Conspiracy in death, p.3
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       Conspiracy in Death, p.3

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

  Gimp paused, pulled on his earlobe. "You think?"

  "I do. Why don't you tell her what you saw last night?"

  "Dunno what I saw." Head cocked again, Gimp began to tap the sides of his fists on the table. "People coming around. Don't see people coming around at night that way. Driving a big black car. Big fucker! Shined in the dark. They don't say nothing."

  Eve held up a finger, indicating to Trueheart she was taking over again. "How many people, Gimp?"

  "Two. Wore long black coats. Looked warm. Had masks on so all you can see over it's the eyes. I think, Hey! It ain't fucking Halloween." He broke himself up, laughing delightedly. "It ain't fucking Halloween," he repeated, snorting, "but they got masks on and they carrying bags like for trick or treat."

  "What did the bags look like?"

  "One has a nice big black one, shines, too. And the other has something else, it's white and it makes sloshy noises when he walks with it. They go right into Snooks's crib like they was invited or something. I don't hear nothing but the wind, maybe I go to sleep."

  "Did they see you?" Eve asked him.

  "Dunno. They got warm coats and good shoes, big car. You don't go thinking they gonna put a big hole in Snooks?" He leaned toward her again, his homely face earnest, tears trembling again. "If you think that, you'd try to stop them maybe, or go run for the beat droid, 'cause you're buds."

  He was crying now. Eve leaned over, laid a hand over his, despite the scabs that covered it. "You didn't know. It's not your fault. It's their fault. What else did you see?"

  "Dunno." His eyes and nose dripped like faucets. "Sleep maybe. Then maybe I woke up and looked out. No car now. Was there a car there? Dunno. It's getting light out, and I go over to see Snooks. He'll know maybe if there was a big black car. And I see him, see that big hole in him, and the blood. His mouth's wide open and his eyes, too. They put a big hole in him, and maybe they want to put one in me so I can't be there. Can't do that, no way, no how. So I have to get my stuff away from there. All my stuff right away from there. So that's what I do, you bet, and then I drink all the rest of the brew I got and go back to sleep. I didn't help old Snooks."

  "You're helping him now." Eve leaned back. "Let's talk about the two people in the long coats some more."

  • • • •

  She worked him another hour, tugging him back when he wandered too far for too long. Though she didn't slide any more information out of him, Eve didn't consider the hour wasted. He would know her now if she had to hunt him up again. He'd remember her well enough, and remember the meeting hadn't been unpleasant. Particularly since she ordered him in a hot meal and gave him fifty credits she knew he'd spend on brew and illegals.

  He should have been in Psych, she thought, or in a halfway house. But he wouldn't have stuck. She'd long ago accepted that you couldn't save everyone.

  "You did a good job with him, Trueheart."

  He blushed again, and while she found the trait a bit endearing, she hoped he learned to control it. The other cops would eat him alive before the bad guys had a chance for a nibble.

  "Thank you, sir. I appreciate you giving me a chance to help with him."

  "You found him," Eve said simply. "I figure you've got plans for yourself out of Homicide-Lite."

  This time he squared his shoulders. "I want a detective shield, when I've earned it."

  It was rare to find a uniform rookie without that particular aspiration, but she nodded. "You can start earning it by sticking. I could and would be willing to put in a plug for your transfer—see that you got another beat and another trainer. But I'm going to ask you to stay where you are. You've got good eyes, Trueheart, and I'd like you to use them on your beat until we close this case."

  He was so overwhelmed with the offer and the request, his eyes nearly popped out of his head. "I'll stick."

  "Good. Bowers is going to give you grief over this."

  He grimaced. "I'm getting used to it."

  It was an opening to ask him more, to pump him for some details on Bowers. She let it pass, not wanting to put a rookie in the position of ratting on his own trainer. "Fine, then. Go back to your station and write your report. If you come across anything you think might apply to this case, get in touch with either me or Peabody."

