Conspiracy in death, p.6
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       Conspiracy in Death, p.6
 

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

  Roarke didn't bother to mention she'd put the plates in backwards and had neglected to give the machine any orders. The kitchen wasn't Eve's turf, he thought. And Summerset would deal with it.

  "Let's go up to my office. I have something for you."

  Wary suspicion narrowed her eyes. "I told you after Christmas, no more presents."

  "I like giving you presents," he said and opted for the elevator rather than the stairs. He trailed a fingertip down the sleeve of the cashmere sweater he'd given her. "I like seeing them on you. But this isn't that kind of present."

  "I've got work. Time to make up."

  "Mmm-hmm."

  She shifted her stance as the elevator glided from vertical to horizontal mode. "It's not a trip or anything? I can't take off after I lost all those days due to injury last fall."

  The hand he'd laid lightly on her shoulder flexed into a fist before he could control it. She'd been badly hurt a few months earlier, and he didn't care to be reminded of it. "No, it's not a trip." Though he intended to drag her away for at least a couple of days to the tropics as soon as their schedules allowed.

  She relaxed at the beach, he thought, the way she seemed to nowhere else.

  "Okay, then what? Because I really have to put in a couple of hours."

  "Get us some coffee, will you?" He said it carelessly as he stepped out into his office. And made her grind her teeth. She had to remind herself that he'd let her vent her frustrations, that he'd listened to her side of things. And he'd offered to hold her coat.

  But her teeth were still clamped together in annoyance when she set the coffee on his console.

  He gave her an absent hum of thanks and was already fiddling with controls. He could have just used voice command, she knew, but he often liked to work his machines—toys, she often thought—manually. Keeping those clever, one-time thief's fingers nimble, she mused now.

  His home office suited him as much as his plush headquarters did. The sleek console with colorful controls and lights was an excellent frame for him when he slid into the deep U to work.

  In addition to the jazzy technology, the faxes and communications, the holo options and screens, there was an elegance to the room, the kind that seemed to walk hand in hand with him whether he was in a boardroom or an alley.

  The gorgeous tiles of the floor, the expansive windows clear-treated for privacy, the scattering of art and artifact, the streamlined machines and cabinets that would offer exclusive food or drink at the most careless command.

  It was, she thought, occasionally disconcerting to look at him in here, while he worked. To see over and over again how gorgeous he was and know he belonged to her. It tended to weaken her at the oddest moments. Because it weakened her now, she made her voice cold and sharp.

  "Want dessert, too?"

  "Maybe later." His gaze glanced over her face before he nodded to the opposing wall. "On screens."

  "What?"

  "Your list of surgeons, along with personal and professional data."

  She whirled around, then back so quickly she would have knocked his coffee onto his controls if he hadn't snatched it out of the way in time. "Careful, darling."

  "Damn it, Roarke. Damn it! I told you specifically to stay out of this."

  "Did you?" In direct contrast to hers, his voice was mild and amused. "It would appear I disobeyed."

  "This is my job, and I know how to do it. I don't want you running names and accessing data."

  "I see. Well." He passed his hand over something and the screens across the room went blank. "All gone," he said cheerfully and watched, with delight, as her mouth dropped open. "I'll just catch up on my reading while you spend the next hour or so accessing the data I already had for you. That makes sense."

  She could think of nothing to say that wouldn't sound idiotic, so she merely made frustrated sounds. It would indeed take her an hour, minimum, and in all likelihood, she wouldn't be able to go as deep as he had. "You think you're so damn smart."

  "Aren't I?"

  She managed to choke back a laugh and folded her arms. "Bring it back. You can bring it back."

  "Of course, but now it'll cost you." He angled his head, crooked a finger.

  Pride fought with expediency. As always, the job won, but she kept a scowl on her face as she skirted the console and joined him behind it. "What?" she demanded, then swore when he yanked her onto his lap. "I'm not playing any of your perverted games, pal."

  "And I had such hopes." He passed a hand over the controls again, and the data popped back on the screens. "There are seven surgeons in the city who meet the requirements of your case."

