Murder, Past Perfect
'It works! I've finally done it!' He wrote in neat script in the speckled black composition book. 'As noted in the preceding entries, it took months of planning and preparation, but it has paid off.
Naturally, there is no one I can tell about it. But I know, and for now that is enough. Perhaps after my death decades from now, someone will be curious enough to read what is written in this book, and then everyone will know that it can be done.'
He closed the book and carefully put it in the small strong box with all of his other important papers. He opened the door and put the metal box back behind the clutter on the top shelf.
Matsuko Takahara opened the door to the Parapsychology Lab at University of Toronto and let himself in. Classes didn't start until 7:30, but he wanted to get in early tonight to do some more research on his final paper, 'Clinical Observations Of The Scope And Effects Of Human Subconscious Capability Upon The Functionality Of The Conscious Mind'. The only free time available was between 6:00 and 7:30. That was dinnertime for most of the staff and students.
He noticed Gerald Meltker sitting on the leather chaise beside one of the EEG machines in the lab area of the room. He appeared to be sound asleep. Subjects routinely used the lounge chairs while they were hooked to the various diagnostic machines. It was much more comfortable than sitting in a regular chair for the hours on end that a research experiment might take.
Gerald was one of the volunteers that the class used for their research into the workings of the mind. He was not exactly homeless. He lived at the YMCA and had a full time job here at the University, cleaning and helping prepare the various rooms for classes. He had an IQ of borderline genius. He was also mildly cerebral palsied. Because of this, most people saw the condition, and not the man. He wasn't supposed to be here. As far as Matsuko knew there were no experiments to be conducted tonight. Only lectures. And these were to be held in the next room.
"Hey, Jerry." Matsuko called. "What're you doing here so late? You're supposed to be off at 5:00. It's almost 6:15 now. Why don't you go on home to the Y and get some sleep there? You'll be a lot more comfortable in a real bed than napping in that lounger." He shook Jerry's shoulder and froze as the man slid off the couch and onto the floor. Cautiously, he felt for a pulse. There was none. He wasn't breathing either. He opened an eyelid. His pupils were dull and fixed. Jerry was not asleep.
Detective Nick Knight placed another file into the out basket. Things were slow in the homicide division of Toronto Metro's 96th precinct, a rare occurrence. Captain Amanda Cohen had taken the opportunity to 'suggest' ... read order ... that Nick and his partner, Detective Don Schanke, use this time to clear out some of the backlog of reports that had been piling up over the past few days ... or was it weeks ... however long it took to build a stack that high. Although the team of Schanke and Knight had one of the best arrest records in the entire police department, it was an established secret that the duo were notorious procrastinators when it came to filling out the required documentation. Added to that was the fact that they had just completed three very complicated high profile cases practically in a row. Those kind of cases only added geometrically to the amount of paperwork involved.
"Three down. twenty three more to go and five and a half hours to do them in." Don Schanke grumbled as he added his completed report to the basket. "At an average of ... " He checked his watch. " ... 49.5 minutes apiece ... " He pulled up the calculator on his computer monitor and made a few entries. "That's 1,138 and 1/2 minutes. Factoring in lunches, potty breaks and other important stuff, we should be able to spend about six hours a night working on them." Another set of calculations. "At that rate, I figure we should be finished about this time day after tomorrow." He picked up another file from the stack, opened his notebook to the proper case, and began inputting the information into the computer. "Computers do help cut down on the writing part, but it's still a pain in the … patootie." He griped as he deleted a line that was in the wrong place and began retyping it in its proper place. "What I wouldn't give for a nice quiet homicide right about now."
"Good evening, Detectives. Glad to see you are both working so industriously." Was that a touch of sarcasm in Captain Cohen's voice? "I have another one to add to your collection." She pointed to the stack of incomplete folders lying between the two desks. "Just came in. Unwitnessed death. Could be a possible homicide. Landrum Hall. University of Toronto." She laid the dispatcher's report on Nick's desk.
Don Schanke looked to the ceiling. "God does hear prayers." He said in a loud stage whisper as he hit the key to save the report he had been working on, and then proceeded to shut his computer down.
Using their badges as virtual battering rams, Nick and Don pushed their way through the crowd that jammed the hallway outside the Parapsychology Lab. In addition to the throng of official personnel, there were students, teachers, and of course, the ever present news media.
"How did they get here so quick?" Don asked. He put up his hands to block a camera flash that went off practically in his face.
"Maybe they're psychic." Nick answered, pointing to the brass plaque mounted on the wall beside the door. "Who knows? They seem to be at the scene of the crime almost before the police get there." He pushed a microphone out of the way with a brusque "NO COMMENT!"
Schanke noticed the plaque. "Oh great!" He ducked a video camera as they entered the lab. "Just what we don't need. On top of everything else, we're dealing with a bunch of spoon benders."
"Sorry to disappoint you, Detectives." A young Asian man standing just inside the door said to him. "We do serious research here. Stage tricks like bending spoons and making things float in mid air are more likely to be the province of charlatans and con artists on the Jerry Show."
"What about Uri Geller?" Don asked. "He's supposed to be for real, and he bends spoons all the time."
"Sorry to disappoint you again. He does that only when he goes on tour. And then only to prove to his audiences that he has paranormal abilities. He doesn't do it as a routine thing when he's actually working on a case." The Asian answered.
He looked at Nick for a moment. "While we do acknowledge that it is a parapsychic phenomenon, we also don't experiment with near death encounters either. Much too risky. You've had two of them, haven't you, Detective?"
Unbidden, he was mentally transported to the desert and the door of light that he had experienced with Dr. Diana Linsman's neural dampener, as well as to his first encounter with them while he was being brought across.
Matsuko held his head as though in pain. "Whoa there, Detective. Take it easy. Not so loud. You see, I'm a telepath. I'm not exactly reading your mind. I wouldn't do that without your permission, but it's all I can do to keep from picking up on you. Your brain is fairly shouting."
Nick mentally pushed his thoughts of those times back into the innermost recesses of his mind. He also blocked any sign of the vampire from his consciousness. It wouldn't do to have a reoccurrence of what happened to that other telepath, Denise Fort. The knowledge of what he really was had nearly driven her insane. He concentrated on the here and now.
"Thank you." The telepath said, a look of relief on his face. "That's much better."
"And you are ... " Don asked.
"Matsuko Takahara. Everybody calls me Matt. I'm the one who found the body."
Nick saw that the Coroner, Dr. Natalie Lambert, was kneeling over the body making notes on the clipboard she held in her left hand. He smiled broadly. Every chance to see her was a gift, even if it was at the scene of a crime. "What do you have for us, Nata ... Dr. Lambert?"
"Actually, not a lot, Ni ... Detective Knight." Natalie smiled back at him. Seeing him was always one of the highlights of her day.
( Just friends, my Great Aunt Fred! ) Don Schanke thought for the umpteen thousandth time. How long are they going to go on like this before they realize they're not fooling anybody with that 'just friends' routine. Anyone with even a sliver of a brain knows that they're goo-goo-gaa-gaa in love with each other. )
"That isn't by any chance someone named Flint that you guys are getting ready to put in that body bag, is it?" One of the female students asked. "If it is, he's not actually dead, you know. He can functionally stop his heart for up to ten minutes without any lasting ill effects. He learned that little trick from his grandfather. Scares the living crap out of substitute instructors and the Omega Omicrons when he suddenly comes back to life in front of them."
"No, it's not anyone named Flint." Natalie answered.
"Darn!" the student muttered in mock frustration as she walked to the door. "One can always hope."
"I wonder what that's supposed to mean." Natalie mused as she watched the student leave.
Schanke only looked non-plussed and shrugged his shoulders.
"The deceased's name is Gerald Meltker." Natalie explained to Nick and Don. "Male. Caucasian. Age 46. Height 5' 8". Weight 165 pounds. Black hair. Brown eyes. Got that much from his ID card. He was a member of the cleaning crew at the University and a volunteer research subject here in the Parapsychology Lab.
As to how he died. He simply died. There's no sign of trauma. No wounds. No obvious signs he was poisoned. According to what Doctor MacGregor told the officers who answered the call, he was in excellent health. Other than that, I'll have to wait and see what turns up when I open him up back at the morgue."
"Doctor MacGregor? Is that his physician?"
"I'm no' that kind of a doctor." The man spoke with a thick Scottish burr. He was possibly 5'9" or 10", although somewhat lanky. He had a mane of relatively short but unruly red hair and his face was covered with just a sprinkling of freckles. He wore a University of Edinburgh sweat shirt over well worn jeans and had a pair of scuffed laceless black Nikes on his feet "I'm a PhD." He made a theatrical bow to the detectives. "Billy MacGregor, at your service, gentlemen ... and ladies." He made a big production of bowing, taking Natalie's hand and planting a loud kiss on it. Then he went to a female officer who was standing nearby and did the same thing.
Nick could feel the 'beast' straining to get out. His fangs ached to descend, and he could feel the yellow-orange glow working its way around the outside of his irises. He closed his eyes and pushed the vampire back into the farthest corner of his subconscious mind. The thought of anyone being that openly attentive to Natalie, even in jest, made him see red. Literally.
"I teach one o' the classes here." Billy looked to be no more than eighteen or nineteen at the most. Younger than most of the students. He smiled as he noted the puzzled look on the detectives faces. "Just to satisfy your curiosity, I'll be turnin' me twentieth birthday in three months. It's a shame y' know. I'm a full tenured college professor, but I canna even get drunk legally. You see, I'm a certified, genuine, card carryin' whiz kid genius, I am. Got my doctorate from the University of Edinburgh at sixteen ... and a half." He clarified. "I actually teach Non Linear Philosophy at the ALC over in the next wing. That stands for Accelerated Learning Center. My students are all geniuses, too. Some of them are even smarter than I am. They're from six to seventeen years old, and they all have IQs ranging from the high 170s to clean off the scale. In practical terms, I'm teachin' them ta think outside the lines."
"And just how do you fit into all of this?" Don pointed to the body.
"I don't really. I was just passin' by when I heard Matt over there screamin' his lungs out. I came in and did a very quick examination of the body, and then told him to call 911."
"He's fortunate he was able to do even that." Another man said. "As far as I'm concerned, he should still be in high school, not teaching college." Unlike Billy MacGregor, this man was perhaps in his late forties. He looked the stereotype of a college professor. He was about medium height and had just the beginnings of a mid life paunch. His thinning, slightly graying dark brown hair was meticulously combed and his goatee was trimmed to perfection. He wore a tan houndstooth jacket, complete with the standard brown suede elbow patches, over a white shirt with the prerequisite bow tie. His trousers ... khaki Bill Blass, of course ... and highly polished black wingtip shoes completed the ensemble.
"My name is Professor Leon James." He extended his hand limply. It felt as though Nick was shaking hands with a fish. "I'm one of the Associate Deans of the Psychology Department. Unfortunately, that happens to include ... this department as well." He pointed condescendingly at the Parapsychology sign. "I thought you might appreciate some assistance from someone who knows what they are doing." He reached into his inside jacket pocket and extracted a business card and handed it to Don.
"And what's your connection with all of this?" Schanke asked.
"Why none, of course." He gave the detectives a look that practically shouted ... 'Isn't that obvious' ... "I just wanted to let you know that I'm available if you need someone to explain things to you. I do have considerable expertise in the field of psychology." He mentally looked down his nose at Takahara and Billy. "Do not hesitate to call me if you need any help." With that, he turned and walked away. "A death right here in the department. Well, I guess that's to be expected, considering the type of people that we're dealing with. This whole area is a disgrace to the university if there ever was one." He grumbled as he headed for his classroom.
Don Schanke looked at the card. "Doctor Leon P. James IV PhD. Well la-de-da-do-do. Aren't we the high muckety muck? The fourth yet. What was the matter, couldn't his parents think up an original name for him? P ... h ... D. The way he talked down to everybody, that must stand for Piled high and Deep. Anybody got a shovel so we can dig it all out of here?"
"Dinna be too hard on him, Detective Schanke." Billy MacGregor said. "He's an Ivy League Back Bay traditionalist." Billy pushed his nose up with his index finger. "'Haah-Vaahd'. You know."
Don Schanke smiled broadly. He had never heard a Boston accent done with a Scottish intonation before.
"If you're no' in his social echelon, you're no' even worth dislikin'." Billy continued. "He does na' understand what we're trying to do in this department. He thinks that anyone who is no' textbook average is some kind of a freak. You should hear the kinds o' things he says about me geniuses. I tell them to ignore him. I tell them tha' he dinna know which end he's talkin' outta. But I can see it in their faces, it still hurts. A lot, I might say."
"He does know his psychology though." Matt Takahara added. "Most of us still manage to learn what he's teaching in spite of him ... and his high society stuck up manners. Although it'd be a lot easier to relate to him if someone were to give him a major attitude adjustment. Or maybe he just needs to get laid. Then again, a good dose of Ex-Lax would help matters, too. And he'd have a better chance of getting that one."
'I was right.' The man wrote in the composition book. 'They have no idea what is happening. Just goes to prove that my original assessment was correct.' He put the book back in its box.
"Hi, you two." Natalie Lambert's face lit up as she saw Nick and Don enter the morgue. "I take it you're here for the Meltker report. She held out the folder to them. To Nick specifically. "Just finished. Hot off the presses."
Good friends ... my left hind cheek! Don thought for the umpteenth and one time.
"What did you turn up on Gerald Meltker?" Nick Knight asked
"Nothing." She replied.
Natalie shrugged. "Nothing."
"Are you saying that Meltker died of natural causes?" Don Schanke asked.
"Depends on what you would consider to be natural causes. I couldn't find any. Except for the fact that he is ... or rather was ... minimally cerebral palsied, Gerald Meltker was the picture of health. All his CBC tests came back textbook normal. His heart, lungs, kidneys, and every other organ ... excellent condition. His tonsils and appendix had been removed many years ago, probably when he was a child. No sign of any aneurysms. There were no cancerous or even benign tumors anywhere in his body. He didn't smoke or drink to excess. Considering his disability, he had good muscle tone and he was within a pound and a half of his ideal weight.
Furthermore, if you discount a few minor cuts and bruises, there was no sign of trauma anywhere on the body. That means he wasn't shot, stabbed or bludgeoned. In addition, except for a high powered multivitamin, and a small amount of Acetaminophen ... probably for some minor pain, perhaps from a headache or from the palsy itself ... his tox analysis was negative. No sign of any potentially harmful substances, illegal or otherwise, in his blood or tissues.
You know, if it wasn't for the fact that he's dead, he'd be in perfect physical condition." She smiled broadly at that statement.
"Then what killed him?
"You tell me and we'll both know."
Natalie put her hand on Nick's shoulder. "Can you stay for a few moments?" She whispered soft enough that only he could hear.
Almost as if he was reading the coroner's mind, Don Schanke said much too loudly. "Excuse me, folks. I gotta use the washroom. Meet you at the car, partner." He practically ran out of the room. Maybe he really did have to go.
"What do you want to see me about?" Nick asked.
Natalie brought a plastic container filled with a faintly pink milky liquid out of the morgue's refrigerator. Noting the grimace on Nick's face, she smiled. "Don't go hating it until you've at least tried it. This one's different. It's a new formula. Lots more proteins and other nutrients. I think this one will do the job."
Nick took the container and sat it on the corner of her desk with the report folder. "I'll let you know when you come over to the loft Thursday morning."
Natalie picked up the cup and took off the lid. She held it out to him. "You'll let me know now. I know you too well. You'll take it home and pour it down the drain without even tasting it. Drink it here so I know that at least you did that much."
"Now?" He said with an 'I'd-rather-eat-a-pound-of-garlic-and-wash-it-down-with-a-liter-of-holy-water' look on his face.