  She headed to her office, already issuing orders to Peabody to have the interview disc duped. "And let's get the rundown on known dealers in that area. We can't absolutely rule out the illegals connection. I can't think of a chemi-dealer who offs his deadbeat clients by surgically removing vital organs, but stranger things have happened. We'll run known cults, too," she continued as Peabody input the orders into her memo pad. "It feels wrong, but we'll give it some attention."

  "I can contact Isis," Peabody suggested, referring to a Wiccan they had dealt with on another case. "She might know if any of the black magic cults have a routine like this."

  Eve grunted, nodded, and caught the glide with Peabody beside her. "Yeah, use the connection. Let's get that angle eliminated."

  She glanced toward the window wall where the glass tubes she avoided like poison carried cops, clerks, and civilians up and down the outside of the building. Beyond them she saw a pair of air support units scream off to the west, blasting between an advertising blimp and a commuter tram.

  Inside, the pulse of the building was fast and strong. Voices, rushing feet, a crowd of bodies with jobs to do. It was a rhythm she understood. She glanced at her wrist unit, oddly pleased to see it was barely nine. She'd been on duty four hours, and the day was just getting started.

  "And let's see if we can get a real ID on the victim," she continued when they stepped off the glide. "We got his prints and DNA sample. If Morris is into the postmortem, he should at least have an approximate age."

  "I'll get right on it." Peabody swung left, heading through the bullpen as Eve turned into her office. It was small, but she preferred it that way. The single window was narrow, letting in little light and entirely too much noise from air traffic. But the AutoChef worked and was stocked with Roarke's impeccable coffee.

  She ordered a mug, then sighed as the rich, strong scent of it tickled her system. Sitting down, she engaged her tele-link with the intention of harassing Morris.

  "I know he's doing a PM," she said to the assistant who tried to block her. "I have some information for him concerning the body. Put me through."

  She leaned back in her chair, indulged herself with coffee, drummed her fingers against the mug, and waited.

  "Dallas." Morris's face swam on-screen. "You know how I hate being interrupted when I've got my hands in someone's brains."

  "I have a witness who puts two people on the scene. Big shiny car, nice shiny shoes. One carried a leather bag, the other a white bag that made—I quote—sloshy noises. Ring any bells?"

  "I hear a ding," Morris said, frowning now. "Your witness see what happened?"

  "No, he's a brewhead, slept through most of it. They were gone when he woke up, but according to the time line, he discovered the body. Would that sloshy bag be what I think it would be?"

  "Could be an organ transport sack. This is neat, professional work here, Dallas. First-rate major organ removal. I've got some of the blood work back. Your victim was given a nice, comfy dose of anesthesia. He never felt a thing. But if what's left in him is any indication, the heart was next to worthless. His liver's shot, his kidneys are a mess. His lungs are the color of a coal mine. This is not someone who bothered with anticancer vaccines or regular medical treatments. His body's full of disease. I'd have given him six months, tops, before he'd have kicked from natural causes."

  "So they took a worthless heart," Eve mused. "Maybe they figure on passing it off as a good one."

  "If it's like the rest of him, a first-year med student would spot the condition."

  "They wanted it. It's too damn much trouble to go through just to kill some sidewalk sleeper."

  Possibilities circled in her mind. Revenge, some weird cult, a black-market sc
am. Kicks, entertainment. Practice.

  "You said it was first-rate work. How many surgeons in the city could handle it?"

  "I'm a dead doctor," Morris said with a ghost of a smile. "Live ones don't run in the same circles. Snazziest private hospital in New York would be the Drake Center. I'd start there."

  "Thanks, Morris. I can use the final reports as soon as you can manage it."

  "Then let me get back to my brain." With that, he ended transmission.

  Eve turned to her computer, eyes narrowed. It was making a suspicious buzzing noise, one she'd reported twice to the jokers in maintenance. She leaned toward it, teeth bared in threat.

  "Computer, you sack of shit, search for data on the Drake Center, medical facility, New York City."


  It hiccupped, whined, and the screen flashed into an alarming red that seared the eyes. "Default to blue screen, damn it."

  Internal error. Blue screen is unavailable. Continue search?

