Conspiracy in death, p.23
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       Conspiracy in Death, p.23

         Part #8 of In Death series by J. D. Robb
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Behind her, behind that white curtain, came the crack and snick of ice breaking. Of something breaking free with sneaky, whispering sounds that were like quiet laughter.

  The walls of white became the walls of a hospital corridor, stretched out like a tunnel with no end in sight, the curves slick as water. It came for her, its footsteps slow with the wet sound of flesh on tile. With her blood roaring in her head, she turned to face it, to fight it, reaching for her weapon. Her hand came up empty.

  "What are you up to, little girl?"

  The sob ripped at her throat, the fear swallowing her whole. So she ran, stumbling down the tunnel, her breath whistling out in panic. She could smell his breath behind her. Candy and whiskey.

  The tunnel split, a sharp right or left. She stopped, too confused by fear to know which way to go. The shambling steps behind her had a scream bubbling in her throat. She leaped right, plunged into silence. Fresh sweat popped onto her skin, rolled down her face. Up ahead a light, dim, and the shadow of shape in it still and quiet.

  She ran for it. Someone to help. God, someone help me.

  When she reached the end, there was a table, and on the table her own body. The skin white, the eyes closed. And where her heart had been was a bloody hole.

  She woke shuddering. On watery legs she got up, lurched toward the elevator. She braced herself against the wall as it took her down. Desperate for air, she stumbled off, hurried outside where the cold bit blood back into her face.

  She stayed out for nearly an hour, walking off the horror of the dream, the sticky sweat, the inner shudders. A part of her seemed to stand back, staring in righteous disgust.

  Get a hold of yourself, Dallas. You're pathetic. Where's your spine?

  Just leave me alone, she thought miserably. Leave me the hell alone. She was allowed to have feelings, wasn't she? Weaknesses? And if she wanted to be left alone with them, it was no one's business.

  Because nobody knew, no one could understand, no one could feel what she felt.

  You've still got your brain, don't you? Even if you have lost your guts. Start thinking.

  "I'm tired of thinking," she muttered and stopped to stand in the snow that was going to slush. "There's nothing to think about and nothing to do."

  Hunching her shoulders, she started back toward the house. She wanted Roarke, she realized. Wanted him to hold her, to make it all go away. To beat the demons back for her.

  Tears were surging back, and she struggled against them. They made her tired. All she wanted now was Roarke and to crawl into some warm place with him and have him tell her it was going to be all right.

  She stepped inside, the old running shoes she'd put on soaked through, her jeans wet nearly to the knees. She hadn't stopped for a jacket before going out, and the sudden warmth had her swaying in mild shock.

  Summerset watched her a moment, his lips tight, his eyes dark with worry. Deliberately, he fixed his most arrogant expression on his face and slipped into the foyer.

  "You're filthy and wet." He sniffed derisively. "And you're tracking water all over the floor. You might show a bit of respect for your own home."

  He waited for the flash of temper, the cold flare of her eyes, and felt the heart she didn't know he had squeeze when she simply stared at him.

  "Sorry." She looked down blankly at her feet. "I didn't think." She laid a hand on the newel post, noticed with a kind of distant interest that it seemed cold enough to snap, and started up the stairs.

  Unnerved, Summerset moved quickly to the communication center. "Roarke, the lieutenant has just come in from outside. She wore no outer gear. She looks very bad."

  "Where is she?"

  "She's heading up. Roarke, I insulted her and…she apologized to me. Something must be done."

  "It's about to be."

  Roarke strode out of his office, made straight for the bedroom. The minute he saw her, wet, white, and trembling, fury sprang up to join concern. It was time, he decided, to lead with the fury.

  "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

  "I just went out for a walk." She sat but couldn't quite get her frozen fingers to work well enough to peel off her wet shoes. "I needed some air."

  "So you go out without a coat. Making yourself sick's next in your master plan for dealing with this."

  Her mouth fell open. She'd wanted him, wanted him to comfort and soothe, and he was snapping at her, yanking off her shoes as if she were a child about to be spanked. "I just wanted some air."

