by Kristine Williams
Blair's mind immediately flashed on a geeky young man, with thick glasses, a pocket protector, and the unfortunate curse of wealth. He shook his head slightly, trying to rid it of that image, and the inevitable mental picture that followed, of a dead, geeky young rich man. "And you think he's next?"
"We think he's a good possible candidate. His father is visiting Cascade for a ranchers convention, or some such thing, and would be perfectly vulnerable out of his element."
"Let me guess, Mr. Whatcom has refused protection?"
Agent Mills nodded. "We approached him yesterday, after his plane landed. The FBI isn't too popular in Montana, as you can imagine. However, he wasn't completely against the idea of some local help." Mills glanced at Simon, then back to Jim. "That's where you come in. We haven't had time yet to set up a bait and switch, so we need to put enough heat on the suspected targets, to make the kidnappers move along to the next city, where we'll be ready for them."
"Assuming they'll move on," Jim said.
"Right. Assuming they'll move on. Assuming they'll move in the expected direction. Assuming they'll even target our profiler's picks." Agent Mills sighed heavily. "Right now, assumptions are all we have to go on. Assumptions, and three dead victims."
"What about Mr. Whatcom? If his son is being watched, won't they go after him instead?" Blair asked.
"Not likely," Mills replied. "Mr. Whatcom is a very imposing man. That, and he's constantly surrounded by accountants, secretaries, and other businessmen. We had a hard time even getting five minutes alone with the man."
Blair nodded, raising his eyebrows. He could have said something about imposing men, being the only one in the room under six feet at the moment, but he refrained.
"So, where do we find this student?" Jim asked, tossing the sheet of paper back to the table.
"He's studying at Rainier University." Mills answered.
"Why did I know that?" Jim mumbled, glancing quickly towards Blair, who was standing behind him.
Blair ignored the remark. "Great. I have to teach a class there in an hour."
Agent Mills looked up. "You're teaching a class at Rainier University? A law class?"
"Don't ask." Jim raised a hand when Agent Mills looked puzzled. "We can head over there right now. Does he know?"
Mills nodded. "He's been told, or so his father said. I've got an agent keeping an eye on him right now, he can meet you at the University, but Mr. Whatcom made it clear to us, in no uncertain terms, that he'd much rather have the local police handle this matter."
Blair nodded, glancing at Jim, then Simon. He was going to add something about the group mentality of separationists in colony situations, but he refrained. He was sure Agent Mills didn't need any further explanation of Mr. Whatcom's distrust of the FBI, and he knew Simon wouldn't want to hear it.
"Do we have any idea who these kidnappers are?" Simon asked, fingering a cigar he had just removed from his shirt pocket. "Names, descriptions, anything?"
Agent Mills shook his head, almost sadly. "No. We have two profilers working the case, but so far we just don't have much to go on. They never call, just send tapes by courier, with a computer printout of their first set of instructions. These are followed up by satellite-scrambled cell phone calls. They're clever in that respect, and yet the directions they give are so often convoluted and hard to follow, even we lose them. So, I know that's not much to go on, we don't even have much more than general size descriptions, and that we get from the video tapes, like the one you just saw." Agent Mills stood, and Blair was once again struck by the man's size. Jim and Simon stood as well. "I'll leave this tape with you, it's a copy. And I'll be in touch." Mills shook each of their hands, then sighed and rubbed his eyes. "I have three more precincts to talk to. Who knew Washington had so many wealthy candidates?"
Blair rolled his eyes, wondering just where that wealth was when he was applying for research grants. He stepped aside while Agent Mills left the room, then he followed Jim back out to his desk. "So, we just babysit this guy's son for a few days?"
"If we're lucky, that's all we do, Chief." Jim reached into his desk drawer and retrieved his spare cell phone battery. "Babysit some physics nerd for a bit, then get back to real cop work."
"Could be worse," Simon said as he passed by the desk. "He could be an anthropologist."
Blair made a face and Jim laughed, then slapped him on the back. "Come on, Professor, you've got a class to teach, remember?"
He followed Jim to the elevator, and didn't even have the chance to hesitate as his partner pushed him inside. The car was full, so Blair concentrated on the numbers, and found he had made it all the way to the lobby floor without so much as sweating. There, maybe he was fine now. After all, nothing had really happened in that elevator...well, nothing they hadn't gotten out of. Just another little anxiety to add to the list. Blair climbed into the truck and they pulled out of the parking garage, then into traffic as Jim drove to the University on the other side of town.
