Conspiracy in death, p.22
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       Conspiracy in Death, p.22

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

  • • • •

  Roarke was studying data of his own. It had been child's play for him to slide into Baxter's computer and access information on Bowers's murder.

  It was a pity that, as yet, there was little information to be had.

  But there was plenty, of the vile and hysterical variety, to be found in Bowers's logs and diaries.

  He ran a search on them, using Eve's name, and found bits and pieces stretching back for years. Comments, accusations when Eve had been promoted to detective, when she received commendations. Roarke raised both eyebrows when he read Bowers's statement that Eve had seduced Feeney in order to bag him as her trainer. And then the lurid speculation on her affair with her commander to insure she was assigned important cases.

  But these, and others that popped from time to time, were mild compared with the diatribes that began on the day Bowers and Eve had clashed over the body of a sidewalk sleeper.

  That obsession, Roarke mused, had festered over time until that one moment, that single twist of fate that had burst it and spilled the poison over both of them.

  Now one was dead.

  He looked toward the screen where he could monitor the bedroom and see his wife sleeping.

  And the other broken.

  Still scanning, he waved a hand at his communication screen when Summerset came on. "Not now."

  "I'm sorry to disturb you, but Dr. Mira is here. She'd very much like to speak with you."

  "I'll be down." He rose, studied Eve another moment. "System off," he murmured, and the equipment behind him shifted from a low hum to silence.

  He stepped out of the room. The door behind him locked automatically and could only be opened with the palm and voice prints of those authorized. Only three people had ever been inside.

  To save time, he used the elevator. He didn't intend to be away from Eve any longer than necessary.

  "Roarke." Mira sprang up from her chair, hurried across the room to grab both of his hands. Her usual calm face showed strain around the eyes and mouth. "I only just heard. I came right over. I'm so sorry to intrude, but I had to come."

  "You're never an intrusion."

  She tightened her grip on his hands. "Please. Will she see me?"

  "I don't know. She's sleeping." He glanced over his shoulder toward the stairs. "I gave her something. I could kill them for this." He spoke almost to himself, his voice soft and terrifyingly gentle. "For putting that look I saw on her face. I could kill them for that alone."

  Because she believed him, her hands trembled a little. "Can we sit?"

  "Of course. Sorry. My mind isn't on my manners."

  "I hope they won't have to be with me. Roarke…" She sat in one of the beautifully curved chairs, leaned forward to lay her hand on his again, hoping the contact would help them both. "While others may be outraged or sympathetic or have any variety of reactions to what happened today, you and I are perhaps the only ones who fully understand what this has done to her. To her heart, her sense of self. Her identity."

  "It's destroyed her." No, he realized, he couldn't sit, and rising, stalked to the window to stare out at the cold afternoon. "I've seen her face death, her own and others'. I've seen her face the misery and fears of her past and the shadows that cover pieces of it. I've seen her terrified of her own feelings. But she stood. She gathered herself and she stood up to it. And this, this departmental procedure, has destroyed her."

  "She'll gather herself again, and she'll stand up to this. But not alone. She can't stand up to this alone."

  He turned, faced her. The light streamed through the window behind him; the dangerous blue of his eyes made Mira think of a cold and vengeful angel ready to leap into hell.

  "She never has to be alone."

  "What you have with her will save her. Just as it saved you."

  He angled his head, changing the slant of light and the uneasy vision she'd had of him. "That's an interesting way to put it. But you're quite right. She did save me, and I'd forgotten I was lost. I love her more than life, and I'll do whatever needs to be done."

  Mira studied her hands a moment, lifted her fingers up, let them fall. "I won't ask you questions about your methods, or your…connections in certain areas. But I will ask if there's anything I can do to help."

  "How far will discounting Bowers's accusations go toward getting Eve's badge back?"

  "It will help considerably with IAB. But until the homicide investigation is closed or the suspicion against Eve is dismissed publicly and without prejudice the department walks a firm line."

