” Meka said, showing a bitterness she'd kept hidden before.
“Oh, Meka. I'm so sorry!”
“No you're not. You didn't love him anymore.” To a child, you either loved someone or didn't care about them at all.
“But I didn't want him to die!” Ginny insisted.
Meka didn't look as if she believed that, but she kept quiet.
“Mrs. Dawson, perhaps you have some idea of who might have done this, or even paid someone else to,” Eve said.
Ginny hesitated, then shook her head. “I don't know anything about what was going on in Dane's life. He took Meka for a day or two when he could, mostly on weekends. Otherwise, I never saw him or heard from him.”
“Did he have any enemies? Any business rivals that you do know about?” Peabody asked.
“He wasn't the easiest person to get on with, but no one hated him, if that's what you mean. And his success wasn't so great that someone might be jealous.”
“How did he seem when he came for Meka earlier today?”
The woman shrugged. “OK, I guess. I didn't really notice. Look, can I take my daughter home now?” She started tapping her foot.
“Just a few more questions,” Eve said. “Would you happen to know how we can reach Dane's partner?”
“Denny? She's probably at her place on East Sixteenth. I'm surprised, really, that she wasn't with Dane and Meka.”
Neither Peabody nor Eve had realized the partner was a woman.“Why should she be?” Eve asked, hiding her surprise.
“They're...they were inseparable. One of the reasons I divorced him. I wouldn't be surprised if they were...” she glanced at her daughter, unwilling to say something that wasn't for nine-year-old ears “...you know.”
“Sleeping together, you mean,” Meka supplied. “I'm nine, not three, even though you sometimes treat me like I am.”
“Meka, that'll be quite enough!”
“So you're saying Dane and his partner were close.”
“Yes. It's also the reason Donny left the partnership.”
“Donny?” Peabody asked.
“The other founding member of Three D Graphics, Donny Doyle.”
“I always thought it was called that because the graphics were in 3-D!” Peabody said, as it finally clicked what Dane Dawson's company was. “You learn something new every day.”
“We'll need addresses for both Denny and Donny,” Eve said.
Ginnie sighed. “Sure, I'll try to dig 'em up for you. Now can we go?”
“For now. We should be able to get those addresses from Dawson's records, but if we can't we'll be calling. We may also have some further questions. Oh, and we'd like to speak to Gavin, too.”
“How can he possibly help you?” Ginny asked.
“We need to talk to everyone who knew the victim,” Peabody said.
“Get your coat,” the woman ordered her daughter.
“Can I come back again another time?” Meka asked Eve before complying.
“We'll see, kid,” she said.
Eve and Peabody watched the two of them go out the door. Belatedly, Eve realized that Ginny Dawson hadn't been very impressed with the house or her office. But that wasn't any stranger than her reaction to her ex's death or to seeing her daughter again.