"So, Jim, what do we do if this guy doesn't want protection?"
"We give it to him anyway," Jim replied matter-of-factly. "If he's stupid enough not to want protection, then he's probably stupid enough to get himself kidnapped."
Blair laughed slightly, nodding, then the smile left his face as he recalled the photo of the dead girl. "Man, these guys are about as sick as they come. I mean, to do that, to a 16 year old girl." He shuddered.
Jim nodded, creasing his eyebrows. "It takes all kinds, Chief." He glanced at Blair before making the right turn into the University parking lot. "That's what we're for. To see that doesn't happen again."
"So, while the cops are protecting the suspected targets, Agent Mills and his men are going after two men whose identities are still a complete mystery?"
Jim parked the truck and switched off the engine, then turned to face Blair. "That's right."
Blair nodded slowly, looking at the seat while he chewed on his lower lip.
Blair looked up and realized Jim was staring at him, expectantly. He shook his head, then glanced out through the windshield of the truck. "I dunno, man. It's just hard to believe anyone capable of that kind of brutality could be the guy you're standing next to at the coffee shop."
"Well, if you could tell a murderer by what he looked like, our job would be a whole lot easier." Jim reached over and opened his door.
Blair nodded and climbed out of the truck. He knew there was nothing easy about Jim's work, or Agent Mills' for that matter. In the time since he had been allowed to work with Jim, Blair had seen more than his fair share of the violence he'd always known people were capable of. But knowing it, and seeing it, were two different things.
"Which way is the math department?" Jim paused at the Y in the paved path leading from the parking lot. Blair's office was to the left, and the rest of the campus to the right.
"The Physics Lab is..."
"Is that Detective Ellison?" Jim and Blair both turned when they heard that voice. Blair smiled as Professor Kinyon approached, coming from the Anthropology Building and walking toward them. "I just knew I recognized that face."
"Professor Kinyon, how are you?" Jim smiled and reached out to accept the hand she was offering.
Blair couldn't contain the grin forcing its way out in reaction to the look Jim shot him just as Professor Kinyon glanced down at her watch. He couldn't resist the solution that had just presented itself. "Listen, Jim, I've got to get to class." Blair nodded towards the building behind him, then smiled at the Professor. "Maybe Professor Kinyon wouldn't mind showing you where the Physics Lab is?"
The look Jim directed at Blair had to be instantly replaced with a smile as Professor Kinyon reached out and took him by the arm. "I'd be happy to, Detective. I just happen to be going in that direction myself."
"I'll be in my office in an hour, Jim," Blair called out as the two of them began walking down the path.
Jim turned and glared at him for a second, and looked about to reply when Professor Kinyon began talking, taking his attention away from his partner.
Blair laughed as he walked into
the Anthropology Building. Professor Kinyon was a nice woman, very intelligent,
and had been more than helpful in getting Blair cleared after the murder of Professor
Wilson. But, the woman could go on. And on. Jim could take it. He was trained
in these things. Blair laughed again as he hurried down to his office for the
notebooks and presentation information for his class. Yeah, Jim could handle her.
He was a professional.
"Not that I minded, you understand. It's just that in my day, they were still encouraging women to take the more social-minded studies." Professor Kinyon sighed and shook her head. "Well, at least I found something I was good at." They had just arrived in front of a door marked Professor Millstone, and she stopped. "Here you go. Professor Millstone is the head of the Physics Department. If the student you're looking for is here, he'd know."
"Thank you." Jim jumped in, finding his first opening to speak since Professor Kinyon had taken his arm ten minutes ago. "I wouldn't want to keep you from anything." He gently extracted his arm from hers and smiled. "Thanks for the directions."
"Oh, any time. No trouble at all." She smiled back, patted Jim's arm then looked at her watch. "Now, I'm just sure I'm supposed to be somewhere." With that, she wandered back down the hall in the direction they had come, muttering something under her breath.
Jim sighed, watching her go. She was a kind woman, but man, she could go on like no one Jim had ever known. The entire walk across the campus, she had been talking non-stop, mostly about things Jim couldn't even follow. Her ability to change track mentally was still as staggering as ever. But, he did have her to thank, her and Mr. Kinyon, for helping prove Blair innocent of the murder of Professor Wilson. Still, his partner was going to pay for pawning him off on the woman. Jim was convinced Blair knew exactly what he was doing.
