Conspiracy in death, p.16
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       Conspiracy in Death, p.16

         Part #8 of In Death series by J. D. Robb
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  "Great. People will be killing each other over a roll of toilet paper by afternoon."

  "You can bet I'm laying in a supply." She started to hang her coat on the bent hook beside Eve's, then stopped with a purr. "Oooh, cashmere. Fabulous. Is this yours? I've never seen you wear it."

  "I don't wear it on duty, which I'm officially not on today. It'd get wrecked in a heartbeat. Now, do you want to talk outerwear fashion, Nadine, or murder?"

  "It's always murder first with you." But she indulged herself by giving the coat one last, long stroke before she signaled to her camera operator. "Set it up so the audience can see the snow falling. Makes a nice visual and adds to the spirit of dedication of our cop here and your dogged reporter."

  She snapped open a lighted compact, checked her face, her hair. Satisfied, she sat, crossed her silky legs. "Your hair's a wreck, but I don't suppose you care."

  "Let's get it done." Vaguely annoyed, Eve tunneled her fingers through her hair twice. Damn it, she'd had it dealt with before Christmas.

  "Okay, we're set. I'll do the bumpers and the teases back at the station, so we'll just go right into it here. Stop scowling, Dallas, you'll frighten the viewing audience. This will roll on the noon report, but it's going to take second to the weather." And that, Nadine thought philosophically, was the breaks. She took one deep breath, closed her eyes briefly, jabbed a finger at the operator to start tape.

  Then she opened her eyes, fixed a solemn smile on her face. "This is Nadine Furst, reporting from the office of Lieutenant Eve Dallas at Cop Central. Lieutenant Dallas, you are primary on a recent homicide, one that involves one of the city's homeless who was killed a few nights ago. Can you confirm that?"

  "I'm primary on the matter of the death of Samuel Petrinsky, street name Snooks, who was murdered some time during the early-morning hours of January twelfth. The investigation is open and ongoing."

  "There were, however, unusual circumstances in the matter of this death."

  Eve looked steadily at Nadine. "There are unusual circumstances in the matter of any murder."

  "That may be true. In this case, however, the victim's heart had been removed. It was not found at the scene. Will you confirm that?"

  "I will confirm that the victim was found in his usual crib, and that his death occurred during what appeared to be a skilled surgical operation during which an organ was removed."

  "Do you suspect a cult?"

  "That avenue of investigation is not prime, but will not be dismissed until the facts warrant it."

  "Is your investigation centering on the black market?"

  "Again, that avenue will not be dismissed."

  For emphasis, Nadine leaned forward just a little, her forearm resting on her thigh. "Your investigation has been, according to my sources, expanded to include the similar death of one Erin Spindler, who was found murdered several weeks ago in her apartment. You were not primary on that investigation. Why have you assumed that position now?"

  "The possible connection between the cases is cause for both cases to be assigned one primary. This streamlines the investigation. It's simply procedure."

  "Have you, as yet, established a profile of the killer or killers?"

  Here, Eve thought was the point where she would walk the shaky line between departmental policy and her own needs. "The profile is being constructed. At this time it is believed that the perpetrator has well-trained medical skills."

  "A doctor?"

  "Not all well-trained medical personnel are doctors," she said briefly. "But that, too, is an avenue of our investigation. The department, and this investigator, will put all efforts into finding the killer or killers of Petrinsky and Spindler. It's my priority at this time."

  "You have leads?"

  Eve waited a beat, just one beat. "We are following any and all leads."

  Eve gave her another ten minutes, circling around and back to the information she wanted aired. There was a connection, there was medical skill, and she was focused on finding the killer.

  "Good, great." Nadine shook her hair back, rolled her shoulders. "I think I'll snip and edit and work that into a two-parter. I need something to compete with this damn snow." She sent her operator a warm smile. "Be a sweetheart, would you, and go on down to the van? Shoot that feed to the station. I'll be right along."

  She waited until he was gone, then turned her sharp eyes to Eve. "Off the record?"

