Conspiracy in Death (In Death Series #8)by J. D. Robb, Nora Roberts
The #1 New York Times bestselling series featuring police lieutenant Eve Dallas.
New York City's most vulnerable citizens fall victim to a ruthless serial killer.See more details below
The #1 New York Times bestselling series featuring police lieutenant Eve Dallas.
New York City's most vulnerable citizens fall victim to a ruthless serial killer.
"Masterful…I stand in absolute awe of J.D. Robb's talent."-The Romance Reader
Read an Excerpt
For some, death wasn't the enemy. Life was a much less merciful opponent. For the ghosts who drifted through the nights like shadows, the funky-junkies with their pale pink eyes, the chemi-heads with their jittery hands, life was simply a mindless trip that circled from one fix to the next with the arcs between a misery.
The trip itself was most often full of pain and despair, and occasionally terror.
For the poor and displaced in the bowels of New York City in the icy dawn of 2059, the pain, the despair, the terror were constant companions. For the mental defectives and physically flawed who slipped through society's cracks, the city was simply another kind of prison.
There were social programs, of course. It was, after all, an enlightened time. So the politicians claimed, with the Liberal Party shouting for elaborate new shelters, educational and medical facilities, training and rehabilitation centers, without actually detailing a plan for how such programs would be funded. The Conservative Party gleefully cut the budgets of what programs were already in place, then made staunch speeches on the quality of life and family.
Still, shelters were available for those who qualified and could stomach the thin and sticky hand of charity. Training and assistance programs were offered for those who could keep sane long enough to wind their way through the endless tangled miles of bureaucratic red tape that all too often strangled the intended recipients before saving them.
And as always, children went hungry, womensold their bodies, and men killed for a handful of credits.
However enlightened the times, human nature remained as predictable as death.
For the sidewalk sleepers, January in New York brought vicious nights with a cold that could rarely be fought back with a bottle of brew or a few scavenged illegals. Some gave in and shuffled into the shelters to snore on lumpy cots under thin blankets or eat the watery soup and tasteless soy loaves served by bright-eyed sociology students. Others held out, too lost or too stubborn to give up their square of turf.
And many slipped from life to death during those bitter nights.
The city had killed them, but no one called it homicide.
As Lieutenant Eve Dallas drove downtown in the shivering dawn, she tapped her fingers restlessly on the wheel. The routine death of a sidewalk sleeper in the Bowery shouldn't have been her problem. It was a matter for what the department often called Homicide-Litethe stiff scoopers who patrolled known areas of homeless villages to separate living from dead and take the used-up bodies to the morgue for examination, identification, and disposal.
It was a mundane and ugly little job most usually done by those who either still had hopes of joining the more elite Homicide unit or those who had given up on such a miracle. Homicide was called to the scene only when the death was clearly suspicious or violent.
And, Eve thought, if she hadn't been on top of the rotation for such calls on this miserable morning, she'd still be in her nice warm bed with her nice warm husband.
"Probably some jittery rookie hoping for a serial killer," she muttered.
Beside her, Peabody yawned hugely. "I'm really just extra weight here." From under her ruler-straight dark bangs, she sent Eve a hopeful look. "You could just drop me off at the closest transpo stop and I can be back home and in bed in ten minutes."
"If I suffer, you suffer."
"That makes me feel so ... loved, Dallas."
Eve snorted and shot Peabody a grin. No one, she thought, was sturdier, no one was more dependable, than her aide. Even with the rudely early call, Peabody was pressed and polished in her winter-weight uniform, the buttons gleaming, the hard black cop shoes shined. In her square face framed by her dark bowl-cut hair, her eyes might have been a little sleepy, but they would see what Eve needed her to see.
"Didn't you have some big deal last night?" Peabody asked her.
"Yeah, in East Washington. Roarke had this dinner/ dance thing for some fancy charity. Save the moles or something. Enough food to feed every sidewalk sleeper on the Lower East Side for a year."
