Read 1 The Question of the Missing Head Online

Authors: E. J. Copperman

Tags: #mystery, #autistic, #e.j. copperman, #mystery novel, #mystery book, #jeff cohen, #mystery fiction, #autism, #aspberger's aspbergers

1 The Question of the Missing Head (5 page)

eight

Marshall Ackerman’s office walls
held many diplomas and one certificate from the Calnor Institute of Cryonics. The diplomas indicated that he had completed various degrees, leading up to a Ph.D. in physics, but was not a medical doctor. The certificate from Calnor stated that he was a licensed practitioner of cryonics, having completed the necessary training.

Ackerman himself was seated behind a very formidable mahogany desk bearing a flat-screen computer, a scale model of a cryonics preservation tube, and a photo of Ackerman himself that appeared to have been taken by a professional photographer. In the photograph, Ackerman was leaning on the edge of his desk, with an American flag strategically positioned behind it.

When he saw me examining the photograph, Ackerman smiled and nodded. “That was for a feature article in
USA Today
,” he said. “The photographer was kind enough to send me a copy.”

I had spent an hour looking over three hours’ worth of security video (fast forward played a major role in the process) of the preservation chamber, both from the time period during which Ms. Masters-Powell’s head had disappeared, and from the moments after Dr. Springer had entered the chamber this morning. Neither tape showed so much as a person entering the chamber. Clearly, some kind of tampering had taken place, or I was examining tape from the wrong moments, which would have meant that the GSCI logs of people entering or exiting Preservation Room D were inaccurate or forged. Either was a possibility.

In short, the three hours of video surveillance had led me to only one conclusion, and it was not related to Dr. Springer’s murder. At least, it was not
directly
related. Until I had more facts, there would be no way to know if it had any relevance.

“It’s very nice,” I said of the
USA Today
photograph, because that’s what I’ve learned one should say when offered pictures of a person or that person’s child.

Ackerman seemed pleased. “I use it for all my publicity,” he said with what I discerned as pride in his voice.

“Was Dr. Springer dedicated to the practice of cryonics?” I asked. I wanted very badly to change the subject. Talking about personal matters or making small talk is very difficult for a person like me, and we try to stay “on topic,” or at least the topic we find most interesting, as often as possible.

Ackerman seemed somehow confused by the change in subject, although I couldn’t see why he would be—this was the subject Ms. Washburn and I were there to discuss. But he recovered after a moment. “Of course she was,” he said. “Why do you ask?”

“I noted that you made no effort to freeze her body after she was killed,” I said. “It seems to me that someone who would work in the field might well have desired to experience it herself when necessary.”

Ms. Washburn’s eyes narrowed. I took that to mean she hadn’t considered the question until I’d posed it.

“In fact, Rebecca
was
on the list for preservation,” Ackerman answered. “But the way she … What happened to her made it impossible. With oxygen deprived to the brain for so long, there would never have been a way to revive her and keep her mind intact.”

It occurred to me to mention that such technology or science did not exist at this time for anyone, no matter how death occurred, but that would have added little to the conversation, and if past experience was any indicator, would probably have annoyed Ackerman.

“How many people were in the building during the period between the time Dr. Springer went into the chamber and the time we discovered her body there?” I asked.

Ms. Washburn offered a clipboard. “I went to the security desk and asked for the log-in sheet,” she said. “This is the one that begins at seven this morning.”

I nodded my thanks to her and scanned the sheet. “There were seventeen people signed in, excluding Ms. Washburn and myself,” I told Ackerman. “Please look at this list. Are they all employees of Garden State Cryonics?”

Ackerman took the clipboard from my hand, put on a pair of reading glasses, and studied it. “No,” he answered. “Fourteen are employees, plus myself. The other four are visitors—a blogger on medicine, you two, and Commander Johnson’s wife.”

“Why was she here?” Ms. Washburn asked. I would have asked about the blogger first, but only because Ackerman had mentioned that person first. I tend to react to lists in order.

“She drops by from time to time.” Ackerman said. “Amelia is very smart and very dedicated to her husband. She likes to see what he’s doing here. I approved the visit two weeks ago. We get a lot of that from employees, especially new ones. Everyone’s curious.”

“Is Commander Johnson new here?” I asked.

Ackerman nodded. “Relatively. I think he’s been working here about five months.”

“What happened to the last head of security?” Ms. Washburn asked.

“Mr. Monroe left to pursue other interests,” Ackerman said. “I can get you his phone number if you like.”