  "I hate you." But she adjusted her eyes. "Continue search."

  Searching…The Drake Center of Medicine, located Second Avenue, New York City, established 2023 in honor of Walter C. Drake, credited with the discovery of anticancer vaccine. This is a private facility, which includes hospital and health care clinics, rated Class A by the American Medical Association, teaching and training facilities also rated Class A, as well as research and development laboratories with Class A ratings. Do you wish list of board members on all facilities?

  "Yes, on screen and hard copy."

  Working…Internal error.

  There was a distinct increase in the buzzing noise, and the screen began to shimmer.

  Please repeat command.

  "I'm going to eat those maintenance assholes for lunch."

  Command does not compute. Do you wish to order lunch?

  "Ha ha. No. List board members on all facilities of the Drake Center of Medicine."

  Working…Health Center Board: Colin Cagney, Lucille Mendez, Tia Wo, Michael Waverly, Charlotte Mira…

  "Dr. Mira," Eve murmured. It was a good connection. The doctor was one of the top criminal profilers in the city and affiliated with the New York Police and Security Department. She was also a personal friend.

  Eve drummed her fingers, listening to the names of the board of the teaching facilities. One or two vaguely rang a bell, but the ringing became louder when the computer reached the board of the research and development arm.

  Carlotta Zemway, Roarke—

  "Hold it, hold it." Her drumming fingers curled into fists. "Roarke? Damn it, damn it, damn it, can't he stay out of anything?"

  Please rephrase question.

  "Shut the hell up." Eve pressed her fingers to her eyes; sighed. "Continue list," she ordered as her stomach continued to sink. "Print out, then disengage."

  Internal error. Unable to comply with multiple commands at this time.

  She didn't scream, but she wanted to.

  After a frustrating twenty minutes of waiting for the data to dribble out, she swung through the detectives' bullpen and around to the stingy area where aides and adjutants were penned in cubicles the size of a drying tube.

  "Peabody, I have to head out."

  "I've got data incoming. Do you want me to transfer it to my portable unit?"

  "No, you stay here, finish the runs. I shouldn't be more than a couple of hours. When you're done with this, I want you to go find a hammer."

  Peabody had taken out her memo book, nearly plugged in the order, when she stopped, frowned up at Eve. "Sir? A hammer?"

  "That's right. A really big, heavy hammer. Then you take it into my office and beat that fucking useless excuse for a data spitter on my desk to dust."

  "Ah." Because she was a wise woman, Peabody cleared her throat rather than loosen the chuckle. "As an alternate to that action, Lieutenant, I could call maintenance."

  "Fine, you do that, and you tell them that at the very first opportunity, I'm coming down there and killing all of them. Mass murder. And after they're all dead, I'm going to kick the bodies around, dance on top of them, and sing a happy song. No jury will convict me."

  Because the idea of Eve singing and dancing anywhere made her lips twitch, Peabody bit the inside of her cheek. "I'll inform them of your dissatisfaction with their work."

  "You do that, Peabody." Turning on her heel, Eve shrugged into her jacket and stalked out.

  It would have been more logical for her to hunt up Mira first. As a psychiatrist, a medical doctor, a criminologist, Mira would be a valuable source on the case. But Eve drove uptown to the shimmering spear of a building that was Roarke's New York headquarters.

  There were other buildings in other cities, on and off planet. Her husband had his clever fingers in too many pies to count. Rich pies, she knew, complicated pies. And at one time, very questionable pies.

  She supposed it was inevitable that his name would pop up in connection with so many of her cases. But she didn't have to like it.

  She slipped her vehicle into the space Roarke had reserved for her in the multilevel garage. The first time she'd come there, not quite a year before, she hadn't had such privileges. Nor had her voice and palm prints been programmed onto the security system of the private elevator. Before, she had entered the main lobby with its acres of tiles, its banks of flowers, its moving map and screens, and had been escorted to his offices to interrogate him over a murder.

  Now the computerized voice greeted her by name, wished her well, and told her as she stepped in that Roarke would be informed of her visit.