"Come on, Nick. It really isn't all that bad. I know you can do it."
He took a deep breath and brought the cup to his lips. He took a mouthful and made an exaggerated face as he quickly swallowed. Have to keep up appearances. He was mildly surprised. It really wasn't all that bad. It still gagged him slightly but not nearly as much as some of her other concoctions had done. This one had some taste to it, too. He couldn't tell what it was, only that it was sort of sweet. At least it didn't taste like liquid sidewalk chalk. There was a better than even chance he'd be able to keep this one down.
"Happy?" He asked as he put the lid back on. He's finish it later today. When he didn't have to pretend quite this much. ( And I can have a bloodwine chaser if I need it. )
"Ecstatic." She said with more than a touch of sarcasm in her voice.
Captain Amanda Cohen was standing by their desks as the detectives came into the precinct the next evening. "Gentlemen. Make me a happy precinct Captain. Tell me the Meltker case is not a homicide. Tell me it's an open and shut case of simple heart failure or stroke. You know. Tell me he died of natural causes."
"It would seem that way, Cap ... tain." Schanke hastily corrected himself. Amanda Cohen hated the nickname 'Cap'. She was CAPTAIN COHEN ... and don't you forget it! Not unless you enjoyed writing out parking tickets for the rest of your natural life.
"However ... "
"However ... what, gentlemen?"
"There's no natural causes for him to have died from." Nick took up the explanation. "You saw Nata ... I mean Dr. Lambert's autopsy report."
( No, you meant to say Natalie. ) Amanda Cohen thought. ( When are you and Dr. Lambert going to break down and finally admit what every one else has known from day one. That the two of you are a couple. )
"Then find out what did kill him. And find out yesterday. Or maybe the day before. Last week wouldn't even be too soon. The media has gotten wind of this and it's been all over the daily news broadcasts. As well as the papers." She put a copy of the Sun on the desk. The headline blared ... 'Botched Experiment At University Of Toronto Kills Research Subject'. "In addition, Commissioner Sinclair is hot for this case to be solved post haste. Sinclair's son Andrew is a Psychology major at UT, and the Commissioner's being a positive ... well, you get the point ... about it." She turned and started back to her office. "Either find the murderer, or come to the conclusion that he actually did die of natural causes. Either way, I want this case closed ASAP."
"And just how are we going to do that?" Don asked. "We have no clues. No suspects. And best of all, no cause of death. It might as well be from natural causes."
"But we know Meltker didn't die from natural causes. Otherwise there would have been some natural cause for Natalie to find."
"So what do we do? Fudge the report?"
( That's been done more times than you would have reason to know about. Particularly when there are vampires involved. )
"We find out who killed Gerald Meltker, that's what we do ... and we find out how and why he was killed."
"And how do we do that, Mr. Wizard?"
"We're detectives, aren't we? So let's detect. We can start with Leon James."
"Room 706." Don Schanke said as they exited the elevator on the seventh floor. "That's where the guard at the information desk said Professor James's office is."
A noise from inside one of the lockers stopped them. The detectives flattened themselves against the lockers on either side of it, their hands on their weapons. In a single motion, Nick grabbed the handle and jerked the door open. Inside, a skinny, nervous teenager crouched against the back of the space. Nick grabbed him by the collar and pulled him out of the cabinet.
"Don't shoot! Don't shoot!" The boy practically cried. "I'm just a little kid. An innocent little kid."
"What's goin' on here?" A voice behind them asked. It was Billy MacGregor. He smiled when he saw who the detectives were holding. "I might ha' known you'd be clear up ta yer ears in wrongdoin'."
"You know this person?" Don Schanke asked.
"Aye, Detective Schanke. That I do. His name's Flint. He's one of me geniuses I told ya about. One of me more troublesome geniuses, by th' way. He's only fifteen, but his hormones think they're goin' on twenty seven. What'd ya do this time, lad? Or should I be askin' who did ya do it to?"
"I'm innocent. You gotta believe me. I didn't do nothin', Billy. I wasn't even there. And anyone who says I was, is lying. I swear ..." Flint protested as Billy escorted him, also by the collar, to the ALC wing.
"There are two policemen here to see you." The secretary said nervously to Professor James.
"I thought you might come by. Have a seat, gentlemen." Leon James said as the secretary left the room. He leaned back in his overstuffed, high backed, dark leather executive chair and pointed to two meager cloth covered chairs on the other side of his rather large mahogany desk. The office was elegantly furnished. A large mahogany bookcase stood on the left wall beside the desk. It was filled with several matched multi-volume sets of books on psychiatry and psychology, as well as a set of encyclopedias, and a small set of law books. A collection of Shakespeare's works, also matched, completed the ensemble. In between the sets were porcelain figurines and several meticulously nurtured potted plants. A mahogany credenza against the opposite wall held a polished silver tea service. Naturally, everything was coordinated and obviously expensive. Every piece in the office had been cleaned and polished to perfection. It looked more like an ad from a furniture catalogue than a functioning office.
"I didn't think you two would have much of a working knowledge of life on a university campus. Perhaps I can help to fill in some of the blanks for you." He said rather condescendingly.
I probably have more knowledge of the workings of a college campus than you could imagine. Nick sat in one of the chairs that Leon James had indicated. Don in the other. Although the chairs were reasonably new, they were uncomfortable at best.
Associate Professor of Archeology Nicholas Girard studied the brass and wood nameplate that had sat for the past five years on the desk in front of him. Lovingly, he placed it in the cardboard file box with the rest of his possessions he had accumulated from this particular identity. Although some of the things in the box were faked, such as his 'Doctorate' diploma in Archeology from Columbia University ... courtesy of Aristotle ... most of the things were authentic.
He had earned the plaque from the Field Museum for the many artifacts he had donated to them from the ruins of the Mayan city of Altun Kanel.
Another item in there was an oversized glossy coffee table book highlighting several of his expeditions to Altun Kanel that had been published by the Archeological Society shortly after he had returned from there.
Several of the document frames held 'Outstanding Instructor' certificates. There were also a number of Letters of Appreciation from the Chicago School Board for his work with students in the elementary and high schools, and several awards from the Chamber of Commerce for his help in researching the city's history. That wasn't as difficult as it seemed. He had been present for most of it.
Then there was the gold-paint-on-tin 'World's Best Teacher' trophy cup that his students had given him at the end of the last semester. It was meant as sort of a gag gift, but he treasured it as much as if he had received the Nobel Prize. Maybe even more, considering who it came from. It was a reminder that they loved and appreciated him as much as he cared for them.
He had to keep repeating to himself that this was just another job. Just one among the many that he had held in the past 725 years under a plethora of names. He kept telling himself he would quickly find something else to occupy his time in his next identity. But this job was different. This job was special. He was doing something he dearly loved. And he was making a lasting impression in these bright young minds. He could have eagerly continued here until it was truly time to move on. If things had worked out as they should have, that would not have been for at least another eight or ten years.
But then the House Un-American Activities Committee began investigating him. As near as he could find, 'someone' had reported him to them because of his nocturnal lifestyle. That was enough to make him a suspicious character in their eyes. Although the Committee had not found any evidence that he was a 'subversive', they did raise many unanswerable questions. Questions that would surely attract the attention of the Enforcers. Better to leave here as soon as possible and let the controversy quietly die down.
He quickly wiped away the tear that was trying hard to escape down his cheek. It would not do for anyone to see that.
Toronto Present Time
Nick felt decidedly uncomfortable as Leon James stared silently at him and his partner. "Mr. James. We have ... " He began.
"That is PROFESSOR James ... if you don't mind. Unlike some people in this university, I worked long and hard for that title, and I would appreciate if you would use it."
Nick felt as though he were a six year old and had been chastised for speaking out of turn. Talk about your stuck up snobs. "Professor James." Nick began again. It was hard not to spit the title out. "We are here primarily to ask you a few questions about Gerald Meltker's death."
"Oh yes. Terrible thing that. Unfortunately, I know only what I have heard on TV and read in the papers about the case. I do hope all this negative publicity has not created too much of a problem for the university."
"Did you know Gerald Meltker?" Don Schanke asked.
Professor James glared at them. From the look on his face, you would have thought the detective had insulted him. "Of course not. What would make you think I would know someone like ... him? He was, after all, only an employee.
I do know he did volunteer work for the Parapsychology Department on some kind of a project, but I have absolutely no idea what it could be. I have as little to do with that ... section as is humanly possible.
I was against establishing Parapsychology as an accredited subject in the first place. After all, spook hunting and fortune telling have no place in academia. Those ... people belong more in a circus side show than in a classroom. Gives the whole department a rather bad reputation, if you ask me. I was overridden by the rest of the board, though. I suppose I shall have to just grin and bear it. For the time being at least. I am only an ... Associate Dean after all.
At least now that ... that man's death has been found to be from natural causes, we can all get on with our business with a minimum of disruption."
"How do you know what the cause of death is?"
"Nate happened to mention the death to me when I saw him at the club last night. From what he said, you people have no proof that he was murdered. Therefore I assume that he died naturally."
"Nathaniel Sinclair. The Police Commissioner. You DO know who your superiors are, don't you, gentlemen?" His tone indicated he thought that both detectives were six years old. "We are both members of the University Club. As a faculty member, I'm an honorary member, of course. Sinclair is class of '68. Criminal Justice. Graduated Cum Laude. He's a big contributor to the university as well. His son Andrew is in my class. Bright boy, I might add. And now, since you have asked your questions, and I have answered them, I have a class to teach." He rose and picked up a folder from his desk. "I trust you can find your own way out."
"But we're not ... " Don Schanke started to say, but Leon James was already out the door. " ... finished." He trailed off.
"Why do I get the distinct impression we were treated as less than pond scum?" Don asked as he and Nick left the office.
"Probably because in Leon James's opinion, we are less than pond scum."
Neither one of them noticed the person watching them from the shadows. 'Still no clue.' He wrote in the book. 'Good.'
"Come on in. Have a seat." Professor Allen Michaels called to the detectives at the door.
Allen was the Professor in Charge of the Parapsychology Department. His office was the complete antithesis of Leon James's. It looked more like someone's rec room than a college professor's headquarters. Two mismatched but comfortable and well used sofas were against one wall with a large book and magazine filled bookcase between them. Scattered around the room was an eclectic assortment of loungers and overstuffed chairs. Also in there was a miniature pool table and several arcade style pinball machines. A nerf ball sized basketball hoop hung over the door. The only indication that this was an office was a pair of large gaudily painted file cabinets in one corner of the room, and a state of the art computer setup on a modernistic clear plastic topped desk situated between them. It was probable that the office had been furnished from either the Salvation Army Thrift Shop, or the neighborhood lawns during bulk trash pickup day. Schanke suspected the latter.
Michaels was seated on one of the sofas with his feet propped up on one of the two coffee tables. Also mismatched. They both held an unorganized mass of magazines, papers, and other articles too numerous to mention.
Allen Michaels was a light skinned black man with an open face and a broad smile. He appeared to be in his middle to late thirties. His prematurely gray hair was cut short, and he had a full but neatly trimmed beard. He was over six feet tall and athletically built. He was dressed much the same as Billy MacGregor. A UT sweatshirt and matching sweatpants. Clean white Reeboks ... his shoes had laces ... covered his sockless feet.
"Excuse the mess." He said as he rose and extended his hand to the detectives. His voice was soft and gentle, and his handshake was firm and genuine. He motioned to the other couch and indicated that the detectives should be seated. "I like my students to feel relaxed and comfortable in here. They're not your typical college students, after all. Every one of them is special, and some ... people might say that they don't belong here. If it was up to him, they'd be showing off their powers in some two bit traveling circus. Or worse. Instead, they are scientifically exploring their capabilities in a methodical disciplined manner. Yeah. You know I'm talking about Leon James, don't you? He's a real son of a ... but let's not go there.
Unfortunately, he and I don't see eye to eye on just about everything. He's conservative and old school. As you can see, I'm fairly liberal and keep pretty much of an open mind about a lot of things. I guess that stems from our backgrounds. I worked my way through college and graduate school busing tables at Golden Griddle and pumping gas at Petro Canada to supplement my scholarships and grants. Just finished paying off the last of my student loans three years ago. While I'm not quite the boy genius that Billy Mac is, I do have a well above average IQ. Although he says he worked hard for his degree, Leon James's education was pretty much guaranteed, principally through huge donations and bequests made by his old money family. But then, you two aren't here to talk about academic qualifications, are you?"
"No, we're not, Professor Michaels. We want to ask you a few questions about Gerald Meltker." Nick said.
"My given name is Allen. Professor Michaels is the name that's painted on the door. I'm not quite as hung up on titles as ...certain other people around here are, either. What do you want to know about Jerry?"
"I take it you knew Meltker?"
"Yeah, I knew him. Probably as well as anyone did. Maybe better than a lot of people. We talked a lot. Because of the condition he had, I don't think there were too many people that he felt comfortable emptying his soul to. I'd like to think I was one of them.
One of the things he was most upset about was that he never had the opportunity to get an education beyond high school. Because of his disability, he was often overlooked when it came to opportunities that almost everyone else takes for granted. People saw his unsteady gait and his slow drawling speech as a sign of retardation. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. He was a brilliant man in his own way. I gave him an IQ test as part of the research work. He tested to 158. That's borderline genius. He wasn't book smart, but he had a tremendous wealth of what they call street knowledge. In many cases, that can mean more than the best of degrees. Unfortunately, in Jerry's case, the most it could get for him was a job sweeping floors and cleaning furniture here at the university.
He was trying to better himself, though. I talked him into taking some part time and online classes. He had almost completed his first year when he ..." He closed his eyes and shook his head sadly. " ... Such a waste."
"Do you know if he had any enemies?"
"I don't think Jerry Meltker had an enemy in the world. At least not from his perspective. Even though Leon James picked on him unmercifully, I think Jerry even liked him. Why, I don't know. Nobody else likes Professor ... James." He too, spat the title. "But then, that was Jerry. He was friends with just about everyone."
"What about his family? Did they have above average IQs, too? What did they think of him?"
"His only living relative, a brother who lives in Waterloo, tested to 110. Just about average. We routinely test everyone connected with any of our projects. For our records, of course. According to his brother, the rest of his family was of average intelligence, too. His parents are dead. His mother died from complications of the birth of his brother when he was three, and his father was killed in a manufacturing accident when he was ten. Because he was handicapped, Jerry spent most of his formative years in a home for crippled children. His aunt and uncle took in the brother after his father died, but they didn't have the time or qualifications to care for Jerry properly. He had a hard life, but fortunately he didn't let it get to him like some people might have done. He used it to make him stronger.
This background made him an ideal candidate for our research project. We were working with him and others to determine whether education, or environment, or heredity played the dominant role in the development of IQ."
"Which one is the dominant one?" Don asked.
"Good question. I'll let you know when we find the answer. Right now, it looks like all three play a significant role."
"Now for the hard question. Do you think he died of natural causes?" Nick continued.
Michaels thought for a few moments. "No, I don't think he did. I know that contradicts all the evidence so far, but I don't. One of the things the university insists on is that every one of our research volunteers undergo a thorough physical at least once a year. Just to be on the safe side and to rule out any kind of physical problems that could compromise the outcome of our projects. Jerry's was two months ago. The doctor said he was in perfect health and could live to be a hundred if he took care of himself. Sixty days later he's dead. No, I don't think he died of so called natural causes."
"What do you think killed him?"
"I wish I knew." Allen shook his head slowly and sadly. "I wish I knew."
