Conspiracy in death, p.28
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       Conspiracy in Death, p.28

         Part #8 of In Death series by J. D. Robb
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  Eve opened her mouth, then thinking better of it, shut it again and got another cup of coffee. It was so rare to see him…out of sorts, she decided.

  Toying with another angle, she took a chair across the room and used the 'link to contact Louise. She was greeted by a slurred "Dr. Dimatto" and a fuzzed video.

  "It's Dallas, I've got a job for you."

  "Do you know what the hell time it is?"

  "No. I need you to check the records on the main system at your clinic. Any and all incoming and outgoing transmissions to this list of clinics. Paying attention?"

  "I hate you, Dallas."

  "Uh-huh. The Drake, Nordick in Chicago—are you getting this?"

  The video cleared, showing an image of a rumpled, heavy-eyed Louise. "I worked a double today, did a medi-van run. I have the morning shift. So you'll excuse me for telling you to go to hell."

  "Don't cut me off. I need this data."

  "Last I heard, you were off the case. It's one thing for me to agree to a consult with a cop and another to pass confidential data to a civilian."

  The word civilian stung a great deal more than Eve expected it to. "People are still dead, whether I have a badge or not."

  "And if the new investigator asks for my help, I'll cooperate, within the limits of the law. If I do what you want me to do and get caught, I could lose the clinic."

  Eve balled her fists, struggling with frustration. "Your clinic's an armpit," she tossed back. "How much would it take to rip it into the twenty-first century?"

  "Half a million, minimum, and when I manage to break the limits on my trust fund, it'll get it. So to repeat myself, you go to hell."

  "Just hold on a minute. One damn minute, okay?" She shifted the unit to mute. "Roarke?" She called out again, testily, when he ignored her, and she received an annoyed grant in response. "I need a half a million dollars for a bribe."

  "Well, tap your account, there's plenty there. Don't talk to me until I get this fucker."

  "My account?" she repeated, but only hissed at his back, afraid Louise would disconnect and refuse another transmission. "I'll have a half million transferred anywhere you want, the minute the data's accessed for me."

  "I beg your pardon?"

  "You want the money for the clinic, you get me the data I need. Here's the list of health centers." She tossed them up, gratified to see Louise shove herself up and grab a memo book.

  "If you're stringing me, Dallas—"

  "I don't lie. Get the data, don't get caught, and get it to me. We'll arrange for a transfer of funds. So don't string me, Louise. Do we have a deal or not?"

  "Damn, you play tough. I'll get the data and be in touch when I can. You've just saved hundreds of lives."

  "That's your job. I save the dead." She broke transmission just as Roarke let out one pithy "Ha! I'm in." He wiggled his fingers to loosen them, picked up his coffee, and sipped. "Jesus, are you trying to poison me?"

  "I put that there an hour ago. And what the hell do you mean dip into my own account, there's plenty there?"

  "Plenty of what? Oh." He rose to stretch his shoulders and replace his stale coffee. "You have a personal account that's been open for months. Don't you ever look at your finances?"

  "I have—had—a cop's salary, which means I have no finances. My personal account has about two hundred dollars in it, since Christmas wiped out the rest."

  "That would be your professional account. You have your salary automatically transferred. I thought you meant your personal account."

  "I've only got one account."

  Patiently, he sipped his coffee, rotated his neck. He decided he wanted a session in the whirlpool. "No, you have two accounts with the one I opened for you last summer. Do you want to see this log?"

  "One damn minute." She slapped a hand on his bare chest. "You opened it for me? What the hell did you do that for?"

  "Because we got married. It seemed logical, even normal."

  "Just how much seemed logical, even normal to you?"

  He ran his tongue around his teeth. She was, he knew well, a woman with a temper and what he often thought as a screwed sense of pride. "I believe, if memory serves, the account was seeded with five million—though that's certainly increased due to interest and dividends."

  "You—What is wrong with you?" She didn't punch. He'd been prepared to block a fist. Instead, she all but skewered her finger through his chest.

  "Jesus. You need a manicure."

