Conspiracy in death, p.7
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       Conspiracy in Death, p.7
 

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

  "Yes, I read Dr. Morris's conclusions and agree. This doesn't, however, mean you're looking for a member of the medical community." She held up a finger before Eve could protest. "He could be retired or he could have, as many, many surgeons do, burnt out. Quite obviously he's lost his way, or he would never have violated the most sacred of oaths and taken a life. Whether or not he's licensed and practicing, I can't tell you."

  "But you agree that if not now, at one time he was."

  "Yes. Undoubtedly, based on your findings at scene and Morris's postmortem, you're looking for someone with specific skills that require years of training and practice."

  Considering, Eve angled her head. "And what would you say about the type of person who could coldly and skillfully murder an essentially dying man for an essentially worthless organ, then save the next patient under his care on the table in the operating room?"

  "I would say it's a possible type of megalomania. The God complex many doctors possess. And very often need to possess," she added, "in order to have the courage, even the arrogance to cut into the human body."

  "Those who do, enjoy it."

  "Enjoy?" Mira made a humming sound. "Perhaps. I know you don't care for doctors, but most have a vocation, a great need to heal. In any highly skilled profession there are those who are…brusque," she said. "Those who forget humility." She smiled a little. "It isn't your humility that makes you an excellent cop but your innate belief in your own talent for the job."

  "Okay." Accepting that, Eve sat back, nodded.

  "However, it's also your compassion that keeps you from forgetting why the job matters. Others in your field and in mine lose that."

  "With cops who do, the job becomes routine, with maybe a little power tweaked in," Eve commented. "With doctors, you'd have to add money."

  "Money's a motivator," Mira agreed. "But it takes years for a doctor to pay back the financial investment in his education and training. There are other, more immediate compensations. Saving lives is a powerful thing, Eve, having the talent, the skill to do so is for some a kind of burst of light. How can they be like others when they've put their hands into a human body and healed it?"

  She paused, sipped contemplatively at her tea. "And for some among that personality type," she continued in her soft, soothing voice, "there can and often is the defense of emotional distance. This is not a human under my scalpel, but a patient, a case."

  "Cops do the same."

  Mira looked straight into Eve's eyes. "Not all cops. And the ones who don't, who can't, might suffer, but they make much more of a difference. In this investigation, I think we can agree straight off on some basic points. You are not looking for someone with a personal grudge against the victim. He is not driven by rage or violence. He is controlled, purposeful, organized, and detached."

  "Wouldn't any surgeon have to be?" Eve asked.

  "Yes. He performed an operation, successfully, for his purpose. He cares about his work, demonstrated by the time and effort he took in the operation. Organ removal and transplant is well out of my field, but I am aware that when the donor's life is not a concern, such a procedure doesn't require this kind of meticulous care. The careful incision, the sealing of the wound. He's proud of what he is, very likely past the point of arrogance. He is not afraid of consequences, in my opinion, because he doesn't believe there will be any. He is above that."

  "He doesn't fear being caught?"

  "No, he doesn't. Or he feels protected in the event his actions are discovered. I would conclude that he is successful—whether he is now actively practicing or not—secure, devoted to his task, and very likely enjoys some prominence in his circle."

  Mira sipped her tea again, frowned. "I should say they. Your report stated there were two involved. I would think it would be standard practice to bring an anesthesiologist or trained assistant to handle that end of the procedure, or a second surgeon with some knowledge of anesthesia to assist."

  "They didn't have to worry about the patient surviving, Eve pointed out. "But I'd think he wouldn't settle for anyone but the best. And it would have to be someone he trusted."

  "Or controlled. Someone he knew was loyal to the purpose."

  Eve lifted her cup, then had to control a wince when she remembered it wasn't coffee. "What's the purpose?"

  "As to the motive behind taking the heart, I only see two avenues. One is profit, which seems very narrow, given Dr. Morris's evaluation of the victim's overall health. The second would be experimentation."

  "What kind of experiments?"