"So, partner. What do you think so far?" Don Schanke asked. They had returned from the university at about 11:00 and had spent the rest of the night trying once more to reduce the backlog of reports still before them. There were now only about a little over a third of the folders that they started with. He held up the folder he was working on. "I swear these things are breeding down in the bottom of the stack when we're not looking." He grumbled, barely under his breath.
"I know what you mean." Nick replied. "I wonder. Does that make me a mother, since I'm giving birth to a new case file." He took an empty manila folder and a pad of ruled legal paper and began transferring the notes for their latest case from his notebook to the pad.
"I could be nasty and say that you're a real mother ... but I won't."
"Thanks, Schank. I appreciate that. Anyway, about this case, we've talked to everyone who knew Meltker, and with one notable exception, they all say basically the same thing. He was a bright personable man who got the short end of life's stick. And, they all agree that Gerald Meltker did not die of natural causes. Except for that one notable exception, of course. But no one seems to have a clue what killed him. As a certain white rabbit once observed, 'curiouser and curiouser'."
"Not exactly true." Don pointed out. "Actually it was Alice who said it to the White Rabbit."
"I didn't know you were such an expert on Lewis Carroll."
"Alice In Wonderland was one of Jenny's favorite bedtime stories when she was little. I must have read it to her at least a thousand times. Know it practically by heart."
Nick bowed while touching his chest, chin and forehead in an exaggerated mock of the traditional Arab greeting. "I defer to the master."
"Funny, Nick. Funny. So what do we do now?"
Nick looked at the window across the room from their desks. The eastern sky was just beginning to turn from pitch black to a dark blue gray. False dawn. "I don't know about you, but I'm going to call it a day. Or is that a night? By the looks of the sky, I'll have just about enough time to make it to the loft before sunrise."
"Yeah, yeah. I know. Your sun allergy. Go on. Get out of here. Go home and cloister yourself in that high tech dungeon of doom of yours until the sun goes down. I'm going to finish this one folder, and then I'm heading home too. If I hurry, I might even get there in time to have breakfast with Jenny before she goes to school. I wish I could do that every day, but I guess I just have to take these things when I can."
( You don't know how lucky you are to have Myra and Jenny waiting for you. I wish I was going home to have breakfast with my daughter. But that will never happen. Not unless Nat can find a cure ... And I can convince her to marry me. I don't want anyone else to be the mother of my children. But then, I don't even know what she feels for me. Or even if she feels anything for me. Maybe it is just friendship on her part. She's never indicated anything different. I doubt if she knows how much I love her ... Or want her ... Or need her. And not just in the physical sense either. We've never even discussed it. It's too dangerous to even consider. I could kill her without even half trying.
So why do I put myself through this torture? She's only a mortal. Only one out of hundreds that I've known. Why don't I just pack up and move on? Because without her in my life, I'd probably walk into the sun. )
He felt her presence even before the lift stopped. He would have known her heartbeat anywhere, and combined with the unique scent of roses and cinnamon that was hers, there was only one conclusion he could draw. Natalie was waiting for him inside.
He smiled to himself. She would be proud of his progress. He was. He had managed to get almost half of the protein shake down before he left for work yesterday. And keep it down the whole night. There was almost no nausea with this batch. And he didn't even need a little bloodwine to cut the taste. He considered that as two giant steps toward mortality. Maybe even three. He just hoped she would see it that way too.
As he slid the lift door open, he could see she was seated with her back to him on the black leather couch in the area of the loft that passed as the living room. She was so engrossed in whatever she was doing, she apparently did not even hear him come in. He resisted the urge to sneak up behind her. It wasn't easy, but he did it. Purposely, he bumped into the coat rack that stood by the door and waited as it rattled and swayed back and forth before coming to rest once more. Then he picked up the dish tray that stood on the counter by the sink and noisily put it back down. He even loudly cleared his throat several times. Natalie never even moved.
"What are you doing here?" He asked as he came into her line of sight.
She jumped and let out a small scream. "How many times do I have to tell you?" She said, her voice at least a half octave higher than it normally would be. "Don't DO that! You'll scare me out of two years. And, unlike some people in this room, I need those years. I don't have eternity."
"Don't do what? I deliberately tried to make as much noise as possible so I wouldn't scare you."
"I guess I was so engrossed in my notes. I didn't hear you. You ought to know when I get caught up in something, a bomb could go off and I wouldn't notice." ( Unless the victim of that bomb happens to be a certain good looking blond vampire who came back to life on my autopsy table four years ago. ) She closed the notebook and put it into her briefcase that was sitting on the couch next to her. "I wanted to get the last of my observations from the Daveritti case down on paper before I forgot them."
"I thought that's why you dictated them into the tape recorder as you were doing the autopsy."
"It is. And those official notes have all been entered in the computer and printed out nicely and neatly, waiting for the detectives involved to pick them up. These are my personal comments."
"So. Why are you doing them here?"
"I was just biding my time until you got here. Oh no! Don't tell me you forgot. You must be getting absent minded in your old age. You have good reason to be, you know. After all, you are almost 800 years old. I'll give you a hint. Do the words movie and popcorn mean anything to you?"
Natalie ducked as Nick playfully attempted to swat her on the shoulder. "That's for the remark about me being 800 years old." He said with a grin that went from ear to ear. Just as quickly, a guilty look washed over his face. "I'm so sorry. I did forget about our movie night. I've been so caught up in trying to clear out the backlog of cases on my desk, and then there's this new one. I really haven't had much time to think about anything else. Was I supposed to bring the tape this time?"
Natalie held up a video box. "No, I was. It's one I know you'll like. I even brought the popcorn." She fished a box of Orville Redenbacher from her briefcase. "I checked. There's still some soda from the last time, so you're off the hook there."
"I was supposed to get the drinks, wasn't I?"
Nick closed his eyes and shook his head slowly. "Maybe you're right. Maybe I am getting forgetful in my old age." There was a long silence. ( I know she's going to be very angry with me. I know how much she looks forward to these sessions. She has every right to be pissed. First, I forget what night it is ... Then I forget the drinks ... And I'm supposed to have a perfect memory ... How could I be so stupid and so unfeeling ... Now I've got to let her down again. )
"With all that has been going on lately, I don't think I'm really in the mood to watch any movies today. Do you think I would sound ungrateful if I asked you to put it off until next Thursday? I have some things to go over on the Meltker case, and I really could use a good sleep." ( If I'm lucky, she'll only never speak to me again. Or maybe she'll just go ahead and stake me and be done with it. )
"Nick, you must be some kind of a mind reader." Natalie sounded almost relieved. "I was half thinking the same thing. I have so much to do, I ... Well, the only reason I came over here today was because it was our regular movie day, but if you want to wait, it's all right with me. Maybe I can transcribe some of the mountain of notes I've got in my briefcase into something that vaguely resembles coherent thought. You and Don aren't the only congenital procrastinators in Toronto Metro, you know." She packed her things back into her briefcase and stood up.
Nick helped her into her jacket. ( She's not mad at me! She understands! How did I get so lucky to find her! ) He started to kiss her on the cheek. At the last minute switched to her forehead. He really wanted to plant a long lingering kiss on her full lips, but he could feel the vampire straining to break out. When he was this close to her, it was all he could do to restrain the 'beast'.
( Better to be on the safe side. ) He thought sadly as he watched her go into the lift.
( Why do I put myself through this every week? ) Natalie berated herself as she rode the lift to the ground. ( Am I some kind of a masochist or something? He's told me at least a thousand times that there can never be anything between us because of what he is. But did that didn't stop Natalie Lambert, girl optimist? ... Not for a single moment. I had to think I could take it farther. I had to go and fall madly, passionately in love with a man that I can't possibly have.
I know he sees me as his friend ... His doctor ... His movie buddy ... His pal. I doubt if he even has a clue as to how I really feel. How much I love him. How much I need him. How much I want him. I know we can never be intimate, but there's so much more to a loving relationship than that. Why can't he see that?
He's a vampire ... I'm mortal. I'm probably just one more in a long string of women he's known. So why do I do it? Why do I keep leading with my heart like this? Because without him in my life, it isn't worth living. )
"Professor James." The student standing in the doorway to his office said hesitantly. He was thin and rather plain looking. His straight medium brown hair was slicked back, and he had large thick glasses. He wore a white short sleeved shirt and dark blue Dockers, and had on brown loafers on over white crew socks. All he lacked was the clear plastic protector in his shirt pocket. He was, in the vernacular, a nerd. "I know I'm not supposed to come in here without being announced, but your secretary isn't at her desk."
"That's quite all right, Andrew." Leon James said. "I can excuse it ... this time." It was almost implied ... 'don't do it again'. "What did you want to see me about?"
"Well, Sir ... I have some questions that I did not feel were appropriate to ask in class, and I thought perhaps you could give me some insight."
"Of course, my boy. I'm always glad to help one of my students." ( Especially when their father happens to be one of the University's biggest contributors. ) James pointed to one of the small cloth covered chairs. "This doesn't have anything to do with your term paper, does it? Your midterm essay was excellent, by the way. I was talking to your father just the other day, and I happened to mention that you were one of my most promising students."
"Thank you, Sir. No, this has nothing to do with my term paper. I almost have that finished. Thanks to one of those online websites. This is about Gerald Meltker."
"What kind of questions could you possibly have about him?"
"Well, Sir. From what I've heard, he was in good health and he was fit. I mean for someone who was a crip, that is. And yet he just ... died. Don't you think that's rather strange?"
"My boy. Everything that happens in that despicable department is strange. Why should that retard's death be any different?" James came around the desk and put his hand on Andrew's shoulder. "Don't think another thing about it. I think he died of natural causes. Your father thinks he died of natural causes. No one has found any evidence to the contrary. Therefore, the only logical hypothesis one can reach is that he died of natural causes."
"And what about the police? I understand they're still asking questions."
"Since Meltker died a natural death, they aren't going to find anything to indicate otherwise, so eventually they are going to have to come to that conclusion as well. They have to go through the motions until that time. They're so predictable. Remember your classes on Pavlov's experiments with the dogs? Every time the police see a dead body, they automatically think it's murder. Trust me, my boy. There's nothing to worry about." He went to the door and held it open. "Now. We don't want to be late for our next class, do we? Don't worry about another thing. Goodbye Mr. Sinclair."
'Those detectives are becoming a pain. If they keep asking questions, they might spoil the whole experiment. I've got to figure out a way to throw them off the scent.
Of course! Why didn't I think of this before! It may compromise the results somewhat, but that can't be helped. The outcome will still be the same. On second thought, it might just be the crowning touch to this whole project.' Once more the book went back into the box.
"Hey, Prof." A voice called from the doorway to the classroom. "What're you doing here? There's no classes today, are there?"
"I'm cleaning out my desk, Jake." Nick replied. "And you're right. There are no classes today. And there probably won't be any more for the rest of the semester. Not unless they can find someone to replace me. Haven't you heard the good news?" It was hard to keep the bitterness out of his voice. "I'm no longer teaching here."
"Yeah. I heard. But it's hardly good news. There was a note tacked up on the student bulletin board yesterday morning saying classes have been suspended until further notice." Jake Pryor said. Jake was one of Nicholas Girard's brightest students. He was truly interested in ancient history, and archeology in particular. He soaked up everything Nick tried to teach like he was a sponge. Even though he was still an undergraduate student, Nick had been seriously thinking about including him on this summer's dig in Altun Kanel. Now that would never happen.
"Jake's right, you know. That definitely isn't good news. It's a real bummer." Susan Martin said from behind Jake. Susan was also one of his brighter students. And it was also obvious that she and Jake were a 'couple'. "We were talking about that at the Espresso Coffee Bean last night. Everyone there agreed. You're one of the few people that makes archeology really exciting. When you lecture, you make it seem so real and so alive, not something dried up, dead and forgotten like a lot of the other instructors do. It's almost like you were there when it all happened."
( Maybe not for everything, but I was there for a lot of it. )
"You can't quit just because the McCarthy Committee raked into you." Susan continued. "Look what they tried to do to Lucille Ball. They investigated her simply because one of her relatives was a Communist at one time. According to Desi Arnaz, her husband, the only thing red about her is her hair, and that's dyed."
"I didn't quit. I was fired." Nick said softly.
"FIRED!" Jake practically shouted. "They can't do that to you! The McCarthy people didn't find anything against you. All they had to go on were rumors and innuendos. We'll go and talk to Dean Whittier. He's the head of the department. He'll get this mess straightened out real quick. He knows you're the best instructor the Archeology Department has ever had."
Nick held up the envelope with the University logo on it. "That won't do any good. This is my termination notice. Effective immediately. It's signed by Dean Whittier."
"You mean they didn't believe you when you said you were innocent? After everything you've done for the school and for the city of Chicago? Maybe we should talk to the Mayor. What did they say was the reason they were letting you go when you went before the board of trustees?"
"I never went before the board. There was no hearing. I was just fired. They didn't even try to explain or justify their actions. This letter was on my desk when I came in yesterday evening. It's short and to the point. One sentence. 'As of midnight tonight, you are no longer employed by this University.' ... In words of one syllable, pack up and get out."
"That's not fair! They can't fire you without a hearing! They have to give you a chance to tell your side! We'll go to the President of the University. He'll do something! You'll get your job back! You'll see."
"Jake. Susan. Let it go. What's done is done."
"But now you have this huge black mark on your record. If you just walk away without fighting it, you'll never get it eliminated. It'll follow you clear to your grave. You're too good a teacher ... and too a good a person ... to have that cloud hanging over you. If you don't get it straightened out, you won't be able to get a job cleaning blackboards, let alone teaching anywhere. Your doctorate might as well stand for Party hat Designer if that happens. You gotta fight it."
( If only you knew. I'll never be teaching anywhere in any case. At least not with this identity. When I walk away from this campus, Professor Nicholas Girard will cease to exist. If this were the only 'black mark' I have hanging over me, maybe I might consider staying and fighting ... But in 760 years, I have accumulated a lot more black marks on my record than I have gold ones. Then there's the Enforcers ... )
"You don't understand. I've seen it happen before." He said aloud. All through history, in fact. "You're wrong about trying to clear my name. Even though the McCarthy Committee couldn't prove anything, and even if I did get my job back, the stigma would still always be there. Just as if every word was the absolute truth. It's like saying 'Don't think of elephants'." He shook his head slowly, sadly. "No. The best thing to do is just to let it go."
"Professor Girard. Do me one favor. Before you leave, come down to the Espresso Coffee Bean and talk to some of the people there." Susan almost pleaded. "Please. Promise me you'll do that much."
Nick nodded assent. ( Not that it will do much good. My plans have already been set in motion. )
Andrew Sinclair handed the clear plastic utility box with the composition book in it to Allen Michaels. " ... And when I went to get my books for class from my locker, this was on the top shelf. I hardly ever use the top shelf. Mainly because it's too high up. So it could have been there for some time." He said haltingly.
"And you have no idea how it got there?" Michaels asked.
"No, Sir. It's definitely not mine, and I never saw it until this evening when I went to get my things. I only found it because I accidentally bumped the locker real hard, and the box fell down on me."
"Did you read it?"
"Only the first few pages. When I saw what it was all about, I knew I had to bring it to you."
"Why bring it to me? Professor James is your Counselor. Wouldn't it have made more sense to take it to him?"
Andrew took a deep breath. "I was going to, Sir. But then I got to thinking. This sounds like something that would be of more interest to you than it would be to Professor James. After all, he was killed in your classroom. I mean he died there ... I mean ... I don't know what I mean ... but I thought you'd be better off having it than Professor James would. I did the right thing, didn't I?"
Yes, Andrew. You did the right thing." Allen Michaels thumbed through the book quickly. "Just out of curiosity, who has access to your locker?"
