An hour later, the three men were settled at the table in the loft with food and cold beers.
"So what did you find out today, Jim?" Simon asked, spooning a generous serving of rice on his plate.
Jim finished dishing out some cashew chicken. Sighing, he laid down the serving spoon and scooped up his chopsticks. Opening the file folders, he spread them out, careful to keep them away from the little white containers of food scattered across the table.
He pointed at the report with the tip of his chopsticks. "The first victim, Sean Caine, age 42, had a PhD in electrical engineering from Texas A&M, graduated in 1985. Worked for Geiger Electronics for the past four and a half years. He was part of a team developing software for interfacing with extremely complex robots that will be used in manufacturing high-tech items. Before that he worked for ten years at Casio Design Center in New York City. Divorced five years ago. One child, a boy, lives with his mother in New York. Ex-wife is an associate editor with 'New York Fashion' magazine. No overt hostility between Caine and his ex.
"According to preliminary reports, he had no known enemies, and no one was particularly mad at him. He was a fairly pleasant man, no serious vices, nothing to make anyone take a dislike to him, from what his coworkers said. Bank balances are in the comfortable range, but not large enough to raise any eyebrows: no unusually large deposits or withdrawals within the past five years. Had a tidy sum in his 401k and a few Certificates of Deposits. Owned his house, only six years left on the mortgage. Car paid for. No remarkable debts. No police record other than a few parking tickets which were paid promptly."
After swallowing his mouthful of steamed veggies and rice, Blair responded, "Doesn't sound like much there. No obvious motive for someone to kill him."
Jim nodded, "Yeah. Hey, pass the wonton soup, Simon."
Simon pushed it across the table. "Okay, what about the second victim? Anything there?"
The detective spooned some soup into his bowl. After enjoying a few sips, he returned his attention to the papers, pushing the information sheet on the second victim where the other two could easily see it. "Marcia Baxter, age 45. Got a Masters in bioengineering from MIT, 1981. Originally from Olympia, but living in Cascade for the past 18 years. Worked under National Science Foundation grants for most of that time, under various researchers in the Biomedical Department at Rainier University." Jim paused, looking thoughtfully at Blair.
Blair returned his gaze, and then both voiced their thought. "Brackett."
Simon looked back and forth between the two men. "You think she's connected to Brackett?"
Jim shrugged. "Yeah, could be. It makes sense that he would have had a contact in the Biomedical Department, someone who would have told him about the planned transport of the Ebola virus and provided him with information on how to access it." Jim wiped his fingers on a napkin and grabbed a pen, making a note to look into possible connections between Baxter, Brackett, and the CIA. "She was working there when the virus was stolen, so she could have provided him with the intel."
"Right, right." Blair was bouncing slightly in his chair, his enthusiasm bubbling up. "I wonder if maybe Brackett was planning something with her...." He stopped, looking at Jim, a speculative expression on his face. "Maybe she tried to double-cross him? Or backed out on something they had planned? That would give him a motive to kill her."
"Maybe." Simon took a bite of Hunan beef and chewed thoughtfully. After swallowing, he poked his chopsticks toward the file and said, "But it could be too obvious, too. Let's not jump to conclusions. We don't have anything solid to tie Brackett to these murders."
"Yeah." Blair said. He enthusiastically dug back into his food. "Okay, what else do we have on Baxter?"
"Let's see..." he reviewed the file. "She was married in 1982; husband was a senior executive at a large computer firm... the firm did some contracts for the US government, mostly computer firewall protections and anti-hacker stuff. He died, car crash, in 1996. No foul play suspected in his death. She was alone, no kids, no known significant other, no roommate, very few friends. In fact, she was something of a loner after he died, according to her coworkers. Smoked a half a pack of cigarettes a day. Occasionally had wine with dinner. No gambling or other vices. She had over $500,000 in her bank accounts and CD's."
Jim paused to take a bite of his dinner.
