Conspiracy in death, p.10
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       Conspiracy in Death, p.10
 

         Part #8 of In Death series by J. D. Robb

  Her eyes were the color of storms, and her voice was just as threatening.

  "You've got three minutes. I've got patients waiting, and a badge doesn't mean dick in here."

  Eve arched a brow. The opening would have irritated her under most circumstances, but she noted the shadows of fatigue under the gray eyes and the stiffness of posture that was a defense against it.

  She'd worked until exhaustion often enough to recognize the signs and sympathize with them.

  "We sure are popular these days, Peabody. Dallas," she said briefly. "Lieutenant, Eve. I need data on a couple of patients."

  "Dimatto, Dr. Louise, and I don't give data out on patients. Not to cops, not to anyone. So if that's all—"

  "Dead patients," Eve said as Louise spun toward the door again. "Murdered patients. I'm Homicide."

  Turning back, Louise took a more careful look at Eve. She saw a lean body, a tough face, and tired eyes. "You're investigating a murder?"

  "Murders. Two." Watching Louise, she held out the paper flowers. "Yours?"

  "Yes. So…" She trailed off and concern washed over her face. "Oh, not Snooks! Who would kill Snooks? He couldn't have been more harmless."

  "He was your patient?"

  "He wasn't anyone's patient, really." She moved over to an ancient AutoChef and programmed coffee. "We take a medi-van out once a week, do on-site treatments." The machine made a hissing sound, and swearing, Louise yanked the door open. Inside was a puddle of what appeared to be some offensive body fluid. "Out of cups again," she muttered and left the door swinging open as she turned back. "They keep cutting our budget."

  "Tell me about it," Eve said dryly.

  With a half laugh, Louise ran her hands up over her face and into her hair. "I used to see Snooks around when it was my rotation on the medi-van. I bribed him into a street exam one night about a month ago. It cost me ten credits to find out he'd be dead of cancer in about six months without treatment. I tried to explain it all to him, but he just didn't care. He gave me the flowers and told me I was a nice girl."

  She let out a long sigh. "I don't think anything was wrong with his mind—though I couldn't bribe him into a psych. He just didn't give a damn."

  "You have the records of the exam."

  "I can dig them up, but what's the point? If he was murdered, cancer didn't get him."

  "I'd like them for my files," Eve said. "And any records you have on Erin Spindler. She got her health checks here."

  "Spindler?" Louise shook her head. "I don't know if she was one of mine. But if you want patient records, Lieutenant, you're going to have to give me more data. How did they die?"

  "During surgery, so to speak," Eve said, and told her.

  After the first shock leaped into Louise's eyes, they went cool and flat. She waited, considered, then shook her head. "I don't know about Spindler, but I can tell you that there was nothing in Snooks worth harvesting, not even for black market use."

  "Somebody took his heart, and they did a superior job of it. Who's your top surgical consult?"

  "We don't have outside consults," Louise said wearily. "I'm it. So if you want to take me in for interview or to charge me, you'll just have to wait until I finish with my patients."

  Eve nearly smiled. "I'm not charging you, Doctor, at this time. Unless you'd like to confess. To this." From her bag, Eve took two stills, one of each victim, offered them.

  Lips pursed, Louise studied them, breathed out slow. "Someone has magic hands," she murmured. "I'm good, but I'm not even close to this level of skill. To manage this in a sleeper's crib, for God's sake. Under those conditions." She shook her head, handed the stills back. "I can hate what those hands did, Lieutenant, but I admire their ability."

  "Any opinion on whose hands they might be?"

  "I don't mingle with the gods professionally, and that's what you're looking for here. One of the gods. I'll have Jan get you what you need. I have to get back to my patients."

  But she paused, studying the flowers again. Something came into her eyes that was more than fatigue. It might have been grief. "We've eradicated or learned to cure nearly every natural killer of human beings but one. Some suffer and die before their time anyway because they're too poor, too afraid, or too stubborn to seek help. But we keep chipping away at that. Eventually, we'll win."

