Conspiracy in death, p.24
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       Conspiracy in Death, p.24
 

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

  "We have Peabody's on-scene records. They're being evaluated," Baxter said.

  The ball of ice tried to form, but she willed it away. And this time, her voice was stronger. "Bowers's trainee," Eve continued, "Officer Trueheart, proved to be observant and to know the residents of the area in question. I requested his assistance in interviewing a witness who was known to him, and his assistance proved helpful. This action on my part was not a personal decision but a professional one. Shortly thereafter, Officer Bowers filed a complaint against me, citing abusive language and other technical infractions. The complaint was answered."

  "Those files and reports are also under evaluation." Baxter's voice was neutral, but his eyes signaled her to keep going. Get out her facts, tell her story clearly.

  "Officer Bowers was again first on when I reported to the scene in the matter of Jilessa Brown. That incident is also on record and shows Bowers's insubordinant and unprofessional behavior. Her accusation that I contacted her with threatening remarks will be proved groundless when voice prints are examined. And her subsequent complaint has no base. She was an irritant to me, nothing more."

  She wished she had water, just one quick sip, but didn't want to stop. "At the time she was killed, I was en route from Central to this location. As I understand it, this time frame gives me little opportunity to have sought Bowers out and to have killed her in the manner determined to have caused her death. My log records can be checked to verify, and I will, if required, submit to truth testing and evaluation so as to aid your investigation and the closing of this case."

  Baxter looked at Eve and nodded. "You're sure as hell making my job easier."

  "I want my life back." My badge, she thought, but didn't say it. Couldn't. "I'll do what I have to do to get it."

  "We've got to answer motive here. Ah…" His gaze shifted briefly, warily, to Roarke. He couldn't say he cared for—or trusted—the cold, blue stare that answered him. "Bowers's logs and diaries make certain accusations regarding you and certain members of the NYPSD. Ah…trading sex for professional gain."

  "Have you ever known me to trade sex for anything, Baxter?" Her tone was dry, faintly amused. She worked fiercely to make it so. "I've managed to resist all your offers over the years."

  His color rose. "Come on, Dallas." He cleared his throat when Roarke dipped his hands in his pockets and rocked back and forth on his heels. "You know all that's just the usual bull."

  "Yeah, I know that." He was often a pain in the ass, she thought—not without some affection. He was also a good cop and a decent man. "And this is unusual bull. Straight out, then. I have never offered, traded, or engaged in any sexual behavior in order to receive special treatment in training or on the job. I earned my badge, and when I wore it…I respected it."

  "You'll get it back."

  "We both know there's no guarantee of that." Misery came back, swirled in her eyes as they met his. "But my chances are better if you find out who killed her and why. So you've got my cooperation."

  "Okay. You say you didn't remember Bowers from the academy, yet she details a number of incidents about you in various logs over nearly twelve years. Logically, there must have been some contact between you."

  "None that I'm aware of. I can't explain it, logically or otherwise."

  "She claims knowledge of your misrepresentation of evidence, of mishandling of witnesses, of falsifying reports in order to close cases and enhance your record."

  "Those are groundless accusations. I would demand to see proof." Temper began to inch up, washing healthy color back into her face and a steely gleam into her eyes. "She could have written any damn thing—that she had a flaming affair with Roarke, had six of his children, and raised golden retrievers in Connecticut. Where's the proof, Baxter?" She leaned forward, misery replaced by insult. "I can't do anything but deny, deny, deny. I can't even face her, because somebody took her out. She can't be officially interviewed, sanctioned, or reprimanded. Is anybody asking why she was murdered and my butt left swinging when I was investigating a series of deaths certain high levels didn't want investigated?"

  He opened his mouth, shut it again. "I can't discuss departmental business with you, Dallas. You know that."

  "No, you can't discuss shit with me, but I can speculate." She pushed out of the chair and began to pace. "Taking my badge doesn't mean they took my goddamn brain. If somebody wanted to cause me trouble, they didn't have to look far. Bowers fell right into their laps. Push her obsession, or whatever the hell it was she had for me, twist her up with it, then take her out in a brutal manner so the finger can point in my direction. I'm not only off the case, I'm out. I'm out," she repeated. "There's a new investigation, and the department's in the middle of a media frenzy screaming corruption, sex, and scandal that can't help but bog down the works and give whoever's slicing out parts of people time to cover more tracks."