  "On or off, I can't give you much more."

  "You think it's a doctor, a surgeon. A very skilled one."

  "What I think isn't what I know. Until I know, the case is open."

  "But we're not talking cult or black market."

  "Off record, no, I don't think so. No sacrifice to some bloody god, no quick profit. If money's part of it, it's a long-term investment. Do your job, Nadine, and if you find anything interesting, run it by me. I'll confirm or deny, if I can."

  Fair was fair, Nadine thought. And Eve Dallas could be counted on to deal them straight. "And if I dig up something you don't have, and pass it along? What will you trade?"

  Eve smiled. "You'll get the exclusive when the case breaks."

  "Nice doing business with you, Dallas." She rose, tossed one look toward the blind white curtain out the window. "I hate winter," she muttered and strode out.

  Eve took the next hour at Central to refine her report and transmit a copy to Whitney. Even as the transmission ended, an incoming sounded. Marie Dubois had come through.

  Preferring to read through the data without distractions, she delayed her trip back home. It was after noon when she filed and saved and copied, tucking the disc into her bag.

  The snow was falling faster, heavier, when she drove into it again. As a precaution, she engaged the vehicle's sensors. She sure as hell didn't want to run into a stalled vehicle because she was snow blind.

  As it was, the sensors kept her from running over the man stretched out facedown in the street and rapidly being buried in snow.

  "Shit." She stopped bare inches before her wheels met his head, and shoving the door open, stumbled out to check his condition.

  She was reaching for her communicator to summon a med-tech unit when he sprang up like a rocket and with one rapid backhand to the face, sent her sprawling.

  Irritation came as quickly as pain. Do a damn good deed, she thought as she leaped to her feet, get punched in the face.

  "You've got to be desperate, pal, to try to mug somebody in this weather. And just your luck, I'm a goddamn cop." She started to reach for her badge, then saw his hand come up. In it was a weapon very similar to the one strapped to her side.

  "Lieutenant Dallas."

  She knew exactly what it felt like to take a hit from a weapon like the one he held. Since it wasn't an experience she cared to repeat, she kept her hands in view.

  Not a man, she realized now that she got a better look. A droid. One that had been programmed to stop her specifically.

  "That's right. What's the deal?"

  "I'm authorized to give you a choice."

  The snow, she thought, was very likely blurring his vision as much as it was hers. She'd get an opening, by God, and bust his circuits. "What choice? And make it fast before some asshole drives along and kills us."

  "Your investigation into the matter of Petrinsky and/or Spindler is to be dropped within twenty-four hours."

  "Oh yeah?" She shifted her stance, cocking a hip in what would appear to be arrogance. But it brought her just a step closer. "Why would I do something like that?"

  "If you do not cooperate with this request, you will be terminated, and your spouse, Roarke, will be terminated. These terminations will not be pleasant or humane. There are certain parties who have complete knowledge of the human body and will use such knowledge to make your deaths very painful. I am authorized to give you full details of the procedures."

  Going with the gut, she stumbled forward. "Don't hurt my husband." She let her voice shake, watched with narrowed eyes as the droid shifte
d the weapon enough to hold out his free hand and stop her forward motion.

  It only took an instant.

  She slammed her forearm into his weapon hand, disarming him, then, trusting her boots for traction, spun into a vicious back kick. It knocked him back a foot, but not quite long enough to give her time to free her weapon.

  The snow cushioned the worst of the fall when he tackled her. They fought in near silence, hampered by the snow. But she tasted blood and cursed roundly when he slipped past her guard and slammed a fist into her mouth.

  An elbow to his throat had his eyes rolling back where the knee to the groin did nothing.

  "Not anatomically correct, huh?" she panted, rolling with him. "You're cheaper without balls." With her teeth gritted, she managed to draw her weapon and press it hard to his throat. "Tell me, you son of a bitch, who's so economically minded? Who the fuck programmed you?"

  "I'm not authorized to give you that information."

  She shoved the weapon harder against his throat. "This authorizes you."

