Conspiracy in death, p.32
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       Conspiracy in Death, p.32
 

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

  I've checked, and the contact numbers for each facility are the organ wings. I've also checked the logs here for who was on duty when these calls were made. There's only one staff member whose schedule fits the time frame. I'm going to have a little chat with her after I file this. I can't think of an explanation she can come up with that'll satisfy me, but I'm going to give her a chance before I call the cops.

  I assume, when I do, I'm to keep your name out of it. How about a bonus? We won't call it blackmail. Ha ha.

  Get these murdering bastards, Dallas.

  Louise.

  "Didn't I tell you just to get the data?" Eve mumbled. "What the hell were you thinking, hotshot?"

  She glanced at her wrist unit, calculated that even now Feeney and Peabody would be hauling Jan's butt into interview. She thought she would cheerfully give up a decade of her life to be inside that room and in charge.

  No sulking, she reminded herself and began to scan the 'link logs when the one beside her beeped.

  "Dallas." She frowned as she saw Feeney's face. "You get Jan into interview already?"

  "No."

  "You've picked her up?"

  "More or less. She's about to be bagged and tagged. We found her in her apartment, dead and still fresh. Whoever took her out did it fast and neat. Single blow to the head. Prelim time puts it less than thirty minutes before we got to her door."

  "Hell." Eve closed her eyes a minute, shifted her thoughts. "That puts it under that same amount of time after Louise regained consciousness. Defensive wound indicated she'd seen her attacker and could identify."

  "Somebody didn't want Jan to talk." Feeney pursed his lips, nodded. "Follows."

  "That puts it back at the Drake, Feeney. Wo's out. We need to find out where the other doctors on the short list were in that hour period. You've got the security discs and logs from Jan's building."

  "Peabody's confiscating right now."

  "He wouldn't have done it himself. He's not stupid. You're going to find a droid, six two, two ten, Caucasian, brown and brown. But somebody had to activate and program."

  "Droid." Feeney nodded. "McNab hit something interesting when he scanned for data on the self-destruct units. Senator Waylan headed the subcommittee that studied their military uses."

  "I have a feeling he won't be running for another term." She rubbed her fingers over her eyes. "Check the logs for security droids at the Drake. Wake up McNab. He could run a systems check on them if you can get a warrant for it. Even if the program was wiped, he'd find the lag time. When you've…"

  She trailed off, snapping back. "Sorry," she said in a careful voice. "Just thinking out loud."

  "You think good, kid. Always have. Keep going."

  "I was going to say that in some of the research I've done, I found that Westley Friend's self-termination used the same method as Dr. Wo, and they were both—along with some of our other cast of characters—involved in some classified project at the time of his death. It seems a little too neat. Someone might want to suggest to Morris that he consider that dose was forcibly administered."

  "It was her pin found on scene."

  "Yeah, and it was the only mistake in this whole business. That's a little too neat, too."

  "Smelling goat, are you, Dallas? Scapegoat?"

  "Yeah, that's what I'm smelling. Be interesting to find out how much she knew. If I had access to her personal logs…"

  "I think I'll just wake up McNab, keep the boy busy awhile. You stand by."

  "I'm not going anywhere."

  When the transmission ended, she picked up her coffee and got up to prowl. It had to go back to Friend, she decided. Revolutionary new implant that made certain hot areas of organ research obsolete. Meaning end of funding, end of glory for those heavily involved in those areas.

  "What if a group of doctors or interested parties continued and restarted research on a covert level?" She turned to Roarke, grimaced when she noted he was manning the keyboard. "Sorry."

  "It's all right. I've got his pattern now. It's nearly routine from here." He glanced up, pleased to see her focused, restless, edgy. That, he thought, was his cop. "What's your theory?"