"Gee, that's tough on you. I bet you had to get all dressed up in some beautiful gown, shuttle down on Roarke's private transpo, and choke down champagne."
Eve only lifted a brow at Peabody's dust-dry tone. "Yeah, that's about it." They both knew the glamorous side of Eve's life since Roarke had come into it was both a puzzlement and a frustration to her. "And then I had to dance with Roarke. A lot."
"Was he wearing a tux?" Peabody had seen Roarke in a tux. The image of it was etched in her mind like acid on glass.
"Oh yeah." Until, Eve mused, they'd gotten home and she'd ripped it off of him. He looked every bit as good out of a tux as in one.
"Man." Peabody closed her eyes, indulged herself with a visualization technique she'd learned at her Free-Ager parents' knees. "Man," she repeated.
"You know, a lot of women would get pissed off at having their husband star in their aide's purient little fantasies."
"But you're bigger than that, Lieutenant. I like that about you."
Eve grunted, rolled her stiff shoulders. It was her own fault that lust had gotten the better of her and she'd only managed three hours of sleep. Duty was duty, and she was on it.
Now she scanned the crumbling buildings, the littered streets. The scars, the warts, the tumors that sliced or bulged over concrete and steel.
Steam whooshed up from a grate, shot out from the busy half-life of movement and commerce under the streets. Driving through it was like slicing through fog on a dirty river.
Her home, since Roarke, was a world apart from this. She lived with polished wood, gleaming crystal, the scent of candles and hothouse flowers. Of wealth.
But she knew what it was to come from such places as this. Knew how much the same they werecity by cityin smells, in routines, in hopelessness.
The streets were nearly empty. Few of the residents of this nasty little sector ventured out early. The dealers and street whores would have finished the night's business, would have crawled back into their flops before sunrise. Merchants brave enough to run the shops and stores had yet to uncode their riot bars from the doors and windows. Glide-cart vendors desperate enough to hawk this turf would carry hand zappers and work in pairs.
She spotted the black and white patrol car, scowled at the half-assed job the officers on scene had done with securing the area.
"Why the hell didn't they finish running the sensors, for Christ's sake? Get me out of bed at five in the damn morning, and they don't even have the scene secured? No wonder they're scoopers. Idiots."
Peabody said nothing as Eve braked hard behind the black and white and slammed out of the vehicle. The idiots, she thought with some sympathy, were in for an expert dressing down.
By the time Peabody climbed out of the car, Eve had already crossed the sidewalk, with long, purposeful strides, heading for the two uniforms who huddled miserably in the wind.
She watched the two officers' shoulders snap straight. The lieutenant had that effect on other cops, Peabody mused as she retrieved the field kit from the vehicle. She brought you to attention.
It wasn't just the way she looked, Peabody decided, with that long, rangy body, the simple and often disordered cap of brown hair that showed hints of blonde, hints of red, hints, Peabody thought, of everything. There were the eyes, all cop, and the color of good Irish whiskey, the little dent in the firm chin below a full mouth that could go hard as stone.
Peabody found it a strong arid arresting face, partially, she decided, because Eve had no vanity whatsoever.
Although the way she looked might gain a uniform's attention, it was what she so clearly was that had them snapping straight.
She was the best damn cop Peabody had ever known. Pure cop, the kind you'd go through a door with without hesitation. The kind you knew would stand for the dead and for the living.
And the kind, Peabody mused as she walked close enough to hear the end of Eve's blistering lecture, who kicked whatever ass needed kicking.
"Now to review," Eve said coolly. "You call in a homicide, you drag my butt out of bed, you damn well have the scene secured and have your report ready for me when I get here. You don't stand here like a couple of morons sucking your thumbs. You're cops, for God's sake. Act like cops."
"Yes, sir, Lieutenant." This came in a wavery voice from the youngest of the team. He was hardly more than a boy, and the only reason Eve had pulled her verbal punch. His partner, however, wasn't a rookie, and she earned one of Eve's frigid stares.
"Yes, sir," she said between her teeth. And the lively resentment in the tone had Eve angling her head.
