Conspiracy in death, p.14
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       Conspiracy in Death, p.14

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

  Wo's eyes flickered, narrowed. "I've heard nothing of this."

  "You will," Eve said easily. "I'm making connections right now, following leads. You specialize in organ transplants, Dr. Wo." She waited a bit while Wo's mouth opened and closed. "I wonder if you might have any theories, from a medical standpoint?"

  "Oh, well." Her wide fingers lifted to toy with her pin. Her nails were trimmed short, left unpainted. "The black market would be a possibility, though the easy availability of artificial organs has cut that venue down dramatically."

  "These weren't healthy organs."

  "Unhealthy? A madman," she said with a shake of her head. "I've never understood the mind. The body is basic, it is form and function, a machine that can be repaired, tuned, so to speak. But the mind, even when clinically or legally healthy, has so many avenues, so many quirks, so much potential for error. But you're right, it's quite fascinating."

  Her eyes had shifted, making Eve smile to herself. She wants to be gone, Eve thought, but hasn't quite worked out how to ditch me without insulting Roarke—and all his money.

  "My wife is a tenacious cop." Roarke slid a hand over Eve's shoulder. "She won't give up until she finds who and what she's looking for. I suppose you have a lot in common," he continued smoothly. "Cops and doctors. A demanding schedule and a singular purpose."

  "Yes. Ah—" Wo signaled, lifting one finger.

  Eve recognized Michael Waverly from his photo on his data sheet. He was the youngest on her list of surgeons, single, she recalled, and the current president of the AMA.

  He was tall enough, she decided, to have had Ledo looking up at him. He was slickly attractive, at ease, and slightly less traditional than his colleagues. His gilded hair curled toward his shoulders, and he wore a black, collar-less shirt with dull silver buttons with his formal tux.

  His smile was a quick nova flash of power and charm.

  "Tia." Despite her stiff posture, he kissed her on the cheek, then held out a hand to Roarke. "Nice to see you again. We at Drake very much appreciate your generosity."

  "As long as it's put to good use, it's my pleasure. My wife," Roarke said, keeping a possessive hand on Eve's shoulder. He understood the look of pure male interest in Waverly's eyes as they settled on her face. And didn't particularly appreciate it. "Eve Dallas. Lieutenant Dallas."

  "Lieutenant?" Waverly offered his hand and another potent smile. "Oh yes, I'm sure I knew that. I'm delighted to meet you. Can we assume the city's safe as you're free to join us tonight?"

  "A cop never assumes, Doctor."

  He laughed, giving her hand a friendly squeeze. "Has Tia confessed her secret fascination with crime? The only thing I've ever seen her read other than medical journals are murder mysteries."

  "I was just telling her about one of mine. Of the non-fiction variety." She outlined the facts, watched a variety of expressions cross Waverly's face. Mild interest, surprise, puzzlement, and finally understanding.

  "You believe it's a doctor—a surgeon. That's very difficult to accept."


  "Dedicating yourself to years of training and practice to save lives only to take them for no apparent reason? I can't fathom it. It's baffling but intriguing. Do you have a suspect?"

  "A number of them. But no prime, as yet. I'll be taking a close look at the top surgeons in the city at this point."

  Waverly gave a short laugh. "That would include me and my friend here. How flattering, Tia, we're suspects in a murder investigation."

  "Sometimes your humor falls very flat, Michael." With anger sparking in her eyes, Wo turned her back on them. "Excuse me."

  "She takes things quite seriously," Waverly murmured. "Well, Lieutenant, aren't you going to ask me my whereabouts on the night in question?"

  "I have more than one night in question," Eve said easily. "And that would be very helpful."

  He blinked in surprise, and his smile didn't shine quite so brightly. "Well this hardly seems the time and place to discuss it."

  "I'll schedule an interview as soon as possible."

  "Will you?" His voice had dropped several degrees and bordered on cold. "You're straight to the point, I see, Lieutenant."

  Eve decided she'd insulted him but hadn't unnerved him. He wasn't a man who expected to be questioned, she concluded. "I appreciate your cooperation. Roarke, we should say hello to Mira."

  "Of course. Excuse us, Michael. That was smoothly done," he murmured in Eve's ear as they moved through the crowd.

