(Part 1 is here.) Terry, Truc, and ViX sat around the table after Barber left. ViX shrugged and got up, explained she had no interest in dying for something like this, and left to go on a purchasing trip in Indochina.
Meanwhile, Arnie Laukkanen was a perpetual student with varied cultural interests. Born into a wealthy family, he had access to money, and he had gone on various trips with Buck, to Finland and elsewhere. He thought of Buck as a typical academic, sure, but one who experimented with various mind-altering substances and knew how to enjoy life.
Arnie was out of town when he got the call from Dixie, so he arrived a day late. He was interested in purchasing Buck’s library, and Dixie gave him permission to box it up and estimate its worth. He found the townhouse was still a crime scene, so he called Dixie back. She referred him to Terry, and Terry got a call on his cell in Nine Coffees right after ViX left. Sure, Arnie could meet them Downtown.
Let’s All Go to the EPA
As they waited for Arnie to arrive, Terry and Truc decided to go to Downtown Island and meet with Dr. Lilly Cook–maybe they could even get into Buck’s time slot, as his meeting was to start right about then.
Arnie agreed to drive, and they headed out. One of the bridges was closed down to one side, and mounted cops were out directing traffic; the cops were checking something out under the bridge. News radio didn’t feature the incident, so they shrugged and continued on to the island, eventually finding a good parking spot in a parking structure and heading across a skybridge into the Filex Building.
They entered the half-floor of offices dedicated to the beleaguered EPA. Wilcox was at the front (normally his office was further back, but staff shortages that day.) He politely and firmly deflected their efforts to get a look at Cook’s schedule, or get back to the offices.
While Terry kept him busy with questions, Truc headed back; Wilcox called another receptionist to intercept and steer him out again. At that point, Terry called it good, and asked Wilcox to send him Cook’s schedule for the last week. The assistant coolly agreed, and Terry took Arnie to the depressing bagel shop / break room on the first floor.
Meanwhile, Truc flirted with the receptionist, Bridget Hester (“Like in ‘Scarlet Letter’ she suggested slyly.) They went down to the bagel shop and she cut in line, because she has that kind of power here. Truc got her talking about her boss; a dragon lady, focused on results at the expense of people, and on and on.
Meeting Dr. Cook
Bridget even pointed her out when Dr. Cook passed through the lobby. Truc texted Terry, who darted after her and caught up halfway through the lobby as she headed for the private executive elevator.
She was going to brush him off, but he flashed his badge and that got her attention. She said she was coming from an all-morning meeting with trustees, she did not choose to divulge what company. Terry asked her about Buck, and she said she had never heard of him or had him on her schedule.
She seemed to think something wasn’t right, so she memorized his badge number and noted he wasn’t from Downtown Island precinct. He agreed, he was working on something about a friend of his who was murdered. She didn’t bat an eye at the mention of Professor Buck, so Terry let it go at that, and they went their separate ways.
Truc made his excuses, but held on to Hester’s business card with her personal number on it, and they headed out.
On the way to Buck’s place, they filled each other in on their connection to Buck and reason to be along on this grim ride.
They returned to the townhouse to give Arnie a look at Buck’s book collection. As soon as they walked in, Truc noticed some things had been moved. An intruder had come in and checked the books he was boxing, and given the place a once-over.
As Terry inspected the already-scratched lock for sign of further entry, Truc took a stroll outside and found cigarette butts under a tree, and footprints matching the footprint shape on the carpet inside. Someone was waiting out here, maybe watching him box up books the night before. In looking around, Truc saw a QuikTrip just across a grassy stretch and the road, with a camera pointed in this direction.
Arnie didn’t see anyone in scanning for pedestrians or suspicious parked cars, so he returned his attention to the book collection. He pulled out the most valuable books and boxed them up first. (He also blunted Truc’s suspicion he might be too conveniently interested, by showing some of Buck’s picture albums that show them together years ago.)
