Death in the Shell Ch. 08-1

A/N: For anybody that’s read Loyalty in Death, this is where I’m probably going to be making the most changes around this saga as we begin to get into the meat and potatoes of this story. There’s going to be a lot of text lifted from the original book but it’s mostly just to display the role reversals between Eve Dallas and David Baxter, just read and you’ll get it.

Standard Disclaimers apply.

*****

Even though a friend was gone from a job and moved on to a new one, murder still happened everywhere. A beggar died unnoticed, 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 for Detective David Baxter and his aide Officer Delia Peabody, death circled its bony finger, then jabbed it gleefully between the eyes of one J. Clarence Branson, the fifty-year-old co-owner 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 continuously sipped her drink, while cozily sitting in a high-backed chair watching a computer generated fire while Detective Baxter examined the body.

“He’s absolutely dead,” she coolly informed Baxter. They did an ID check on her and she was identified as Lisbeth Cooke, an advertising executive. Age 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.”

“Yeah.” Baxter 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 as hell did the job here. Read Ms. Cooke her rights, Peabody.”

Peabody obediently followed orders while Baxter 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.

Baxter gestured the crime scene team to take over and crossed the royal red carper to sit across from Lisbeth in front of the chirpy fire that blew out lush heat and light. Nothing was said for the moment as several beats passed by to see what reaction he might get from the fashionable brunette with fresh blood splattered somehow gaily on her yellow silk jumpsuit.

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

“Did you argue?” Baxter studied the steady green eyes, saw anger but no shock or remorse.

“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.”

“Did you own the drill at the time you killed Branson?” Baxter asked in between hearing the team’s ugly suck and scrape as the team struggled to remove the long steel spike from flesh and bone.

“No, it’s J.C.’s. He putters occasionally, which is what he must’ve been doing when I picked it up.” Lisbeth 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.”

For a first day on the job with an aide, it didn’t get much simpler than this, Baxter 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.”

Baxter shrugged as he used some solvent to clean the blood and Seal-It from his hands, “She’s not going to get murder one. That’s just what it was, but I’ll lay odds it’s pleaded down to manslaughter within forty-eight hours.”

“Manslaughter?” Peabody gaped at Baxter with genuine shock. “Even Lt. Dallas wouldn’t have accepted that.”

“You haven’t been around the block like we have, kid.” Baxter looked into Peabody’s dark, earnest eyes, studied her square, no-nonsense face under its bowl-cut hair and police-issue hat. It was bad enough that Peabody was still reeling from the grief of Lieutenant Eve Dallas still being absent one month after being cleared of being a murder suspect. “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.”

“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.”

Baxter and Peabody stepped off the elevator and crossed the wide lobby with its pink marble columns and glossy ornamental trees. “Temporary diminished capacity, possibly an argument for self-defense. Bullshit yes, 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.”

“Best case scenario,” Baxter said as they stepped outside into a cold as bitter February. “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. “The Lieutenant wouldn’t have settled for it.”

Baxter may have had a preference for slick suits to fit his slick, smooth and flirty personality, but everyone who worked with him knew he had as much dedication to the job as Eve Dallas did. He didn’t seek being named a commanding officer, but decided to volunteer as a temporary Sargent, because if anybody at Cop Central could trust someone to run the Homicide Bullpen in Dallas’ place, it might as well be him. He even made a point to volunteer as Peabody’s trainer in the process.

“Look kid,” Baxter began to turn on the car. “I miss Lieutenant Dallas as much as you do and we do know that she and Roarke are back in town, but the bottom line is we don’t know if she’ll be back in the NYPSD or not.”

Peabody shrugged and settled into the warming car. “Sorry, Baxter, I wasn’t trying to give you grief, because you’re right. It’s just that I thought that she would be back when they cleared her out as a suspect.”

“Well you gotta remember, Whitney and Tibble practically gave her a stab in the back when they took her badge. I’ll admit that Webster and myself weren’t much help in that department, but all me and him were doing was just our jobs. I only regret that we didn’t act faster to save her job before she left.”

“I’m not angry at you, Baxter,” Peabody said while Baxter’s car made the exit towards Cop Central. “If I were angry at you, I would’ve said no and censored any curse words I would’ve directed at you.”

“I wouldn’t blame you if you did curse at me, but I do appreciate you not throwing me under the bus. Like it or not, we’re dealing with some very fragile times in our bullpen, a lot of bridges are on fire and loyalties are being questioned. And I don’t know if Eve’s return were to fix all of our problems, but in case she doesn’t we need to carry on the fight to keep this city safe, like she wanted us to.”

Nothing more was said between the two as they made their way to the parking lot at Cop Central. It was silently agreed that the quicker they got this case written and filed, the sooner Baxter and Peabody would start on their end of shift hobbies.

