In Death 12.5 - Interlude in Death (7 page)

“Don’t think you can use her as a shield. I told you to stay away from Skinner.”

“That’s the second time someone’s accused me of hiding behind a woman today.” Though his voice remained mild, Eve knew the edge was there. “It’s getting annoying.”

“You want annoying?” Eve began.

“You’ll have to forgive her,” Roarke said to Mira as he walked her to the door. “Eve tends to become overexcited when I disobey.”

“She’s worried about you,” Mira said under her breath.

“Well, she’ll have to get over it. Have a good session.” He nudged Mira out the door, closed it. Locked it. Turned. The edge was visible now. “I don’t need a fucking shield.”

“That was a figure of speech, and don’t change the subject. You went at Skinner after I told you to stay clear of him.”

“I don’t take orders from you, Eve. I’m not a lapdog.”

“You’re a civilian,” she shot back.

“And you’re a consultant on someone else’s case, and your authority here, in my bloody world, is a courtesy.”

She opened her mouth, closed it. Hissed. Then she turned on her heel, strode out through the terrace doors, and kicked the railing several times.

“Feel better now?”

“Yes. Because I imagined it was your stupid, rock-hard head.” She didn’t look back, but braced her hands on the railing and looked out over what was indeed one of Roarke’s worlds.

It was lavish and extravagant. The slick spears of other hotels, the tempting spreads of casinos, theaters, the glitter of restaurants were all perfectly placed. There were fountains, the silver ribbons of people glides, and the lush spread of parks where trees and flowers grew in sumptuous profusion.

She heard the click of his lighter, caught the scent of his obscenely expensive tobacco. He rarely smoked these days, she thought.

“If you’d told me it was important for you to have a face-to-face with Skinner, I’d have gone with you.”

“I’m aware of that.”

“Oh, Christ. Men. Look, you don’t need to hide behind me or anybody. You’re a tough, badass son of a bitch with a really big penis and balls of titanium steel. Okay?”

He cocked his head. “One minute. I’m imagining throwing you off the balcony. Yes.” He nodded, took a long drag on the cigarette. “That’s indeed better.”

“If Skinner took a couple of pops at your ego, it’s because he knew it was a good target. That’s what cops do. Why don’t you just tell me what happened?”

“He made it clear, while Hayes stood there with a hand inside his coat and on his weapon, that my father was garbage and by association so am I. And that it was long past time for my comeuppance, so to speak.”

“Did he say anything that led to him ordering Weeks killed?”

“On the contrary, he twice pointed the finger at me. Full of barely restrained fury and seething emotion. You could almost believe he meant it. I don’t think he’s well,” Roarke continued and crushed out his cigarette. “Temper put a very unhealthy color in his face, strained his breathing. I’ll have to take a pass through his medical records.”

“I want to take a pass at his wife. Angelo agreed, after some minor complaints, to set it up so we can double-team her later this afternoon. Meanwhile, Peabody’s on Skinner, between us we’ll track down the uniform, and Feeney’s running names. Somebody on your security staff worked that bypass. We find out who, we link them back to Skinner and get them into interview, we change the complexion of this. Maybe put it away before ILE comes in.”

She glanced back toward the suite as the ’link beeped. “Are we okay now?”

“We seem to be.”

“Good. Maybe that’s Angelo with the setup for Belle Skinner.” She moved past Roarke to the ’link. Rather than Darcia’s exotic face, Feeney’s droopy one blipped on screen.

“Might have something for you here. Zita Vinter, hotel security. She was in Control between twenty-one-thirty and twenty-three hundred last night. Crossed her with your list. Popped to Vinter, Detective Carl, Atlanta cop under Skinner. Line of duty during the botched bust. Vinter’s wife was pregnant with their second kid—a son, Marshall, born two months after his death. Older kid was five. Daughter, Zita.”

“Bull’s-eye. What sector is she in now?”

“She didn’t come in today. Didn’t call in either, according to her supervisor. Got her home address. Want me to ride with you?”

She started to agree, then looked back at Roarke. “No, I got it. See what else you can find on her, okay? Maybe you can tag Peabody when the keynote crap’s over. She’s good at digging background details. Owe you one, Feeney. Let me have the address.”

