Conspiracy in death, p.31
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       Conspiracy in Death, p.31
 

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

  "What's your take on her chances?"

  "It's a damn good center. Some of the equipment looks like it should be at NASA II. She's had a fleet of doctors in and out of her room. We've got a uniform on the door twenty-four / seven." She finished off the coffee. "I heard the nurses saying that she's young and strong. Her heart and lungs are prime. The brain scans haven't shown anything to worry about yet. But you can tell they want her to come out of it. The longer she stays under, the more worried they look."

  "I have to ask you to call me if there's any change. I need to know."

  "You don't have to ask. I should get back."

  "Yeah. Tell Feeney I'm working on a couple of angles. I'll pass along anything that looks worthwhile."

  "Will do." She started out, hesitated. "I think you should know: Word is the commander's been dogging the chief. He's taken some pokes at IAB, and he's breathing down Baxter's neck to close off on Bowers. He's been over to the one-six-two to do some digging on her on his own. Basically, he's busting his ass to get you reinstated."

  Unsure how to feel, she simply stared. "I appreciate you telling me."

  "One more thing: Rosswell's personal account showed regular deposits over the last two months of ten thousand a pop. All E-transfers." Her lips curved when Eve's eyes narrowed and gleamed. "He's dirty. Feeney's already sicced Webster on him."

  "Times in nicely with Spindler's murder. Nice work." Roarke waited until she was alone before he came back in. He found her sitting on the arm of a sofa, staring down at her hands. "You've had a long day, Lieutenant."

  "Yeah." She rubbed her hands on her knees, shook off the mood, then looked at him. "I was thinking about topping it off with something special."

  "Is that so?"

  "How about a little nighttime B and E?"

  His grin flashed. "Darling. I thought you'd never ask."

  *** CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE ***

  "I'm driving."

  Roarke's hand paused as it reached for the car door, and his brow winged up. "It's my car."

  "It's my deal."

  They studied each other a minute, crowded together at the driver's side door. "Why are you driving?"

  "Because." Vaguely embarrassed, she dug her hands in her pockets. "Don't smirk."

  "I'll try to resist. Why?"

  "Because," she said again, "I drive when I'm on a case, so if I drive, it'll feel like—it'll feel official instead of criminal."

  "I see. Well, that makes perfect sense. You drive."

  She started to climb in while he circled around to the passenger side. "Are you smirking behind my back?"

  "Yes, of course." He sat, stretched out his legs. "Now, to make it really official, I should have a uniform. I'll go that far, but I refuse to wear those amazingly ugly cop shoes."

  "You're a real joker," she muttered and jerked the car into reverse, did a quick, squealing spin, and shot out of the garage.

  "Too bad this vehicle doesn't have a siren. But we can pretend nothing works on it, so you'll feel official."

  "Keep it up. Just keep it up."

  "Maybe I'll call you sir. Could be sexy." He smiled blandly when she glared at him. "Okay, I'm done. How do you want to play this?"

  "I want to get into the clinic, search for the data I sent Louise in for, and anything else interesting, then get out. Without getting caught by some beat droid. I figure with your light and sticky fingers, it should be a walk."

  "Thank you, darling."

  "That's sir to you, ace."

  She streamed through the smoke of a corner glida grill and headed south. "I can't believe I'm doing this. I must be crazy. I must have lost my mind. I keep crossing lines."

  "Think of it this way. The lines keep moving. You're just keeping up."

  "I continue keeping up this way, I'll end up wearing security bracelets. I used to go by the book. I believe in the book. Now I just rewrite the pages."

  "Either that or go back to bed and pull the covers over your head."

  "Yeah, well…we make choices. I've made mine."

  She found a second-level spot four blocks north of the Canal Street Clinic and tucked the car between a sky scooter and a dented utility truck. If anyone bothered to look, she mused, Roarke's elegant two-seater would stick out like a swan among toads, but it wasn't against the law to drive a hot-looking car in this sector.

  "I don't want to park any closer. This thing has anti-theft and anti-vandalism features, right?"

  "Naturally. Engage all security," he ordered as they climbed out. "One more thing. He reached in his pocket. "Your clutch piece…sir."