  "How do you know the requirements? I didn't get that specific when I saw you today." She turned her head until they were nose to nose. "Did you poke into my case files?"

  "I'm not going to answer that without counsel present. Your witness indicated two people," he continued while she studied him with narrowed eyes. "I'm assuming you're not ruling out women."

  "Do I poke into your files?" she demanded, jabbing a finger into his shoulder to emphasize each word. "Do I go sneaking around into your stock options or whatever?"

  She couldn't access his files with a homemade boomer, but he only smiled. "My life's an open book for you, darling." Since it was there, he caught her bottom lip between his teeth and tugged gently. "Would you like to see the video record of my last board meeting?"

  She would have told him to bite her, but he already had. "Never mind." She turned around again and tried not to be overly pleased when his arms came cozily around her. Still, she leaned back against him and settled in. "Tia Wo, general surgeon with specialty in organ transplant and repair, private practice, affiliated with Drake, East Side Surgery, and the Nordick Clinic, Chicago."

  Eve read the initial data thoughtfully. "Description and visual on-screen. She's six foot," Eve noted, "and hefty. Easy for a brewhead to mistake her for a man in the dark, especially if she was wearing a long coat. What do we know about Dr. Wo?"

  Responding to her voice command, the computer began to list details while Eve studied the image of an unsmiling woman of fifty-eight with straight, dark hair; cool, blue eyes; and a sharply pointed chin.

  Her education had been excellent, her training superior. And her nearly thirty years as an organ plucker had earned her a dazzling annual salary, which she supplemented by endorsing the products of NewLife Organ Replacement, Inc. A manufacturing firm that, Eve noted with barely a sigh, was owned and operated by Roarke Enterprises.

  She'd been twice divorced, once from a man, once from a woman, and had held single status for the last six years. She had no children, no criminal record, and only three malpractice suits pending.

  "Do you know her?" Eve asked.

  "Hmm. Very slightly. Cold, ambitious, very focused. She's reputed to have the hands of a god and the mind of a machine. As you see, she was president of the American Medical Association five years ago. She is a powerful woman in her field."

  "She looks like she'd enjoy cutting people open," Eve murmured.

  "So I'd imagine. Why else do it?"

  She jerked a shoulder and requested the rest of the names. She studied them in turn: data, faces.

  "How many of these people do you know?"

  "All of them," Roarke told her. "In a disconnected, social way for the most part. Fortunately, I've never required their professional services."

  And his instincts, Eve thought, were as sharp as his health. "Who's the most powerful here?"

  "Power, that would be Cagney, Wo, Waverly."

  "Michael Waverly," she murmured, calling back his data. "Forty-eight, single, chief of surgery at Drake and current president of the AMA." She studied the elegant face, the intense green eyes, and the golden mane of hair.

  "Who's the most arrogant?" she asked Roarke.

  "I believe that's a requirement of all surgeons, but if I had to choose degrees, I'd go for Wo again, certainly Waverly, and toss in Hans Vanderhaven—head of research at Drak
e, another organ plucker affiliated with the top three health centers in the country, with solid connections abroad. He's about sixty-five and on his forth marriage. Each successive wife goes down a decade in age. This one's a former body sculpting model and barely old enough to vote."

  "I wasn't asking for gossip," Eve said, rather primly, then caved. "What else?"

  "His former wives hate his guts. The last one tried to perform a little impromptu surgery on him with a nail file when she discovered him playing doctor with the model. The AMA's Morals Board wagged their finger at him over it, and did little else."

  "Those are the ones I'll look at first," she decided. "What was done to Snooks took arrogance and power as well as skill."

  "You're going to run into a lot of walls on this one, Eve. They'll close ranks on you."

  "I've got murder one, with body mutilation and organ theft backing it." She dragged her hands through her hair. "When the heat's turned up high enough, people roll over. If one of these slicers knows something, I'll get it out of them."

  "If you want a more personal look, we can attend the Drake Center's fundraiser fashion show and dinner dance at the end of the week."

