“Thank you,” Whitney said gravely.
“Talk, please,” Jude told her.
“There was a guy that she was into, not long before she left,” Debbie said. “He—he was weird. He looked like he came off a movie set. I mean, he was wearing some kind of weird hat and a cloak. Like…like…”
“Jack the Ripper?” Whitney offered.
Debbie’s eyes widened and she nodded. “I never really saw his face because he kept the hat low and he sat in one of the back booths all the time. Sarah was kind of amused by him. She gave him a—a lap dance. Then it seemed that they were talking. I noticed her close to him in the back booth. In fact, when he left, she did a leap off the pole and went running after him. I remember, because when she came back in, I teased her about it. She said that he’d disappeared—it was like he went out to the street and vanished into thin air. But she wasn’t worried—she was going to see him again.”
“Did she say that he was going to make her rich and famous?” Jude asked.
Debbie shook her head. “But it wasn’t long after that Sarah left, and when she left, she did say that we’d all see her soon—we’d see her rich and famous. She disappeared. She disappeared, just like he did, I guess.” Debbie hugged her arms around her chest and started to shiver. “I mean, for real, just the way that he did. I’d forgotten to give her back a necklace. I rushed into the street, and she was gone. Just as if she’d vanished into thin air.” She backed away from them suddenly, her mouth gaping. “He was Jack the Ripper!” she said, hysteria rising in her voice. “Oh, my God, we’re all in danger here. I don’t know what to do. I have to pay rent…I have to eat.”
You have a cocaine habit, Jude thought. Yes, that has to be fed.
“There are shelters,” he told her. “If you come to the station, we can help you get your feet back on the ground. There are programs to help women in your situation. You can clean up.”
Debbie Mortensen stared at him as if he was crazy.
She shook her head. “That’s what I know!” she said, and she turned and raced back into the club.
On the sidewalk, Whitney looked at Jude. “It seems that the victims are all practicing prostitution in one way or another,” she said.
He looked at her and sighed. “She was going to make them all pea green with envy,” he said.
Whitney nodded. “The movies,” she said quietly. “We’re back to the movie that was being made downtown—gaslight era. The site where the House of Spiritualism once stood.”
He couldn’t help but smile at her. “We’re back to the movies, Agent Tremont. Someone involved with that movie is totally insane, or…”
“Has a very strange way of trying to make sure it has promotion,” Jude told her. “Come on,” he said, taking her arm. He realized that it was too easy to touch her. And that it wasn’t bothering him to have her with him. She was bright. She listened, and she stepped in just when it seemed that she should.
He liked her.
And he was fascinated by her. He was certain he’d never met anyone quite like her. Anyone who looked like her, with such a unique and compelling golden beauty.
He gave himself a mental shake. He was a cop, she was an agent. And women were dying.
“Where are we going now?” she asked.
“Coffee and lunch—with the lists of those involved in the movie. Coffee because I need it. Lunch because I have an autopsy coming up, and I’m not sure I’ll want it after.”
“Where are we going?”
“Somewhere I know we won’t be disturbed.”
Twenty minutes later, they sat across from one another at the dining room in his apartment. Coffee was brewed, and sandwiches and chips lay on a plate between them.
Whitney liked his apartment; it was neat, comfortable and eclectic. Like his father, Jude Crosby had books—his were everywhere. He seemed fond of old leather and hard wood, organization and comfort.
She looked at his books. Many were obviously works he had acquired because of his obsession: histories of law enforcement, a book on truly comprehending the Constitution, forensics books and more.
He was a mystery fan, too, so it seemed; shelves were filled with books by Childs, Ellroy, Connelly and several more contemporary authors. Again, like his father, he seemed to be a fan of the classics, and he had beautifully bound collections of Shakespeare, Dickens and more. His shelves were strewn about the apartment; even the dining room had a bookshelf.
Jude had apologized to her, leaving her to make the sandwiches while he collected information on the movie crew and cast with the notes Sayer and his group had entered into a file that he could reach on his computer. He checked his watch, aware that the hour for the autopsy was approaching. She didn’t think he was late to any event often.