  "What the hell are you doing with this?" She snatched it from him.

  "Giving it to you."

  "You're not authorized to carry and neither am I." She hissed out a breath as he met that information with another smirk. "Just shut up," she muttered and jammed the weapon into her back pocket.

  "When we get home," he began as they walked down to street level, "you can…reprimand me."

  "Keep your mind off sex."

  "Why? It's so happy there." He laid a casual hand on her shoulder as they moved briskly down the block. The few doorway lurkers faded back, intimidated either by the steely look in Eve's eyes or the warning glint in Roarke's.

  "The place is a dump," she told him. "No palm plate, no camera. But the locks are decent. They've got to meet code because of the drugs. They'll be standard Security Reds, maybe with timers. Anti-theft alarms. Cartright caught the scene here, and she's a straight cop. There'll be a seal. I don't have my master anymore."

  "You have better." He gave her shoulder a quick rub. "You have me."

  "Yeah." She tossed him a look, saw in that fabulous face the glint that told her he was enjoying himself. "Seems like."

  "I could teach you how to get through locks."

  It was tempting, much too tempting. God, she missed the weight of her weapon, her badge. "I'll just keep a lookout for beat droids and other nuisances. If you trip the alarm, we just walk away."

  "Please. I haven't tripped an alarm since I was ten." Insulted, he turned to the door of the clinic while Eve cruised the block.

  She made two passes, lost in her own thoughts. One event, she decided, had built on another. An old resentment from academy days, a dead sleeper, a conspiracy of death, and here she was, stripped of her badge and playing lookout while the man she'd married coolly broke into a building.

  How the hell was she going to get back? How could she get back, if she didn't get started? She turned, ready to tell him to stop. And he stood, watching her, his eyes calm and blue, with the door open at his back.

  "In or out, Lieutenant?"

  "Fuck it." She strode past him and went inside.

  He locked up behind them, turned on the narrow beam of a penlight. "Where's the office?"

  "Through the back. This door works on a release from inside."

  "Hold this." He passed her the light, gestured for her to aim it at the lock. Crouching, he gave it a quick scan. "I haven't seen one of these in years. Your friend Louise was very optimistic with her half million bid."

  He took out what appeared to be a pen, unscrewed it, then flicked a finger over the tip of the long, thin wire he exposed.

  She'd known him nearly a year, had been as intimate with him as one person could be with another, and he still managed to surprise her. "You carry burglary tools around with you all the time?"

  "Well." Eyes narrowed, he slid the wire into the slot. "You just never know, do you? There she is, hang on." He finessed, turning his head to hear the seductive click of tumblers. There was a quiet buzz as locks disengaged. "After you, Lieutenant."

  "You're slick." She breezed through, leading with the light. "There's no window," she continued. "We can use the room lights. It's a manual." She switched it on, blinked to adjust.

  A quick scan showed her the sweepers had done their work, left behind their usual mess. The crime scene team's touch was evident in the sticky layer coating every surface.

&
nbsp; "They've already lifted prints, swept for fibers, hair, blood, and fluids. Won't help much. God knows how many of the staff are in and out of this room in any given day. They've got their evidence bagged and tagged, but I don't want to touch or disturb anything that doesn't need to be."

  "What you want's on the computer."

  "Yeah, or on a disc, if Louise had already found it. You start on the machine. I'll do the discs."

  When Roarke sat, making quick work of the pass-lock feature, Eve went through the discs filed on the shelf, flipping through them by the corners. Each was labeled with a patient's name. Spindler's was missing.

  Frowning, she moved to the next file, scanning through. These appeared to be records of diseases, conditions, injuries. Straight medical shit, she thought, then stopped, eyes narrowing as she read.

  The label said simply The Dallas Syndrome.

  "I knew she was a smart-ass." Eve plucked out the disc. "Damn smart. Got it."

  "I haven't finished playing."

  "Just run this," she began, then stopped to yank Roarke's porta-link out of her pocket. "Block video. Dallas."

  "Lieutenant, Peabody. Louise is awake; she asked for you. We're going to get you in, but it's got to be fast."

  "I'm there."

  "Come up the east-side stairs. I'll get you through. Step on it."