I indicated that he should, and Ackerman made a note of it on his pad. “May I have a list of every employee of the company, and contact information for the other two guests?” I asked.

“Of course,” Ackerman nodded. “I’m so glad you decided to help in the investigation. Frankly, I didn’t see much hope with Detective Lapides as the lead investigator.” He made another note.

“It would be best not to underestimate the detective,” I said, although I did not think Lapides was an excellent investigator. “He might very well be an astute observer, or he may have not developed his skills yet. Time will tell.”

“I don’t understand,” Ms. Washburn said. “We looked at the video. There’s one point where Dr. Springer walks in wearing the protective suit, then she goes back to the tank—”

“The receptacle,” Ackerman corrected her. I had been careful to note that terminology when he had used it previously.

“The
receptacle
,” Ms. Washburn said. “Why would she walk to that receptacle when you already knew the head was missing?”

Ackerman cupped his hands together, as if he were about to begin applauding, but he did not move them. After a moment, I realized that meant he was thinking. “It’s possible Rebecca didn’t know about the theft,” he
said. “I tried to keep it very quiet around here, and I know I didn’t tell her. She might have been doing a routine check. We look in on all our guests at least once a day to monitor their condition. But I don’t understand.” He swiveled his chair to face me more directly, and I wasn’t sure if he was trying to dismiss Ms. Washburn. I was starting to think Ackerman was something of a pompous man who held a dim view of those without professional credentials. “It doesn’t make sense that the cylinder in which Ms. Masters-Powell’s remains were being preserved would simply rupture like that. We are very careful about our equipment.”

“Is it possible someone could have deliberately caused it to develop a crack?” I asked. Before Ackerman could answer, I turned to Ms. Washburn. “Make sure you research that possibility when we return to the office,” I said. Ms. Washburn nodded. We hadn’t discussed such a scenario before, but I suddenly wanted Ackerman to see Ms. Washburn as a valuable associate, not a servant.

“It’s very unlikely,” he said. “Those steel receptacles are very thick, and very strong. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to sustain the extremely low temperatures we require of them for such a long period of time.”

“Still,” I said. “It is curious that Dr. Springer appeared to have been looking at Ms. Masters-Powell’s receptacle, but not to have noticed it was empty. That is very odd.”

Ackerman nodded. “I agree. I wish I could explain it. What’s next in the investigation, Mr. Hoenig?”

“I’d like to start interviewing employees and the two guests who were present today,” I said. “Can we set up an interview room with video security intact?”

Ackerman seemed quite pleased with the notion. “Certainly!” he said. “We have many rooms that can be made available. Who should you interview first?”

“You,” I said. “May we begin now?” I rose to walk to the door.

Ackerman looked stunned that he was being considered a suspect, but I couldn’t imagine why he wouldn’t anticipate that—he worked at the Garden State Cryonics Institute, he had a financial interest in the facility, and there was no concrete evidence that he hadn’t committed a crime. It was only sensible that I would want to talk to him as well as the other GSCI employees.

He stood. “Of course,” he said. “We can use the level-three conference room.”

Before we could leave the room, however, Ackerman’s desk phone rang, and he picked it up on the second ring. After the usual greeting, he said, “Hello, detective,” and then listened for quite some time. He thanked the other party and ended the phone call looking a bit shaken.

“Was that Detective Lapides?” Ms. Washburn asked.

Ackerman nodded. “They found something in the empty receptacle for Ms. Masters-Powell,” he said and sat down hard, exhaling.

“Was the head put back?” Ms. Washburn asked.

Ackerman squinted at her, incredulous, then shook his head. “No.”

“What did they find in the receptacle?” I asked him. A direct question is always the best option.

“A bullet,” he said.

nine

“It was a thirty-eight
caliber bullet, and that’s really all I know,” Ackerman said. “Detective Lapides called to tell me not to let anyone into the chamber, as he now agrees with you, Mr. Hoenig, that it is the scene of a murder. He’ll be back here shortly.”

We sat in the conference room at Garden State Cryonics, a much more expensively decorated room than any other I’d seen in the facility. I assumed this was the area in which potential clients and their families were given information intended to persuade them to buy GSCI’s services. Ackerman sat at the head of the table, where a telephone console was at his fingertips, along with controls that I assumed ran an audio/video system. There were high-definition television monitors placed throughout the room, which had a polished wood conference table and upholstered chairs, as well as a thick carpet and, it appeared, soundproofed doors. As most people are upset by the thought of death, I concluded that some of the conferences held here were quite emotional.

