In Death 12.5 - Interlude in Death (2 page)

Lights bled in front of her closed lids. Deep blues, warm reds in slow, melting patterns. She felt his hands, slicked with something cool and fragrant, knead her shoulders, the knotted muscles of her neck.

Her system, jangled from the flight, began to settle. “Well, this doesn’t suck,” she murmured, and let herself drift.

He took the glass from her hand as her body slipped into the ten-minute restorative program he’d selected. He’d told her one minute.

He’d lied.

When she was relaxed, he bent to kiss the top of her head, then draped a silk sheet over her. Nerves, he knew, had worn her out. Added to them the stress and fatigue of coming off a difficult case and being shot directly into an off-planet assignment that she detested, and it was no wonder her system was unsettled.

He left her sleeping and went out to see to a few minor details for the evening event. He’d just stepped back in when the timer of the program beeped softly and she stirred.

“Wow.” She blinked, scooped at her hair when he set the goggles aside.

“Feel better?”

“Feel great.”

“A little travel distress is easy enough to fix. The bath should finish it off.”

She glanced over, saw that the tub was full, heaped with bubbles that swayed gently in the current of the jets. “I just bet it will.” Smiling, she got up, crossed the room to step down into the sunken pool. And lowering herself neck-deep, she let out a long sigh.

“Can I have that wine or whatever the hell it is?”

“Sure.” Obliging, he carried it over, set it on the wide lip behind her head.

“Thanks. I’ve gotta say, this is some…” She trailed off, pressed her fingers to her temple.

“Eve? Headache?” He reached out, concerned, and found himself flipping into the water with her.

When he surfaced, she was grinning, and her hand was cupped possessively between his legs. “Sucker,” she said.

“Pervert.”

“Oh, yeah. Let me show you how I finish off this little restorative program, ace.”

 

R
estored, and smug, she took a quick spin in the drying tube. If she was going to live only a few more days before crashing into a stray meteor and being burned to a cinder by exploding rocket fuel on the flight back home, she might as well make the best of it.

She snagged a robe, wrapped herself in it, and strolled back into the bedroom.

Roarke, already wearing trousers, was scanning what looked like encoded symbols as they scrolled across the screen of the bedroom tele-link. Her dress, at least she assumed it was a dress, was laid out on the bed.

She frowned at the sheer flow of bronze, walked over to finger the material. “Did I pack this?”

“No.” He didn’t bother to glance back, he could see her suspicious scowl clearly enough in his mind. “You packed several days’ worth of shirts and trousers. Summerset made some adjustments in your conference wardrobe.”

“Summerset.” The name hissed like a snake between her lips. Roarke’s major domo was a major pain in her ass. “You let him paw through my clothes? Now I have to burn them.”

Though he’d made considerable adjustments to her wardrobe in the past year, there were, in his opinion, several items left that deserved burning. “He rarely paws. We’re running a little behind,” he added. “The cocktail reception started ten minutes ago.”

“Just an excuse for a bunch of cops to get shit-faced. Don’t see why I have to get dressed up for it.”

“Image, darling Eve. You’re a featured speaker and one of the event’s VIPs.”

“I hate that part. It’s bad enough when I have to go to your deals.”

“You shouldn’t be nervous about your seminar.”

“Who said I’m nervous?” She snatched up the dress. “Can you see through this thing?”

His lips quirked. “Not quite.”

 

N
ot quite” was accurate, she decided. The getup felt thin as a cloud, and that was good for comfort. The flimsy layers of it barely shielded the essentials. Still, as her fashion sense could be etched on a microchip with room to spare, she had to figure Roarke knew what he was doing.

At the sound of the mixed voices rolling out of the ballroom as they approached, Eve shook her head. “I bet half of them are already in the bag. You’re serving prime stuff in there, aren’t you?”

“Only the best for our hardworking civil servants.” Knowing his woman, Roarke took her hand and pulled her through the open doorway.

The ballroom was huge, and packed. They’d come from all over the planet, and its satellites. Police officials, technicians, expert consultants. The brains and the brawn of law enforcement.

“Doesn’t it make you nervous to be in the same room with, what, about four thousand cops?” she asked him.

“On the contrary, Lieutenant,” he said laughingly. “I feel very safe.”

“Some of these guys probably tried to put you away once upon a time.”

