Beta Read by Mary Shukes Browne and Carla
Written for PetFly by: John Vorhaus
internal thought in italics
“Almost done here. Just have to fix the pipes and then it's home,
James! If only I could find the damn things,” Fred Turlock, maintenance workman for
Rainier University, muttered to himself as he climbed down a ladder to a room below
ground. It was supposed to house the pipes he’d been called to fix. Fred scanned the
room he was currently in with his flashlight, using long, slow sweeps. He directed the
bright beam over a counter, then at a glass case sitting on it. He almost passed right
over it before its contents registered on Fred’s brain.
“What the hell,” he exclaimed, taking a step closer to the case full of spiders. “What is this? No one said anything about spi --” Turlock was cut short suddenly when someone grabbed him from behind and slammed him against the counter.
“Hey,” Fred cried. “What are you doing? I'm just fixing the pipes!” He struggled to get free, but his attacker had a rather strong grip. “Look, man... I didn't see nothing, okay? I didn't see nothing! Let me go, I won’t say a word!”
His attacker had other ideas, though. With a vicious jerk, Fred was pulled away from the counter and forcibly marched over to the glass case. Though the terrified Turlock did his best to prevent it, his captor flipped open the lid of the case, and with a great effort forced Fred’s head over the yawning opening.
As he exited the elevator, Jim shook his head. Blair had been talking, non
stop of course, the entire way up to the seventh floor. At first Jim thought the kid had
been talking about a women, some co-ed at the university. That was, until the
anthropologist whipped out a photo and Jim realized his friend was waxing poetic about an
"Chief, I appreciate your enthusiasm for her shapes and curves, but I have to honestly say that I'd reserve those words for something slightly more..." He handed the photograph back to Sandburg. "...human. I mean it looks like something my Aunt Jean had on her counter for Pete's sake." Jim made his way towards the bullpen, but Blair wasn't about to give up so easily on his passion.
"Jim, man, we're talking about a 12th century Mayan urn from the city of Chichen Itza. This is a very significant piece."
Rolling his eyes, Ellison stalked towards his desk. "Uh huh, Chief, whatever you say."
"Jiiiiim," Blair moaned in frustration. "The Mayan people were the first people of the New World to keep written historical records. The member of the royal retinue it was made for, was otherwise known as 'the king's watcher.'"
“The king's bodyguard?” Jim asked, a hint of genuine interest lacing his voice.
Blair shrugged. “Maybe...Or it could be an ancient Mayan sentinel. I'm gonna try pulling clues off the urn itself. The Yucatan Institute has been nice enough to lend it to me for six weeks. It's supposed to arrive today sometime,” Blair said as he headed for their shared desk.
Jim smiled at his friend. “Well, I’m sure the two of you will be very happy together.”
“Yeah,” Blair sighed, once again paying more attention to the picture of the urn than to his partner. He was about to start in again about the incredible properties of the ancient piece when Simon Banks exited his office and made his way over to the partners.
“Ellison!” he commanded. “There’s been an accident over at the university. I want you to handle it.”
Blair, who had only been listening with half an ear, managed to snap out of his haze just then. “Hey,” he said with a self-promoting smile, “I’ll bet you figure that since I work on the campus, I'll be able to give Jim the inside track, right?”
Simon smirked at Sandburg’s audacity. “No. Jim’s name was next on the roster. Now, the head of campus security will be waiting there for you at the scene. And I’m sure, with his inside track and all, that Sandburg’ll be able to point him out to you.”
Blair pretended insult when Jim laughed at the captain’s remark, and even made a motion to return the affectionate smack on the arm the other man gave. However, at Banks’ scowl, Blair decided on the side of self-preservation, following Jim out of the bullpen to the elevators.
Jim ushered Blair past the yellow police tape, thanking the uniformed
officer who held it up for them. Blair rolled his eyes when Jim reminded him that he
didn’t have to look at body they’d been informed was found.
“Jim,” Blair said, “I’m a grown man. I think I can handle a body... at least occasionally.”
Jim shook his head. “All right then, Sandburg, let’s go find Serena.”
They found her moments later, crouching in the grass beside the body of what appeared to be a workman. She had on latex gloves, a lab coat, and a very serious expression. She looked up when Jim and Blair approached, offering them a brief smile.
Jim knelt down beside the forensics chief. Blair was a bit leery of getting that close to the body, so instead stood behind Jim and looked over his shoulder.
“Hey, Serena, how are you doing?” Jim asked, sweeping his eyes over the body.
“Better than this guy,” the medical examiner replied. “But honestly, Jim, I’ve never seen anything like this before. It looks like spider bites. The welts have puncture wounds in the middle of them, and the DB’s lymph nodes are swollen.”
