Revenant in Death
An In Death fanfiction
New York, July 2090
It was strange, being back on the streets after so very long.
New York had changed; there were new buildings here and there, many bearing the logo of Roarke Industries. The sight of that logo made her want to snarl, but she kept her reaction to herself. That was one valuable lesson that she had learned, in the decades that she had been away.
Thinking about that time, she suppressed a smile. By all rights, she shouldn’t have been back, but she had always been far cleverer, far more intelligent, than anybody else she knew. She had always…well, almost always…been able to play other people like musical instruments, to get what she wanted.
What she needed. What she deserved.
At first, when she had just been exposed, they had watched her like so many hawks. Getting away with anything was all but impossible, and the people set over her were on to a lot of her tricks. However, they had taught her a valuable lesson, all unknowing. The lesson she had learned was that of patience. She had put on her persona of “sweet little girl” and bided her time, knowing that eventually, their vigilance would slip. And even they felt that she needed to continue her education, which she had. Both in ways and subjects of which they approved, and in other things.
Even with the charges they’d convicted her on, she was still a minor, and adults tended to disregard or underestimate minors. She knew that very well, and had played it both before and after her incarceration. She was always polite, and cooperative, at least on the surface. And she had learned from her mistakes. No more diaries!
After several years, her vigilance and patience had been largely rewarded. She was seen as a model inmate, and given privileges that had previously been out of reach. One of those privileges had been greater computer access. Of course, the people who had done this had thought that there were safeguards, but she had always been a gifted student, far more talented than the blockheads who watched over her. Of course, that made sense. Would someone who truly had talent be reduced to working in corrections?
Getting access to the clandestine parts of the net had been fairly easy. She had learned a great deal down there, and had spent many happy hours chatting with others in the same plight she was in. There had been a forum she had been invited to, the “IH8LTDallas” forum, where she had found out a lot about the person she was in town to see.
Over the years, she had waited, as those who had been there when she had arrived had drifted out, due to death, retirement or promotion, to be replaced by people to whom she was nothing but another inmate. And more and more of them had been replaced with droids, a development that had delighted her.
Droids were machines. They were controlled by computers. And she knew a lot even when she went into that place about how to make computers do what she wanted. Her studies had shown her other ways, ways that the designers of the places she was in hadn’t known about or hadn’t anticipated. Time marched on, and so did the state of the art. And many of the people she’d been forced to associate with were computer experts in their own right. Under their gleeful guidance, she had become a hacker of supreme skill.
Of course, her studies had been devoted to two things. First, and most important, was regaining her freedom. That had not been easy, and at first, she had judged it to not be possible at that time. With the memories of her crimes fresh in people’s minds, what she had always had in mind was not possible. As time went on, people’s memories faded, and when she judged that most of the people who had known what and who she was were gone, she had begun making her moves.
It was like chess, or go, both games she had learned in her years away. Victory was not to be had in one swift, sudden move. Victory was obtained slowly, through patience, preparation and skillful moves that often seemed to mean nothing. Since she had been away, she had become a mistress of both games. They were very useful mental exercise, as well as a way to while away the time, and allowed her to get to know her fellow-unfortunates.
Many of them had had skills that they were willing to pass on to her, or knowledge that they would share. Even when they hadn’t realized they were teaching her things, they often were. And she had always been a very apt pupil.
The first thing on her “get-it-done” list had been to arrange for her transfer to less confining quarters. That had taken some fairly tricky fiddling with the computers’ records, to erase the recommendations that she be kept strictly confined for the rest of her life, or to get those recommendations moved to others’ records. Whenever possible, she had done this to fellow-inmates who would never notice, either because they were already sentenced to far more years than they would live, or because they were out of it due to brain damage from illegals or injuries or age.
Step by step, she had done it. First, a transfer for herself (as a “model prisoner” and potential rehabilitatee) off an orbital penal colony, back on to Earth itself. Then, slowly, transfers to lower-security units in the penal system. Each transfer had apparently been approved by all who had the authority to do so; computers trustingly accepted whatever data was fed into them.
She had also blossomed into a real beauty, and had learned to use that as a weapon as well. Men were fairly easy to deal with, but many women also took her good looks and her apparent remorse and rehabilitation at face value. She had been quite willing to trade on her allure, particularly after discovering through the ministrations of some of her roommates just how pleasurable sex could be. However, she had never, not once, lost sight of her ultimate goals: Freedom, and vengeance. Even in the throes of passion, real or feigned, she always had those goals in the back of her mind. And her lovers had been selected with a careful eye to what they could give her for the pleasure of her company and her caresses.
By the time she was in a minimum-security facility, she could have walked out the door with no particular trouble, but she didn’t want to do it that way. If she was listed as an escapee, there’d be an uproar, and she wasn’t sure that she could get far enough away before recapture. No, the best way to leave that place behind, she had long since concluded, was with the authorities believing that she was due for release. That would also prove her superiority to them, something she was convinced of down to her bones.
It had taken her some time to find a suitable candidate. She had considered, and rejected, many, spending long hours poring over the computer, a “boss” program always waiting on another screen in case someone else came in and wanted to see what she was doing. The “boss” program was a potpourri of innocuous study programs, suitable for a young woman, that nobody would possibly object to.
The ideal candidate had to be someone who was due for release soon, but would not be in a position to complain if her release never came. She had to be white, preferably blonde, and in for some crime that was not considered one that required much, if any, post-correctional counseling or oversight. And it had to be someone who had no close relatives or friends on the outside, who would notice a substitution. That would be one thing that even her glib tongue and her ready supply of excuses could not easily explain away.
At last, the perfect candidate had appeared. She was blonde, in her mid-thirties, and nearing the end of a short sentence. She had also been severely injured in an accident, and was lying in the intensive-care ward of the hospital, her brain so damaged that she would almost certainly stay in a coma for the rest of her life, which, considering that she was very healthy otherwise, could well be a long, long time. She had no close relatives on the outside, and no friends, from what the records said. In all her time inside, she had not had one visitor, and had received no mail nor sent any. She was perfect.
Once the records had been swapped, the rest had been almost childishly simple. She had made sure to swap things like fingerprint records, blood type, and other such things, so that no anomalies would be noticed, in the unlikely event that anybody would particularly check the records of someone who was apparently both comatose and serving several consecutive life sentences for murder. And if her doppelgänger died later of a bad transfusion…so what? Her own family had disowned her, so they wouldn’t inquire too closely into “her” death.
Her release had gone like clockwork. Her exit interviews had been a snap; the people interviewing her had dozens to deal with, and she knew just the answers to give them to sail under their radar. As it had happened, her doppelgänger had had some savings in the prison bank, and she had transferred her own monies…earned by doing “favors” for guards and other prisoners…into that account via a devious route that would not send up red flags if someone happened to take a look. That had given her some working capital, which she fully intended to increase. Once she had taken care of some outstanding business.
She had been released a few days earlier. The terms of her release forbade her to enter the city of Chicago, which was where her doppelgänger had committed her crimes, but said nothing at all about New York. And so, she was back in her old home town.
She strolled along, nobody paying any mind to her other than to give her the occasional admiring glance. It was a cloudy day, but the forecasts said there would be no rain, so she just enjoyed the day and the feeling of freedom.
She had walked past her old home, giving it only one swift glance, but taking in the fact that her former family had long since moved out. She planned to track them down…she knew that they were still alive…and deal out some payback for their abandonment and betrayal. But she had other fish to fry, first.
Turning a corner, she saw Central Park spreading out in front of her, green and lush just as she remembered it from before. She crossed the street, and soon she was walking down the length of the great park. There were quite a few other people about, and nobody had any reason to notice her, but she was still careful. Lack of care, after all, was what had derailed her in the first place. Lack of care had led her into decades of what had seemed like endless confinement, of being ordered around by people she normally would have considered utterly beneath her notice.
She had learned her lesson. Planning and patience prevent piss-poor performance, as one of her mentors in the places she had been had been fond of saying. She had been planning for this time ever since she had figured out the route to freedom, and did not want to screw it up.
She passed one particular mansion that faced the park, studying it carefully without seeming to. She had spent a lot of time in the places she had been, reading up on that mansion and its occupants. The people on the IH8LTDallas board in the clandestine depths of the computer network she had accessed had been very informative. Many of them had had knowledge about that building that would prove to be very useful to her.
The man who owned that building was of no great interest, save only to make sure that he was not around. Since he traveled regularly, and was quite prominent, keeping track of his comings and goings was no more difficult than studying the business sections of the news feeds. He had no reason to conceal his location. His wife, on the other hand, was a different proposition.
Since she had had to retire from the police department, Eve Dallas seldom, if ever, left her husband’s mansion. Her life had been police work, and since she could do that no more, she devoted herself to her husband. She had retired with a huge number of citations and awards, and the mayor himself had ceremoniously pinned a medal on her for her services to the city of New York.
These days, she devoted herself to charities, focussing on the victims of crime. With her husband’s influence and her own reputation, she had raised a great deal of money, and many victims of crime had good reason to bless the name of Eve Dallas.
However, there were also those who had good reason to curse it. In her long career, Eve Dallas had put many, many people into prison, usually for life sentences. She almost certainly never gave them more than a passing thought. After all, how could someone escape an off-planet prison colony, come back to Earth, and then penetrate the security of one of the best-guarded houses in the world?
She could. She had already done the hardest part of the project, after all. The people who had set up the security systems on the penal colony, and on the prisons she had been in, had been good…but she was just that much better.
She knew that the defenses on Roarke’s pretentious mansion had been pierced before. And by a teenager, at that! While she was sure they had been upgraded since then, she hadn't spent hours studying electronic theory, poring over every periodical in the field, and questioning everybody on the IH8LTDallas forums for nothing! She also had the huge advantage of surprise.
Since her retirement, nobody had tried for Eve Dallas. She had kept up on the news, following up on every mention of her nemesis, and at no time had there been reports of a break-in at Roarke’s mansion, or a murder attempt on his wife. So she knew that, while security measures would be in place, her target was not on alert. She had read The Day of the Jackal a few years after her incarceration, and the Jackal’s remarks about how the OAS’ failed attempts at assassinating Charles de Gaulle had done nothing but make his, the Jackal’s, job harder had never been forgotten. Especially after she had read up on the history behind the novel and found out that Forsyth had made none of it up. The attempt at Petit-Clamart had really happened, and had failed for the exact reasons that Forsyth had given.
She sat down on a bench, apparently just a young blonde woman with nothing in particular to do and a yen to enjoy the park. From where she sat, she could see Roarke’s big house, and behind her impassive mask, she felt a nasty smirk cross her face.
“Oh, yes, Eve Dallas,” she said, too low for anybody to hear, “you forgot all about me, didn’t you? Forgot the ten-year-old girl you condemned to what you thought would be an endless living death, didn’t you? Well, I never forgot you…and soon, you’ll pay! You’ll pay far worse than anybody else ever has, for crossing me!”
With that malediction, the woman who had been Rayleen Straffo before meeting Lieutenant Eve Dallas, and was now Jane Mollenbeek, got up and walked along, her mind spinning with wonderful plans and ideas about how best to get back at the woman who had robbed her of the glorious future that should have been hers.
END Chapter 1
Eve Dallas thought she'd be bored when she had to leave the police force. She's now busier than she's ever been!
Revenant in Death
Eve Dallas had thought, when they medically retired her, that her life was over. She had thought that an endless abyss of boredom stretched out in front of her. These days, she laughed at the naïve ideas she had once had.
She had been in pursuit of the culprits in the case of the Libertine Librarian murders, when she had taken a wrong turn in an abandoned building and fallen four stories down an elevator shaft. By the grace of immense good luck, she’d not suffered any spinal injuries, but her pelvis and leg bones were all but shattered. Peabody had gone ahead and nabbed the culprits, then showed up at the hospital with her face streaked with tears, begging Eve to forgive her for leaving her behind to make the pinch.
“You did just right, Peabody,” Eve had reassured her. The haze of drugs she was speaking through made everybody and everything fuzzy, but she knew good police work when she saw it. “I guess I taught you well.” Peabody had broken down in a puddle of tears at that, and McNab had had to gently lead her to where she could sit down and let the storm pass.
Roarke, of course, had been at the hospital the second he’d heard; he’d broken off a crucial conference with some of his few equals and come as fast as he could. Much to his surprise, his competitors had been right behind him.
“In business, we may be cutthroat rivals,” one of them had explained to a dumfounded Roarke, “but outside of it, we’re human beings! And we know how much you love and care for your wife. If you need anything, anything at all, at this time, just call on us!” Where he’d dealt with her injuries with stoic cheerfulness, that had got to Roarke, and he’d had to turn away for a few minutes to regain his composure. Watching, Eve began to wonder if people were really as bad as she had thought.
The police department had been incredibly supportive. They had flooded her room with “Get Well!” cards, so many flowers that she thought it looked like a funeral, and enough goodies and edibles to stock a store. She’d ended up distributing the flowers, and most of the food, around other patients on her ward, making sure, at Roarke’s suggestion, to particularly favor people who didn’t seem to have family or friends. Of course, the donors’ names had been recorded, and Eve and Roarke made sure that all were properly thanked.
When she had left the hospital, she was in the wheelchair she’d need for the rest of her life. Oh, she could stand, and walk, but not for long, and it was incredibly tiring. She loved swimming even more now, because in the water, her weak, damaged legs and hips could not betray her. Peabody, McNab and the rest of the gang from the police station had been there to welcome her as she was wheeled out into Roarke’s luxurious limousine.
Her mandatory retirement, full pension or no, had not been unexpected, but it had felt like an amputation nonetheless. So much of her identity and self-image had been wrapped up in “Lieutenant Eve Dallas” that it was hard to find who she was when the badge was gone. She’d thrown herself into the therapies that had been prescribed for her, but it had taken Mira to point her in the direction she needed to go.
“Just because you can’t be on the streets any more doesn’t mean you can’t fight crime, Eve,” she had pointed out. “They could use you at the academy, just for starters. I saw how you molded Peabody into a fine detective. Imagine doing that with a whole generation of up-and-coming policemen and –women!” Eve had perked right up at the suggestion, and when she had inquired, the academy had been eager to have her. She now worked several days a week as a lecturer at the academy, helping future police learn the lessons that would let them solve crimes, and stay alive. She was especially emphatic about hot-dogging.
“Look at me,” she would tell her pupils, gesturing to her customized wheelchair. “I’m in this chair because I got impulsive and overconfident. If I had been a little more cautious, I wouldn’t be here, but still behind the badge, bringing in murderers. The city has invested thousands in your training, not to mention the way you overeat. Add in the two cents apiece that you might actually be worth, and you’ve got a pretty nice chunk of change. So don’t let your impulses rule your brain! Wait for your partner and don’t go charging straight ahead into any trap the other side may see fit to set! That way the city may get its money’s worth out of you, and I won’t feel like I wasted my breath and time talking to you!”
Forced retirement, and teaching, had mellowed her more than she had realized at first. When the news came through that she was pregnant, she had been shocked, terrified, and excited, but had not even considered ending the pregnancy. Much to her shock, she had found that she was, after all, ready for a child of her own.
Roarke had been utterly overjoyed, and when she’d been notified, Peabody had appeared at her side so fast that Eve suspected her of having mastered teleportation. Mavis and Peabody had appointed themselves her minders, and with their emotional support, Eve had had a surprisingly easy pregnancy, finally giving birth to Sean Roarke in the birthing room that Roarke, of course, had had set up. When they had wiped him off and set him in her arms, Eve had looked down at him, noticing how much he looked like his daddy even at that inchoate age, for only a second before her eyes welled with tears. She had taken a while to fall in love with Roarke, but one look at her son and she had felt herself falling in love all over again.
Sean had grown strong and straight as perfect children do, and had soon made friends with Mavis’ Bella, who appointed herself his big sister and tutor in mischief. Eve had foreseen chaos when he became old enough to toddle, but much to her surprise, he’d been easily managed.