"Probably had this all timed out, too," Jim muttered. It would be like Blair to see her coming and steer them in the right direction. His way of lightening up what had started out to be a rather black day. He shook his head and turned to face the door Professor Kinyon had deposited him in front of. It was time to get back to the business of that black morning. He knocked, and was rewarded immediately by an invitation to enter.
Inside the office, Jim found a man fitting the exact mental image he had of what a physics professor should look like. He chastised himself for allowing first impressions to cloud his judgment, but the man looking up from behind thick, black-rimmed glasses, wearing black pants, and a white shirt with pens and pencils sticking up from the breast pocket, just fit the bill.
"Professor Millstone?" Jim approached the desk and the man sitting there closed his notebook and reached out a hand.
"Yes. What can I do for you?"
His handshake was firm, and Jim returned his smile. "My name is Detective Ellison, I'm with the Cascade PD." He reached into his pocket and produced ID, showing the badge and picture to the Professor before sitting down.
"Cascade PD? Is there something wrong, Detective?" Professor Millstone removed his glasses and set them on the desk.
"I'm trying to locate one of your students, a Mr. Whatcom. Raymond Whatcom."
Professor Millstone shook his head and rolled his eyes momentarily, making a quick exclamation of disgust. "I should have known. What has he done this time, eh?"
Jim knitted both eyebrows, curious. "Nothing that I know of. I just need to speak with him about something." He watched as Professor Millstone's face registered surprise, then a hint of suspicion. There was definitely something going on in the background here, but what it was, Jim didn't know. "Would you know where I might find him?"
Professor Millstone hesitated slightly, then put his glasses back on and opened up a notebook that was beside him on the desk. "Well, he's in a class right now, should be getting out in another 20 minutes." He looked up at Jim. "That is, if he showed up for it to begin with."
Jim didn't like the sound of this. "Could you show me where he should be?"
Millstone nodded, pushing his chair back with a loud scrape as he stood. "Yes, certainly. It's just down the hall." He opened the door to his office and led the way out into the corridor, turning to the left.
Jim followed, his eyes still watering from the piercing sound of that chair screaming across the hardwood floor. They walked down the hall to a Y, then made a right, and stopped in front of a double door with small windows in each side. Professor Millstone peered through one of the windows, glancing around as he scanned the gathering of students visible from there.
"Ah, fancy that, Mr. Whatcom decided to join us today after all." He reached up a hand and pointed into the room. "That would be Raymond Whatcom, third row back, right on the end."
Jim looked inside, following the Professor's directions. The room was filled, as he had expected, with similarly dressed students, both men and women. Each of them, it seemed, wore glasses, as if poor eyesight was a requirement for the study of higher mathematics. Another requirement appeared to be dark pants, a stern expression, and a rapt, almost enthralled expression on their faces as they listened to the lecture. That made the student Professor Millstone was pointing to stand out all that much more. Jim found Raymond Whatcom at the end of the third row, sitting in a chair, idly twirling a pencil around on the top of the small desk. The dark pants his classmates preferred provided a stark contrast to the bright, almost painful to look at yellow that adorned his legs. His shirt was matching only in intensity, being a bright, glowing red. He had the same features physically as Blair, being slightly built but with potential, dark hair nearly touching his shoulders, but the eager, bright look that Jim always found in Blair's eyes, was replaced in Mr. Whatcom's by a dull, bored, almost glazed-over look that showed no evidence of life behind it.
"That's Raymond Whatcom?" Jim asked, praying he had the wrong seat, but somehow sensing he didn't.
"That's him. Have fun, Detective." With that, Professor Millstone turned and walked back down the corridor.
Jim sighed, watching him go, then turned back to the window into the classroom. The lecture would end in another 15 minutes, so he would wait for Raymond Whatcom to come out to him. "Physics nerd," Jim mumbled. The young man he was gazing at, was NOT his idea of the typical physics nerd. But then, Blair wasn't his idea of the typical anthropologist. Jim shook his head, and had to tone down his sense of sight so as not to become dizzy or sick with the vision of Mr. Whatcom's clothes. There was always a chance, albeit a slim one, that Raymond Whatcom was a perfectly nice, normal, calm young man, who simply chose to dress in accordance with his moods. After all, Blair had at first glance struck Jim as being a neo-hippie flower-child who had the maturity level of a high school student. And, going solely on his behavior that first day in Blair's office, Jim had been ready to search the place for drugs. That image had changed quickly, for the most part, and he hoped this kid would prove his first impression wrong as well. Blair had even stopped wearing those jeans with the hole in the knee, except for the days they were hanging out at home. Blair had turned out not to be a typical anything, and still held some surprises.
