Conspiracy in death, p.20
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       Conspiracy in Death, p.20
 

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

  "This is private property, and I am off duty at this time. Move back from the gate. Anyone coming through the gate will be arrested, charged, and detained for trespassing."

  They didn't budge an inch. She could see mouths opening and closing, as questions were shot at her like arrows. Cameras were held up, pushed forward with the lenses like eager mouths waiting to swallow her.

  "Your choice," she muttered. She engaged the mechanism for the gate, letting it swing open slowly as she approached.

  Reporters hung onto the rungs or stampeded toward the opening. She just kept driving, kept mechanically repeating her warning.

  It gave her some satisfaction to watch some of them scramble for cover when they realized she wasn't going to stop. She glanced balefully at those ballsy enough to grab the handle on the sides of her vehicle and pace her while shouting through the closed window.

  The minute she cleared the gate, she slammed it shut, hoping to catch a few fingers in the process. Then, with a thin smile, she punched the accelerator and sent a pair of idiots tumbling clear.

  The echoes of their curses were like music that kept her mood elevated all the way downtown.

  She headed straight to the conference room when she arrived at Central and, grumbling when she found it empty, sat down to man the computer herself.

  She had, by her calculations, an hour to work before she had to head to Drake and keep her first interview appointments.

  Peabody had her doctors lined up like arcade ducks. Eve intended to knock them off one at a time before the end of the day. With any luck, she mused, any luck at all, she'd ring a few bells.

  She brought up data:

  Drake Center, New York

  Nordick Clinic, Chicago

  Sainte Joan d'Arc, France

  Melcount Center, London

  Four cities, she thought. Six bodies known.

  After hammering her way through the data McNab had accessed, she narrowed her search down to these health and research centers. All had one interesting thing in common: Westley Friend had worked at, lectured at, or endorsed each of them.

  "Good work, McNab," she murmured. "Excellent job. You're the key, Friend, and you're another dead man. Just who's friend were you? Computer, any personal or professional connection between Friend, Dr. Westley, and Cagney, Dr. Colin."

  Working…

  "Don't be in such a hurry," she said mildly. "All similar connections between subject Friend and Wo, Dr. Tia; Waverly, Dr. Michael; Vanderhaven, Dr. Hans." Enough of a list for now, she decided. "Engage."

  Recalibrating…working…

  "You do that little thing," she murmured and pushed away from the desk to get a cup of coffee. She winced at the smell instantly. She'd gotten spoiled, she thought, as the sludgy brew sat nastily in the mug. There'd been a day when she'd slugged down a dozen cups of Cop Central poison without a complaint.

  Now, even looking at it made her shudder.

  Amused at herself, she set it aside and wished to God that Peabody would report in so she could get some decent coffee out of her office.

  She was considering making a dash for it herself, when Peabody walked in, closed the door behind her.

  "You're late again," Eve began. "This is a bad habit. How the hell am I supposed to…" She trailed off, focusing on Peabody's face. Sheet white with eyes huge and dark. "What is it?"

  "Sir. Bowers—"

  "Oh, fuck Bowers." Eve snatched up the miserable coffee and gulped. "I don't have time to worry about her now. We're working murder here."

  "Somebody's working hers."

  "What?"

  "Dallas, she's dead." Peabody took a concentrated breath, in and out, to help slow the rapid thump of her heart. "Somebody beat her to death last night. They found her a couple of hours ago, in the basement of her building. Her uniform, weapon, ID, had all been stripped and taken from the scene. They ID'd her by prints." Peabody swiped a hand over white lips. "Word is there wasn't enough left of her face to make her visually."

  Very carefully, Eve set down her cup. "It's a positive ID?"

  "It's her. I went down and checked after I heard it in the bullpen. Prints and DNA match. They just confirmed."

  "Jesus. Jesus Christ." Staggered, Eve pressed her fingers to her eyes, tried to think.

  Data is complete…. Display, vocal or hard copy?

  "Save and file. God." She dropped her hands. "What have they got on it?"