  "Five million dollars." She threw her hands up in the air, arms flapping in frustration. "What do I want with five million dollars? Damn it all to hell and back again, Roarke. I don't want your money. I don't need your money."

  "You just asked me for half a million," he pointed out with a charming smile that only widened when she let out a thin scream of frustration. Then he said, "Okay. Marital spat or murder investigation? You choose."

  She closed her eyes, struggled to remember her priorities. "We're going to deal with this later," she warned him. "We are really going to deal with this later."

  "I'll look forward to it. For now, aren't you interested in the fact that our favorite geek happened to be visiting certain pertinent cities on certain pertinent dates?"

  "What?" She whirled to stare at the screen. "Oh God, it's right there. Right there. Chicago, Paris, London. Right in his goddamn log. I've got one of them. Son of a bitch, when I get him into interview, he'll roll over on the rest quick enough. I'll fry his sorry ass and then…"

  She trailed off, stepped back, felt Roarke's hands come down on her shoulders to rub. "I forgot for a minute. Stupid."

  "Don't." He lowered his lips to the top of her head.

  "No, I'm okay. I'm okay with it." Had to be, she ordered herself. "I just have to figure out how to get this to Feeney without compromising him or the case. We can copy it to disc, drop the disc in an overnight mail drop. We need it to go through departmental channels to reach him. Need it documented. He can run it then, and he can use an anonymous tip to get a warrant to seize the logs and to bring him into interview. It'll take the best part of a day that way, but it won't screw up the case or put him in a bind."

  "Then that's what we'll do. It's falling into place, Eve. You'll have what you need soon, and all of this will be behind you."

  "Yeah." The case, she thought, and very likely her badge.

  *** CHAPTER NINETEEN ***

  Eve convinced herself she was completely prepared when she walked into Mira's office. She would do what needed to be done, then move on. And she knew, very well, that the results of what she did and what was done to her over the next few hours would weigh heavily in the department's decision. Her suspension could be lifted. Or suspension could lead to dismissal.

  Mira went directly to her, took Eve's arms in her hands. "I'm so terribly sorry."

  "You didn't do anything."

  "No, I didn't. I wish I could have." She could feel the tension, snapping tight, in the muscles she gripped. "Eve, you're not required to submit to these tests and procedures until you're fully ready."

  "I want it done."

  With a nod, Mira stepped back. "I understand that. Sit down first. We'll talk."

  Nerves danced up her spine, were ruthlessly shaken off. Nerves, Eve knew, would only add to the trauma. "Dr. Mira, I'm not here for tea and conversation. The sooner it's over, the sooner I know where I stand."

  "Then consider it part of the procedure." Mira's voice was uncharacteristically sharp as she gestured to a chair. She wanted to soothe, and would be required to distress. "Sit down, Eve. I have all your data here," she began when Eve shrugged and dropped into a chair. Arrogantly, Mira thought. That was good. A little arrogance would help get Eve through what was to come. "I'm required to verify that you understand what you've agreed to."

  "I know the drill."

  "You're submitting to personality evaluation, violent tendency ratio, and a truth test. These procedures include virtual reality simulations, chemical injections, and brain scans.
I will personally conduct or supervise all procedures. I'll be there with you, Eve."

  "You don't carry this weight, Mira. It's not on you."

  "If you're here because an associate arranged or had a part in the circumstances that brought you to this point, put you in this position, I carry some of the weight."

  Eve's eyes sharpened. "Your profile indicates an associate?"

  "I can't discuss my profiling with you." Mira picked up a disc from her desk, tapped a finger against it while her gaze remained steady on Eve's. "I can't tell you what data and conclusions are on this copy of my reports. A copy of reports already filed to all appropriate parties." She tossed it carelessly back on the desk. "I need to check the equipment in the next room. Wait here a moment."

  Well, Eve thought when the door closed, that invitation was clear enough. What the hell, she decided and nipped the disc off the desk, stuffed it into the back pocket of her jeans.

  She wanted to pace, wanted to find a way to keep herself loose before she snapped. But she forced herself to sit again, to wait, to blank her mind.