  She winced. She'd rather have gone bare-knuckled with a Zeus addict. "Fashion show." She suppressed a shudder. "Whoopee. Yeah, we'll do that, but I should put in for distress pay."

  "Leonardo's one of the designers," he told her. "Mavis will be there."

  The thought of her free-wheeling, uniquely stylish friend at a stuffy medical fundraiser perked Eve up. "Wait until they get a load of her."

  • • • •

  If it hadn't been for the Bowers situation, the following day Eve would have opted to work in her home office on a computer that didn't give her grief. But as a matter of pride, she wanted to be visible at Cop Central when the buzz started.

  She spent the morning in court giving testimony on a case she'd closed some months before and arrived at Central just after one. Her first move was to hunt up Peabody. Rather than go straight to her office and put out a call on her communicator, Eve walked through the detective's bullpen.

  "Hey, Dallas." Baxter, one of the detectives who most enjoyed razzing, her, sent her a wink and a grin. "Hope you kick her ass."

  It was, Eve knew, a show of support. Though it cheered her, she shrugged and kept moving. A few other comments were tossed out from desks and cubicles, all running on the same theme. The first order of business when a finger was pointed at one of their own was to break the finger.

  "Dallas." Ian McNab, an up-and-coming detective assigned to the Electronic Detective Division, loitered outside Peabody's cubicle. He was pretty as a picture with his long golden hair braided back, six silver dangles in his left ear, and a cheerful smile on his face. Eve had worked with him on a couple of cases and knew under the pretty-boy exterior and chatterbox mouth hid a quick brain and steady instincts.

  "Things slow in EDD, McNab?"

  "Never." He flashed his grin. "I just did a search and run for one of your boys here, thought I'd harass Peabody before I headed back to where real cops work."

  "Would you get this pimple off my butt, Lieutenant?" Peabody complained, and she did indeed look harassed.

  "I haven't touched her butt. Yet." McNab smiled. Irritating Peabody was one of his favorite pastimes. "Thought maybe you could use a little E-work on this problem you've got."

  Well able to read between the lines, Eve lifted a brow. He was offering to bypass channels and dig into Bowers. "I'm handling it, thanks. I need Peabody, McNab. Shoo."

  "Your call." He glanced back into the cubicle, leered. "Catch you later, She-Body." Even as she hissed at him, he swaggered away, whistling.

  "Jerk," was all Peabody could say as she got to her feet. "My reports are filed, Lieutenant. The ME's findings came in an hour ago and are waiting for you."

  "Shoot everything pertaining to the current homicide down to Dr. Mira. Her office is squeezing me in on a quick consult. Add this," she said, passing Peabody a disc. "It's a list of the top surgeons in the city. Clean up as much of the paperwork as you can in the next couple of hours. We're going back to the scene."

  "Yes, sir. Are you okay?"

  "I haven't got time to worry about idiots." Eve turned and headed for her office.

  And there she found a message from the idiots in maintenance telling her there was nothing wrong with her equipment. She was reduced to scowling as she engaged her tele-link to contact Feeney in EDD.

  His comfortably rumpled face filled her screen and helped her ignore the whiny buzz on audio.

  "Dallas, what is this pile of shit? Who the hell is Bowers? And why are you letting her live?"

  She had to smile. There was no one more reliable than Feeney. "I don't have time to waste on her. I've got a dead sidewalk sleeper missing his heart."

  "Missing his heart?" Feeney's ragged, rust-colored eyebrows shot up. "Why didn't I hear that?"

  "Must be slipping," she said easily. "And it's more fun to gossip about cops squaring off against each other than one more dead sleeper. But this one's interesting. Let me give you the rundown."

  She told him, in that quick, formal shorthand cops use like a second language. Feeney nodded, pursed his lips, shook his head, grunted. "Life just gets sicker," he said when she'd finished. "What do you need?"

  "Can you do a quick like-crimes check for me?"

  "City, national, international, interplanetary?"

  She tried a winning smile. "All? As much as you can by end of shift?"

  His habitually morose face only drooped a bit more. "You never ask for the little things, kid. Yeah, we'll get on it."

