Conspiracy in death, p.9
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       Conspiracy in Death, p.9
 

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

  "Anytime, pal. Anywhere."

  "Not tonight, I'm afraid. I'll be late."

  "Oh." It still jolted her that he so routinely let her know his whereabouts. "Got an appointment?"

  "I'm already there. I'm in New L.A.—a little problem that required immediate personal attention. But I will be home tonight."

  She said nothing, knowing he'd wanted to assure her she wouldn't be sleeping alone, where the nightmares would chase her. "Um, how's the weather?"

  "It's lovely. Sunny and seventy." He smiled at her. "I'll pretend not to enjoy it since you're not with me."

  "Do that. See you later."

  "Stay out of pool halls, Lieutenant."

  "Yeah." She watched the screen go blank and wished she didn't have this vague dissatisfaction that he wouldn't be there when she went home. In less than a year, she'd gotten much too used to him being there.

  Annoyed with herself, she engaged her computer. Her mood was distracted enough that she didn't bother to smack it when it buzzed at her.

  She called up the files from Snooks and Spindler, ordered both images on, split screen.

  Used up, she thought. Self-abuse, neglect. It was there on both faces. But Snooks, well, there was a kind of pitiful sweetness in his face. As for Spindler, there was nothing sweet about her. There was some twenty years between them in age. Different sex, different races, different backgrounds.

  "Display crime scene photos, Spindler," she ordered.

  The room was a flop, small, crowded, with a single window the width of a spread hand in one wall. But, Eve noted, it was clean. Tidy.

  Spindler lay on the bed, on faded sheets that were stained with blood. Her eyes were closed, her mouth lax. She was nude, and her body was no pretty picture. Eve could see that what appeared to be a nightgown was neatly folded and laid on the table beside the bed.

  She might have been sleeping if not for the blood that stained the sheets.

  They'd drugged her, Eve decided, then undressed her. Folded the gown. Tidy, organized, precise.

  How had they chosen this one? she wondered. And why?

  In the next shot, the crime scene team had turned the body. Dignity, modesty were cast aside as the camera zoomed in. Scrawny legs on a scrawny body. Sagging breasts, wrinkled skin. Spindler hadn't put her profits into body maintenance, which was probably wise, Eve mused, as her investment would have been cut short.

  "Close-up of injury," she ordered, and the picture shifted. They had opened her, the slices narrower than Eve had imagined. Nearly delicate. And though no one had bothered to close her back up, they had used what she now knew was surgical freeze-coat to stop the flow of blood.

  Routine again, she concluded. Pride. Didn't surgeons often allow an underling to close for them? The big, important work had already been done, so why not let someone less prominent do a little sewing?

  She would ask someone, but she thought she'd seen that on-screen in videos.

  "Computer, analyze surgical procedure on both subjects. Run probability scan thereafter. What probability percentage that both procedures were performed by the same person?"

  Working…analysis will require approximately ten minutes.

  "Fine." She rose, walked to her window to watch the air traffic sputter. The sky had gone the color of bruises. She could see one of the minicopters wavering as it tried to compensate for a gust of wind.

  It would snow or sleet before the end of shift, she thought. The drive home would be hideous.

  She thought of Roarke, three thousand miles away, with palm trees and blue skies.

  She thought of those nameless lost souls struggling to find a little heat around an ugly fire in a rusted barrel and where they would be tonight when the snows came and the wind howled down the streets like a mad thing.

  Absently, she pressed her fingers to the window, felt the chill on her skin.

  And it came to her, sharp as a slap, a memory long buried with other memories of the girl she had been. Thin, hollow-eyed, and trapped in one of the endless horrid rooms where the windows were cracked and the heat broken so that the wind screamed and screamed against the damaged glass and shook the walls and burst over her skin like fists of ice.

  Cold, so cold. So hungry. So afraid. Sitting in the dark, alone in the dark. All the while knowing he would come back. He always came back. And when he did, he might not be drunk enough to just fall on the bed and leave her be.

  He might not leave her huddled behind the single ratty chair that smelled of smoke and sweat where she tried to hide from him and the brittle cold.