  Mira lifted a hand, waved it vaguely. "I don't know, but I'll tell you, as a doctor myself, the possibility frightens me. During the height of the Urban Wars, illegal experimentation on the dead and dying was quietly accepted. It wasn't the first time in history atrocities were commonplace, but one always hopes it would be the last. The justification then was that so much could be learned, other lives saved, but there is no justification."

  She set her tea aside, folded her hands on her lap. "I'm praying, Eve, that this is an isolated incident. Because if it's not, what you're dealing with is more dangerous than murder. You could be dealing with a mission, cloaked under a veil of the greater good."

  "Sacrifice the few to save the many?" Eve shook her head slowly. "It's a stand that's been taken before. It always crumbles."

  "Yes." There was something of pity and something of fear in Mira's quiet eyes. "But never soon enough."

  *** CHAPTER FIVE ***

  Most people were creatures of habit. Eve figured a second rate chemi-dealer who enjoyed gobbling up his own products would follow the rule. If memory served, Ledo liked to spend his worthless days fleecing suckers at Compu-Pool or Sexcapades at a nasty little joint called Gametown.

  She didn't think a few years in a cage would have changed his recreational choices.

  In the bowels of downtown, the buildings were slicked with filth, the streets scattered with it. After a recycling crew had been attacked, their bones broken and their truck destroyed, the union had crossed this four-block section off the list. There wasn't a city employee who ventured into what was known as the Square without combat gear and stunners. It was in their contract.

  Eve wore a riot vest under her jacket and had ordered Peabody to do the same. It wouldn't keep them from getting their throats slit, but it would stop a knife to the heart.

  "Put your stunner on wide range," Eve ordered, and though Peabody exhaled sharply, she said nothing.

  Her run on cults that linked any knowns to the type of murder they were investigating had turned up nothing. She'd been relieved. Having dealt with that kind of terror and butchery once, Peabody knew she'd live happily never having to deal with it again.

  But as they drove into the Square, she thought she'd take a few bloodthirsty Satan worshipers over the residents of this sector any day of the week.

  The streets weren't empty, but they were quiet. Action here waited for dark. The few who loitered in doorways or roamed the sidewalks did so with their eyes sharp and moving, their hands in pockets that held a weapon of choice.

  Midway down a block, a Rapid Cab rested on its roof like an upturned turtle. Its windows were smashed, its tires stripped, and several interesting sexual suggestions had already been spray painted over its sides.

  "Driver must have been brain damaged to bring a fare down here," Eve muttered as she swung around the abandoned cab.

  "What does that make us?" Peabody asked.

  "Tough-ass cops." Eve grinned and noted that while the graffiti looked very fresh, there were no signs of blood.

  Eve spotted two beat droids in full riot gear making their pass in an armored black and white. She flagged them, holding her badge to the window.

  "The driver make it out?"

  "We were in the vicinity and dispersed the crowd." The droid in the passenger's seat smiled just a little. Occasionally some E-man programmed a beat droid with a sense of humor. "We secured the driver and transported him to the edge of
the sector."

  "Cab's a dead loss," she commented, then forgot it. "You know Ledo?"

  "Sir." The droid nodded. "Convicted illegals manufacturer and distributor." That faint smile again. "Rehabilitated."

  "Yeah, right. He's a pillar of the community now. He still hang down in Gametown?"

  "It is his known area of amusement."

  "I'm leaving my car here. I want it in one piece when I get back." She activated all anti-theft and vandalism alarms and deterrents, then stepped out and chose her mark.

  He was lanky, mean-eyed, and sipping mechanically from a brown brew bottle as he leaned against a scarred steel wall decorated with various suggestions on sexual activities that ran along the same lines as those decorating the overturned cab. Several were misspelled, but the visual aids weren't bad.

  As Peabody fought to keep her heart from blocking her throat, Eve strode up to him, leaned into his face. "You see that car?"

  His mouth turned up in a sneer. "Looks like a cop-bitch car to me."

