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Loyalty in Death

J. D. Robb

  Loyalty in Death

  J. D. Robb

  Book 10 of the Eve Dallas Mysteries


  Dear Comrade,

  We are Cassandra.

  It has begun.

  All we have worked for, all we have trained for, all we have sacrificed for is in place. A dawn after so long a twilight. The goals set over thirty years ago will be achieved. The promises made will be kept. And the martyr's blood that was shed avenged at long last.

  We know you are concerned. We know you are cautious. This is what makes you a wise general. Believe that we have taken your counsel and your warnings to heart. We do not break the moratorium on this righteous and bitter war with a battle we intend to lose. We are well-equipped, our cause well-financed, and all steps and options have been considered.

  We send this transmission to you, dear friend and Comrade, as we joyfully prepare to continue our mission. Already, first blood has been spilled, and we rejoice. Circumstances have put an opponent in our path you would find worthy. We have attached to this transmission a dossier on Lieutenant Eve Dallas of the so-called New York City Police and Security Department so that you might familiarize yourself with this adversary.

  Through the defeat of this enemy, our victory will be all the sweeter. She is, after all, another symbol of the corrupt and oppressive system we will destroy.

  Your wise counsel directed us to this place. We have lived among these pitiful pawns of a weak-kneed society, wearing our smiling mask as we scorn their city and their system of repression and decay. We have to their blind eyes become one of them. No one questions us as we move about these immoral and filthy streets. We are invisible, a shadow among shadows as you, and the one we both loved, taught us the canniest soldier must be.

  And when we have destroyed, one by one, the symbols of this overfed society, demonstrating our power and our clean-minded plan for the new realm, they will tremble. They will see us, and they will remember him. The first symbol of our glorious victory will be a monument to him. In his image.

  We are loyal, and our memory is long.

  You will hear the first rumble of battle tomorrow.

  Speak of us to all the patriots, to all the loyal.

  We are Cassandra.

  *** CHAPTER ONE ***

  On this particular night, a beggar died unnoticed under a bench in Greenpeace Park. A history professor fell bloodied, his throat slashed three feet from his front door for the twelve credits in his pocket. A woman choked out one last scream as she crumpled under her lover's pounding fists.

  And not yet done, death circled its bony finger, then jabbed it gleefully between the eyes of one J. Clarence Branson, the fifty-year-old co-president of Branson Tools and Toys.

  He'd been rich, single, and successful, a jolly man with reason to be as co-owner of a major interplanetary corporation. A second son and the third generation of Bransons to provide the world and its satellites with implements and amusements, he'd lived lavishly.

  And had died the same way.

  J. Clarence's heart had been skewered with one of his own multi-power porta drills by his steely-eyed mistress, who'd bolted him to the wall with it, reported the incident to the police, then had calmly sat sipping claret until the first officers arrived on the scene.

  She continued to sip her drink, settled cozily in a high-backed chair in front of a computer-generated fire while Lieutenant Eve Dallas examined the body.

  "He's absolutely dead," she coolly informed Eve. Her name was Lisbeth Cooke, and she made her living as an advertising executive in her deceased lover's company. She was forty, sleekly attractive, and very good at her job. "The Branson 8000 is an excellent product—designed to satisfy both the professional and the hobbyist. It's very powerful and accurate."

  "Uh-huh." Eve scanned the victim's face. Pampered and handsome, even though death had etched a look of stunned and sorrowful surprise on his face. Blood soaked through the breast of his blue velvet dressing gown and puddled glossily on the floor. "Sure did the job here. Read Ms. Cooke her rights, Peabody."

  While her aide attended to the matter, Eve verified time and cause of death for the record. Even with the voluntary confession, the business of murder would follow routine. The weapon would be taken into evidence, the body transported and autopsied, the scene secured.

  Gesturing to the crime scene team to take over, Eve crossed the royal red carpet, sat across from Lisbeth in front of the chirpy fire that blew out lush heat and light. She said nothing for a moment, waiting several beats to see what reaction she might get from the fashionable brunette with fresh blood splattered somehow gaily on her yellow silk jumpsuit.