  "I've watched you cut somebody off at the knees politely often enough to get the hang of it."

  "Thank you, darling. I'm so proud."

  "Good. Find me another one."

  Roarke scanned the crowd. "Hans Vanderhaven should suit your mood."

  He steered her through the crowd toward a big man with a gleaming bald head and a natty white beard, standing beside a tiny woman with enormous breasts and a waterfall of gilt-edged red hair.

  "That would be the doctor's newest wife," Roarke murmured in Eve's ear.

  "Likes them young, doesn't he?"

  "And built," Roarke agreed, moving forward before Eve could add a pithy comment to his observation. "Hans."

  "Roarke." His voice was huge, barreling out and echoing through the room. Lively eyes the color of chestnuts landed on Eve, took her measure. "This must be your wife. Enchanted. You're with the police department?"

  "That's right," She didn't much care for the way he took her hand, or the way those eager eyes played over her as he kissed her knuckles. But it didn't seem to bother the newest Mrs. Vanderhaven, who stood smiling inanely with a glass of champagne in one hand and a diamond the size of Pittsburgh on the other. "My wife Fawn, Roarke and…"

  "Dallas, Eve Dallas."

  "Oh." Fawn giggled, batted eyes of Easter egg blue. "I've never talked to a policewoman before."

  If Eve had anything to do with it, they weren't going to change that record by much. She merely smiled, giving Roarke a light but none-too-subtle elbow nudge. Understanding, he shifted toward Fawn and, recognizing type and priorities, began to compliment her on her dress.

  Eve turned away from the giggle and gave her attention to Vanderhaven. "I noticed Dr. Wo had a pin like the one you're wearing."

  He lifted a wide, capable hand to the gold pin on his lapel. "The caduceus. Our little medal of honor. I imagine those in your profession have their own symbols. Now, I don't imagine you asked Roarke to distract my delightful wife so we could discuss accessories."

  "No. You're observant, Doctor."

  His eyes sobered, his barrel voice lowered. "Colin told me you were investigating a homicide that involves organ theft. Is it true you believe a surgeon is involved?"

  "That's right, a very skilled one." So there would be no dancing, no pleasantries. Vanderhaven might have been on her short list of suspects at the moment, but she could find room to be grateful. "I hope I can count on your cooperation. I'll be scheduling interviews over the next several days."

  "It's insulting." He lifted a short, squat glass. From the color and scent, she took it to be whiskey, straight up, rather than one of the elegant party drinks. "Necessary from your viewpoint, I'm sure, but insulting. No surgeon, no doctor would have willfully, uselessly terminated a life as you described to Colin."

  "It's only useless until we know his motive," Eve said evenly and watched Vanderhaven's lips tighten. "The murder was done, the organ taken, and according to several expert sources, the surgical procedure was performed by skilled hands. Do you have another theory?"

  "A cult." He said it shortly, then took a sip of whiskey, took a deep breath. "You'll pardon me for being sensitive about this issue, but we're speaking about my community, my family, in a very real way. A cult," he repeated in a tone that demanded she accept. "With a member or members trained in the medical field, certainly. The days of doctors mining bodies for parts went out with catgut. We have no use for damaged organs."

  She kept her eyes level on his. "I don't believe
I mentioned the organ taken was damaged."

  For a moment he only stared, then blinked. "You've said it came from an indigent. It was bound to be flawed. Excuse me. My wife and I should mingle."

  He took the still-simpering Fawn firmly by the elbow and drew her away.

  "You owe me." Roarke grabbed a flute of champagne off a tray and took one long sip. "I'm going to hear that irritating giggle in my sleep."

  "She had a lot of expensive hardware." Eve considered, angling her head as she studied the glint and glitter of Fawn from across the room. "Is all that stuff she's wearing real?"

  "I don't have my jeweler's loupe on me," he said dryly, "but it appears to be. And I'd estimate she's draped in, oh, roughly a quarter million or so of first-rate diamonds and sapphires. Nothing a top-flight surgeon couldn't afford," he went on, and handed her the flute. "Though he must feel a bit of a pinch having the ex-wives and various children draining some of his fees."