Summerset had raised a slightly disdainful eyebrow. “Have you forgotten that I have some considerable experience with children?” he asked, when Eve commented on how easily Roarke’s majordomo dealt with Sean and Bella’s monkeyshines. Eve remembered Summerset’s own daughter, dead and gone but never forgotten, and had been startled at the lump that rose in her throat. The thought of losing her own little Sean was unthinkable! She now thought she understood Summerset better, and while they’d long since matured into a relationship of mutual respect, she knew she would not want to be in his shoes.
Now he was in college, majoring in computer science and finance, in preparation for taking over for his father one day. Roarke had laughed when Eve had suggested sarcastically that they also make sure their son knew all the criminal tricks his father knew.
“No, Eve,” he’d said, “you don’t get it, do you, darling? I’ve known many successful criminals, and one and all, they didn’t want their children anywhere near The Life. They all took the attitude of ‘Here’s all this money I had to make the hard way; go take it and do something wonderful with it.’ That goes back a long ways, dear. As far back as the mid-twentieth century, Meyer Lansky, who was the ‘brains’ of the Syndicate, moved heaven and earth to get his son an appointment to West Point.”
“Did he graduate?” Eve had asked, intrigued at this thought.
“He did, and served in the Vietnam War, if memory serves me,” Roarke had answered. “I want Sean to be able to handle my empire, not to have to build one up from scratch the way I did.”
Accordingly, they had made sure that Sean got experience working in quite a few levels of Roarke’s businesses, learning things from the ground up. He was not coddled when he made mistakes, but he made very few, and those were mainly due to inexperience. By the time he was eighteen, he could have substituted for Roarke in many capacities.
Of course, Eve had also made very sure that her boy could handle himself. From an early age, he’d trained with some of the best teachers of armed and unarmed combat that Roarke’s money could buy, and he now could compete with the best. Between the threat (remote but real) of kidnapping, and the normal hazards of life in the 21st century, both Eve and Roarke wanted their boy prepared to handle them.
She smiled, remembering his last call home. He’d been hugely excited at being chosen for an honors study program on an off-planet station, and had extended greetings to everybody he knew who was still in New York. “And make sure to say hi to Aunt Delia, and tell her daughter Eve that I want to meet this boy she was burbling about in her last message. Got to run the ruler over him and make sure he’s suitable for my honorary little sister!” When Peabody had begun having babies, Sean had been fascinated, and had appointed himself the next generation of McNabs’ honorary big brother, protector, and mentor. Peabody had complained, laughing, that her children often confided in Sean before they did in her or McNab. With Bella, Mavis’ daughter, as the “big sister” to all of them, they formed an improvised family, laughing, playing and working together smoothly.
A soft throat-clearing by her side recalled her to the present, and she turned. “Oh, sorry, Nixie. I didn’t mean to ignore you. I was just thinking about my son.”
Nixie Swisher, or Nixie Sullivan to give her her married name, smiled at her. “Not a bad thing to be thinking about, but you know that the Swisher Foundation’s big ‘do’ is next month. What do you think of this guest list?” She slid a piece of paper onto the table in front of Eve.
Eve scanned the list. It contained the names of many of New York’s main movers-and-shakers, people whose combined wealth could buy half the Solar System. “Looks fine to me, Nixie. You’ll be there, of course?”
“Naturally! You know I never miss these!” The Nixie Swisher Foundation existed to extend aid to the victims of crime. Its reach was everywhere, from the lowliest street people on up to the top of New York society. Eve and Roarke had started it shortly after Eve’s retirement, and these days, it consumed a lot of her energy. They had named it after the bereft nine-year-old girl they had taken in and sheltered after a horrific attack took out her entire family, sparing her only because she'd gotten up to go get an orange fizzy. Nixie, herself, had been delighted to lend her name and image, and she routinely did advertisements asking for donations. Her story was now well-known, and she had been cited by the government as the face and voice of crime victims across the nation.
“Good. I’ll see you tomorrow. Give my best to your husband.” Once Nixie had gone off, Eve looked after her with a rueful chuckle, before heading toward the pool. Her powered wheelchair hummed as she guided it into the elevator, and pushed the button for the floor where the pool awaited.
Once she was by the poolside, she stood up, shaking with the effort and cursing her traitorious body. Stripping down, she looked down, shaking her head at the scars her injuries and the surgeries had left. She couldn’t believe that Roarke still reacted to the sight of her with the same ardor that he had shown when they had first got together.
Staggering slightly, she dived into the clear blue water, naked. Only here did she allow herself to be seen uncovered. Only Roarke and Sean ever came here, and she had no secrets from either of them when it came to her weaknesses. And in the water, they didn’t matter. She set out across the pool, her stroke as strong and sure as ever. Her doctors had been delighted to find how much she loved swimming, and they had strongly encouraged her to swim as much as she wanted, saying that it would strengthen her body and get her as close to her old condition as she could ever get. These days, her wind was as strong as it had been when she’d joined the force, and she thought that she could arm-wrestle the Eve Dallas that had joined the force and make her younger self cry “Uncle!”
A graceful form dove into the water beside her, and she paused, giving her husband the special smile she reserved only for him. “Roarke! It’s so good to see you! Did you see the latest from that son of ours?”
Roarke, as naked as his wife, trod water beside her, his smile giving her all sorts of naughty ideas about how much easier some things were in the pool. “I’ve just got in from Seattle, darling. What has our Sean done now?”
“Oh, he’s been selected for a program off-planet.” She gave Roarke a suspicious look. “Did you have a hand in his selection?” Roarke wasn’t a bit above using his influence to help their son along, although he drew the line at pushing his professors to improve the young man’s grades.
Roarke shook his head. “Not me, darling. Not this time. If he got this, he got it entirely on his own merits.” Then he gave her a huge grin. “And I couldn’t be prouder of him! He gets that from his lovely mother!"
“No, dear, I think he takes more after his handsome father. And he says he wants to talk to Little Eve about some boy she told him about.” She brushed wet hair out of her face. “I notice that he’s notably reticent about his own love life. Want to bet that there aren’t a whole bunch of girls planning to get their hooks into him, one way or another?” She knew young girls, and knew they hadn’t changed.
Roarke shook his head. “Not a chance, darling. I never take sucker bets.” He grinned. “That’s why I am where I am today.” He tilted his head toward the side of the pool. “Wanna race?” Eve nodded, and they swam over to the side of the pool, side-by-side. Once they were there, they launched themselves off, their butterfly strokes roiling the pool’s water as they sped toward the other side. Roarke was ahead at first, but Eve got a great deal of exercise in her arms with her wheelchair and having to use crutches, and they were soon neck-and-neck, which was how the race ended up. “I win! I win!” Eve chanted. She honestly thought she’d touched the far side of the pool a second or two before Roarke did.
“And what does the winner get?” asked Roarke, swimming up close, his eyes alight with devilment.
“A great big kiss!” She wound her arms around his neck and kissed him deeply, feeling his body respond the way it always did. She sometimes couldn’t believe her luck in having a man who was just as ardent for her after so long as he’d been the day they were married, but she was fully ready to take advantage of it. Pleasure coursed through her body, and she arched her back, her eyes fluttering shut as she wrapped her legs around his waist, urging him on.
After they finished making love, they got out and lay on the deck beside the pool, basking in the rays of the sun lamps. Finally, they reluctantly got dressed, and headed back to deal with the business of the day.
Rayleen's plotting...and she has plans for Eve! Crossover with the Auntie Mame 'verse.
Revenant in Death
Rayleen, or Julie, as she was calling herself these days, could hardly believe her own good luck. “Why, yes, ma’am, I’d be delighted to come in for an interview! When, and where?” When she had the information she wanted, she hugged herself with sheer delight.
She had anticipated a lot of trouble getting into Roarke’s mansion. While nobody, to her best knowledge, had any reason to anticipate trouble, the number of valuable objects to be found inside ensured that security would be tight, tighter than on most residences. Roarke owned enough security companies to be able to acquire the best, and he was smart enough to use them.
In addition, his wife’s continuing connection with the police ensured that Roarke’s mansion was probably one of the safest houses in all of New York, if not the world. Rayleen had managed to dig up enough information to make her think that the house could have held off a full-scale siege, if the Urban Wars had started up again.
However, the long peace, and the lack of attempts to breach the house’s security, had led to a certain complacency. She had been past the house, many times, looking like nothing more than another stroller in the park or on the sidewalk, and had noticed no signs of extra vigilance.
She had been pondering various ways to enter, but had always run up against the problem of the security systems. They were, after all, state-of-the-art, and Roarke was understandably tight-lipped about all the details. She was a good hacker, one of the best her mentors had ever seen, and could work well with electronic gadgetry in general, whether building it or modifying it, but she knew all too well that she’d have one shot at this at most.
She had underestimated her opposition only once, but that underestimation had led to decades of derailment. No more! Not ever again! She felt that she’d cheerfully die before going back to the places she had been.
While she did have some money, New York wasn’t a cheap place to live, so she’d set up her own lair in an inexpensive part of New Jersey, on the farthest edge of the tri-state public transport system. She couldn’t afford wheels, at least not as yet. Later, once she’d settled accounts with her nemesis (and if her nemesis’ pestilential husband happened to get into the line of fire, wouldn’t that be a dreadful pity?) she could put some schemes into operation to get herself the lifestyle she so richly deserved.
She had also scouted out her birth family. They were now living in a tony Connecticut suburb, and apparently had had more children after disowning her. Driving past in a rented car, she had narrowed her eyes, as fury rose up inside her. How dare they? How dare those interlopers take the life that should have been hers? Well, she had a few plans about how to deal with that little situation.
Some of her companions in misfortune had been disbarred lawyers, and disbarment had not meant that they knew less of the law. With their guidance, she had found out that her father’s disownment of her had very little legal standing. If her ex-parents died, and there were no other heirs, everything would go to her. Her change of identity might complicate things, but she had set up some measures to ensure that any monies being paid to “Rayleen Straffo” would be accessible to “Jane Mollenbeek.” A simple request to the bank to put Jane Mollenbeek’s name on Rayleen Straffo’s account, and that was that.
Once ex-Lieutenant Eve Dallas was dead (and roasting in hell, if she had anything to say about it!) she had figured out what to do. First, target her unwanted siblings. They roamed fairly freely; suburban Connecticut was nowhere near as dangerous as New York City. Two unsuspecting teenagers would be child’s play to eliminate, in a staged “accident,” or possibly with a false suicide. The thought of the pain their deaths would cause her ex-parents made Rayleen smile for a minute.
Then, it would be Sweet Mommy’s turn. Her former mother moved around without any caution, and Rayleen now knew more than enough about poisons to be able to select several substances that would send dear Mommy off to a long, endless sleep. Just as she had tried to do (and, foolishly, had boasted about in that thrice-damned diary) so long ago.
Daddy, or ex-Daddy, would be more of a difficult target, but she rather thought she could deal with him, too. After all, she still had all the beauty she had ever had, and so many men were so susceptible to an attractive woman. She had considered, and rejected, seducing him before killing him. Although she found the idea highly arousing, she wasn’t sure that she could keep up her disguise at quarters that close, and ex-Daddy had once known her face as well as he knew his own name.
Instead, she would troll around, looking for a suitable fool to make into her puppet. She had learned more than enough from her partners to know exactly how to please both sexes. She’d find someone lonely, and vulnerable, and move in on him or her. Once she had him tangled in her sexual web, she’d spin him a sad, sad story about how her life had been ruined…just ruined!…by her cruel ex-Daddy. Of course, she wouldn’t admit that there had ever been any familial relationship between them. No, she’d sniffle that she had once been an up-and-coming young woman, on her way to big things in her life and career, only to be brought down by a cruel man who took revenge on her, getting her fired and blackballed, for not sleeping with him. She would get her partner so indignant, so furious on her behalf, that he or she would volunteer to erase this ogre from the face of the Earth.
And the beauty of that whole plan was that she, Rayleen Straffo, was completely above suspicion! If anybody wanted to know where she was, a few minutes’ search of the records would show that Rayleen Straffo was still in confinement, and would be in a coma for the rest of her life. Who would suspect a comatose prisoner of mischief?
About the only weak spot was the order on the bank account putting Jane Mollenbeek’s name on it, but she had thought of that, too. As soon as the monies were securely deposited, she planned to re-deposit them in another account she had set up in a tax haven outside US jurisdiction, in the name of another doppelganger. She had learned from some of her fellow-prisoners who were in trouble due to financial irregularities of one sort or another how to keep money from being tracked, and she intended to put those lessons to good use. She deserved that money, and she would have every penny of it!
Once she had her ex-family’s fortune at her disposal, she planned to enjoy herself. A long, long vacation somewhere beautiful, with a beach and mountains, sounded like just the medicine she needed to forget the long years in confinement. She had been detoured from that by Lieutenant Eve Dallas. Yet another reason for her to take revenge.
She had been idly scanning the news when the most incredible opportunity had come to her attention. In the “Help Wanted---Female” forum, one of the society ladies that Eve Dallas associated with when fund-raising was advertising for a personal assistant! Visions of the perfect entrée to Roarke’s mansion passed through her mind, as she answered the advertisement and set up the interview.
She walked into the interview serene and confident. Just as a precaution, she had sealed Jane Mollenbeek’s record of her conviction, so as to not have any awkward questions about that. Granted, it had been for a minor count of being involved in an illegals ring, but still, the sort of upscale lady that she was going to see might well frown on such things. And she knew more than enough about how to deal with interviews to have no fear of probing questions. She knew Jane Mollenbeek’s story, both the true parts and the parts she’d fabricated and inserted into the record, as well as she knew her own. She also knew that she had more than enough qualifications to land the position. All that was left was to charm her potential employer.
She sat in the reception area, looking around with interest. She had to admit, the woman she was going to see was rolling in money, if the décor and furniture were any indication. Possibly, after she’d dealt with Eve Dallas and her ex-family, she might see about finding a way to tap some of that money and steer it in her direction. She deserved it far more than some rich old bag who’d probably married it, after all! And she was smart, smarter than anybody else, so she should be able to figure out a way to get it. She’d almost always been able to charm the people she needed, after all.
“Will you come with me, Ms. Mollenbeek?” The receptionist, whose nametag read “Gooch,” led Rayleen into a comfortably-appointed office. She noticed that the décor was just as tasteful, and just as expensive, as the outer waiting room, but then she concentrated on her would-be employer. And possible future victim. “Ms. Burnside, here’s Ms. Mollenbeek.”
Ms. Burnside was an older woman, obviously still interested in looking her best. Rayleen’s keen eye noted the signs of various treatments for the effects of age, but she estimated that Ms. Burnside could still pull a man when she wanted to. She smiled warmly and motioned to a chair. “Please, sit down, Ms. Mollenbeek. So, you’re interested in the position I have open, for a personal assistant?”
“Yes, ma’am. I think I could do a good job and be very useful to you.” And she would, as long as the connection was useful to her. She wasn’t lying about her own abilities, either. Even though she had been meant to never leave prison, her keepers had not neglected her education, and she had been trained in many useful skills.
“Oh, please, call me Mame, will you?” The older woman laughed throatily. “Being called ‘ma’am’ makes me feel old! And I don’t plan to ever be old!” Rayleen nodded, suppressing a grin by sheer willpower. If Mame had known just how much she and Rayleen were on the same page! Rayleen did not intend for Mame to ever get old. Dying young, or young-ish, and leaving all that lovely money for Rayleen to get her hands on it…that suited Rayleen far better.
“I will, if you’ll call me Jane. I hear ‘Ms. Mollenbeek,’ and I think my mother’s in the room.” Mame laughed again, and leaned forward, her dark eyes alight with curiosity, and intelligence. Rayleen reminded herself not to get too cocky or arrogant. This woman had survived decades of the cutthroat New York social scene, and was almost certainly old enough to remember the Urban Wars, possibly from the point of view of a participant. Underestimating her would not be a good idea.
For the next hour, Mame dissected Rayleen verbally, inquiring about “her” background, her skills, her future plans, and her reasons for wanting to take a job as a wealthy society matron’s right-hand woman. Rayleen had anticipated most of the questions, and the ones she hadn’t anticipated were not terribly difficult to fake. At the end of the hour, they stood up, and shook hands, man-style.