Simon raised his eyebrows. "That's pretty good money for a researcher."
The detective continued. "That's what I thought, too. I traced the money back, and found it originated with a half-million dollar life insurance policy that paid off after her husband's death. She saved and invested that money--probably for retirement--and lived off her research position earnings. No significant deposits or withdrawals since the life insurance payoff in '96. Owns a modest house, paid off in '96 with a portion of the life insurance money. Car loan almost paid off. A few credit cards, moderate balances, nothing unusual. Had a couple speeding tickets, that's about it. No known enemies. Coworkers described her as 'quiet, pleasant, keeping to herself.'"
"Jeez, not much to go on for either of them." Blair laid down his chopsticks
and pushed his half-emptied plate away. "Mmm, that was good. Hand me a fortune cookie, Jim."
The detective glanced at him, and then looked back at the report, absently pushing a plastic-wrapped cookie toward his partner. "I have to say, Simon, these two people are remarkable in how relatively unremarkable they are. Other than their advanced degrees and some similarity in their lines of work -- electrical engineering and bioengineering -- there's not really anything to tie them together. No indications they knew each other. But apparently they were both killed with the same weapon, within a day of each other. There must be some connection."
"'Anger brings forth cold emotions, while love brings warmth,'" Blair said evenly.
"What?" Simon looked at him, confusion obvious on his face.
"I said, 'Anger brings forth cold emotions, while love brings warmth.'" The younger man said to his friends, waving a small slip of white paper between them. "My fortune."
"Oh." Jim said, rolling his eyes. He dug into his cooling cashew chicken while he had the chance.
"Sandburg..." Simon grumbled.
"What?" Blair just grinned back at him.
Simon shook his head and prodded Jim, bobbing his chin at the packets of cookies. "Give one here."
Jim tossed over a fortune to his captain and took one for himself. Both men rattled the paper and read their fates with dubious looks that soon turned dark.
"What? What?" Blair demanded to know. "I told you mine! You have to tell me yours!"
"Sandburg," Simon growled, apparently with some strange idea that it could depress his younger friend's high spirits.
"No good, Simon," was the comeback. "Office hours are over. So tell, guys!" He poked Jim in the ribs, drawing an "I'll get you for that, Sandburg," but managed to pluck the fortune out of Jim's hands.
"'He who keeps his money never lacks for friends,'" Sandburg quoted sententiously.
Simon snickered. "You don't have anything to worry about then, Jim, do you?"
The tightwad of Major Crimes glared haughtily.
"Hey, Jim, I want you to know that I'm here for you, buddy," Blair offered with solicitude. "Or at least until you go bankrupt. Agggggghhhhhh! Not the hair!"
Simon cracked up again as the detective and the student made war on each other. But the combatants drew to an unspoken peace and both turned on the third man as one.
"So, Simon, what did you draw?" Jim purred as he toyed with his prey before pouncing.
Blair went for a frontal attack, trying a pre-emptive strike on the missing fortune.
"Just get away from that!" the captain snarled and snatched up the paper, batting him down. But he was pinned to the mat and knew it. He sighed gustily.
Jim and Blair exchanged triumphant glances. "we're listening!" they said as one.
Simon swallowed manfully. "Your face is your fortune in romance."
An awed pause followed. Then, "Man, Simon, you're already bankrupt!"
Jim had to hold Simon back or murder would have been done in the loft.
Blair scooted his chair a few inches away from Simon and cleared his throat, turning back to business and studiously avoiding Simon's glare. He turned to look at Jim. "So you don't know if they know each other, Jim?"
"What?" Jim said after swallowing.
"Caine and Baxter -- Did they know each other?"
"No indication that they did. We'll have to check that out further. You free to come in tomorrow to help?"
"I have classes and office hours until eleven tomorrow, so why don't I meet you at the station after that?"