“So what did he do?” Blair asked as he watched Jim nod. “Stick his head into a nest or something?”
“Mind keeping your voices down please? Nothing travels faster than rumours on a college campus.” The voice belonged to an attractive Asian-featured woman wearing a dark blue jacket and uniform bearing the insignia of campus security.
Blair and Serena both looked over with interest, but it was Jim’s eyes that held a look of recognition.
“Suzanne Tamaki,” Jim supplied, standing and stepping away from the body to offer the woman his hand.
“Jim Ellison,” she responded, shaking the proffered hand. “How have you been?”
Jim smiled briefly. “Fine, thanks. It’s nice to see you, and congratulations on the chief of security spot. This is Serena Baxter, with the medical examiner's office, and Blair Sandburg, my colleague.”
“Hargrove Hall, room 221,” she said, nodding at him.
“Yeah,” Blair said with a smile. “How’d you know where my office was?”
“I make it a point to know where everyone’s office is.”
“Must be a holdover from the old days,” Jim supplied. “Suzanne and I met on a counterfeiting case three years ago. She was a detective with the Tacoma PD at the time,” he added, seeing the confusion on Blair and Serena’s faces.
“Another life, another time,” Suzanne said, shifting to get a closer look at the body. “That is... was Fred Turlock. He worked maintenance for buildings and grounds. By the looks of it, he may have been drinking.” The campus officer motioned to the flask that Serena held.
“So, what, you think he passed out and fell into a spider’s nest?” Blair asked.
“Could be,” Serena said in agreement, “but I haven’t found any sign of a nest anywhere in the immediate area.”
Jim frowned as something teased at the edge of his mind. He dialed up his sense of sight and swept his eyes over Turlock’s body again. Finally, he found what was bugging him; small clumps of torn-up grass were stuck in the treads of Turlock’s boots. It took a few more seconds for the implications to dawn on him.
“Hey, guys, what if he wasn’t killed here?” he asked them. “Serena, can you hand me your tweezers please?”
“You find something?” she asked eagerly, handing them over to Jim.
Jim reached down and pulled out a clump of crushed grass from a boot, holding it up for all to see. “This grass that’s lodged in his boot might indicate he was dragged here after he died. Would you check his wrists for me, Serena?”
“Already did,” she replied. “He’s got abrasions on both of them.”
“Then that’s how the body got here,” Jim stated with surety.
Suzanne shook her head skeptically. “Let’s not jump to conclusions here, guys. This is one of the safest campuses in the Northwest. Besides, a maintenance man running into a spider's nest is a far cry from murder.”
“No doubt, Suzanne, but even if there isn’t foul play here, it's likely that something dangerous is still running around the campus,” Jim said, convinced that something was wrong.
“Then it looks to me like nothing a good exterminator couldn’t take care of,” Suzanne replied.
Jim nodded. “Yeah, let's hope so. Why don’t you go ahead and call pest control then, and we’ll continue with the investigation here.” Jim held up a hand when he saw that Tamaki was going to protest. “I’ll keep you informed, Suzanne, I promise.”
She smiled gratefully. “I’ll check in later then, Jim. It’s good to see you again.”
Jim stood and shook her hand again before she left. “Good to see you, too. Take care.” Suzanne inclined her head in respect to the others before walking off to take care of her end of the investigation.
Blair waited until she was out of ear shot before turning to Jim. “Tacoma PD detective, to campus security. What’s the story there, man?”
“I dunno, Chief,” Jim said with a shrug. “Some cops just can’t take the stress.”
Blair walked purposely through the front doors of the Museum of
Anthropology, scanning the decorated lobby for the man he was seeking. As his eyes fell
upon what looked to be a publicity photo shoot of some sort off to one corner of the large
room, Hal Buckner came around a corner and into view. Blair smiled widely; Buckner was
exactly the man he was looking for.
“Professor Buckner,” Blair called, making his way over to the man. “Can I talk to you for a moment, please?”
Buckner smiled in greeting and sketched a small wave. “Blair, hello. Give me a moment.” He turned away and spoke for a moment with a man setting up a photographer’s umbrella, then turned back to Blair. “What can I do for you, young man?”
“I’m sorry to bother you, I know you’re really busy with this shoot and all. It’s just that central shipping told me they sent you my crate from the Yucatan by mistake.”
Buckner’s face formed into a mask of confusion. “Umm,” he murmured, trying to remember if he had indeed gotten said crate by mistake.
“It contained a Mayan urn,” Blair supplied helpfully, “12th century from Chichen Itza.”
