In Death 12.5 - Interlude in Death (10 page)

She knew every cop in the room caught the gesture. The room went dead quiet.

“Commander Skinner, a position of command regularly requires you to send men into situations where loss of life, civilian and departmental, is a primary risk. In such cases, do you find it more beneficial to the operation to set personal feelings for your men aside, or to use those feelings to select the team?”

“Every man who picks up a badge does so acknowledging he will give his life if need be to serve and protect. Every commander must respect that acknowledgment. Personal feelings must be weighed, in order to select the right man for the right situation. This is a matter of experience and the accumulation, through years and that experience, of recognizing the best dynamic for each given op. But personal feelings—i.e., emotional attachments, private connections, friendships, or animosities—must never color the decision.”

“So, as commander, you’d have no problem sacrificing a close personal friend or connection to the success of the op?”

His color came up. And the tremor she had noticed in his hand became more pronounced. “‘Sacrificing,’ Lieutenant Dallas? A poor choice of words. Cops aren’t lambs being sent to slaughter. Not passive sacrifices to the greater good, but active, dedicated soldiers in the fight for justice.”

“Soldiers are sacrificed in battle. Acceptable losses.”

“No loss is acceptable.” His bunched fist pounded the podium. “Necessary, but not acceptable. Every man who has fallen under my command weighs on me. Every child left without a father is my responsibility. Command requires this, and that the commander be strong enough to bear the burdon.”

“And does command, in your opinion, require restitution for those losses?”

“It does, Lieutenant. There is no justice without payment.”

“For the children of the fallen? And for the children of those who escaped the hand of justice? In your opinion.”

“Blood speaks to blood.” His voice began to rise, and to tremble. “If you were more concerned with justice than with your own personal choices, you wouldn’t need to ask the question.”

“Justice is my concern, Commander. It appears we have different definitions of the term. Do you think your goddaughter was the best choice for this operation? Does her death weigh on you now, or does it balance the other losses?”

“You’re not fit to speak her name. You’ve whored your badge. You’re a disgrace. Don’t think your husband’s money or threats will stop me from using all my influence to have that badge taken from you.”

“I don’t stand behind Roarke any more than he stands behind me.” She kept talking as Hayes stepped forward and laid a hand on Skinner’s shoulder. “I don’t stand on yesterday’s business. Two people are dead here and now. That’s my priority, Commander. Justice for them is my concern.”

Hayes stepped in front of Skinner. “The seminar is over. Commander Skinner thanks you for attending and regrets Lieutenant Dallas’s disruption of the question-and-answer period.”

People shuffled, rose. Eve saw Skinner leaving, flanked by the two guards.

“Ask me,” someone commented near her, “these seminars could use more fucking disruptions.”

She made her way toward the front and came up toe to toe with Hayes.

“I’ve got two more questions for the commander.”

“I said the seminar’s over. And so’s your little show.”

She felt the crowd milling around them, some edging close enough to hear. “You see, that’s funny. I thought I came in on the show. Does he run it, Hayes, or do you?”

“Commander Skinner is a great man. Great men often need protection from whores.”

A cop moved in, poked Hayes on the shoulder. “You’re gonna want to watch the name-calling, man.”

“Thanks.” Eve acknowledged him with a nod. “I’ve got it.”

“Don’t like play cops calling a badge a whore.” He stepped back, but he hovered.

“While you’re protecting the great man,” Eve continued, “you might want to remember that two of his front-line soldiers are in the morgue.”

“Is that a threat, Lieutenant?”

“Hell, no. It’s a fact, Hayes. Just like it’s a fact that both of them had fathers who died under Skinner’s command. What about your father?”

Furious color slashed across his cheekbones. “You know nothing of my father, and you have no right to speak of him.”

“Just giving you something to think about. For some reason I get the feeling that I’m more interested in finding out who put those bodies in the morgue than you or your great man. And because I am, I will find out—before this show breaks down and moves on. That one’s a promise.”

9

I
f she couldn’t get to Skinner, Eve thought, she’d get to Skinner’s wife. And if Angelo and Peabody hadn’t softened and soothed enough, that was too fucking bad. Damned if she was going to tiptoe around weepy women and dying men, then have to turn the case over to the interplanetary boys.