Jim was leaning against the wall when the doors opened and the students began to exit the lecture hall. He didn't need to keep a close eye out for Raymond Whatcom, his clothes were louder than a flashing strobe light. He stepped forward as the crowd passed him.
"Excuse me." Jim reached into his pocket for the ID there, and pulled it out as Raymond stopped to stare at the man who dared stall his quick getaway. "Raymond Whatcom? I'm Detective Ellison, Cascade PD. I'd like to talk to you for a few minutes."
Raymond stared first at Jim, looking down his nose even as he gazed up from his shorter position. He scanned the ID, reading each line, then looked back up at Jim. "What's this about, Detective? Did she decide a quick lawsuit would do her some good?"
Jim's eyes narrowed instantly. He did not like this man. Nope, not one bit. "If we could just step outside, I need to talk to you."
"Listen, it was consensual," Raymond said, holding up one hand while adjusting the notebook in his other. "She finds out my Dad's got some dough, and it's the same old story. Well, I haven't got time for this."
Raymond turned to leave, and Jim reached out a hand, placing it firmly on the younger man's chest. "First of all, I have no idea what you're talking about, so I suggest you save it. Second, I need to have a few words with you, so if you have someplace you'd like to go...?"
He allowed a look of complete disgust to form on his face, showing no signs of covering it up for the sake of the policeman he was speaking with. "Are you taking me downtown, Detective?"
Jim's own face was beginning to harden, and his jaw clenched quickly. This was not going to be easy. "Not if I can help it," he said simply, allowing the sarcasm to echo through. "There's an office in the Anthropology Building we can use."
Raymond Whatcom sighed heavily, displaying his annoyance. "If you feel this is necessary."
"I do," Jim replied succinctly. He reached out, but stopped just short of putting his hand on Raymond, then nodded toward the end of the corridor. Reluctantly, and with a great flourish of disgust, he acquiesced and followed along beside Jim.
The hallway was cleared of students when they walked down, heading for the door at the far end. Jim couldn't help but notice Raymond's glances, his eyes darting up and down the corridor as they walked. He seemed to be looking for someone, anyone, but Jim felt he wasn't so much searching for anyone in particular. When they got outside, Jim steered him in the direction of Blair's office at the other side of the campus.
"So, if this isn't about Shelly, what's the problem?"
Jim glanced around at the few students in the area. "There's a concern about your safety we need to discuss." He could be targeted already, even here on the campus. "There's a serial kidnapping ring working their way in this direction. The FBI has compiled a profile of potential next victims and they feel during your father's visit, you're a prime target."
Raymond snorted, shaking his head. "So, my father put you up to this? Wants to protect his money, does he?"
Jim reached out to open the door in front of them. "Your father was contacted by the FBI." Raymond stepped through the entrance and Jim followed, then nodded towards the stairs leading to Blair's office. "He declined FBI protection, but asked that the local police keep an eye on you."
They reached Blair's office and Jim tried the door, finding it unlocked as usual. Opening the door, he ushered Raymond inside, then glanced down the hallway before following.
"So, you think I'm going to be kidnapped? Why?" Raymond tossed his books on top of Blair's desk, then sat down in his chair, staring back at Jim.
I think I hate him. "You fit the profile the FBI has worked up. You, and several others." Jim crossed the office and looked out the window facing the back of the campus. From that level, he had a good view of the lower grounds outside the back of the building. "While the FBI works on finding these kidnappers, we need to keep you and the others safe."
"And you picked me?" Raymond leaned back in Blair's chair, rocking somewhat as he gazed around the room. "It might be fun to get kidnapped, ever think about that? Find out what you're really worth."
Jim turned back from the window and gave Raymond a stern look. "These men kidnapped a 16 year old girl in Oregon. She was found dead in a field not far from her family's home. They had beaten her to death, just as they had a 21 year old man, and another 42 year old man. In two of those cases, the family had paid the ransom." He stepped closer to Raymond, walking up to the chair he was sitting in, and stared down at him. Jim's height was put to full advantage, and he let his eyes ice over, seeing the effect mirrored in the now more alert face looking back up at him. "So, unless you'd like to find out what you're worth, ten minutes before you're killed, I suggest you take this threat seriously." Jim had the satisfaction of seeing Raymond swallow convulsively.