“I think we have a meeting of the minds, Jane. Why don’t you talk to Ms. Gooch, and she’ll set you up with the paperwork we have to do.” Mame smiled conspiratorially. “Mustn’t cut legal corners, must we, dear?” She leaned forward and gave Rayleen a chaste kiss on one cheek. “Welcome to my employ, darling! I’m sure we’ll have a wonderful time together!”
“I’m sure we will, Mame,” Rayleen assured her, her expression all but oozing sincerity and eagerness. “What’ll we be doing first, and when do I start?”
“Why, dear, if you have no objection, would the beginning of next week be too soon? I’ve a reception to go to for one of the corps diplomatique, and having you along to help me keep track of things would be such a burden off my back!”
“Monday it is, Mame! I’ll see you then!” With that, they parted, and Rayleen followed Ms. Gooch off to do the paperwork incidental on being hired for a new job, a song in her heart. Things had worked even better than she had planned!
Mame hid it well, but Rayleen could tell that she was a drinker. When they had kissed, Rayleen could smell the unmistakable odor…whoever said that vodka leaves you breathless? Rayleen herself was a teetotaler, and considered drinkers to be people put on earth to be prey for such as her. Drinking made people soft in the brain, stupid, and easily led by someone who knew how. And Rayleen had learned how in the years of her incarceration.
“Well, welcome to the madhouse,” Ms. Gooch remarked, while Rayleen went through the screens of information she needed to enter to be legally in the employ of Ms. Burnside. “Keeping up with her and her wild hairs is a full-time job, let me tell you!”
“Wild hairs?” Rayleen asked, entering a line of data.
“Oh, she gets caught up in some enthusiasm or other, and it’s Katy bar the door! For weeks or months, that new hobby, or whatever, is all we hear about, and she rearranges her life around it. Then she forgets all about it, as soon as a new thing catches her attention. She’s been through all sorts of things. About the only constant is the New York social and charitable whirl. She’s one of the wealthiest women in New York, and she does believe in using her wealth for good causes.”
“Oh, I do, too!” Rayleen agreed, perfectly sincerely. Of course, the best good cause she could think of was the comfort and well-being of one Rayleen Straffo, now posing as Jane Mollenbeek. “It does sound like there’s never a dull moment!”
“There isn’t. It can get tiring, but I wouldn’t work for anybody else. Even though life can get lonely…” Ms. Gooch gave Rayleen a significant look, one Rayleen had long since learned how to interpret. “I think it would take another employee of this madhouse to really understand. Do you know what I mean?”
“Oh, I think I do,” Rayleen purred, giving Ms. Gooch a steamy look. In her time in custody, Rayleen had learned how much pleasure women could take from each other, and while she mainly preferred men, she had no objection to bedding other women if there was a good reason to do so, or she was bored, or there were no men available. And Ms. Gooch would be a very valuable ally. Not to mention, a possible patsy. If it were believed that Mame Burnside had been murdered by her longtime aide-de-camp, for the purpose of embezzling a chunk of her fortune, many people would look no further. Of course, that was all a ways down the road. Right now, ingratiating herself took precedence.
Ms. Gooch beamed. “You can call me Agnes, if you prefer,” she whispered. Yes, thought Rayleen, the signals were crystal-clear!
“Only if you call me Jane…Agnes,” Rayleen purred. They linked fingers for a few minutes, before Rayleen pulled away. “Let me finish this, and then I’ve got to get back to my place to make arrangements. The deal here includes quarters in the mansion, right?”
“It does. Our rooms are a few floors away from Mame’s. She’s one of the most tolerant employers I’ve ever seen, but I prefer not to rub things in her face.”
“Good. Then I’ll be back on Monday.” With that, Rayleen stood up, and after another exchange of steamy glances, she left. Once she was a little way down the street, and out of sight of the mansion, she let herself do a little jig of happiness.
Things were falling exactly into place. Not only did she have a rich, trusting employer, one she could probably mulct for a fair amount, but her employer was perfect for her other goal.
The Nina Swisher Foundation “do” was coming up, and Mame Burnside never missed it. She would be there, and so would her new assistant, to whom nobody would pay much attention. From what she had learned, people came and went in Ms. Burnside’s employ, so nobody would particularly question her.
And, best of all, instead of having to work and study on how best to defeat the security on Roarke’s mansion, she would be invited in by the very person she was planning to murder! Things couldn’t have gone better, she thought, and she stopped off for an ice cream sundae to celebrate her good fortune.
END Chapter 03
Eve's busy with getting the Nixie Swisher Fund fundraiser going, and doesn't notice a new face.
Revenant in Death
Eve Dallas was busier than a one-armed paper-hanger, getting ready for the Nixie Swisher Fund annual fundraiser on top of her other duties. She was just finished with preparing her latest lecture for another fresh-faced group of young Police Academy recruits. She shook her head. She couldn’t quite believe how young they all looked to her these days. Her own academy days didn’t feel like all that long ago, but compared to the current crop of cadets, even Trueheart now seemed like a grizzled veteran.
Thinking of Trueheart, she smiled to herself. She had coached the young man for his examination for promotion, and when he’d won detective’s rank, he had asked that she be the one to pin his new badge on him. She had been flattered and proud to accept, and her friends in the force had cheered her loudly (with a wolf-whistle in there that she was sure was Peabody’s) when she’d stood up out of her wheelchair to do so. That was a memory she loved to revisit in her mind.
She put thoughts of the academy aside, since she was consulting with a couple of prominent, influential women to make sure that the fundraiser would be a roaring success. She looked around the room. Vera Charles, one of the biggest stars of the screen and stage, was lolling in her chair, languidly sipping at a martini glass. It was early in the day, but Ms. Charles was well-known to run on a diet of alcohol.
So, for that matter, was her best friend, Mame Dennis Burnside. Mame Burnside famously believed that the day began with the first cocktail, and went through her day with at least a slight buzz on, but that didn’t make her less shrewd as an investor. She had married her money originally, but had increased it exponentially after her husband’s untimely death. And she had helped Ms. Charles invest the money she made on-stage until she was up there with the wealthiest women in New York, if not the country. Eve didn’t share their drinking habits, but since they made it work for them, she didn’t figure it was worth making a fuss over. And she needed their goodwill and cooperation. Mame was easy to get along with, but Vera was trickier to handle, and
Mame Burnside sipped daintily at her drink. “Julie, darling, could you be a love and hand me my datapad?” Her new assistant stepped forward, handing her the device before returning to her place just behind Mame’s chair. Mame began tapping at the keypad, her eyes sharp and focused despite the drink she had taken aboard.
“You have her well-trained, Mame,” drawled Vera. “Best be careful, or I’ll hire her away from you!”
Mame put down her datapad, narrowing her eyes. “I found her first, Vera Charles,” she said, her voice low with menace. “You keep your mucky fingers to yourself!”
Eve rolled her eyes. She knew that Vera Charles and Mame Burnside were inseparable friends, but that never stopped them snapping at each other and quarrelling, sometimes bitterly. She privately thought that they were too similar in many ways to really be able to get along.
Mentally, she contrasted their relationship with her partnership with Peabody. They had had the structure of the police department to keep it clear who was dominant, and they were too different in many ways to really clash. She smiled to herself, thinking of the times when they’d been confronted with something “girly” like a store selling fancy upscale (impractical) shoes, and she’d been unmoved while Peabody had all but drooled with lust. She felt that was a source of strength; what one of them might not notice, the other would be likely to spot. And what one of them knew, they both knew.
“Ladies?” That was Summerset. Eve had long since concluded that Summerset had his uses, mainly in keeping order at this sort of gathering. Many society matrons who would bristle at Eve trying to exert dominance, even in her own home, would snap-to instantly at one word from Summerset. Eve had long since given up trying to figure this out, and just happily took advantage of it. “Can we concentrate on the subject at hand? I’m sure that you can arrange to share Miss Mollenbeek’s services.”
Chastened, Vera and Mame got back to planning the Nixie Swisher Fund fundraiser. Vera had quite a few connections in the entertainment world, and she grinned wickedly as she said: “I’ve got a little list of who I want to see showing up, and if any of them give me any trouble…I know more than enough about them to make them wish they had!” Their previous spat already forgotten, Mame laughed and patted Vera’s hand. Unobtrusively, Summerset refreshed their drinks, and Eve noticed that he used a fairly light hand. They didn’t need these ladies drunk, just a little high.
Eve had to admit, Vera Charles was far better at wrangling show business people than Mavis was. She had been around the business long enough to be an institution, and had actually trained and mentored many of the people who were currently stars of stage and screen. She was also sharp and shrewd, and took no nonsense from them. Even though she was a star in her own right, Mavis was still enough in awe of a lot of her fellow stars to not be able to handle them.
And Mame Burnside knew everybody who was anybody, financially or socially, in New York and its environs. She was ruthless about using what she knew about their peccadillos to get them to dig down and contribute to the Fund. Of course, she was also generous with good publicity and public praise for those who were particularly generous, which didn’t hurt. She had always struck Eve as erratic, rushing from one enthusiasm to another, but under it, there was a great heart. No matter what had captured her attention, she would always be willing to help those in need. Besides the Nixie Swisher Fund, she was the driving force behind many other charitable organizations, and she kept a sharp eye on them to make sure that they stayed on-focus, instead of mainly worrying about paying their employees generous salaries.
Mame’s employees were famously loyal to her. She’d never had trouble with one of them stealing from her or betraying her. Many had been with her for years, or even decades. All too many rich people had to deal with turmoil among those who served them. One factor that Eve thought kept Mame’s subordinates loyal to their mistress was the fact that Mame was very generous with both salaries and other benefits.
When Mame had shown up with a new assistant, Eve had been a little startled, but when Mame had explained that her previous assistant had been given an opportunity to study dance in Paris, Eve had shrugged her shoulders. She wouldn’t have been a bit surprised to find that Mame Burnside had had a hand in that invitation. Mame was a happy person, who enjoyed every bit of her life, and she wanted other people to be happy.
As the ladies discussed the details of the fundraiser, Eve found herself looking carefully at Mame’s new assistant. She’d never met Julie Mollenbeek before, but there was something…something indefinably familiar…about her. Had she been involved, even peripherally, in a case that Eve had dealt with? Had she been a witness, or even a victim? Eve discreetly made a note to herself to look the woman up in her files. Eve’s memory for faces and people was retentive, and she didn’t like not knowing where she might have known this woman from.
Once they had hammered out the details, they adjourned to the terrace, where the ever-efficient Summerset had prepared a collation of cold cuts, snacks and drinks. Sampling the punch he had set out, Mame and Vera quickly pronounced it “strong enough,” and ladled cups full for themselves. Ms. Mollenbeek turned down the offer of a drink, but did tuck into the food with good appetite. Eve smiled to herself to see the ladies all chowing down. It reminded her of the old days, when she’d get her colleagues into the mansion to work with her on a case, and they would eagerly eat the delicious food that Roarke always provided.
The ladies had just left when Eve’s comm sounded, with the ring-tone that meant that Roarke was calling. She picked it up, smiling. “Hello, darling. How went your business meeting?”
“Oh, well enough. I’ve acquired yet more property, and at a knockdown rate. I take it you’re up to your eyes in getting ready for the Nixie Swisher fundraiser?” Roarke grinned at her. “How are the lovely Mesdames Burnside and Charles? Dare I hope that they stayed sober and focussed on the subject at hand?”
Eve laughed. Roarke had known both women long before she had made their acquaintance, and she knew that while he liked them both, he could not believe how much they could drink and still function. He said, jokingly, that he suspected both of them of being at least part Irish, since he had never seen such capacity in women of any other national background. “Yes, dear. Mame has a new assistant, but she looks to be fitting right on in.”
“Ah, that’s good to hear. I’d heard that her previous assistant had gone on to pastures new. Mame was telling me about it. Proud as a peacock, that woman was; to hear her, she’d personally shaped the woman into the person she needed to be to grab that opportunity.” Roarke winked. “Many another rich person would be unhappy about losing someone they depended on, but Mame was happy that she was going to be able to spread her wings and do more with herself.” Eve nodded; that did sound like Mame Burnside. “She’s one of the most generous people I know.”
“You know, darling, there is something about her new assistant. Something I can’t put my finger on. It’s almost as though we’ve met before, or had dealings with each other, but I’d swear that was impossible.” Every so often, Ms. Mollenbeek had done something that just tickled the edge of Eve’s perceptions, or for a second, an expression would flash across her face that didn’t seem to quite belong. There was something there, but Eve couldn’t pin it down.
“It’s not impossible that you’ve met at some time, and just forgotten it, darling. Have you talked to Mavis yet?”
“No, dear, but I will. As soon as I can.” Mavis was planning a lot of the entertainment for the fundraiser, and as usual, was running in every direction at once. She was, in Eve’s view, having the time of her life.
“Then I’ll get off this line. I’ll be home as soon as I can, darling.” With that, the line went dead, and Eve spent a minute missing her husband. She always felt more complete, more herself, when he was nearby.
Just then, Summerset’s voice broke in on her thoughts. “Miss Belle is here, Eve.”
Eve smiled. “Send her on in, Summerset.” She watched as Summerset showed Mavis’ daughter on in, his face wreathed in a smile that looked unnatural on him. But all of Roarke’s household loved Belle, and she loved them all right back.
“Thanks, Summerset. You’re a sweetie. Hello, Auntie Eve! You’re looking chipper today!” Belle bounced up and gave Eve a kiss. Normally, Eve was not much on kisses or caresses save from Roarke or Sean, but she made an exception for Belle. The girl’s personality was like a ray of sunshine, and she was impossible to dislike. Even the most crabbed, cynical cops of Eve’s acquaintance unbent around her, and she brightened up any room she was in.
“Hello yourself, love. How’ve you been?” Rather to her mother’s and Eve’s surprise, Bella had no interest in the performing arts. She’d gone in for science instead, winning honors and a prestigous scholarship, to the delight and puzzlement of her mother. Mavis said, laughingly, that she sometimes wondered whether her daughter was really hers…but that she loved Belle anyway “even if she did disappoint her poor old mother.”
“Great! My job’s incredibly interesting!” Belle launched into a description of her new job, which involved complicated multi-disciplinary research into several different fields, that left Eve slightly bewildered. If it had had something to do with police work, like forensics or the like, she’d have likely understood, but this was beyond her. She thought Roarke might have had a better chance of understanding what their honorary niece was up to, but between Belle’s enthusiasm and her fast speech, Eve was floundering, hoping that she nodded and smiled at the right places in the monologue.
Finally, Belle ran down. “But enough about that,” she said. “Tell me about what you’ve been up to! Are you taking care of yourself?” She gave Eve a stern look. Belle had appointed herself as Eve’s unofficial minder and therapy coach, and monitored her well-being as carefully as Roarke himself could have wished. “Have you been exercising? What have you been eating?”
“I swim regularly, darling. And I just got done with helping plan the Nixie Swisher Fund fundraiser. You remember that, don’t you?”
Belle lit up. “Of course! Mom and I are already planning what we’ll wear!” She went off on a tangent about some clothes and shoes that Mavis and Belle were drooling over, and Eve gave herself a rueful shake of the head. Some things never changed. “Will Mame Burnside be there?”
“She was just here. You just missed her. Why do you ask, love?”
“My research needs some funding, and I thought that I could ask her for ideas about where the money could be found. You know that she’s good at that sort of thing.” Eve admitted to herself that Belle’s idea was very good. Mame Burnside, for all her spaciness, had a sharp incisive mind, and took a close interest in scientific research. If she thought that Belle’s line of inquiry looked good, she could probably fund it herself and never miss the money, or get others who were knowledgable in on it.
“Well, you’ll see her at the fundraiser. In the meantime, what would you say to dinner?” Belle’s eyes lit up, for all the world like Peabody smelling food, and she happily followed Eve out to the dining area where the ever-efficient Summerset had set out food for them. Tucking in, Belle said “Oh, I almost forgot to tell you: I got a message from Sean. He got that off-planet scholarship he wanted. I’m so happy for him!”
