Authors: John Sandford
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller
It was Trane. “You awake?” she asked.
“We need to go back to the Quill house,” Trane said. “I thought of a reason he might have been listening to ‘Home on the Range.’ I’ll meet you there at eight.”
“Well, tell me,” Virgil said.
She did, and Virgil said, “I believe that, Margaret. I mean, maybe you’re wrong, but I believe it right now.”
“Eight o’clock,” she said.
Virgil turned off the lights again, dropped his head back on the pillow. Was she right? Or was it a silly fantasy? Why hadn’t he thought of it when he was standing right there?
And then he worried a little about Harry.
Katherine Green was sitting in the coffee shop in the Coffman Memorial Union when she saw one of her students going through the line.
He’d gone to India with her on a summer research trip with six other students. He was older than the others, more her age, she thought. She’d been tempted at the time to give him a mild hit, to see what happened. He was nice-looking: square shoulders, square jaw, neatly trimmed hair, crisp shirt, carefully ironed chinos. He was quiet, soft-spoken, often with a touch of humor.
One of her better students, even though she sensed an underlying skepticism about Cultural Science.
When he finished the line, he looked around for a seat. He saw Green, and she pointed at the chair opposite her. He smiled and came over and sat down.
“Professor Green . . .”
“How’s the paper going?” she asked.
“Well enough, I guess. I’ve only taken the beginning course in
stats. I need to do more, maybe go back and hit the algebra again. I’m struggling with the math.”
“No matter what you wind up doing, stats is critical,” she agreed. “You can look at something that seems so right, and a good analysis of the statistics will tell you there’s nothing there.”
“I’ve noticed that,” he said. “In the media.”
“Nobody should be allowed in the professional media without at least a year of statistics,” she said, sipping her coffee. “The bullshit you see on TV and in the newspapers is beyond stupid. The phony research . . .”
“Maybe they know better but go with the clickbait.”
They talked for a few minutes, mostly about the man’s research and statistics, then he asked, “Anything new on the Barth Quill front? More cops coming around?”
Green hunched her shoulders and leaned into the table. “No. They don’t seem to be getting anywhere, the police. They’re spinning their wheels. It’s awful.”
bad,” the man said. “People have said the department . . . I mean, after the hassle at Quill’s lecture . . .”
Green nodded, now grim. “I know. It’s ridiculous. I’ve been reading about motives in violent crime ever since Quill got killed—murder never involves something like that. Quill was killed by somebody who hated him for personal reasons. Or by a crazy man. An academic feud isn’t enough . . .” She took a few more sips of coffee, then said, “Remember the reading I assigned on the causes of the Civil War? Did you get that?”
“Yeah, I read it,” he said. He then used her favorite word. “Interesting.”
“The authors make the point that there were serious economic stresses between the different sections of the country, but the
spark that set it off was slavery. Without the emotional trigger of slavery, there would have been no war,” she said. “This murder is analogous—it takes a specific, dynamic, emotional spark to murder, even with crazy people. The anger between members of our department and his was on an entirely different level.”
“Suppose we have somebody in the department who’s a little crazy who has some kind of hidden emotional situation.”
“Like what?” Green demanded.
“Okay. This is hypothetical. Say they have an emotional attachment to you. They see you attacked, they see you called names that carry an emotional load—”
“Exactly. They decide to attack your attacker.”
“That’s nonsense,” she said. “There’s nobody that attached to me, I promise you. Not enough to kill. I would feel it.”
“We have at least two Ph.D. candidates who are close to getting their degrees. If something happened—”
“Oh, c’mon,” she said. “It could be a setback. But a reason for murder? No.”
“I’d disagree with you,” the man said, “except that I know the two people and they didn’t kill anybody.”
“Have you talked to them?”
“Chatting. You know, bull sessions.” He smiled. “As soon as I told them my alibi, they told me theirs. Theirs were better.”
“Alibis . . . If you were planning to kill Quill, you’d figure out an alibi. A good one, unless you were an idiot. If you weren’t planning to kill him and it was a random act, and the police didn’t catch you in the first few hours, and you didn’t leave behind specific kinds of incriminating evidence, then you won’t need an alibi because they’ll never identify you and won’t be asking for one.
In fact, you could probably tell the police that you didn’t know where you were that night. Who remembers where they were on a Friday night two weeks ago? You could say you were at home, in bed, reading a book. How do they break that?”