  She whirled back to him. "You want to close your case, Baxter, then look at the one I had to leave behind and find the link. There's a goddamn link, and Bowers was nothing more than a handy tool, easily disposed of. She meant nothing to me," she said, and for the first time, there was some pity in her voice. "She meant less to whoever had her killed. I was the target."

  "The investigation is ongoing," Baxter reminded her. "Feeney's got your load."

  "Yeah." Considering, she nodded slowly. "They miscalculated there."

  The rest was form, and they both knew it. Standard questions with standard responses. She agreed to make herself available for truth testing the following afternoon. When Baxter left, she put the unpleasantness of that upcoming event out of her mind.

  "You handled that very well," Roarke commented.

  "He went easy on me. His heart wasn't in it."

  "Perhaps I should have apologized for punching him." Roarke smiled. "But my heart wouldn't have been in it."

  She laughed a little. "He's a good cop. I need good cops right now." And thinking of them, she engaged the 'link and put a transmission through to Peabody's personal porta-link.

  "Dallas." Peabody's square face glowed with relief, then immediately a cloud of concern and guilt darkened her eyes. "You okay?"

  "I've been better. Does your schedule allow for a meal today, Peabody?"

  "A meal?"

  "That's right. This is a personal call on your personal unit." Eve spoke carefully, trusting Peabody to read between the lines. "And a request, if time and inclination permit, for you to join me at home for a meal. You're free to bring a couple of dates. If you can't fit this in, I understand."

  Barely three seconds passed. "It so happens I'm hungry right now. I'll just round up my dates. We'll be there in less than an hour."

  "It'll be good to see you."

  "Same goes," Peabody murmured and broke transmission.

  After a moment's hesitation, Eve turned to Roarke. "I need data, as much as I can get, on Bowers: her personal info, all job records, and reports. I need to access Baxter's case files and bring up all he has so far on her murder. I need the ME's findings, the sweepers' reports, any and all interview records pertaining."

  While Roarke watched, she strode around the room. "They wiped my case log at Central and here. I want that data back, and whatever Feeney's gathered since I got kicked. I don't want to ask him to copy it to me. He would, and I'm already going to ask him for more than I have a right to. I need everything I can dig on Westley Friend's suicide and who his closest associates were at the time of his death."

  "It so happens I already have that information, or most of it, for you." Roarke grinned at her when she turned around and stared at him. "Welcome back, Lieutenant." He held out a hand to her. "You've been missed."

  "It's good to be back." She went to him, took his hand. "Roarke, however this turns out, the department may consider it more efficient damage control to…they may not reinstate me."

  His eyes on hers, he brushed his fingers through her hair, rubbed them firm and steady over the tension at the base of her neck. "That wo
uld be their very great loss."

  "Whatever happens, I have to do this. I have to finish what I started. I can't walk away from the faces I see in my sleep. I can't turn my back on the job that saved me. If, after it's done, it's still over for me…"

  "Don't think that way."

  "I have to prepare for it." Her eyes were dark and steady, but he could see fear riding in them. "I want you to know I'll get through it. I won't fall apart on you again."

  "Eve." He cupped her face in his hands. "We'll make this right. Trust me."

  "I am trusting you. For God's sake, Roarke, I'm going rogue. And I'm taking you with me."

  He laid his lips firmly on hers. "I wouldn't have it any other way."

  "You'll probably enjoy the hell out of this," she muttered. "Okay, we'd better get started. Can you do something to the computer in my office to confuse CompuGuard?"

  "Is that a rhetorical question?" With a laugh, he slid an arm around her waist and started toward the connecting doors.

  It took him under ten minutes. She tried not to be impressed, but the simple fact was, it baffled her just how quickly those clever fingers of his could seduce electronics and make them hum.

  "You're clean and clear," he told her.