  "Well, you seem to have gotten it." Jesus, he thought, Jesus, her hands were like ice. He yanked back the urge to warm them himself and stood back from her. "Get in the damn shower, boil yourself as you're prone to."

  Hurt swam into her eyes, but she said nothing. It only infuriated him more when she rose and walked obediently into the adjoining bath.

  He closed his eyes when he heard the water running. Let her grieve, Mira had told him. Well, he'd let her grieve long enough. She'd said he'd know the moment to shake her out of it.

  If not now, he told himself, when?

  He ordered up brandy for both of them, swirled his without interest as he waited for her.

  When she came out, wrapped in a robe, he was ready.

  "Perhaps it's time we talk about your options."


  "What you'll do." He picked up the second snifter, put it in her hand, then sat comfortably. "With your training and experience, private security is likely the best avenue. I have a number of organizations where your talents would come in very handy."

  "Private security? Working for you?"

  He lifted a brow. "I can promise you, your income will be more substantial than it was, and you'll be kept very busy." He sat back, draped his arm over the back of the sofa, and appeared blissfully relaxed. "That particular option would free up your time, allow you to travel more freely. You'd be expected to accompany me on a number of business trips, so it would have a number of benefits to both of us."

  "I'm not looking for a damn job, Roarke."

  "No? Well, my mistake. If you've decided to retire then, we can explore other options."

  "Options, for God's sake. I can't think about this."

  "We could consider making a child."

  The snifter jerked in her hand, brandy sloshing over the rim as she spun around. "What?"

  "That got your attention," he murmured. "I imagined we'd start our family a bit farther down the road, but under the current circumstances, we could easily push it up."

  She wondered why her head didn't explode. "Are you crazy? A baby? Do you mean a baby?"

  "That's the conventional way to start a family."

  "I can't—I don't—" She managed to catch her breath. "I don't know anything about babies, kids."

  "You have a great deal of leisure time just now. You can learn. Retiring makes you a perfect candidate for professional motherhood."

  "Professional—Jesus." She was certain she felt all the blood the hot water had stirred back to life in her body drain away again. "You've got to be joking."

  "Not entirely." He rose, faced her. "I want a family. It doesn't have to be now, it doesn't have to be a year from now, but I want children with you. I also want my wife back."

  "Private security, families." Her eyes filled and stung again. "Just how much do you want to dump on me when I'm down?"

  "I expected better of you," he said coolly and had the tears drying up.

  "Better? Better of me?"

  "A great deal better. What have you done the last thirty-odd hours, Eve, but cry and hide and feel sorry for yourself? Where do you expect that to get you?"

  "I expected you to understand." Her voice broke and nearly undid him. "To give me some support."

  "To understand you crawling away, to support your self-pity." He sipped brandy again. "No, I don't think so. It gets tiring, watching you wallow in it."

  It stole her breath away, the light disgust in his voice, the disinterest in his eyes. "Just leave me alone then!" She s
houted it, tossed the brandy aside so that the glass bounced and rolled as the liquor soaked the carpet. "You don't know how I feel."

  "No." Finally, he thought, finally here was her fury. "Why don't you tell me?"

  "I'm a goddamn cop. I can't be anything else. I busted my ass at the academy because it was the answer. It was the only way I knew to make something of myself. To finally be something that wasn't another number, another name, another victim the system sucked up and struggled with. I did it," she said furiously. "I made me so that nothing, nothing that happened before had to matter."

  She whirled away. There were tears again, but these were hot and potent and full of rage. "What I didn't remember, what I did, none of it could change where I was going. Being a cop, being in control, using the system that had, by God, used me all my fucking life. From the inside, with a badge, I could believe in it again. I could make it work. I could stand for something."

  "Why have you stopped?"

  "They stopped me!" She spun back, her hands fisted. "Eleven years, the years that matter, when I trained and I learned and I worked to make a difference somewhere. The bodies stacked up in my mind, the blood I've waded through, and the waste. I see it in my sleep, every face of the dead. But it didn't stop me, never would have stopped me, because it matters too much. Because I can look at them and know what I have to do. And I can live with everything that happened to me, even the things I don't remember."