“You don’t think they’ll get the guy?”
“I have my doubts. I even have my doubts about it being a guy.” She looked at him for a moment, then lowered her voice. “I don’t want you talking to anyone about this conversation.”
“I won’t. Scout’s Honor.” He held up the three fingers in the Boy Scout salute.
She smiled at that, then said, “You know what I think? I think he was in the library with a woman. Maybe a paid woman, for sex. And she killed him. Maybe not even on purpose. He did something she didn’t like and she struck out at him.”
“A prostitute?” His eyebrows went up. “That would explain a few things. Like why he snuck into the library after hours.”
“A man like that wouldn’t want a prostitute in his house,” Green said. “He probably wouldn’t want her to know where he lives . . . or even his real name.”
“I don’t think . . .”
“Where else could he go where he could be sure he wouldn’t be seen?” Green asked. “Not a hotel, not around here. His face was too well known. He was hidden there in the library—they didn’t even find him after he was murdered, not for days.”
“A prostitute. An interesting idea,” the man said. “I wonder if the police are looking into it? Maybe you should be a cop.”
She pointed a finger at him. “It occurred to me once that Cultural Science would be an excellent background for a police officer. The life experience, the research we do . . . You begin to understand the fabric of a culture.”
Clete May was sitting barefoot on his couch watching a snooker tournament from England, swilling Dr Pepper and eating Fritos, when the doorbell rang. “Ah, shit,” he muttered, and got to his feet and opened the door.
The guy there said, “Hey, man. You busy?”
“Watching a snooker tournament. If I only understood it, it’d probably be entertaining. What’s up?”
“I was walking by and wondered if you’d heard anything new about the Quill thing?”
“Come on in.” The guy stepped inside, and May led him to the couch facing the TV. They sat down, and May said, “Everybody’s still talking. That detective chick—uh, Trane—is flying around like a rabid bat. I don’t think she’s getting anywhere . . . Want some Fritos?”
“Yeah, thanks.” The guy took a half handful, crunched them. “Anybody got any new ideas?”
“Not that I’ve heard. I did hear that Trane told somebody that Quill hadn’t been in a fight, looked like he was jumped by surprise.”
May turned toward him, hands cupped, intent. “Listen. I’m thinking Quill had that computer up there. The big one. I’m wondering if it was hooked into his lab? Maybe somebody was going up there, in the middle of the night, and using it to get into the lab’s files and download his research. That medical research can be worth a bundle. Or it could be the Russians or Chinese. Quill figures it out, see, and maybe, just maybe, there are logs, and he sees that library computer coming online and knows it’s his, but
he wasn’t doing it. He sneaks into the library to see who’s doing it, but the guy gets the jump on him somehow and kills him and then has to take the computer to hide what was going on.”
“International spies. Russian or Chinese.”
“I know it sounds wild,” May said. “We know the Russians and Chinese do that stuff, though, steal tech, and they sure as shit wouldn’t want to be caught at it again.”
“You talk to the cops about this?”
“No, but I will if anybody asks me. Like I said, it sounds wild at first, but when you think it over . . .”
Carol Ann Soboda was walking back to her table at Stub & Herb’s bar, after a visit to the restroom, and nearly bounced off a guy with a beer in his hand. The guy said, “Oops,” caught her arm, got her right again, and she smiled at him, and he said, “Hey . . . Aren’t you one of the people who worked with Dr. Quill?”
“I did, yeah. I don’t remember you . . .”
“Ah, I was sorta on the other side . . . I was with Dr. Green at Fight Night. I didn’t get involved, I thought the whole thing was crazy, but I saw you there.”
The guy was good-looking and friendly, and Soboda was flattered that he remembered her. She was between relationships—
between relationships—so she let herself talk, what could it hurt? “Yeah, I was there. Who was that crazy guy with the chair?”
They spent ten minutes leaning on the bar, and the man, who said his name was Terry, said he’d read about the murder and wondered what was going on with Quill and his secret carrel in the library.
“Nobody knows,” Soboda said. “My girlfriend thinks he was
looking at child porn or going out looking for hookups, but I don’t think so. That computer was, like, a workstation. You can look at porn or find hookups on your iPhone.”
“Maybe he was doing secret research? Maybe he needed a good computer for that. And maybe he was in the library because he was away from everything and liked a quiet space to think.”