After she’d ended transmission, Eve hooked her thumbs in her front pockets and looked at Roarke. “You wouldn’t know where 22 Athena Boulevard might be, would you?”

“I might be able to find it, yes.”

“I bet.” She picked up her palm-link from the desk, stuck it in her pocket. “I’m not riding in a limo to go interview a suspect. It’s unprofessional. Bad enough I’m taking some civilian wearing a fancy suit with me.”

“Then I’ll just have to come up with some alternate transportation.”

“While you’re at it, dig up your file on Zita Vinter, security sector.”

He drew out his palm PC as they started out. “Always a pleasure to work with you, Lieutenant.”

“Yeah, yeah.” She stepped into the private elevator while he ordered something called a GF2000 brought to a garage slot. “Technically, I should contact Angelo and update her.”

“No reason you can’t. Once we’re on the way.”

“No reason. Saves time this way.”

“That’s your story, darling, and we’ll stick to it. Vinter, Zita,” he began as she scowled at him. “Twenty-eight. Two years with Atlanta PSD, then into private security. She worked for one of my organizations in Atlanta. Clean work record. Promoted to A Level over two years ago. She put in for the position here six months ago. She’s single, lives alone. Lists her mother as next of kin. Her employment jacket’s clean.”

“When did you contract for this convention deal?”

“Just over six months ago,” he said as they stepped off into the garage. “It was one of the incentives to have several of the facilities complete.”

“How much do you want to bet Skinner’s kept in close contact with his dead detective’s daughter over the years? Angelo finesses a warrant for Vinter’s ’link records, we’re going to find transmissions to and from Atlanta. And not just to her mother.”

When he stopped, put his PC away, she stared. “What the hell is this?”

Roarke ran a hand over the sleek chrome tube of the jet-bike. “Alternate transportation.”

It looked fast and it looked mean, a powerful silver bullet on two silver wheels. She continued to stare as Roarke offered her a crash helmet.

“Safety first.”

“Get a grip on yourself. With all your toys I know damn well you’ve got something around here with four wheels and doors.”

“This is more fun.” He dropped the helmet onto her head. “And I’m forced to remind you that part of this little interlude was meant to be a bit of a holiday for us.”

He took a second helmet, put it on. Then tidily fastened hers. “This way you can be my biker bitch.” When she showed her teeth, he only laughed and swung a leg nimbly over the tube. “And I mean that in the most flattering way possible.”

“Why don’t I pilot, and you can be my biker bitch?”

“Maybe later.”

Swearing, she slid onto the bike behind him. He glanced back at her as she adjusted her seat, cupped her hands loosely at his hips. “Hang on,” he told her.

He shot like a rocket out of the garage, and her arms latched like chains around his waist. “Lunatic!” she shouted as he blasted into traffic. Her heart flipped into her throat and stayed there while he swerved, threaded, streaked.

It wasn’t that she minded speed. She liked to go fast, when she was manning the controls. There was a blur of color as they careened around an island of exotic wildflowers. A stream of motion when they rushed by a people glide loaded with vacationers. Grimly determined to face her death without blinking, she stared at the snag of vehicular traffic dead ahead.

Felt the boost of thrusters between her legs. “Don’t you—”

She could only yip and try not to choke on her own tongue as he took the jet-bike into a sharp climb. Wind screamed by her ears as they punched through the air.

“Shortcut,” he shouted back to her, and there was laughter in his voice as he brought the bike down to the road again, smooth as icing on cake.

He braked in front of a blindingly white building, shut off all engines. “Well, then, it doesn’t come up to sex, but it’s definitely in the top ten in the grand scheme.”

He swung off, removed his helmet.

“Do you know how many traffic violations you racked up in the last four minutes?”

“Who’s counting?” He pulled off her helmet, then leaned down to bite her bottom lip.

“Eighteen,” she informed him, pulling out her palm ’link to contact Darcia Angelo. She scanned the building as she relayed a message to Darcia’s voice mail. Clean, almost brutally clean. Well constructed, from the look of it, tasteful and likely expensive.

“What do you pay your security people?”

“A Level?” They crossed the wide sidewalk to the building’s front entrance. “About twice what a New York police lieutenant brings in annually, with a full benefit package, of course.”

“What a racket.” She waited while they were scanned at the door and Roarke coded in his master. The requisite computer voice welcomed him and wished him a safe and healthy day.

