Loyalty in Death:In Death 09

By: J. D. Robb

“Sure.” She leaned back a little, not so much to relax but to escape the puffs of her weasel’s very distasteful breath. “He still around? Christ, he must be a hundred and fifty.”

“Nah, nah, wasn’t that old. Ninety-couple maybe, and spry. You bet The Fixer was spry.” Ratso nodded enthusiastically and sent those greasy strings bobbing. “Took care of himself. Ate healthy, got regular sex from one of the girls on Avenue B. Said sex kept the mind and body tuned up, you know.”

“Tell me about it,” Peabody muttered and earned a mild glare from Eve.

“You’re giving me past tense here.”

Ratso blinked at her. “Huh?”

“Did something happen to The Fixer?”

“Yeah, but wait. I’m getting ahead of things.” He dug his skinny fingers into the shallow bowl of sad-looking nuts. Chomped on them with what was left of his teeth as he looked at the ceiling and pulled his easily scattered thoughts back into line. “About a month ago, I got some . . . I had me a view-screen unit, needed a little work.”

Eve’s eyebrows lifted under her fringe of bangs. “To cool it off,” she said mildly.

He wheezed, slurped. “See, it got sorta dropped, and I took it in to Fixer so’s he could diddle with it. I mean, the guy’s a genius, right? Nothing he can’t make work like brand-fucking-new.”

“And it’s so clever the way he can change serial numbers.”

“Yeah, well.” Ratso’s smile was nearly sweet. “We got to talking, and The Fixer, he knows how I’m always looking for a little pickup work. He says how he’s got this job going. Big one. Really flush. They got him building timers and remotes and little bugs and shit. Done up some boomers, too.”

“He told you he was putting together explosives?”

“Well, we was sorta pals, so yeah, he was telling me. Said how they heard he used to do that kind of shit when he was in the army. And they was paying heavy credits.”

“Who was paying?”

“I don’t know. Don’t think he did, either. Said how a couple guys would come to his place, give him a list of stuff and some credits. He’d build the shit, you know? Then he’d call this number they give him, leave a message. Just supposed to say like the products are ready, and the two guys would come back, pick the stuff up, and give him the rest of the money.”

“What did he figure they wanted with the stuff?”

Ratso lifted his bony shoulders, then looked pitifully into his empty mug. Knowing the routine, Eve lifted a finger, turned it down toward Ratso’s glass. He brightened immediately.

“Thanks, Dallas. Thanks. Get dry, you know? Get dry talking.”

“Then get to the point, Ratso, while you still have some spit in your mouth.”

He beamed as the waitress came over to slop urine-colored liquid in his mug. “Okay, okay. So he says how he figures maybe these guys are looking to shake down a bank or jewelry store or something. He’s working on some bypass unit for them, and he’s clued in that the timers and remotes set off the boomers he’s got going for them. Says maybe they’ll want a little guy who knows his way under the street. He’ll maybe put in a word for me.”

“What are friends for?”

“Yeah, that’s it. Then I get a call from him a couple weeks later. He’s really wired up, you know? Tells me the deal isn’t what he figured. That it’s bad shit. Real bad shit. He ain’t making any sense. Never heard old Fixer like that. He was real scared. Said something about being afraid of another Arlington, and how he needed to go under awhile. Could he flop with me until he figured out what to do next? So I said sure, hey sure, come on over. But he never did.”

“Maybe he went under somewhere else?”

“Yeah, he went under. They fished him outta the river a couple days ago. Jersey side.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Yeah.” Ratso brooded into his beer. “He was okay, you know? Word I got is somebody cut his tongue right outta his head.” He lifted his tiny eyes, fixed them mournfully on Eve. “What kinda person does that shit?”

“It’s bad business, Ratso. Bad people. It’s not my case,” she added. “I can take a look at the file, but there’s not a lot I can do.”

“They offed him ’cause he figured out what they was gonna do, right? Right?”

“Yeah, I’d say that follows.”

“So you gotta figure out what they’re gonna do, right? You figure it out, Dallas, then you stop them and take them down for doing The Fixer like that. You’re a murder cop, and they murdered him.”

“It’s not as simple as that. It’s not my case,” she said again. “If they fished him out in New Jersey, it’s not even my damn city. The cops working it aren’t likely to take kindly to me horning in on their investigation.”

“How much you figure most cops gonna bother with somebody like Fixer?”

She nearly sighed. “There are plenty of cops who’ll bother. Plenty who’ll work their butt off trying to close the case, Ratso.”