Conspiracy in death, p.2
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       Conspiracy in Death, p.2

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

  "Look at the wound," Eve said impatiently. "He should have bled out, shouldn't he? A fist-sized hole in the chest, for Christ's sake. But they—whatever it is—clamped, closed off, the bleeders, just like they would in surgery. This one didn't want the mess, didn't see the point in it. No, he's proud of his work," she added, crab walking back through the opening, then standing to take a deep gulp of the much fresher air outside.

  "He's skilled. Had to have had some training. And I don't think one person could have managed this alone. You send the scoopers out to canvass for witnesses?"

  "Yeah." Peabody scanned the deserted street, the broken windows, the huddle of boxes and crates deep in the alleyway across the street. "Good luck to them."


  "Morris." Eve lifted a brow as she noted she'd hooked the top medical examiner for an on-scene. "I didn't expect to get the cream on a sidewalk sleeper."

  Pleased, he smiled, and his lively eyes danced. He wore his hair slicked back and braided with a siren red ski cap snugged over it. His long, matching coat flapped madly in the breeze. Morris, Eve knew, was quite the snazzy dresser.

  "I was available, and your sleeper sounded quite interesting. No heart?"

  "Well, I didn't find one."

  He chuckled and approached the crate. "Let's have a look-see."

  She shivered, envying him his long, obviously warm coat. She had one—Roarke had given her a beauty for Christmas—but she resisted wearing it on the job. No way in hell was she going to get blood and assorted body fluids all over that fabulous bronze-colored cashmere.

  And she thought as she crouched down yet again, she was pretty sure her new gloves were cozily tucked in the pockets of that terrific coat. Which was why her hands were currently freezing.

  She stuffed them in the pockets of her leather jacket, hunched her shoulders against the bite of the wind, and watched Morris do his job.

  "Beautiful work," Morris breathed. "Absolutely beautiful."

  "He had training, right?"

  "Oh yes." Affixing microgoggles over his eyes, Morris peered into the open chest. "Yes indeed, he did. This is hardly his first surgery. Top of the line tools as well. No homemade scalpel, no clumsy rib spreaders. Our killer is one mag surgeon. Damn if I don't envy his hands."

  "Some cults like to use body parts in their ceremonies," Eve said half to herself. "But they generally hack and mutilate when they kill. And they like rituals, ambiance. We've got none of that here."

  "Doesn't look like a religious thing. It looks like a medical one."

  "Yeah." That corroborated her thoughts. "One person pull this off?"

  "Doubt it." Morris pulled out his bottom lip, let it snap back. "To perform a procedure this slick under these difficult conditions he'd need a very skilled assistant."

  "Any idea why they'd take his heart if it wasn't to worship the demon of the week?"

  "Not a clue," Morris said cheerfully and gestured for her to back up. When they were outside again, he blew out a breath. "I'm surprised the old man didn't die of asphyxiation in all that stink. But from a visual exam, my guess would be that heart would have very few miles left on it. Got your prints and DNA sample for IDing?"

  "Already sealed and ready for the lab."

  "Then we'll bag him, take him in."

  Eve nodded. "You curious enough to bump him up to the top of your stack of bodies?"

  "As a matter of fact, I am." He smiled, gestured to his team. "You should wear a hat, Dallas. It's fucking freezing out here."

  She sneered, but she'd have given a month's pay for a hot cup of coffee. Leaving Morris to his work, she turned to meet Bowers and Trueheart.

  Bowers clenched her teeth. She was cold, hungry, and she bitterly resented the chummy consult she'd witnessed between Eve and the chief medical examiner.

  Probably fucking him, Bowers thought. She knew Eve Dallas, knew her type. Damn right she did. A woman like her only moved up the ranks because she spread her legs while she made the climb. The only reason Bowers hadn't moved up herself was because she refused to do it on her back.

  That's the way the game's played, that's how.. And her heart began to pound in her chest, the blood to thunder in her head. But she'd get her own, one day.

  Whore, bitch. The words echoed in her brain, nearly trembled off her tongue. But she sucked them in. She was, she reminded herself, still in control.

  The hate Eve read in Bowers's pale eyes was a puzzle. It was much too vicious, she decided, to be the result of a simple and deserved dressing down by a superior officer. It gave her an odd urge to brace for attack, to slide a hand down to her weapon. Instead, she lifted her eyebrows, waited a beat. "Your report. Officer?"