"Sounds good, Chief. I'll do some checking on the web and make a few calls. When you get there we can go talk to some more people, see if anyone knows if the two had ever met." He turned to Simon. "Are you still keeping a lid on the victims' identities, Simon?"
"Yes. Their names have not been released to the press, pending notification of relatives, the usual spiel. We are keeping this as quiet as possible for now, given the strange situation. But we're not going to be able to stay
silent for long. You gentlemen need to make some progress soon."
"Yes, sir." Jim nodded to Simon and exchanged a tired smile with his partner.
There was companionable silence for a few minutes as they finished their meal. They worked together to clear the table and put the leftovers in the fridge. Blair collected the trash and ran the bag down to the dumpster so the lingering aroma of the spicy food wouldn't disturb his friend's sensitive nose during the night. Jim washed the few dishes, and Simon wiped off the table.
Soon they were all settled in the living room. The television flickered silently as they waited for the game to start.
Leaning forward, Blair asked, "So, do you want to know what I found out today?"
"Okay, I'll bite. What did you learn today, Sandburg?" Simon asked, a teasing hint of condescension in his voice.
Blair rolled his eyes, then spoke, his voice solemn. "I talked to Jack Kelso, and he gave me some information on Brackett." He toed off his shoes and tucked his legs under him on the couch, making himself comfortable.
"You what?" Jim leaned forward, frowning at his partner. "Chief, don't go poking around like that. There's no telling what Brackett might pull if he feels threatened."
"C'mon, man. He's apt to do anything he's planning anyway. It's not like this would set him off, assuming he even finds out about it. I just thought that the more information we gather, the more ammunition we'll have."
"Sandburg," Simon interrupted, his voice a mixture of amusement and concern, "you're acting like you're preparing for war."
"I just might be. I'd rather be prepared this time." Blair was serious in both tone and expression.
"He's right," Jim said to his superior. "According to the profile Kelso gave us last time Brackett was making a nuisance of himself, Brackett likes to make elaborate game plans to keep ahead of his opponents. Anything we can learn might help prepare us for whatever he's up to, or at least give us a fighting chance." Turning back to Blair, he asked, "What'd you come up with, Chief?"
"Jack said he talked to a couple of his old friends and they'd heard rumors of who was behind Brackett's release."
"What's their intel?"
"A man by the name of Albert James. He's one of the top directors in the CIA." Blair shifted his attention between the two men as they processed this information. Simon and Jim exchanged a worried look.
"So, why would Albert James want to release Brackett?" Jim asked.
"Of course, Jack doesn't know for sure, but he suggested it might be something Brackett has on James, maybe blackmail of some kind. Another possibility would be that James needs Brackett for a job. The problem with that explanation, obviously, is that Brackett's been in prison for a couple years, and there are other agents roaming free who should be able to do virtually anything Brackett could." Blair glanced somberly at both men. "Of course, Brackett could have offered to provide the services of someone who does have special talents." He stared meaningfully at Jim.
The sentinel gazed back, something -- anger? despair? -- making his eyes look shadowed, hollow. The thought of being used, of having criminals or even his own government coerce him into using his abilities as they pleased, had haunted him for years.
Blair maintained eye contact with his friend, trying to provide support.
After a minute, Simon broke the tension. "Or maybe the others have a conscience," he said softly. He leaned back in his chair and sighed. "Brackett never appeared to have one."
"It's not a desired characteristic for people in his field," Jim replied cynically.
Suddenly too restless to sit still, Jim stood and wandered toward the balcony doors. He looked out over his city, thinking about the possible consequences of Brackett on the loose. Abruptly, he stiffened and cocked his head, listening to something only he could hear. He snapped his head toward the left and peered out the window so he could see whatever it was he had heard, his vision easily piercing the darkness cloaking the area outside the loft. "Son of a bitch!" Jim whirled, ran toward the kitchen, opened the drawer where he kept his weapon when at home, grabbed the gun, and raced out the loft's door without another word.