  She got nothing but a politely inquiring stare. "So…you want to tell me about it?"

  "He was cheating on me," Lisbeth said flatly. "I killed him."

  Eve studied the steady green eyes, saw anger but no shock or remorse. "Did you argue?"

  "We had a few words." Lisbeth lifted her claret to full lips painted the same rich tone as the wine. "Most of them mine. J. C. was weak-minded." She shrugged her shoulders and silk rustled. "I accepted that, even found it endearing in many ways. But we had an arrangement. I gave him three years of my life."

  Now she leaned forward, eyes snapping with the temper behind the chill. "Three years, during which time I could have pursued other interests, other arrangements, other relationships. But I was faithful. He was not."

  She drew in a breath, leaned back again, very nearly smiled. "Now he's dead."

  "Yeah, we got that part." Eve heard the ugly suck and scrape as the team struggled to remove the long steel spike from flesh and bone. "Did you bring the drill with you, Ms. Cooke, with the intention of using it as a weapon?"

  "No, it's J. C.'s. He putters occasionally. He must have been puttering," she mused with a casual glance toward the body the crime scene team was now removing from the wall in a ghastly ballet of movements. "I saw it there, on the table, and thought, well, that's just perfect, isn't it? So I picked it up, flicked it on. And used it."

  It didn't get much simpler, Eve mused, and rose. "Ms. Cooke, these officers will take you down to Cop Central. I'll have some more questions for you."

  Obligingly, Lisbeth swallowed the last of the claret, then set the glass aside. "I'll just get my coat."

  Peabody shook her head as Lisbeth tossed a full-length black mink over her bloody silks and swept out between two uniforms with all the panache of a woman heading out to the next heady social engagement.

  "Man, it takes all kinds. She drills the guy, then hands us the case on a platter."

  Eve shrugged into her leather jacket, picked up her field kit. Thoughtfully, she used solvent to clean the blood and Seal-It from her hands. The sweepers would finish up, then secure the scene. "We'll never get her on murder one. That's just what it was, but I'll lay odds it's pleaded down to manslaughter within forty-eight hours."

  "Manslaughter?" Genuinely shocked, Peabody gaped at Eve as they stepped into the tiled elevator for the trip down to the lobby level. "Come on, Dallas. No way."

  "Here's the way." Eve looked into Peabody's dark, earnest eyes, studied her square, no-nonsense face under its bowl-cut hair and police-issue hat. And was nearly sorry to cut into that unswerving belief in the system. "If the drill proves to be the victim's, she didn't bring a weapon with her. That cuts down on premeditation. Pride's got her now, and a good dose of mad, but after a few hours in a cell, if not before, survival instinct will kick in, and she'll lawyer up. She's smart, so she'll lawyer smart."

  "Yeah, but we've got intent. We've got malice. She just made a statement for the record."

  That was the book. As much as Eve believed in the book, she knew the pages often became blurred. "And she doesn't have to renege on it, just
embellish it. They argued. She was devastated, upset. Maybe he threatened her. In a moment of passion—or possibly fear—she grabbed the drill."

  Eve stepped off the elevator, crossed the wide lobby with its pink marble columns and glossy ornamental trees. "Temporary diminished capacity," she continued. "Possibly an argument for self-defense, though it's bullshit. But Branson was about six-two, two-twenty, and she's five-four, maybe one-fifteen. They could make that work. Then, in shock, she contacts the police immediately. She doesn't attempt to run or to deny what she did. She takes responsibility, which would earn points with a jury if it comes down to it. The PA knows that, so he'll plead it down."

  "That really bites."

  "She'll do time," Eve said as they stepped outside into a cold as bitter as the scorned lover now in custody. "She'll lose her job, spend a hefty chunk of credits on her lawyer. You take what you can get."

  Peabody glanced over at the morgue wagon. "This one should be so easy."

  "Lots of times the easy ones have the most angles." Eve smiled a little as she opened the door of her vehicle. "Cheer up, Peabody. We'll close the case, and she won't walk. Sometimes that's as good as it gets."

  "It wasn't like she loved him." At Eve's arched brow, Peabody shrugged. "You could tell. She was just pissed because he'd screwed around on her."