  "Nobody saw anything, nobody knows anything," Bowers snapped. "That's the way it is with these people. They stay in their holes."

  Though Eve had her eyes on Bowers, she caught the slight movement from the rookie. Following instinct, she dug in her pocket and pulled out some loose credits. "Get me some coffee, Officer Bowers."

  Disdain turned so quickly to insulted shock, Eve had to work hard to hold off a grin. "Get you coffee?"

  "That's right. I want coffee." She grabbed Bowers's hand, dumped the credits into it. "So does my aide. You know the neighborhood. Run over to the nearest 24/7 and get me some coffee."

  "Trueheart's lowest rank."

  "Was I talking to Trueheart, Peabody?" Eve said pleasantly.

  "No, Lieutenant. I believe you were addressing Officer Bowers." As Peabody didn't like the woman's looks, either, she smiled. "I take cream and sugar. The lieutenant goes for black. I believe there's a 24/7 one block over. Shouldn't take you long."

  Bowers stood another moment, then turned on her heel and stalked off. Her muttered "Bitch" came clearly on the cold wind.

  "Golly, Peabody, Bowers just called you a bitch."

  "I really think she meant you, sir."

  "Yeah." Eve's grin was fierce. "You're probably right. So, Trueheart, spill it."

  "Sir?" His already pale face whitened even more at being directly addressed.

  "What do you think? What do you know?"

  "I don't—"

  When he glanced nervously at Bowers's stiff and retreating back, Eve stepped into his line of vision. Her eyes were cool and commanding. "Forget her. You're dealing with me now. I want your report on the canvass."

  "I…" His Adam's apple bobbed. "No one in the immediate area admits to having witnessed any disturbance in the vicinity or any visitors to the victim's crib during the time in question."


  "It's just that—I was going to tell Bowers," he continued in a rush, "but she cut me off."

  "Tell me," Eve suggested.

  "It's about the Gimp? He had his crib on this side, just down from Snooks, as long as I've had the beat. It's only a couple of months, but—"

  "You patrol this area yesterday?" Eve interrupted.

  "Yes, sir."

  "And there was a crib by Snooks's?"

  "Yes, sir, like always. Now he's got it on the other side of the street, way at the end of the alley."

  "Did you question him?"

  "No, sir. He's zoned. We couldn't roust him, and Bowers said it wasn't worth the trouble, anyway, because he's a stone drunk."

  Eve studied him thoughtfully. His color was back, pumped into his cheeks from nerves and the slap of the wind. But he had good eyes, she decided. Clear and sharp. "How long have you been out of the academy, Trueheart?"

  "Three months, sir."

  "Then you can be forgiven for not being able to recognize an asshole in uniform." She cocked her head when a flash of humor trembled on his mouth. "But I have a feeling you'll learn. Call for a wagon and have your pal the Gimp taken down to the tank at Central. I want to talk to him when he's sobered up. He knows you?"

  "Yes, sir."

  "Then you stay with him, and bring him up when he's coherent. I want you to stand in on the interview."

  "You want me to—" Trueheart's eyes we
nt huge and bright. "I'm assigned to Lite—Bowers is my trainer."

  "Is that how you want it, Officer?"

  He hesitated, blew out a quiet breath. "No, sir, Lieutenant, it's not."

  "Then why aren't you following my orders?" She turned away to harass the crime scene team and left him grinning after her.

  "That was really sweet," Peabody said when they were back in their vehicle with cups of hot, horrible coffee.

  "Don't start, Peabody."

  "Come on, Dallas. You gave the guy a nice break."

  "He gave us a potential witness and it was another way to burn that idiot Bowers's ass." She smiled thinly. "Next chance you get, Peabody, do a run on her. I like to know everything I can about people who want to rip the skin off my face."

  "I'll take care of it when we're back at Central. You want hard copy?"

  "Yeah. Run Trueheart, too, just for form."

  "Wouldn't mind running him." Peabody wiggled her eyebrows. "He's very cute."

  Eve slanted her a look. "You're pathetic, and you're too old for him."

  "I can't have more than a couple, maybe three years on him," Peabody said with a hint of insult. "And some guys prefer a more experienced woman."