Simon stared after him for a moment, then snapped out of his shock. Grabbing his cell phone from his jacket and his gun from its holster, he bolted out the door after his detective, figuring that, whatever the hell was going on, Jim would probably need backup.
"Jim, Simon, what's going on?" Springing to his feet, Blair ran after them when there was no answer. He saw the two men practically flying down the steps and followed along as quickly as he could, his stocking-clad feet sliding dangerously on the stairs.
Jim streaked past Bradley Lathrop, the owner of the unit below Jim's loft, who was leading a refined-looking older woman up the stairs to the second floor. The startled woman pressed against the wall of the stairwell and screamed when she saw the seemingly mad gunman coming toward her. She had barely recovered from Jim's passage when Simon ran by, also clutching a gun. She stood pressed against the stairwell wall, her mouth open and her hand fluttering over her chest.
Blair, seeing the woman's horrified expression, slid to a stop to offer a quick apology. Lathrop turned and dashed down the stairs after Jim and Simon, shouting angrily. Blair smiled and patted the woman's hand. "I'm sorry, ma'am. Don't worry. They're police officers. There's nothing to worry about." Then, with another quick smile, he turned and took off again, hurrying down the stairs after the other men as fast as he could without slipping.
The chase ended abruptly when Jim left the building, swerved to avoid a passerby, dashed into the street, and then was forced to jump back to avoid being hit by a passing car. The detective stood straight, his entire body rigid with tension, and peered around angrily as Blair finally made it outside.
The incensed owner was dancing around, trying to get in Jim's face to express his rage. "This is the third time this month you've scared away a prospective purchaser! I'm trying to sell the unit below yours! Why? I'll tell you why! Because I can't keep steady renters! They can't stand living under crazy people who have psychos and criminals chasing them and who engage in gunfights in this building on a weekly basis!"
Jim completely ignored the Lathrop. And he was good at it, to the utter frustration of the outraged man.
Blair hurried to Jim's side. "What was that all about, man?" he asked, gasping as he stepped in a cold puddle and felt his socks immediately get soaked. He peered despondently at his sodden socks.
"Brackett," Jim growled in response, tucking his weapon in the back waistband of his pants. "He was watching us from an SUV parked in front of the flower shop." He jerked his chin toward the building that housed the florist's. It was far enough away from their building that the former-CIA agent would be able to observe their actions in the third-floor loft from street level with appropriate long-range surveillance equipment. "He took off as soon as he realized I was coming after him."
Simon was looking around, gun still in his hand. At the same time, he was talking softly into the cell phone he held to his ear in his other hand, requesting units in the area to be on the lookout for Brackett.
Turning his attention from his soaked socks to his seething partner, Blair watched the muscles in Jim's jaw flex. He asked, "Any sign of him, man?"
With his guide's hand on his arm, grounding him, Jim swept the area with his senses. "No, he got away." Jim sighed in exasperation. "I didn't get down here quick enough."
"Too bad you can't fly, man," Blair commented, but he stopped chuckling when he saw his partner's scowl directed at him.
Continuing to ignore Lathrop, who had finally run out of steam and was now simply glaring at them, Jim turned to re-enter the building.
Just then, the woman they had frightened came out the door. When she saw Jim walking toward her, she scuttled quickly away from the building, moving to stand next to Lathrop. Her expression was a combination of horror and fear. Jim turned to apologize, but she shrank back further and looked as though she might scream again. So he settled for a muttered, "Sorry, ma'am, police business." Then he opened the door and slipped inside.
After another look around, Simon followed him.
Before he joined the other two, Blair watched the woman confront Lathrop. He was trying to assure the woman that, no, this building wasn't really full of crazy people with guns, and he was sure she would like the apartment that was for sale. But the woman's response indicated that it didn't matter, she would look elsewhere.
Figuring discretion was the better part of valor in this case -- not to mention the desire to avoid being the brunt of the angry condo owner's ire, Blair sloshed into the building, following Jim and Simon up the stairs, leaving wet footprints behind.