“He’s happy about it, too, and I’m sure he’ll want to hear all about your research.” Eve drank a long gulp of coffee, savoring the flavor.
END Chapter 04
Rayleen, or Jane, is putting a plan together.
Revenant in Death
Rayleen Straffo quietly let out a sigh of relief when she exited the mansion, walking deferentially just behind her employer. She had been in there, face-to-face with Eve Dallas, and her nemesis had never recognized her. The first test had been passed.
Of course, she had taken precautions. Mame had been puzzled by her decision to have her blonde hair tinted a medium brown, but had cheerfully loaned her the use of her own private stylist and home beauty salon for the purpose. Relaxing under the stylist’s skilled hands, Rayleen had thought about the long years in confinement. In there, beauty care was a constant struggle, between a starchy diet that threatened to submurge her slim figure in pudge, a lack of supplies, and rules forbidding the possession of many things that women used to improve their looks.
By the time she’d been seriously concerned about the problem, though, she’d been inside more than long enough to know that for every rule set by her keepers, there were work-arounds. There were places in every institution she was in that were never searched, that served as stashes where contraband could be stored in relative safety, combined with deniability if, by chance, they did come to light. And many of her fellow-unfortunates had been skilful at working with what they had, both licitly and illicitly, to keep themselves and each other looking as good as they could. Most of them, ostensibly unlike her, were expecting to be released, and either had men waiting for them, or wanted to be able to attract a new partner. They had taught her much about beauty care in adverse conditions.
In addition to getting rid of her signature hair color, she had also taken advantage of the chance to get a free makeover. Her hair no longer flowed down to the middle of her back; instead, she wore it in a neat pixie cut. Her blue eyes were concealed behind contact lenses, turning them brown. Mame had been rather startled, but Rayleen had had just the answer to satisfy her employer.
“Well, Mame, it’s a new job, in a new city, so I want to look like a new me! And your stylist is such a mistress of her art, I wanted to really see what she could do!” Mame had clapped her hands in delight and swallowed the story at face value.
With her new look firmly in place, she had swallowed her fear, gritted her teeth and walked into Roarke’s mansion to face the woman whose face had haunted her dreams for thirty years. She hadn’t been so scared since the day she had first entered prison, and back then, she’d only been ten years old.
The mansion was incredible, she thought. She wasn’t quite able to place the décor, but it was lovely. It made the home she’d been raised in, before her arrest and imprisonment, look like a crib in the slums. She knew that the areas she hadn’t seen were just as splendid as the parts she was permitted to view. Nothing but the best for Roarke! She knew that she deserved equal luxury, and one way or another, through hook or through crook, she’d get it. And bring down that smug bitch, Eve Dallas, into the bargain!
She had dreaded coming face-to-face with Eve Dallas, even considering pleading sickness or an emergency to get out of this meeting, but she was still new enough to Mame’s household to not be sure that her employment would survive any such thing. Only her years of practice at keeping a poker-face had prevented her showing her fear as the majordomo, a saturnine Englishman named Summerset, had shown Mame, Vera Charles, and herself in, and led them to the parlor where Eve Dallas was waiting for them.
Her first view of her enemy was sitting in her wheelchair, going over some lists or other. To Rayleen’s eye, Eve Dallas had changed rather little from the woman she remembered, apart, of course, for the injuries that had forced her to retire from the police. She’d always been slender and spare, and unlike some women who'd been forced into inactivity, she hadn’t gained weight. Her hair was now streaked with grey, and there were lines in her face that Rayleen did not remember, but she was instantly recognizable.
However, the recognition was not mutual. She had shaken hands with Eve Dallas, and Eve hadn’t shown so much as a flicker of realization of her real identity. Between being “incarcerated,” being on record as being in an irreversible coma, and her changes to her appearance, she had gotten away with her impersonation. She wanted to hug herself with sheer joy.
The discussion itself had been more interesting than Rayleen had been prepared for. Even though she’d been a life prisoner, she had taken courses in secretarial work, and she had diligently taken notes on every word that was said. The parts that particularly intrigued her were where Eve Dallas and her guests had discussed how the mansion’s security screens would have to be lowered for the evening, to accommodate the guests.
That had gone into Rayleen’s planning. Normally, all people entering and exiting Roarke’s mansion were monitored, and if fewer people left than were on record as entering, save only Roarke and his immediate family and employees, the security systems would start scanning for intruders. But during the fundraiser, people would be going in and out and the scans would be turned off to prevent embarrassing false alarms.
With an opening like that, Rayleen thought that she’d have to be a complete idiot not to be able to come up with a workable plan to get at Eve Dallas. And she knew she wasn’t a complete idiot.
She had spent years studying Eve Dallas, both in the “IH8LTDallas” forum, and through other people who had known her. There had been many people who had shared quarters with her over the years who had had run-ins with the Lieutenant, and it generally didn’t take much to get them to tell what they knew. Even discounting for bias, stupidity and (in many cases) chemical impairment, she had learned a great deal.
One very valuable source had actually celled with her for a few years. Renee Oberman had not only been in the NYSPD herself, but had been busted for corruption and murder by Eve Dallas. And she was raging for revenge. Once she had found out just why Rayleen was behind bars, they had become soulmates.
In the long hours when they were locked up together, they hadn’t wasted any time. Renee had given Rayleen an intensive course in the structure, procedures and weaknesses of the NYSPD, from the viewpoint of an insider. Not only had she been a lieutenant in the Illegals division before her downfall, but her father had been a legendary cop in his own right. Renee had grown up eating, breathing and living police work, and she was gleefully happy to pass along all she knew to her eager, willing pupil. Rayleen privately thought that Renee was one of the most naturally talented teachers she’d ever met, and might have been happier doing that than going into the police force.
Even though her name was now officially mud with her former employers, Renee still had some access to the cop grapevine. Not everybody had agreed with her conviction; many people had thought that Eve Dallas had engineered her disgrace as a way to remove a potential rival for higher rank. These people told her things, and she had always been very intelligent and gifted with a very good memory.
For years before her fateful encounter with Eve Dallas, Renee Oberman had run a ring of corrupt police, arranging for them to rake off illegal profits from their dealings with the public and criminals, and seeing to it that anybody who tried to report their activities was either discredited or, better still, dead “in the line of duty.” The knowledge she had gained at this had also been part of what she passed along to her willing protegee.
“One thing to keep in mind, Rayleen,” she had said, her voice low so that no snoopy neighbors could hear what they were discussing and wonder why two lifers were talking of such things, “is to never, ever discuss anything the least bit illegal in any public venue! That was what started me on the road to where I am now!” She had looked rueful. “I had got sloppy and careless; I admit it! I was talking with one of my men about some things we were doing, in a gym at the police station!”
“At the police station?” Rayleen couldn’t quite believe her ears. To be sure, she had made a blunder that was just as careless, by bragging to herself in what was meant to be her private diary, but she had only been ten years old at the time! How could a veteran cop be so sloppy?
“Yeah,” Renee nodded, smiling ruefully. “To be fair, the place we were in, an old gym, was almost always deserted. It was just sheer crappy luck that Dallas’ damned Mini-Me, that pest Peabody, had been down there exercising on that particular day. She was in the locker room, and heard us talking. She caught enough of the conversation, and apparently saw enough of me, to be able to ID us to Dallas. That was when the perfume went into the soup for all of us. She rolled up our little group and off to prison we went!”
“So where would be safe to talk about things like that?” Rayleen did not intend to start an organization, but she knew…none better!…that life often had its own plans. She made a mental resolution to never, no, never get careless about security. “Would your own home be better?”
“Depends on whether you live alone, and if you don’t, whether your partner or roommate or whatever you have is in on things. Also, there’s a chance that if anybody suspects you, there could be bugs in your home. Basically, just take it as a general rule that you never talk about sensitive subjects anywhere that someone who isn’t in on things could listen in.” Renee looked thoughtful. “The best way, I’d say, would be to randomly select a motel, take a room, and have your conversations in there. Even the cops can’t bug every motel room in New York. And if they come a-knocking, don’t stand on your rights and demand a warrant! That makes them suspicious. If all they see is a motel room with some people sitting around talking, they may get the idea that something hinky’s going on, but they can’t prove a blessed thing. There’s often many a kilometer between what the police know, and what they can prove to the satisfaction of a court.”
Rayleen nodded. That made excellent sense.
“Be careful who you recruit, if you do start an organization!” Renee looked very serious. “Only recruit people who bring something worthwhile to the table, and test them carefully before letting them in on any sensitive information. Smaller is better if you do start an organization, although I would recommend operating alone if you can swing it.”
Rayleen thought that was an excellent idea. She knew very few people...Renee excepted…who she thought were her intellectual equals, and she had no particular intention to start an organization. However, her plans for her post-prison life were nebulous at best, past the goals of revenge on Eve Dallas and her ex-parents. After those pleasant tasks were taken care of, she could envision situations where recruiting people who had skills she lacked, or could go places she couldn’t, would be very useful.
She had once had ambitions to be a great dancer, artist or something of the sort, but she knew that was out of the question now. Particularly under her real name. Being a great criminal would be a good thing to aim for, but she knew that staying well under the police’s radar would be mandatory if she wanted to stay free and eventually retire with her ill-gotten gains.
Renee had been her best teacher, but by no means her only teacher. The other members of the IH8LTDallas forum she had found in one of the hidden areas of the Internet had also had many very interesting things to tell her. They all loathed Eve Dallas, and when they found out that her plan was to win release and exact revenge on their nemesis, they had fallen over themselves to be as helpful as they could.
Of course, she hadn’t been on that forum, or in the Deep Net, as “Rayleen Straffo.” It had amused all the members of the forum to take on the names of famous criminals. One pair of men who called themselves “Leopold” and “Loeb,” she had pegged pretty quickly as Winston Dudley and Sylvester Moriarity, a pair of wealthy thrill-killers who’d had the temerity to deliberately draw Eve Dallas’ attention. And had got themselves well and truly jugged for it, locked up for the terms of their natural lives.
They had been very informative about the little details of life at Roarke’s level, and had been quite encouraging to her, but Rayleen had nothing but contempt for them. Even on the Net, they came across as arrogant and patronizing, and not quite able to believe that Eve Dallas had had the temerity to take them down, or that a judge would have had the nerve to convict and sentence them. Rayleen acknowledged that she’d been overconfident, herself, but she’d had the excuse of being only ten years old! How could grown men be so stupid with their pants up? She had long since noticed that most men (and women!) were often stupid when they were letting the little head do the thinking, but these two idiots had apparently done what they did just out of boredom and a feeling of unutterable superiority. She thought their online aliasses were well-chosen.
And there were others. One, calling himself “Sarge,” she managed to identify after a while as Roger Kirkendall, one of the killers of Nixie Swisher’s whole family. One of his two accomplices, Isaac Clinton, had died in prison for reasons Rayleen had never been able to determine. The other was female, and had been the one to introduce her to the IH8LTDallas forum. Under her nom-de-net, “Corp,” she was a regular contributor. She and Rayleen had celled together for some while, after Renee Oberman had stupidly got herself caught with illegals in her possession, and been put in isolation for long enough to open a new place in Rayleen’s cell.
While she had been quite willing to accept “Corp’s” teaching, and had willingly shared a bunk with her on many occasions, Rayleen had just about as much contempt for her and her partners as she did for Dudley and Moriarity, and for the same reasons. Their crimes had been stupid, and over-the-top enough to seriously stir up the NYPSD. If Nixie Swisher’s father had done something they didn’t like, the way to deal with him, in Rayleen’s estimation, was to ingratiate themselves with him and slip something untraceable into his drink one day.
Rayleen knew that she wasn’t stupid. In a lot of ways, she looked forward eagerly to the coming contest. Not many people who lost to Eve Dallas ever came back for a rematch!
END Chapter 05
Eve's uneasy, but can't be sure why. Meanwhile, Rayleen's honing her plans...
Revenant in Death
That night, Eve Dallas dreamed. And when she dreamed, it was never of a good thing.
In her dream, she was sitting in her parlor, talking to Vera Charles and Mame Dennis, with Mame’s efficient, unobtrusive assistant sitting just behind her. Just as it had happened in real life. They were discussing the details of the upcoming Nixie Swisher Fund fundraiser.
Then she noticed something. Vera and Mame were both naked. She was terribly startled, and more startled to notice that she, too, was naked. Nobody else in the room seemed to notice anything, and the discussion continued as calmly as it had before. She felt self-conscious; Vera and Mame had both kept their youthful figures, and looked as good as they had when they had all shared a visit to a ladies’ spa the previous year. They had all spent time together in the sauna and the hot tubs nude, so she knew just what they looked like. And they knew all about her injuries. When she had needed help getting out of the sauna or the hot tub, one lady or the other would quietly step forward and offer her arm, in such a way that Eve could cling to it, or not, as she preferred. She had been grateful to them for sparing her pride.
Then she looked behind Mame. Mame’s assistant, Miss Mollenbeek, was still clothed. As Eve watched, she reached up and pulled her face off, as though it were a mask. Eve froze in terror at what lay beneath. Beneath the mask of surface normality lay the face of a leering monster, a monster with an unending hunger in its eyes and fangs for teeth.
“Hello, Eve Dallas,” the monster whispered. “Been a long, long time, hasn’t it? Did you forget me?” The monster’s misshapen face formed into a parody of sadness. “But I never forgot you!” Slowly, slowly, it got up, moving nearer and nearer to Eve. “I’ve been waiting…oh, so long!…for a chance to repay you, for what you did to me!”
“What? What? What did I do to you?” Eve whimpered, trying vainly to get up from her wheelchair. Neither Mame nor Vera seemed to notice anything wrong, talking quietly among themselves. The monster that had been Jane Mollenbeek approached her, the expression on its face full of gloating triumph.
“Oh, nothing much,” the monster purred. “Just ruined my life!” It got close enough to touch her, reaching out to run its scaly paw down one of Eve’s breasts. “And now I’m back, to repay you in your own coin!” With the monster’s touch, Eve regained her voice, screaming for help.
Snapping awake, she saw Roarke looking at her, wide-eyed. “Nightmare, darling?” For a little while, all she could do was shake, and Roarke took her in his strong arms, crooning to her comfortingly. “Was it your father again?”
“No. Not this time.” Eve tried to remember the dream, which was already beginning to fade. “This was to do with that new assistant Mame Burnside’s hired. I thought there was something a little odd about her when she was here earlier, and tonight, I dreamed that she pulled off her face to show that under it, she was a monster!”
“Was she, now?” Roarke stroked his chin, looking thoughtful. “Could it be that your subconscious noticed something that you didn’t see on the surface?” After so long together, he knew that his wife was often very intuitive, particularly as regarded criminals.
“Not impossible. But I’ve had to do with so many criminals…” Eve looked up at him, rubbing her eyes to get the sleep out of them. “I wonder what a good computer search would find on her?”
“Just what I was thinking,” Roarke said. He moved toward the bedroom door. “Let’s have a look through the records, and see if our Miss Mollenbeek’s got any skeletons in her closet!”
The thought was father to the deed, and soon both Roarke and Eve were hunched over Roarke’s terminal. “Hmmm…I can’t find much about her, other than that she’s just out of prison,” muttered Roarke. “Seems she was involved in an illegals ring, and served a couple of years in a minimum-security facility. She has a very good record, with no violations of prison rules, and was released without any trouble.” He probed a little deeper. “About the only thing I can find on her is a requirement that, in order to remain free, she stay out of the city of Chicago. That’s apparently where she’s from, and where she got into trouble.”
“Did she have a record there, before she was arrested for the illegals?” asked Eve.
“Not that I can find. Apparently, she took up with the wrong sort of boyfriend, and he led her into doing some ‘favors’ for his friends. With the current climate of opinion as regards illegals, that was all it took for the judge to come down on her, hard.” Roarke looked grim. “You know, darling, I don’t really think that treating minor offenders that badly is a good idea. Your Miss Mollenbeek might well be plotting some sort of revenge.”