  "You're sure CompuGuard won't click to it when I run NYPSD data on here?"

  "If you're going to insult me, I'll just go play with my own toys and leave you alone."

  "Don't be so sensitive. I could do a lot of time in a cage for this, you know."

  "I'd visit you every week."

  "Yeah, from the cage next door." When he only grinned at that, she shifted close. "How do I access the data?" she began, only to have him slap her hand away before she could touch the keyboard.

  "Please, you're such an amateur." He danced his fingers over the keyboard. The machine hummed cooperatively, lights blinking. When a husky female computer-animated voice announced, "Transfer complete," Eve raised her eyebrows.

  "What happened to the default voice on this?"

  "If I'm going to be working on this unit, I get to pick who talks to me."

  "You're awfully simple at times, Roarke. Now, get out of my chair. I've got work to do before they get here."

  "You're welcome," he said just a bit testily, but before he could rise, she grabbed his shirt, yanked, and crushed her mouth to his in a long, hard kiss.

  "Thanks."

  "You're very welcome." He patted her butt as they shifted positions. "Coffee, Lieutenant?"

  "A couple of gallons would be a good start." She managed a smile. "Computer, print out stills of all crime scene photos, all pertaining files. On-screen, autopsy results on Bowers, Officer Ellen."

  Working…

  "Yeah," Eve said under her breath. "We're working."

  Within thirty minutes, she had hard copies of specific data tucked in a drawer and had scanned reports to bring herself up to date. She was ready when Feeney arrived with Peabody and McNab.

  "I've got one thing to say," Feeney began before Eve could speak. "We're not letting it go down this way. I've said my piece to Whitney, official and personal."

  "Feeney—"

  "Just shut up." His usually rumpled face was tight with anger, his voice clipped. When he jabbed his finger at a chair, Eve sat automatically without even the thought of protesting. "I trained you, goddamn it, and I got a right to say what I've got to say about one of mine. You let them kick you around this way, I'll fucking kick you harder. You got a raw deal, no question. Now it's time to get your own back. If you haven't filed legal protest papers, I want to know why the hell not."

  Her brow knit. "I didn't think of it."

  "What? Your brain go on holiday?" He stabbed a finger at Roarke. "What the hell's the matter with you, with all your fancy lawyers and your pile of credits? You gone soft in the head, too?"

  "The papers have been drawn up and are waiting for her signature, now that she's finished…" He shot Eve a bland smile. "Whining."

  "Bite me," she suggested, "both of you."

  "I told you to shut up," Feeney reminded her. "Get them in before the end of the day," he told Roarke. "Some wheels run slow. I've got my written statement, as former trainer, former partner, to add to it. Nadine's multipart feature's going to generate a lot of nice heat on top of it."

  "What feature?" Eve demanded and earned a scowl from Feeney.

  "Been too busy whining to watch any screen? She's put together interviews with survivors of victims from cases you closed. It's powerful stuff. One of the strongest came from Jamie Lingstrom. He talks about how his grandfather called you a right cop, one of the best, and how you put your life on the line to bring down the bastard who killed his sister. Kid was on my doorstep last night giving me grief for letting them take your badge."

  Stunned, baffled, she only stared. "There was nothing you could do."

  "Try telling that to a young boy who wants to be a cop, who believes the system should work. Maybe you'd like to tell him why you're sitting on your butt in this fortress doing nothing about it."

  "Jesus, Captain." McNab mumbled it and fought back a wince when Feeney pinned him with a look.

  "I didn't ask for comments, Detective. Didn't I teach you anything?" he demanded of Eve.

  "You taught me everything." She got to her feet. "You're not usually so good at the bad cop routine, Feeney. You must've saved it up, because it's damn effective. But you wasted it. I'd already decided to stop doing nothing."

  "About damn time." He pulled a bag of nuts out of his pockets, dug in. "So, what angle are you playing?"

  "All of them. You need to know I intend to pursue the investigation, both on the case that was turned over to you, and the Bowers homicide. It's not a reflection on any of you, or on Baxter, but I can't sit on my hands anymore."

