Grand Central Station, New York, January 4, 1996.
Meet me in Grand Central, Edie thought bitterly, grabbing Joey's collar and pulling him out of another stream of people rushing by on their way to wherever they were going. Brilliant idea--take the place that's the synonym for "someplace really, really busy" and say, "Hey, let's meet there."
But that was Roland. Her brother had always been--
Joey looked up with an impish grin. He'd been full of beans ever since they'd gotten on the train in Boston, and now he'd twisted out of her grasp again.
"Come on, Mommy!" he said. "Look!"
Edie rubbed her head and followed him toward the news stand, where he seemed to be headed, reaching out and grabbing him back. "Joey, look, if we're going to be spending time with Uncle Ro, we can't spend all of our money while we're waiting here. You don't need the comic books."
"But I'm BORED!"
"Do you want Mommy to make up a story for you? Something about Batman?"
"Fine, who do you like?"
"I just wanna look."
"And I just said no. When I say no, I mean it. Now, come on." She peered through the crowd and saw what looked like a big enough space against the wall to put down a suitcase and sit both of them down on it for a long talk about who got to be in charge and when. "We're going over there." She pointed.
"But I don't want to."
"That wasn't a request."
She took his hand firmly, squared her shoulders, and started to push her way through the crowd. She could hear every accent on the planet, she thought, and at least half a dozen languages. The man beside her said something in Arabic to someone beside him, but they were already gone before she heard a reply. Someone with an Irish brogue was complaining about the heat in the pack.
"...y mama dice..."
"...so I told Greenblatt that..."
"...course he was late getting off the LEI..."
She pushed past a group of men who looked like bankers. A knot of role-players--or at least she guessed they were; they wore the kind of cloaks Ro and his friends wore when they geeked out with a dozen bags of dice--had gathered close to the blank spot where she'd meant to sit down.
"...muß ein Taxi finden..."
"...aqui por um fim de semana..."
A bulb blew out overhead and people looked up with annoyed, impatient looks. Edie had time to think it was a very odd bulb--it had a kind of green trace to it when it blew. But she couldn't find a darkened spot on the ceiling, and now Joey was pulling her through the crowd, toward the role players. The were finally clear, and the river of people was running steadily again.
"Aw, shoot!" Joey said. "They're gone."
"Sweetie, they're probably going somewhere."
"To sit around and eat junk food and pretend to throw fireballs at dragons." She maneuvered the suitcase around. One of the role-players was still around, sitting quietly against the wall.
Joey, of course, noticed her. "Hey," he said, reaching over and poking her arm. "Great cloak. My uncle Ro has one."
"Joey," Edie said, "leave the lady alone." She looked up self-consiously, an expression she'd perfected over the last six years of parenting an uncontrollably social son. "I'm so--" She frowned. Sleeping or not, the role-playing girl hadn't even shifted when Joey poked her in the arm.
Edie tugged Joey's arm gently and put herself between him and what she thought with a very sinking feeling was a body.
"Miss?" she said, and gently pulled up the hood of the cloak.
The woman fell over sideways, sprawling on the dirty floor.
"No I.D. on the victim," the uniform said before Lennie's coffee even hit the back of his throat. "No purse, nothing. Lady who found her said there were a bunch of other freaks around just before."
"Oh, wait 'til you see."
Lennie bent under the crime scene tape, where Rey was already crouched beside the body. He looked up. "Hey, Lennie," he said. "Take a look. She doesn't even look hurt."
"Are we sure it's a homicide?"
"M.E.'s going to take her in, but she was in the middle of a bunch a people when she died, and they all left. I don't know about you, but if someone dies right beside me, the only reason I'd leave was if I killed him."
"Can I help with anything?" someone said at the edge of the crowd, with a very strong English accent.
Lennie rolled his eyes and stood up. The man was looking on with an expression of deep concern. He was a bald black man in a sharp suit--a sharp bright red suit--wearing an earring. Lennie shook his head at the suit. "I think we got it under control."
The man held up a badge. "Kingsley Shacklebolt, London police."
"You're a little out of your jurisdiction."
Shacklebolt seemed to consider this a bit too long, and Lennie put the name first on his list of very interesting people. "I'm on holiday," he said. "I heard the people around her speaking before they disappeared. I believe it may not be out of my jurisdiction."
"Yeah, well, crimes that happen in New York are ours, no matter how they pronounce 'em. We'll call you if we need help with an I.D." He turned and went back to the body. "Have we got anything?"
"Well, the witness--Edie Vines--said there's a gaming conference nearby. Her brother's going to it. She thinks our vic might have been headed there. Costumes. Once the M.E. clears the scene, we should probably head over and see if anyone recognizes her."
"Oh, great," Lennie said. "Murders and nerds and tourists. Oh, my."