  "Close it up." Eve jammed the 'link back in her pocket. "We've got to move."

  "Already done. This time, I drive."

  It was just as well, Eve thought as she bared her teeth and hung on. She had a rep for being nerveless and occasionally reckless behind the wheel, but compared with Roarke, she was a suburban matron manning a car pool.

  She did no more than hiss when he screamed into a parking slot in the center's garage. Saving her breath, she shoved out and pounded up the east-side stairs.

  Faithful as a spaniel, Peabody yanked the door open. "Waverly's going to be back with her in a few minutes. Just give me time to bump the uniform off the door and take over for him. Feeney's already inside, but she won't talk to anyone but you."

  "What's her prognosis?"

  "I don't know yet. They're not talking." She looked up at Roarke. "I can't let you in."

  "I'll wait."

  "I'll be quick," Peabody promised. "Watch for it."

  She strode away, squaring her shoulders back to add authority. Eve moved smoothly to the end of the corridor, shifted slightly to bring Louise's door into view.

  She saw Peabody glance at her wrist unit, shrug, then jerk her thumb to indicate she'd take over duty while the uniform took a break. He didn't hesitate. Sprung, he hurried down the hallway toward food, coffee, and a chair.

  "I won't be long," Eve promised. She made the dash, slipped through the door Peabody opened.

  The room was larger than she'd expected, and the light was dim. Feeney nodded and flipped the shield on the wide window, closing off the view from outside.

  Louise was propped in the hospital bed, the bandages wrapped around her head no whiter than her cheeks. Scanners and TVs ran from her to machines and monitors that hummed and beeped and blinked with lights.

  She stirred as Eve approached the bed and opened eyes that were deeply bruised and blurry. A smile ghosted around her mouth.

  "I sure as hell earned that half million."

  "I'm sorry." Eve wrapped her fingers around the bed guard.

  "You're sorry." With a weak laugh, Louise lifted her right hand. The wrist was cased in a clear stabilizer. "Next time, you get your head bashed in, and I'll be sorry."

  "Deal."

  "I got the data. I put it on a disc. It's—"

  "I've got it." Feeling helpless, Eve leaned over, laid her hand over Louise's uninjured one. "Don't worry."

  "You've got it? What the hell did you need me for?"

  "Insurance."

  Louise sighed, closed her eyes. "I don't know how much good it'll do you. I think it goes deep. Scary. Christ, they gave me primo drugs here, I'm about to go flying."

  "Tell me who hurt you. You saw them."

  "Yeah. So stupid. I was pissed. Put the disc away for safe keeping, then figured I'd handle it myself. Confront the enemy on my turf. Fading out here, Dallas."

  "Tell me who hurt you, Louise."

  "I called her in, let it rip. Next thing…caught me off guard. Never thought…Jan. Faithful nurse. Go get the bitch for me, Dallas. I can't kick her ass until I can stand up."

  "I'll get her for you."

  "Get all the bastards," she mumbled, then drifted off.

  "She was coherent," Eve said to Feeney, hardly aware she still held Louise's hand. "She wouldn't have been that coherent if there was brain damage."

  "I'd say the lady has a hard head. Jan?" He took out his memo pad. "Nurse at the clinic? I'll pick her up."

  Eve slid her hand away, shoved it into her pocket as she battled impotence. "Will you let me know?"

  His eyes met hers over Louise. "First thing."

  "Good. Great. I'd better get out before I'm tagged." She stopped with her hand on the door. "Feeney?"

  "Yeah."

  "Peabody's a good cop."

  "That she is."

  "If I don't get back, ask Cartright to take her."

  His throat closed, so he swallowed hard. "You'll be back, Dallas."

  She turned, met his eyes again. "If I don't get back," she said evenly, "ask Cartright to take her. Peabody wants Homicide, she wants to make detective. Cartright can bring her along. Just do that for me."

  "Yeah." His shoulders slumped. "Yeah, okay. Goddamn it," he muttered when she'd slipped out the door. "Goddamn it."

  • • • •

  Roarke gave her the silence he thought she needed on the drive home. He was certain, in her mind, she was riding with Feeney and Peabody, standing beside the door of Jan's apartment, issuing the standard police order and warning.