Hal frowned in concentration, then shook his bushy head. “No, I’m sorry. I haven’t seen it, Blair.”
The TA tossed up his hands in frustration. “This is crazy! They were so sure!”
The professor gave the younger man a pat on the back. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help, but I’ll keep an eye out for it, Blair, and let you know as soon as I see it.”
Blair sighed. “Okay then, thanks anyway.” He turned to walk away but stopped when Buckner spoke his name.
“Yeah, Professor. What is it?”
“While you’re here... Have you ever heard of... well, do you know who Alec Summers is?”
Blair nodded. “Uh yeah, he’s that kid genius from Canada. Came here on a big scholarship. He’s a physics major, right?”
“Yeah. And architecture and neuro-linguistics and... anthropology.”
“Kid must love to study,” Blair said, rolling his eyes in disbelief.
Buckner shook his head. “Think again. He hates to study. Nothing holds his interest. He misses classes. He doesn’t turn in assignments. He’s very much in danger of flunking out right now.”
Blair snorted. “You have got to be kidding me! With his IQ?”
“Well, he is in desperate need of a faculty advisor,” Hal said, looking at Blair.
The younger man nodded in obvious agreement. “I’ll say.” He was about to say something when a thought occurred to him.
“Oh no, no, not me, Hal. Come on, man. No, don’t do this to me,” Blair pleaded, his eyes wide and desperate. “I cannot take this kid on.”
Hal laughed. “Blair, relax. I just want you to have a meeting with him.”
“Listen, Hal, I’m sure he’s a nice kid, but I don’t think it would be a good idea.”
“I think it would be exactly the opposite,” Buckner said. “You’d be the perfect advisor. You see, this kid is a brat. He’s headstrong and stubborn, utterly convinced he is the only soul on earth who has a clue. In short, exactly like, uh...”
Blair smirked. “Like me, you mean? When I first got here and you were my faculty advisor?”
Blair couldn’t help but smile, thinking of that first day when he met Professor Buckner. Blair had been late, nearly an hour, but happily gave a glib excuse to appease the irritated professor.
A young Blair Sandburg, sixteen and pretty heavy
on himself, strolled into Hal Buckner's office. His long, curly hair was in a ponytail at
the back of his neck, although several unruly strands framed his face. Washed out and worn
jeans were topped by a red, long sleeved shirt and an open black zipper sweater. A patched
corduroy jacket topped off the youngster's ensemble.
“You’re late,” Buckner said simply.
Blair was quick to smile. “Sorry, man, you know how traffic can be. I got here as soon as I could. Hope I didn’t wreck your lunch plans.” Blair glanced around, found an appealing chair, and flopped down into it.
“It's 1pm, Mister Sandburg, lunch is long over. This meeting is going to be over soon too if you can’t show me that you are going to be serious about your college career, and this meeting,” Hal said. He eyed the slouched posture and crass expression of the youngster before him with some distaste.
“Man, you have got to let it go,” Blair said, unbowed by Buckner’s irritation. “Hold all that anger in and it’ll fry you. Learn to relax, Professor.”
It was all the older man could do not to throw the young upstart out right then and there. “All I am holding back from, at the present time, is telling you to get lost. Now, if you can manage an adult conversation, why don’t you tell me why you’re interested in Anthropology?”
“The study of people, man. I wanna study my fellow human beings in all their glory, especially from different points of view. Nothing seems more natural, right, Professor?” Blair asked, tucking his left foot underneath him before sliding down farther in the big chair.
Buckner couldn’t help but smile. “I think that may just be the first mature, intelligent thing you’ve said yet.” He extended his hand to the other man. “Welcome to the Anthropology department, Blair.”
“So I guess what goes around, comes around?” Blair asked sheepishly.
“Nah. I’d prefer to think of it as repaying a debt,” Buckner replied, a gleam in his eye.
Blair was going to refuse, but the fact was he really did owe his former advisor. “All right. I’ll talk to him, Hal, I’ll talk to him.” Blair felt right about the decision for only a moment before he shuddered theatrically and said, “Can’t I just default on a loan or something?”
Jim held open the door for Suzanne as they exited the building where her
office was housed. Jim was secretly pleased that he was right about Turlock having been
murdered, but was at the same time troubled by it. This would mean rough times for Suzanne
Tamaki. The end, at least for the time being, of her pristinely peaceful campus. It would
mean, too, that she had to deal with things as a campus security officer that she’d
been hoping to leave behind when she left the Tacoma PD.
“Well,” Jim started. “The toxicology tests were positive for Atraxotoxin, which is a spider venom specifically from a species called the Funnel Web spider. A single bite could kill a man, and Turlock had 30 on him.”