“But why would she target me, in particular?” Eve was trying to wrap her mind around this whole idea. “I’ve never even been to Chicago in my adult life, I’ve never specialized in illegals, and I had nothing to do with her trouble!”
“Good question, that,” Roarke muttered. “I wonder if she’s even particularly targeting you as you, or you because you were a cop for so long? Quite a few ex-cons come out of their sentences longing for revenge on the police.”
“I wonder if Mame knows about her past?” Eve said. “She might, and still might have hired her. Mame’s one of the most tolerant women I know, and doesn’t think illegals should even be illegal. A little thing like this wouldn’t bother her one bit.” Eve smiled to herself. “And I must say, that her approach to things generally does seem to work.”
“We’ll need to have a talk with her. In the meantime, how about going back to bed? Morning’s coming on, and we’ve got much to do tomorrow.” Eve suddenly felt how weary she was, and she did not resist her husband guiding her back to bed. Falling asleep with her head on his chest, his scent in her nostrils and his hand stroking her hair as he murmured wordlessly to her, Eve felt safe from all monsters.
Across Manhattan, Jane Mollenbeek, who had once been Rayleen Straffo, was also having trouble sleeping. She finally gave up on it as a bad job, got up, made herself a (non-alcoholic) drink, and sat at the window of Mame’s upscale apartment, gazing out over the sleeping city.
She had the day off tomorrow, so sleeping in if she needed to would be no problem. One thing that her years in confinement had left her, though, was the habit of being an early riser, so she figured she’d probably be up, sleep-deprived or not. She could always take a nap during the day if she needed to.
One thing she wanted to do was to get out to Connecticut, and spend the day getting information about her former family. She couldn’t afford another rental car, at least not as yet. But public transportation extended out that far, and the neighborhood looked to be upscale enough to not worry too much about a respectable-looking woman wandering about. There were quite a few neighborhoods she’d never have dreamed of exploring on foot, but the area where her ex-family lived was not one of them.
She had also figured out a plausible excuse for being in the area. She worked for Mame Burnside, after all. Telling any snoops that Mame was interested in buying property in their part of the world would satisfy their curiosity, and if it never happened…Mame was known to be erratic, and to have her whims. As for covering herself with her employer, all she needed to do was to come up with a “Personals” ad from some man in the area who was interested in a new girlfriend, and tell Mame that she wanted to scout the guy out without his knowledge.
Her siblings were the first on the list she had made, after Eve Dallas herself, of course. Once she had managed to learn their habits, she thought it would not be difficult to lure them into a deadfall of some sort. Making it look accidental, as she had done for Trevor so long ago, would make it even better. And, of course, she planned to be nowhere near when the bodies were discovered, and leave no trace that she’d been involved. While Seal-It was supposed to be an item restricted to the police, it wasn’t hard to lay hands on if one knew where to go and whom to ask. And Rayleen did know.
She considered her siblings’ existence an insult to herself. She was the rightful daughter of Oliver Straffo, not some latecomers! She’d eliminated her baby brother easily enough, and at age seven, at that. If she hadn’t made some fairly elementary mistakes, mistakes she could put down to youth and inexperience, even her mother wouldn’t have ever suspected her.
Ideally, she wanted to kill her unwanted sibs in a way that really, really hurt, but she knew that sort of thing took time, and might attract unwanted attention. She had factors in her favor, mainly the fact that nobody knew that she was free, and the changes in her appearance thanks to Mame’s wonderful stylists.
After her siblings were gone, it would be Mommy’s turn. Her mother seemed to have recovered from her ordeals, and moved around fairly freely. There were lots of possibilities, ranging from maybe sabotaging her transpo, to sniping her from a distance, to just getting close and spraying her in the face with cyanide, counting on the coroner thinking it was just a heart attack or something of the sort.
Then Daddy would be her final target. She would have to arrange something unremarkable for him, if only, again, to keep the police from taking too much of an interest. She had not had a chance to analyze the security on her ex-family’s home, but she doubted they had anything she couldn’t defeat. And if she could enlist a suitable tool and patsy to do the dirty work, that would be even better. Particularly if she then eliminated her tool. Her ex-family’s money would come to her, albeit by a rather convoluted route, and then she could relax in the sun at a nice beach resort. Just as she had always deserved to, and should have, if that damned Eve Dallas hadn’t insisted on sticking her oar in.
One lesson that Renee Oberman had taught her, all unknowing, was “Don’t get greedy!” When Rayleen had found out how much money Renee had already socked away when she fell foul of the accursed Lieutenant Dallas, she had nearly gasped in shock. Two hundred million, and properties overseas? And her subordinates also all had more than enough to retire on in perfect comfort. Why, she wondered, had Renee kept on and kept on and kept on with her operation?
Rayleen, herself, did not intend to keep on once she had enough money to live on in comfort. Instead, she planned to retire from crime and devote herself to forgetting the long years in prison as though they had never existed. She knew that every illegal activity she performed brought with it a certain percentage chance that the police would get on her trail. And she did not ever want to draw the attention of the police, ever again.
She thought that if she had had it to do over again, she’d have arranged to be far away on the other side of the school when Mr. Foster’s body was discovered. Getting Melodie all upset had been part of her plan, but she saw now that she’d been overconfident and had made things too easy for the police. If she’d been clear away when the body was found, and had remembered to act shocked and horrified when given the news, she thought that unutterable swine, Eve Dallas, might never have come near her. But she’d been too tempted by the chance to have a moment in the limelight.
These days, she preferred anonymous excellence. Oh, it would be such fun to leave behind herself a biography, telling all the world about her exploits, but she wouldn’t want such a thing to come to light until she, herself, was safely dead and out of reach of the law. She had also learned that bragging, even to herself, was a good way to get caught.
As the sun rose over Manhattan, lighting the canyons between the huge buildings, Rayleen went to shower, groom herself, get dressed and start her day off. She had no fear of disturbing her employer; Mame Burnside was a very, very sound sleeper, partly by nature and partly due to the fact that she seemed to run on martinis the way old-fashioned automobile engines ran on gasoline.
END Chapter 06
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
Rayleen finds out some things she hadn't known about her employer, which alters a few of her plans.
Revenant in Death
Mame Burnside was hosting a large outdoor party in Central Park, in honor of one of her friends who was retiring from the political world. She was in her element, moving effortlessly through the crowd, talking with everybody, a martini in her hand. Not far away, her best pal, Vera Charles, was talking with event security. The Great Lawn had been fenced off, and event-crashers had to be kept at a distance, since some of them were quite unstable and tended to stalk celebrities. Many of the attendees were well-known in the world of stage, screen and music.
Beside Mame, Rayleen Straffo, in her cover identity of “Jane Mollenbeek,” was assiduously recording everything. Mame was using the occasion to network with her wealthy friends, and she didn’t want to forget any details, so her loyal assistant was making sure that all went on the record.
Behind her impassive, diligent façade, Rayleen was actually rather enjoying the occasion. The music was top-notch, the food was first-rate, the weather was wonderful, and she loved the feeling of the free air and sunshine on her skin. One thing she had never liked about her decades of confinement was that for much of it, she never saw the outdoors, and she had gone years without seeing the sun other than in videos.
That was yet another part of the score she intended to pay off against Eve Dallas. The snooping, nosing bitch had sent her to that place, fully intending to lock her away for the rest of her natural life. And if she’d been the sort of ordinary idiot that Dallas normally dealt with, that would be where she would still be.
She had met many fellow victims of her nemesis on the “IH8LTDallas” online forum, in the depths of the Web. Some of them she respected, as people who had been tripped up by the unforeseeable. But most of them, she looked down upon. To be sure, her own mistakes had landed her in the predicament she was then in, but she had only been ten years old. These were adults, and she expected better from adults. To judge from some of their postings, many of them may have been chronologically adult, but mentally, younger than she had been when she had fallen foul of Eve Dallas.
One in particular, who called himself “Reaper,” was one of the most pathetic twerps she had ever run across, in meatspace or cyberspace. She had managed to find out who he was, and she couldn’t believe how stupid he had been. He’d been a chronic loser who had snapped one day, killed his parents when they were making noises about kicking him out of their apartment because he wouldn’t get a job and had been fired repeatedly, and then gone on a rampage of revenge against everybody who’d ever slighted him.
In “Reaper’s” shoes, Rayleen would have been over the hills and far away after he had forced his former Comp Science teacher to transfer her unexpectedly-large fortune into accounts he had set up. Instead, the fool had stayed in Manhattan, plotting more revenge against people. Unobtrusively, Rayleen shook her head. Had he wanted to make it easy for Eve Dallas to catch him?
And forcing his ex-teacher to transfer money, as well as forcing her to set him up with a new ID? That was stupid! His former teacher had excellent reasons to want to see him caught, and unlike “Reaper,” had real computer skills. She had embedded fraud codes in his false ID, and had left clues to his real identity. And shortly after he had foolishly used his new cards, Eve Dallas had been kicking down the door of the fancy new apartment he had bought. Right there in Manhattan, as though he hadn’t wanted Lieutenant Dallas to go to too much trouble or travel too far.
Up on the stage, the first act of the afternoon was just warming up. For a second, Rayleen allowed herself to just enjoy the music, the warm sun, and the ambiance. She could forget the long years in prison, the burning hatred she bore for Lieutenant Eve Dallas, and the hideous revenges she had thought of to inflict on her nemesis, and just be a young woman out to enjoy a party.
Beside her, Mame was also clearly enjoying the music. Mame was one to suck the maximum enjoyment from whatever she was doing, whether entertaining a new lover or listening to music in Central Park on a beautiful day. She liked to say that “life is a banquet, but most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death!” Agnes Gooch had rolled her eyes, the first time that Rayleen had heard her boss say that, and had muttered something to the effect that if that were so, Mame was the biggest glutton she had ever met.
Rayleen found herself sympathizing with her boss’ point of view. For far too long, enjoyable experiences had been few and far between, and were to be savored all the more for their sheer rarity. Rayleen was herself by no means of an ascetic temperament, and did not think that she gained some sort of Heavenly brownie points by denying herself pleasures when they were there to be had. Not unless there was some good reason to do so, like not taking an extra helping of dessert to keep her figure slim and trim.
There were quite a few attractive men about, and if she hadn’t been on duty, Rayleen might have considered seeing if any of them would be interested in her. Even with her new look, she knew that she was an attractive woman, and she was by no means averse to the attentions of men. Of course, there were also a good few attractive women in the vicinity, and her years in prison had ensured that she had no particular problems with going to bed with them. However, she and Agnes Gooch had started an affair, and while Agnes did not object to men, she did have a jealous streak where other women were concerned. And in her current situation, Rayleen did not want to get on Agnes’ bad side.
“I’m glad to see you enjoying yourself, dear,” Mame murmured. “It’s quite a contrast to prison life, isn’t it?” Rayleen nearly jumped out of her skin at that remark, before remembering that her doppelgänger’s record, while officially sealed, was not inaccessible. And Mame had some good e-people working for her. Mame winked. “Don’t worry, dear. What you did was minor, and you’ve paid. I believe that helping people who’ve made a mistake re-integrate into society makes it less likely that they’ll re-offend.”
“You’re a good person, Mame,” Rayleen muttered back. She smothered a grin at how she knew Mame would have reacted, had she known Rayleen’s real record. A minor role in an illegals ring at the behest of one’s boyfriend was one thing, but Rayleen knew that Mame would recoil at helping a serial killer. She had been surprised, during her years in prison, to find that she qualified as a serial killer, and one of the youngest on record, at that! Down deep, she had taken a good deal of pride in that designation. Serial killers were the élite among murderers, with some of them, like Jack the Ripper, becoming literally legendary.
Of course, they were also among the highest-priority targets the police had. Very few serial killers escaped eventual capture, and as far as Rayleen could determine, she was the only one who had escaped incarceration after exposure, conviction and sentence. She fully intended to stay free, and if staying free meant playing a role, she was well up to it.
All her life, she thought, she had played roles. For the first ten years, she had played the role of “sweet little girl,” and had done it well enough to fool nearly everybody she met. Had she not got overconfident, and crossed swords with the accursed Lieutenant Dallas, that façade would have got her through to adulthood. But she had tripped up, and been caught.
Once incarcerated, she had set to work to perfect new masks to hide behind. At first, she had pretended to be utterly in shock, unable to believe what had happened to her, and that had not been entirely an act. Life in prison, even in protective custody as befit one of her age, was a huge contrast to her pampered, cosseted previous life. She had learned quickly to put on a “thousand-yard stare,” but behind that, she had been observing, figuring out her new environment and how best to get along in it.
Gradually, she had let herself come out of her faux shock, seeming to adjust to prison life. Her captors had made sure that her education went on, and she had always been a star pupil, so she was soon earning more privileges than had been available to a brand-new prisoner. And she had been exposed, more and more, to other prisoners. While offenders of her age were rare, they were not unknown, and they were housed together to keep them safe from their elders, many of whom would happily take advantage of them if allowed to.
The other prisoners had been from different social strata, but they had all had one thing in common: they had all committed serious enough crimes to be thrown into the adult system long before they would normally have been liable to be. They had welcomed her into their society, and had shown her many things she hadn’t known before, things that made prison life more bearable. Under their guidance, she had gradually, since doing so all at once would have sent up red flags, adopted the role of “repentant, rehabilitatable prisoner,” and set out to gain herself the good opinions of her captors.
While she regarded the prison, and its rules, with utter contempt, she was careful to never show it in any way, since she knew that she was being monitored through most of the day. She had learned which areas were not monitored, and which guards were more slack than the others. She had become extremely observant, which served her well in many ways. Such as right then, in Central Park.
Out of one corner of her eye, Rayleen could see a bit of a stir in the crowd. At first, she thought it was just a minor spat, such as happened at big public gatherings when someone offended someone else, but she quickly saw that it was shaping up into a big brawl. The security forces saw it, too, and moved in to quell it. Then there was a loud bang.
The next thing Rayleen knew, her feet had been hooked out from under her. “Get down and stay down!” yelled Vera Charles, as she and Mame crouched side-by-side over her. Both women were hefting what looked to be police-issue lasers, and from the way they held them, they were very familiar with the weapon. Screams echoed through the park, as a large squad of masked men tore into the crowd, heading for the stage. They ran up onto the stage, grabbing the startled performers before anybody could stop them, and put them in restraints, shouting “Anybody tries to stop us getting away, and these people will get it!”
From the ground, Rayleen watched, in awe, as Mame Burnside and Vera Charles opened fire, blasting down several of the terrorists before they could react. The terrorists were clearly shocked, not least because they clearly hadn’t been expecting to get resistance from a bunch of “sheltered rich people.” Three of them went down before the others had the wit to get down low to make themselves smaller targets, and try to return fire. Off in the distance, police sirens were sounding as the NYPSD tore toward the park, but they did not sound close enough to get there in time.
“Cover me,” snapped Mame. Vera nodded, keeping up a steady rate of fire as Mame moved off to the left. Rayleen watched as Mame slipped from one bit of cover to the next, as though she’d been a soldier all her life. Inside, she was filled with wonder. Who would have thought that a couple of New York society matrons could do something like this?
When Mame had got herself into position, she began to take shots. Every time she fired, a terrorist went down. After the first couple of shots, the terrorists figured out where she had to be, and began shooting back, but Mame was a devotee, apparently, of the “fire-and-manouvre” school, and had done this dance before. After firing, she would duck back down behind the cover she had spotted, and make a break for the next bit of cover while the terrorists fired on where she had been, always moving in closer.
Meanwhile, Vera Charles was waiting her chance. Once the enemy were focussing on Mame, she knelt down behind a picnic table, steadied her hands on the surface, and began methodically picking off terrorists. By the time the police came in and took over, only a few terrorists were left unscathed, and they looked, to Rayleen, like they were very glad to see the cops coming. In their boots, she’d have been glad, too. They clearly had not expected resistance, and finding it had thrown them off their plans.
As the terrorists were taken into custody, Mame strolled back to Vera, casually holstering her blaster in a side-pocket that Rayleen had not noticed. “Well, that’s that,” she said, as casually as though they did this every day. “Good thing I’ve still got my eye, isn’t it?”
