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18

'Ms DiNunzio,' Brinkley said, standing beside Kovich, 'before you lay down the law, mind if we sit?'

There's chairs at the dining table behind you.' DiNunzio gestured, and Brinkley looked around Paige Newlin's elegant, feminine apartment. The couch, chairs, and coffee table were decorated in shades of white, and he felt suddenly like an anvil on a cumulus cloud.

'Here we go, Mick,' Kovich said jovially, yanking a chair from the dining room to the coffee table, and Brinkley dragged one over for himself. The chairs raked four wiggly lines in the thick white rug. Brinkley and Kovich sat down as the lawyer kept talking.

'Here's the way it goes, Detective Brinkley,' DiNunzio was saying, from a seat next to Paige Newlin. She had a pretty face but wore a blue suit with a high collar that made her look tight-assed. 'You can ask the questions you need to, but Paige cannot answer if I instruct her not to. She's been through a lot and she's feeling awful. As I told you on the phone, I don't know why you had to meet with her.'

'It's just for background information.' Brinkley slipped a pad from his breast pocket and flipped it open. Another woman lawyer whose name he forgot sat catty-corner to the sofa in a shapeless corduroy dress. He wasn't surprised that woman lawyers dressed as lousy as men lawyers. 'Ms Newlin,' he said, 'first let me say how sorry we are for the loss of your mother.' Beside him, Kovich nodded in sympathy, like he always did when they did next-of-kin notifications. 'Please accept our condolences.'

'Thank you.'

'I do need to ask you a few questions.' Brinkley worked a ballpoint from the spiral of his notebook. 'How old are you?'

'Sixteen.'

Brinkley was starting with the softballs, to get her talking. He didn't want her threatened and he wanted to observe her. The first thing he observed was that she had pierced ears. She was wearing tiny pearl earrings, smaller versions of her mother's. He thought of the earring back in the rug. 'Date of birth?'

She told him, sipped water from a glass, and replaced it on a coaster on the coffee table. Grief weighed each perfect feature and her mouth sagged with pain. She looked obviously bereft, even to his suspicious eye. Still it was hard to ignore her looks. Dressed in blue jeans and a classy white turtleneck, Paige Newlin was a knockout. Big blue eyes, pillow mouth, and glossy red hair that cascaded beyond her shoulders.

Brinkley made a note of her birth date. 'Born in Philly?'

'No. Actually, in Switzerland. My parents were traveling.'

'You reside here; at Colonial Towers?'

'Yes.'

'I understand that you used to live at home with your parents. When did you move here?'

'Early last year.'

'Your parents' home is beautiful, by the way. Antiques and such, everything nice.' Brinkley gestured vaguely. 'It's very well kept. Do your parents have help, for the house?'

'Yes. A maid.'

'How often did she come?'

'Twice a week, Monday and Thursday.'

'So she had been there yesterday?'

DiNunzio leaned toward Paige. 'If you know,' she said, and Paige shrugged.

'I don't know. I live here now.'

'I see.' Brinkley nodded. He was thinking about the dirt

on the coffee table. If the maid had come on Monday, it could have been new the night of the murder. 'How was it you came to live here?'

DiNunzio interrupted, 'Your question isn't clear. Detective, and I'm not sure I see the relevance anyway.'

'I'm just trying to get some background information.'

'Background or not, she doesn't understand the question, and neither do I.'

He shifted his weight and addressed Paige. 'I was asking you why you moved out of your parents' house.'

'I wanted to be on my own. Live alone. Be independent.'

'Did you get along with your parents?'

'Yes.'

'With your mother?'

DiNunzio cleared her throat. 'She just answered that, Detective Brinkley. Again, I'm not sure it matters who she got along with.'

'I'm wondering why she moved out of her house at such a young age. It's unusual, and we like to fill in all the questions the captain will ask us. He gets feisty about the details.'

That's your problem.'

Brinkley, his annoyance growing, addressed the daughter. 'Did your parents get along?'

DiNunzio cut him off with a chop. 'I'm instructing her not to answer that.'

Brinkley was getting pissed. He'd never met a lawyer who hadn't interfered with getting to the truth. He couldn't understand that kind of job. 'You're disrupting a police investigation, Ms DiNunzio.'

'I disagree, but I won't bother to argue with you.' DiNunzio turned to Paige. 'Don't answer.'

Paige nodded shakily, and Brinkley looked at his notepad. 'Did your father ever strike your mother?' he asked, and DiNunzio scoffed again.

'Detective, she's talking to you voluntarily. You wanna continue this line of questioning, you'll have to get a subpoena and we'll meet you at the Roundhouse.'