"Actually, Sir. Almost anybody could get in it if they really wanted to. I broke the padlock a few months back. The top doesn't fit too tight into the bottom part. If you pull it real hard, it opens without a key. I never got around to replacing it. If you don't know any different, it looks like my locker is locked, so I didn't think it was too necessary to get a new lock."
"May I make a suggestion? Get a new lock." Allen held up the book. "I'll keep this and see that the proper people are notified. You had better get going. It's almost time for your next class."
"Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir."
'They took the bait! Hook line and sinker. Now all I have to do is reel in the fish.' The notebook went back into the strongbox.
Nick stood at the door and searched the dimly lit room. The Espresso Coffee Bean was a typical 'beatnik' hangout. Located in the cellar of an off-campus bookstore, it was filled with the aromas of strong coffee and cigarette smoke. Occasionally, there was a whiff of one or more illegal substances. The cement block walls were painted with enormous stylized flowers in every possible color of the rainbow. A tiny stage, consisting of little more than three 4x8 pieces of heavy plywood suspended on about fifty cement building blocks, stood in one corner. Around it were placed fifteen or twenty tables that looked like they were made from the tops and the bottoms of telephone cable spools sitting on sections of sewer drain pipe with abstract designs painted on them. They probably were. They were covered with blue and purple checkered 'tablecloths'. The tables could easily accommodate no more than two people each. Most of them had four to six people sandwiched around them.
At the opposite end of the room from the 'stage' was the bar. It consisted of another 4x8 piece of heavy plywood cut in half lengthwise and resting on three oversized saw horses. This was covered with a long lime green canvas tablecloth folded in half, also lengthwise, and tacked to the plywood. Behind it, sitting on the other half piece of plywood and supported by several gigantic oaken barrels, was an espresso machine that gave the place its name. The only lighting, other than candles stuck into empty Chianti bottles that were placed on the tables, came from a yellow spotlight that was permanently aimed at the 'stage'.
"Professor Girard! Over here!" Jake Pryor called loudly to him from a table at the back of the room. Susan raised her hand and waved at him so he would know where they were. He threaded his way to them and took a seat on one of the mismatched chairs around the table.
Almost before he was fully seated, a man wearing a faded, bleach spattered black turtleneck shirt and a tan pseudo-suede fringed vest, placed a cup of steaming coffee in front of him. The man was probably in his late twenties to early thirties. He had a scraggly beard, and a black beret clung to his almost shoulder length dark hair at a precarious angle. Green horn rimmed sunglasses sat on his nose. An unlit, half smoked cigarette clung to the corner of his mouth.
"You must be Professor Girard." The man said. Even when he talked, the cigarette stayed in place. ( Maybe it's glued on. ) "I'm Bernard Schadlack, but that's the name strictly for the squares. Most of the cats around here just call me Bernard the Poet. And this ... " He swept his arm around the club. " ... is my pad." He wiped his hand on his torn jeans and extended it. Nick went to shake it, but instead, Bernard unhurriedly slid the flat of his hand along Nick's palm, and then loosely grabbed his thumb and slowly drew his fist off it. "Got that shake from a mulatto when I was down in New Orleans a couple of months ago. It's the latest, man."
Nick pulled out a bill and handed it to Bernard.
"What's the bread for?" Bernard asked, eyeing Nick suspiciously.
"For the coffee, of course."
Bernard pushed it back. "On the house, Man. You're something of a celebrity here. All the cats been talking about how you got the very short end of the very long stick from the eggheads in the front office of the University. Man, you can't let it get to you. You can't let them jerk your chain like that. They got their licks in on you, and now it's your turn to get your licks in on them."
"I wish it were that easy. But as I tried to tell Jake, it's better just to let it go."
"Look, Man. I know what you're saying, but every once in a while you gotta dig in and fight city hall. I know. I've been there, too. I got a PhD in Sociology from Penn State. Might as well stand for Post hole Digger for all the good it did me. I applied for a teaching job here and was turned down flat. Seems I didn't exactly fit the University's buttoned down charcoal gray image. Mine is more like Marlon Brando-ish. If you dig what I mean. Jeans and a T-shirt. That kinda stuff. Clean and neat, but definitely not square wear.
They called me a radical left winger. I figured if you got the name, you might as well play the game. So I went all the way to Jack Kerouac-land. That's when I opened the Espresso Coffee Bean. I find I can teach these cats a helluva lot more up there on the stage here, than I ever could standing in front of a blackboard.
'Sides, I know you ain't a Commie. I've never seen you at any of the Party meetings."
"BERNARD!" Jake stammered. " YOU! ...You're a ...? "
"A red blooded 100 percent American. Just like you and all the other cats in here are. Actually, I'm more of a Socialist than a Communist. I mean I'd never do anything to overthrow the country like some people say that Communists are supposed to be doing. But sometimes you just got to work with what you got in your hand. You dig what I'm saying?" He smiled. "Man, that sounds like it could be the beginning of a poem. Excuse me, my children. My bongos are calling." Bernard held up two fingers on his right hand in a 'V' as he scampered to the stage. "Stay cool, cats."
A few moments later Bernard was beating out a rhythm on his drums and spouting sentences that made no apparent sense to Nick. When he finished, all the patrons stood up and began enthusiastically snapping their fingers. Bernard bowed and walked offstage.
"Tell you what, man." He said as he sat down beside Nick. "If you ever want a gig, you can come to work for me. That way you can keep on imparting your knowledge to these fresh young minds the same way I do. You don't by any chance play the bongos or write poetry, do you?"
"Well, it looks like this should clear up the confusion about Gerald Meltker's death." Allen Michaels said as he sat in Interrogation Room one with Nick and Don. Natalie Lambert sat on the other side of the table and Captain Cohen was sitting at the end. In the middle was the notebook that Andrew Sinclair had found.
"I wouldn't have believed it. I always thought he had such a positive attitude." Michaels continued. "Jerry didn't seem like the kind of person who would even consider suicide. But as you can see from this notebook, he was severely depressed. He says that his upbeat outlook was nothing more than a fake to cover for his real state of mind. He claims he had been contemplating killing himself for some time. He even describes the drug he was going to use to do it with"
"Then why didn't the drug show up in the tox analysis I did on him?" Natalie asked.
"I doubt if the properties would even be listed in any of the pharmacology books. Most likely because it's not even into mass clinical trials yet. Unless you knew specifically what you were looking for, you'd never find it. It's a new type of tranquilizer. It's still in the early experimental phase, though. Mostly with rats and guinea pigs. It hasn't even been tested on higher primates yet. According to the people in our Pharmaceutical Research Facility, in the proper dose it's quick acting and non addictive. It dissipates quickly and has very few side effects. In the dosage he's talking about in this book though, it's obviously lethal."
"Would he have been involved in any of the research studies for this drug?" Natalie asked.
"Not very likely. The university frowns on subjects participating in more than one study at a time."
"Then how would he have gotten hold of it? Or even known about it?" Don asked.
"I really don't know. Of course, he does do cleanup work all over the university, not just in Landrum Hall. It's entirely possible he might have seen some notes on it while he was cleaning in Smith Hall, that's the Pharmacy building."
"Would he have understood what they mean?" Captain Cohen inquired.
"Most definitely. As I told Detectives Knight and Schanke, Jerry Meltker did not have the best of formal educations, but he was borderline genius and very inquisitive. He could have read up on the drug and came to the conclusion that it would do what he wanted it to do."
"But if it's not even in the trial stage, how would he get enough of it to kill himself with?"
"I'm just guessing, but if he took just a little bit at a time, say the dregs from the beakers, over time he could accumulate a lethal dose without it being noticed."
"Well, Gentlemen ... and Doctor." Captain Cohen said as they returned to the bullpen. "It looks like the case of Gerald Meltker has been closed. It appears that Gerald Meltker committed suicide due to depression. I, for one, am glad it's over."
'They bought it!' He wrote in the original composition book. 'It took several days to get the information I needed and to put it into that other composition book. It's a good thing I'm a quick study. His handwriting wasn't all that difficult to forge. Now maybe those dumb cops will quit digging where they're not wanted.'
Nicholas Girard left his apartment and headed for his car. He had only a few more things to clear out of his office and classroom, and then he would be gone. If he was lucky, he could be well on his way to Montana by the end of the week. Aristotle had found a cabin in the Black Hills that he could use to rest and regroup. Isolated and primitive, he would never be found unless he wanted to be found. Aristotle assured him that even LaCroix did not know of this place. It was perfect.
Almost as soon as he left the building, he noticed the damage to his auto. All four tires were slashed and both the front and rear windshields had been broken. There was a hammer and sickle painted in bright red on the hood and trunk, and an obscene sign was gouged into the paint on both the driver's and the passenger's doors. "Damn." He swore. "And I really liked that car."
Before he could reach the curb, he was surrounded by a knot of students. He recognized most of them as being in his class, but there were a few that were unknown to him.
"Did any of you have anything to do with this?" He asked pointing to the vandalized automobile.
"Of course not, Professor Girard." One of the students replied. "We'd never do anything like that in a million years."
"Then what are you doing here?" He asked.
"We're kidnapping you." Steve Mangold replied. Like Jake Pryor, Steve was one of Nick's favorite students. "Not kidnapping. Not exactly, that is. Just ... sort of kidnapping you. You see, after you left the Bean the other night, a bunch of us got to talking. We decided to hold a sit-in outside President White's office until he gave you your job back and cleared your name."
Before he knew it, the group had gently guided him away from his auto and toward an orange mini van.
"I told Jake and Susan not to do anything."
"We know what you told them. But we want to show you that you're making a big mistake. And if we have to hold you prisoner until you realize it, then that's exactly what we're going to do."
"But you can't do ... " While they were talking, some of the students had quietly eased him into the van and shut the door. " ... that." While two of them lightly restrained him, the driver started the engine and moved out into traffic. Several more cars followed them. In this predicament, there was little else Nick could do but play along with them. To try anything else would be foolhardy. At the very least.
The caravan turned onto University Drive and slowed to a bare crawl. The street and the surrounding grassy areas were packed with students. Some were carrying signs that read 'Keep Professor Girard'. Others said 'We love our Prof'. They all were chanting "Gir-ard! Gir-ard! Gir-ard!"
As he stepped out of the van, a cheer went up from the crowd. "SPEECH! SPEECH!" They yelled.
Nick held up his arms for silence and slowly, the crowd quieted. Someone thrust a microphone in front of his face. "Don't do this." Nick pleaded. The mike was obviously hooked up to powerful speakers. His voice could be heard by the entire crowd. "This won't accomplish anything. All it will do is get you in a lot of trouble. Please. Go to your classes. Go home. Go anywhere, but don't stay here."
No one moved. They only began the chant once more. This time even louder. It was almost a mantra. "Gi-rard! Gi-rard! Gi-rard."
He handed the mike back to whoever had given it to him, and turned to Steve. "Can't you do something? This has gotten completely out of hand."
Steve shook his head. "Sorry, Prof. I don't know what to do." He practically shouted over the noise of the crowd. "There was only supposed to be twenty or thirty of us here. This looks more like two or three hundred turned out. I guess it goes to show that everyone here loves you. Now you gotta stay and fight. If not for yourself, then for everyone here who cares for you."
Just then, several buses pulled up and blocked the exits from the area. Several squads of campus security, augmented by what looked like a platoon of Chicago police, got out and took up positions surrounding the crowd. It appeared as though they were all dressed in full riot gear. The leader, with captain's bars stenciled on the front of his helmet, shouted into a bullhorn for the crowd to disperse. When they didn't, the cops and security guards sprayed the students in the front of the throng with mace. When that didn't work like they expected, they fired tear gas into the middle of the protesters
From somewhere in the crowd, a rock arched through the air and landed against one of the busses, scant inches from the Police Captain's head. The thrower shouted a string of epithets that questioned the officer's parentage, heritage, social status, bathroom habits and sexual preferences. Within seconds, rocks, clumps of grass and dirt, papers, books, and almost everything else that could be thrown were raining down on the officers. The air was turned fairly blue with the expletives that accompanied these impromptu missiles.
The police answered with shots fired into the air. From seemingly nowhere, two fire trucks pulled up at either end of the street and the firemen began unpacking their hoses. The police and firemen began spraying the students with high pressure water. Then the officers pushed their way into the crowd with nightsticks and cudgels flying. Nick watched helplessly as the soaking wet, beaten and bloody students were hauled one by one to waiting paddy wagons. Suddenly, one of the officers grabbed him roughly. Someone hit him over the head and dragged him to one of the vans as well.
" ... And you'll ne'er be convincin' me that Jerry Meltker took his own life." Billy MacGregor said to Allen Michaels. They were in the teacher's lounge during a break from classes. "If there e'er was a happier, more well adjusted man than Jerry walkin' this God's green earth, I've ne'er met him."
"Two days ago I would have agreed with you Billy, but I read what was written in that composition book. There is no doubt in my mind that he wrote it. I'd know his handwriting anywhere." Allen said.
"While I dinna have the chance to read the book, I still stand by my first thoughts. Jerry did no' commit suicide."
"And you are so positive of that, aren't you, MISTER MacGregor?" Leon James sneered as he came to the table. "You. The so called boy wonder of the universe. You think that just because you've got more than two brain cells rattling around in that head of yours that you know everything there is to know. You think you have the answers to everything. Let me tell you something, Billy MacGregor. You haven't lived long enough to know ... as the current expression is ... diddly squat. So, until you have had the opportunity to mature considerably, I'll thank you to keep your opinions to yourself." James turned and started away from the table.
Allen started to say something.
"And that goes for you, too, Michaels!"
University President Barry White sat at his desk with his hands tented against his chin. "Girard." He began. "If there was even the slightest outside chance that you could possibly get your tenure back, that riot last night destroyed every shred of it. Just be glad that one of your bolshevik commie comrades managed to bail you out, or you'd be rotting in jail until hell freezes over."
Nick just stood in silence.
"You have one hour to clear the University grounds. If you are seen here after that, you will be arrested. Again. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"And for the record. All your pinko commie loving friends who took part in that little uprising yesterday evening will be summarily expelled. Effective immediately."
"But you can't take it out on the students." Nick countered. "They weren't doing anything illegal. There was no problem until the police showed up and began spraying them with tear gas and mace. The students were just trying to show ... "
"DON'T TELL ME WHAT I CAN AND CANNOT DO!" White shouted. "I cannot condone that kind of activity. The University WILL NOT be swayed by violence and threats. Now get out of here before I change my mind and have you thrown out on the spot. Or better yet, have you thrown back in jail for trespassing."
Nick started to the door.
"It's a pity, Nicholas." White said softly after Girard exited the room. "I really liked you." He picked up the folder on his desk that held the renewal contract for Nicholas Girard and tore it in half and threw it into his wastebasket.
"Maybe I'm jus' blowin' steam outta ma' ears, Detectives." Billy MacGregor told Nick and Don. He was waiting for them when they arrived at their desks. "But I canna believe what everybody is sayin' about Jerry Meltker. I canna believe he would be takin' his own life. As I told Allen Michaels the other day. I ne'er met a more happy easygoin' man in all me life than Jerry. He had a job, e'en though it was na' much. He e'en was workin' on gettin' some online and part time college courses for his degree. Tha' woulda opened so many more doors for him. He had it all goin' for him. No. In my thinkin' Gerald Meltger did na' commit suicide."
"If he didn't commit suicide, how do you think he died?" Don asked
"I dinna know. I wish I did. Maybe somebody made him believe that he was worthless. Tha' coulda made him depressed enough to take a bottle full of an experimental tranquilizer."
"And how would someone do that?" Nick asked.