  "You can test her? Truth test, personality profile, probabilities."

  "Yes, but she has to be willing, and she has to be ready. It's a difficult process, physically and emotionally. But that, too, would weigh on her side."

  "I'll speak with her about it."

  "She'll have to grieve, but don't let her grieve too long. At some point, she'll need her anger. It'll be her most important source of strength."

  She rose, stepped toward him. "I've asked to be permitted to evaluate Bowers's emotional and mental state, using the records of the last several weeks, her diaries—the content and tone—interviews with associates and acquaintances. It'll take time. I have to be very thorough, very careful. Though I'm giving it priority status, I doubt I can furnish the department with a conclusion in less than two weeks."

  "I could take her away," he considered.

  "That might be for the best, even for a few days. But I doubt she'll go." She opened her mouth, shut it again.


  "I know her so well. I have such strong feelings for her. But I'm still a psychiatrist. I believe I know how she'll react, at least initially. I don't want you to feel as if I'm overstepping or violating her privacy by…analyzing."

  "I know she matters to you. Tell me what to expect."

  "She'll want to hide. In sleep, in silence, in solitude. She may very well lock you out."

  "She won't have much luck with that."

  "But she'll want to, try to, simply because you're closer to her than anyone ever has been. I'm sorry," she said and pressed her fingers to her left temple. "Could I trouble you for a little brandy?"

  "Of course." Instinct had him laying a hand on her cheek. "Dr. Mira," he said very gently, "sit down."

  She felt weak and weepy. Sitting, she steadied herself, waited while Roarke took a decanter from a carved cabinet and poured her a snifter of brandy.

  "Thank you." She took a small sip, let it warm her. "This suspension, the suspicion, the mark on her record is not just a matter of the job and procedure to Eve. Her identity was taken from her once before. She rebuilt it and herself. For her, this has stripped her of it again, of what and who she is. What she needs to be. The longer she closes herself down, closes herself off, the harder it will be to reach her. It may affect your marriage."

  He only lifted a brow at that. "She won't have any luck with that whatsoever."

  Mira gave a quiet, shaky laugh. "You're a very stubborn man. That's good." She sipped more brandy, studying him. And what she saw eased some of her own worry. "At some point, you may find yourself having to put your sympathy for her situation aside. It would be easier for you to coddle and pamper and let her drift. But I think you'll recognize the point where she'll need you to make her take the next step."

  She sighed then, set the brandy aside. "I won't keep you from her any longer, but if there's anything else I can do. If she wants to see me, I'll come."

  He considered her loyalty, her affection, and wondered how they weighed against her duty. He never minded playing the odds. "How long will it take for you to complete a full-level search and scan on Bowers?"

  "The paperwork is being rushed through on the orders for it. It shouldn't take more than another day, perhaps two."

  "I have the data now," he said simply and waited while she stared at him.

  "I see." She said nothing while he helped her into her coat. "If you transfer the data to my home unit, my pers
onal unit," she added with a glance over her shoulder. "I assume you have no trouble accessing my personal unit?"

  "None whatsoever."

  She laughed just a little. "How very terrifying you are. If you transfer what you have, I'll begin work on it this evening."

  "I'm very grateful." He saw her off, then went back upstairs to watch over Eve.


  Dreams chased her, memory bumping into memory in a chaotic race. Her first bust and the solid satisfaction of doing the job she'd trained to do. The boy who'd kissed her sloppily when she'd been fifteen and had surprised her because she'd felt no fear or shame, but a mild interest.

  A drunken night with Mavis at the Blue Squirrel with so much laughter it hurt the ribs. The mutilated body of a child she'd been too late to save.

  The weeping of those left behind and the screams of the dead.

  The first time she'd seen Roarke, that dazzling face onscreen in her office.

  Then back, always back to a cold room with a dirty red light pulsing against the window. The knife in her hand dripping with blood, and the pain shrieking so wild, so loud, she could hear nothing else. Could be nothing else.