  "Yeah, so she screwed him—literally. So remember, loyalty counts." The car 'link beeped just as she started the engine. "Dallas."

  "Hey, Dallas, hey. It's Ratso."

  Eve looked at the ferret face and beady blue eyes onscreen. "I'd never have guessed."

  He gave the wheezy inhale that passed for a laugh. "Yeah, right. Yeah. So listen, Dallas, I got something for you. How 'bout you meet me and we'll deal. Okay? Right?"

  "I'm heading into Central. I've got business. And my shift's over ten minutes ago, so—"

  "I got something for you. Good data. Worth something."

  "Yeah, that's what you always say. Don't waste my time, Ratso."

  "It's good shit." The blue eyes skittered like marbles in his skinny face. "I can be at The Brew in ten."

  "I'll give you five minutes, Ratso. Practice being coherent."

  She broke the connection, swung away from the curb, and headed downtown.

  "I remember him from your files," Peabody commented. "One of your weasels."

  "Yeah, and he just did ninety days on a D and D. I got the indecent exposure tossed. Ratso likes to flaunt his personality when he's piss-faced. He's harmless," Eve added. "Mostly full of wind, but every now and again, he comes up with some solid data. The Brew's on the way, and Cooke can hold for a bit. Run the serial number on the murder weapon. Let's verify if it belonged to the victim. Then find the next of kin. I'll notify them once Cooke's booked."

  The night was clear and cold with a stiff wind snapping down the urban canyons and chasing most of the foot traffic indoors. The glide-cart vendors held out, shivering in the steam and stink of grilling soy dogs, hoping for a few hungry souls hearty enough to brave February's teeth.

  The winter of 2059 had been brutally cold, and profits were down.

  They left the swank Upper East Side neighborhood with its clear, unbroken sidewalks and uniformed doormen and headed south and west where the streets went narrow and noisy and the natives moved fast, their eyes on the ground and their fists over their wallets.

  Smashed against curbs, the remnants of the last snowfall was soot gray and ugly. Nasty patches of ice still slicked sidewalks and lay in wait for the unwary. Overhead, a billboard swam with a warm blue sea hemmed by sugar-white sand. The busty blonde frolicking in the waves wore little more than a tan and invited New York to come to the islands and play.

  Eve entertained herself with thoughts of a couple of days in Roarke's island getaway. Sun, sand, and sex, she mused as she negotiated bad-tempered evening traffic. Her husband would be happy to provide all three, and she was nearly ready to suggest it. Another week or two maybe, she decided. After she cleared up some paperwork, finished some court appearances, tied a couple of dangling loose ends.

  And, she admitted, felt a little more secure about being away from the job.

  She'd lost her badge and had nearly lost her way too recently for the sting to have faded. Now that she had both back, she wasn't quite ready to set duty aside for a quick bout of indulgence.

  By the time she found a parking space on the second-level street ramp near The Brew, Peabody had the requested data. "According to the serial numbers, the murder weapon belonged to the victim."

  "Then we start off with murder in the second," Eve said as they trooped down to the street. "The PA won't waste time trying to prove premeditation."

  "But you think she went there to kill him."

  "Oh yeah." Eve crossed the sidewalk toward the murky lights of an animated beer mug with dingy foam sliding down the sides.

  The Brew specialized in cheap drinks and stale beer nuts. Its clientele ran to grifters down on their luck, low-level office drones and the cut-rate licensed companions who hunted them, and a smaller of hustlers with nothing left to hustle.

  The air was stale and overheated, conversation scattered and secret. Through the smeared light, several gazes slid to Eve, then quickly away.

  Even without Peabody's uniform beside her, she whispered cop. They would have recognized it in the way she stood—the long, rangy body alert, the clear brown eyes steady, focused, and flat as they took in faces and details.

  Only the uninitiated would have seen just a woman with short, somewhat choppily cut brown hair, a lean face with sharp angles and a shallow dent in the chin. Most who patronized The Brew had been around and could smell cop at a dead run in the opposite direction.