Jim was surfing the web when Blair arrived at the station the next day. "Find anything interesting?"
"Yeah, apparently The Cell was voted one of the worst films of 2000."
"I meant about the case, Jim." Blair swatted at Jim's arm as he moved closer to his partner's desk.
"Yeah, a bit." Jim started to let Blair know what he had found when he stopped short. "Hmm...What's this?" he murmured as a flashing icon on the computer monitor caught his eye.
"It's a high priority e-mail." He clicked to open it.
"What's it say?"
"'Got some mysteriously dead bodies?
Wondering if the murders are related?
If you're stumped,
The Penny Man at Rainier Biomedical can help.'"
Blair laughed. "You're joking!"
"No, look!" Jim pointed at the screen.
Blair leaned over his partner's shoulder, peering at the monitor. He silently read the message, then looked at Jim. "What the hell?"
The detective snorted quietly and shook his head. "Look who it's from."
Blair looked at the header. The sender was 'Clues_R_Us@helper.net.'
"Oh, funny." Sarcasm fairly dripped from the detective's words. "This has got to be a joke." Jim leaned back in his chair, rubbing his forehead wearily.
Blair perched on the edge of the desk. "Maybe it's a joke. But how many people know about this? Not many. This might be someone who wants to be an informant. Maybe we should check it out, see if we can trace the e-mail?"
Jim snorted. "You know as well as I do how easy it is for someone to keep an e-mail anonymous, but it's worth a try." He sighed. "Well, regardless of who sent it, we are stuck in this case. We might as well take a trip over to the Biomed Lab." After saving and printing out the message, Jim shut down his computer. Then he stood, stretching his long body, loosening muscles stiff from sitting too long.
Jim snatched the hardcopy of the message from the printer. They walked over to Simon's office. Jim knocked and opened the door at Simon's hollered "Enter!"
"Ellison, Sandburg. What have you got for me? Any leads on the Caine and Baxter cases?" Simon took his glasses off, laid them on the desk, and rubbed his eyes. The stack of paperwork piled in his OUT box testified to the time he had spent going over his detectives' reports that day.
"Maybe..." Jim started.
"Yeah, Jim got this weird e-mail--" Blair interrupted. He stopped abruptly when Jim glared at him.
"I got a tip saying there are answers about this case at the Biomedical Lab at Rainier." Jim shifted his eyes from his partner to his captain. "It's a strange message; could be a joke, but we thought we'd check it out." He handed the printed copy of the message to Simon.
The captain slipped his glasses back on, taking the paper from Jim. He read the message quickly, his eyebrows crawling higher and higher on his forehead. He looked up at Jim. "Is this for real?"
"I don't know, sir. Like I said, we don't have any other leads right now; this may be legit."
"Clues 'R Us?" Simon shook his head. "Somebody needs to get an imagination." He chuckled, and handed back the paper to Ellison. "Well, check it out. Any idea who the, uh, 'Penny Man' might be?"
Jim and Blair traded a quick glance.
"Lincoln?" Blair said, shrugging.
The other two men sighed, looking dubiously at the anthropologist.
"Well, I'm trying here, guys! Give me a break!" He grinned, bouncing on his toes.
Simon sighed. "Okay, check it out, Jim. Let me know if anything turns up."
"You got it, sir. Come on, Darwin."
"What about Copperfield? Or Penney? Or Copperhead. Maybe Centurion? Century? Hey, maybe 'cents' like scents? Or senses?" Blair continued throwing out possibilities as they left the office.
The ride to the university was silent, each man absorbed in his thoughts. They were nearing the Rainier campus when Blair spoke. "You think Brackett's planning to pull something there again?"
"I'm not putting anything past him." Jim glared grimly at the vehicles in front of him as he waited for the traffic light to turn green. "He broke in there much too easily the first time. They've tightened their security since then, but I suspect that's not likely to stop him. Especially if he has a contact inside."
