“Yeah?” I am bristling more than ever. “What about the key? What about that?”
He still doesn’t look convinced.
“I want you to know,” he says, “that I’m only doing this to keep you from making an even bigger mess out of things than they’re already in—something, by the way, at which you seem to excel.”
“You know, Coop,” I say. “I appreciate that vote of confidence. I really do.”
“I just don’t want you to lose your day job,” he says. “I can’t afford to give you health benefits on top of room and board.”
“Thanks,” I say snarkily. “Thanks so much.”
But it doesn’t matter. Because he comes with me.
It’s a long, long walk up to Roberta Pace’s room at the sixteenth floor. We can’t, of course, take the elevator, because they’ve been shut down. The only sound I hear, when we finally reach the long, empty hallway, is the sound of our own breathing. Mine, in particular, is heavy.
Other than that, it’s quiet. Dead quiet. Then again, it’s before noon. Most of the residents—the ones who hadn’t been awakened by the ambulance and fire engine sirens—are still sleeping off last night’s beer.
I point the way with my set of keys and start toward 1622. Cooper follows me, looking around at the posters on the hallway walls urging students to go to Health Services if they’re concerned that they might have contracted a sexually transmitted disease, or informing them of a free movie night over at the student center.
The RA on sixteen has this thing for Snoopy. Cut-out Snoopys are everywhere. There’s even this posterboard Snoopy holding a real little cardboard tray with an arrow pointing to it that says, “Free Condoms Courtesy of New York College Health Services: Hey, for $40,000 a year, students should get something free!”
The tray is, of course, empty.
On the door to 1622, there is a yellow memo board, the erasable kind, with nothing written on it. There’s also a Ziggy sticker.
But someone has given Ziggy a pierced nose and someone else has written in a balloon over Ziggy’s head, “Where Are My Pants?”
I raise my set of keys and bang on the door, hard, with them.
“Director’s Office,” I call. “Anybody there?”
There’s no response. I call out once more, then slide the key into the lock and open the door.
Inside, an electric fan on top of a chest of drawers hums noisily, in spite of the fact that the room, like all the rooms in Fischer Hall, has central air conditioning. Except for the fan, nothing else moves. There is no sign of Roberta’s roommate, who is going to be in for quite a shock when she gets back from wherever she’s gone, and finds herself with a single room for the rest of the year.
There’s only one window, six feet across and another five feet or so high, with twin cranks to open the panes. In the distance, past the garden rooftops and water towers, I can see the Hudson, flowing serenely along its way, the sun’s rays slanting off its mirrored surface.
Cooper’s squinting at some family photographs on one of the girls’ bedstands. He says, “The dead girl. What’s her name?”
“Roberta,” I say.
“Then this bed’s hers.” She’s had her name done in rainbow letters on a sheet of scroll paper by a street artist. It is hanging over the messier bed, the one by the window. Both beds have been slept in, and neither roommate appears to have been much concerned with housekeeping. The sheets are tousled and the coverlets—mismatched, as roommates’ coverlets so often are—are awry. There is a strong Ziggy motif in the decorating on Roberta’s side of the room. There are Ziggy Post-it Notes everywhere, and a Ziggy calendar on the wall, and on one of the desks, a set of Ziggy stationery.
Both girls, I notice, are Jordan Cartwright fans. They have the complete set of Easy Street CDs, plus Baby, Be Mine.
Neither of them owns a single CD by yours truly. Which is no real surprise, I guess. I was always way more popular with the tween set.
Cooper gets down onto his knees and starts looking under the dead girl’s bed. This is very distracting. I try to concentrate on snooping, but Cooper’s butt is a particularly nice one. Seeing it so nicely cupped by his worn Levi’s as he leans over, it is kind of hard to pay attention to anything else, even though, you know, this is very serious business, and all.
“Look at this,” he says, as he pulls his head and shoulders from beneath Roberta’s bed, his dark hair tousled. I quickly readjust my gaze so it doesn’t look like I’d been staring below his waist. I hope he doesn’t notice.
“What?” I ask intelligently.
Dangling from the end of a Ziggy pencil Cooper pulled from the pencil jar on Roberta’s desk is a pale, limp thing. Upon closer examination, I realize what it is.
A used condom.
“Um,” I say. “Ew.”
“It’s pretty fresh,” Cooper says. “I’d say Roberta had a hot date last night.”
With his free hand, he picks up an envelope from the pack of Ziggy stationery sitting on Roberta’s desk, then drops the condom into it.
“What are you doing?” I ask in alarm. “Isn’t that tampering with evidence?”
“Evidence of what?” Cooper folds the envelope over a couple of times, and sticks it in the pocket of his coat. “The police already determined there hasn’t been a crime committed.”
“Well, so what are you saving it for?”
Cooper shrugs and tosses away the pencil. “One thing I learned in this line of work: You just never know.”
He looks around Roberta’s room and shakes his head. “It does seem weird. Who has sex, then goes elevator surfing? I could maybe see it if it were the other way around—you know, all the adrenaline, or whatever, from risking your life, making you randy. But before? Unless it’s some kinky sex thing.”
I widen my eyes. “You mean like the guy likes to have sex with a girl, then pushes her off the top of the elevator?”
“Something like that.” Cooper looks uncomfortable. He doesn’t like talking about kinky sex practices with me, and changes the subject. “What about the other girl? The first one. You said you checked, and she hadn’t signed anyone in the night she died?”
“No,” I say. “But I checked just before you got here, and Roberta didn’t sign in anyone last night, either.” Then I think of something. “If…if there’d been something like that in Elizabeth’s room—a condom or something, I mean—the cops would have found it, right?”