  "Interesting. He was right up front about the case, and pretty steamed about my angle of investigation." She sipped the champagne, passed the flute back to Roarke. "It sounds to me as if he and Cagney have had a consult about it."

  "That's understandable. They're friends as well as colleagues."

  "Maybe Mira can give me some personal data on this group."

  Roarke caught the change in rhythm of the music. "The fashion show's about to start. We'll have to mingle with Mira later. She seems to be having a very intense conversation at the moment."

  Eve had seen that for herself. Cagney bent down close, kept one hand on Mira's arm. He was, Eve noted, doing most of the talking, with a hard, focused look in his eyes that indicated what he said was both vital and unpleasant.

  Mira merely shook her head, said little, then, laying a hand on his, patted it once before stepping away.

  "He's upset her." The almost fierce sense of protection surprised her. "Maybe I should see what's wrong."

  But then the music flashed, the crowd swirled to insure good views for the fashion display. Eve lost sight of Mira and found herself face to face with Louise.

  "Dallas." Louise nodded coolly. Her hair was styled and sleek, her siren-red dress simply and beautifully cut. The diamonds in her ears didn't look like simulations. "I didn't expect to see you here."

  "Same goes." Or to see you, Eve thought, looking polished, perfumed, and prosperous. "You're a long way from the clinic, Dr. Dimatto."

  "You're a long way from Cop Central, Lieutenant."

  "I live to socialize," Eve said so dryly that Louise's lips twitched.

  "About as much as I do, I imagine. I'm Louise Dimatto." She held out a hand to Roarke. "I'm going to be consulting on a case for your wife. I believe we'll either be fast friends or hate each other before we're done."

  Roarke grinned. "Should I lay bets?"

  "Haven't quite figured the odds yet." She glanced over to watch the first models parade down the runway. "They always make me think of giraffes."

  "Giraffes are more fun to watch," Eve commented. "Seems to me if Drake took all the bucks they sank into putting this fundraiser together, they wouldn't need a damn fundraiser."

  "Darling, you're much too logical to understand the purpose of show and beg. The more expensive the event, the higher the donation ticket, and the heartier those involved pat each other on the back after counting the till."

  "And then you add the social connection," Louise put in, favoring Roarke with a quick smile. "Those prominent in medicine making their entrance, bringing their spouses or lovers, mingling with each other, and various pillars of the community such as Roarke."

  Eve snorted. "Some pillar."

  "I think Louise understands that anyone over a certain financial position automatically becomes a pillar."

  "And his wife attains the same status."

  "Cops make lousy pillars." Eve shifted her gaze from the display of the hot look for upcoming spring and studied Louise. "So we've established why Roarke and I are here, but what about you? How does a doctor doing time at a free clinic rate a ticket to a major event for Drake?"

  "By being the niece of the chief of staff." Louise managed to reach through bodies and snag a flute of champagne. She used it to toast.

  "You're Cagney's niece?"

  "That's right."

  Friends, colleagues, relatives, Eve thought. An incestuous little group—and such groups tended to band together like mud balls to block outsiders. "And what are you doing working in an armpit instead of uptown?"

  "Because, Lieutenant, I do what I want. I'll see you in the morning." She nodded to Roarke, then slipped through the crowd.

  Eve turned to her husband. "I've just taken on a consultant who's the niece of one of my suspects."

  "Will you keep her?"

  "For the time being," Eve murmured. "We'll see how it shakes out."

  • • • •

  After the last long-legged model had glided down the silver ramp and the music had subdued to a shimmer to lure couples onto the glossy tiles of the dance floor, Eve tried to identify what form of nutrition was disguised in the arty structure of shape and color on her dinner plate.

  Beside her, too excited to eat, Mavis bounced on her seat. "Leonardo's designs were the aces, weren't they? None of the others were in the same orbit. Roarke, you've got to buy that backless-to-the-butt red number for Dallas."

  "That color wouldn't suit her." Leonardo, his huge hand covering both of Mavis's, looked down at her. His gold-toned eyes shone with love and relief. He was built like a redwood and had the heart, and often the nerves, of a six-year-old approaching the first day of school.

  He had indeed, as Mavis had so elegantly put it, woofed before the show.