  They wanted you to think, she reminded herself. To worry and to sweat. The more you did, the more open and vulnerable you were to everything that was beyond that door.

  They would, she thought, use their equipment, their scans, their injections, to strip your control and dig into your mind. Your fears.

  The less you took in with you, the less they had to exploit.

  Mira opened the door again. She didn't come back into the room, didn't so much as glance at the desk, but nodded at Eve. "We're ready to start."

  Saying nothing, Eve rose and followed Mira down one of the corridors that formed the maze of Testing. This one was in pale green, the color of hospitals. Others would be glassed with techs and machines lurking behind them like smoke.

  From this point, every gesture, expression, and word and every thought would be documented, evaluated, analyzed.

  "This Level One procedure should take no more than two hours," Mira began. Eve stopped short, grabbed her arm.

  "Level One?"

  "Yes, that's all you're required to take."

  "I need Level Three."

  "That's not necessary; it's not recommended. The risks and side effects of Level Three are too extreme for these circumstances. Level One is recommended."

  "My badge is riding on this." Her fingers wanted to tremble. She wouldn't allow it. "We both know it. Just like we both know passing Level One is no guarantee of getting it back."

  "Positive results and my recommendation will weigh very heavily in your favor."

  "Not heavily enough. Level Three, Mira. It's my right to demand it."

  "Damn it, Eve. Level Three is for suspected mental defectives, extreme violent tendencies, murderers, mutilators, deviants."

  Eve drew in a long breath. "Have I been cleared of any suspicion regarding the murder of Officer Ellen Bowers?"

  "You're not a prime suspect, nor is the investigation pointing in your direction."

  "But I'm not clear, and I intend to be." Eve drew a breath in, let it out. "Level Three. It's my right."

  "You're making this harder than it has to be."

  Eve surprised them both by smiling. "It can't be. It already bites."

  They passed through a set of clear, reinforced doors. She had no weapon to be surrendered here. The computer politely requested she enter the door on the left and remove all articles of clothing, all jewelry.

  Mira saw Eve close her fingers protectively over her wedding ring. And her heart broke a little. "I'm sorry. You can't wear it during the scans. Would you like me to keep it for you?"

  "They've only taken your symbols."

  She heard Roarke's voice in her head as she tugged off his ring. "Thanks." She moved into the room, closed the door. Mechanically, she removed her clothes, keeping her face impassive for the techs and machines who were monitoring her even now.

  She despised being naked in front of strangers. Hated the vulnerability and lack of control.

  She refused to think.

  The light blinked over the opposing door, and another automated voice told her to step through for the physical exam.

  She went in, stood on the center mark, stared straight ahead while the lights blinked and hummed and her body was checked for flaws.

  The physical was quick, painless. When she was cleared, she tugged on the blue jumpsuit provided, followed the directions into the adjoining room for the brain scan.

  She lay flat on the padded bench, ignoring the faces behind the glass walls, letting her eyes drift closed as the helmet was lowered onto her head.

  Just what game would they play? she wondered, bracing herself as the bench glided silently up until she was sitting.

  The VR session plunged her into the dark, disorienting her so that she gripped the sides of the bench to keep her balance.

  She was attacked from behind. Huge hands shot out of the dark, hauled her off her feet, and tossed her high. She hit the hard floor of what she saw now was an alley, skidded on something slimy. Her bones jarred, her skin burned as it was scraped away. She sprang up fast, one hand reaching for her weapon.

  Before she could free it from its holster, he was charging. She pivoted, breath grunting out, as she spun into a back kick to catch him center body.

  "Police, you stupid son of a bitch. Freeze."

  She crouched, her weapon in both hands, prepared to shoot out a stunning blast, when the program shoved her into brilliant sunlight. Her weapon was still out, her finger twitching on the trigger. But now it pointed at a woman holding a screaming child.

  Heart pistoning in her chest, she jerked the weapon up. She could hear her own ragged pants as she lowered it.