  "Incorrect data," he said and his eyes jittered. "I am programmed to self-destruct at this time. Ten seconds to detonation, nine…"

  "Jesus Christ." She fought her way off, skidding and sliding on the snow as she tried to leap clear of the blast. She barely heard him drone "two, one" as she flung herself down, covered the back of her head with her hands, and braced.

  The blast stung her ears, the displaced air whipped over her, and something hot flew overhead, but the thick snow muffled the worst of the explosion.

  Wincing, she got to her feet and limped back to where she'd taken him down. She found blackened snow, patches of it still hissing from the flames, and scattered, twisted bits of metal and plastic.

  "Damn it, damn it. Not enough left to scrape into a recycle bin." She rubbed her eyes and trudged back to her vehicle.

  The back of her right hand burned, and glancing down, she noted the best part of her glove had been singed away to flesh, and the flesh was raw and red. Disgusted, and just a little dizzy, she tugged both off and flung them down in the snow.

  Lucky, she decided, hissing as she pulled herself into the four-wheel. Her hair could have caught a spark and gone up. Wouldn't that have been an adventure. She called in the incident, reported the debris on the drive home. By the time she got there, the aches and bruises were singing a full chorus. She was snarling as she slammed inside.

  "Lieutenant," Summerset began, then got a look at her. "What have you done? That coat is ruined. You haven't had it a month."

  "He shouldn't have made me wear it, should he? Goddamn it." She yanked it off, furious to see the rips, burns, and stains. Disgusted, she dropped it on the floor and limped her way upstairs.

  She wasn't a bit surprised to see Roarke coming down the upper corridor toward her. "He just couldn't wait to let you know I ruined that coat, could he?"

  "He said you were hurt," Roarke said grimly. "How bad is it?"

  "The other guy's in pieces that'll have to be picked up with tweezers."

  He only sighed, took out a handkerchief. "Your mouth's bleeding, darling."

  "It split open again when I sneered at Summerset." Ignoring the cloth, she dabbed at the blood with the back of her hand. "Sorry about the coat."

  "Likely it kept certain parts of you from being ripped, so we'll consider it lucky." He pressed a kiss to her brow. "Come on. There's a doctor in the house."

  "I don't care much for doctors right now."

  "When have you ever?" But he led her steadily toward her office where Louise continued to work.

  "More than ever, then. Nadine had just enough time to get her report on. But there wasn't enough time for somebody to see it, track me down, program the droid, and send him after me. I made somebody nervous last night, Roarke."

  "Well, since that was your plan, I'd say you've had quite a successful day."

  "Yeah." She sniffed. "But I lost my gloves again."

  *** CHAPTER ELEVEN ***

  Late in the afternoon, while the snow continued to fall, Eve sat alone in her office and read over Louise's simple translation of the medical data that had been gathered.

  Basically, artificial organs—the process initially discovered by Friendly and his team and refined over the years—were cheap, efficient, and dependable. The transplant of human organs was not. It was necessary to find a match, to remove from a donor a healthy specimen, to preserve and transport the organ.

  The building of organs from the patient's own tissues was more advantageous, as there was no risk of rejection, but was costly in time and money.

  With current medical knowledge, human donors were few and far between. For the most part, healthy organs were harvested—donated or brokered—from accident victims who could not be repaired.

  Science, according to Louise, was a two-sided coin. The longer we were able to preserve life, the more rare human donors became. More than 90 percent of successful transplants were artificial.

  Certain conditions and diseases could be and were cured, leaving the patient with his original organs in good repair. Others, too far progressed and most usually in cases of the poor or disenfranchised, left the organ too damaged and the body too weak for these treatments. Artificial replacements were the only course of treatment.

  Why take what was useless? Eve asked herself. Why kill for it?

  She looked up as Roarke came in. "Maybe it's just another mission, after all," she began. "Just one more lunatic, this one with a highly honed skill and a personal agenda. Maybe he just wants to rid the world of those he considers beneath him and the organs are nothing more than trophies."