"Do you have a problem, Officer ... Bowers?"
Her face was the color of aged cherry wood, with her eyes a striking contrast of pale, pale blue. She kept her dark hair short under her regulation cap. There was a button missing on her standard-issue coat and her shoes were dull and scuffed. Eve could have poked her about it but decided being stuck in a miserable job was some excuse not to buff up for the day.
"Good." Eve merely nodded, but the warning in her eyes was clear. She shifted her gaze to the partner and felt a little stir of sympathy. He was pale as a sheet, shaky, and so fresh from the academy she could all but smell it on him.
"Officer Trueheart, my aide will show you the proper way to secure a scene. See that you pay attention."
"Peabody." At the single word, her field kit was in her hand. "Show me what we've got here, Bowers."
"Indigent. Male Caucasian. Goes by the name of Snooks. This is his crib."
She gestured to a rather cleverly rigged shelter comprised of a packing crate cheerfully painted with stars and flowers and topped by the dented lid of an old recycling bin. There was a moth-eaten blanket across the entrance and a hand-drawn sign that simply said Snooks strung over it.
"Yeah, part of the beat is to give a quick eye check on the cribs looking for stiffs to scoop. Snooks is pretty stiff," she said at what Eve realized after a moment was an attempt at humor.
"I bet. My, what a pleasant aroma," she muttered as she moved closer and the wind could no longer blow the stench aside.
"That's what tipped me. It always stinks. All these people smell like sweat and garbage and worse, but a stiff has another layer."
Eve knew the layer all too well. Sweet, sickly. And here, sneaking under the miasma of urine and sour flesh was the smell of death, and she noted with a faint frown, the bright metallic hint of blood.
"Somebody stick him?" She, nearly sighed as she opened her kit to take out the can of Seal-It. "What the hell for? These sleepers don't have anything worth stealing."
For the first time, Bowers allowed a thin smile to curve her lips. But her eyes were cold and hard, with bitterness riding in them. "Somebody stole something from him, all right." Pleased with herself, she stepped back. She hoped to God the tight-assed lieutenant got a nice hard shock at what she'd see behind the tattered curtain.
"You call the ME?" Eve asked as she clear-coated her hands and boots.
"First on scene's discretion," Bowers said primly, with the malice still bright in her eyes. "I opted to leave that decision to Homicide."
"For God's sake, is he dead or not?" Disgusted, Eve moved forward, bending a bit to sweep back the curtain.
It was always a shock, not the hard one Bowers had hoped for. Eve had seen too much too often for that. But what one human could do to another was never routine for her. And the pity that stirred underneath and through the cop was something the woman beside her would never feel and never understand.
"Poor bastard," she said quietly and crouched to do a visual exam.
Bowers had been right about one thing. Snooks was very, very dead. He was hardly more than a sack of bones and wild, straggly hair. Both his eyes and his mouth gaped, and she could see he hadn't kept more than half of his teeth. His type rarely took advantage of the health and dental programs.
His eyes had already filmed over and were a dull mud brown. She judged him to be somewhere around the century mark, and even without murder, he'd never have attained the average twenty more years decent nutrition and medical science could have given him.
She noted, too, that his boots, while cracked and scarred, had plenty of wear left in them, as did the blanket that had been tossed to the side of the box. He had some trinkets as well. A wide-eyed doll's head, a penlight in the shape of a frog, a broken cup he'd filled with carefully made paper flowers. And the walls were covered with more paper shapes. Trees, dogs, angels, and his favored stars and flowers.
She could see no signs of struggle, no fresh bruising or superfluous cuts. Whoever had killed the old man had done so efficiently.
No, she thought, studying the fist-sized hole in his chest. Surgically. Whoever had taken Snook's heart had very likely used a laser scalpel.
"You got your homicide, Bowers."
Eve eased back, let the curtain fall. She felt her blood rise and her fist clench when she saw the self-satisfied smirk on the uniform's face.