  "I thought you were still tight with Charles."

  "We date," Peabody lifted her shoulders, still uncomfortable discussing this particular man with Eve. "But we're not exclusive."

  Tough to be exclusive with a licensed companion, Eve thought but held her tongue. Snapping out her opinion of Peabody developing a relationship with Charles Monroe had come much too close to breaking the bond between them a few weeks before.

  "You're okay with that?" she said instead.

  "That's the way we both want it. We like each other, Dallas. We have a good time together. I wish you—" She broke off, firmly shut her mouth.

  "I didn't say anything."

  "You're thinking pretty damn loud."

  Eve set her teeth. They were not, she promised herself, going back there. "What I'm thinking," she said evenly, "is about getting some breakfast before we start on the paperwork."

  Deliberately, Peabody rolled the stiffness out of her shoulders. "That works for me. Especially if you're buying."

  "I bought last time."

  "I don't think so, but I can check my records." More cheerful, Peabody pulled out her electronic memo book and made Eve laugh.

  *** CHAPTER TWO ***

  The best that could be said about the slop served at Cop Central's Eatery was that it filled the hole serious hunger could dig. Between bites of what was supposed to be a spinach omelette, Peabody accessed data on her palm PC.

  "Ellen Bowers," she reported. "No middle initial. Graduated from the academy, New York branch, in '46."

  "I was there in '46," Eve mused. "She'd have been right ahead of me. I don't remember her."

  "I can't get her academy records without authorization."

  "Don't bother with that." Scowling, Eve hacked at the cardboard disguised as a pancake on her plate. "She's been on the force a dozen years and she's scooping stiffs downtown? Wonder who else she pissed off."

  "Assigned to the one sixty-two for the last two years, spent another couple at the four-seven. Before that, assigned to Traffic. Man, she's bounced all over, Dallas. Did time in Cop Central in Records, another stint at the two-eight—that's Park Patrol, mostly on-foot stuff."

  Since even the small lake of syrup Eve had used to drown the pancake didn't soften it, she gave up and switched to gut-burning coffee. "Sounds like our friend's had trouble finding her niche or the department's been shuffling her."

  "Authorization's required to access transfer documents and/or personal progress reports."

  Eve considered, then shook her head. "No, it feels sticky, and we're probably done with her, in any case."

  "I've got that she's single. Never married, no kids. She's thirty-five, parents live in Queens, three sibs. Two brothers and one sister. And, we have my personal take," Peabody added as she set the PPC aside. "I hope we're done with her, because she'd really, really like to hurt you."

  Eve only smiled. "That's gotta be frustrating for her, doesn't it? Do you have a personal take on why?"

  "Not a clue except you're you and she's not." Uneasy, Peabody moved her shoulders. "I'd pay attention, though. She looked like the kind who'd come at you from behind."

  "We're not likely to run into each other on a regular basis." Eve filed the matter, dismissed it. "Eat up. I want to go see if this sleeper of Trueheart's knows anything."

  • • • •

  She decided to use an interview room, knowing the stark formality of that often loosened tongues. One look at the Gimp warned her that while he might be coherent now, thanks to a hefty dose of Sober-Up, his skinny body still jittered and his nervous eyes jumped.

  A quick spin through the decontamination tank had likely chased off any parasites and had laid a thin layer of faux citrus over the stink of him.

  An addict, Eve thought, with an assortment of vices that had certainly fried a good portion of his brain cells.

  She brought him water, knowing most brew hounds suffered from dry mouth after decon. "How old are you, Gimp?"

  "Dunno, maybe fifty."

  He looked to be a very ill-preserved eighty, but she thought he was probably close to the mark. "You got another name?"

  He shrugged. They'd taken away his clothes and disposed of them. The gray smock and drawstring pants hung on him and were nearly the same color as his skin. "Dunno. I'm Gimp."

  "Okay. You know Officer Trueheart here, right?"

  "Yeah, yeah." Suddenly, the beaten face glowed with a smile as pure as a baby's. "Hi! You slipped me some credits, said I should get some soup."

  Trueheart flushed painfully, shifted on his regulation shoes. "I guess you bought brew with it."

  "Dunno." The smile faded as his busy eyes landed on Eve again. "Who are you? How come I have to be here? I didn't do nothing. Somebody's gonna take my stuff if I don't watch out."