Billy shrugged his shoulders. "If they couldna do it by repeatin' it long enough, they could always reinforce it by hypnotizin' him."
"Hypnosis?" Don Schanke muttered. "That sounds scary. Death by hypnosis."
"Well." Billy said. "When you put it that way, it does sound a wee bit far fetched. But it is still verra possible."
He sensed him as soon as he entered the small townhouse apartment he called home. His father. His maker. His master. Lucien LaCroix.
"Well, are you ready to come with Janette and me?" He hissed at his wayward son. "My private jet is waiting at the airport. We can be in Paris by this time tomorrow."
"I'm not going to Paris with you or with anyone else. I have made my own plans."
"And what would they be?"
"None of your business!" Nick snapped.
"But it IS my business. You are my son, and that makes it my business. I sincerely hope you're not considering staying here? Especially after what has happened."
"What do you know about what happened?"
"When it comes to family, I know everything that happens. Now, come with me and leave this pitiful sham of a life behind."
"This life is NOT a sham! And it is NOT pitiful! I was making a difference here. I was doing something useful and good." Nick shouted back. This was an ongoing debate between his master and him. LaCroix wanted nothing more than for Nick to give up his quest for mortality and accept his vampire nature. Nick hated being a vampire and wanted only to cross back to being human. He had come so close so many times, only to have LaCroix snatch it from him. This time, though he thought he had the answer. He had found a jade cup when he was at Altun Kanel last year. According to the writings that accompanied it, the cup had the capacity to undo the vampire 'curse', as he called it. Unfortunately, it would take two of the cups to complete the ritual. He had hoped to find the other cup when he returned to Altun Kanel this summer. Now that dream was effectively dashed as well.
"Do you even realize how close you came to being destroyed?" LaCroix grabbed Nick by the collar and pushed him against the wall. "If the McCarthy Committee had found out about us, there would have been a bloodbath the likes of which the Community has not seen since the Inquisition. And all of your mortal friends would have been caught up in it as well. It would have been all ... YOUR ... fault. It was only through ... MY ... intervention that you were not investigated by the Enforcers.
I even had to go down to that wretched jailhouse and bail you out yesterday morning. I barely made it back to the hotel before sunrise, too. All because of YOUR irresponsible actions."
"But I didn't ... " He started to protest. But then, when his master was in the mood he was in now, there nothing Nick could say to reason with him.
"Tell me, LaCroix. Were you the one who reported me to the McCarthy Committee?"
LaCroix laughed sinisterly and shook his head. "I'm sorry to disappoint you, Nicholas. I was not responsible for that. Although, looking back, it was probably one of the better things that has happened to you in the past twenty five years. At least now you know you do not belong here among mortals anymore.
As it turned out, it was your next door neighbor that turned you in. You know. The one who was always sitting at the front window watching everything that happens on the block. I can guarantee you. She will not be reporting anything to anyone else. Ever again."
"You didn't ... "
"What I did or didn't do to that busybody is immaterial. NOW! Pack your things. You WILL come to Paris with me."
"And if I don't?"
"You saw what those students of yours did yesterday evening. If you try to leave on your own, they will only follow you and they will make even more attempts to clear the name of Nicholas Girard. More of them will be arrested. Perhaps one or more of them might even be killed. How do you ever expect to start a new life with that hanging around your neck? Especially with all of the guilt and angst you already have hanging there. No. They have to be stopped."
"If you do anything to them, LaCroix, so help me ... "
"Nicholas. What kind of a callous monster do you take me for? No don't answer that. I know you already think of me as a heartless fiend. You've told me so on hundreds of occasions. I have no intention of harming them. As hard as it is for you to believe, I do appreciate the finer points of an educated mind. I do not intend to kill any of them. As an alternate choice, I think I will kill you instead."
"You're going to WHAT?"
"Oh, Nicholas. Don't take everything so literally. I ... know you cannot die. YOU know you cannot die. But THEY do NOT know you cannot die. The only way your ... friends are going to leave you alone to move on peacefully is if they think you are dead." A wicked gleam came into LaCroix's eyes. "I think a public shooting should do the trick very nicely. And I believe Janette would be overjoyed to shoot you herself. I don't know what you said ... or did ... to her the last time you two were together, but she still hasn't forgiven you for it. Think it over, Nicholas. I shall be back tomorrow night." With a 'whoosh' Lucien LaCroix was gone.
"I don't know what you have in mind, LaCroix, but I'm not going with you ... " Nick promised himself. " ... to Paris or anywhere else."
Nick stared at the container on the counter. While this incarnation of the infamous protein shake wasn't nearly as bad as some of the other ones he had been forced (or coerced) to drink over the years, it still left a lot to be desired. He had to admit, they were getting better. The last few were almost palpable. Almost.
"Well, Nicholas. Are you going to stare at that vile concoction all evening, or are you going to throw it down the drain where it belongs and consume some proper nutrition?" Lucien LaCroix placed a bottle of the Raven's finest vintage beside the shake.
"It's none of your business what I drink." Nick said angrily. "Why did you come here in the first place? Nobody wants you here. Nobody invited you here. Why don't you just go away and leave me alone?"
"Since when does a father need an invitation to see his son? I only came because you ARE my son, and I DO CARE about you. And it IS my business what you drink. I WON'T have you weakening yourself any more than you already have. I cannot see why you would even think about imbibing this putrid slop that so called doctor foists on you. It's bad enough you drink that ... that swill you jokingly call blood. Don't you realize ... or care ... that you are the laughing stock of the Community? Well I DO care. And I won't tolerate it!" He picked up the shake and tipped it into the sink. "If you will not take proper care of yourself, then I must do it for you."
Nick grabbed for the container and somehow managed to wrest it from LaCroix's hands. There was still about three ounces left. He quickly drank it. "Ah-h!" He said, pasting a smile on his face. "Nectar of the gods." He couldn't let LaCroix know just how it really tasted. "Now, LaCroix, if you did not come here for any other reason than to harass me, you can leave. Now."
"Nicholas! Is that any way to talk to me? I, who gave you the greatest gift of all?" He shook his head softly. "I gave you eternity and this is what I get in return. How cruel it is to have a thankless child."
"You want thanks? I'll give you thanks. I'll thank you to leave here and never come back." Nick spat.
"I see that there is no reasoning with you, Nicholas. Therefore, I shall continue this conversation when you are more receptive."
"That will be never. Now go."
"Or you'll what? You are in no condition to threaten me. In the shape you are in now, a first month fledgling could take you." To emphasize his remarks, LaCroix picked Nicholas up by the throat and threw him across the loft. Nick landed with a thud against the massive fireplace.
By the time he got up, his master was gone.
Mere seconds after LaCroix had exited the loft, Nick heard the ancient lift wheezing and groaning its way up the shaft from the ground level of the warehouse. The heartbeat of the person in it was enchantingly familiar to him. Natalie. He breathed a sigh of relief. A minute earlier, she would have encountered LaCroix.
That would have been a disaster, to say the least. His ... master ... maker ... demon ... whatever you want to call him ... had voiced his opinion of his son's relationship with the good doctor in no uncertain words on many occasions. None of them were the least bit flattering, or encouraging. In fact, LaCroix would just as soon kill Natalie Lambert or bring her across to avenge Nicholas's depriving him of the love of his sister, Fleur. Again, he had repeatedly voiced that option. Despite how he felt about her, that was one of the reasons Nick had so far managed to keep his association with Natalie as platonic as possible. That, unfortunately, was becoming harder and harder every day. He was falling .. no make that already had fallen ... deeply in love with the chestnut haired Coroner.
"Nat. What are you doing here?" He asked as she exited the lift. "We didn't have something planned for today, did we?"
"Not exactly. We had our movie date last week, but you said you wanted to spend the time trying to unravel the Meltker case. Well, now that it's been settled, I thought we could have our movie time now. "Of course, if you'd rather ... "
"No. This is the perfect time for a movie. I need something to lighten my spirits. And to celebrate the closing of the Meltker case."
"Then why don't you sound as thrilled as you are trying to sound?"
"Because I'm not entirely convinced that Gerald Meltker took his own life."
"And I thought I was the only one." Natalie said, breathing a small sigh.
"It's just too neatly wrapped up to suit me. I mean, the suicide theory does fit, but ... " He sighed heavily. "Then there's his notebook that just happened to show up at a convenient time like it did. And how did it manage to get into Andrew Sinclair's locker in the first place? Who put it there? Loose ends? Nobody else seems to notice."
"I know what you mean, Nick. Everybody just jumped on the suicide bandwagon. Very convenient solution, isn't it? Meltker was depressed ... Everybody is saying. Meltker committed suicide ... Everybody is saying. Case closed ... Everybody is saying. Sign off on the file and move on to the next case ... Everybody is saying. Tie everything up in a pretty red bow ...Everyone is saying. You do know that if you repeat something long enough, people will start to believe it."
"You're the second person who said that in the past twenty four hours. Billy MacGregor said almost the same thing to Don and me at the precinct. Let me ask you a not so hypothetical question. Is it possible to kill someone by hypnosis?"
"You're asking me? I'm only a lowly Coroner, not a wizard. Besides, I thought you guys were the experts on hypnosis. I mean your kind has elevated the whammy into an art form, haven't you? I will say this, though. I contacted the UT Pharmacy Department and got the specs on that experimental tranquilizer. Then I ran another tox analysis on Meltker's blood sample. Guess what?"
"Do I get three tries? It came back clean."
"Give the man a rubber cigar. Meltker did not have even the smallest amount of the drug in his system. If he had killed himself by drug overdose, he should have had a considerable amount in him. Not only that, but there was also no trace of the chemical and hormonal imbalance commonly associated with a case of depression severe enough to warrant suicide. In my humble opinion, he could not have committed suicide. I don't know, though. Hypnosis as a murder weapon? Sounds like something out of the Twilight Zone to me." Her eyes got big and she looked from side to side. She waggled her fingers in front of her face. "Doot-De-Doot-Do. Doot-De-Doot-Do"
"Well then, perhaps we ... that is Don and I ... should consult someone who has first hand knowledge of things unbelievable. First thing tomorrow evening. Tonight is for movies." He opened the kitchen cabinet and took out a bag of popcorn. He also held up a six pack of soda from the fridge. "See. I didn't forget this time. You start the microwave. I'll fire up the VCR."
Allen Michaels greeted the two detectives in his office. "Sorry to have to make you wait like that, but one of my students was having a problem with his project and I couldn't in all good conscience leave him alone. I hope you understand."
"That's all right, Dr. Mi ... I mean Allen." Nick said.
"It's just that we've ... I mean my partner and I ... have ... How do I put it so it sounds the way I want it to ... " Don stammered.
"Why don't you just come right out with it?" Michaels said. "I found that's the easiest thing to do."
"I know, but ... Well, okay, here goes. We've got this theory about how Gerald Meltker died. I mean, it's pretty much coming outta left field and all that ... " Don continued.
"Detective. You're talking left field to me? Remember. I teach telepaths, precognizants, ESPers, ghost hunters, and psychics. Believe me. If anyone knows left field, it's me. I've practically spent my entire teaching career out there. Now what is this supposedly far out theory of yours?"
"Well ... before my partner goes much further, let me ask you a question. Can a person be killed by hypnosis?" Nick interrupted.
"Killed? Not exactly. But I think I know where you're going. You want to know if Gerry Meltker could have been ... I think brainwashed is a better description of what you are looking for than hypnosis." He thought for a while. "Yes. I think it's entirely possible. Many cultures use brainwashing to control their people. By repeating something over and over, it is eventually accepted as truth. The Chinese found it reasonably effective with the UN troops they captured in Korea, and the Japanese before them subjected their prisoners of war to a combination of brainwashing and torture. The Russians used the same technique in the Gulags to 'rehabilitate' the political prisoners with considerable ... I don't know if success is the proper term, but you get the idea.
It's possible someone could have brainwashed Jerry Meltger into thinking he was depressed. That might have been why he took that drug."
"Except for one thing. According to Doctor Lambert, our Chief Medical Officer, there wasn't even the slightest trace of the drug in his system. Even if the drug would have dissipated quickly in a conscious living person, in a corpse, there would still be a fair amount left in the tissues. Particularly if that was what killed him. All the evidence we have suggests that he couldn't possibly have died from an overdose of tranquilizers, or anything else for that matter. His body was clean of drugs." Nick said.
"You're positive of that?" Michaels asked.
"Want to see the tox reports?" Don asked.
"Oh. I believe you. I tell you what. Let me talk with a few people I know who know more about this than I do and get back with you."
'Oh no. Those idiotic detectives. They weren't supposed to be that smart. They are going to spoil everything.' He wrote in the speckled book.
The detectives turned the corner heading toward Allen Michaels's 'office'. The Parapsychology Instructor had called them and asked them to meet him there. He said he had some of the answers to their questions from their meeting earlier in the week.
Suddenly a teenaged blur seemingly came out of nowhere and slammed into them, knocking Don to the floor. As they untangled, Nick once again grabbed Flint by the shirt and held him a few inches off the floor.
"I got you now, Flint!" A female student called as she skidded to a stop inches from Nick. "Hold on to him real him tight! He's not going to get away this time!"
"Somebody want to explain what's going on here?" Nick asked as he lowered Flint back to floor.
"I'll tell you what's going on." The girl replied.
"And you are?" Don asked as he got up and brushed himself off.
"Eve Nortel." The girl answered. "And I'm going to kill this ... this little ... pervert." She lunged at Flint, who hid behind Schanke. "That's what's going on."
"And why are you going to do that?" Schanke asked, pulling the petrified Flint in front of him.
"This!" She held up a folder. It was full of 8x10 glossy color photos of numerous females in various stages of nudity. "The APEs have been hiding in the attic of the Pi house. They drilled a hole in the ceiling of the bathroom and they've been taking covert pictures of us in the shower and selling them for ten dollars apiece."
"Apes? Pies?" Nick asked.
APE ... Alpha Rho Epsilon. That's a frat house. Rho is the Greek equivalent of the letter P, by the way. You saw the movie 'Animal House'? The APEs make them look like boy scouts. Pi is Gamma Gamma Pi, an honors sorority. Our house is right next door to the APE house. I know. That sounds like it should be in the zoo, and that's where they all should be. In a zoo."
Nick folded his arms and looked sternly at the teenager. "Okay, Mr. Flint. What's your side of this story?"
"He doesn't have a side of the story. I told you. He's a pervert!" Eve accused. "I caught him red handed, standing in front of the building hawking those photos." She lunged at Flint once more. This time, Nick restrained her.
"Let go of me! When I get my hands on that depraved little slimeball, I'm gonna make him a eunuch! Through his mouth! And without any anesthetic either!"
"We are not perverts!" Flint retorted. "And if you want to get technical, I'm not exactly an APE either. You have to be at least eighteen years old to pledge. I'm only fifteen. So they made me an honorary APE.
Anyway, we're doing it for a good cause. It's Greek week. All of the houses have projects to raise money for their favorite charities. The APEs aren't exactly selling the pictures. Well, not really. We're actually giving them away. For a ten dollar donation that is. The money is going to the Sick Childrens Hospital fund. So far, we've exceeded our goal by almost 300 percent."
"And I suppose that makes it okay?" Eve retorted.
Nick held up the folder. "You are aware of what is paved with good intentions, aren't you, Flint? Regardless of why you're doing it, this is still pornography. And since you are underage, that means you could go to jail until you're twenty one, or possibly longer. And the entire frat house could also be arrested for dealing in pornography too ... And for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Do you really want that to happen?" He asked Flint.
Flint hung his head. "No, Sir." He said sheepishly.
Nick stared deeply into the teenager's eyes and caught his heartbeat. "Then I strongly suggest that you and the other APEs find another way to raise money for Sick Childrens Hospital."