  She fell asleep shivering, watching her breath form and fade in the dark.

  But when he got home, he wasn't drunk enough, and she couldn't hide from him or the bitterness.

  "Chicago." The word burst out of her, like a poison that burned the throat, and she came back to herself with both hands fisted hard against her heart.

  And she was shivering, shivering again as she had in that freezing room during another winter.

  Where had that come from? she asked herself as she fought to even her breathing, to swallow back the sickness that had gushed into her throat. How did she know it was Chicago? Why was she so sure?

  And what did it matter? Furious now, she rapped one of her fists lightly, rhythmically against the window. It was done, it was over.

  It had to be over.

  Analysis complete…Beginning probability ratio…

  She closed her eyes a moment, rubbed her hands hard over her dry lips. This, she reminded herself, was what mattered. What she was now, what she did now. The job, the justice, the answers.

  But her head was throbbing when she turned back to her computer, sat in her chair.

  Probability ratio complete. Probability that the procedures on both subjects were done by the same person is 97.8%.

  "Okay," Eve said softly. "Okay. He did them both. Now, how many more?"

  Insufficient data to compute…

  "I wasn't asking you, asshole." She spoke absently, then, leaning forward, forgot her queasy stomach, her aching head as she began to pick her way through data.

  She'd worked through the bulk of it when Peabody knocked briskly and stuck her head in the door. "Rosswell's here."

  "Great. Good."

  There was a gleam in Eve's eyes as she rose that had Peabody feeling a stir of pity for Rosswell, and—she was human, after all—a ripple of anticipation for the show about to start. She was careful to hide both reactions as she followed Eve to the conference room.

  Rosswell was fat and bald. A detective's salary would have covered standard body maintenance if he was too lazy or stupid to exercise. It would have covered elementary hair replacement treatment if he had any vanity. But self-image couldn't compete with Rosswell's deep and passionate love of gambling.

  This love was very one-sided. Gambling didn't love Rosswell back. It punished him, laughed at him. It beat him over the head with his own inadequacies in the area. But he couldn't stay away.

  So he lived in little more than a flop a block from his station house—and a two-minute walk from the nearest gaming dive. When he was lucky enough to beat the odds, his winnings were funneled back to cover previous losses. He was constantly dodging and making deals with the spine crackers.

  Eve had some of these details from the data she'd just scanned. What she saw waiting in the conference room was a washed-up cop, one who'd lost his edge and was simply cruising his way toward his pension.

  He didn't rise when she came in but continued to slouch at the conference table. To establish dominance, Eve merely stared at him silently until he flushed and got to his feet.

  And Peabody was right, she noted. Under the show of carelessness, there was a glint of fear in his eyes.

  "Lieutenant Dallas?"

  "That's right, Rosswell." She invited him to sit by jabbing a finger at the chair. Once again, she said nothing. Silence had a way of scraping the nerves raw. And raw nerves had a way of stuttering out the truth.


  "Ah…" His eyes, a cloudy hazel in a doughy face, shifted from her to Feeney to Peabody, then back. "What's this about, Lieutenant?"

  "It's about half-assed police work." When he blinked, Eve sat on the edge of the table. It kept her head above him, forcing him to tip his back to look up at her. "The Spindler case —your case, Rosswell. Tell me about it."

  "Spindler?" Face blank, he lifted his shoulders. "Jesus, Lieutenant, I got a lot of cases. Who remembers names?"

  A good cop remembers, she thought. "Erin Spindler, retired LC. Maybe this'll jog your memory. She was missing some internal organs."

  "Oh, sure." He brightened right up. "She bought it in bed. Kinda seems funny since she got bought there plenty." When no one cracked up at his irony, he cleared his throat. "It was pretty straight, Lieutenant. She ragged on her ponies and their Johns all the time. Had a rep for it. Kept herself whacked on street Jazz most of the time. Nobody had a good word to say about her, I can tell you. Nobody shed a tear. Figures one of her girls or one of the customers got fed up and did her. What's the deal?" he asked, lifting his shoulders again. "No big loss to society."