"Okay, Bowers, we don't like each other. Just one of those things. But you'd be smart to remember I can make it a hell of a lot harder on you than you can on me." She took a step closer, bumping the toe of her boots to the toe of Bowers's shoes. Just to be sure her point was taken. "So be smart, Bowers, and wipe that fucking sneer off your face and keep out of my way."
The sneer dropped away, but Bowers's eyes shot out little bullet points of animosity. "It's against departmental code for a superior officer to use offensive language to a uniform."
"No kidding? Well, you be sure to put that in your report, Bowers. And you have that report done, in triplicate, and on my desk by oh ten hundred. Stand back," she added, very quietly now.
It took ten humming seconds with their eyes warring before Bowers dropped her gaze and shifted aside.
Dismissing her, Eve turned her back and pulled out her communicator. "Dallas, Lieutenant Eve. I've got a homicide."
Now why, Eve wondered, as she hunkered inside the crate to examine the body, would someone steal a so obviously used-up heart? She remembered that for a period after the Urban Wars, stolen organs had been a prize commodity on the black market. Very often, dealers hadn't been patient enough to wait until a donor was actually dead to make the transfer, but that had been decades ago, before man-made organs had been fully perfected.
Organ donating and brokering were still popular. And she thought there was something about organ building as well, though she paid little attention to medical news and reports.
She distrusted doctors.
Some of the very rich didn't care for the idea of a manufactured implant, she assumed. A human heart or kidney from a young accident victim could command top prices, but it had to be in prime condition. Nothing about Snooks was prime.
She wrinkled her nose against the stench, but leaned closer. When a woman detested hospitals and health centers as much as she did, the faintly sick smell of antiseptic sent the nostrils quivering.
She caught it here, just a trace, then frowning, sat back on her heels.
Her prelim exam told her the victim had died at 0:2:10, given the outside temperature through the night. She'd need the blood work and tox reports to know if there'd been drugs in his system, but she could already see that he'd been a brew guzzler.
The typical brown refillable bottle used to transport home brew was tucked in the corner, nearly empty. She found a small, almost pitiful stash of illegals. One thin, hand-rolled joint of Zoner, a couple of pink capsules that were probably Jags, and a small, filthy bag of white powder she assumed after a sniff was Grin laced with a whiff of Zeus.
There were telltale spiderwebs of broken blood vessels over his dented face, obvious signs of malnutrition, and the scabs of what was likely some unattractive skin disease. The man had been a guzzler, smoked, ate garbage, and had been nearly ready to die in his sleep.
Why kill him?
"Sir?" Eve didn't glance back as Peabody drew back the curtain. "ME's on scene."
"Why take his heart?" Eve muttered. "Why surgically remove it? If it was a straight murder, wouldn't they have roughed him up, kicked him around? If they were into mutilation, why didn't they mutilate? This is textbook work."
Peabody scanned the body, grimaced. "I haven't seen any heart ops, but I'll take your word on that."
"Look at the wound," Eve said impatiently. "He should have bled out, shouldn't he? A fist-sized hole in the chest, for Christ's sake. But theywhatever it isclamped, closed off, the bleeders, just like they would in surgery. This one didn't want the mess, didn't see the point in it. No, he's proud of his work," she added, crab walking back through the opening, then standing to take a deep gulp of the much fresher air outside.
"He's skilled. Had to have had some training. And I don't think one person could have managed this alone. You send the scoopers out to canvass for witnesses?"
"Yeah." Peabody scanned the deserted street, the broken windows, the huddle of boxes and crates deep in the alleyway across the street. "Good luck to them."
"Morris." Eve lifted a brow as she noted she'd hooked the top medical examiner for an on-scene. "I didn't expect to get the cream on a sidewalk sleeper."
Pleased, he smiled, and his lively eyes danced. He wore his hair slicked back and braided with a siren red ski cap snugged over it. His long, matching coat flapped madly in the breeze. Morris, Eve knew, was quite the snazzy dresser.
"I was available, and your sleeper sounded quite interesting. No heart?"
"Well, I didn't find one."
He chuckled and approached the crate. "Let's have a look-see."