The lobby was tidy and quiet, really an extended foyer with straight lines and no fuss. At the visitors’ panel, Eve identified herself and requested Zita Vinter.

I’m sorry, Dallas, Lieutenant Eve, Ms. Vinter does not respond. Would you care to leave a message at this time?

“No, I don’t care to leave a message at this time. This is police business. Clear me into Apartment Six-B.”

I’m sorry, Dallas, Lieutenant Eve, your credentials are not recognized on this station and do not allow this system to bypass standard privacy and security regulations.

“How would you like me to bypass your circuits and stuff your motherboard up your—”

Warning! Verbal threats toward this system may result in arrest, prosecution, and monetary fines up to five thousand credits.

Before Eve could spit out a response, Roarke clamped a hand on her shoulder. “This is Roarke.” He laid his hand on the palm plate. “ID 151, Level A. You’re ordered to clear me and Lieutenant Dallas to all areas of this compound.”

Identification verified. Roarke and companion, Dallas, Eve, are cleared.

“Lieutenant,” Eve said between her teeth as Roarke pulled her toward an elevator.

“Don’t take it personally. Level six,” he ordered.

“Damn machine treated me like a civilian.” The insult of it was almost beyond her comprehension. “A
civilian.

“Irritating, isn’t it?” He strolled off onto the sixth floor.

“You enjoyed that, didn’t you? That ‘Roarke and companion’ shit.”

“I did, yes. Immensely.” He gestured. “Six–B.” When she said nothing, he rang the buzzer himself.

“She didn’t answer before, she’s not going to answer now.”

“No.” He dipped his hands lightly in his pockets. “Technically…I suppose you need to ask Chief Angelo to request a warrant for entry.”

“Technically,” Eve agreed.

“I am, however, the owner of this building, and the woman’s employer.”

“Doesn’t give you any right to enter her apartment without legal authority or permission.”

He simply stood, smiled, waited.

“Do it,” Eve told him.

“Welcome to my world.” Roarke keyed in his master code, then hummed when the lock light above the door remained red. “Well, well, she appears to have added a few touches of her own, blocked the master code. I’m afraid that’s a violation of her lease agreement.”

Eve felt the little twist in her gut and slipped her hand under her jacket to her weapon. “Get in.”

Neither questioned that whatever methods had been taken, he could get around them. Through them. He took a small case of tools out of his pocket and removed the anti-intruder panel on the scanner and identification plate.

“Clever girl. She’s added a number of tricky little paths here. This will take a minute.”

Eve took out her ’link and called Peabody. “Track down Angelo,” she ordered. “We’re at 22 Athena Boulevard. Six-B. She needs to get over here. I want you with her.”

“Yes, sir. What should I tell her?”

“To get here.” She dropped the ’link back in her pocket, stepped back to Roarke just as the lock lights went green. “Move aside,” she ordered and drew her weapon.

“I’ve been through a door with you before, Lieutenant.” He took the hand laser out of his pocket, and ignored her snarl when she spotted it. “You prefer low, as I recall.”

Since there wasn’t any point in biting her tongue or slapping at him for carrying, she did neither. “On my count.” She put a hand on the door, prepared to shove it open.

“Wait!” He caught the faint hum, and the sound sent his heart racing. The panel lights flashed red as he yanked Eve away from the door. They went down in a heap, his body covering hers.

She had that one breathless second to understand before the explosion blasted the door outward. A line of flame shot into the air, roaring across the hall where they’d been standing seconds before. Alarms screamed, and she felt the floor beneath her tremble at a second explosion, felt the blast of vicious heat all over her.

“Jesus! Jesus!” She struggled under him, slapped violently at the smoldering shoulder of his jacket with her bare hands. “You’re on fire here.”

Water spewed out of the ceiling as he sat up, stripped off the jacket. “Are you hurt?”

“No.” She shook her head, shoved the hair soaked with the flood of the safety sprinklers out of her face. “Ears are ringing some. Where are you burned?” Her hands were racing over him as she pushed up to her knees.

“I’m not. The suit’s fucked is all. Here, now. We’re fine.” He glanced back at the scarred and smoldering hole that had been the doorway. “But I’m afraid I’m going to have to evict Six-B.”

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