It was her case, and she meant to close it.

She knew that part of her anger and urgency stemmed from the information Roarke had given her. His father, hers, Skinner, and a team of dead cops. Skinner was right about one thing, she thought as she headed for his suite. Blood spoke to blood.

The blood of the dead had always spoken to her.

Her father and Roarke’s had both met a violent end. That was all the justice she could offer to the badges lost so many years before. But there were two bodies in cold boxes. For those, whatever they’d done, she would stand.

She knocked, waited impatiently. It was Darcia who opened the door and sent Eve an apologetic little wince.

“She’s a mess,” Darcia whispered. “Mira’s patting her hand, letting her cry over her goddaughter. It’s a good foundation, but we haven’t been able to build on it yet.”

“Any objections to me giving the foundation a shake?”

Darcia studied her, pursed her lips. “We can try it that way, but I wouldn’t shake too hard. She shatters, we’re back to square one with her.”

With a nod, Eve stepped in. Mira was on the sofa with Belle, and was indeed holding her hand. A teapot, cups, and countless tissues littered the table in front of them. Belle was weeping softly into a fresh one.

“Mrs. Skinner, I’m sorry for your loss.” Eve sat in a chair by the sofa, leaned into the intimacy. She kept her voice quiet, sympathetic, and waited until Belle lifted swollen, red rimmed eyes to hers.

“How can you speak of her? Your husband’s responsible.”

“My husband and I were nearly blown to bits by an explosive device on Zita Vinter’s apartment door. A device set by her killer. Follow the dots.”

“Who else had cause to kill Zita?”

“That’s what we want to find out. She sabotaged the security cameras the night Weeks was murdered.”

“I don’t believe that.” Belle balled the tissue into her fist. “Zita would never be a party to murder. She was a lovely young woman. Caring and capable.”

“And devoted to your husband.”

“Why shouldn’t she be?” Belle’s voice rose as she got to her feet. “He stepped in when her father died. Gave her his time and attention, helped with her education. He’d have done anything for her.”

“And she for him?”

Belle’s lips quivered, and she sat again, as if her legs quivered as well. “She would never be a party to murder. He would never ask it of her.”

“Maybe she didn’t know. Maybe she was just asked to deal with the cameras and nothing else. Mrs. Skinner, your husband’s dying.” Eve saw Belle jerk, shudder. “He doesn’t have much time left, and the loss of his men is preying on him as he prepares for death. Can you sit there and tell me his behavior over the last several months has been rational?”

“I won’t discuss my husband’s condition with you.”

“Mrs. Skinner, do you believe Roarke’s responsible for something his father did? Something this man did when Roarke was a child, three thousand miles away?”

She watched tears swim into Belle’s eyes again, and leaned in. Pressed. “The man used to beat Roarke half to death for sport. Do you know what it feels like to be hit with fists, or a stick, or whatever the hell’s handy—and by the person who’s supposed to take care of you? By law, by simple morality. Do you know what it’s like to be bloody and bruised and helpless to fight back?”

“No.” The tears spilled over. “No.”

“Does that child have to pay for the viciousness of the man?”

“The sins of the fathers,” Belle began, then stopped. “No.” Wearily, she wiped her wet cheeks. “No, Lieutenant, I don’t believe that. But I know what it has cost my husband, what happened before, what was lost. I know how it’s haunted him—this good, good man, this honorable man who has dedicated his life to his badge and everything it stands for.”

“He can’t exorcise his ghosts by destroying the son of the man who made them. You know that, too.”

“He would never harm Zita, or Reggie. He loved them as if they were his own. But…” She turned to Mira again, gripped her hands fiercely. “He’s so ill—in body, mind, spirit. I don’t know how to help him. I don’t know how long I can stand watching him die in stages. I’m prepared to let him go because the pain—sometimes it’s so horrible. And he won’t let me in. He won’t share the bed with me, or his thoughts, his fears. It’s as if he’s divorcing me, bit by bit. I can’t stop it.”

“For some, death is a solitary act,” Mira said gently. “Intimate and private. It’s hard to love someone and stand aside while they take those steps alone.”