  "Nothing. At least nothing I could dig out. No witnesses. She lived alone, so nobody was expecting her. There was an anonymous call reporting trouble at that location. Came in about oh five-thirty. A couple of uniforms found her. That's all I know."

  "Robbery? Sexual assault?"

  "Dallas, I don't know. I was lucky to get this much. They're shutting it in fast. No data in, no data out."

  There was a sick ball in her stomach, a slick weight rolling there she didn't quite recognize as dread. "Do you know who's primary?"

  "I heard Baxter, but I don't know for sure. Can't confirm."

  "Okay." She sat, tunneled her fingers through her hair. "If it's Baxter, he'll give me what data he can. Odds are, it's not connected to ours, but we can't discount it." Eve lifted her gaze again. "Beaten to death?"

  "Yeah." Peabody swallowed.

  She knew what it was to be attacked with fists, to be helpless to stop them. To feel that stunning agony of a bone snapping. To hear the sound of it just under your own scream. "It's a bad way," she managed. "I'm sorry for it. She was a wrong cop, but I'm sorry for it."

  "Everybody's pretty shaken up."

  "I don't have much time here." She pinched the bridge of her nose. "We'll tag Baxter later, see if he can fill in some details. But for now, we've got to put this aside. I've got the interviews starting in less than an hour now, and I need to be prepared."

  "Dallas, you need to know…I heard your name come up."

  "What? My name?"

  "About Bowers," she began, then broke off in frustration as the 'link beeped.

  "Hold on. Dallas."

  "Lieutenant, I need you upstairs, immediately."

  "Commander, I'm prepping for a scheduled interview session."

  "Now," he said briefly and broke transmission.

  "Damn it. Peabody, look through the data I just accessed, see what rings, and make a hard copy. I'll review it on the way to interview."

  "Dallas—"

  "Hold the gossip until I have time." She moved fast, her mind on the upcoming interviews. She wanted to wangle a tour of the center's research wing. One of the questions that had popped into her mind the night before might be answered there.

  Just what did medical facilities do with damaged or diseased organs they removed? Did they study them, dispose of them, experiment on them?

  This collector had to have a purpose. If that purpose somehow tied in with legal and approved medical research, it would make more sense. It would give her a handle.

  Research had to be funded, didn't it? Maybe she should be following the money. She could put McNab to work tracing grants and donations.

  Distracted, she walked into Whitney's office. The little ball of dread in her stomach rolled again, hard, when she saw Webster, her commander, and Chief Tibble waiting.

  "Sir."

  "Close the door, Lieutenant." No one sat. Whitney remained standing behind his desk. Eve had a moment to think he looked ill before Tibble stepped forward.

  He was a tall man; striking, tireless, and honest. He looked at Eve now with dark eyes that remained steady and gave away nothing. "Lieutenant, I want to advise you that you're entitled to have your advocate present at this time."

  "My advocate, sir?" She let herself glance at Webster, then back at her chief. "That won't be necessary, sir. If IAB has more questions for me, I'll answer them without the buffer. I'm aware there was a media broadcast last night where accusations and statements about my character and professional behavior were attacked. They are groundless. I'm confident any internal investigation woul
d prove them to be so."

  "Dallas," Webster began, then closed his mouth when Tibble pinned him with a look.

  "Lieutenant, are you aware that Officer Ellen Bowers was murdered last night?"

  "Yes, sir. My aide just informed me."

  "I need to ask you your whereabouts last evening between eighteen-thirty and nineteen hundred hours."

  She'd been a cop for eleven years and couldn't remember ever being sucker punched so effectively. Her body jerked before she could control it, her mouth went dry. She heard her own breath catch, then release.

  "Chief Tibble, am I to understand I'm a suspect in the murder of Officer Bowers?"

  His eyes never wavered. She couldn't read what was in them. Cop's eyes, she thought with a quick shimmer of panic. Tibble had good cop's eyes.

  "The department requires verification of your whereabouts during the time in question, Lieutenant."

  "Sir. Between eighteen-thirty and nineteen hundred hours, I was en route from Central to my home. I believe I logged out at eighteen-ten."