  She spotted Ratso, his pointy rodent face nearly inside the mug as he sucked back beer. As she walked toward his table, she heard a few chairs scrape shyly away, saw more than one pair of shoulders hunch defensively.

  Everyone's guilty of something, she thought, and sent Ratso a fierce, bare-toothed smile. "This joint doesn't change, Ratso, and neither do you."

  He offered her his wheezy laugh, but his gaze had danced nervously over Peabody's spit-and-polish uniform. "You didn't hafta bring backup, Dallas. Jeez, Dallas, I thought we was pals."

  "My pals bathe regularly." She jerked her head toward a chair for Peabody, then sat herself. "She's mine," Eve said simply.

  "Yeah, I heard you got you a pup to train." He tried a smile, exposing his distaste for dental hygiene, but Peabody met it with a cool stare. "She's okay, yeah, she's okay since she's yours. I'm yours, too, right, Dallas? Right?"

  "Aren't I the lucky one." When the waitress started over, Eve merely gave her a glance that had her changing directions and leaving them alone. "What have you got for me, Ratso?"

  "I got good shit, and I can get more." His unfortunate face split into a grin Eve imagined he thought cagey. "If I had some working credit."

  "I don't pay on account. On account of I might not see your ugly face for another six months."

  He wheezed again, slurped up beer, and sent her a hopeful look out of his tiny, watery eyes. "I deal square with you, Dallas."

  "So, start dealing."

  "Okay, okay." He leaned forward, curving his skinny little body over what was left in his mug. Eve could see a perfect circle of scalp, naked as a baby's butt, at the crown of his head. It was almost endearing, and certainly more attractive than the greasy strings of paste-colored hair that hung from it. "You know The Fixer, right? Right?"

  "Sure." She leaned back a little, not so much to relax but to escape the puffs of her weasel's very distasteful breath. "He still around? Christ, he must be a hundred and fifty."

  "Nah, nah, wasn't that old. Ninety-couple maybe, and spry. You bet The Fixer was spry." Ratso nodded enthusiastically and sent those greasy strings bobbing. "Took care of himself. Ate healthy, got regular sex from one of the girls on Avenue B. Said sex kept the mind and body tuned up, you know."

  "Tell me about it," Peabody mutt
ered and earned a mild glare from Eve.

  "You're giving me past tense here."

  Ratso blinked at her. "Huh?"

  "Did something happen to The Fixer?"

  "Yeah, but wait. I'm getting ahead of things." He dug his skinny fingers into the shallow bowl of sad-looking nuts. Chomped on them with what was left of his teeth as he looked at the ceiling and pulled his easily scattered thoughts back into line. "About a month ago, I got some…I had me a view-screen unit, needed a little work."

  Eve's eyebrows lifted under her fringe of bangs. "To cool it off," she said mildly.

  He wheezed, slurped. "See, it got sorta dropped, and I took it in to Fixer so's he could diddle with it. I mean, the guy's a genius, right? Nothing he can't make work like brand-fucking-new."

  "And it's so clever the way he can change serial numbers."

  "Yeah, well." Ratso's smile was nearly sweet. "We got to talking, and The Fixer, he knows how I'm always looking for a little pickup work. He says how he's got this job going. Big one. Really flush. They got him building timers and remotes and little bugs and shit. Done up some boomers, too."

  "He told you he was putting together explosives?"

  "Well, we was sorta pals, so yeah, he was telling me. Said how they heard he used to do that kind of shit when he was in the army. And they was paying heavy credits."

  "Who was paying?"

  "I don't know. Don't think he did, either. Said how a couple guys would come to his place, give him a list of stuff and some credits. He'd build the shit, you know? Then he'd call this number they give him, leave a message. Just supposed to say like the products are ready, and the two guys would come back, pick the stuff up, and give him the rest of the money."

  "What did he figure they wanted with the stuff?"

  Ratso lifted his bony shoulders, then looked pitifully into his empty mug. Knowing the routine, Eve lifted a finger, turned it down toward Ratso's glass. He brightened immediately.

  "Thanks, Dallas. Thanks. Get dry, you know? Get dry talking."

  "Then get to the point, Ratso, while you still have some spit in your mouth."