"Yes, Sir ... Strongly suggest ... Find another way ... " Flint mumbled dully as he turned and walked down the hall.
Matt Takahara sat across from Allen Michaels and Detectives Schanke and Knight in the Parapsychology lounge ... aka Michaels's office. It was obvious that he was nervous.
"Just tell them what you told me." Michaels told the telepath.
"Well, the Prof called me in here yesterday after class and asked me if it was possible to kill somebody by hypnotizing them. He said that you guys had a theory that hypnosis was used on Jerry Meltger. You wanted to know if it was possible. I'll tell you what I told him.
I want to say that's the weirdest, most far fetched thing I ever heard of. That you can't possibly kill someone by hypnotizing them. But I can't. Theoretically, it is possible. I mean, technically, if you do it right, you can make a person believe or do just about anything you want him to. And you don't have to have any extra special powers either. I mean, I'm a telepath. I can read peoples thoughts and project my thoughts into their minds. But you don't have to be able to get inside somebody's head to hypnotize them. All it takes is a fairly good knowledge of the necessary techniques. And it's really not that hard to learn, either.
Think about it. How many times have you seen a theater hypnotist make someone think they're a chicken, or that they're naked when they're fully clothed? The principle is much the same. Under hypnosis you could be able to plant a post hypnotic suggestion that they will die at a given time, and theoretically, that person could die at that time.
I've read about some primitive cults that have done just that with their people. It's used as sort of a curse. Someone offends you so you tell him he's going to die in three days. He believes you because you're maybe the village witch doctor. He gets so terrified, he actually does die in three days. Other times, it's done for so called religious purposes. Like to keep one of their gods happy or something. But in these cases, they usually start working on the victim almost from birth.
It's never been tried in so called civilized society, but that's not to say it couldn't be done. At least no one's ever documented such a case. But then, if you did such a thing, would you be eager to publish the results?"
"So it is possible?" Don asked.
"As I said, it's only a theory." Matt continued. "But yes. Jerry Meltker could theoretically have been hypnotized into believing that he would die on a certain day. And he would have died when that day came about. Jerry was fairly easy to hypnotize, but it would have taken numerous sessions to implant the suggestion firmly in his mind. That's not something you could just snap your fingers like you would do to make someone cluck like a chicken."
"How long would that take? And how many people would have the necessary skills to do such a thing?" Nick asked.
Michaels scratched his head thoughtfully. "That's hard to say. Since it never has been clinically done, at least not that we know of anyway, there's no way to tell. It could have taken weeks or even months to properly prepare his subconscious. And as for who would have the expertise, I can only repeat what Matt said, all it takes is a basic knowledge of hypnosis. That would include everyone in the Psychology Department. After all, Clinical Hypnosis is a required course. And it's an elective for the Medical School students as well. Also, I would venture a guess that at least a fourth of the student body has some sort of hypnotic ability as well. That's a lot of people."
"And how many of them would have come in contact with Gerald Meltker on a regular basis."
"Nearly everybody. He was a popular person on campus and almost everybody knew him. Since he worked nearly everywhere in the university at some time or other, most people in the school would have seen him on a regular basis."
'They've figured it out. They weren't supposed to be able to do that. Now, I've got to cover my tracks.' He wrote.
Jake Pryor was waiting for Nick when he entered the Espresso Coffee Bean. There was a note stuffed into the mail slot at Nick's apartment asking him to meet Jake there. With him was another man.
"What are you doing here, Jake?" Nick asked. "Don't you realize that you could be suspended or even expelled just for associating with me?"
"Yeah. I know. President White made that very clear. Anyone caught hanging around you has an automatic ticket out the door. In addition, everyone who was at the demonstration has been placed on tight probation for the rest of the semester. If anybody so much as jaywalks, he gets the book thrown at him."
( Thank goodness. At least he relented on the expulsion threat. )
"But I'm small potatoes compared to you. Besides, it's pretty safe in here. Nobody at the Bean is gonna rat on us. As Bernard would say, they're too hip to let anything like that happen to one of their own."
"Where is Bernard? I don't see him anywhere."
"He said he had to go out of town for a few days. Something about opening another Espresso Coffee Bean in someplace called Greenwich Village. That's in New York. According to him, in a few years Greenwich Village is going to be ... how did he put it ... oh yeah ... the place to be. Whatever that means." Jake pointed to the man beside him. "By the way, this is Ben Cayden. He's with the Tribune. I told him your story, and he wants to do a piece on you."
"I'm sorry. I can't let you do anything like that. It's like I just told Jake. I've been blackballed, and that means that anyone or anything associated with me in any way immediately becomes suspect. If you do a story on me, I can almost guarantee you'll be investigated next."
"It's too late for that, Professor Girard." Ben said. "I've already been given the ebony marble. I did a series of investigative reports on dirty politicians. Complete with names, deeds, times, and places. Apparently, I stepped on quite a few very highly placed toes with my stories. Three days after they were published, the fecal matter hit the mechanical cooling device. I got a gold engraved subpoena to appear before the McCarthy Committee. Hand delivered by two FBI agents. The only thing they could find on me was extremely circumstantial at best. One of the mechanics who regularly worked on my car was a known Communist. I guess that made me a communist supporter, or maybe even a collaborator. It was more than enough to do the dirty deed, though. The Sun-Times canned me so fast, I thought I was chicken noodle soup. After that, I couldn't get a job writing ads for junk mail inserts."
"But you're working for the Chicago Tribune now."
"Not exactly. It's the Clinton Island Weekly Tribune. That's a paper for a small town about 60 miles northeast of here. Goes out to about twenty five hundred people or so. Hardly anybody outside of the island ever reads it. Even if somebody did make a stink about what I write, I'm the publisher and editor in chief. I can't very well fire myself, can I? That also gives me a lot of editorial freedom as to what I can and cannot print."
"But you still could lose most of your advertising and subscribers."
"I doubt that. Clinton Island Wisconsin is a fairly liberal and very independent thinking community. And fairly isolated, too. The island sits in Lake Michigan, about halfway between Michigan and Wisconsin. I told them everything, including the fact that I was blackballed, and why. They hired me anyway. They said they wanted an editor who wasn't afraid to tell it like it is. That should tell you something about them.
When they find out how the McCarthy Committee raked you over, and the shitty way you and the students have been treated by the university, they'll be behind you 100 percent. I can practically guarantee it. Now what do you say? Care to tell your side of the story?"
Nick shook his head no.
"At least think about it." He handed Nick a business card. "If nothing else, your plight will be documented."
( That's what I'm afraid of. The Enforcers take a dim view of vampires in the press. Even one as small as the Clinton Island Weekly Tribune.
I've got to contact Aristotle as quickly as possible. See if he can get me to Montana by tomorrow. I can't let myself be bound to LaCroix again, and I can't afford stay here any longer either. )
"If I didn't know any better, I would swear you two have been sampling some of that illegal drug cache that Narcotics brought in last week." Amanda Cohen shook her head at the pair standing before her. "If that's not the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard, I don't know what is. Death by hypnosis. Now I've heard everything."
"Think about it, Captain." Nick Knight explained. "Gerald Meltker was in the best of health. Everyone agrees he wasn't depressed. And according to Nat ... Dr. Lambert, he couldn't have possibly been killed in any of the obvious ...or even the not-so-obvious ways. According to her best analysis, death by hypnosis makes about as much sense as anything else."
"As someone once said ... I think it was Einstein ...'When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, has to be correct.'" Don Schanke explained. "Ergo. All that's left is that Meltker died because he was hypnotized into believing he would die."
"Actually, it was Arthur Conan Doyle, through his character Sherlock Holmes, who said it." Nick corrected. ( Payback time for Alice In Wonderland. ) "But he's right. It's the only thing that fits all the facts."
"And just how are you going to prove it to me, let alone to a jury? Assuming, of course, that you ever manage to find out who it was that waved the locket in front of Meltker, and told him 'You're going to die'."
"That, Captain is the sixty four thousand dollar question. We have no proof of anything. Only a theory. We have no motive. No suspects. No nothing. But I'll still bet a weeks pay that's how Meltker died." Nick answered.
"Well, either get proof ... and a suspect ... preferably both ... or else. We do have Meltker's notebook in which he states that he was depressed and was contemplating suicide. He even describes how he intended to do it. That's good enough for me. I can't afford to have two of my best detectives going after shadows and illusions." She held up a stack of folders. "See these? While you two have been chasing your tails on this one, these cases have been piling up. Cases with a definite cause of death." She laid one of the folders loudly on the desk. "Cases that have motive ... " Another folder joined the first one. " ... opportunity ... " Another folder. " ... and suspects coming out the wing wang." The last folder was slammed on top of the others.
"But ... " Nick protested.
"You have forty eight hours, gentlemen. If you haven't made a collar in that time, we're going to write this case up as a suicide and put it to bed. Do I make myself clear?"
"But ... But ... " Schanke sputtered.
"Between the two of you, you do a pretty good imitation of a motorboat. Forty eight hours. Not one minute more."
Nick and Don stared, dumbfounded, at the Captain. She looked at her watch. "Forty seven hours and fifty nine minutes ... "
'I did it! Even though they were close on a couple of occasions, and even though they somehow managed to figure out how I did it, they still have no idea it was me who murdered him. And even if they did find out I did it, there's no way they can possibly prove it. I've really done it! I've committed the perfect murder.'
"There's someone waiting to see you." Vera Williams, the Desk Sergeant, informed the detectives as they exited the Captain's office. "He says he may have some helpful information about Gerald Meltker."
"You don't think that the guardian angel that watches over fools, children, and frustrated homicide detectives heard what went on in there, do you?" Don asked Nick. "Maybe he took pity on us and sent us the answer to our prayers."
The man waiting for them when they returned to their desks was nervous. That much was evident. He was pacing rapidly and alternately rubbing and wringing his hands. He was in his probable mid forties, but unlike Leon James, it was evident that he was not a teacher. He had on dark blue pants and a matching shirt. 'University of Toronto' was embroidered over one pocket and a white patch with 'Tony' on it was sewn over the other. He smelled strongly of soap, disinfectant, and wax. The man was obviously a member of the janitorial crew.
"My name is Tony Candiotti." The man said, extending his hand. "I worked with Jerry Meltker. When I heard that you guys didn't think he died naturally, I thought that maybe I should come in and see you."
"And why is that, Mr. Candiotti?" Don asked, motioning for Tony to take the chair beside the desks.
"It was my day off when you guys talked with the other guys on the cleaning crew, so I didn't get a chance to talk to you then. I don't know if what I got to tell you is all that important or not. I mean ... at the time, I didn't think nothing about it. But now ... "
"Why don't you let us decide?" Nick encouraged.
"Well, I know Jerry is ... that is, was friends with just about everybody at the University, but for the past coupla months or so, he's been hanging around a lot with this one particular guy over in the cafeteria nearly every night when he's on his lunch break. It may not seem like much, but ... I don't know ... Like I said, I didn't think nothin' about it. But now ... It seems kind of odd to me. Up until then, he usually had his nose buried in one of his college books, studying."
"And who is this guy? One of the other workers?" Don and Nick took turns interrogating Tony.
"Well, he's not a guy. Not exactly anyway. More like one of the students."
"What's his name?"
"I don't know his name. Look, Detectives. There's maybe fifty or sixty thousand students at UT. There's no way I could know all of them by name. I just seen him around. Didn't pay all that much attention to him, you know what I mean. I think he might be in the College of Psychology, though. I seen him goin' in and out of Landrum Hall lotsa times."
"You say Gerald Meltker hung around with this guy ... this student?"
"Yeah. And what made it stick in my mind was that every time he seen this guy, he had this funny look on his face when he came back."
"What kind of a look was that?"
"You know. Kinda dopey. Like he wasn't really ... I don't know how to describe it ... just sorta dopey."
"Could he have been hypnotized?"
"Yeah. He coulda been. 'Course, I ain't never seen no one hypnotized. Except in those horror movies they show on late night TV. You know. The ones where they walk around like this ..." He held his arms stiffly in front of him and opened his eyes very wide. " ... And they say stupid things like 'I am your slave.'" He said in an exaggerated monotone. "Jerry didn't say or do nothin' like that, though. He was just sorta ... "
"Yeah. We know." Don said.
"Dopey." Both detectives repeated in unison.
"Well, I gotta get back to work." Tony stood up. "I just came down here on my lunch hour. If I'm too late getting back, Gordy, he's our supervisor, he's gonna wax my buns with the floor stripper. I hope I've been some kinda help."
"Mr. Candiotti, you have been a great help. Do you think you'd recognize the student if you saw him again?" Nick asked.
"I think so. I didn't get that good a look at him, but I'm pretty sure I could identify him if I saw him again."
"Then why don't we go back with you?" Don asked. "We'll clear it with your supervisor, and then the three of us will go to the business office and have you look through the student files from the Psychology department. Maybe you can find his picture there."
"Okay by me."
"I'm sorry, Nicholas." Aristotle said apologetically over the phone. "The cabin in Montana is no longer available. These new fangled computers are supposed to be such a great boon to mankind, but as far as I'm concerned, they can take them all and ... " He sighed heavily. "Never mind what they can do with them.
There's been a ... I guess you'd call it a reorganization when it comes to moving on. It's a team function now. There's a new vampire working on resettling. I don't mean he's a new vampire exactly. He's maybe four or five hundred years old. His name is Larry Merlin. I provide the identities and the necessary paperwork to validate them. He sees to it that everything goes down without a hitch. But then, I guess you can expect some hitches at first. We've only been working together for about two weeks after all. He's supposed to be some kind of a whiz with these new personal computer contraptions. I will say this. He's good with them. He's really good. Too bad these so called 'home computers' are nothing more than expensive toys. They'll never catch on. Way too complicated for the average person to operate.
I talked to him about putting you in Montana, and guess what he told me. He said he had already given the cabin to one of his clients last Thursday. She'll be there at least six months or more. He didn't realize that I had promised it to you. You can have it when she's done with it, though."
"But Aristotle. I've got to get out of here now." Nick could feel his eyes turning gold with frustration.
"I understand. Right now, the only thing that's available is a villa in Baja California."
"Not isolated enough."
"How about a hut in the Congo rain forest?"
Nick sighed. He'd spent too many summers in Altun Kanel. "Thanks anyway. I guess I'll just have to wing it."
Aristotle hung up the phone and looked up at the vampire standing at his shoulder. "Will that satisfy you?" He asked.
"Good. Now I assume my debt to you is repaid. Don't ever ask me to do anything like this again." He looked at the master vampire coldly. "EVER."
LaCroix smiled. He reminded Aristotle of a cobra preparing to strike. "Yes, Aristotle. Your obligation had been satisfied." With a rush of air, he was gone.
The Director of Student Affairs was more than willing to let the detectives and Tony go through the student files. Once they explained their reasons. And it didn't even require a little 'help' to convince him to do it.
Gordy however, was another story. At first he was reluctant, but with a small 'suggestion' from Nick, he readily agreed not only to let Tony go with the detectives, but to give him the rest of the evening off. With pay.
Tony stared at the pictures. From the Psychology department files, he had picked out four students that could have been the man that Meltker had been with. "I thought I could single him out right away, but these guys look a lot alike. I'm not really sure which one is the right guy. Maybe if they were full shots instead of just the faces, I coulda done better. I'm sorry I couldn't be more help than that." He apologized.
"Actually, you've been a great help. Thanks to you, we're a lot closer to solving this case than we have been in the past." Nick stated.
"Glad I can help. Jerry was a good guy, and I'd hate to see whoever killed him walk away scot free."
"So would we." Don declared.
They watched as Tony left the office.