A few minutes later, they arrived at the Rainier campus, parked in the lot closest to their destination, and made their way into the Biomedical Research Lab. They chatted about various things as they walked.
From a building across the street, a pair of eyes followed their movements, staring through high-powered binoculars. A compact video recorder and long-range microphone mounted on a tripod silently recorded their movements and casual conversation. A rather lengthy record had already been made. But more was needed.
Once inside the building, Blair followed Jim to the building directory, which was posted near the elevators in a hallway off the lobby.
"Well, I'll be damned," Jim said softly.
"What?" Blair looked at the name Jim indicated. "Matthew Lincoln, PhD, Director, BioMedical Computer Engineering Lab, Room 345. So there is a Lincoln here! Hey, I was right!" He beemed at his partner.
"Yeah, I suppose it's bound to happen occasionally." Jim's lips twitched briefly. "And we're going to pay him a visit." He moved to push the call button for an elevator, only to discover there wasn't anything to push. A closer inspection revealed that a key was required to use the elevators. Moving to the stairway, he pulled on the door. Locked. Damn. "Well, I guess he'll have to come to us, if we can't go to him. Come on, Chief."
Blair followed him as he made his way to the reception desk. The nameplate on the desk read, "Ms. Perkins."
"Excuse me, ma'am. I'm Detective Ellison with the Cascade Police Department. I need to speak to Dr. Matthew Lincoln," the detective requested of the gray-haired woman behind the desk, flashing his badge.
She started slightly when she saw the badge, staring at it nervously and then peering up at Jim. After a moment, she plastered a smile on her face and nodded. "Certainly, sir." She motioned for them to have a seat in the waiting area. "I'll inform Dr. Lincoln you're here," she told them as she picked up her telephone. They stepped a few feet away, but remained standing.
She glanced at them furtively as she talked with the person she had called, presumably Lincoln. After hanging up, she informed them that Dr. Lincoln was coming down to talk to them. She sat down and returned to her work, although she continued to toss curious looks in their direction.
Jim and Blair didn't have long to wait before a man exited the nearest elevator and waddled imperiously toward them. He was about forty years old and short, with a fire-plug shaped body. His mouse-brown hair was graying at the temples and pale gray-brown eyes peered at them from behind wire-rimmed glasses. Jim noted that the smile on the man's face was as false as it was wide.
"Good afternoon, gentlemen, I'm Matthew Lincoln, head of the Computer Engineering Lab. How can I help you today?"
Displaying his badge, Jim said, "I'm Detective Ellison with the Major Crime Unit of Cascade PD. This is my associate, Blair Sandburg. Can we speak to you in private, Doctor?"
Lincoln swallowed nervously, cleared his throat, and said, "Uh, certainly, Detective. This way." He led them to a door behind the reception area. It opened into a tiny conference room that held a small round table and four chairs; a telephone sat on a small table in one corner. Aside from the light switch and a sign instructing occupants how to leave the building in case of a fire, the walls were bare. "Have a seat, gentlemen." Lincoln gestured to the chairs. He shut the door after they had entered and awkwardly settled his squat body into the chair nearest the door.
Jim and Blair sat down at the table, and Jim spoke. "We have reason to believe there may be someone planning a crime, something to do with your facility."
"What are you talking about?" The man's gaze scanned the featureless room before returning to his visitors. "We haven't had any problems like that in a long time." He paused, squinting through his glasses at the two men sitting across the table. "Not since one maniac stole the Ebola virus and another took off with some nerve gas." He shuddered dramatically.
"That's exactly the problem, Dr. Lincoln. Lee Brackett, the 'maniac' who took the virus, has been released from prison."
At the mention of Brackett's release, Lincoln paled. Gulping quickly, he tried to recover his friendly facade. "Why do you think that has anything to do with us here? And why me? I don't even work with dangerous substances. Perhaps you should talk to campus security."