  "There's no connection between the victims?"

  "Snooks and Spindler both had connections to Canal Street, and that's it. There's no other link between them, or to hook them to the victims in Chicago and Paris. Except when you look at what they were."

  She didn't need to bring up the data on Leclerk to refresh her memory. "The guy who bought it in Paris was a chemi-head, late sixties, no known next of kin. He had a flop when he could pay for it, lived on the street when he couldn't. He used a free clinic off and on, playing the system to get his social program meds when he couldn't buy a fix. You have to submit to a physical if you want the drugs. Medical records indicate he had advanced cirrhosis of the liver."

  "And that's what links them."

  "Liver, heart, kidneys. He's building a collection. It comes out of a health center, I'm sure of it. But whether it's Drake or Nordick or another one altogether, I don't know."

  "Maybe it's not only one," Roarke suggested, and Eve nodded.

  "I've thought of that. And I don't like the implications. The guy I'm looking for is highly placed. He feels protected. He is protected."

  She pushed back. "He's educated, successful, and organized. He's got a reason for what he's doing, Roarke. He was willing to kill a cop to protect it. I just can't find it."

  "Kicks?"

  "I don't think so." She closed her eyes and brought the image of each victim into her head. "There was no glee in it. It was professional, each time. I bet he got a thrill out of it, but that wasn't the driving force. Just a happy by-product," she murmured.

  He leaned over, tipped up her face, scanned the bruises. "It's beating you up. Literally."

  "Louise did a pretty decent job on me. She's not as annoying as most doctors."

  "You need a change of scene," he decided. "A distraction so you can come back to this with your mind clear on Monday. Let's go."

  "Go? Where?" She gestured to the window. "In case you haven't noticed, we're getting dumped on."

  "So why not take advantage of it?" He tugged her to her feet. "Let's build a snowman."

  He surprised her, constantly, but this time, she simply gaped. "You want to build a snowman?"

  "Why not? I'd thought we'd fly out, spend the weekend in Mexico, but…" Still holding her hand, he looked out the window and smiled. "How often do we have an opportunity like this?"

  "
I don't know how to build a snowman."

  "Neither do I. Let's see what we come up with."

  She did a lot of muttering, came up with alternate suggestions that included mindless sex in a warm bed, but in the end, she found herself bundled from head to foot in extreme climate gear and stepping out into the teeth of the blizzard.

  "Christ, Roarke, this is crazy. You can't see five feet."

  "Fabulous, isn't it?" Grinning, he linked his gloved hand with hers and pulled her down the snow-heaped steps.

  "We'll be buried alive."

  He simply reached down, took a handful, fisted it. "Packs pretty well," he observed. "I never saw much snow as a boy. Dublin's for rain. We need a good base."

  Bending down, he began to mound snow.

  Eve watched for a moment, amazed at how intent her sophisticated husband, sleek in his black gear, scooped and packed snow.

  "Is this an 'I was a deprived child' thing?"

  He glanced up, one brow lifting. "Weren't we?"

  She picked up a handful of snow, absently patted it onto the mound. "We've pretty well made up for it," she murmured, then frowned. "You're making it too tall. It should be wider."

  He straightened, smiled, then framed her face with snow-covered hands, kissing her when she squealed. "Pitch in or back off."

  She wiped the snow off her face, sniffed. "I'm going to build my own and he'll kick your snowman's butt."

  "I've always admired your competitive streak."

  "Yeah, well, be prepared to be amazed."

  She moved off a bit and began to dig in.

  She didn't consider herself artistic, so went with her strengths: muscle, determination, and endurance.

  The form she worked on might have been slightly lopsided, but it was big. And when she glanced over at Roarke, she noted with glee that hers had his by a good foot.

  The cold stung her cheeks, her muscles warmed with exercise, and without realizing it, she relaxed. Instead of unnerving her, the sheer silence soothed. It was like being in the center of a dream, one without sound, without color. One that lulled the mind and gave the body rest.

 
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