Brinkley exchanged looks with Kovich. Neither wanted the girl taken down. Officially, she was still victim's family. It would look like they were beating on her, with the suspect already placed under. 'I don't think that'll be necessary. Paige, when was the last time you saw your mother alive?'

DiNunzio eased back into the cushy sofa, and Paige answered, 'Sunday. The day before she… you know. We were at a photo shoot.'

'You're a model, I understand.'

'Yes.'

'Why was your mother at your photo shoot?'

'She was my manager.'

'Did you ever have another manager?'

'No.'

'Did you want another manager?'

'No. She was still my manager, when she -'

'Passed,' Brinkley supplied, and Paige nodded jerkily. Brinkley shifted forward on the chair. 'What does a model's manager do, exactly?'

'She managed my career, got me the shoots, dealt with the bookers.'

Brinkley made a note. 'Bookers are what?'

'People who give you modeling jobs,' Kovich chirped up, and Brinkley looked over, surprised.

'Okay,' he said, and turned slowly back to the daughter. 'You know what I don't get?'

'What?' Paige pursed her lips, which trembled slightly. It made Brinkley wonder. He made a mental note of it, then said:

'I don't get how you stay so thin.'

'You don't eat!' Paige answered, breaking into a smile that Brinkley thought looked relieved.

'How do you not eat?' he asked. 'Me, I love food. Ribs, burgers, shakes. You give all that up?'

'Milk shakes? Uh, hello.' She laughed.

Kovich nudged Brinkley's arm heavily. 'A lot of models smoke,' he said, with a savvy smile. 'That's how they stay thin.'

Brinkley wanted to hit him, but didn't. 'What do you know about getting thin, partner? Look at you!'

The lawyers laughed, and so did the daughter. Brinkley could feel the tension ebb away and the atmosphere warm.

'I know all about this,' Kovich said. 1 got my finger on the pulse, Mick.' He put a thick finger over his wrist in case anybody missed his point, then turned to Paige. 'I have daughter, she's your age. She tells me about the models. Who smokes, who doesn't. A lot of 'em smoke but they hide it. Kate Moss smokes. Naomi Campbell, she smokes. Am I right or am I right, Paige?'

'It's true. Their diet is, like, water and Camels.' Paige nodded vigorously. 'But that's not my diet secret.'

Kovich inched forward on his chair. 'What's your diet secret?'

'Portion size,' Paige said, her tone confidential. 'Most people, their portions are way too big. It's all portion size. I figured that out by myself.'

'Portion size,' Kovich repeated, like it was a goddamn state secret, and Brinkley tried to get back on track. He was getting there, just slowly.

'You can't make a small cheeseburger.'

'You can't eat cheeseburgers if you want to lose,' Paige said. 'No red meat. No butter. No oil.'

'No meat?' Brinkley asked casually. 'You a vegetarian?'

'Sure am.' Paige nodded in satisfaction. 'A lot of the supermodels are, too.'

Brinkley shook his head, his thoughts elsewhere. That would explain the hummus on the appetizer platter. The daughter had been there for dinner. 'I'd have to think about it. It's a lot to give up. I love meat.'

'You get used to it, you'll see.'

‘I can't get used to that,' Kovich said flatly, but Brinkley excused himself and stood up slowly, shaking his pant leg over his ankle holster.

'Ladies, I hate to interrupt, but may I use the facilities? I'll just be a minute.'

'Sure,' Paige answered. DiNunzio looked unhappy but didn't countermand her, and Brinkley headed off. 'First door on the right,' Paige called after him, and Brinkley slipped inside and shut the door behind him.

Inside the bathroom, he could hear them talking diet. DiNunzio wouldn't put up with it for long; Brinkley didn't have much time. He lifted the toilet seat loudly and coughed at the same moment as he opened the medicine cabinet. His eyes scanned the shallow shelves, which were almost empty. Glade air freshener, extra guest soaps. There. A comb.

Brinkley picked up the comb by the corner. Silky red filaments of hair were entwined in its teeth. He grabbed some toilet paper, slid the hair from the comb, and put the comb back on the shelf. Then he slipped the paper with the hair carefully into his inside jacket pocket. It wouldn't be admissible in court – the seizure wasn't kosher and the chain of custody nonexistent – but it wasn't for court anyway. He closed the cabinet, flushed the toilet, and opened the door and let himself out of the bathroom. He rejoined the group, which looked as chummy as a hen party. Kovich was good with women. Sheree always said he was like a big teddy bear. 'You lose weight yet, partner?'

'I'm on my way,' Kovich said, pushing up his glasses. 'No more oil for me. Kelley tells me the same thing. It's liquid fat. Right, Coach?'