  Saying nothing, Tibble walked to the window and stood with his back to the room. Dread was an ache now, which spread in the gut with tiny, scrabbling claws. "Commander, Bowers was causing me difficulties, potentially serious ones, which I handled through proper channels and through proper procedure."

  "That's documented, Lieutenant, and understood." He kept his hands behind his back, linked together with frustration. "Proper procedure must be followed. An investigation into the murder of Officer Bowers is under way, and at this time, you are a suspect. It is my belief that you'll be cleared quickly and completely."

  "Cleared? Of beating a fellow cop to death? Of abandoning everything I believe in and I've worked for? And why would I have done this?" Panic had a line of sweat, icy cold, snaking down her spine. "Because she tried to smear me in the department and in the media? For Christ's sake, Commander, anyone could see she was on self-destruct."

  "Dallas." This time Webster stepped forward. "You threatened her with physical harm, on record. Call your advocate."

  "Don't tell me to call my advocate," she snapped. "I haven't done anything but my job." Panic was growing teeth now, edgy and sharp. All she could do was fight it with temper. "You want me in interview, Webster? Fine, let's go. Right here, right now."

  "Lieutenant!" Whitney whipped the word out, watched her head snap around, the fury in her eyes hot and open. "The department must conduct internal and external investigations into the matter of the death of Officer Bowers. There is no choice." He let out a long breath. "There is no choice," he repeated. "While this investigation is open and active, you are suspended from duty."

  He nearly winced when he saw her eyes go from hot and alive to blank and dazed. Nearly cringed when he saw every ounce of color drain out of her face. "It is with regret, Lieutenant, great personal regret, that I ask you to turn in your weapon and your shield."

  Her mind had gone dead, utterly dead, as if some electrical current had been shut off. She couldn't feel her hands, her feet, her heart. "My shield?"

  "Dallas." He stepped to her, his voice gentle now, his eyes storming with emotion. "There's no choice. You are suspended from duty, pending the results of the internal and external investigations in the matter of the death of Officer Ellen Bowers. I must ask for your weapon and your badge."

  She stared into his eyes, couldn't look anywhere else. Inside her head was a scream: dull, distant, desperate. Her joints felt rusty as she reached down for her badge, then over to release her weapon. Their weight in her hand made it shake.

  Putting them in Whitney's was like ripping out her own heart.

  Someone said her name, twice, but she was walking out of the room, blind, heading toward the glide fast, her boots clicking on scarred tile. Dizzy, she gripped the rail until her knuckles went white.

  "Dallas, goddamn it." Webster caught up to her, grabbed her arm. "Call your advocate."

  "Get your hand off me." The words were weak, shaky, and she couldn't find the strength to pull away. "Get it off and stay away."

  "You listen to me." He dragged her clear of the glide, pushed her against a wall. "Nobody in that room wanted this. There's no choice. Goddamn it, you know how it works. We clear you, you get your badge back. You take a few days' vacation. It's going to be that simple."

  "Get the fuck away from me."

  "She had diaries, discs." He spoke quickly, afraid she'd break and run. "She put down all kinds of shit about you." He was crossing the line and didn't give a damn. "It has to be looked into and dismissed. Somebody beat her to pieces, Dallas, to fucking pieces. It'll be all over the media within the hour. You're tied to her. If you're not automatically suspended pending, it looks like cover-up."

  "Or it looks like my superiors, my department, my colleagues believe me. Don't touch me again," she warned in a voice that shook so badly he stepped back.

  "I've got to go with you." He spoke flatly now, furious that his own hands weren't steady. "To see that you clear only personal items from your office, and to escort you from the building. I need to confiscate your communicator, your master and vehicle codes."

  She closed her eyes, fought to hold on. "Don't talk to me."

  She managed to walk. Her legs felt like rubber, but she put one in front of the other. God, she needed air. Couldn't breathe.

  Dizzy, she braced a hand on the doorway of the conference room. It seemed to swim in front of her eyes, as if she was looking into water. "Peabody."

  "Sir." She sprang up, stared. "Dallas?"

  "They took my badge."