“That explains how the receptacle was ruptured,” I said. “Someone either fired a bullet directly into it, or fired at something else and hit the cylinder by mistake.”

“But there were no bullets in Dr. Springer’s body,” Ms. Washburn said. “She wasn’t shot, was she?”

I shook my head. “Dr. Springer’s body had no bullet wounds.” I turned toward Ackerman to begin the interview. “First. What is your favorite Beatles song?”

Even Ms. Washburn looked a little stunned, but Ackerman was more so—he stared at me and knit his brow. “My what?”

“Your favorite Beatles song. Please,” I reiterated.

“I listen to classical music,” he answered. “Why?”

“If you had to choose one Beatles song,” I persevered, “what would it be?”

Ackerman looked at Ms. Washburn, perhaps for some assurance that I was not insane. “I just told you, I listen to classical music,” he repeated. “I really can’t answer …”

“But you have heard of the Beatles?” It was no idle question; I am able to discern quite a bit about a person’s character from their answer to this question.

“Yes, of course.”

“Then, if you had to choose just one song as a favorite?”

He shook his head and let out his breath. “I don’t know,” he said. “I guess ‘Eleanor Rigby.’ Why?”

Pretentious. Terrified of death. Perhaps sees himself as lonely.

“It’s a device I use,” I told him. “It’s the way you answer, rather than the answer itself.” That wasn’t entirely true, but I did not want to tell him what I’d discovered until I could answer the question about Dr. Springer. So I quickly changed the subject. “Who was Rita Masters-Powell?” I asked.

The question must have seemed abrupt to Ackerman, because he started a bit and then regained his composure. “She was the daughter of Leonard Masters and the granddaughter of Julius Masters,” he said. “Do you know who they were?”

“I believe Julius Masters founded International Data Associates, a company started as a bookkeeping concern during the Second World War. It grew into a computer keypunch operation in the 1960s, and eventually into a very large manufacturer of microprocessors during the 1980s. His son Leonard succeeded Julius as the chief executive officer of the firm and navigated it through the transition to computer hardware, and both of them became extremely wealthy men. Am I correct so far?” I asked Ackerman.

“Impressively so,” he replied.

“There had been rumors that the company was about to be sold to a Chinese concern, and I believe that sale is pending at the moment,” I added. I read the business pages of the
New York Times
every day, and I monitor computer- and hardware-related businesses. Some of my investments are in such businesses. “What caused Ms. Masters-Powell’s death?” I asked Ackerman.

He hesitated only a moment this time. “Cancer,” he said. “Apparently, Ms. Masters-Powell was a heavy smoker.” He shook his head mournfully, in a move that I’m sure he had used in this room many times before, and just as persuasively.

“She changed her name. Was she married?” Ms. Washburn asked. An excellent question, as a husband would probably stand to gain a great deal financially from the death of such a wealthy wife.

“Ms. Masters-Powell was divorced,” Ackerman answered. “She was only forty-one years old when she passed away, but I believe they had been divorced almost three years.”

Ms. Washburn looked thoughtful. “But she kept her husband’s name even after the divorce. Do you know why?” Ms. Washburn was becoming more of an asset with each passing minute. Her training in journalism, even if her work was photographic in nature, was surely shining through.

“I have no idea,” Ackerman said. “I never met Ms. Masters-Powell. She was already very ill when her brother Arthur contacted us on her behalf. He was absolutely distraught over his sister’s impending death and said she saw our service as a way to maintain hope.” Ackerman looked quite pleased with himself.

A buzzer on the table’s console sounded, and Ackerman reached over to pick up the phone. After a brief conversation I could not hear, he hung up. “The police are here,” he said. “I’m afraid we’ll have to continue this talk later.” He stood up.

Ms. Washburn and I followed suit. “Very well,” I said to Ackerman. “Would you send Commander Johnson in to talk with us?”

Ackerman nodded and walked toward the door. Just before reaching it, he stopped and turned to me with an expression on his face that Ms. Washburn later told me was one of concern. “All these questions about the theft, and not the murder,” he said. “Shouldn’t we be most concerned with Rebecca, and not the question of Ms. Masters-Powell’s remains?”

“I believe the two incidents are connected,” I told him.

His eyes widened. “Really!” he said. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. But you’ve seen the security tapes. How do you think Ms. Masters-Powell’s remains were smuggled out of the facility?”

It was a question that deserved an answer. “I don’t believe they were,” I told Ackerman.

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