  "That's right." She caught his free hand by the wrist, twisting it hard before he could reach into his pocket. "And if I come back and see that anybody's messed with it, this cop-bitch is going to kick your balls into your throat, then tie them around your neck and choke you with them. You got that?"

  He wasn't sneering now. Color had flooded into his cheeks, rage shined in his eyes. But he nodded.

  "Good." She released him, stepped back, then turned and walked away without looking back.

  "Jesus, Dallas, Jesus. Why did you do that?"

  "Because now he's got an investment in making sure we've got transpo when we leave. That type doesn't mess with cops. He just thinks mean thoughts. Usually," Eve added with a wicked grin as they started down the dirty metal stairs to the underground.

  "That's a joke, right? Ha ha?" Peabody's fingers twitched over the weapon strapped to her side.

  "Watch your back," Eve said mildly as they plunged into the gloomy, urine-colored light of New York's underbelly.

  Slime, Eve mused, had to breed somewhere. This was ripe ground for it. Below the streets, out of the air, into the deep, dank world of unlicensed whores and doomed addicts.

  Every few years, the mayor's office made noises about cleaning up the underground. Every few years, the talk channels on-screen debated and condemned. Occasionally, a quick, half-assed police and security sweep was employed, a handful of losers picked up and tossed in cages, some of the worst of the joints shut down for a day or two.

  She'd been on one of those sweeps during her days in uniform, and she hadn't forgotten the bowel-loosening terror, the screams, the flash of blades or stink of homemade boomers.

  She hadn't forgotten that Feeney had been her trainer then as she was Peabody's now. And he'd gotten her through it whole.

  Now she kept her pace brisk while her gaze scanned side to side.

  Music echoed: harsh, clashing sounds that battered the walls and the closed doors of the clubs. The tunnels weren't heated, not any longer, and her breath whooshed out in white puffs and vanished into the yellow light.

  A used-up whore in a ragged peacoat completed financial transactions with a used-up John. Both eyed her, then Peabody's uniform before slinking away to get to the heart of the deal.

  Someone had built a barrel fire in one of the spit-narrow alleyways. Men huddled around it, exchanging credits for little packs of illegals. All movement stopped when she came to the head of the alley, but she kept walking by.

  She could have risked broken bones and blood, called for backup, rousted them. And they or others like them would have been dealing death over the smelly fire by nightfall.

  She'd learned to accept that not everything could be changed, not everything could be fixed.

  She followed the snake of the tunnel, then paused to study the flashing lights of Gametown. The murky reds and blues didn't look celebrational, pumping against the sickly yellow overheads. Somehow they looked both sly and hopeless to her, like the aging whore she'd just passed in the tunnels.

  And they reminded her of another garish light, pulsing red against the dirty window of the last dirty room she'd shared with her father. Before he'd raped her that final time.

  Before she'd killed him and left that beaten young girl behind.

  "Sir?"

  "I don't remember her," Eve murmured as the memories threatened to wash over and drown her.

  "Who? Lieutenant? Dallas?" Uneasy with the blank look in Eve's eyes, Peabody tried to look everywhere at once. "Who do you see?"

  "Nobody." She snapped back, infuriated that her stomach muscles quivered with the memory flash. It happened now and again. Something would trigger those memories and the fear and guilt that swam with them. "Nobody," she said again. "We go in together. You stay with me, follow my moves. If things get sticky, don't worry about procedure. Play dirty."

  "Oh, you bet." Swallowing hard, Peabody stepped up to the door, then through, shoulder to shoulder with Eve.

  There were games and plenty of them. Blasts, screams, moans, laughter poured out of machines. There were two holo-fields on this level, with one in use as a skinny kid with vacant eyes paid his shot to do battle with his choice of Roman gladiator, Urban War terrorist, or spine cracker. Eve didn't bother to watch the first round.

  For live entertainment, there was a wrestling pit where two women with enormous man-made breasts shiny with oil grunted and slithered to the cheers of the crowd.

  The walls were alive with screens that flashed action from dozens of sporting events, on and off planet. Bets were laid. Money lost. Fists flew.