“He had all kinds of quiet places to think. I tell you, it’s a mystery. We talk about it every day at the lab and we can’t figure it out.”
“What happens with the lab? You out of a job?”
“Nobody knows what’s going to happen yet,” Soboda said. “Our lab manager is looking around to see if he can merge us with somebody doing the same kind of research, but we’re pretty far out there.”
“Okay, how about this?” Terry said. “Your guy was spying on other labs doing the same kind of research, trying to get a leg up.”
She thought about that, then said, “Wouldn’t you have to be a hacker to do that? Barth wasn’t a computer person. I mean, he could use our software, but that’s like using a toaster. You don’t have to be a programmer, and he wasn’t one.”
“Huh. Well, it’s a mystery. So what are you up to? You come here often?”
“Not too often . . .”
Megan Quill was standing outside a SuperAmerica store on Grand Avenue, where she’d tapped a Wells Fargo ATM and used a few bucks to buy Nestlé Drumsticks for herself and her friends Jerry and Brett.
On a hot day, the cones had a propensity to drip on your clothing if you weren’t careful, so they stood in a tight huddle, bent toward one another, licking the cones, dripping on the sidewalk, and mumbling a few words like “Okay” and “Not bad” and “Watch the drip, Brett.”
Megan was dressed in fashionable black, something like a sexy tennis dress, and it worked for her. Jerry was dressed in unfashionable black: a sloppy black T-shirt to cover up his overstuffed body, sloppy black cargo shorts, sloppy black cross-trainers with short black socks. Brett, the nonconformist, was wearing a plain white T-shirt and red running shorts and flip-flops. He was bobbing up and down to some music that only he could hear and that ran through his brain like the sound track to his life.
They all saw the guy coming: blue golf shirt, tan slacks, blue sneaks. He was older than they were—late twenties or early thirties, Quill thought—trim and square-jawed in a way that you didn’t see that much. He had blue eyes and a nice smile. He slowed as he came up, and then asked, “Are you Megan Quill? Professor Quill’s daughter?”
Quill stopped licking her cone, staring hard at him. “Yes. Who are you?”
“I’m a grad student over at the U. Jeez, I was sorry to hear about what happened.”
Quill said, “Yeah . . .” She licked a couple of times, self-consciously now, with this good-looking guy watching her. “It was pretty awful.”
“Any signs that they’re going to catch whoever did it?”
“The cops don’t have a fuckin’ clue,” Jerry said. He laughed. “They oughta make them all wear clown shoes so we’ll know what we’re dealing with. Bunch of fuckin’ maroons.”
“Harsh, man,” Brett said. “They’ll catch him. Trane’s smart.”
“Not a chance,” Quill said. She asked the man in the slacks, “Do you work in medicine or something? Did you know my father?”
“No, I was sort of on the other side of the big feud,” he said. “I’m in Anthropology, and I know Dr. Green. Or, at least, I see her around the building. She can be a little . . . out there . . . at times. Lot of people over at the U wonder if somebody in Cultural Science had something to do with it—the murder—but she doesn’t seem worried. I see her laughing with her friends at lunch . . . Are you at the U? Or here?”
St. Thomas was across the street. “I’m here. I kinda wish I was at the U, but my mom thought there’d be better discipline here and that I needed that.”
The man said, “At least you weren’t right there . . . when it happened. I mean, if you’d gone to the library with him . . .”
Megan faked a shudder. “Yeah. Never thought of that.”
“Actually, that might have been interesting. See a real guy killed,” Jerry said. “I’ve seen about a million people killed in this goddamn game, but never . . .” He was poking at the surface of his cell phone, and Brett said, “Jerry’s a game freak. He can’t even stop to eat a freakin’ ice cream cone.”
“Some people think that shooter games desensitize game freaks and makes it easier for them to kill real people,” Quill said. “What do you think, Jer? You kill my daddy?”
Jerry’s finger poking never slowed. “You know what I think? He wasn’t interesting enough to kill. If I was gonna kill somebody, it’d be somebody with a big payoff. Change the fate of the nation.”
“Then you’d have to change the fate of your underwear. They’d be all brown instead of those white tighty-whities,” Quill said.
“Fuck you.” Jerry did something with his thumb, then looked up from the phone. “Can I look at your pussy when we get back?”
She glanced at the good-looking man, with maybe a little blush high on her cheeks, and said, “Ignore him. He tries to shock . . . older people. He usually fails.”