Paige nodded happily, and Brinkley sat down. 'We'll finish up this conversation,' he told her. 'I don't want to keep you too long.' He picked up his notepad from the chair. 'I know this is a hard time for you.'

Thanks. I don't feel very well, it's true. I had a pretty bad migraine last night. I had one the night before that, too.'

Brinkley thought a minute. 'You got it after you heard about what happened -'

'No, I got it before, in the afternoon. I was supposed to have dinner with my parents last night, but I canceled because of the migraine.'

DiNunzio waved her hand like a ref calling foul. 'I think that's enough now. Detective, you said you were finished here.'

But Brinkley couldn't let it go. His hummus theory was in doubt, 'I want to clarify that. Did you go to your parents' house last night?'

'No. I was here. I was supposed to go to dinner, but I canceled. I stayed at home in bed.'

Brinkley studied Paige's face. Her thin skin colored with agitation, but she would have been upset, in context. It flushed his hummus theory down the drain. 'Is there a way we can confirm that?'

'What?'

'Your whereabouts that night?'

DiNunzio stood up abruptly. 'I don't see the relevance of the inquiry. I'm instructing Paige not to answer.'

'It's one last clarification.'

'No it isn't. You've charged her father with the crime. If Paige needs a lawyer, we'll get her one, too. And I don't remember you reading her her rights.'

'We don't have to Mirandize her unless it's a custodial interrogation, and she's not in custody.'

'It's starting to smell like she is,' DiNunzio said, and Paige picked up her water from the coffee table with a shaky hand.

Brinkley stood up, flipped his notebook closed, and returned it to his breast pocket. 'I don't think we need to continue this any longer.' He looked down at Paige, who, though tall, suddenly seemed to shrink into the couch. 'I'm sorry to have bothered you today, Paige. We'll try to handle this without disturbing you again. Feel free to call us if you have any questions.'

'She will,' DiNunzio said, but Brinkley bit his tongue.

'Please take my card.' Re slipped a slim hand into his back pocket for his wallet and flipped it open. The heavy gold badge of the Detective Division flashed in the sunny apartment as he extracted a business card, and he noted Paige's slight frown at the sight. A natural reaction? Lots of people reacted to the badge. He knew a cop who said it got him laid, every time. He pulled out a business card and extended it to Paige, but DiNunzio took it instead.

'Thank you,' she said, moving to the door. I'll show you both out.'

Kovich got up, and Brinkley grabbed his coat and left, with more questions than before.

'You're outta your mind, Mick,' Kovich said, shrugging off the winter chill in his polyester sportjacket. It was a cold clear day, the temperature barely above freezing, but Kovich never wore a coat. It wasn't a macho act; the man never got cold. Brinkley didn't understand it.

'I don't think so.' They strode from the tall apartment building toward the Chrysler. Wind gusted down Pine Street, and Brinkley buttoned his black leather topcoat.

'The hummus shit, that washed out. The kid was going over to dinner, Mommy put it out, then the kid canceled.'

'Got it.'

'She didn't do it, Mick. Plus we got the father locked up, and Davis on the case. What do you think's gonna happen? You got a stray one, and he's gonna let Newlin go? Are you nuts? The paper's already calling him "No Deal" Davis. The prelim's around the corner.'

Brinkley squinted against the cold sun like it hurt. 'She doesn't have an alibi.'

'She doesn't need one. You saw the lab reports. The prints are his. The fibers, it's all there.'

The lab reports don't mean anything. Not if he staged the scene to protect the daughter.'

'Nobody could stage a scene that good!'

'Not even a lawyer?'

'Jesus H. Christ!' Kovich picked up the pace, his breath puffing like a locomotive, and Brinkley could see he was getting worked up. 'You're losin' me, Mick.'

Brinkley didn't say anything.

'I was workin' with you before but now that I met her, you're losin' me. She's a kid. She's like the girls in the magazines, in Kelley's magazines. She's Kelley, for Christ's sake.'

'No, she's not. You don't know her.'

'Listen to me, I'm a father, Mick. Teenage girls, they're not that different. Didn't you see her? She's all broke up, she got the puffy eyes, the whole thing. Kids her age, they don't take stress that well. Kelley gets a zit, she cries in her room. They're Drama Queens, all of 'em. That kid was upset for real.'

'If she did it, she would be. Like you say, she's a teenage girl, not a scumbag.'

Kovich snorted. 'Anybody who kills their mother is a scumbag. It's automatic.'

Brinkley thought that one over as they reached the car. By then, Kovich was breathing easier but not much.

'So what'd you do in the bathroom?' he asked, opening the driver's side door.

'Number one,' Brinkley told him. He was thinking about that earring back.


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