Jim watched the man carefully, tuning into Lincoln's heartbeat and respiration. Blair, knowing Jim was using his senses, leaned forward slightly so his arm brushed against Jim's, to keep him grounded.
Jim continued. "We received a tip that something may be happening here, something to do with you or your lab, specifically." Lincoln's heart began beating faster. Hmm, Jim thought. Interesting. Let's up the ante. "We were also told that you might know something about two murders that happened this week." Bingo! Lincoln's heartbeat sped up even more and his breath caught for a moment.
"M-murders?" Lincoln's voice was almost squeaking. "I-- Why are you talking to me? Why would I know anything about any murders?" His eyes widened.
Jim almost laughed at the man's histrionics. But years of practice kept his expression neutral. "Dr. Lincoln, is there anything here that someone, say Brackett, might find worthwhile to steal? Or something harmful he could use to hurt someone? Is there anything here he might be willing to kill two people for?"
With a rueful laugh, Lincoln shook his head sadly. "Not unless he's interested in rather unremarkable programming code or commonly used biomedical processes. After the last 'incident,' the Biomedical Lab lost its federal and state authorizations to house anything 'with the potential to harm humans or animals, directly or indirectly.'"
They could almost hear the quotation marks as he spoke.
Lincoln continued, not trying to hide the bitterness in his voice. "We're no longer trusted with anything vital. We're not even trusted with anything potentially vital. It's been more than a year and still we can't seem to get any government cooperation. No," he said pitifully, shaking his head, "there's nothing worth stealing -- or killing for -- here."
Jim had continued monitoring the man's physiological state. Despite the calm Lincoln was trying to project, his heart was thumping loud and hard in his chest and his breathing was rapid. The sentinel also noticed the fine sheen of sweat that had appeared on the man's forehead and above his lip.
Jim narrowed his eyes, his head tilting slightly to the right. "So there's nothing dangerous held here?"
"Of course not. I already told you that!" The man was actually spluttering in indignation as he spoke. "The most dangerous thing we have is the mold growing in our refrigerator."
Riiiight. All Jim's 'detective warning bells' were going off at full volume.
Lincoln continued. "We're no longer certified to test or even hold anything considered dangerous." He sniffed disdainfully at his two visitors. "Now, if there's nothing else, I have an experiment that needs my attention."
Jim noted that Lincoln's nervous symptoms seemed to be receding. The detective decided to give it one more try before releasing the man. Shifting in his seat, the detective said, "I just have one more question, Dr. Lincoln." He opened the files he was carrying, withdrawing pictures of Caine and Baxter. He set them on the table in front of the researcher. "Do you know either of these people?"
Lincoln's heart sped up again. But, consummate actor that he apparently was, his voice remained even. "No, I don't know the man. But Dr. Baxter works here at the lab occasionally. Why do you need to know?"
"They both were killed recently."
The man put his hand over his heart. His face showed the appropriate shock. "Oh, my! How awful. Do you know who did it?"
Keeping an eye -- and an ear -- on the man, Jim found himself admiring the doctor's acting skills. Lincoln's physiological responses did not come close to matching his dramatic display of shock and grief. The detective had no doubt that the man knew both victims and was not surprised at the news of their deaths. Had he helped Brackett kill them? Or perhaps he just knew they had been killed? Maybe he was the murderer. But then how did Brackett fit into all of this?
"Not yet. But don't worry, Doctor, we'll find out. Thank you for your help, Dr. Lincoln. Here's my card. Give me a call if you think of anything that might be important. And don't worry, if we find out anything else we'll be sure to let you know."
The researcher gingerly took the card from the detective and handled it nervously for a moment before stuffing it into his jacket pocket. "Yes, of course, Detective. I'll call if I think of anything." His earlier fake smile was again plastered on his face.
Jim stood and waited for Blair to exit the room before following him. Lincoln remained where he was seated, gazing fretfully after the two men.