“You were a little off on a couple of those creeps, dear,” Vera remarked, holstering her own blaster. “Maybe a little more time at the range would be in order.”
Much to Rayleen’s surprise, Mame didn’t bristle, although she normally was always up for a friendly, or not-quite-so-friendly, bicker with her longtime best friend. “Maybe we both should put in more range time. Much as I hate to say it, we’re neither of us getting any younger. God, would you look at those cops? They look like children to me!”
“Rather yummy children, though,” Vera drawled, giving the cop who seemed to be in charge the eye. “I wouldn’t mind taking that one off somewhere private and showing him a thing or two, would you, dear?” Both women nodded, staring at the policeman as though he were a piece of meat in a store that they were thinking about buying. Rayleen had to agree; the man was almost heartbreakingly handsome, and could have stepped off a police recruiting poster.
He came over. “Thank you both, ladies. Those swine really could have done some damage, and probably got away with hostages they could have held for ransom, if you hadn’t kept them in play long enough for us to get here.” His name badge read Detective Trueheart. Rayleen’s memory stirred---had she met an Officer Trueheart, so long ago? She would have to be careful, just in case she had. While she’d changed her appearance, something she did or said might trigger a memory, if they’d met while Lieutenant Dallas was closing in on her.
Vera gave him a smoking look. “All in a day’s work, Detective. We learned how to do this years ago.”
“Well, we’re glad you learned!” Detective Trueheart looked at both ladies, and what he saw seemed to make him somewhat uneasy. “You’ll have to forgive me, but duty calls!” With that, he turned and headed back to the other police, who were busy cuffing-and-stuffing the last terrorists.
With the distraction gone, Mame and Vera remembered Rayleen. “Oh, my dear, did we frighten you? You poor thing! You didn’t know about our background, did you?” From what looked, to Rayleen’s inexperienced eyes, like a very experienced soldier, Mame had morphed back into the kindly employer she had known. The transformation was startling.
“She’s too young to remember that time, and I envy her that,” Vera drawled. “Maybe we should find someplace quiet where we can sit down and explain to your assistant just what happened.” The three women headed over to a table that hadn’t been disturbed. Vera and Mame’s eyes lit up at the pitcher of martinis that was waiting there, as though it had been set out for them, and poured themselves one apiece. As befit her role of teetotaler, Rayleen contented herself with a tube of Pepsi.
“Well, dear,” Mame started, “you apparently didn’t know that Vera and I met up at first during the Urban Wars. We were in the same faction, and our superiors assigned us to the same squad, under Sergeant Valerie Vane. We called her “The Valkyrie.” Mame laughed reminiscently. “She was a holy terror, but she took us and whipped us right into shape! By the time she was done, we were lean, mean fighting machines, and then she led us into combat!”
“We saw quite a bit of action together, Jane,” Vera said, her eyes unfocussing as she called up old memories. “You’re too young to remember the Urbans, but it was pretty hellish. We were in combat for weeks at a time, sometimes, before they could pull us out for a little R+R. That was when we started drinking.” She gave Rayleen a shrewd look. “I know you don’t really approve of how much we drink, dear, and I honestly don’t blame you, but sometimes that’s how we manage to stay sane and functional.”
“That was a bad time, a very bad time,” Mame murmured. “We saw more friends get killed than I ever want to remember, but I also never want to forget any of them. On Memorial Day, I always make sure to make it to the Urban Wars monument and leave flowers for all of them.”
“In any case, we made it through, the last of all our platoon,” Vera said. “Sergeant Valerie…I’d have bet long odds that she’d survive the fighting, but she got the way some people got who’d been in for too long. She took more and more chances, and a few weeks before the fighting was over, she showed herself in the wrong place for a little too long. Some dirty little sniper got her right behind the right ear.” A tear ran down her face. “She’s buried with the others, out in the Urban War plot in Long Island, and her name’s on the monument.”
“After the war, Vera and I stayed together. We went into theater together, and caught ourselves rich husbands. Vera kept on treading the boards, but my husband was against ‘any wife of his’ doing any such thing, so I had to retire.” Mame swallowed another sip of her drink. “And now here we are, respectable New York society matrons. It’s nobody else’s business if we’ve kept up our skills, or if we carry auxiliary NYPSD badges, now is it?” She winked at Rayleen.
As she nodded agreement, Rayleen was reconsidering some plans she’d made. Neither her employer nor her employer’s best friend would be the easy target she had imagined them to be at first, and since she had had no chance at all to learn how to use weapons, any direct attacks on them would be suicide. Far better, she thought, once she’d settle scores once and for all with Eve Dallas, to either quietly disappear, or to continue on as Mame’s personal assistant. It would depend on whether there was any suspicion about Dallas’ death or not.
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
Revenant in Death
The time flew past quickly before the Nixie Swisher Fund fundraiser. Eve Dallas had long since learned to let the professionals handle the setup for parties, so she just relaxed and allowed them to do their jobs. They, for their part, had learned to leave her alone, and she concentrated on figuring out what would be the best uses for the money they were planning to raise. By the evening of the party, Roarke’s house was as prepared as it could ever be. The areas off-limits to guests were discreetly secured, and the rest of the house was decorated in Roarke’s excellent taste.
There were several different ways in which the money they expected to raise could be utilized. Part of it would go to the actual current victims of crime, to help pay their hospital bills, pay for rehabilitation, pay for repairs where they were needed, and try to restore them to where they’d been before crime had touched them, insofar as money could. Another part would go to the dependents of those who had been killed by criminals, to support them until they could make their own way in life. And yet another part would go to those who never could recover, who were in hospitals or clinics or nursing homes for the rest of their lives after having been victimized by crime. Their expenses would be paid, and they would receive such comforts as they could use.
Pledges of support were already coming in, and Eve was touched, as always, to see that her former colleagues on the police force were stepping up with contributions. She knew…none better…that police were often not paid terribly well, and to see them digging down to help those less fortunate warmed her heart. As always, Captain Peabody led the list, with an impressive amount in her own name and that of McNab.
When Peabody had received her captain’s bars, she had requested that Eve be the one to pin them on for her. In her acceptance speech, she gave full credit to Eve, saying that Eve had shaped her into the policewoman she now was, and stating that she would not have climbed so high without Eve’s shining example to live up to, every day of her life. When she had stood out of her wheelchair to pin the bars on Peabody’s uniform, Eve had been all but blinded by tears and deafened by the standing ovation that the audience, led by Roarke, had given them. Although normally Eve was not demonstrative in public, she and Peabody had hugged, and Eve could hear her son’s yell: “Hooray for Aunt Delia!” along with Peabody’s own children cheering them on.
Thinking of Peabody always made Eve smile, and feel a little wistful. Although her life now was often very fulfilling, and she wouldn’t have traded her son for anything in the world, there were times she still missed police work. With a shake of her head, she dismissed nostalgia, concentrating on the business at hand, just as though it were still the old days and she was bringing in a murderer.
Mame Burnside and Vera Charles were bringing in their usual haul from their upscale friends. Eve nodded in approval. Many of those people had far more money than they could ever use, and they liked to show it by splashing it around on good causes. And some of them had also been victimized by crime in the past, and hadn’t forgotten.
When she thought of Mame Burnside, she remembered her new assistant. There was something about Jane Mollenbeek that just niggled at her. On the surface, Ms. Mollenbeek was a perfect assistant. She was unobtrusive, polite, apparently well-educated and well-trained, and clearly an asset to Mame in her daily doings. But there was something wrong there, and it bothered Eve that she couldn’t put her finger on it.
She knew that Jane Mollenbeek had spent time in prison. The conviction had been for a minor charge, as a low-level go-fer and flunky in an illegals ring, apparently at the behest of her boyfriend. Could that be it? Eve knew that prison left a mark on people, and wondered if that was all she was seeing. She made a mental note to discuss it with Roarke, and wheeled off to her closet to select what she would wear that night.
The Nixie Swisher Foundation fundraiser was everything that Rayleen could have expected, and more. She was surrounded by people that she normally would only see on-screen, and they accepted her as casually as if they’d known her all her life. Of course, being in the wake of Mame Burnside helped. Mame knew everybody, and everybody knew her.
Following Mame like a baby duck its mother, Rayleen moved through the crowd. Mame, of course, had a drink in her hand, while Rayleen, as always, had something non-alcoholic. This time it was a glass full of ginger ale. It looked alcoholic enough to keep people from pressing drinks on her, but wasn’t intoxicating. On this night of all nights, she had to keep her wits about her.
Regretfully, she had discarded the idea of assassinating Eve Dallas in the midst of her own party. There were far too many police around, in and out of uniform, and she had learned the hard way that even society matrons like her own employer could not be discounted easily. Instead, she was devoting herself to sussing out the defenses on Roarke’s mansion, with the goal of entering at some time when things were quieter. Her portable computer had quite a few features on it that Mame didn’t know about, and one of them was a program that passively sensed and recorded defensive measures, so that she could study them later, at leisure.
She had accepted that this was not going to be an easy project to bring off. Eve Dallas was apparently just about as sharp as ever, and she was also one of the most heavily guarded people in New York, if not the country. However, Rayleen was not discouraged. She had already completed the most difficult part of the project, and was a free woman again, for all that Eve Dallas didn’t know it. Compared to the patience and skill it had taken to ghost through the layers of security that had separated her from her freedom, this would not be an insuperable obstacle.
She had also decided to bring in a friend of hers. Someone she had met in captivity, who had just as many good reasons as she did to wish Eve Dallas dead, who also had skills that she, Rayleen, admittedly lacked.
Having tabled the notion of striking at the fundraiser itself, Rayleen let herself fall into the persona of Jane Mollenbeek, sometime small-time convict trying to make good as the assistant of a rich, warm-hearted, impulsive older woman. With that, she began to enjoy the party for its own sake.
Mame walked up to a woman about Rayleen’s own age, embracing her, before turning to Rayleen. “Jane, darling! You haven’t met the guest of honor! Nixie, this is Jane Mollenbeek, my new assistant. Jane, I want you to meet Nixie Swisher!”
Nixie stepped forward, taking Rayleen’s hand in both of hers. “Welcome, Jane! I’m so glad you could come! Isn’t this a wonderful event?” Her eyes sparkled, and Rayleen thought she might have had a few drinks already.
“It sure is! I don’t think I’ve seen so many yummy men in one place in years!” And that, Rayleen reflected, was the simple truth, told in such a way that her interlocutors would not understand what she was really saying. The men on tap in the places where she had been confined for so long were mostly not terribly appetizing, and while she’d not been above consoling herself with them when opportunity offered, they were not to her taste. She deserved only the best, and she would have it, one way or another!
Nixie laughed. “Ain’t that the truth!” She patted Rayleen on the shoulder, said “Have a good time! We’re already raising lots of money!” and went on her way to schmooze the next person. In the privacy of her own mind, Rayleen laughed at how easily Nixie had accepted her for what she ostensibly was.
The evening wore on, with the climax of the festivities being Eve Dallas herself, up on a platform behind a podium she could cling to while out of her wheelchair, announcing the total amount that the event had raised. At her announcement, the room rang with cheers, and Rayleen joined in, while inside she gasped in wonder at how much money had changed hands.
Part of her mourned that she couldn’t tap into that windfall herself. While working for Mame Burnside was very useful, and gave her a legitimate reason to be in the Roarke mansion and a role that let her pass unnoticed, she did not intend to spend her life as a rich woman’s go-fer and flunky. She deserved wealth, and with wealth she could surround herself with luxury and comforts, and forget the long decades she had spent in austere confinement.
When they finally left, Mame was visibly tiddly, and Rayleen gently took charge of her, steering her to where her transpo waited. She and her boss both got in, and the big limousine purred smoothly out into the early-morning Manhattan traffic, heading back to the Upper East Side where Mame’s mansion was.
Once they were home, Mame said “Darling, I’m off to bed. I don’t want to be disturbed until I get up under my own power tomorrow. Can you arrange that, dear?”
“Of course, Mame.” The women exchanged chaste kisses, and Mame was soon tucked up in her own bed, sleeping the sleep of the more-than-somewhat-intoxicated. Once her employer was asleep and out of the way, Rayleen went to her own quarters.
Agnes Gooch was away, visiting some relatives of hers, and she had no particular fear of being interrupted. Even so, she locked her door carefully, and put a chair into place where it would be knocked over if someone came in. She had neglected her precautions before, and that had led to decades of uncomfortable, degrading confinement. If nothing else, Rayleen Straffo was a gifted student, and did not need to learn any lesson twice.
One of the few possessions she had brought along from her previous residence was the personal computer she had bought as soon as she was out of prison. It was state-of-the-art, and with the skills she had studied obsessively while in confinement, she had added safeguards that would, she believed, hide the data she needed hidden from the eyes of any but the very best e-geeks. And, if things went as she wished, she would not come to the attention of any such people.
She uploaded the data she had obtained at the Nixie Swisher Fund fundraiser, adding it to what she had already found out about Roarke’s mansion. As she worked, schematics came and went on the screen, detailing the various security systems in use and the areas they covered. When she was done, she sat back and studied what she had learned.
A thoughtful frown creased her face. The more she looked at it, the less possible it seemed to be to make a surrepitious entry into Roarke’s mansion. Roarke himself, as a former criminal, was obsessive about his security systems, and with his great wealth, he could obtain the very best, often before they even hit the general market. That meant that countermeasures against them were not easily obtainable.
If she had been in touch with the criminal community, she could possibly have obtained the countermeasures she’d need to break into Roarke’s mansion. But that idea, wonderful as it was, had its faults.
First, she didn’t have any such contacts. Most of the people she’d been locked up with had had them, but they didn’t always choose to share them with her. The longer they’d been inside, the less likely their information was to be up-to-date. And she couldn’t exactly just write or call them and ask about such things. All communications into prisons were monitored, and asking openly about any such thing would raise red flags everywhere.
Second, the criminal community was riddled with police informants. Many of her fellow-unfortunates had ended up in prison because of the treachery of some subordinate, either to remove a rival for preference and promotion, or to get themselves out of some jam or other. Rayleen worked alone, at least as much as she could, and did not confide her plans to people, mainly because what they did not know, they could not spill.
Third, criminals were untrustworthy. There were many of them who’d have happily sold her “countermeasures” that did not work, and laughed to see her hauled back to the hell she had escaped. Others might have sold her bad countermeasures purely inadvertently. Just because someone was in The Life did not make him or her competent. Incompetence, on their own part or the parts of others, was another factor that had been the downfall of many of her former companions.
So, striking from within Roarke’s own house was impossible, at least without things that Rayleen did not have. But that did not mean that Eve Dallas, damn her, had won the game! There were more ways than one to peel this particular fruit.
Eve Dallas did not spend all her time in her husband’s fortress-mansion. She left it, apparently on a fairly regular basis, on various errands. Rayleen had heard that she regularly traveled to the Police Academy, to lecture up-and-coming police cadets on the things she had learned in her years behind the badge. She didn’t have the schedule for those trips, but she was sure that she could find out just when they happened. And once out of her fortress, Eve Dallas would be vulnerable. Particularly to one person that Rayleen knew would be up for the job.
In her time inside, Rayleen had made various friends. The closest of them all, though, was Willow Mackie, another young girl who had been convicted of multiple murders and sent to prison for life. On the surface, they couldn’t have been much different, but once they met, they bonded. Rayleen had been in for some time when Willow was first brought in, and once she found out what the other girl was in for, she had stepped forward and offered herself as a guide and mentor, teaching her new friend all about the ins and outs of prison life.
Willow had not had her level of skill with computers, but she made up for that with skill and knowledge in other areas. They had formed a tight partnership. Under Rayleen’s knowledgable guidance, Willow had soon become a “model prisoner” in her own right, with privileges and immunities to some of the lesser annoyances of prison life.
Rayleen had confided her long-term strategy for regaining her freedom to Willow alone, and had promised to do all she could to break the other girl out of confinement as well. With her cooperation, Rayleen had carefully fiddled with the computerized records, once it was safe, erasing or moving the recommendations that Willow be kept strictly confined in the same way she had done for her own records.