  "It's not one rogue doctor," she began. "Look at this little operation. I can't do this out on my own. I've got you, with your questionable skills. Feeney, Peabody, and McNab, sliding under regs and procedure to feed me data. I enlisted a doctor on the side. I've even got Nadine running research. It's too big for one cop—and a cop working outside the system—to handle alone. You need contacts, fillers, assistants, experts. There's a team, Roarke. He's got a team. We know he had the nurse. My best guess is she fed him data on patients, the kind that use the clinic or make use of the medi-van service. Sleepers, LCs, dealers, chemi-heads. Dregs," she concluded. "Vessels."

  "She contacted someone with possible donors, let's say." Roarke nodded. "Every business needs a good inside track. And this appears to be a business."

  "She passed data straight to the labs. Her contact with the outside centers could have, likely was, for verification of a hit. She'd be what you'd call middle management, I guess."

  "Close enough."

  "I bet we find she has a nice nest egg stashed. They'd pay well. We know their lab man had to be Young. Every business needs a geek, right?"

  "Can't run one otherwise."

  "The Drake's enormous, and our geek was pretty much in charge of the organ wing. He'd know just where to stash outside samples. And he had a medical license. He'd be the likely candidate to assist the surgeon, to bag the sample, to transport it back to the lab. That's two."

  She crossed to the AutoChef, getting more coffee. "Wo. Politics and administration. A skilled surgeon who enjoyed power. Former president of the AMA. She knew how to play the game. She'd have high connections. But obviously, she was also considered dispensable. Maybe she had a conscience, maybe she was getting nervous, or maybe they just sacrificed her to throw the investigation off the scent. It worked for Friend," she mused. "He wouldn't have been pleased, do you think, if he'd discovered this rogue research conspiracy. It would have cut into his profits, his glory. There go the lecture fees, the big banquets in his honor, the media hype."

  "Only if what they're doing, or hope to do, works."

  "Yeah. They're willing to kill to make it work, so why not take out the competition? It used to be organ building. Louise sort of explained it in the initial report she did for me. They took tissue from a damaged or defective organ and built a new one in the lab. Grew them in molds so the tissue'd take the right shape. That solved the rejection problem. You used the patient's own tissue so the body'd accept it and tick along. But it takes time. You just don't grow yourself a new, happy heart overnight."

  She walked back to the console, eased a hip on the edge, and watched him work as she talked it out. "They do that kind of thing in vitro. You got like nine months to deal there. You can grow the bad part back or repair it.

  "Then Friend comes along," she continued. "Building and brokering organs has been the thing. It's tough to grow them for anyone over—I forget—like ninety because of the timing and the age of the tissue. Takes weeks to grow a new bladder and you've got to do molding and layering and stuff. A lot of work, a lot of money to order one up. But Friend comes up with this artificial material that the body accepts. It's cheap, it's durable, and it can be molded to order. Mass-produced. Applause, applause, let's all live forever."

  He glanced up at that, had to grin. "Don't you want to?"

  "Not with a bunch of interchangeable spare parts. But anyhow, he gets carried through the streets, the crowd roars and throws buckets of money and adulation at him. And the guys doing organ building and reconstruction research are shoved right out into the cold. Who wants to hang around peeing in a diaper while their new bladder's growing in some lab when they can pop into surgery, get a new, improved one, and be peeing like a champ inside a week?"

  "Agreed. And that manufacturing arm of Roarke Industries thanks the full bladders ev
erywhere. But since everyone's happy this way, what good will this little group of mad scientists prove by continuing their work?"

  "You keep your own," she said simply. "Medically, it's probably some major miracle—regeneration—like the Frankenstein guy. Here's this half-dead, messed-up heart. Not gonna tick much longer. But what if it can be fixed, completely, like new? You got the part you were born with, not some piece of foreign matter. The Conservative party, which includes Senator Waylan, would dance in the street. Plenty of them have artificial tickers, but they like to stomp around every few years and talk about how it's against the rules of God and humankind to prolong life by artificial means."

  "Darling, you've been reading the papers. I'm so impressed."