Suzanne frowned sadly, her shoulders sagging. “Much as I hate to face it, Jim, it sounds like you were right. We’re more than likely looking at foul play here.”
Jim gave her a reassuring pat on the back. “Don’t worry too much, Tamaki, we’re gonna find whoever did this.” He gave the distressed younger woman his best smile, waiting until she returned at least a weak attempt before moving back to the business at hand. “Now, the kicker about these spiders is this particular species is only found within a 160-kilometre radius of Sydney, Australia.” His undeniable smirk confirmed Suzanne’s suspicions that the other man was happy that his theory had been confirmed.
Suzanne paused, allowing a small gaggle of students to pass by, before she returned to walking beside Jim. “Well, I talked to the Dean of Science, and he told me there are no insect or arachnid studies underway on campus at this time. But now that we’ve identified the species, we’ll be able to start investigating the possibility they were brought in secretly.”
Jim nodded as he stepping off the sidewalk and out into the parking lot, heading toward where his Expedition was parked. “Maybe it was brought over on some plant from Australia by accident.”
“Could be,” she said, digging around in the inner pocket of her coat as they stopped by Jim’s large blue truck. “By the way, here is Fred Turlock’s work log as you requested.”
Jim accepted the proffered sheets with interest. “Thanks. ‘Monday, broken lock, science building. Replace circuit breaker, student union. Stuck air vent, theatre arts building.’”
“That’s all pretty standard stuff,” Suzanne said. “Nothing that sounds like it could have gotten Turlock in his current condition.”
Jim smiled briefly, then continued reading. “‘Tuesday, irrigation repairs, ‘X’ Farm facility.’ What’s the ‘X’ Farm facility?” he asked Suzanne.
“It’s an experimental farm,” she supplied. “It’s an off-campus research facility the university runs. Couple of miles north of the city. They do agricultural research mostly.”
“What about insects?”
Suzanne shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Jim took another quick look over the papers before handing them back. “Well, thanks very much, Suzanne. It’s all very thorough.”
She shrugged it off, but did smile to let Jim know she appreciated the compliment. “Well, listen, I have to get going. I have a meeting at the dean’s office in a few minutes. Why don’t we meet here in an hour or so, and we’ll take a drive out there.”
“All right then,” Jim said, “see you in an hour.”
Shortly after Jim and Suzanne parted ways, and on the other side of the
Rainier campus, Blair and Molly stood pressed together in his office, kissing
passionately. Leaning up against the desk, Molly kept her arms wrapped thoroughly around
Blair, as were his arms wrapped around her.
“Mmmmm,” Molly murmured, moving her lips over Blair’s cheeks. “I wonder why I love kissing you so much?”
Unbeknownst to the love struck couple, a young man on roller blades stood at the door to Blair’s office. He’d witnessed the entire exchange and was almost eager to see more. However, he couldn’t resist supplying a smart ass answer to Molly’s question.
“Ah, that would be enzymes. You know, every time you swap spit chemicals in your mouth they tell you if you’re compatible. That’s why it’s so gross to kiss your sister. Your enzymes can’t hang.” He looked Blair up and down smugly. “Are you Sandburg?”
Blair and Molly separated quickly, both fighting to keep their embarrassment tamped down. Blair quickly ran a hand through his hair before he spoke, giving him time to gather some composure.
“Uh, yeah, I am. Hi,” Blair said, extending his hand to Alec and letting it drop again when the teenager ignored the civil offering. “You must be Alec Summers then. Thanks for stopping by.” Behind him, Molly used the temporary reprieve from Alec’s attention to smooth her hair and clothes, which helped to calm her racing heart.
“Uh huh, whatever,” Alec said, turning to Molly. “Hello there. Any time you’d like to explore our salivary compatibility. . ."
“Aren’t you a little young?” she asked in amusement.
“Well, chronologically, maybe. From a genetic point of view, however, you’re much better off pairing your zygotes with a genius like me than, well, you know,” he finished, eyeing Blair skeptically.
Molly couldn’t help but roll her eyes. “Yeah, and where did you learn to talk to girls? On the playground?”
“Well, actually,” Alec said, advancing farther into the room. He was about to say more, when he was cut off by Jim’s entrance into the room.
“Hello, folks,” he said casually, breezing past Alec to the small coffee station Blair had set up on the far wall of his office.
“Hey, Jim,” Blair said, grateful for his friends timing. “How you doing? You remember Molly, don’t you?”
“Sure I do,” he said, turning from his task long enough to tip his head at the smiling young woman.
“And this is Alec Summers,” he said, gesturing to the young man. “Alec, this is Detective Jim Ellison.”