“He agreed to apply for self-termination for me.” Belle sighed. “He doesn’t believe in it. He believes a man should stand up to whatever he’s handed and see it through. I’m afraid he’s not thinking clearly any longer. There are moments…”

She steadied her breathing and looked back at Eve. “There are rages, swings of mood. The medication may be partially responsible. He’s never shared the job with me to any great extent. But I know that for months now, perhaps longer, Roarke has been a kind of obsession to him. As have you. You chose the devil over duty.”

She closed her eyes a moment. “I’m a cop’s wife, Lieutenant. I believe in that duty, and I see it all over you. He would see it, too, if he weren’t so ill. I swear to you he didn’t kill Reggie or Zita. But they may have been killed for him.”

“Belle.” Mira offered her another tissue. “You want to help your husband, to ease his pain. Tell Lieutenant Dallas and Chief Angelo what you know, what you feel. No one knows your husband’s heart and mind the way you do.”

“It’ll shatter him. If he has to face this, it’ll destroy him. Fathers and sons,” she said softly, then buried her face in the tissue. “Oh, dear God.”

“Hayes.” It clicked for Eve like a link on a chain. “Hayes didn’t lose a father during the bust. He’s Commander Skinner’s son.”

“A single indiscretion.” Tears choked Belle’s voice when she lifted her head again. “During a bump in a young marriage. And so much of it my fault. My fault,” she repeated, turning her pleading gaze to Mira. “I was impatient, and angry, that so much of his time, his energies went into his work. I’d married a cop, but I hadn’t been willing to accept all that that meant—all it meant to a man like Douglas.”

“It isn’t easy to share a marriage with duty.” Mira poured more tea. “Particularly when duty is what defines the partner. You were young.”

“Yes.” Gratitude spilled into Belle’s voice as she lifted her cup. “Young and selfish, and I’ve done everything in my power to make up for it since. I loved him terribly, and wanted all of him. I couldn’t have that, so I pushed and prodded, then I stepped away from him. All or nothing. Well. He’s a proud man, and I was stubborn. We separated for six months, and during that time he turned to someone else. I can’t blame him for it.”

“And she got pregnant,” Eve prompted.

“Yes. He never kept it from me. He never lied or tried to hide it from me. He’s an honorable man.” Her tone turned fierce when she looked at Eve.

“Does Hayes know?”

“Of course. Of course he knows. Douglas would never shirk his responsibilities. He provided financial support. We worked out an arrangement with the woman, and she agreed to raise the child and keep his paternity private. There was no point, no point at all in making the matter public and complicating Douglas’s career, shadowing his reputation.”

“So you paid for his…indiscretion.”

“You’re a hard woman, aren’t you, Lieutenant? No mistakes in your life? No regrets?”

“Plenty of them. But a child—a man—might have some problem being considered a mistake. A regret.”

“Douglas has been nothing but kind and generous and responsible with Bryson. He’s given him everything.”

Everything except his name, Eve thought. How much would that matter? “Did he give him orders to kill, Mrs. Skinner? Orders to frame Roarke for murder?”

“Absolutely not. Absolutely not. But Bryson is…perhaps he’s overly devoted to Douglas. In the past several months, Douglas has turned to him too often, and perhaps, when Bryson was growing up, Douglas set standards that were too high, too harsh for a young boy.”

“Hayes would need to prove himself to his father.”

“Yes. Bryson’s hard, Lieutenant. Hard and cold-blooded. You’d understand that, I think. Douglas—he’s ill. And his moods, his obsession with what happened all those years ago is eating at him as viciously as his illness does. I’ve heard him rage, as if there’s something else inside him. And during the rage he said something had to be done, some payment made, whatever the cost. That there were times the law had to make room for blood justice. Death for death. I heard him talking with Bryson, months ago, about this place. That Roarke had built it on the bones of martyred cops. That he would never rest until it, and Roarke, were destroyed. That if he died before he could avenge those who were lost, his legacy to his son was that duty.”

“Pick him up.” Eve swung to Darcia. “Have your people pick Hayes up.”

“Already on it,” Darcia answered as she switched on her communicator.

“He doesn’t know.” Belle got slowly to her feet. “Or he’s not allowing himself to know. Douglas is convinced that Roarke’s responsible for what’s happened here. Convinced himself that you’re part of it, Lieutenant. His mind isn’t what it was. He’s dying by inches. This will finish him. Have pity.”

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