  "Kiss my ass." And it felt good to grin. "I'm betting when Nadine gets in touch, she'll tell me Waylan stands against artificial life aids. You know, the 'if God didn't give it to you, it's immoral' line."

  "NewLife routinely deals with protests from natural-life groups. I imagine we'll find the senator supports their stand."

  "Yeah, and if he can make a few bucks running interference for a group who promises a new medical and natural miracle, so to speak, so much the better. It would have to be a quick procedure. It couldn't be risky to the patient," she went on. "They'd never outdo the implant unless what they do is as convenient and as successful. Business," she said again. "Profit. Glory. Votes."

  "Agreed, again. I'd say they've been working with animal organs up until recently. They must have reached a level of success with that."

  "Then they moved up the evolutionary scale. Kept low on it from their viewpoint. Scum, as Cagney put it."

  "I'm in," he said mildly and had her blinking.

  "In what? In? What've you got? Let me see."

  Even as she dashed around the console, he ordered data on-screen. When he pulled her neatly onto his lap, she was too distracted for even a token protest.

  "Neat as a pin," she murmured. "Names, dates, procedures, results. Jesus Christ, Roarke, they're all there."

  Jasper Mott, October 15, 2058, heart sample successfully removed. Evaluation concurred with previous diagnosis. Organ severely damaged, enlarged. Estimated period until termination, one year.

  Logged as donor organ K-489.

  Regeneration procedure begun October 16.

  She bypassed the rest, focused on her case, her first victim, Snooks.

  Samuel M. Petrinsky, January 12, 2059, heart sample successfully removed. Evaluation concurred with previous diagnosis. Organ severely damaged, arteries brittle and clogged, cancer cells stage two. Sample enlarged, estimated period until termination, three months.

  Logged as brokered organ S-351.

  Regeneration procedure begun January 13.

  She skimmed down the rest, out of her depth with the medical jargon. But the last line was easily understood.

  Procedure unsuccessful. Sample terminated and disposed of, January 15.

  "They stole three months of his life, then failed and tossed his heart away."

  "Look at the last one, Eve."

  She noted the name—Jilessa Brown—the date, the sample removed.

  January 25. Preliminary regeneration successful. Stage two begun. Sample responding to injection and stimuli. Noticeable regrowth of healthy cells. Stage three begun January 26. Naked eye exam shows pinkening of tissue. Sample fully regenerated within thirty-six hours of first injection. All scans and evaluations conclude sample is healthy. No indication of disease. Aging process successfully reversed. Organ fully functional.

  "Well." Eve drew a deep breath. "Applause, applause. Now let's fry their asses."

  • • • •

  I have done it. Through skill and patience and power, through a judicious use of fine minds and greedy hearts, I have succeeded. Life, essentially endless, is within my reach.

  It remains only to repeat the process again, continue the documentation.

  My heart trembles, but my hands are steady. They are ever steady. I can look at them and see how perfect they are. Elegant, strong, like works of art carved by divine hands. I've held beating hearts in these hands, have slipped them delicately into the human body to repair, to improve, to prolong life.

  Now, finally, I have conquered death.

  Some of those fine minds will have regrets, will ask questions, will even doubt the steps that had to be taken now that the goal has been reached. I will not. Great strides often crush even the innocent under the heel.

  If lives were lost, we will consider them martyrs to the greater good. Nothing more, nothing less.

  Some of those greedy hearts will wheedle and whine, will demand more and calculate how to gain it. Let them. There will be enough for even the most avaricious among them.

  And there will be some who will debate the meaning of what I've done, the means by which it was accomplished, and the use of the process. In the end, they'll shove and elbow their way in line, desperate for what I can give them.

  And pay whatever is asked.

  Within a year, my name will be on the lips of kings and presidents. Glory, fame, wealth, power. They are at my fingertips. What fate once stole from me I have snatched back tenfold. Grand health centers, cathedrals to the art of medicine, will be built for me in every city, in every country on this planet, and everywhere man races to beat death.

  Humanity will cannonize me. The saint of their survival.