  She looked back over at Eve. "I believe that. We'll win on this front, but on yours, Lieutenant, there'll never be full victory. The natural predator of man will always be man. So I'll keep treating the bodies that others have sliced or hacked or pummelled, and you'll keep cleaning up the waste."

  "I get my victories, Doctor. Every time I put a predator in a cage, I get my victory. And I'll get one for Snooks and Spindler. You can count on it."

  "I don't count on anything anymore." Louise walked out to where the hurt and the hopeless waited.

  • • • •

  I am…amused. Great work must be balanced by periods of rest and entertainment, after all. In the midst of mine, I find myself pitted against a woman with a reputation for tenacity. A clever woman, by all accounts, and a determined one with great skill in her chosen field.

  But however tenacious, clever, and determined Eve Dallas might be, she remains a cop. I've dealt with cops before, and they are easily dispatched in one manner or another.

  How absurd that those who impose laws—laws that change as easily and often as the wind—should believe they have any jurisdiction over me.

  They choose to call what I do murder. The removal—the humane removal, I should add—of the damaged, the useless, the unproductive is no more murder than the removal of lice from a human body is murder. Indeed, the units I have selected are no less than vermin. Diseased and dying vermin at that.

  Contagious, corrupted, and condemned by the very society whose laws would now avenge them. Where were the laws and the cries for justice when these pathetic creatures huddled in their boxes and laid in their own waste? While they lived, they were held in disgust, ignored, or vilified.

  These vessels serve a much grander purpose dead than they ever could have achieved alive.

  But if murder is their term, then I accept. As I accept the challenge of the dogged lieutenant. Let her poke and prod, calculate and deduce. I believe I will enjoy the bout.

  And if she becomes a nuisance, if by some stroke of luck she stumbles too close to me and my work?

  She'll be dealt with.

  Even Lieutenant Dallas has her weaknesses.

  *** CHAPTER SEVEN ***

  McNab found another sidewalk sleeper dead in the alleyways of Paris. He'd been missing his liver, but his body had been so mutilated by the feral cats that roamed the slums that most of the physical evidence had been destroyed. Still, Eve put the name into her files.

  She took them all home with her, opting to work there until Roarke got back from New L.A. Summerset didn't disappoint this time, but slipped into the foyer moments after she came through the door.

  His dark eyes skimmed over her, his elegant nose wrinkled. "Since you're quite late, Lieutenant, and didn't see fit to notify me of your plans, I assume you've already had your evening meal."

  She hadn't eaten since the chewy bar she'd scavenged, but only jerked her shoulders as she shrugged out of her jacket. "I don't need you to fix my dinner, ace."

  "That's fortunate." He watched her sling her jacket over the newel post. An act they both knew she repeated because it annoyed his rigid sense of order. "Because I have no intention of doing so since you refuse to keep me informed of your schedule."

  She cocked her head, giving his tall, skinny body the same once-over he'd given hers. "That'll teach me."

  "You have an aide, Lieutenant. It would be a simple matter to have her notify me of your plans so the household could maintain some order."

  "Peabody's got better things to do, and so do I."

  "Your job doesn't concern me," he said with a sneer. "This household does. I've added the AMA fundraiser to your calendar. You will b
e expected to be ready and presentable…" He paused long enough to sniff at her scarred boots and wrinkled trousers. "If that's possible, by seven-thirty on Friday."

  She took one meaningful step forward. "Keep your bony fingers out of my calendar."

  "Roarke requested I make the notation and remind you of the engagement." Pleased, he smiled.

  She decided she'd have a little chat with Roarke about foisting his personal Nazi on her. "And I'm telling you to keep out of my business."

  "I take my orders from Roarke, not you."

  "And I don't take them from either of you," she tossed back as she started upstairs. "So bite me."

  They separated, both of them fairly well satisfied with the encounter.