Once they had been moved back planetside, they had separated, as planned. Rayleen had managed to manipulate the records to make it seem as though Willlow was insane, and had seen to it that she was placed in a mental institution, not far from New York itself. She had been in position to be released for some time, and all it would take would be one or two last tweaks to the system.
Unlike criminals, insane people could be released with little fanfare, once their keepers were satisfied that they were able to deal with reality in a sane way. Rayleen had carefully coached Willow on just what to say to the doctors, and everything had gone swimmingly. She was on the track to be released, and all it would take would be the approval of the court that had declared her mentally incompetent. Approval that Rayleen knew how to manufacture.
Once Willow was out, she knew what to do. She had some money available, in an account that Rayleen had set up, and Rayleen had also let her know where her previous living quarters were and how to access them. The rent on that mini-apartment had been paid up in full for a year in advance, since Rayleen had not anticipated such a stroke of luck as to be hired on as Mame Burnside’s personal assistant. Willow would just move on into the mini-apt, and they would get together and figure out just what to do next.
Rayleen nodded to herself. One thing she herself lacked, she admitted freely, was skill with weapons. She’d had no exposure to them prior to her conviction, and for obvious reasons, her keepers did not see fit to remedy that gap in her education. However, her best friend was a crack shot with a long-distance laser, and had sniped twenty-five people before being stopped. While Willow was admittedly out of practice, Rayleen thought that once she got in some target range time, her friend would be back up to her former high level of skill.
Rayleen also knew she could trust her friend implicitly. Willow Mackie had been thwarted in her desire to be the top-scoring long-distance serial killer of all time by Eve Dallas, and had been sent to what had been meant to be lifelong confinement by the accursed Lieutenant. While they were different people in many ways, with Willow having little or no patience for Rayleen’s interests in the arts, and Rayleen being bored by Willow’s obsession with weapons, the hatred they shared for Eve Dallas was more than enough to ensure that they could work together on this.
And afterward, who knew? Rayleen knew that she herself was a dab hand with poisons, and could make computers all but sit up and beg. Combine that with Willow’s deadly marksmanship, and add both women’s utter ruthlessness, and you might just have a combination that would be in demand among those who were in the market for others’ deaths.
Chapter 9: Chapter 9
Revenant in Death
After the Nixie Swisher Fund fundraiser was over, Eve was happy to get back to her routine. She always enjoyed the Fundraiser, but it did disrupt things around her home. She supervised the crews cleaning things up and thought about the party while she did so; the crews knew their jobs and needed very little input from her.
While she had had a good time at the Fundraiser, and she was very pleased at the amounts that had been raised, there had been something niggling at her the whole time it was going on. Again and again, she had had a funny feeling, rather like what she imagined she’d feel if she were swimming in the ocean and suddenly realized that a shark or barracuda was in the vicinity. She had felt uneasy, and had wished for her old police sidearm’s comforting weight at her side. Even though everybody at the Fundraiser was vouched for, and she was in one of the safest places in New York, there had been something that just felt a bit wrong.
Eve wished she could talk to her husband about it, but Roarke was out of town. Summerset had had a death in his family back in Britain, and he and Roarke had flown out the night before, to deal with matters there and attend the funeral. It was rather odd to miss Summerset.
Shrugging her shoulders, Eve dismissed the worries to the back of her mind, and concentrated on her next task. She was going to be giving a lecture at the Police Academy next week, and she needed to go over her notes and figure out just what to say. She always enjoyed her time at the Academy, and knowing that she was helping mold the next generation of police into the policemen and –women they needed to be was very gratifying. Not as gratifying as bringing a murderer in and knowing that she was the reason that a vicious killer was going to be spending the rest of his or her life in an off-planet facility, but she knew it was worthwhile work.
When Mame Burnside awoke, Rayleen was right there, offering her a cool compress for her head and making sure that the light from outside wasn’t too bright for sensitive eyes. Mame gave her a grateful smile. “Thank you, Jane,” she murmured. “You’re a real treasure.”
“Just doing my job, Mame,” Rayleen answered. During her time in prison, she had been a voracious reader, and one book she had run across was An Actor Prepares, by Stanislavsky. Reading it, she had been converted to “method acting,” and she had found the skills that Stanislavsky imparted incalculably useful in helping her endure her confinement, as well as easing her long-term plans to regain her freedom.
She had subsumed herself into the roles she was playing, mainly “rehabilitatable, repentant prisoner,” and had found to her delight that Stanislavsky’s methods worked just as well to fool her captors as they did on stage or screen. When she had been free, before running into the ever-accursed Eve Dallas, she had harbored ambitions to be an actress, among other things. This, she decided, was the role of a lifetime, and she played it to her uttermost. Increased privileges, and less supervision, were excellent substitutes for the rave reviews she had once imagined herself getting. They also made furthering her real plans much easier, which gave her an incentive to keep the act up.
And now, a free woman, she was completely subsumed in the role and persona of “Jane Mollenbeek,” the willing, trustworthy aide to the wealthy Mame Burnside. Nobody watching would have thought for a second that she was really an escaped serial killer, or that she was plotting murder. Right at the moment, she was focussed on her employer, making ready to anticipate, as far as she could, Mame’s needs and desires.
Rayleen had put aside her nebulous plans to try to take out Mame Burnside very soon after finding out about Mame’s background and skills. For all her flightiness, Mame was shrewd and sharp, and at seventh and last, nobody’s fool. In their time together, Rayleen had learned that Mame managed her monies with considerable skill. While she had originally married money, she had done a lot to increase it after her husband had been killed in a skiing accident in the French Alps.
Mame’s business empire was not nearly on the scale of Roarke’s holdings, but in New York, they were nearly equals. Mame owned hotels, office buildings, apartment houses and single-family dwellings, and had competent, honest people managing them for her. In addition to her real-estate holdings, Mame held shares in many different enterprises, and she spent a few hours every day going over returns and figuring out what moves to make next: which stocks to sell, which up-and-coming companies to buy into, and things like that. While some of her moves lost her money, most of the time she came out ahead.
While she had been with Mame, Rayleen had unobtrusively moved into the role of her aide in financial matters. Agnes Gooch had willingly conceded that job, preferring to concentrate on the social side of things, and on running Mame’s mansion. While she had few or no equals at planning and putting together a memorable party, and kept the staff of servants on their toes and doing their duties, financial matters bored and confused her.
Rayleen, on the other hand, had been a top student at mathematics, before and during her incarceration, and picked up quickly on the ins and outs of financial manipulation. Mame was delighted to have an assistant as enthusiastic and interested as “dear Jane” was, and eagerly imparted her wisdom to her new pupil. Rayleen thought privately that had she not married into money, Mame could have done worse than to go into teaching. She was endlessly patient explaining things that Rayleen didn’t understand, and generous with praise when one of Rayleen’s suggestions was good.
Of course, Rayleen never lost track of what she was really about, and who she really was. While she was (so to speak) sitting at Mame’s feet and learning all the financial wizardry Mame could impart, there was always a part of her mind figuring out how this could be best turned to her own uses. She did have a nest egg, small though it was at the moment, and thanks to Mame’s teachings, it was already measurably bigger than it had been when she had regained her freedom. She fully intended to make it bigger yet.
“Could you set up my screen, dear?” Rayleen nodded, pulling the screen over to where Mame could see it from where she sat up in bed. “Turn on the financial channel, please. I want to see what’s been happening.” Nothing loath, Rayleen did as she was told, and while Mame was absorbed in the news, she allowed herself a few personal thoughts.
Willow was due to be out very soon. They had set up procedures to communicate, using innocuous-looking messages on social media, and Willow already knew where to go when released. She had sent Willow a letter at the asylum, signed “Jane Mollenbeek,” and filled with innocuous chatter about things of no importance. However, the letter contained a code-phrase alerting Willow to pay close attention to the return address at the top of the letter. That was the address of the mini-apt that Rayleen had rented, and Willow had been told the phrase that would unlock the security.
When Willow was out, she would send Rayleen a message on social media, and Rayleen would make up an excuse to take the afternoon off. While Rayleen saw others as tools to be used, she did find Willow sympatico, and she was looking forward to catching up with the only other person she’d ever found who thought more-or-less like she did.
Willow would be very interested in everything Rayleen had learned, particularly about their mutual target. When Willow was focussed, she was one of the few people Rayleen had meet whom she considered an intellectual equal, and Rayleen was looking forward to letting her hair down and discussing things with someone she knew she could trust.
Eve was putting the final touches on the lecture she intended delivering at the Police Academy when one of the household droids announced: “Sir, Captain Peabody wishes to see you.”
This was always good news. “Well, show her on in!” The droid shimmered on out of the room, and came back in with Peabody in tow. Eve smiled broadly, putting her work aside to welcome her longtime partner and friend.
“Good to see you, Dallas! Wasn’t the fundraiser wonderful?” As always, Peabody radiated enthusiasm, and her smile seemed to light up the room.
“Yes, it certainly was. A lot of crime victims are going to be very glad we had it.” Which was nothing but the truth. The Nixie Swisher Fund did a lot for crime victims, and several other cities had started similar funds in imitation of it. “I had a good time at the fundraiser, but I kept having the oddest feeling of danger lurking somewhere. I felt like I was swimming and there was a shark nearby, or something like that.”
“Really?” All of a sudden Peabody was all business. She had worked with Eve Dallas for more than long enough to respect Eve’s intuition. Longtime police often developed what seemed to be a “sixth sense” about criminals, somehow perceiving their presence where civilians would not notice anything wrong. Eve had thought about it, and had decided that it worked on a basis of a policewoman’s subconscious picking up on clues that the conscious mind did not perceive, sending out a feeling that danger was afoot.
“Yes. The back of my neck kept prickling, and I kept feeling like something was out there. Something prowling, waiting its chance.”
“Well, we have the surveillance vids of the fundraiser itself. Why don’t we go over them and see what was making you nervous?” Eve had to admit that Peabody had a good point, and soon they had the videos running up on a screen, as they relaxed and began to watch.
Watching the videos, Eve couldn’t see anything at all wrong. People were mixing and circulating, just as they always did at these events. Drinks were being passed around by attentive servants, hired for the evening to supplement Roarke’s own staff. The sound had been turned off, but up on a stage, musicians were visible, playing the latest tunes to entertain the guests and put them into a generous mood.
“Those servants. The temporary ones. Where did they come from?” asked Peabody. “We know all the guests, and they’re none of them the sort of people who would put you in danger. Who vetted those servants?”
“Summerset took care of that end of things, and he’s good. I don’t think a bad’un could slip in past him.” And that was nothing but the truth. Before she and Summerset had met, he had spent years on the shady side of things, as Roarke’s father-in-all-but-name, right hand, and most trusted confidante. He had met, and dealt with, all sorts of criminals, and she figured he could spot an ill-wisher a hundred miles away. Even before they had made a peace between them, Eve knew that he would have died before he allowed any harm to come to her.
“If it isn’t the servants, then who could it be?” Peabody wondered. They watched more videos, but nothing jumped out as a sign of danger to Eve. After a while, they gave it up as a bad job and got around to other subjects, discussing the manifold excellences of their children, the shortcomings of some of the people on the force, and the chances for promotion of various people they both knew.
Even as she gossiped with Peabody, Eve couldn’t quite get rid of the feeling that danger had lurked at the Fundraiser. She wished that Roarke was back, so she could discuss it with him. And, she decided, before she went to sleep that night she would personally check the security systems to make sure they had not been compromised.
When Rayleen got the signal on social media that Willow Mackie was free and had reached the mini-apt she had rented, she was ready to act on that information. She had been working hard and doing an excellent job, so when she asked for an afternoon to herself, Mame was more than accomodating.
“Of course, darling! You’ve been such a love, being so patient with your old boss, that I can’t really deny you anything within reason! You go on right ahead!” Mame grinned. “Is it a young man, by any chance?”
“’Fraid not, Mame,” Rayleen answered, grinning right back. In her time as Mame’s assistant, she had found out that Mame Burnside was an enthusiastic amateur matchmaker, never happier than when she was bringing a couple together. “If I find someone like that, though, I’ll make sure you’re the first to know! And I’ll want you to run the ruler over him, to make sure he’s all right!” Oddly enough, that was nothing but the truth. For all that she was planning to use Mame as a stalking horse to get close to the woman she intended to kill, she respected Mame’s sharp mind, and knew that she had ways of getting information that were denied to less wealthy, less well-connected people. If she had had a boyfriend, she would have valued Mame’s input about him.
“Well, you run along, and have a wonderful time! This city has so many interesting things to do, you at least won’t be bored!” And with that benediction, Mame sent Rayleen off. As she left, Rayleen smiled to herself. Oh, little do you know…
Rayleen still didn’t have the money for a rental car, and she was new enough to driving to not really be comfortable doing it in the thick traffic of New York, but that was no problem. There was more than enough public transpo around for her purposes. She had chosen the mini-apt she had partly for its convenience to the public transportation system.
Very soon, she was on a subway train, heading out of Manhattan to the far corners of the great tri-state metro. It occurred to her that the jurisdictional boundaries she was crossing might just be useful; the New York City authorities had little or no power outside of New York City itself, and she had heard that New York State, Connecticut (where her accursed birth family lived) and New Jersey were often less than cooperative with New York City police, unless the crime in question had also occurred within their own bailiwicks. She filed that thought away, figuring that it would come in useful.
After a transfer or two, she was getting off a bus a couple of blocks away from her former mini-apt. The neighborhood was mainly working people, who minded their own business and paid no attention to their neighbors unless the neighbors in question were noisy or disruptive. And she knew better than to be any such thing. She was dressed like she belonged in that neighborhood, and nobody paid her a second’s worth of attention, save to give her admiring glances for her beauty. While she didn’t mind that, she did have other things on her plate that day, so she ignored the looks.
Walking up, she first gave the coded knock that she and Willow had used to signal each other in prison, to let Willow know who it was that was at the door. She could have just unlocked the door and walked right in, since she was still the legal tenant, but she didn’t think that possibly startling someone as good with weapons as Willow Mackie was a good idea at all. After a minute, she let herself in and looked around.
Willow came in, and smiled to see her. “Rayleen! Good to see you, cellie!” They had celled together for quite some time, before Rayleen had put her plans for their freedom into action, and in prison, that made for a bond between convicts. Even people who hadn’t celled together recently would react positively to an ex-cellmate.
They embraced and then let go, smiling to see each other again. As they sat down, Rayleen said: “Good to see you too, cellie, but keep in mind, I go by ‘Jane’ these days. ‘Rayleen’ is in a coma in a prison hospital, and that’s how it’s got to be. Even after we do what we got out to do, ‘Rayleen’ has to stay deep in the past. I have to stay in-character every minute. Maybe once we’re done with our work here, and can relocate somewhere else, I can be ‘Rayleen’ again. But that time is not now.”
“Gotcha, cellie!” Willow winked at her. When she had first been locked up, Willow had been rebellious, fighting her captors in every way she could. Once she had hooked up with Rayleen, though, she had learned that an outward show of acquiescence and remorse was a far better route to getting what she wanted. Rayleen had been an excellent teacher, both by example and in long, low-voiced conversations in their cell, during the many hours a day they were locked up together with an iron door between them and the rest of the facility. And Willow was far from stupid, for all that her interests and Rayleen’s didn’t coincide. Once she saw the advantages of the path Rayleen was pointing out, she followed it quite willingly, and soon she, too, was gaining privileges and perquisites.
Whatever her other faults, Willow was a considerate hostess. She had managed to obtain some real coffee somewhere (like Rayleen, she was a teetotaler; illegals and alcohol messed up one’s marksmanship) and had put together a snack tray for them to share. They filled their coffee cups, put together plates of chips, crackers, and other goodies, and settled back to catch up on what had happened since they’d parted ways in a medium-security facility some while ago.
Willow was very interested indeed in all that Rayleen had learned about the woman they both hated more than anybody on earth, and agog to hear that Rayleen had dared to walk straight into Roarke’s mansion and shake Eve Dallas’ hand, as well as attend the Nixie Swisher Fund fundraiser at that house.