  "Now the green satin…" He smiled shyly over at Roarke. "I admit I had her in mind when I designed it. The color and cut are perfect for her."

  "Then she'll have to have it. Won't you, Eve?"

  Preoccupied with finding out if there was anything resembling meat or one of its substitutes on her plate, she merely grunted. "Is this chicken buried in here or what?"

  "It's Cuisine Artiste," Roarke told her, and offered her a roll the size of a credit chip. "Where aesthetics often take priority over taste." Leaning over, he kissed her. "We'll get a pizza on the way home."

  "Good idea. I should cruise around, see if I can find Mira, and if I can stir anything else up."

  "I'll cruise with you." Roarke rose, pulled out her chair.

  "Fine. It was a great show, Leonardo. I especially liked that green thing."

  He beamed at her, then tugged her down to kiss her cheek. When she walked away, Eve heard Mavis giggle and tell Leonardo she needed a tornado to celebrate.

  Tables with snowy cloths and silver candles were scattered throughout the ballroom. Six enormous chandeliers dripped out of the lofty ceiling to sprinkle muted and silver light. The wait staff moved around and through, pouring wine, removing dishes with an elegant choreography.

  Generous drinks had loosened a few tongues, Eve observed. The level of sound was higher now, and the laughter louder.

  Table hopping was a popular sport, and Eve noted as they wandered that most of the diners admired their food but didn't eat it.

  "What was this thing, five, ten thousand a plate?" she asked Roarke.

  "A bit more, actually."

  "What a scam. There's Mira, heading out. Must be a pit stop because her husband's not with her. I'll go after her." She cocked her head at Roarke. "Why don't you play the crowd for me since they're loosening up some?"

  "Love to. Then I want one dance, darling Eve, and Pepperoni on my pizza."

  She grinned and didn't worry about all the eyes watching when he kissed her. "I could go for both of those. I won't be long."

  She headed directly to the bank of doors Mira had used, turned through the sumptuous foyer, and searched out the women's lounge.

  Chandeliers twinkled light in the dressing area where a attendant droid in snappy black and white waited to assist or provide
. The long rose-toned counter held more than a dozen individual lighted mirrors, a tidy and expansive array of decorative bottles filled with scents and creams. There were disposable brushes and combs, hair gels, sprays, and shines.

  If madam had lost or forgotten her lip dye or any other enhancement, the droid would be more than happy to open the wall cabinet to provide the guest with a wide choice of the best brands in all the popular shades.

  Mira sat at the end of the counter on a skirted chair. She'd switched on her mirror so the lights ringing it glowed, but she had yet to freshen her makeup.

  She looked pale, Eve thought. Pale and unhappy. Feeling abruptly awkward and intrusive, she nearly backed out of the room again, but Mira caught the motion, turned, and smiled.

  "Eve. I heard you were here."

  "I saw you earlier." Eve walked down behind the row of chairs. "But then the fashion show started, and we got swallowed up."

  "It was entertaining. There were some lovely pieces, though I must admit Leonardo's remain unique. Is that one of his you're wearing?"

  Eve glanced down at her skirts. "Yeah. He keeps it pretty simple for me."

  "He understands you."

  "You're upset," Eve blurted out and had Mira's eyes widening in surprise. "What's wrong?"

  "I'm fine. A slight headache, that's all. I wanted to get out of the crowd for a bit." Deliberately, she shifted to the mirror and began to touch up her lips.

  "I saw you earlier," Eve reminded her, "talking to Cagney. Or he was talking to you. He upset you. Why?"

  "This isn't interview room A," Mira responded, then closed her eyes in annoyance when Eve jerked back. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, that was uncalled for. I'm not upset, but I am…disturbed. And I thought I was disguising it so well."

  "I'm a trained observer." Eve tried a smile. "You never look ruffled," she continued. "You just always look perfect."

  "Really?" With a low laugh, Mira stared at her own face in the glass. She saw flaws. A woman's vanity would always pick out flaws, she mused. But how flattering and unnerving to know a woman like Eve thought her perfect. "And I was just thinking I could use a salon treatment."

  "I wasn't talking only about how you look but your manner. It's your manner that's ruffled tonight. If it's personal, I'll butt out, but if it has anything to do with Cagney and the case, I want to know."

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