  When she woke, it was dark, and she was empty.

  Her head throbbed with a dull, consistent ache that was the dregs of weeping and grief. Her body felt hollow, as if the bones had slipped away while she'd slept.

  She wanted to sleep again, to just go away.

  He moved through the dark, quiet as a shadow. The bed shifted slightly as he sat beside her, found her hand. "Do you want the light?"

  "No." Her voice felt rusty, but she didn't bother to clear it. "No, I don't want anything. You didn't have to stay here, in the dark."

  "Did you think I'd let you wake alone?" He brought her hand to his lips. "You're not alone."

  She wanted to weep again, could feel the tears beating at the backs of her eyes. Hot, helpless. Useless. "Who called you?"

  "Peabody. She and Feeney were here; so was Mira. McNab's called several times. And Nadine."

  "I can't talk to them."

  "All right. Mavis is downstairs. She won't leave, and I can't ask her to."

  "What am I supposed to say to her? To anyone? God, Roarke, I'm stripped. The next time I go into Central, it'll be to interview as a murder suspect."

  "I've contacted a lawyer. You've nothing to worry about there. If and when you agree to interview, it'll be here, in your own home, on your own terms. Eve."

  He could see her silhouette, the way she turned away from him and stared into the dark. Gently, he cupped her face, turned it toward him. "No one you work with, no one who knows you believes you had anything to do with what happened to Bowers."

  "I don't even care about that. It's nothing but form. No physical evidence, no clear motive, and the opportunity is slim. I don't care about that," she repeated and hated, hated the way her breath hitched. "They'll have a cloud but no proof, not enough for the PA, but enough to keep my badge away. Enough to keep me out."

  "You've people who care about you who'll work to see that doesn't happen."

  "It has happened," she said flatly. "And nothing can change it. You can't change it. I just want to sleep." She shifted away, shut her eyes. "I'm tired. Go down with Mavis, I'm better off alone now."

  He ran a hand over her hair. He'd give her the night to grieve, to escape.

  But when he left her alone, she opened her eyes, stared at nothing. And didn't sleep.

  • • • •

  Getting out of bed in the morning seemed like wasted effort.

  She shifted, looked up through the glass overhead. The snow was gone and the sky was the dull gray of depression. She tried to think of some reason to get up, get dressed, but could think of nothing, could feel nothing but a low, dragging fatigue.

  She turned her head, and there was Roarke in the sitting area, sipping coffee and watching her.

  "You've slept long enough, Eve. You can't go on hiding in here."

  "It seems like a good idea right now."

  "The longer it does, the more you'll lose. Get up."

  She sat up, but drew her knees into her chest and rested her head on them. "I don't have anything to do, nowhere to go."

  "We can go anywhere you like. I've cleared my schedule for a couple of weeks."

  "You didn't have to do that." Anger struggled to surface but turned pale and listless and faded. "I don't want to go anywhere."

  "Then we'll stay home. But you're not lying in bed with the covers over your head."

  A bubble of resentment worked its way free. "I didn't have the covers over my head," she muttered. And what did he know? she thought. How could he know how she felt? But there was enough pride left to have her getting up, dragging on a robe.

  Pleased with the small victory, he poured her coffee, topped off his own. "I've eaten," he said casually, "but I don't believe Mavis has."


  "Yes, she stayed last night." He reached over, pressed a button in the interhouse 'link. "She'll keep you company."

  "No, I don't want—"

  But it was too late as Mavis's face swam on-screen. "Roarke, is she awake yet—Dallas!" Her smile broke out, a little wobbly, but there, as she spotted Eve. "I'll be right there."

  "I don't want to talk to anyone," Eve said furiously when the screen went blank. "Can't you understand that?"

  "I understand very well." He rose, laid his hands on her shoulders. It broke his heart as he felt them droop. "You and I went through a large part of our lives without having anyone who mattered or who we mattered to. So I understand very well what it is to have someone." He leaned forward to press his lips to her brow. "To need someone. Talk to Mavis."