  Feeney was across the room like a bullet from a gun. He had one hand on Webster's shirt and the other already fisted and ready. "What kind of bullshit is this? Webster, you prick bastard—"

  "Feeney, you have to take the interviews." She laid a hand on his shoulder, not so much to stop him from laying into Webster, but for support. She didn't know how much longer she had before she folded. "Peabody's got…Peabody's got the schedule, the data."

  His fingers uncurled, closed gently over hers, and felt them tremble. "What's this about?"

  "I'm a suspect." It was so odd to hear the words, hear her own voice float. "In the Bowers's homicide."

  "That's a fucking crock."

  "I have to go."

  "Wait just one damn minute."

  "I have to go," she repeated. She looked at Feeney with eyes dazed with shock. "I can't stay here."

  "I'll take you, Dallas. Let me take you."

  She looked at Peabody, shook her head. "No. You're with Feeney now. I can't—stay here."

  She bolted.

  "Feeney, Jesus." Eyes swimming, Peabody turned to him. "What do we do?"

  "We fix it, goddamn it, son of a bitch, we fix it. Call Roarke," he ordered and relieved some fury by kicking viciously at the desk. "Make sure he's there when she gets home."

  • • • •

  Now she pays. Stupid bitch. Now she pays a price she'd consider higher than her own life. What will you do now, Dallas? Now that the system you've spent your life fighting for has betrayed you?

  Now will you see, now that you're shivering outside, that the very system you've sweated for is meaningless? That what matters is power?

  You were nothing more than a drone in a hive that collapses constantly in upon itself. Now you're less than that.

  Because the power is mine, and it is legion.

  Sacrifices were made, it's true. Deviations from the plan were taken. Had to be taken. Risks were weighed, and with them, perhaps a few small mistakes. Any worthy experiment accepts those minor missteps.

  Because the results justify all.

  I am so close, so very close. Now the focus has switched, the tide turned. The hunter is now the prey of her own kind. They will rip her to pieces as mindlessly as wolves.

  It was all so simple to accomplish. A few words in a few ears, debts called in. A flawed and jealous mind used, and yes, sacrificed. And no one will mourn the detestable Bowers any more tha
n the dregs I removed from society will be mourned.

  Oh, but they will cry for justice. They will demand payment.

  And Eve Dallas will pay.

  She's no longer even the minor irritant she proved herself to be. With her removed, all my skills and energies can go back into my work. My work is imperative, and the glory that will spew from it, my right.

  When it's done, they'll whisper my name with awe. And weep with gratitude.

  *** CHAPTER FOURTEEN ***

  Roarke stood in the cold, helpless, and waited for Eve to come home. Word had come through in the middle of his delicate negotiations with a pharmaceutical company on Tarus II. He intended to buy them out, revamp their organization, and link it with his own company based on Tarus I.

  He had cut them off without hesitation the instant he'd received the transmission from Peabody. The tearful explanation from the habitually stalwart cop had shaken him. There had been only one thought: to get home, to be there.

  And now to wait.

  When he saw the Rapid Cab coming up the drive, he felt a hot bolt of fury lance through him.

  They'd taken her vehicle. Bastards.

  He wanted to race down the steps, rip open the door, to bundle her out and up and carry her away somewhere, somewhere she wouldn't hurt as he could only imagine she hurt.

  But it wasn't his anger she needed now.

  He came down the steps as she got out of the cab. And she stood pale as death in the hard winter light, her eyes dark, glazed, and, he thought, impossibly young. The strength, the tough edge she wore as naturally as her weapon, was gone.

  She wasn't sure she could speak, that the words would push through her throat, it burned so. And the rest of her was numb. Dead.

  "They took my badge." Suddenly it was real, the brutal reality of it punched like a fist. And grief gushed up, hot, bitter, to spill out of her eyes. "Roarke."

  "I know." He was there, his arms hard around her, holding tight as she began to shake. "I'm sorry, Eve. I'm so sorry."

  "What will I do? What will I do?" She clung, weeping, not even aware that he picked her up, carried her inside, into the warmth and up the stairs. "Oh God, God, God, they took my badge."

 
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