But somewhere at the New Jersey side of the Hudson, a body was being discovered and was currently in the process of all procedures required before putting it in a bodybag. The Ghost Organization had received a tip from a snitch, who was affiliated with Lieutenant Eve Dallas, that his friend Howard Bassi A.K.A. The Fixer had disappeared. Two weeks after Eve Dallas had received the Cassandra letter from Motoko, they had talked with Ratso, her snitch.

The Fixer told Ratso about a big job he was working on, putting together explosives for a couple of shady characters. But a couple of weeks later, Fixer told him that it was a really bad deal, he was afraid of another Arlington. Fixer was really scared and asked if he could stay with Ratso for awhile, but he never showed up. Right now, Lieutenant Dallas and her husband Roarke were hoisting Bassi’s body onto the boat while Motoko and Batou emerged from the water.

“Well if there’s one advantage to working with you,” Eve watched Motoko get up on the boat, “Is that we don’t have to worry about jurisdiction fights with New Jersey.”

“And yet you still want to go back to the NYPSD,” Batou retorted while following Motoko on the boat. “We’ve been paying you a lot more than they have, I’d have figured you wanted to make your stay with us a more permanent one.”

“It’s not about the money, Batou,” Motoko replied while taking off her wet-suit. “It’s about her settling down on her path. A path that she’s been wanting since childhood.”

“And my path is with the NYPSD,” Eve turned to Roarke. “And also with him.”

Roarke gave Eve a gentle smile as he proceeded to pick out a white wine and four glasses to celebrate a successful fishing trip.

After ridding her wet-suit and changing into a sports bikini, Motoko began to settle in the dining area of the yacht Roarke rented for the job. “Eve, do you remember the summer I took you deep sea diving at the Hudson?”

Eve nodded, “I remember that you didn’t allow me to swim, you instead held on to me, while we had a breathing mask and diving suit on.”

“When was this?” Roarke asked.

“I was thirteen years old,” Eve took her first sips of wine. “Motoko and Batou had gotten back from a mission and asked me if I wanted to go to the Hudson for a swim. Too bad it wasn’t a swim at all, even though I’ve been showing great skill at the time.”

“Yeah you were very close to breaking Motoko’s swim record,” Batou replied with a swig from his glass. “You were hands down, the best student we ever worked with.”

“What exactly did you guys teach her?”

Motoko took a drink from her own glass. “Two weeks at the beginning of each month, we would teach Eve basic school stuff. Math, Science, History, English, Japanese and Spanish. Two weeks at the end of each month, we’d teach her things like shooting, self-defense, Yoga and sports.”

That got a chuckle out of Eve, “I can’t believe that other children weren’t learning the way I was with the Ghost Organization, those final two weeks were enough to actually relax me and as a result I’ve gotten good grades.”

“Good grades nothing,” Batou laughed. “Rich boy, this lady earned nothing but A-pluses in her time with us, she was that good.”

Even though Roarke saw Eve blushing at the compliment, he actually wanted to change the subject. “If she was a good swimmer, why didn’t you make her swim in the Hudson.”

“To prove that even a cyborg can still feel fear,” Motoko simply said.

“Fear?” Roarke asked.

“Fear that a floater might not work, or that one of the oxygen tanks might burst on you,” Eve replied and Motoko noticed that Eve was mirroring an expression she wore twenty years ago. “For a time, I felt that same feeling of fear, coldness, loneliness. But while I felt Motoko’s arms around me, I felt a sense of safety and hope.”

“There’s also something about looking at your reflection while you’re inside the water and when you reach through that reflection, it’s as if you’re being born into something else,” Motoko added to Eve’s statement.

“Exactly what you said to me on that boat, twenty years ago,” Batou said after finishing up his wine glass. “During the Puppet Master incident.”

“Speaking of which,” Motoko noticed the boat begin to make it’s way back to shore. “I noticed while picking up The Fixer, he had Ghost jacks on the back of his neck.”

Eve looked at Motoko in surprise, “You mean he had Cybernetic Enhancements?”

Motoko nodded, “He probably also had a Ghost, I want to do a full dive on him as soon as we get back to headquarters.”

“I don’t get it,” was the first thing Eve said when she and the Ghost Organization entered a Ghost Diving room. “I was able to do a read on Howard Bassi and it said that he was a Colonel during the Urban Wars. Retired. Enlisted in 1997, enrolled officer’s training. Top scores. As a first lieutenant, he worked with STF-Special Training Forces. So why would he be a ghost with a cyborg body?”

“Yeah you definitely didn’t know, Lieutenant,” Batou replied while watching Motoko get ready for a Ghost Dive. “But do you at least remember us teaching you about September 25, 2023, Arlington County, Virginia?”

Suddenly it hit Eve and Roarke like a ton of bricks, “The Pentagon bombing. He was in that building?” Roarke asked.

Batou nodded, “It wasn’t one year prior to The First Laughing Man incident, The U.S. was still in the middle of the Urban Wars when out of nowhere a group called Apollo claimed responsibility for the bombing of the Pentagon.”

“Officially,” Motoko added while stripping off her clothes, “There were no survivors reported when that bombing occurred, both he, his wife, and their two kids were in the building that day and they didn’t make it. But how this guy survived and got a cyber body is just as confusing to us, as it is to you.”