Shaking her head in rueful admiration, Willow said with a smile: “Cellie, you have ice water for blood! I don’t know if I could do that myself!”
“Oh, it was scary, at least at first, but I was totally submerged in my role, and just became ‘Jane Mollenbeek,’ Rayleen answered. “That book, An Actor Prepares, was a real lifesaver. Since you’re legally out, you don’t have to come up with an alternate persona, but it might be a good idea to change your appearance, the way I did.”
“You sure did!” Willow shook her head ruefully. “You really startled me with that new look! I didn’t recognize you, and I think I know you better than anyone!”
“As women, we do have advantages over men, at least in this area.” Rayleen put her head on one side, studying her best friend appraisingly. “Your hair is middling-length right now. Cutting it short, the way I did, would make throwing a wig on over it easier, should you need to change your appearance in a hurry. Like me, you’re pretty fair-skinned, so laying in a supply of skin-darkening makeup would likely be a good idea. And getting clothes suitable for several different roles would also not hurt anything.”
“Another thing I need is range time,” Willow pointed out. “I used to be one of the best, but I’m ‘way out of practice. Do you think we can set me up with some target practice somewhere?”
“I was thinking about that. Here in the metro it won’t be easy, but I’ve found some ranges that have rental lasers, out in the countryside. The laws are laxer there, and with some false ID, we should be able to give you all the time you need to be back up to the top of your form."
“Excellent!” With that, both women applied themselves to the snacks, and the talk turned to people they’d known in prison and where they had gone.
END Chapter 09
Chapter 10: Chapter 10
Revenant in Death
The next few days were uneventful. Rayleen concentrated fully on her role as “Jane Mollenbeek,” living the New York high life, albeit as a paid assistant rather than by right, absorbing all that Mame Burnside could teach her about financial manipulation and self-enrichment, and enjoying passionate caresses with Agnes Gooch by night. She was careful to show no overt interest in the doings or movements of Eve Dallas. However, she knew that Eve Dallas regularly lectured at the Police Academy, and she knew where that was. All she needed was the schedule. Any mention of her old nemesis got her undivided attention. Sooner or later, she would have what she needed to know to put her plans together. The main outline was already in place.
She received regular coded messages from Willow Mackie. Using the false identification that she had procured for her, Willow had located a range with rental lasers available at a reasonable price, not far from Rayleen’s old mini-apt and reachable by public transpo. That was one big advantage of living on the outer edges of the metro; while the conveniences of the big city were not far away, neither were the things that a more rural environment offered. And shooting ranges were not available in Greater New York City itself. Once Rayleen had set Willow up with a false ID that would pass muster at the range, since her own one would not do, Willow was soon a regular there, and getting her old skill back rapidly.
Rayleen’s salary was easily enough to pay the rent on the mini-apt, and cover Willow’s expenses. Since Rayleen was eating at Mame’s table and sleeping in her house, her salary was more than adequate to help support Willow. Particularly since, having been judged “mentally unfit for work,” Willow received a stipend from the government. Willow did not have very expensive tastes. The austerities of prison life had been less of a hardship for her than they had been for Rayleen. Rayleen herself liked the good life, but she got plenty of that through her employer, and was content on that front, at least for the moment.
The problem of finding out when Eve Dallas would be speaking at the Police Academy was a difficult one to solve, though. Asking about any such thing, particularly if Eve Dallas turned up murdered soon afterward, would raise red flags in people’s minds. While Mame Burnside and Agnes Gooch didn’t suspect her of any ill intent toward anybody, they were both more than shrewd enough to put two and two together if anything happened to ex-Lieutenant Dallas and “dear Jane” had been asking all sorts of questions about matters of no legitimate interest to her.
Rayleen was putting a plan together, but she had to make very sure that nobody (other than Willow) knew anything at all about what she was really up to. Eve Dallas was still the wife of one of the wealthiest men in the world, and Rayleen had researched Roarke more than enough to know that if something happened to his wife, Roarke would leave no stone unturned in finding the perpetrator. And he still had many connections on the shady side of the street, even if he had gone legit since his marriage.
When they struck, she and Willow would have to have backup plans, and an emergency escape route all ready to go. While there had never been an assassination attempt against Eve Dallas, Rayleen knew that just as a matter of routine, Roarke would have security people on hand. And if Dallas’ police friends were on the scene as well, they would definitely take a hand in pursuit.
However, the very fact that nobody had tried for Eve Dallas since her retirement meant that her security, while top-notch and on-the-job, wouldn’t be as alert as they would be had there been previous attempts on her life. A well-placed shot or two, from a sufficiently-distant point, would probably throw them into confusion, allowing the shooter to make her escape. Forsyth’s remarks in The Day of the Jackal about the “dos” and “don’ts” of assassination had made a deep impression on Rayleen, and on Willow, when Rayleen had drawn her attention to the book.
After a couple of weeks, Rayleen asked for another day off, which Mame granted her willingly. “You’re such a hard worker, I sometimes worry about you! But you’re so useful, I can hardly imagine doing without you! I hope you stay with me for a long time!” That pleased Rayleen enormously. Working for Mame was a very soft billet indeed, and paid well. She thought that after she and Willow took out their nemesis, she, at least, might stay on with Mame, and kiss Willow a fond goodbye.
For all that they shared a common loathing of the woman who had sent them to prison for what had been meant to be the rest of their natural lives, Rayleen and Willow were very different people. Rayleen loved the arts, while Willow was bored by them. Willow could chatter on for hours (in a low voice, while they were still in custody; the powers-that-were frowned heavily on such discussions) about the merits and demerits of various tools of mayhem, not noticing or caring that Rayleen’s eyes were glazing over.
While teaming up and hiring out their services as assassins was one attractive idea, it was not the only one Rayleen had had. She thought that Willow could find a niche for herself in one of the private military companies that operated in the backwaters of the world. They could always use another sniper, and once she showed what she could do, her dodgy ID papers and lack of formal qualifications would not matter much. Rayleen, herself, much preferred the attractions of civilization. With Mame’s guidance, knowing or unknowing, she thought she could be on the way to wealth of her own and the life she had always rightfully deserved.
Of course, that would come after they had put an end to the career of one Eve Dallas, and, ideally, taken out Rayleen’s birth family. And for that, their combined talents and skills would be needed.
Rayleen’s seemingly-random ramble that day took her to the place where the New Police Academy stood. It replaced the old one, which had been gutted and ruined in the Urban Wars. Standing proud and tall, it towered over a small park that had been made out of the rubble-strewn wreckage that had been there at the end of the Urbans. A fountain played gently in the middle of the park, and Rayleen read on a plaque on the side of the fountain that it was dedicated to all the “brave police, fire fighters and ambulance workers who lost their lives in the Urban Insurrection.”
Inside herself, Rayleen quirked a grin. She knew fully well that the police, fire department, and emergency services had been as divided by the Urban Wars as the rest of the country. She had noticed that the inscription did not mention which of several sides’ casualties were being honored. That way, people with attachments to all sides could come and look and remember.
However, she was not there to play tourist. She was on business, however little she looked like she was. She studied the buildings around the park with narrowed eyes, trying to find one that suited her purpose. After a few minutes, she smiled openly. She’d seen just what she needed. A large hotel, with many windows overlooking the main entrance to the Academy. She knew Willow would drool when she was told about this find.
She walked on around the park, the picture of a youngish woman on a day off from her job, out to enjoy the park and the sunshiny day. When she passed the hotel, she examined it very carefully, while making sure that nobody noticed her doing so. It was called the Davis Hotel, and she was happy to note that it was not one of Roarke’s properties. Roarke always marked his own holdings, feeling that his reputation was an asset he could trade on.
The hotel not belonging to her target’s pestilential, too-rich-for-his-own-good husband meant that it would take that little bit longer for responders to get in and get the information they needed. Rayleen had looked up a lot of Eve Dallas’ cases, and had noticed to her discomfort that her husband’s great wealth and ownership of much of New York had often facilitated pursuit of whichever poor soul had got into Eve Dallas’ cross-hairs. As the owner of the building, and the ultimate employer of those who worked there, he could demand instant cooperation much faster than the police could get search warrants or warrants to enter private premises.
Rayleen made careful mental notes. She had always had a good memory, and after her imprisonmenet, she had learned that memory, while a poor substitute for written information, could not be found or taken from her in a search. She had learned about the “memory palace” method in a book she’d come across, and learned to use it to her own advantage. What she wanted to remember, she would remember.
Back at Mame Burnside’s place, Rayleen found she had the premises to herself. Mame and Agnes Gooch were off somewhere, and a note told her that they wouldn’t be back till that evening. With a reasonable assurance of privacy, she fired up her personal computer and began researching the Davis Hotel.
The more she found, the more she liked what she saw. The Davis catered to out-of-towners on a budget, so getting a room there would not be impossibly expensive, or attract particular attention. There were pictures of the layout of the rooms, and some of them showed the view out the windows, which often included very good shots of the Police Academy. Rayleen sent an innocuous-looking message to Willow, saying that she knew of a good hotel for “that visit to New York you were planning,” and including the URL for the Davis Hotel’s website. She knew that Willow was more than smart enough to figure out what she had in mind.
Closing down the computer and stretching out to enjoy a few hours of quiet, Rayleen thought gleefully that Willow couldn’t have asked for a better sniper perch to take out their enemy if she had designed one herself to her own specifications!
Eve was going over her notes, getting ready for her next talk at the Police Academy. It was three weeks away, but she was a big believer in thorough preparation. She had found out, the hard way, that even though they lacked her experience and record, cadets were prone to asking some tricky questions. And quite a few cadets had background she didn’t have and knowledge she had never attained.
She planned to discuss some of her biggest busts. The Icove case, of course, was on the agenda, but so were some of the others. Her two run-ins with Isaac McQueen would be prominently featured, as would the case where she had first met Nixie Swisher. There were so many other cases, it was hard to choose.
For some reason, she started to think about the time she had taken down her youngest murderer ever, Rayleen Straffo. She had been hoodwinked at first, blinded by the girl’s youth and apparent innocence. However, once she had started investigating, she had found that behind Rayleen’s appealing outward appearance was a personality as twisted, cold and callous as any she had ever encountered. The memory of sitting there quietly, listening, as Rayleen boasted of how she had killed her baby brother, and why, made her shudder.
Knowing that dear Rayleen was safely locked up, and would never breathe free air again, made Eve feel a little better. She idly checked to see that Rayleen was still where she was supposed to be, and drew in a sharp breath when the records told her that she had been transferred planetside some time ago. Shaking her head, she went on, reading disbelievingly about how Rayleen had qualified for increased privileges and less rigorous confinement by displaying remorse and contrition, and by being in all respects a model prisoner.
Are they mad? How did this happen? Eve felt cold chills down her back as she remembered the ten-year-old girl she had exposed so long ago. She knew, none better, that Rayleen Straffo could present an image of perfect innocence, the very picture of a good girl, studious, quiet, intelligent and well-mannered.
Dear God, where is she now? Eve tore through the records, and sighed with relief to find that Rayleen had had an accident in her last place of confinement, and was in a coma that the doctors said would almost certainly last the rest of her life. Eve did not normally wish ill upon anybody, but in Rayleen’s case, she would make an exception. Rayleen Straffo was as dangerous a person as Eve had ever met, the more so because she seemed so very harmless. The thought that she might have got loose somehow would haunt her.
And, she decided, she would include Rayleen’s case in her talk to the cadets. On the street, they would meet many kinds of criminals, and the most dangerous of them were often the ones who looked least like criminals. Rayleen Straffo was one example, but so was Isaac McQueen, and so were quite a few other murderers she had met and caught.
Rayleen had sent Willow a coded message, telling her that they needed to meet up, and setting a date and time. When the time came, Rayleen was waiting in Central Park, ostensibly enjoying the day and ignoring the attempts of several men to flirt with her. She leaned her head back, breathing the free air, looking up at the blue, blue sky overhead, and enjoying every minute of it. Even the thought of the pestilential Eve Dallas couldn’t put her in a bad mood.
Willow came up, and smiled to see her. “Jane,” Willow said, with a wink. Ever since Rayleen had cautioned her to not use her birth name, Willow had been very good about not doing so even when they were alone. If the name her parents had given her had been less unique, Rayleen might not have minded, but as it was, she was the only one that bore it, as far as she knew, and she didn’t want the sound of it to set anybody thinking. She had learned, in her years in confinement, that attention to little details often made the difference between the success or failure of a plot to get around the authorities’ restrictions.
Rayleen winked at her old cellmate. “Will,” she answered. She looked Willow up and down, and approved of what she saw. Like she had, Willow had cut her hair short, to facilitate wearing a wig if necessary to throw pursuers off her trail. She was currently wearing clothes that could pass as male or female, and since she had a lean figure, she looked very androgynous. However, Willow could put on different clothes and be seen as completely female, as Rayleen knew. That would make what they planned to do easier, particularly the aftermath, when evasion would be critical.
Rayleen was working on several different sets of false ID for Willow, some for males, others for females. They wouldn’t stand up under serious scrutiny, but for something as routine as checking into a hotel, they would be more than sufficient. And if they were “blown” after the event, as long as there was enough time to get away, it wouldn’t much matter.
“You have something you want to show me, Jane?” Rayleen smiled and got up, taking Willow by the hand.
“Sure do. I think you’ll like it. Come on!” She led Willow toward a nearby transpo station, so they could get to and from their destination in the time they had. While Willow’s time was her own, Rayleen just had the afternoon off, and didn’t want to attract Mame’s attention even by something as minor as getting back late. So far, she had been a model employee in all ways, and she wanted to continue that act for as long as possible, since Mame was so very useful.
Half an hour later, they were getting down out of the transpo in the little park in front of the Police Academy. Rayleen stood there quietly, letting Willow take in the scene. As she thought would happen, Willow focussed on the Davis Hotel. She let out a long, low whistle of pure appreciation. “Jane, you may not have my skills, but you can be my spotter any time you want! That place looks to be completely perfect!”
“Let me show you the inside!” Rayleen led her friend on in, walking straight to the elevators to the upper floors with all the aplomb of someone who had every right to be there. Since a couple of levels of the hotel were given over to conference rooms that were rented out for various purposes, nobody stopped them. Rayleen knew that if they had tried skulking in, someone would have noticed something wrong and they would have been caught, which would have been embarassing, at least.
One thing both women had learned during their years of incarceration was that acting bold and as though they were doing something completely normal often was all that was needed to bluff their way past potential trouble. And the desk clerks at the Davis Hotel were much less alert than the personnel of the various prisons they had been in.
Rayleen pressed the button for the fourth floor. Since they were alone, she said: “I want to show you the view from the fourth floor mezzanine. That’ll give you an idea of what you’re dealing with.” While Rayleen considered herself, with justification, the brains of their little two-woman outfit, she was more than smart enough to allow Willow to use her own professional judgement, particularly since Willow would be doing the heavy lifting.
On the fourth floor, they got out, and were standing in an airy place with halls leading off it to guest rooms in three directions. In front of them was a large window, and they stepped up to it, looking down. Below them, the park spread out, with people walking to and fro, and policemen and cadets hurrying in and out of the Police Academy. Willow’s eyes went wide, and she gave Rayleen a predatory smile.
“Oh, yes, this will be absolutely perfect!” That was all that needed to be said; they were always aware that if they were out of Rayleen’s mini-apt, or some other place they were sure was safe, that the fewer words they used between themselves, the better.
“I can reserve you a room, a few days before the event,” Rayleen said, once they were back in the elevator. “Stay in the room and eat from room service. I don’t want you to be seen by anybody that doesn’t have to see you.”
“Gotcha,” Willow said, nodding. “We can arrange what we’ll need in the time we have. But we’d better get crackin’!” That struck Rayleen as excellent advice, and once they were back on the ground, they split up, Willow heading back to Rayleen’s mini-apt, and Rayleen heading back to Mame’s mansion to check back in with her boss.
END Chapter 10