“So did you.” Now he took her hand and, before she could stop him, kissed it. “Look where it got you.”

“Dallas!” Officer Delia Peabody, decked out in a short red dress instead of her standard starched uniform, rushed up. Her dark bowl of hair had been fluffed and curled. And, Eve noted, the tall glass in her hand was already half empty.

“Peabody. Looks like you got here.”

“The transport was on time, no problem. Roarke, this place is seriously iced. I can’t believe I’m here. I really appreciate you getting me in, Dallas.”

She hadn’t arranged it as a favor, exactly. If she was going to suffer through a seminar, Eve had figured her aide should suffer, too. But from the look of things Peabody seemed to be bearing up.

“I came in with Feeney and his wife,” Peabody went on. “And Dr. Mira and her husband. Morris and Dickhead and Silas from Security, Leward from Anti-Crime—they’re all around somewhere. Some of the other guys from Central and the precincts. NYPSD is really well represented.”

“Great.” She could expect to get ragged on about her speech for weeks.

“We’re going to have a little reunion later in the Moonscape Lounge.”

“Reunion? We just saw each other yesterday.”

“On-planet.” Peabody’s lips, slicked deep red, threatened to pout. “This is different.”

Eve scowled at her aide’s fancy party dress. “You’re telling me.”

“Why don’t I get you ladies a drink? Wine, Eve? And Peabody?”

“I’m having an Awesome Orgasm. The drink, I mean, not, you know, personally.”

Amused, Roarke brushed a hand over her shoulder. “I’ll take care of it.”

“Boy, could he ever,” Peabody muttered as he walked away.

“Button it.” Eve scanned the room, separating cops from spouses, from techs, from consultants. She focused in on a large group gathered in the southeast corner of the ballroom. “What’s the deal there?”

“That’s the big wheel. Former Commander Douglas R. Skinner.” Peabody gestured with her glass, then took a long drink. “You ever meet him?”

“No. Heard about him plenty, though.”

“He’s a legend. I haven’t gotten a look yet because there’s been about a hundred people around him since I got here. I’ve read most of his books. The way he came through the Urban Wars, kept his own turf secure. He was wounded during the Atlanta Siege, but held the line. He’s a real hero.”

“Cops aren’t heroes, Peabody. We just do the job.”

2

E
ve wasn’t interested in legends or heroes or retired cops who raked in enormous fees playing the lecture circuit or consulting. She was interested in finishing her one drink, putting in an appearance at the reception—and only because her own commander had ordered her to do so—then making herself scarce.

Tomorrow, she thought, was soon enough to get down to work. From the noise level of the crowd, everyone else thought so, too.

But it appeared the legend was interested in her.

She barely had the wineglass in her hand, was just calculating the least annoying route around the room, when someone tapped on her shoulder.

“Lieutenant Dallas.” A thin man with dark hair cut so short it looked like sandpaper glued to his scalp, nodded at her. “Bryson Hayes, Commander Skinner’s personal adjutant. The commander would very much like to meet you. If you’d come with me.”

“The commander,” she returned even as Hayes started to turn away, “looks pretty occupied at the moment. I’ll be around all week.”

After one slow blink, Hayes simply stared at her. “The commander would like to meet you now, Lieutenant. His schedule through the conference is very demanding.”

“Go on.” Peabody whispered it as she nudged Eve with her elbow. “Go on, Dallas.”

“We’d be delighted to meet with Commander Skinner.” Roarke solved the problem by setting his own drink aside, then taking both Eve’s and Peabody’s arms. It earned him an adoring-puppy look from Peabody and a narrow scowl from his wife.

Before Hayes could object or adjust, Roarke led both women across the ballroom.

“You’re just doing this to piss me off,” Eve commented.

“Not entirely, but I did enjoy pissing Hayes off. Just a bit of politics, Lieutenant.” He gave her arm a friendly squeeze. “It never hurts to play them.”

He slipped through the crowd smoothly, and only smiled when Hayes, a muscle working in his jaw, caught up in time to break a path through the last knot of people.

Skinner was short. His reputation was so large, it surprised Eve to note that he barely reached her shoulders. She knew him to be seventy, but he’d kept himself in shape. His face was lined, but it didn’t sag. Nor did his body. He’d allowed his hair to gray, but not to thin, and he wore it militarily trim. His eyes, under straight silver brows, were a hard marble blue.