She shivered, envying him his long, obviously warm coat. She had oneRoarke had given her a beauty for Christmasbut she resisted wearing it on the job. No way in hell was she going to get blood and assorted body fluids all over that fabulous bronze-colored cashmere.
And she thought as she crouched down yet again, she was pretty sure her new gloves were cozily tucked in the pockets of that terrific coat. Which was why her hands were currently freezing.
She stuffed them in the pockets of her leather jacket, hunched her shoulders against the bite of the wind, and watched Morris do his job.
"Beautiful work," Morris breathed. "Absolutely beautiful."
"He had training, right?"
"Oh yes." Affixing microgoggles over his eyes, Morris peered into the open chest. "Yes indeed, he did. This is hardly his first surgery. Top of the line tools as well. No homemade scalpel, no clumsy rib spreaders. Our killer is one mag surgeon. Damn if I don't envy his hands."
"Some cults like to use body parts in their ceremonies," Eve said half to herself. "But they generally hack and mutilate when they kill. And they like rituals, ambiance. We've got none of that here."
"Doesn't look like a religious thing. It looks like a medical one."
"Yeah." That corroborated her thoughts. "One person pull this off?"
"Doubt it." Morris pulled out his bottom lip, let it snap back. "To perform a procedure this slick under these difficult conditions he'd need a very skilled assistant."
"Any idea why they'd take his heart if it wasn't to worship the demon of the week?"
"Not a clue," Morris said cheerfully and gestured for her to back up. When they were outside again, he blew out a breath. "I'm surprised the old man didn't die of asphyxiation in all that stink. But from a visual exam, my guess would be that heart would have very few miles left on it. Got your prints and DNA sample for IDing?"
"Already sealed and ready for the lab."
"Then we'll bag him, take him in."
Eve nodded. "You curious enough to bump him up to the top of your stack of bodies?"
"As a matter of fact, I am." He smiled, gestured to his team. "You should wear a hat, Dallas. It's fucking freezing out here."
She sneered, but she'd have given a month's pay for a hot cup of coffee. Leaving Morris to his work, she turned to meet Bowers and Trueheart.
Bowers clenched her teeth. She was cold, hungry, and she bitterly resented the chummy consult she'd witnessed between Eve and the chief medical examiner.
Probably fucking him, Bowers thought. She knew Eve Dallas, knew her type. Damn right she did. A woman like her only moved up the ranks because she spread her legs while she made the climb. The only reason Bowers hadn't moved up herself was because she refused to do it on her back.
That's the way the game's played, that's how. And her heart began to pound in her chest, the blood to thunder in her head. But she'd get her own, one day.
Whore, bitch. The words echoed in her brain, nearly trembled off her tongue. But she sucked them in. She was, she reminded herself, still in control.
The hate Eve read in Bowers's pale eyes was a puzzle. It was much too vicious, she decided, to be the result of a simple and deserved dressing down by a superior officer. It gave her an odd urge to brace for attack, to slide a hand down to her weapon. Instead, she lifted her eyebrows, waited a beat. "Your report, Officer?"
"Nobody saw anything, nobody knows anything," Bowers snapped. "That's the way it is with these people. They stay in their holes."
Though Eve had her eyes on Bowers, she caught the slight movement from the rookie. Following instinct, she dug in her pocket and pulled out some loose credits. "Get me some coffee, Officer Bowers."
Disdain turned so quickly to insulted shock, Eve had to work hard to hold off a grin. "Get you coffee?"
"That's right. I want coffee." She grabbed Bowers's hand, dumped the credits into it. "So does my aide. You know the neighborhood. Run over to the nearest 24/7 and get me some coffee."
"Trueheart's lowest rank."
"Was I talking to Trueheart, Peabody?" Eve said pleasantly.
"No, Lieutenant. I believe you were addressing Officer Bowers." As Peabody didn't like the woman's looks, either, she smiled. "I take cream and sugar. The lieutenant goes for black. I believe there's a 24/7 one block over. Shouldn't take you long."