Eve eventually found the data involving Bassi’s wife and two children, “The son was eight and the daughter was six. Jesus Fucking Christ.”

“How common was it for people to have Cybernetic Enhancements?” Roarke asked.

“Not as common as you think,” Batou replied, “If you were a member of a security force like Section 9, you had cybernetic enhancements to at least communicate with the Major and me through your brain. Our late leader, Aramaki and our former comrade, Togusa were the only real humans in our group, but they also had cyber enhancements in their brains. There had been some humans who had recreational cybernetics, but like you and Dallas, most just preferred to stay human.”

Eve let Batou’s back story stew in her head for a few minutes. “So what you’re saying is, this guy should’ve been dead along with his family, but he ended up being rescued anyway to have a shell for a new body?”

Batou nodded, “It’s a theory to run on, we won’t know the full story until the doctors bring in Bassi for the Major to dive into his head. Tongue may have been cut off along with the lacerations on his wrists and his head may look bruised, but as long as there’s a brain in his shell, he’ll still be able to talk to us.”

Just then a group of medics entered into the room with a gurney containing Howard Bassi’s body. To a normal human being, Bassi had a body that looked pretty healthy for a 90 year old man, if they didn’t count on the body having similarities to Motoko’s body, all cyborg and not one ounce of real human flesh, not even Bassi’s brain had a trace of human skin.

“Are we going to need to clear out?” Eve asked.

“If you want,” Batou replied as he gave his Ghost-Link jack to Motoko. “Though I will say that it’ll probably be a very long while before we get done. I suggest that the both of you go and get some sleep.”

Without any ounce of objection, Eve and Roarke exited the room to head back for Eve’s old bedroom.

The married humans left the married cyborgs to take care of business, so they took an elevator to Eve’s old bedroom at The Ghost Headquarters. There was a brief silence that fell between Eve and Roarke on the walk to that elevator, but it wasn’t uncomfortable per se. It was more a brewing of the events that have unraveled since before and after fishing out The Fixer.

But when they did reach the elevator, it was Eve who broke the silence. “Did you ever have any dealings with Fixer?”

“Is that an official question?” Roarke smirked.

Eve let out a sigh. “That means you did.”

“He had magic hands,” Roarke said and put his one of his arms around Eve’s shoulders. “Five or six years ago, he worked on a little device for me. A security probe, a cleverly designed code-breaker.”

“Which I suppose you designed?”

“For the most part, though Bassi did have some interesting input. A brilliant man with electronics, but very untrustworthy. I decided it was unwise to use his services again.”

“And apparently not so trustworthy now that we know he’s a cyborg,” Eve smirked.

“No,” Roarke agreed. “But looking back now, I really can’t blame him for not trusting people after they robbed him of death.”

He noticed the lack of laughter coming from Eve over his quip, meaning that her mind was definitely on something along with Howard Bassi’s body. If there was such a thing as reading minds while you’re human, Eve and Roarke were the closest thing to actively practice it.

“You’re thinking about your friends at the NYPSD.”

“It’s been nearly a month, Roarke,” Eve put a thumb and finger at the bridge between her eyes. “I know we agreed to help with investigating this group called Cassandra, but all we gotten this month was just the letter. I miss Peabody, Feeney, Baxter, my bullpen. Hell I even miss Whitney and Tibble, even after they did what they had to do.”

“That means you’re displaying forgiveness for both of them,” Roarke replied as the elevator slowed it’s descent to the floor they needed to go. “But you’re still worried about whether or not they’ll forgive you for us disappearing on them so abruptly.”

“I feel kinda guilty that I didn’t let them know about my hidden home,” Eve wanted to sit on the couch more than go to bed right now. But she did proceed to strip off her boots, coat, and sweater. “But I know that I needed to go back to the home that built me and remind me what I wanted to grow up to be when I was a child.”

Roarke followed suit as he stripped off his sweater, shoes, socks and under-shirt, “I gotta admit, Darling Eve, the more I hang with The Ghost Organization, the more I realize that you came from good people.”

Eve leaned her head on Roarke’s muscular chest, “Cyborgs, yes, but they definitely have good hearts. The training they gave me was tough, but they were kind throughout my childhood and when I reached my teen years, they always made me feel like I was a part of the team. They were always positive and never got pushy at me.”

For awhile, they just sat on the couch to revel in the silence of being together. They’ve been doing a lot of it since Eve rejoined The Ghost Organization, sure both of them had been hard at work in trying to uncover the group Cassandra and what link they had to Eve Dallas, if there ever was one. Two weeks prior to meeting with Ratso, Eve and Roarke made a semi-return to the public eye by attending a charity event, mostly to keep up appearances and alleviate suspicion from the public who might have been stirring up rumors. They never went public about whether or not Eve Dallas would return to the NYPSD, and Roarke used enough of his billionaire influence to block anymore questions from the press.

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