  "Appreciate it. I'd hit IRCCA myself," she continued, referring to one of Feeney's loves, the International Resource Center on Criminal Activity, "but my equipment's acting up again."

  "Wouldn't if you'd treat it with some respect."

  "Easy for you to say when EDD gets all the prime stuff. I'm going to be in the field later. If you get any hits, get in touch."

  "If there's anything to hit, I'll have it. Later," he said and disconnected.

  She took the time to study Morris's final report, found no surprises or new data. So Snooks could go home to Wisconsin, she thought, with the daughter he hadn't seen in thirty years. Was it sadder, she wondered, that he'd chosen to live the last part of his life without anyone, cut off from family, cut off from his past?

  Though it hadn't been a matter of choice, she'd done the same. But that break, that amputation from what had been, had made her who she was. Had it done the same for him, in the most pathetic of ways?

  Shaking it off, she coaxed her machine—by ramming it twice with her fist—to spill out the list of dealers and chemi-heads from the area surrounding the crime scene. And a single name made her smile, thin and sharp.

  Good old Ledo, she mused, and sat back in her chair. She had thought the long-time dealer of smoke and Jazz had been a guest of the state. Apparently, he'd been kicked three months before.

  It wouldn't be hard to track Ledo down, she decided, and to coax him—in the same manner she'd used with her equipment if necessary—to chat.

  But Mira came first. Gathering up what she would need for both interviews, Eve started out of her office. She tagged Peabody en route and ordered her aide to meet her in the garage at the vehicle in one hour.

  • • • •

  Mira's office might have been a clearinghouse for emotional and mental problems. It might have been a center for the dissemination, examination, and analysis of the criminal mind, but it was always soothing, elegant, and classy.

  Eve had never worked out how it could be both. Or how the doctor herself could work day after day with the worst that society spat out and still maintain her calm, unruffled poise.

  Eve considered her the only genuine and complete lady she knew.

  She was a trim woman with sable-colored hair waving back from a quietly lovely face. She favored slim, softly colored suits and such classic ornamentations as a single
strand of pearls.

  She wore one today, with discreet pearl drops at her ears, to accessorize a collarless suit in pale pine green. As usual, she gestured Eve to one of her scoop-shaped chairs and ordered tea from her AutoChef.

  "How are you, Eve?"

  "Okay." Eve always had to remember to change gears when meeting with Mira. The atmosphere, the woman, the attitude didn't allow her to dive straight into business. The little things mattered to Mira. And, over time, Mira had come to matter to Eve. She accepted the tea she would pretend to drink. "Ah, how was your vacation?"

  Mira smiled, pleased Eve remembered she'd been away for a few days, and had thought to ask. "It was marvelous. Nothing revitalizes body and soul quite so much as a week at a spa. I was rubbed, scrubbed, polished, and pampered." She laughed and sipped her tea. "You'd have hated every minute of it."

  Mira crossed her legs, balancing her delicate cup and saucer one-handed with a casual grace Eve decided some women were simply born with. The feminine floral china always made her feel clumsy.

  "Eve, I've heard about this difficulty you're having with one of the uniforms. I'm sorry for it."

  "It doesn't amount to anything," Eve said, then breathed a sigh. This was, after all, Mira. "It pissed me off. She's a sloppy cop with an attitude, and now she's put a blotch on my record."

  "I know how much that record means to you." Mira leaned forward, touched her hand to Eve's. "You should know that the higher you rise and the more your reputation shines, the more a certain type of person will want to tarnish it. This won't. I can't say much, as it's privileged, but I will tell you that this particular officer has a reputation for frivolous complaints and is not taken seriously in most cases."

  Eve's gaze sharpened. "You've tested her?"

  Inclining her head, Mira lifted a brow. "I can't comment on that." But she made certain Eve knew the answer was affirmative. "I simply want, as a friend and a colleague, to offer you my complete support. Now…" She sat back again, sipped her tea again. "On to your case."

  Eve brooded for a minute before reminding herself that her personal business couldn't interfere with the job. "The killer has to be trained, and highly skilled, in laser surgery and organ removal."

 
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