  Eve jammed her hands in her pockets, paced the car on its smooth ride to the top of the spear. She imagined he was in the middle of some megadeal or complex negotiation to buy a medium-sized planet or financially strapped country. Well, he was just going to have to hold off on making his next million until she had some answers.

  When the doors whispered open, Roarke's assistant was waiting with a polite smile. As always, she was perfectly groomed, her snow-white hair sleekly styled. "Lieutenant, how nice to see you again. Roarke's in a meeting. He asked if you'd mind waiting in his office just a few moments."

  "Sure, fine, okay."

  "Can I get you anything while you're waiting?" She led Eve through the glass breezeway where New York rushed by some sixty stories below. "If you haven't had lunch, I can shift Roarke's next appointment to accommodate you."

  The quiet deference always made her feel stupid—a flaw, Eve thought, in herself. "No, this shouldn't take long. Thanks."

  "Just let me know if I can do anything for you." Discreetly, she closed the doors and left Eve alone.

  The office was huge, of course. Roarke liked his space. The sea of windows were tinted to cut the glare and offer a staggering view of the city. He also liked height—a fondness that Eve didn't share. So she didn't wander over to the window but paced the ocean of plush carpet instead.

  The trinkets in the room were clever and unique. The furnishings sleek and comfortable, in rich shades of topaz and emerald. She knew the ebony slab of desk was just one more power center for a man who exuded power like breath.

  Efficiency, elegance, power. He never lacked for any of them.

  And when, ten minutes later, he came in through a side door, it was so easy to see why.

  He could still stop her heart. Just the look of him: that glorious face, as perfectly sculpted as a Renaissance statue, was highlighted by eyes impossibly blue and a mouth designed to make a woman crave it on hers; his black hair fell nearly to his shoulders, adding just a touch of the rogue; and she knew just how strong and sleek that body was, now elegantly clad in a tailored black suit.

  "Lieutenant." Ireland whispered, silky and romantic, in his voice. "An unexpected pleasure."

  She wasn't aware she was frowning or that she often did when swamped with the heady combination of love and lust he caused in her. "I need to talk to you."

  His brow lifted as he crossed to her. "About?"

  "Ah." He had already taken her hands in his, was already leaning down for a long, slow kiss of greeting. "Am I under arrest?"

  "Your name popped up during a data search. What are you doing on the board of the Drake Center's R and D unit?"

  "Being an upstanding citizen. Being married to a cop does that to a man." He ran his hands up her arms to her shoulders, felt the tension there, and sighed. "Eve, I'm on all sorts of tedious boards and committees. Who's dead?"

  "A sidewalk sleeper named Snooks."

  "I don't believe we were acquainted. Sit down; tell me what this has to do with me being on the board of the Drake Center."

  "Possibly nothing, but I have to start somewhere." Still, she didn't sit but roamed the room.

  Roarke watched her, the restless, nervous energy that seemed to spark visibly around her. And knowing her, he understood all that energy was already focused on finding justice for the dead.

  It was only one of the reasons she fascinated him.

  "The victim's heart had been surgically removed while he was in his crib down in the Bowery," she told him. "The ME claims the procedure required a top-flight surgeon, and the Drake was my first pass."

  "Good choice. It's the best in the city, and likely the best on the East Coast." Considering, Roarke leaned back against his desk. "They took his heart?"

  "That's right. He was a brewhead, an addict. His body was worn down. Morris says the heart was no good anyway. The guy would've been dead in six months." She stopped pacing and faced him, tucking her thumbs in his front pockets. "What do you know about organ trading on the black market?"

  "It wasn't something I dabbled in, even in my more…flexible days," he added with a faint smile. "But the advances in man-made organs, the supply still available from accidental deaths, the strides in health care and organ building all have cut the market for street organs down to nothing. That area peaked about thirty years ago."

  "How much for a heart off the street?" she demanded.

  "I really don't know." His brow winged up, and a smile ghosted around that sexy poet's mouth. "Do you want me to find out?"

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