"Well, partner." Don held up the printouts of the student photos. "Let's go catch us a killer."
"Sounds like a plan to me." Nick said. "Let's start with this one." He randomly picked one of the fact sheets from his partner's hand. "Devon LeMasters. Fifth year Senior. Majoring in Abnormal Psychology."
"Abnormal Psychology. If that doesn't sound like it fits this case to a 'T' ... It definitely is abnormal." Don agreed.
'They're closing in! This can't be happening! Got to cover my tracks." Mustn't panic! Got to think this through! There's got to be a way out of this. All I have to do is find it. No problem. I'm smarter than they are. I'll come through this with flying colors.' This passage was written in an almost unintelligible scrawl.
The sound of breaking glass caught Nick off guard. Using his 'speed', he ran into the living room in time to see the last shards of the picture window falling to the floor. In a microsecond, he was out the door and to the sidewalk. As he expected, there was no one in sight. He went back inside. In the middle of the room was a brick with an envelope tied to it that had obviously been thrown through the plate glass window. Nick picked up the brick and untied the envelope. The only thing on it was his name printed in pencil in block letters. Carefully he opened it and pulled out the single sheet of paper inside.
The note was written ... if that was an accurate description ... with letters that had been cut out of newspapers and magazines and glued to ordinary typing paper. It read 'Girard. You sick Commie bastard. You're a dead man.' Naturally, it was unsigned.
Nick had been a police officer enough times during his long existence to know that the chances of the authorities finding out who wrote the threat were less than slim to none. And the chances of actually apprehending that person were even less than that. Especially if LaCroix or Janette was behind it. He remembered his earlier conversation with LaCroix. This must be his master's way of giving legality to the sham of killing him.
Of course, given the fact that Nicholas Girard had been blackballed as a Communist ... or at the very least, a Communist sympathizer ... An outcast ... A pariah ... he doubted if his 'murder' would even be too thoroughly investigated. He carefully laid the note where it was sure to be discovered after his 'death'.
If LaCroix or Janette had written the note, that meant that Janette should be showing up in the next night or two. Now all he had to do was wait. He hoped she didn't plan on using those new bullets on him. The ones they called the cop killers. He heard they could put a hole in a person big enough to drive a Mack truck through. His abdomen ached just thinking about how much that would hurt. Even though it would probably be only for a little while. Of course, after what he had done to her, it would probably serve him right if she did something like that. Just for the sheer satisfaction of it.
He picked up the phone and dialed a number. "I need to have a window replaced." He told the person on the other end. "As soon as possible."
"Devon LeMasters?" Nick said as they approached the student who was entering Landrum Hall. Don showed him his badge.
"Yes, Officers. Is there something wrong? I'm not in any trouble, am I? I mean if it's about that ... "
"We just want to ask you a few questions." Nick interrupted. "And no. You're not in any trouble. Yet. However I will say this. I suggest that you do not finish that sentence. At least not in our presence. Remember that anything you say can be used against you."
Devon breathed a heavy sigh. "Thanks, officers. I appreciate that. Now. What can I do for you? And would you mind if we went somewhere a little more private? Like maybe the cafeteria. It's usually deserted this time of night."
"How well did you know Gerald Meltker?" Don asked as they took a seat at one of the tables in a rather secluded area of the building's cafeteria.
LeMasters nodded softly. "Pretty well. You know he was taking some online and part time classes trying to get his degree. He needed some help with his English Composition studies. I have an Associates in Lit, so I offered to meet with him at the 'Y' twice a week and tutor him. He was coming along nicely, too. Brought his grade from a 2.5 to a 3.3 in just ten weeks. He really had a knack for writing once he got the hang of it."
"When was the last time you saw him?"
"About nine or ten weeks before he died. He suddenly stopped coming for the tutoring sessions."
"Did you ask him why?"
LeMasters nodded. "Uh huh. He said he knew all he needed to know. Said he was going to quit college. Said it was a waste of time. Funny thing, though. He sounded really strange when he said it."
"Like ... dopey?" Don prompted.
"Yeah. Like he was dopey or something."
"How about hypnotized?" Nick inquired.
"Come to think about it, he could have been hypnotized."
"Thanks. You've been a big help." They left the table.
"Do you think he's the one?" Don asked as Nick pulled away from the building.
Nick shook his head. "No. I don't think LeMasters is our man. I believe he's telling the truth." ( And I was monitoring his heartbeat the whole time. No sign of fear or apprehension. )
Nick took a last look at the western Chicago skyline from the front window of his apartment. The bands of pink, orange, and red from the sunset were just disappearing behind the tops of the buildings. Over the lake, the sky was starting to turn indigo.
After Aristotle had told him about the Montana cabin, he quickly made other plans. Several years earlier, after the disastrous episode with Thomas Constantine, he had set up a secret numbered account with DuChamps, a Canadian investment firm, as a hedge against something like that happening again. He had surreptitiously contacted them and arranged for an initial transfer of ten thousand dollars into a Swiss account. Then he had chartered a plane under the name Willie Dogooder at the East Chicago Air Field in Gary Indiana, a few miles east of the Illinois border. It was a small aircraft / cargo airport, far enough off the beaten path that it could be easily overlooked by someone searching for a clandestine flight. If everything went right, he would be in San Francisco by morning. 'Willie Dogooder' had accommodations from there all the way to a small 'uninhabited' Tahitian island. So far, there was no sign from LaCroix that he knew anything about Nicholas's plans. But then, if the past actions were any indication, LaCroix was a master at not giving any warnings until he was ready to strike.
He saw the cab he had ordered pull to the curb and he picked up his suitcases. He turned the knob in the front door and opened it. In almost slow motion, he watched as a small flame erupted from a cigarette sized container taped across the door and the frame. It seemed to take an eternity ... more like less than one twenty-fifth of a second ... until the flame traveled along the fuse connecting the blasting cap to the clay like explosive stuck to the door. Immediately, he was hit by a wall of energy and fire from the explosion. He vaguely remembered being picked up by the force and thrown into wall at the opposite end of the living room. As though he was watching from outside himself, he heard his ribs and his right arm breaking from the force. He was aware that slivers of wood from the door had impaled themselves in his chest. He could feel the skin on his face peeling away from the heat of the blast. Without sensing it, he experienced his skull giving way, and the blood running down the back of his head where he hit the wall. Then everything turned black.
The waitress pointed to one of the students sitting at a table in the Brass Unicorn, one of the local gathering places for students.
Nick and Don introduced themselves and sat across from him.
George Miller, was nothing like LeMasters. While there was a facial resemblance, the similarity ended there. LeMasters was easily almost six feet tall and was somewhat scholarly and conservative. Miller, on the other hand, was barely five feet five, with a definitely extroverted personality.
"Yeah, I knew Gerald Meltker. Just about everybody on campus knew him. I was really shocked to hear he died. He was such a sweet guy. Had a good word for everybody."
"Were you friends with him?"
"Friends?" Miller leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind his head. "I think I'd have to say no to that. More like acquaintances. That doesn't mean I avoided him, or disliked him, or anything like that. It's just that we really didn't have that many interests in common."
"Then you never ... ah ... hung out with him?"
"Hang out? With Meltker? Nope. Never. I don't really hang out with anyone in particular. Cuts into my party time, if you know what I mean."
"Do you know if anyone has been hanging out with him on a regular basis in the past two or three months?"
Miller thought for a moment and then shook his head slowly. "No. Can't say I ever saw him with anyone. Of course, that would be a little hard for me to do." He held up a white cane with a red tip. "Macular degeneration. While I do have some usable sight, even with these coke bottle glasses I can barely see the broad side of a barn if it's more than six feet away."
"I'm sorry. I didn't know." Nick apologized.
"It's all right. Not too many people can tell. The Institute for the Blind pays for most of my books and supplies, and my trusty dusty mini cassette recorder provides the rest."
"But how do you get around things that require sight. For instance, can you hypnotize people?" Schanke asked. He hoped he wasn't being too obvious. "I thought you had to look them in the eye."
"There are ways for a blind man to induce a state of hypnosis in a sighted person, but it requires some pretty fancy equipment and at least one seeing person present to verify that everything worked. Unfortunately, except for the stuff in the lab, I don't have access to anything like that.
Of course, I don't think hypnosis is going to be one of my biggest therapy tools. Since they're footing the bill, I'm obligated to spend three years working with the people at the Institute after I graduate. Then I'm hoping to go into private practice, maybe under contract to them. After all, blind people have psychological problems too, you know." He smiled broadly.
"Scratch number two." Nick said as they exited the Brass Unicorn.
Number three, Sylvester Galliard, was not the one either. He was a scholarship student who supplemented his financial assistance by working nearly full time at University Hospital as an orderly. He was also married and had an eighteen month old daughter. According to him, and verified by his teachers and his hospital supervisor, Sly barely had time to go from classes to work to home. When you factored in study time, time with his family, and time for sleep, there was almost no time to 'hang out' with Meltker or with anyone else for that matter.
"Well, Pard." Don said as they headed back to the precinct. "I hate to say it, but I guess Captain Cohen is right. We haven't got a case. Three of the students we interviewed turned out to be dead ends. And I can't possibly see how the fourth one could be the killer, either. Besides, we are almost out of time.
I vote we turn this over to day shift, and let them go through the motions of interviewing number four. You need to be heading to the loft and beddy-bye pretty soon. Sunrise is in one hour and three minutes, according to the almanac. And I need to get home, too. Myra is already complaining that I spend too much time with my nose in this case, and not enough time with my lips on her face."
"Oh, ye of little faith." Nick chided. "Weren't you the one spouting about the impossible being the only correct choice a few hours ago? If we turn it over to days, they're going to do just what you said they'd do. They're just going to go through the motions of interviewing number four. I say we've come this far, we might as well see it through. We still have ... " He checked his watch. " ... thirty seven hours left to solve this. If we start as soon as the sun sets, that will give us over twenty three hours to work with. We can still have this case wrapped up in time to make Cohen's deadline."
"My partner. The optimist. Okay. Why don't you pick me up at the house tonight? That'll save us even a few more minutes. See you then."
He had just finished putting away his badge and gun when he heard the lift begin its grumbling and whining journey up the ancient shaft. There could only be one person on it. Natalie. His day was looking brighter already.
"Yoo hoo." Natalie said, poking her head around the huge steel door of the lift. "Your friendly neighborhood coroner making a house call. Anyone in here need some TLC?"
"I could use some." Nick replied, going to meet her. "But what prompted this? This isn't our usual movie night. That was two days ago."
"Hey. He can count." She said in mock satire as she led him to the couch. "I heard via the grapevine the ultimatum that Cohen gave you about the Meltker case. I thought you could use a little extra special pampering. So. Ta-Da! Here I am." She sat him down and began massaging the hard knots in his shoulders.
"H-m-m-m-m. You've got magic fingers." He mumbled as he felt the tightness in his back relaxing under her strong but gentle kneading. "I need this." ( And I'd like your hands to be massaging somewhere else on my body too. But we can't possibly even think of going there. ) "You've got all day to stop."
( I'd like to put my hands all over you. Particularly on certain parts, but neither of us is willing to take that chance. At least not at this time. ) "I wish I had all day, but unfortunately, the other male in my life, Sidney, will be in a positive snit if I don't get home and show him some attention too. And you don't want to know what he can do when he's in a positive snit. Or in a negative snit, either. Let's just say my drapes would not survive."
"Then I had better let you go." ( I don't want to, but it's best for both of us. ) "Can't risk having Sidney in a snit." ( Or risk you staying here, either. )
"Oh. I forgot. This is the real reason I dropped by." She went to her bag and took out another container. "Since you kept the last one down so good, I made up another batch. This one's even better." She opened it and handed it to Nick. "Bottoms up."
"No. When hell freezes over. Of course I mean now. Come on, Nick. Don't be such a wimp. Chug it."
Cold ... He was cold ... No, he wasn't cold, the place he was in was cold. He mentally smiled. At least he wasn't in hell. In any case, not the accepted version of hell that is, the one with everlasting fires. It would surely be hot down there. If not hell, then where was he? Certainly not heaven. He had much too much sin blackening his soul for that option to be true.
Was he even truly dead? He didn't think so. He was a vampire, after all. And right now, he was a hungry vampire.
He tried to move, but found that to be impossible. He tried to open his eyes. That too was unattainable. He felt something crawling along his face near his right ear. A bug? No. There was more. A fragrance ... That new French designer, Coco Chanel ... Chanel Number 5. She was enamored of that perfume. That and the underlying scent of lavender and Champagne could only mean one person. With a great deal of effort, he opened his eyes. Through an orange colored haze, a face began to take shape. Janette. She was standing over him and was gently running her fingernail across his face.
"Bon soir, mon cher." She said seductively. "I thought you were never going to come around."
She brought a bottle of blood into his field of vision. He made an awkward grab for it, but she easily pulled it away.
"Non, non, Nicholah. You are much too weak for that." She gently lifted his head and slowly poured the thick crimson liquid into his mouth. With each swallow, he could feel his strength returning. It was human, but that was of little concern to him at this point. He eagerly took the second bottle and gulped it down.
"Where am I?" He asked after Janette had taken the empty bottle from him.
"You are in the Chicago Morgue." She replied. "Don't you remember? You were blown to pieces by a bomb earlier tonight. Tell me, Mon amour. Was there much pain?"
"Pain? There certainly was. The pain was exquisite."
"Good." She said with a wicked smile.
He gave a quick grin. "At least you didn't get your opportunity to kill me. Someone else beat you to it and did your dirty work for you."
"Oh, but I did get the opportunity. I was planning to kill you myself, you know. I even bought a gun and a box of those new bullets to do it with. What are they called again? Oh yes ... police killers. I intended to confront you at the corner of Grand and Wabash. Right in the heart of downtown. That way, it would have been witnessed by hundreds of people. I was going to make it long and slow and very painful. I still had not forgiven you, you know.
Then, last night, I was looking for a fresh meal down by the docks. I came across this derelict. From the information in his blood, I found out he used to be an explosives specialist with the Navy during the war. Porpoises, I believe they called them."
"Seals." Nick corrected.
"You're right. They were called Navy Seals. Anyway, rather than kill him, I planted a 'suggestion' that he take care of this Communist subversive in our midst. He was more than eager to do so. So eager in fact, that I didn't even have to hypnotize him any further. It worked out admirably for both of us. You are now able to leave here with a clean slate, and I ... well, le milliere revenge c'est revenge. (The best revenge is revenge.)"
"Does that mean I'm forgiven?"
"Non. I still haven't forgiven you. Maybe in a decade or two, I might. But not now. However, I am no longer angry with you."
"At least that's a start." He smiled. "What will happen to him?"
"Do not worry. He has already turned himself in to the authorities. Another 'suggestion' I gave him. He will probably be found not guilty by reason of insanity, I suppose. Or, they might just pin a medal on him for eliminating a threat to national security."
"What is going to happen to me?"
"Oh, Nicholah. You do worry too much. LaCroix, as your 'father' has already claimed your body. He even 'convinced' the people in charge that they had already performed the autopsy. He 'suggested' that they concluded that you died as a result of the massive injuries suffered in the explosion. He told them that you will be cremated and your ashes will be spread over Altun Kanel. Rather touching, don't you think?" She kissed him firmly on the lips. "Now just lie still while they wheel you out of here and into the hearse that LaCroix has rented."
"But I don't want to go with you."
"Of course you do, Nicholas." LaCroix said condescendingly as he came into the room. "You just don't know it yet. It's such a pity you will miss the memorial service that Bernard and the others have planned for you at the Espresso Coffee Bean. From what they told me, I understand it will be a very poignant and inspiring ceremony. But alas, that cannot be helped. We cannot have the corpse showing up for his own funeral, now can we?