  "You're stupid, Rosswell, and while that annoys me, I have to figure maybe you were born stupid. But you've got a badge, so that means you can't be careless, and you sure as hell can't decide a case isn't worth your time. Your investigation in this matter was a joke, your report pathetic, and your conclusions asinine."

  "Hey, I did my job."

  "The hell you did." Eve engaged the computer, shot an image on-screen. The neat slice in Spindler's flesh dominated. "You're telling me a street pony did that? Why the hell isn't she raking in seven figures a year at a health center? A John, maybe, but Spindler didn't work the Johns. How did he get to her? Why? Why the hell did he take her kidneys?"

  "I don't know what's in some lunatic killer's mind, for Christ's sake."

  "That's why I'm going to see to it you're not working Homicide after today."

  "Wait just a damn minute." He was on his feet, eyeball to eyeball with her. Peabody gave Feeney a quick glance to gauge his reaction and saw his thin, wicked grin. "You got no cause to go to my boss on this and make trouble for me. I followed the book on this case."

  "Then your book's missing a few pages." Her voice was calm, deadly calm. "You didn't pursue organ replacement or disbursement centers. You didn't do a run on surgeons, you never attempted contact with black market sources on illegal organ transfer."

  "Why the hell would I?" His toes bumped hers as he leaned forward. "Some sicko cut her open and took some souvenirs. Case closed. Who the hell gives a shit about some worn-out whore?"

  "I do. And if you're not out of my face in five seconds, I'll write you up."

  It took him three, with teeth grinding audibly, but he shifted away. "I did the job," he said, with the words bitten off sharp as darts. "You got no cause to poke into my caseload and give me grief."

  "You did a crappy job, Rosswell. And when one of your cases crosses one of mine, and I see just how crappy a job you did, I've got plenty of cause. I've got a sidewalk sleeper missing a heart. My probability scan tells me the same one who opened him up did Spindler."

  "I heard you screwed up on that one." He smiled now, panicked enough to challenge her.

  "Know Bowers, do you?" She smiled back, so fiercely he began to sweat again.

  "She ain't no fan of yours."

  "Now, that hurts, Rosswell. It really hurts my feelings. And when my feelings get hurt, I like to take it out on somebody." She leaned down. "Want it to be you?"

  He licked his lips. If they'd been alone, he could have backed down easily. But there were two more cops in the room. Two more mouths that could flap. "If you lay hands on me, I'll file a complaint. Just like Bowers. Being Whitney's pet won't save you from an IAB investigation then."

  Her hand curled into a fist. And, oh, she yearned to use it. But she only kept her eyes steady on his. "Hear that, Feeney? Rosswell here's going to tell teacher on me."

  "I can see you're shaking in your boots over that, Dallas." Cheerfully, Feeney moved forward. "Let me punch this fat-assed fucker for you."

  "That's real nice of you, Feeney, but let's try to handle this like mature adults first. Rosswell, you make me sick. Maybe you earned that badge years ago, but you don't deserve it now. You don't deserve to work the shit and piss detail on body removal. And that's just what it's going to say in my report. Meanwhile, you're relieved as primary on the Spindler case. You'll turn over all data and reports to my aide."

  "I don't do that unless I get it straight from my boss." Saving face was paramount now, but even his valiant attempt to sound disdainful fell far short. "I don't work for you, Dallas, and your rank, your rep, and all your husband's money don't mean squat to me."

  "So noted," Eve said levelly. "Peabody, contact Captain Desevres at the one six-two."

  "Yes, sir."

  She held her temper, but it cost her. The headache turned up from simmer to boil, and the knots in her stomach grew teeth. It helped a little to watch Rosswell sweat while she meticulously outlined the details, tore his investigation into tattered shreds, and requested the transfer of the case, with all data and reports, to her.

  Desevres asked for an hour to review the matter, but everyone knew that was for form's sake. Rosswell was out, and very likely soon to receive a much pithier dressing down from his own division head.

  When she ended transmission, Eve gathered up files and discs. "You're dismissed, Detective."

  His face bone white with fury and frustration, he got to his feet. "Bowers had it right. I hope she buries you."