  And because she'd need to, kicking in the door.

  "You could use some sleep," he said when they were home and inside. "But I imagine you need to work."

  "I've got to do this."

  "I know." The hurt was back in her eyes, the weariness back in her face. "I've got to do this." He drew her into his arms, held her.

  "I'm okay." But she wallowed in him, for just a moment. "I can deal with whatever happens as long as we close this one out. I couldn't accept whatever I'll have to accept if we don't put this one away."

  "You will." He stroked a hand over her hair. "We will."

  "And if I start to sulk again, just slap me around."

  "I do so enjoy beating my wife." He closed his hand over hers and started upstairs. "Best to use the unregistered equipment. I've had a unit working on searching for buried records at the lab. We may have hit."

  "I've got the disc Louise made. I didn't give it to Feeney." She waited while he uncoded the door. "He didn't ask for it."

  "You've chosen your friends well. Ah, hard at work." He glanced at the console, smiling slowly as he scanned the readouts from his scan of the lab at the Drake. "And it appears we've found something. Some interesting megabites of unregistered, unaccounted for data. I'll need to work on this. He'll have covered this well, as he did his own log, but I know how his mind travels now."

  "Can you run this on the side?" She handed him the disc. When he popped it into a secondary unit, then sat down at the main controls, she frowned. "Pop the Friend information on one of the screens. And I guess you want coffee?"

  "Actually, I'd rather a brandy. Thanks."

  She rolled her eyes and went to retrieve it. "You know, if you'd bring in some droids instead of leaving everything to that tight-assed snot Summerset—"

  "You're moving perilously close to sulking."

  She clamped her mouth shut, poured brandy, ordered coffee for herself, and sat down to work with her back to him.

  She studied the data on Westley Friend's death first. There had been no suicide note. According to his family and closest friends, he had been depressed, distracted, edgy during
the days before his death. They had assumed it was due to the stress of his work, the lecture tours, the media and advertising schedule he kept to endorse NewLife products.

  He'd been found dead in his office in the Nordick Clinic, at his desk, with the pressure syringe on the floor beside him.

  Barbs, she mused, eyes narrowed. The same method as Wo.

  There were no coincidences, she told herself. But there were patterns. There were routines.

  At the time of his death, she read, he had been heading a team of prominent doctors and researchers involved in a classified project.

  She noted with grim satisfaction that Cagney's, Wo's, and Vanderhaven's names were listed as top team members.

  Patterns, she thought again. Conspiracies.

  Just what was your secret project, Friend, and why did it kill you?

  "It goes deep," Eve murmured. "It goes long, and they're all in it."

  She turned back to Roarke. "Hard to find a killer when they come in bulk. How many of them have a part in this or knew and turned a blind eye? Close ranks." She shook her head. "And it doesn't end with doctors. We're going to find cops, politicians, executives, investors."

  "I'm sure you're right. It won't help you, Eve, to take it personally."

  "There's no other way to take it." She leaned back on the desk. "Run Louise's disc, will you?"

  Louise's voice slid out. "Dallas, looks like you owe me five hundred K. I can't say I'm positive what—"

  "Mute that, would you?" Roarke picked up his brandy and worked the keyboard one-handed. "It's distracting."

  Eve gritted her teeth, hit mute. This taking orders crap, she decided, had to stop. The sudden thought flashed that they might reinstate her but bust her down to detective or uniform. She barely resisted lowering her head to the console and screaming.

  She took a deep breath, then another. Then focused on the monitor.

  I can't say I'm positive what it all means, but I have some theories, and don't like any of them. You'll see from the records that follow that regular calls have gone out from the main 'link here at the clinic to the Drake. While we might contact some department there on occasion for a consult, there are too many, too often, and all from the main 'link. Rotation doctors use this office 'link. Only nurses and clerical staff use the main regularly. There are also calls to the Nordick in Chicago. Unless we had a patient who had used that facility and whose records would be there, we would have little reason to contact an out-of-state. Possibly, in rare cases, to reach a specialist. This same principle applies to the centers in London and Paris. You'll find only a few calls there.

 
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