Imagine all the fun we can have in Paris. Just the three of us. Doing all the things we used to do. It will be like old times. I can hardly wait." Sarcasm fairly dripped from his voice.
( I can wait. In about three or four hundred years, I might be willing to go with you again. But not now. ) "Do I have a choice?"
"No." LaCroix answered sternly. "Now lay back and play dead. The attendants are here to take you out." It was an order. Not a statement.
"You can't be serious." He said. "How could you possibly think I had anything to do with that janitor's death."
Nick listened to his heartbeat. It was going a mile a minute. He was definitely afraid. And probably lying as well. "We aren't accusing you of anything. We just want to ask you a few questions."
"You know I don't have to say anything until I have a lawyer."
"We know you know the law, but like my partner said, you aren't being accused of anything." Don repeated. "We just want to talk. We can do it here in the cafeteria or down at the station. The choice is yours."
He thought for a few moments. "What do you want to know?"
"You met with Meltker on several occasions. What did the two of you talk about?
"Nothing. I never met him. So how could I talk with him about anything."
"We have a witness who saw the two of you together on a number of occasions." Don said. It was not exactly true. Tony couldn't be positive this was the one with Meltker, but he didn't have to know that.
"Whoever your witness is, he's lying. He couldn't have seen us together. We were always very ... I mean we weren't ... " He put his head in his hands.
"You want to tell us everything." Nick prodded. He was careful to use only a small fraction of his 'power'. If this was the killer, he would certainly know if he was being 'whammied'.
"Yeah. Maybe I better come clean before I get in any deeper than I already am. The only thing is, I don't know where to start."
Nick smiled. Evidently a little mental nudge was all it took to get him to confess.
"Why not start at the beginning."
"That's just it. I don't know where the beginning is. Tell me, Detectives. Do you have any idea what it's like growing up with a father who expects nothing less than perfection? Who expects you to be the perfect son? Who expects you to be a perfect carbon copy of himself? Who won't tolerate even the slightest flaw?"
Nick nodded. He'd been through the same syndrome. After nearly 800 years, he was still going through it.
"I mean, look at me. I'm an ugly, geeky, skinny nobody. My father expected me to go out for every sport in high school. Not only that, he expected me to excel at them. Let's face it. I'm not exactly jock material. And don't even think about my successes with the girls. There weren't any. I even had to take my cousin to my senior prom. I didn't want to go in the first place, but my father practically forced me. She didn't want to go with me, either. Do you know what that's like? Hell, I didn't even lose my virginity until two years ago ... And that was on a dare!
I tried so hard to be what he wanted me to be, but every time I failed, he'd lecture me that if I only tried a little harder ... It was the same with my grades. If I got a B, he'd say with a little more work, I could have had an A. If I got an A, it should have been an A plus. Lord help me if any of my grades ever slipped ... there was hell to pay." He shook his head and gave a deep sigh.
"He wasn't the least bit thrilled when I chose Psychology as my major. Or supportive for that matter. Since I couldn't be a football star, HE wanted me to be a surgeon, or an engineer or anything like that. He said Psychology was a sissy job. Anything that required brains over brawn was a cop out. That's what he told me over and over and over every chance he got.
You have to understand. My father doesn't believe in corporal punishment. He believes that lecturing me is enough to make me understand. Sometimes though, I wish he would have spanked me instead of making me sit through another one of his lectures. They were pure torture. That went double if I actually did something wrong. Especially if I tried to hide it or lie about it. Then the lecture would be the one about how everybody gets caught in the end. That there is no such thing as a perfect crime.
I don't know when I started thinking about committing the perfect crime. Just to prove him wrong. Sometime in my teen years, I guess. It wasn't until I took the Clinical Hypnosis course that things started to gel. I thought I was being so cool about it. I thought I had all the bases covered."
"Why Gerald Meltker?"
"It was nothing personal, you understand. As the saying goes, because he was there. He seemed like the perfect victim for the perfect crime. He had no family to speak of. He had a low paying, meaningless job. He had contributed nothing useful to society. In other words, he was a throwaway. And he was easily hypnotized. That's what I did each time I met him here in the cafeteria. I'd lightly hypnotize him and plant a post hypnotic suggestion that he was going to die. It worked, too. He did die exactly when I told him to. The problem was with Meltker himself. He wasn't supposed to be in the Parapsychology Lab when it happened. He was supposed to be in his room at the 'Y'. If he had been where he should have been, he probably wouldn't have been discovered until the next day, and it most likely would have been passed off as a stroke or something like that." He said all of this with no apparent shame or regret ... Except for getting caught, that is.
"And how did you know about the experimental tranquilizer that was in the bogus notebook that you gave to Professor Michaels." Nick asked. "I assume you were the one who forged it."
"Yeah. I forged it all right. Did a pretty good job of it, too. Fooled nearly everybody. Everybody but you two, that is.
Anyway, the girlfriend of one of my friends is a pharmacy student. It wasn't too hard to get her to tell me all about which drugs would kill a person and not leave any traces. Especially the experimental ones. I'm pretty good at hypnosis, as you have probably already guessed."
"You say you did this to prove to your father that there was such a thing as a perfect murder. Is that correct?" Don asked him.
"Yes. That's correct." He said unemotionally.
"Then I'm assuming you must have some sort of documentation."
Of course I do. That was the whole point. So that sometime in the future... like in about ten years or so, after the statute of limitations runs out ... I could show him I did it and got away with it."
"There is no stature of limitations on murder." Nick informed him.
"That doesn't matter. My father would never turn me in anyway. He'd be too proud of me for doing it to even consider reporting it to the police."
"Where is this book?" Nick asked.
"If you think I'm going to tell you where that book is, you are dumber than you look. You see, without proof, all you have is what I just told you. And it will never hold up in a court of law. I could be telling you the truth, or I could be lying through my teeth." His voice was still even, but Nick could tell his heart was now beating almost wildly. "At least that's what any smart lawyer would say, and there'd be no way you could convince a jury any differently. Everything you have so far is purely circumstantial. Without that book, it's strictly my word against yours. You know that and so do I." He stood up.
"Sit down." Schanke said. "We're not done. Not by a long shot."
"Oh yes you are. Unless you've got a warrant for my arrest, I've got nothing more to say to you." He walked away from the table.
"Well, now what do we do?" Schanke asked. "He's got us by the short and curlies. I know he did it. You know he did it. He actually confessed that he did it. But he's right. Without some kind of solid evidence, we're gonna have a helluva time proving it. The Crown Prosecutor will never believe us. In fact, I don't even believe us. And I was there. He'd laugh us right out of the office."
"Then our only chance is to find his proof." Nick mentally berated himself. If he had only used a stronger whammy, he might have been able to get him to tell everything. But then, he might have panicked and ... It was a case of damned if he did, and damned if he didn't. ( But then I'm damned anyway. ) "Now, where could he have hidden the book?" He mused.
"No. Too far away. He would need someplace closer to the ... " Nick jumped up. "That's got to be it!" He said as he headed for the door.
"Would you mind letting me in on your brilliant deduction?" Don asked as he scrambled to keep up with his partner.
"Hiding in the obvious." Was Nick's only reply.
( Got to get rid of that book. If they find that, I'm dead meat. In more ways than one. )
As soon as he was out of sight of the cafeteria, he took off practically at a dead run. He was lucky. The elevator stopped and discharged its passengers just as he pulled up to it. In a flash, he was inside. It seemed an eternity until the doors closed and he was on his way. It took another eternity to reach his floor. When they opened again, he was out and down the hall in a flash. He skidded to a stop.
( So far, so good. )
He pulled hard on the lock, and the door opened. He searched the cluttered top shelf. His hands felt the metal box. He pulled it down and, after checking the hallway once more to be certain that it was empty, took off at a run. There was another bank of elevators about halfway down the next corridor. He could take them to the supply rooms in the basement and throw the box in one of the commercial trash compactors located outside the loading dock. In seconds, it would be reduced to little more than a fist sized chunk of steel. Then he would be home free. Nobody would believe those detectives. Not over him. Especially with his father on his side. He smiled slightly. They might even end up directing rush hour traffic before this is over.
Nick and Don exited the elevator just in time to see him turn the corner.
... And crash into someone. Flint. The box went clattering to the floor.
"Get out of my way, you buffoon!" He shouted as he picked up the box and started down the hall again. The only problem was that Flint mirrored his movements, and they collided once more.
"I'm sorry ... " Flint said as he attempted to help him up. Unfortunately, he pulled on Flint's hand at the same time that Flint pulled on his, and now Flint was on top of him.
That was all the time that the detectives needed to reach the scene. Nick took the metal strongbox. "I think this is what we need to complete this case." He said, applying just enough pressure to the lid to open it. He took out the composition book and thumbed through it.
"You can't do that!" He cried. "That's illegal. You have no right!"
"We have every right. It's called probable cause. You gave us that right when you admitted that you had proof of the murder." Don said as he took out a pair of handcuffs. "Andrew Sinclair. You are under arrest for the murder of Gerald Meltker. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney ... "
Nick watched as the uniformed officers took Sinclair to the elevator.
"Okay, Flint. What were you doing here?" Don asked the wayward genius.
"Trust me, officers. I was just ... I'm not in any trouble, am I?"
"No, you're not in any trouble. In fact, you just helped us catch the person who in all probability killed Jerry Meltker."
"I did?" Flint looked surprised, and then broke out on a wide grin. "Yeah. I guess I did, didn't I? Do me a favor, Detectives. Would you mind putting that in writing? And possibly notarizing it as well?"
"For my grandfather. So he'll know I'm not as bad as some of the people say I am. You see, he's coming here for a visit tomorrow. That's what I was doing up here. Trying to clean out some of the incriminating evidence out of my locker. If he finds out what I've been up to ... Well, I'll be out of the ALC ... and UT, and into the nearest military school faster than you can think. After that, it'll probably be a stint in the Yukon researching the hibernation habits of polar bears or something like that to keep me out of contact with the general public. He'll never let me within a hundred meters of a human being ever again. Maybe if he knew I helped the police out, he might go easy on me."
"I don't know about that. I've heard about some of the things that your grandfather accomplished in his time. He can't be all that bad. I tell you what. Since you helped us, why don't we return the favor and help you?" Nick followed Flint to his locker. "Oh, my lord ... " He exclaimed, his eyes growing wide. "Skank. Why don't you see if you can find a box of those fifty five gallon trash bags and a hand cart ... "
"You really expect me to believe that you actually think Andrew killed someone?" Nathanial Sinclair asked the detectives. He and Andrew were sitting across from Nick and Don in the interrogation room. His lawyer sat on the other side of Andrew.
"We don't think your son killed Gerald Meltker, Commissioner." Don replied. "We know he did. He confessed it to us, and then we found this notebook detailing the crime in his locker." He shoved the book across the table to the Commissioner.
Commissioner Sinclair blanched as he read the entries and then handed the book to the lawyer. He too turned a few shades paler as he read what was written in it.
"Andrew. How could you even think of such a thing?" Sinclair asked his son.
"But I ... I ... It was a joke, Dad. That's it. A joke. That book is a complete piece of fiction. I fantasized about the perfect crime, and wrote my fantasies in that book. Somebody must have stolen the book and used my theories to kill Meltker, knowing that I'd be blamed for it. You got to believe me. I didn't do it. I'm innocent."
"Andrew ... how many times have I talked to you about lying? We've also discussed right and wrong a number of times. Ever since you were a little boy, in fact. So I know you realize that what you did was wrong. At the very least I expect you to own up to what you did." He handed the notebook back to the detectives.
"Think of your reputation." Andrew cried. "I'm your son. You're the Police Commissioner. The scandal. You can't allow them to do this to me."
"And you can't be allowed to get away with this." Sinclair said coldly as he left the room. "Book him."
"But Daddy ... You can't do this to me ... I did it for you ... To show you that it could be done ... " Andrew sobbed as the officers led him to the holding cell. " ... Don't you understand ... I committed the perfect crime for you ... Aren't you proud of me, Daddy ... Daddy? ... Help me, Daddy ... Don't leave me ... D-a-a-d-d-y ... Ple-e-e-e-ase!"
Nicholas stood at the window and watched as the last rays of the sunset disappeared beneath the western horizon.
"Come on, Nicolah." Janette chided. "Don't be so morose. You know you love Paris, but you haven't even been out of the house since we arrived. Come hunt with us tonight. LaCroix has found this gypsy encampment in the woods about twenty kilometers outside the city limits. I hear tell gypsy blood is some of the finest around. What do you say we find out for ourselves? No one will miss a few Romany nomads."
"JANETTE! How can you even think ... "
"Easily, Nicholas. She is a vampire. So am I. So are you. That is what we do." Nick did not even hear LaCroix enter the room. "She's right, you know. You haven't been yourself since we left Chicago."
"How would you know what is the real me and what isn't?" He exploded. "You only know what YOU want me to be. Not what ... I want to be."
"Then tell me, Nicholas. Who is the real you?" He sneered. "Certainly not that pathetic Professor Girard character. A few more years in that identity and you'd have probably been giving talks on the wonders of Altun Kanel to the ladies tea society and going to museum receptions. That's no life for a vampire. It's a good thing I got you out of there when I did. Really, Nicholas. I thought you had more sense than to go around playing a milquetoast ... teacher." He made the word sound like an epithet. "At least you could have chosen something with a little more adventure to it. Like police work. You always seemed to enjoy that. Or maybe the military. Now, there's an idea for your next identity. I remember hearing reports that the French are having a great deal of difficulty in someplace called Vietnam. Maybe we could go there and help them out. What do you say? It sounds as though there would be a great deal of excitement in that."
"I say you're one pathetic bastard. Go if you want to. Just leave me alone."
"Janette is right. You are a wet blanket." LaCroix derided. "Stay here and lick your wounds like a whipped dog if that's what you really want to do. As for me, it's been a number of years since I held a commission in the Foreign Legion. Perhaps it is time to reactivate it. Janette? Are you coming? They always need nurses, you know."
Janette thought for a moment. "You're right. I do look stunning in a crisp white uniform, don't I? Not to mention the added bonus of a ready supply of nourishment." She looked at Nick with an expectant gleam in her eyes. "Are you certain you do not wish to join us, Nicolah?"
"Yes, Nicholas. Do come with us. It would be a shame to break up a fine team like we are."
"I'm sure. I want to stay in Paris. I'll be fine right here." ( Especially with the two of you on the other end of the earth. ) "I have everything I need." He let a small smile creep into his face. A few years without LaCroix and Janette to harass him was all that he really did need right now.
"What do you think will happen to Andrew Sinclair now?" Natalie asked as she loaded the tape into the VCR at the loft. The Meltker case had been solved and Nick and Don had finally cleared out the last of the backlog of cases. Much to Amanda Cohen's satisfaction. Maybe now they could really enjoy a movie night.
"From what the officers at Central Lockup tell me, he has had a complete mental breakdown." Nick replied, bringing a can of coke from the refrigerator. He sat his beverage ... a glass of Natalie's latest protein shake ... on the coffee table with it. "According to them, he's lost touch with all of reality. He's little more than a babbling idiot. His lawyer has asked for a complete psychiatric evaluation on him. He's requested that it be done by a psychiatrist from out of town to prevent any chance of partiality. If Sinclair has gone off the deep end like they say he has, it's doubtful he'll ever go to trial anytime soon. He'll probably spend the rest of his life in a hospital for the criminally insane."
"It's a shame, too. He seemed like such a bright and gifted person. He could have had it all."
"Everything except the one thing he wanted the most. His father's approval."
That's a matter of speculation.