Jim and Blair left the building, pulling on their jackets as they emerged into the drizzle. They had not gone far when Blair stopped. A man who had exited the Biomedical Lab building preceding them was walking along the adjacent sidewalk. "Hey, Jim, hang on a second." He turned toward the man. "Ron! Ron McGrath!"
McGrath, who was tall and gaunt with slightly stooped shoulders, increased his pace, not even glancing over his shoulder, though Blair's yell was loud enough that the man must have heard.
"Hey, Ron!" Blair tried again, breaking into a trot.
Finally, Ron stopped, giving a reluctant sigh that Jim's sensitive ears heard clearly, then turned around to look at Blair.
"How are you doing, Ron?" Blair came to a stop in front of Ron, grinning widely as he offered his hand to the man.
Ron swallowed, his bobbing Adam's apple prominent in his skinny neck. "Not too bad, Sandburg. Enjoying the classes I'm teaching," he answered, briefly shaking the proffered hand. His pale eyes flickered toward Jim, who stood at Blair's shoulder.
Blair turned to Jim and explained, "Ron, here, is a visiting professor in the Comp Sci department. He helped me set up a web-based tutorial for my students."
Jim nodded hello, reaching out to shake the man's bony hand. "Professor McGrath."
Blair turned to face Ron as he continued, "This is my friend, Detective Jim Ellison." Ron seemed to flinch slightly when he heard Jim's title, but Blair pressed on, unaware of his reaction. "I didn't realize you were involved in the Biomed Lab, man." Blair tipped his head toward the building McGrath had just left.
"Well, Dr. Lincoln invited me to join a project when he learned of my background. It was, um, rather intriguing, and I couldn't resist his offer." He started to glance around, as if looking for an escape.
Guessing that McGrath's connection to Lincoln was probably not a coincidence, especially given the mysterious e-mail and the timing of McGrath's appearance, Jim decided to push the issue. "Do you mind telling us what that project is about?"
A little flustered, Ron sputtered, "It...well...I…I'm not at liberty to say. Confidentiality agreement and all." The protruding Adam's apple bounced up and down again.
"Of course." Jim smiled without humor. "It's just that we've got some information that there could be someone after something... perhaps some type of virus?"
At the mention of the word 'virus' Ron paled. He glanced at his watch and backed away, saying, "Oh, it's getting late. Sorry, I've got an appointment, I've really got to be going." He started hurrying away. "Uh, it was nice meeting you, Detec- Detective Ellison. Bye, Blair." He started to turn away, hugging his raincoat tightly around his thin body.
Blair, who had been watching the interaction between Ron and his partner, stepped forward, placing a hand on McGrath's arm. "Ron, are you in some kind of trouble?" As Ron paused, Blair persisted, "If you are, maybe we can help you."
"Professor," Jim said, "I don't mean to frighten you, but there have been two murders that may be tied to something that's going on in the Biomed labs. If you know anything you should tell us, please do. It's possible you might be in danger as well." Noting that the man seemed even more upset, Jim pressed one of his cards into his hand. "Here's my card. Call if you think of anything."
Looking around fearfully, not even seeming to hear Jim's words, Ron shrugged off Blair's hand and moved away, waving his hands in denial. "I don't know what you mean. I have to go...I'm late for my next lecture." This time, he scurried away before either man could say another word, Jim's card clutched in one thin hand.
"That went well." Blair stared after him, nonplussed.
"It's not that bad, Chief. At least we know something's up for sure. And we're starting to get a list of possible players. Now we figure out what they're up to."
"Are you forgetting I'm a detective? I'll detect."
Blair could hear the humor in his friend's voice. He followed his partner, shaking his head. "This'll be something to watch," he murmured.
"I heard that."
Blair grinned at Jim's back as they continued their trek through the softly falling rain toward the shelter of the truck.
Note: Artwork for this Act provided by Sis
Continue to Act III