Reluctant to seem too competent, Truc engaged in some exaggerated estimations until Terry asked him what was going on, and Truc eventually more or less dragged them over to the QuikTrip for the camera footage.
There were some college town toughs hanging out in front of the QT messing with their smartphones, and Truc pretended to be in a phone conversation about what happened at Buck’s place, to lure them into conversation. They didn’t know much; the thief was already caught after hitting nearby houses, and local squatters avoided townhouses because of connecting walls.
Meanwhile Terry talked to the QuikTrip employee on duty, a struggling business student, and got his permission to take a look at the security system. It recorded to the cloud and looped after four days, but Terry figured out how to download a copy to a drop box. Now they might get a look at whoever was watching from the trees. Maybe even a look at Buck’s killer.
They had time for a quick jaunt over to the University to look into Kimball’s lab at Marlbeth University.
Arnie put in a call to his fraternity to have a buddy get some digital rendering bros on deck for later footage examination. Then they headed over to the science building, slipping in between classes to get into the classroom lab Kimball had been using.
Dr. Kimball was not only head of the science department and a popular teacher, he was also a sought-after consultant for various chemical companies in Grifton. The man was a well-regarded expert.
His laptop was missing, maybe someone mixed it up with theirs, a note asked for its return. They grimly figured that wasn’t likely. There were signs of intrusion on the classroom lock.
Arnie did find the actual log book of experimentation from over the weekend; Kimball had been busy. As a man of science himself, Terry looked the entries over, then started copying salient details into his notebook while Arnie used his cell phone to take pictures of the pages.
The black stone had variable radiation, which should not be possible. The testing was done over and over on various machines as Kimball got frustrated with it. He was trying to get spectrograph readings, and it was all inconsistent. The stone was black, unless energized, then it glowed green. He kept the sample with him, rather than leaving it here.
They slipped out the back as a class filed in, around 3:00.
They relocated to a dark corner of the student lounge (since it was still pouring a chilly unpleasant winter rain outside) and went over their facts so far.
Then they decided to split up, to get their cars from Downtown and handle any personal business, reconvening at Arnie’s house in Irvine to review the footage.
Arnie seemed to hit every red light on the way home, but otherwise nothing too untoward.
Truc got to his beat-up car, and as he was driving it away from Nine Coffees in Downtown rush hour traffic, the car died. He managed to get it out of the intersection, and as he popped the hood to inspect the engine, he saw it had been tampered with.
At the same time, a man in a trench coat and hoodie approached, and shoved him out into fast-moving traffic! Rather, tried to. Truc rolled with the push, and tried to smack his attacker, who turned and ran. Truc tried to keep up, but wasn’t ruthless enough to push through the more vulnerable people in the crowd.
His attacker headed down a dark alley; Truc decided to follow. He vaulted a fence, and was just wondering if he’d lost his quarry when the attacker fired on him from a fire escape, using a silenced pistol. The bullet grazed Truc’s arm as he leaped behind a dumpster.
As the attacker retreated loudly up the fire escape, a motorbike roared down the alley towards him. Truc sh0ved the dumpster in the way, and retreated back over the fence, calling Terry. Truc headed into a bank lobby, and Terry told him to give the guard his police business card and explain Terry was on the way to pick him up. The plan worked fine, Terry got some gauze and a quiet place to wait, and Terry was on his way.
Of course, timing is not ever convenient. Terry was feeling good about his cases not having any developments as he took a look into Buck’s death, but the desk officer at the precinct told him that Special Agent Weldon Waters was looking for him, checked in twice this afternoon. Didn’t want to call, wanted to speak to him in person when he arrived. Hm. Terry took his card.
Then he got the call from Truc, and he used his police light to get over there fast. Of course, en route he got a call about a crime scene, and he turned it down because he had something else going on–and during the call the siren is in the background. That might take some explaining later, but for now Terry winced and pushed on, picking up Truc and heading to Irvine.
There had better be something damn good on that security footage.