  "About damn time," he said again. "Let me bring you up to date."

  "No." She said it sharply, moving forward. "I'm not having that, Feeney. I'm not putting your badge at risk."

  "It's my badge."

  "I didn't ask Peabody to get all of you here so you could leak data on the investigation. I asked you to come so I could let you know what I'm doing. That's bad enough. Until the department is satisfied, I'm a murder suspect. I believe the Bowers case is connected to the one you're investigating. You need everything I've got. Not just what's in the reports, but what's in my head."

  "You think I don't know your head?" Feeney snorted, crunched a nut. "I guess not since you haven't clicked to what's in mine. Get this, Dallas. I'm primary on this case. I make the decisions. As far as I'm concerned, you're key, and if you've finished twiddling your thumbs, let's get to work. Either of you got a problem with that?" he asked Peabody and McNab and received a unified "No, sir." "You're outranked and outvoted, Dallas. Now, somebody get me some damn coffee. I'm not doing this briefing dry."

  "I don't need the briefing." Eve stated. "I've got all the data."

  Feeney quirked his brow at Roarke. "Well, surprise, surprise. I still want the coffee."

  "I'll get it." Barely restraining herself from dancing, Peabody headed for the kitchen.

  "I heard something about food," McNab commented.

  "Get your own." With a sniff, Peabody disappeared into the adjoining room.

  "Boy's got his mind on his stomach half the time," Feeney muttered, then grinned like a proud papa. "Never had to worry about that with you. Where do you want to start?"

  "You're primary."

  "Hell I am." He said it comfortably and sat. "You draft in this fancy Irishman?" he added, jerking his head in Roarke's direction.

  "He comes with the package."

  Satisfied, Feeney smiled. "It's a damn good package."

  It came back to routine. She set up a board, posted the stills of the dead. On the other half she had Peabody tack stills of suspects, while she and Feeney dissected the transcripts of every interview.

  She leaned forward, studying the videos of the organ wing, the research lab, and its rows of samples. "Did you cross-check
these? All samples accounted for?"

  "Right down the line," Feeney agreed. "Privately donated, brokered, or accessed through public channels."

  "What do you get out of their data reports? How do they use the samples?"

  "It's thick going," Feeney admitted. "Seems to be straight research and study on disease and aging. It's a lot, of medical mumbo."

  Yeah, she thought, and the mumbo was heavy going. "What do you think about using Louise Dimatto?"

  "It's touchy," Feeney admitted. "We got the connection to Cagney and to the Canal Street Clinic, but all her background checks come through clean. And she cut through the muck of it when you used her."

  "I'd risk it. I don't know if she'll find anything dicey. They're organized, smart, and careful. But she'll save you time. McNab, I want you to dig in and see what series of droids Drake uses for security, then find me what manufacturers do self-destruct programs. Explosions, not shutdowns or circuit melts."

  "I can tell you that." He shoveled noodles into his mouth. "The last part, I mean. Private manufacture of explosives for self-destruct's illegal. It's a straight government and military deal. They used to use them for espionage droids, or anti-terrorism events. Supposedly, that device was discontinued about five years ago, but nobody really believes it."

  "Because it's not true." Roarke leaned back in his chair, selected a cigarette, lighted it. "We manufacture that device for a number of governments, including the United States. As it's what you might call a one-shot deal, it's fairly profitable. Replacement units are in continual demand."

  "No private concerns?"

  He acted shocked. "That, Lieutenant, would be illegal. No," he added, and blew out smoke. "None. And as far as I know, no other manufacturer sells under the counter privately."

  "Well, that nudges East Washington in a little tighter." She wondered what Nadine Furst could do if leaked the connection. Rising, she walked to the board, studied once again the picture of what had been left of Bowers.

  "This looks, on the surface, like overkill. A frenzy, crime of passion. But if you look deeper and go over the autopsy report carefully, it's clear it was systematic. The killing blow came first, outside the building. A blunt instrument, long, thick and heavy, struck once, precisely on the left side of the face and head. ME confirms that this caused death. Not instantaneous, but within five minutes, and the victim would not have regained consciousness."

 
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