Loyalty in Death:In Death 09

By: J. D. Robb


“You know Lisbeth Cooke?”

“Of course.”

He rose to pace, and Eve could only be grateful. It was difficult to watch a grown man grieve while he was sitting in a chair shaped like a pink elephant. Then again, she was sitting in a purple kangaroo.

It was obvious, with one look at the late J. Clarence Branson’s office, that he’d enjoyed indulging in his own toys. The shelves lining one wall were loaded with them, from the simple remote-control space station to the series of multitask minidroids.

Eve did her best not to look at their lifeless eyes and small-scale bodies. It was too easy to imagine them popping to life and . . . well, God knew what.

“Tell me about her, Chris.”

“Lisbeth.” He sighed heavily, then in an absent gesture adjusted the sunshade tint on the wide window behind the desk. “She’s a beautiful woman. You’d have seen that for yourself. Smart, capable, ambitious. Demanding, but J. C. didn’t mind that. He told me once if he didn’t have a demanding woman, he’d end up puttering and playing his life away.”

“They spent a lot of time together?”

“Two evenings a week, sometimes three. Wednesdays and Saturdays were standard—dinner with theater or a concert. Any social event that required his presence or hers, and Monday lunch—twelve-thirty to two. A three-week vacation every August wherever Lisbeth wanted to go, and five weekend getaways through the year.”

“Sounds pretty regimented.”

“Lisbeth insisted on that. She wanted conditions spelled out and obligations on both sides clear-cut and in order. I think she understood J. C’s mind tended to wander, and she wanted his full attention when they were together.”

“Any other part of him tend to wander?”

“Excuse me?”

“Was J. C. involved with anyone else?”

“Involved—romantically? Absolutely not.”

“How about just sexually?”

Chris’s round face stiffened, the puffy eyes went cool. “If you’re insinuating that J. Clarence Branson was unfaithful to the woman he’d made a commitment to, nothing could be more false. He was devoted to her. And he was loyal.”

“You can be sure of that? Without question?”

“I made all of his arrangements, all professional and personal appointments.”

“Couldn’t he have made some of his own, on the side?”

“It’s insulting.” Chris’s voice rang out. “The man is dead, and you’re sitting there accusing him of being a liar and a cheat.”

“I’m not accusing him of anything,” Eve corrected calmly. “I’m asking. It’s my responsibility to ask, Chris. And to get him whatever justice I can.”

“I don’t like how you go about it.” He turned away again. “J. C. was a good man, an honest man. I knew him, his habits, his moods. He wouldn’t have entered into some illicit affair, and certainly couldn’t have done so without my knowledge.”

“Okay, so tell me about Lisbeth Cooke. What would she have to gain by killing him?”

“I don’t know. He treated her like a princess, gave her everything she could possibly want. She killed the golden goose.”

“The what?”

“Like in the story.” He nearly smiled now. “The goose that laid the golden eggs. He was happy to give her whatever she wanted, and more. Now he’s dead. No more golden eggs.”

Unless, Eve thought as she left the office, she’d wanted all the eggs at one time.

She knew as she already consulted the animated map in the lobby that B. Donald Branson’s office was at the opposite end of this level from his brother’s. Hoping to find him in, she headed down. Many of the stations were unmanned, most of the glass doors locked with the offices behind them dark and empty.

The building itself seemed to be grieving.

At regular intervals, holograph screens were set up to show off Branson Tools and Toys’ new or favored products. She stopped at one, watching with equal parts amusement and dismay as a uniformed beat cop action-droid returned a lost child to his tearfully grateful mother.

The cop faced the screen, its face sober and trustworthy, his uniform as severely pressed as Peabody’s. “It’s our job to serve and protect.”

Then the image pulled back, spun slowly to give the viewer a three-sixty view of the product and accessories while the computer’s voice stated product and pricing details. A street thief action-droid with airskates was offered as a companion piece.

Shaking her head, Eve turned away. She wondered if the company produced LC droid figures, or illegals dealers. Maybe a couple of psychopaths just to keep the game interesting. Then, of course, you’d need victim-droids.

Jesus.

The clear glass doors opened as Eve approached. A pale and weary-eyed woman manned a sleek U-shaped console and fielded calls on a privacy headset.

“Thank you very much. Your call is being recorded and your condolences will be passed on to the family. Mr. Branson’s memorial service is scheduled for tomorrow, at two o’clock at Quiet Passages, Central Park South. Yes, it’s a great shock. A great loss. Thank you for calling.”

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