  "I've got nothing to say." Her eyes filled again and burned.

  "Then listen." He squeezed her shoulders once, then turned as the door burst open and Mavis flew in. "I'll leave you two alone," he said, but he doubted either of them heard him as Mavis was already wrapping herself around Eve and babbling.

  "Those suck-faced pissheads," he heard her sob out, and he nearly smiled as he closed the door.

  "Okay," Eve murmured and buried her face in Mavis's blue hair. "Okay."

  "I wanted to go find Whitney and call him a suck-faced pisshead in person, but Leonardo said it was better to come straight here. I'm sorry, so sorry, so sorry." She reared back so abruptly Eve nearly went down. "What the hell's wrong with them!" Mavis demanded, throwing her arms out and sending the diaphanous pink sleeves of what might have been a nighty flapping.

  "It's procedure," Eve managed.

  "Well, screw that in the ass sideways. No way they're going to get away with this. I bet Roarke's already hired a platoon of hot-shit lawyers to sue their suck-faces off. You'll own the goddamn city of New York when this is over."

  "I just want my badge." And because it was Mavis, Eve dropped onto the sofa and buried her face in her hands. "I've got nothing without it, Mavis."

  "You'll get it back." Shaken, Mavis sat, draped an arm around Eve's shoulders. "You always make the right thing happen, Dallas."

  "I'm locked out." Weary, Eve sat back, closed her eyes. "You can't make things happen when they're happening to you."

  "You made them happen for me. When you collared me all those years ago, it changed my life."

  It was an effort, but Eve worked up a ghost of a smile. "Which time?"

  "The first time—the other couple were just like, you know, slips. You made me wonder if I could be more than a grifter scamming marks, then you made me see I could. And last year when things were bad for me, when it looked like they were going to put me in a cage, you were there for me. You made the right things happen."

  "I had the badge, I had control." Her eyes went bleak again. "I had the job."

  "Well, now you've got me and you've got the iciest guy on or off planet. And that's not all. You know how many people called here last night? Roarke wanted to stay up here with you so I asked Summerset if I could, like, t
ake the calls and stuff. They just kept coming in."

  "How many from reporters wanting a story?"

  Mavis sniffed, then got up to call up the menu on the AutoChef. Roarke had given her orders to see that Eve ate, and she intended to follow them. "I know how to ditch the media dogs. Let's have ice cream."

  "I'm not hungry."

  "You don't need to be hungry for ice cream and—oh yeah there's a God—chocolate chip cookies. Mag squared."


  "You took care of me when I needed you," Mavis said quietly. "Don't make me feel like you don't need me."

  Nothing could have worked more completely. Though she sent one longing look toward the bed, to the oblivion she might find there, Eve sighed. "What kind of ice cream?"

  • • • •

  Eve drifted through the day, like someone wandering in and out of sweeps of fog. She avoided her office and Roarke's, used a headache as an excuse to crawl away for a few hours. She took no calls, refused to discuss the situation with Roarke, and finally closed herself in the library on the pretense of choosing reading material.

  She turned on the search screen so anyone monitoring would think she was browsing through, then ordered curtains closed, lights off, and curled on the couch to escape into sleep.

  She dreamed of coiled snakes slithering up a gold staff that dripped with blood. And the blood slipped and slid and beaded over paper flowers tucked into a brown glass bottle.

  Someone called for help in a voice thin with age.

  She stepped into the dream, into a landscape blinding white with snow, wind that stung the eyes and carried the voice away. She ran through it, her boots skidding, her breath puffing out in visible waves, but there was nothing but that wall of cold white.

  "Cunt cop." A hiss in the ear.

  "What are you up to, little girl?" Terror in the heart.

  "Why'd somebody wanna put a hole in him that way?" A question still unanswered.

  Then she saw them, the doomed and the damned, frozen in the snow, their bodies twisted, their faces caught in that shocked insult of death. Their eyes staring at her, asking the question still unanswered.

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