  She went straight to the AutoChef in her office kitchen and would have been mortified if she'd known Summerset had planted the thought of dinner in her mind, knowing she would remember to eat out of spite if nothing else. Otherwise, she would most likely have forgotten.

  There was a beef and dumpling stew at the top of the menu, and since it was one of her personal favorites, she programmed a bowl. The minute the machine beeped its acceptance of her order, the cat was winding through her legs.

  "I know damn well you've already had yours," she muttered. But as soon as she opened the door and the fragrant steam hit the air, Galahad sent up a screeching meow. As much in defense as affection, she spooned some into his dish. He pounced on it as if it were a lively mouse that might escape.

  Eve carried the stew and coffee to her desk, eating absently as she engaged her machine and began to review data. She knew what her gut told her, what her instincts told her, but she would have to wait for the transfer of files and pictures to run a probability scan to verify her conclusions.

  Her scan of Spindler's medical records from the Canal Street Clinic had stated that the patient had a kidney disorder, a result of some childhood infection. Her kidneys had been functional but damaged and had required regular treatment.

  A bum heart, she mused, and faulty kidneys. She'd bet a month's pay when she got data on the hits in Chicago and Paris, those organs would prove to be damaged as well.

  Specific, she thought. Specific victims for specifically flawed parts.

  "You get around, don't you, Dr. Death?"

  New York, Chicago, Paris. Where else had he been, and where would he go next?

  He might not be based in New York after all, she speculated. He could be anywhere, traveling the world and its satellites for his pickings. But someone knew him, would recognize his work.

  He was mature, she decided, adding her conclusions to Mira's profile. Educated and trained. It was likely he'd saved countless lives in his career. What had turned him to the taking of them?

  Madness? No ordinary madness seemed to fit. Arrogance, yes. He had arrogance and pride and the hands of a god. His work was methodical, and he trolled the same types of areas of his cities to select his specimens.

  Specimens, she thought, pursing her lips. Yes, she thought that was how he viewed them. Experiments then, but of what kind, for what purpose?

  She'd have to start scraping into the Drake research department.

  What link could she find between the health palace of Drake and the ghetto of the Canal Street Clinic? Somehow he'd seen the records, knew the patients. He knew their habits and their flaws.

  It was the flaws he was after.

  Brows knit, she ordered a search for articles and data on organ transplant and reconstruction.

  An hour later, the words were blurring, her head was throbbing. Frustration had risen to top levels as she'd been forced to ask for definitions and explanations of hundreds of terms and phrases.

  It would take her forever to access and dissect this medical bullshit, she thought. She needed an expert consultant, somebody who either knew this area already or who could study and relate it to her in layman's terms. In cop terms.

  A glance at her wrist unit told her it was nearly midnight and too late to contact either Mira or Morris. These were the only medical types she trusted.

  Hissing in impatience, she began to slog through yet another article, then her brain cleared with a jolt as she read a report from a newspaper article dated 2034.

  NORDICK CLINIC FOR HEALTH

  ANNOUNCES MEDICAL BREAKTHROUGH

  After more than two decades of research and study on the construction of artificial organs, Dr. Westley Friend, chief of research for the Nordick Clinic, has announced the center's successful development and implantation of a heart, lung, and kidneys into Patient X. Nordick, along with the Drake Center in New York, has devoted nearly twenty years to research on developing organs that can be mass-produced to replace and outperform human tissue.

  The article continued, detailing the impact on medicine and health. With the discovery of a material the body would easily accept, the medical community was dancing on the ceiling. Though it was rare with in vitro testing and repair for a child to be born with a heart defect, for example, some slipped through. An organ could be built using the patient's tissue, but that took time.

  Now the flawed heart could be quickly removed and replaced with what Friend called a longevity replacement that would continue to perform long after the child had used up his one-hundred-twenty-year average life.

  They could, the article continued, be recycled and implanted in other patients in the event of the death of the original owner.

  Though research on the reconstructing of human organs was being discontinued at both centers, the work on artificial devices would move forward.