  "Don't worry about your stuff, Gimp. We'll take care of it. I'm Dallas." She kept her voice low and easy, her face bland. Too much cop, she thought, would just spook him. "I just want to talk to you. You want something to eat?"

  "Dunno. Maybe."

  "We'll get you something hot after we talk. I'm going to turn on the recorder, so we get it all straight."

  "I didn't do nothing."

  "Nobody thinks you did. Engage recorder," she ordered. "Interview with witness known as the Gimp regarding case number 28913-H. Interviewer Dallas, Lieutenant Eve. Also attending, Peabody, Officer Delia, and Trueheart, Officer…?" She glanced over.

  "Troy." He flushed again.

  "Troy Trueheart?" Eve said with her tongue in her cheek. "Okay." Then she pinned her gaze on the pitiful man across from her. "Subject witness is not under suspicion for any wrongdoing. This investigator appreciates his cooperation. Do you understand that, Gimp?"

  "Yeah, guess. What?"

  She didn't sigh, but was momentarily afraid the detestable Bowers was right about him. "You're not here because you're in trouble. I appreciate you talking to me. I hear you moved your crib last night."

  He wet his cracked lips, drank. "Dunno."

  "You used to have it across the street, near Snooks. You know Snooks, don't you, Gimp?"

  "Maybe." His hand shook, slopping water on the table. "He draws pictures. Nice pictures. I traded him some Zoner for a pretty one of a tree. He makes flowers, too. Nice."

  "I saw his flowers. They're pretty. He was kind of a friend of yours?"

  "Yeah." His eyes filled and tears spilled over the red rims. "Maybe. Dunno."

  "Somebody hurt him, Gimp. Did you know that?"

  Now he shrugged, a hard jerk of the shoulder, and began to look around the room. Tears were still rolling down his cheeks, but his eyes were glazed with confusion. "How come I have to be in here? I don't like being inside. I want my stuff. Somebody's for sure gonna steal my stuff."

  "Did you s
ee who hurt him?"

  "Can I keep these clothes?" Cocking his head, he began to finger the sleeve of the smock. "Am I gonna keep 'em?"

  "Yeah, you can keep them." Narrowing her eyes, she went with her gut. "How come you didn't take his boots, Gimp? He was dead, and they were good boots."

  "I don't steal from Snooks," he said with some dignity. "Not even when he's dead. You don't steal from your bud, no way, no how. How come you think they done that to him?" Looking genuinely puzzled, he leaned forward. "How come you think they put that big hole in him?"

  "I don't know." Eve leaned forward, too, as if they were having a quiet, personal conversation. "I keep wondering about that. Was anybody mad at him?"

  "Snooks? He don't hurt nobody. We just mind our own, that's what. You can panhandle some if the beat droids don't look your way. We got no fucking beggar's license, but you can shake some credits loose if the droids aren't around. And Snooks he sells his paper flowers sometimes, and we get some brew or some smoke and mind our own. No call to put a big hole in him, was there?"

  "No, it was a bad thing they did to him. You saw them last night?"

  "Dunno. Dunno what I saw. Hey!" He beamed that smile at Trueheart again. "Maybe you give me some credits again, all right? For some soup."

  Trueheart shot a glance at Eve, got her nod. "Sure, Gimp. I'll give you some before you go. You just have to talk to the lieutenant for awhile more."

  "You liked old Snooks, right?"

  "I liked him fine." Trueheart smiled and, taking the cue from Eve, sat. "He drew nice pictures. He gave me one of his paper flowers."

  "He'd only give them to people he liked," Gimp said brightly. "He liked you. Said so. Didn't like that other one and me neither. She's got mean eyes. Like to kick you in the teeth if she could." His head bobbed up and down like a doll's. "What you doing going around with her?"

  "She's not here now," Trueheart said gently. "The lieutenant is. Her eyes aren't mean."

  Gimp pouted, studied Eve's face. "Maybe not. Cop's though. Cop's eyes. Cops, cops, cops." He giggled, guzzled water, eyed Peabody. "Cops, cops, cops." He all but sang it.

  "I feel really bad about old Snooks," Trueheart continued. "I bet he'd want you to tell Lieutenant Dallas what happened. He'd want it to be you who tells, because you were buds."

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