  Eve glanced in his direction. "Detective Rosswell, you are dismissed. Peabody, contact Morris at the ME's office. He needs to be made aware of this connecting homicide. Feeney, can we light a fire under McNab? See what he's come up with?"

  The embarrassment of being ignored washed color, ugly and red, back into Rosswell's face. When the door slammed behind him, Feeney flashed Eve a grin.

  "You sure are making lots of new friends these days."

  "It's my sparkling personality and wit. They can't resist it. God, what an ass." But she sat, struggling to shrug off annoyance. "I'm going to check out the Canal Street Clinic. Spindler used it for her health checks over the last twelve years. Maybe Snooks hit it a couple times. It's a place to start. Peabody, you're with me."

  She took the elevator straight down to the garage level and had just stepped through the doors when Feeney tagged her by communicator. "What have you got?"

  "McNab hit on a chemi-head named Jasper Mott. Another heart theft, three months back."

  "Three months? Who's the primary? What are the leads?"

  "It wasn't NYPSD's deal, Dallas. It was Chicago."

  "What?" The cold came shimmering back to her skin, the image of the long spider crack in window glass.

  "Chicago," he repeated, eyes narrowing. "You okay?"

  "Yeah, yeah." But she stared down the long tube of the garage to where Peabody waited patiently at their vehicle. "Can you get Peabody the name of the primary on it, the necessary data? I'll have her contact CPSD for the files and status."

  "Sure, no problem. Maybe you should eat something, kid. You look sick."

  "I'm fine. Tell McNab I said good work, and keep at it."

  "Trouble, sir?"

  "No." Eve crossed to her car, uncoded, and climbed in. "We got another one in Chicago. Feeney's going to send you the details. Put out a request to the primary and his division head for a copy of appropriate data. Copy to the commander. Do it by the book, but do it fast."

  "Unlike some," Peabody said primly, "I know all the pages. How come a jerk like Rosswell makes detective?"

  "Because life," Eve said with feeling, "often sucks."

  • • • •

  Life definitely sucked for the patients at the Canal Street Clinic. The place was jammed with the suffering, the hopeless, and the dying.

  A woman with a battered face breast-fed an infant while a toddle
r sat at her feet and wailed. Someone hacked wetly, monotonously. A half dozen street LCs sat glassy-eyed and bored, waiting for their regulation checkup to clear them for the night's work.

  Eve waded her way through to the window where the nurse on duty manned a desk. "Enter your data on the proper form," she began, the edge of tedium flattening her voice. "Don't forget your medical card number, personal ID, and current address."

  For an answer, Eve took out her badge and held it up to the reinforced glass. "Who's in charge?"

  The nurse's eyes, gray and bored, flicked over the badge. "That would be Dr. Dimatto today. She's with a patient."

  "Is there an office back there, a private room?"

  "If you want to call it that." When Eve simply angled her head, the nurse, annoyed, released the coded lock on the door.

  With obvious reluctance, she shuffled in the lead down a short hallway. As they slipped through the door, Peabody glanced over her shoulder. "I've never been in a place like this before."

  "Consider yourself lucky." Eve had spent plenty of time in such places. A ward of the state didn't rate private health care or upscale clinics.

  At the nurse's gesture, she stepped into a box-sized room the doctors on rotation used for an office. Two chairs, a desk barely bigger than a packing crate, and equipment, Eve mused, glancing at the computer system, even worse than what she was reduced to using at Central.

  The office didn't boast a window, but someone had tried to brighten it up with a couple of art posters and a struggling green vine in a chipped pot.

  And there, on a wall shelf, tucked between a teetering stack of medical discs and a model of the human body, was a small bouquet of paper flowers.

  "Snooks," Eve murmured. "He used this place."

  "Sir?"

  "His flowers." Eve picked them from the shelf. "He liked someone here enough to give them, and someone cared enough to keep them. Peabody, we just got our connection."

  She was still holding the flowers when the door burst open. The woman who strode in was young, tiny, with the white coat of her profession slung over a baggy sweater and faded jeans. Her hair was short and even more ragged that Eve's. Still, its honeycomb color set off the pretty rose-and-cream face.

 
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