  God is dead, and I am His replacement.

  *** CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO ***

  How to do it was problematic. She could copy the data and send it to Feeney along the same route she had the other information. He'd have it in hand the next day. It would be enough for a warrant, for search and seizure, to drag high-level staff members into interview.

  It was a way, a completely unsatisfying way.

  She could go to the Drake Center herself, punch her way into the lab, record the data, the samples, pound on high-level staff members until they spilled their guts.

  It was not the way, but it would have been very satisfying.

  She tapped the disc she'd copied on her palm. "Feeney will close it within forty-eight hours, once he has this. It may take longer to round up everyone involved on at least two continents. But it'll stop."

  "We'll put it in overnight now." He laid his hands on her shoulders, massaged the tension and fatigue. "I know it's hard not being there at the end of it. You can comfort yourself knowing there wouldn't be an end in a couple of days unless you'd found the answers. You're a hell of a cop, Eve."

  "I was."

  "Are. Your test results and Mira's evaluation will put you back where you belong. On the other side of the line." He leaned down, kissed her. "I'll miss you."

  It made her smile. "You manage to wiggle in, whichever side of the line I'm on. Let's get this data on its way. Then we'll watch the cleanup on-screen in a day or two, like normal citizens."

  "Wear your coat this time."

  "My coat's trash," she reminded him as they came down the stairs.

  "You have another." He opened a door, took out a long sweep of bronze cashmere. "It's too cold for your jacket."

  Eyeing him, she fingered the sleeve. "What, do you have some droids in a room somewhere manufacturing these?"

  "In a manner of speaking. Gloves in the pocket," he reminded her and shrugged on his own coat.

  She had to admit, it was nice to be wrapped in something warm and soft against the bitter air."Once we dump this data, let's come back, get naked, and crawl all over each other."

  "Sounds like a plan."

  "And tomorrow, you go back to work and stop hovering."

  "I don't believe I've been hovering. I believe I've been playing Nick to your Nora, and quite well."

  "Nick who?"

  "Charles, darling. We're going to have to spend time educating you in the entertainment value of classic early-twentieth-century cinema."

  "I don't know where you find time for that stuff. It must be because you don't sleep like a regula
r human being. You're out there piling up billions and buying small worlds and—which reminds me, we need to discuss this idiotic idea of yours about stuffing money in some account for me. I want you to take it back."

  "All five million plus, or less the half million you're donating to the Canal Street Clinic?"

  "Don't get smart with me, pal. I married you for your body, not your bucks."

  "Darling Eve, that's so touching. And all the while I thought it was my coffee connection."

  Love could swamp her at the oddest times, she realized. "That didn't hurt. Tomorrow, you do whatever it is you do to zap it back out and close it down. And next time you…Louise. Oh Christ. Head to the Drake! Head there now! Damn it, how did this slip by us?"

  He punched up speed, clipped the curb at the corner. "You think they'll go after her?"

  "They took out Jan. They can't let Louise talk." Ignoring jams and privacy, she used the car 'link and tagged Feeney on his communicator.

  "Get to the Drake," she told him. "Get to Louise. I'm on my way, ETA five minutes. They'll go for her, Feeney. They've got to go for her. She had data."

  "We'll head out. She's under guard, Dallas."

  "It won't matter. The uniform won't question a doctor. Contact him, Feeney, tell him not to let anyone in that room."

  "Confirmed. Our ETA fifteen minutes."

  "We'll be there in two," Roarke promised her as he flew across town. "Waverly?"

  "Current president of AMA, chief of surgery, organ specialist, board member. Affiliated with several top-level centers worldwide." She slapped a hand on the dash to keep her balance when he swung into the garage. "Cagney—he's her uncle, but he's chief of staff, chairman, and one of the most respected surgeons in the country. Hans Vanderhaven, international connections. God knows where he is right now. If not them, there are others who can walk right in and get to her without anyone blinking twice. There must be a dozen ways to off a patient, then cover the tracks."

 
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