Bowers stood another moment, then turned on her heel and stalked off. Her muttered "Bitch" came clearly on the cold wind.
"Golly, Peabody, Bowers just called you a bitch."
"I really think she meant you, sir."
"Yeah." Eve's grin was fierce. "You're probably right. So, Trueheart, spill it."
"Sir?" His already pale face whitened even more at being directly addressed.
"What do you think? What do you know?"
When he glanced nervously at Bowers's stiff and retreating back, Eve stepped into his line of vision. Her eyes were cool and commanding. "Forget her. You're dealing with me now. I want your report on the canvass."
"I ..." His Adam's apple bobbed. "No one in the immediate area admits to having witnessed any disturbance in the vicinity or any visitors to the victim's crib during the time in question."
"It's just thatI was going to tell Bowers," he continued in a rush, "but she cut me off."
"Tell me," Eve suggested.
"It's about the Gimp? He had his crib on this side, just down from Snooks, as long as I've had the beat. It's only a couple of months, but"
"You patrol this area yesterday?" Eve interrupted.
"And there was a crib by Snooks's?"
"Yes, sir, like always. Now he's got it on the other side of the street, way at the end of the alley."
"Did you question him?"
"No, sir. He's zoned. We couldn't roust him, and Bowers said it wasn't worth the trouble, anyway, because he's a stone drunk."
Eve studied him thoughtfully. His color was back, pumped into his cheeks from nerves and the slap of the wind. But he had good eyes, she decided. Clear and sharp. "How long have you been out of the academy, Trueheart?"
"Three months, sir."
"Then you can be forgiven for not being able to recognize an asshole in uniform." She cocked her head when a flash of humor trembled on his mouth. "But I have a feeling you'll learn. Call for a wagon and have your pal the Gimp taken down to the tank at Central. I want to talk to him when he's sobered up. He knows you?"
"Then you stay with him, and bring him up when he's coherent. I want you to stand in on the interview."
"You want me to" Trueheart's eyes went huge and bright. "I'm assigned to LiteBowers is my trainer."
"Is that how you want it, Officer?"
He hesitated, blew out a quiet breath. "No, sir, Lieutenant, it's not."
"Then why aren't you following my orders?" She turned away to harass the crime scene team and left him grinning after her.
"That was really sweet," Peabody said when they were back in their vehicle with cups of hot, horrible coffee.
"Don't start, Peabody."
"Come on, Dallas. You gave the guy a nice break."
"He gave us a potential witness and it was another way to burn that idiot Bowers's ass." She smiled thinly. "Next chance you get, Peabody, do a run on her. I like to know everything I can about people who want to rip the skin off my face."
"I'll take care of it when we're back at Central. You want hard copy?"
"Yeah. Run Trueheart, too, just for form."
"Wouldn't mind running him." Peabody wiggled her eyebrows. "He's very cute."
Eve slanted her a look. "You're pathetic, and you're too old for him."
"I can't have more than a couple, maybe three years on him," Peabody said with a hint of insult. "And some guys prefer a more experienced woman."
"I thought you were still tight with Charles."
"We date," Peabody lifted her shoulders, still uncomfortable discussing this particular man with Eve. "But we're not exclusive."
Tough to be exclusive with a licensed companion, Eve thought but held her tongue. Snapping out her opinion of Peabody developing a relationship with Charles Monroe had come much too close to breaking the bond between them a few weeks before.
"You're okay with that?" she said instead.
"That's the way we both want it. We like each other, Dallas. We have a good time together. I wish you" She broke off, firmly shut her mouth.
"I didn't say anything."
"You're thinking pretty damn loud."
Eve set her teeth. They were not, she promised herself, going back there. "What I'm thinking," she said evenly, "is about getting some breakfast before we start on the paperwork."
Deliberately, Peabody rolled the stiffness out of her shoulders. "That works for me. Especially if you're buying."
"I bought last time."
"I don't think so, but I can check my records." More cheerful. Peabody pulled out her electronic memo book and made Eve laugh.
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