  He nodded coolly. "Then fight back, and get what you need."

  "I've got nothing. Goddamn it, Roarke, can't you see? When they took my badge, they took everything I am."

  "No, Eve. They didn't take what you are unless you let them. They only took your symbols. If you need them," he continued, stepping to her, "pull yourself together, stop whining, and get them back."

  She jerked away from him. "Thanks for the support." Her voice cracked like ice under a pick as she turned and walked out of the room.

  Driven by temper, she stormed through the house, down to the gym. She stripped off the robe, dragged on a unisuit. Her blood blazing, she activated the combat droid and beat the shit out of it.

  Upstairs, Roarke sipped brandy and grinned like a fool as he watched her on a monitor. He imagined she'd replaced the droid's face with his. "Go ahead, darling," he murmured. "Pound me into dust." He winced a little when she jammed her knee hard into the droid's crotch, felt a sympathetic twinge in his own balls.

  "I guess I had that coming," he decided and made a mental note to order a new combat droid. This one was toast.

  It was good progress, he mused after she'd left the mangled droid on the mat, stripped off her sweat-soaked suit, and stomped into the pool house. He counted thirty strong, steady laps when Summerset hailed him.

  "I'm sorry to disturb you, but a Detective Baxter is at the gate. He wishes to see Lieutenant Dallas."

  "Tell him she remains unavailable. No." On impulse, Roarke shifted gears. He was more than a little tired of doing nothing himself. "Let him in, Summerset. I'll see him. I have a few words for the NYPSD. Send him to my office."

  "I'll be happy to."

  • • • •

  Baxter was doing his best not to gawk. His mood was glum, his nerves on edge, and he'd already dealt with the wave of reporters at the gate. Beating on the windows of an official vehicle, for Christ's sake, he thought. Where was the respect and the good healthy fear for cops these days?

  And now he found himself being led through a fucking palace by a stiff-assed butler type. The place was like something out of a video. One of his favorite pastimes had been to razz Eve about the unlimited credit well she'd fallen into with Roarke. Now he had all this new material and didn't have the heart to use it.

  He got another eyeful when he walked into Roarke's office. The equipment alone was enough to make his eyes want to pop out of his head, and the setting, acres of treated glass, miles of glossy tiles, made him feel shabby in his off-the-rack suit and well-broken-in shoes.

  Just as well, he decided. He felt pretty damn shabby all around.

  "Detective." Roarke remained seated behind the desk, the position of power. "Your identification?"

  They'd met more than once, but Baxter simply nodded and took out his badge. Couldn't blame the guy for being tight-assed under the circumstances, Baxter decided. "I need to interview Dallas regarding the Bowers homicide."

  "I believe you were informed yesterday that my wife is unavailable at this time."

  "Yeah, I got the message. Look, it's got to get done. I've got a job to do here."

  "Yes, you have a job." Not bothering to disguise the threat in his eyes, Roarke got to his feet. Every movement precise, like a wolf stalking prey. "Eve doesn't, because your department is quick to turn on their own. How the hell can you stand here with that badge in your hand? You come into her home prepared to interrogate her? You son of a bitch, I ought to make you eat that fucking badge and send you back to Whitney on a pike."

  "You've got a right to be upset," Baxter said evenly, "but I've got an investigation going, and she's part of it."

  "Do I seem upset, Baxter?" His eyes glinted like a sword turned edge-up in the sun as he came around the desk. "Why don't I show you, right now, what I am?" Fast as a lightning strike, Roarke's fist shot out.

  Eve walked in just as Baxter went flying. She had to leap forward to get to Baxter and block his body with hers before Roarke could follow up. "Jesus, Roarke. Are you crazy? Back off, back off. Baxter?" She tapped his cheeks, waited for his eyes to roll back into their proper position. "You okay?"

  "I feel like I got hit with a hammer."

  "You must've slipped." She cast aside pride and put the plea in her eyes. "Let me help you up."