Whitney, reading over the list in front of her, frowned, looking at Jude, who sat across from her at his handsome mahogany dining table. He had loosened his collar and it was obvious he had been running his fingers through his hair. She looked back to the list she’d been reading quickly; the case was riddled with urgency, and she had found herself thinking that he was a remarkably attractive man, somehow rugged and macho, and still courteous and aware of those around him. It was a strange mix and in it all, he came off, she realized, as ridiculously sexually appealing. She blinked, trying to refocus. She’d been busy in the last months, learning a new life. Training had been rugged for a film major, and she’d given it all her effort. She hadn’t stopped living; she and the team had become close, almost like a well-oiled machine that could think as one. They’d learned to work, and still smile and even laugh sometimes as they did. But she hadn’t really thought about sex, much less a particular man, in forever, so it seemed.
And, no matter what the sizzle he seemed to create in her bloodstream, she was working. And it was doubtful that he was really thinking of her at all—except as the agent with whom he was forced to work.
“The newest victim, Melody Tatum,” she said. “We don’t know that she was associated with the film in any way, Jude.”
“Sayer has team members at her escort service. When the autopsy is over, I’m heading there to speak with the owner-slash-manager of the business.” She saw him check his phone, reading his text messages. “Nothing much is ever what you expect. The strip club is owned by a woman—we met that charming opportunist already—and the owner-manager of the escort service is Harold Patterson. I knew that of course, but, I guess I’d still have thought it was going to be a woman. Someone who’d done the escorting herself before reaching a point where she could live off the backs of others.”
“Hey, you wouldn’t want the world to discriminate, would you?” Whitney asked him. “Maybe Harold Patterson did a little escorting himself. Don’t be biased now.”
He grinned, an actual, easy grin. “Nope. It’s just interesting, that’s all,” he said. “I wouldn’t ever want the world to discriminate in any way, shape or form. But what I want isn’t going to change expectations. I look forward to meeting one of the others of the profession.”
Whitney smiled, lowering her eyes and looking back at her notes. She was beginning to really like Jude Crosby. She’d been lucky in her life to hit very little prejudice herself, but she was a mixture of races, and she wasn’t a fool—there were people out there who still couldn’t really deal with the idea of an equal world. Jude Crosby wasn’t just paying lip service. She felt that he’d seen an awful lot in his years working the streets, and that his mind was set. He didn’t judge a person by gender or color and probably not by sexual orientation, political or religious affiliation, or any particular choice in life that didn’t cause injury to others.
Not good, she warned herself. There was no way out of the fact that he drew sexual attraction by his very existence.
It hadn’t been good that he was such a strong individual. Liking him so much was a whole different story.
People had died, she reminded herself.
“Samuel Vintner. The guard was apparently the last one on the set. He is an ex-cop. Two other girls had tried to hang around—they’d wanted Virginia Rockford to leave with them. Missy Everett and Jane Deaver. They left together, and were lucky enough to find a cab. There was still one down that far on Broadway, and they grabbed it together, afraid that another wouldn’t come. They said that Samuel Vintner and Virginia Rockford were the last people on the set.”
“Yeah, and, sadly, having been a cop, or even being a cop, doesn’t mean that someone is legitimate. But it’s not the cop,” he said.
“Oh? And why not?”
Jude hesitated. He grimaced. “Gut feeling,” he told her. “And—I just don’t see an old used-up cop on duty as the last guard at a movie site as having any kind of stake in anything that’s going on.”
“He would know how to avoid detection,” Whitney pointed out.
Jude looked at her. “Anyone can get online, and everyone watches television. Most people are aware that sometimes perpetrators can be arrested because of DNA, trace evidence, skin cells…assuming, of course, that we have some kind of comparison to make. And you do have just cause for search warrants, DNA and so on. You know that. The thing is—this guy will make a mistake, whether he’s insane or a person with an agenda.”
Whitney was silent.
“What?” he asked her.
“Jack the Ripper got away.”
“Jack the Ripper might not have gotten away. Anything we know about the killer is really a theory, and nothing more. Supposition. And Jack the Ripper was busy in London in the 1880s. We’ve come a long way.”
Whitney jumped, suddenly hearing a rapping sound that seemed to come from the walls. It was followed by a “Hey!”
She was instantly ready and alert, but didn’t draw her weapon; the “hey” didn’t sound threatening.