  They were on a rooftop. The sun was blinding, the heat enormous. And the woman stood swaying on a narrow ledge. She looked at Eve with eyes that seemed already dead. And the child struggled and shrieked.

  "Don't come any closer."

  "Okay. Look, look, I'm putting it away. Watch." Keeping her movement slow, Eve holstered her weapon. "I just want to talk to you. What's your name?"

  "You can't stop me."

  "No, I can't." Where the hell was her backup? Where was the jumper team, the shrinks? Name of God. "What's the kid's name?"

  "I can't take care of him anymore. I'm tired."

  "He's scared." Sweat rolled down her back as she eased a step closer. It was brutally hot, heat bouncing off the sticky tar of the roof in shimmering waves. "And he's hot. So are you. Why don't we go back there in the shade for a minute?"

  "He cries all the damn time. All night. I never get any sleep. I can't stand it."

  "Maybe you should give him to me. He's heavy. What's his name?"

  "Pete." Sweat poured off the woman's face, had her short, dark hair sticking in ringlets to her cheeks. "He's sick. We're both sick, so what's the point?"

  The child was screaming, one shrieking wail after another. The sound of it sliced her head, her heart. "I know some people who can help."

  "You're just a fucking cop. You can't do shit."

  "If you jump, nobody can. Jesus, it's hot out here. Let's go inside, figure this out."

  The woman let out a weary sigh. "Go to hell."

  Eve made the leap, caught the boy around the waist as the woman leaned forward. His screams were like razors scraping over her brain as she made one desperate grab. She hooked the woman under the armpit, dug in desperately while her muscles trembled and threatened to rip. The toes of her boots slapped hard into the wall of the ledge to keep the weight from sending them all to the sidewalk below.

  "Hold on. Goddamn it." Sweat poured into her eyes, stinging, blinding while she struggled for better purchase. The boy was wiggling like a wet fish. "Grab onto me!" she shouted as the woman stared up at her with eyes already empty.

  "Sometimes you're better off dead. You should know. Dallas." The woman smiled as she said Eve's name. And she laughed as Eve's grip began to slip.

  Then she was i
n another alley, shivering, curled into a ball of pain and numb shock.

  And she was a child, battered and broken, without a name, without a past.

  They were using her own memories now, sliding them in from her early data records. She hated them for it, hated them with a rage that simmered nastily under a slick coat of panic.

  An alley in Dallas, a young girl with a bloody face, a broken arm, and nowhere to run.

  Goddamn you. Damn all of you. She's not part of this. She wanted to scream it, to fight her way clear of the influence and images being poured into her brain and crash through the glass wall.

  Her pulse began to race, her rage began to rise. And with barely a blink, the program shifted her to the streets of lower Manhattan, on a frigid night. Bowers stood in front of her, leering.

  "You stupid bitch, I'll bury you in complaints. Everyone's going to know what you are. Nothing but a whore who fucked her way up the ranks."

  "You've got a real problem, Bowers. Maybe after I finish writing you up for insubordination, threatening a superior officer, and being a general asshole, the department will find its balls and kick you clear."

  "We'll see who they kick." Bowers shoved hard, taking Eve back two steps.

  The fury was there, right there, shooting out of her heart, trembling in her fingertips. "Don't put your hands on me."

  "What the hell are you going to do about it? Nobody's here but you and me. You think you can come down on my turf and make threats."

  "I'm not threatening you, I'm telling you. Keep your hands off me, keep out of my face, out of my business, or you'll pay for it."

  "I'm going to ruin you. I'm going to strip you bare and expose you, and there's not a damn thing you can do to stop me."

  "Yeah. Oh yeah, there is."

  Eve found the metal pipe in her hand. Felt her fingers curl tightly around it, her muscles bunch and brace to swing. More annoyed than surprised, she tossed it aside, leaned in, and grabbed Bowers by the front of her uniform coat. "Put your hands on me again, and I'll knock you on your fat ass. File all the complaints you want, my rep will hold. But I promise you, I'll see you out of that uniform and off the streets before I'm done. You're a fucking disgrace."

 
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