  He shifted his gaze to Roarke, then looked back at her. "Yeah, I must've slipped. Shit." He wiggled his aching jaw and let Eve pull him up. "Dallas, I guess you know why I'm here."

  "I think I can figure it out. Let's get it over with."

  "You don't speak to him without your lawyers," Roarke said. "We'll contact them and get back to you, Detective, as to when it's convenient for my wife to speak with you."

  "Baxter." As she spoke, she kept her eyes on Roarke. "Give us a minute here, will you?"

  "Sure, yeah, no problem. I'll just, ah, wait out there."

  "Thanks." She waited until the door shut. "He's just doing his job."

  "Then he can do it properly, when you're suitably represented."

  With a frown, she moved closer, took his hand. "Your knuckles are going to swell. Baxter's got a head like a rock."

  "It was worth it. It would have been even better if you hadn't interfered."

  "Then I'd be laying bail for you." Intrigued, she cocked her head. She'd seen him furious often enough to recognize it simmering in his eyes. "Less than an hour ago, you were telling me to stop whining, and now I walk in and watch you deck the primary on the investigation that's put me here. Just where the hell do you stand, Roarke?"

  "With you, Eve. Always."

  "Why did you kick at me like that?"

  "To piss you off." He smiled a little, cupped her chin. "It worked. You're going to need some ice on your knuckles as well."

  She linked her aching fingers with his. "I killed your droid."

  "Yes, I know."

  "I pretended it was you."

  "Yes," he said again. "I know." He took her hand, curled it into a fist and brought it to his lips. "Want to hit the real thing now?"

  "Maybe." She stepped to him, into him, wrapped her arms tight around him. "Thanks."


  "For knowing me well enough to understand what I needed." She closed her eyes, pressed her face to his neck. "I think I understand you well enough to know it wasn't easy for you to do."

  His arms came hard around her. "I can't stand to see you hurt this way."

  "I'm going to get through it. I'm not going to be less than you expect. Or less than I expect of myself. I need you with me." She let out a breath, eased back. "I'm going to
let Baxter back in. Don't hit him anymore, okay?"

  "Can I watch while you hit him? You know how it excites me to see you pound on someone."

  "Let's see how it goes."


  When Eve let Baxter back into the room, he gave Roarke a long, wary look. "I figure I'd've done the same," was all he said, then turned to Eve. "I've got something to say before we go on record."

  "Okay." She stuck her hands in her pockets, nodded. "Go ahead."

  "This bites."

  Her lips twitched, her shoulders relaxed. He looked a great deal more uncomfortable and unhappy than she felt. "Yeah, it does. So let's get it over with."

  "You call your lawyer?"

  "No." She shifted her gaze to Roarke's. "He's my rep for this little party."

  "Oh fine." On a sigh, Baxter rubbed his aching jaw. "If he hits me again, I expect you to take him down." He pulled out his recorder, then just held it gripped in his hand. Misery was all over his face. "Damn it. We go back some way, you know, Dallas."

  "Yeah, I know. Just do the job, Baxter. It'll be easier all around."

  "Nothing easy about it," he muttered, then switched the recorder on, set it on the desk. He read off the time and date data, the revised Miranda. "You know the drill, right?"

  "I know my rights and obligations." Because her legs were a little weak, she sat. It was different, she thought dully, so very different to be on this side of the line. "I want to make a statement. Then you can go for the details."

  It was like a report, Eve told herself. Like any of the hundreds of reports she'd written and filed over the years.


  She would think of it that way, had to think of it that way to keep that icy ball out of her gut. Facts to be recorded. Observations to be made.

  But her voice wasn't quite steady as she began. "When I responded to the scene of the Petrinsky homicide, I didn't remember Officer Ellen Bowers. Subsequently, I learned we had done some time at the academy together. I don't remember any encounters, conversations, or interactions with her before the meeting at the crime scene. Her work on-scene was inefficient, her attitude poor. As superior officer and primary on-scene, I reprimanded her for both problems. This incident is on record."

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