  She ignored them as well, working her way through the areas, beyond privacy tubes where patrons drank and played their games of chance or skill in greedy solitude, past the bar where others sat sulkily, and into the next area where music played low and dark in an edgy backdrop to more games.

  A dozen pool tables were lined up like coffins, the border lights flickering as balls clicked or bumped. Half the tables were empty, but for those in use, the stakes were serious.

  A black man with his shining bald head decorated with a gold tattoo of a coiled snake matched his skill against one of the house droids. She was tall, beefy, dressed in a pair of neon green swatches that covered tits and crotch. A knife with a pencil-slim blade was strapped, unsheathed, at her hip.

  Eve spotted Ledo at the back table, playing what appeared to be round the clock with three other men. From the smug smile on Ledo's face and the dark expression on the others, it was a safe bet who was winning.

  She passed the droid first, watched her finger her sticker in warning or out of habit as the snake tattoo muttered something about cop cunts.

  Eve might have made an issue of it, but that would have given Ledo a chance to rabbit. She didn't want to have to hunt him down a second time.

  Conversation dropped off table by table, with the murmured suggestions running from vile to annoyed. In the same kind of second-nature gesture as the droid, Eve flicked open her jacket, danced her fingers over her weapon.

  Ledo leaned over the table, his custom-designed cue with its silver tip poised against the humming five ball. The challenge light beeped against the left bank. If his aim was true and he popped that, then sank the ball, he'd be up another fifty credits.

  He wasn't drunk yet, or smoke hazed. He never touched his products during a match. He was as straight as he ever was, his bony body poised, his pale straw hair slicked back from a milk-white face. Only his eyes had color, and they were a chocolate brown going pink at the rims. He was a few slippery steps away from becoming one of the funky-junkies he served.

  If he kept up the habit, his eyes wouldn't stay sharp enough to play the ball.

  Eve let him take his shot. His hands were trembling lightly, but he'd adjusted the weight of his cue to compensate. He popped the light, ringing the score bell, then the ball rolled across the table and dropped cleanly into the pocket.

  Though he was smart enough not to cheer, the wide grin sp
lit his face as he straightened. Then his gaze landed on Eve. He didn't place her right away, but he recognized cop.

  "Hey, Ledo. We need to chat."

  "I ain't done nothing. I got a game going here."

  "Looks like it's time out." She stepped forward, then shifted her gaze slowly to the bulk of muscle that moved into her path.

  He had skin the color of copper, and his chest was wide as Utah. A little frisson of anticipation snuck up her spine as she lifted her gaze to his face.

  Both eyebrows were pierced and sported gold hoops. His eyeteeth were silver and filed to points that glinted as his lips peeled back. He had a foot on her in height, likely a hundred pounds in weight.

  Her first thought was: Good, he's perfect. And she smiled at him.

  "Get out of my face." She said it quietly, almost pleasantly.

  "We got a game going here." His voice rumbled like thunder over a canyon. "I'm into this fuckface for five hundred. Game's not over until I get my chance to win it back."

  "As soon as the fuckface and I have a chat, you can get back to your game."

  She wasn't worried about Ledo running now. Not since the two other players had flanked him and were holding his spindly arms. But the slab of meat blocking her gave her a light body shove and showed his fangs again.

  "We don't want cops in here." He shoved her again. "We eat cops in here."

  "Well, in that case…" She took a step back, watched his eyes glint in triumph. Then, quick as a snake, she snatched up Ledo's prized cue, rammed the point end into the copper-colored gut. And when he grunted, bent forward, she swung it like a pinch hitter in the bottom of the ninth.

  It made a satisfactory cracking sound when it connected with the side of his head. He stumbled once, shook his head violently, then with blood in his eye, came at her.

  She shot her knee into his balls, watched his face go from gleaming copper to pasty gray as he dropped.

  Stepping out of the way, Eve scanned the room. "Now, anybody else want to try to eat this cop?"

 
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