He held a short glass, the amber liquid inside neat. The heavy gold of his fifty-year ring gleamed on his finger.

She took his measure in a matter of seconds as, she noted, he took hers.

“Lieutenant Dallas.”

“Commander Skinner.” She accepted the hand he held out, found it cool, dry and more frail than she’d expected. “My aide, Officer Peabody.”

His gaze stayed on Eve’s face an extra beat, then shifted to Peabody. His lips curved. “Officer, always a pleasure to meet one of our men or women in uniform.”

“Thank you, sir. It’s an honor to meet you, Commander. You’re one of the reasons I joined the force.”

“I’m sure the NYPSD is lucky to have you. Lieutenant, I’d—”

“My husband,” Eve interrupted. “Roarke.”

Skinner’s expression didn’t waver, but it chilled. “Yes, I recognized Roarke. I spent some of my last decade on the job studying you.”

“I’m flattered. I believe this is your wife.” Roarke turned his attention to the woman beside Skinner. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Thank you.” Her voice was the soft cream of the southern United States. “Your Olympus is a spectacular accomplishment. I’m looking forward to seeing more of it while we’re here.”

“I’d be happy to arrange a tour, transportation.”

“You’re too kind.” She brushed a hand lightly over her husband’s arm.

She was a striking woman. She had to be close to her husband in age, Eve thought, as their long marriage was part of Skinner’s pristine rep. But either superior DNA or an excellent face-and-body team had kept her beauty youthful. Her hair was richly black, and the gorgeous tone of her skin indicated mixed race. She wore a sleek silver gown and starry diamonds as if she’d been born to such things.

When she looked at Eve it was with polite interest. “My husband admires your work, Lieutenant Dallas, and he’s very exacting in his admiration. Roarke, why don’t we give these two cops a little time to talk shop?”

“Thank you, Belle. Excuse us, won’t you, Officer?” Skinner gestured toward a table guarded by a trio of black-suited men. “Lieutenant? Indulge me.” When they sat, the men moved one step back.

“Bodyguards at a cop convention?”

“Habit. I wager you have your weapon and shield in your evening bag.”

She acknowledged this with a little nod. She would have preferred to wear them, but the dress didn’t allow for her choice of accessories. “What’s this about, Commander?”

“Belle was right. I admire your work. I was intrigued to find us on the same program. You don’t generally accept speaking engagements.”

“No. I like the streets.”

“So did I. It’s like a virus in the blood.” He leaned back, nursed his drink. The faint tremor in his hand surprised her. “But working the streets doesn’t mean being on them, necessarily. Someone has to command—from a desk, an office, a war room. A good cop, a smart cop, moves up the ranks. As you have, Lieutenant.”

“A good cop, a smart cop, closes cases and locks up the bad guys.”

He gave one short laugh. “You think that’s enough for captain’s bars, for a command star? No, the word ‘naive’ never came up in any of the reports I’ve read on you.”

“Why should you read reports on me?”

“I may be retired from active duty, but I’m still a consultant. I still have my finger in the pie.” He leaned forward again. “You’ve managed to work and close some very high-profile cases in the murder book, Lieutenant. While I don’t always approve of your methods, the results are unarguable. It’s rare for me to judge a female officer worthy of command.”

“Excuse me. Back up. Female?”

He lifted his hand in a gesture that told her he’d had this discussion before and was vaguely weary of it. “I believe men and women have different primary functions. Man is the warrior, the provider, the defender. Woman is the procreator, the nurturer. There are numerous scientific theories that agree, and certainly social and religious weight to add.”

“Is that so?” Eve said softly.

“Frankly, I’ve never approved of women on the force, or in certain areas of the civilian workplace. They’re often a distraction and rarely fully committed to the job. Marriage and family soon—as they should for women—take priority.”

“Commander Skinner, under the circumstances, the most courteous thing I can think of to say is you’re full of shit.”

He laughed, loud and long. “You live up to your reputation, Lieutenant. Your data also indicate that you’re smart and that your badge isn’t something you just pick up off the dresser every morning. It’s what you are. Or were, in any case. We have that in common. For fifty years I made a difference, and my house was clean. I did what had to be done, then I did what came next. I was full commander at the age of forty-four. Would you like to be able to say the same?”

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