Alec was not impressed. “I guess the keystone campus cops needed the big boys to help them with that stiff they found in the quad.”
Jim finished fixing up his cup of coffee before responding to the cocky comments from Sandburg’s young guest. “And just what do you know about that?”
“I know I saw you there yesterday, working the scene. Rumour around campus has it,” he said with mild disbelief, “that killer bees got him.”
“An interesting hypothesis,” Jim said, taking a sip from his coffee cup. From the corner of his eye, he could see Blair shaking his head slightly, while Molly just frowned.
Alec snorted in disgust. “Yeah, and if I had half the brains of these schmoes, I might even buy it. Killer bees are a media myth, but poisonous spiders aren’t. You know, I studied arachnids on a research grant when I was 12. If you fill me in, I’d help you solve the case.”
Jim raised an eyebrow. “Maybe another time, junior.”
Alec, offended, skated closer to Jim. “I’m not just some kid, dog breath. I bet my IQ’s bigger than yours and his put together.”
“No doubt,” Jim said, smirking. He could hear Blair fighting back laughter.
“Fine then,” Alec said indignantly. “If you don’t want my help, Sherlock, it’s your loss.” Angrily, he pushed off towards the door.
“Hey, wait a minute,” Blair called. “What about our meeting?”
“The meeting’s adjourned,” Alec called over his shoulder, skating out of the office and down the hall.
Blair shook his head in disbelief, breaking into laughter when he caught Jim’s eye.
“What a charmer,” Molly commented sarcastically, joining in the laughter.
Bob Carlin, however nervous he was, took pride in showing Ellison and the
campus woman his facility. He showed them the office area first, hoping that perhaps it
would distract them from what was obviously their goal. He’d blanched when he heard
the Cascade PD sent Ellison to look over X Farm, having heard something of the man's
reputation, but decided he’s just have to get through it.
“I appreciate you showing us around the facility, Mr. Carlin. Especially on such short notice,” Jim said, paying close attention to Carlin to gauge his reaction.
Carlin smiled, his heart rate staying relatively normal. “Well, I’m always glad to get a chance to show off my company’s facility. To be honest with you, however, I'm really not sure how I can help with your investigation.” There was a small hitch in his heart rate, Jim noted, when he said it.
“We’ve been going over the victim’s movements before his death,” Suzanne replied. “And they led us here. According to his work log, Turlock was out here on Tuesday evening?”
“That’s right,” Carlin confirmed. “To fix an irrigation pipe in the greenhouse, which he took care of, then left.”
“You said your company’s facility,” Jim interjected. “I thought this facility was owned by the university?”
Carlin nodded. “Yes, it is, but Milpa Technologies foots the bill for research. It’s our way of investing in education.”
“What sort of business are you in then?” Jim asked curiously.
“We do genetic engineering for agribusinesses – crop hybrids, yield enhancers – things like that,” he explained.
“What about insect research?” Suzanne asked.
Carlin shrugged. “Well, we do have a small entomology lab. It’s over in the greenhouse.”
“Would you mind if we have a look?” Jim questioned.
“Not if bugs don’t bug you,” Carlin said, grimacing at his own joke. Jim’s mouth flickered into a brief smile as he monitored Carlin’s heartbeat, but Tamaki’s face remained impassive.
Moments later the three arrived at the large greenhouse and made their way to the entomology lab. Carlin introduced Jim and Suzanne to the two young students in the lab, who stood respectfully when they entered.
“These are my graduate assistants, Jaron Howell and Kate Freeman,” Carlin said, pointing to each student in turn. “They’re working on viruses designed to kill crop parasites. This is Detective Ellison and Chief of Security Tamaki.”
Suzanne glanced around, taking in the details of the lab. “What are those?” she asked, pointing to a container that held small, pale worm-like things.
“They’re barley weevil larva,” Jaron explained, lifting the small container to give her a better look.
“Are they dangerous?” Jim leaned in to take a closer look.
“Lethal,” Jaron replied with a chuckle. “If you’re a crop of barley.”
“Which is why we only work with sterile insects,” Kate said. “That way, if they escape, they can’t reproduce and contaminate the local environment.”
“What about poisonous insects?” Suzanne questioned. “Do you work with any here?”
“Absolutely not,” Carlin denied. “We have no need to work with them.”
Jim tuned into the other man’s heartbeat again, not surprised to hear it beating quite rapidly. Apparently, he not only had a need for poisonous insects at his facility, but had a need to lie, too.
“Well, I think we’ve taken enough of your time,” Suzanne said, unaware of Carlin’s lie. “Thanks again for your help, Mr. Carlin.”
Carlin nodded. “Let me show you out then.”