  Reconstructing human organs had taken the back burner some twenty years ago, Eve thought. Had someone decided to move it back up again?

  The Nordick Center in Chicago. The Drake in New York. One more link. "Computer, search and display data on Friend, Dr. Westley, attached to Nordick Clinic for Health, Chicago."

  Working…Friend, Dr. Westley, ID# 987-002-34RF, born Chicago, Illinois, December 15, 1992. Died, September 12, 2058….

  "Died? How?"

  Death ruled self-termination. Subject injected fatal dose of barbiturates. He is survived by spouse, Ellen, son, Westley Jr., daughter, Clare. Grandchildren—

  "Stop," Eve ordered. She would worry about personal details later. "Access all data on subject suicide."

  Working…Request denied. Data is sealed.

  Sealed, my ass, Eve thought. She'd get around that in the morning. She rose to pace and think. She wanted to know all there was to know about Dr. Westley Friend, his work, and his associates.

  Chicago, she thought again and shuddered. She might have to take a trip to Chicago. She'd been there before, she reminded herself. It never bothered her.

  But she'd never remembered before.

  She shook that off and went in to refill her coffee. She'd linked the two centers, the two cities. Would she find that there was a sister center in Paris as well? And maybe other cities, other places?

  It made sense, didn't it? He'd find his specimen, take his sample, then wouldn't he want to work in worthy surroundings: top-notch labs—places where he would be known and not questioned?

  Then she shook her head. How could he run experiments, do research, or whatever the hell he was doing in the lab of a reputable facility? There had to be paperwork, there would be staff. There had to be questions and procedures.

  But he was taking the damn things, and he had a purpose.

  She rubbed her tired eyes, gave in enough to sit down in her sleep chair. A five-minute break, she told herself, to give her brain a chance to play with this new information. Just five minutes, she thought again and closed her eyes.

  She dropped into sleep like a stone into a pond.

  And dreamed of Chicago.

  • • • •

  The flight home from the coast had given Roarke time to deal with the last of his business matters. So he arrived home with his mind clear. He imagined he'd find Eve in her office. She tended to avoid their bed when he wasn't beside her.


  He hated knowing nightmares chased her when business kept him from home. Over the last few months, he'd juggled whatever he could to keep his trips to a minimum. For her, he thought as he took off his coat. And for himself.

  Now there was someone to come home to, someone who mattered. He hadn't been lonely before she'd come into his life, certainly hadn't felt unfulfilled. He'd been content, focused, and his business—the many arms and branches of it—had satisfied him.

  Other women had entertained him.

  Love changed a man, he decided as he walked to the in-home scanner. After love, everything else took second place.

  "Where is Eve?" he asked.

  Lieutenant Dallas is in her office.

  "Naturally," Roarke murmured. She'd be working, he thought as he started up the stairs. Unless exhaustion had finally taken over and she'd curled into her sleep chair for one of her catnaps. He knew her so well and found an odd comfort in that. He knew this case would occupy her mind and her heart, all of her time and skills, until it was closed. Until she'd found justice, once again, for the dead.

  He could distract her for short bursts of time, ease the tension. And he could—would—work with her. That, too, was a mutual benefit. He'd discovered he enjoyed the stages of police work, the puzzle slowly put together, piece by piece.

  Perhaps it was because he'd lived on the other side of the law most of his life that he seemed to have a knack for it. It made him smile, a bit nostalgically, for the old days.

  He would change nothing, nothing he had done, for every step of his life had brought him here. And had brought her to him.

  He turned down a corridor, one of many in the enormous house that was filled with art and treasures he'd collected—by fair means or foul—over the years. Eve didn't fully understand his delight in material possessions, he decided. How the acquiring and owning of them, even the giving of them, put more distance between him and the boy from the Dublin alleys who'd had nothing but his wits and his guts to call his own.

  He stepped to the doorway where the most precious of treasures was curled, fully dressed, weapon still strapped to her side, in the chair.

 
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