By EJ Katz
Beta Read by: Carla and Gina Jones
Written for PetFly by: Ron Taylor

Rated PG-13
internal thought in italics


Prologue


Early Morning:

Soft light filtered in from the half opened blinds allowing sun to illuminate the two men seated across from each other at a massive mahogany desk. One man, older, harder, was leaning forward slightly, his full attention focused on the man across from him. This man was obviously younger by probably close to ten or even fifteen years. He was of oriental descent but he spoke without a trace of an accent. For the moment neither spoke as the younger man looked over the page of data he'd been handed. His eyes rose to lock with the other man.

"So you see the trouble we're having. This could only have been done by someone inside this company. I need your help, Dennis. You're the best at what you do." The man steepled his fingers together and notched them under his chin. His eyes were glued to the man across the desk from him as he waited for a reply.

"I understand, Mr. Ventriss. I'll do my best, as always. Is there anyone you suspect or a place you want me to start?" Dennis Chung, self-proclaimed Cyber-detective, asked his client. It was not the first time he'd been called in to work for Norman Ventriss. The guy paid well and was a pleasant enough fellow, though the whole 'I am richer than you therefore better than all' rule could definitely be applied to this man sitting across the ornate desk from him.

The office like the man screamed money as well as power. Norman Ventriss, owner of Questscape Enterprises, was a man used to getting his own way. Dennis was used to dealing with wealthy clients but did not adopt the same mentality, in fact he looked upon it as a necessary evil in his line of work.

"I have a couple of thoughts but nothing concrete," Ventriss informed the detective as he passed a thin folder across the desk towards the private detective. Chung took it and flipped it open. He gazed at the document in side then closed it.

"I'll get right on this, Mr. Ventriss." Together the two men stood, shook hands and Dennis left the office.


Same Time, Undisclosed Location:

The desk was littered with papers, many looking like blueprints for a building. Two young people stood leaning over examining the papers closely.

"We go in here," The young man was saying. Beside him was a younger woman, in her early to mid-twenties. Her short blonde hair kept falling into her eyes and she continued to push it behind her ear but not once did she switch her attention from the papers. The man was describing a route they would take. Anyone who had been watching them might have known instantly that they were planning something big, but what exactly it was they were planning might have eluded them.

"Are you sure he won't be there?" the young woman asked. She was quite pretty though wearing a little too much makeup; her fingers nervously tucking her hair behind her ears once more.

Her companion, a young man, also in his early twenties smiled at her. His eyes, angry or maybe bitter, were hidden behind ugly yellow glasses that did nothing to enhance his features. They softened slightly when he looked at her. "Yeah, babe. He has an appointment. We can be in and out before he ever knows we were there." The man turned to the young woman and took her into his arms. His fingers made quick work of the buttons on her blouse. He kissed her deeply even as she wrapped her arms tightly around his neck.

"God, Brad, what if they suspect something?"

"Come here." He tugged at her until she moved forward into his arms. "They know nothing and will know nothing until we tell them. It is a simple in and out job. You know the old man has something planned but there is no way to pin this to us. All we are doing is making sure that jerk has nothing to track back to us; just a preventative measure, promise."

He kissed her hungrily to which she responded with enthusiasm. He moaned at her greedily and plundered her mouth. She gripped his shoulder and pulled away, breathing harshly.

He grinned laviciously. "We have a few minutes." He watched her face until she nodded, pushing him back to the bed against the far wall.

They sank down together into a tangle of limbs.


Act I



The late morning sun was bright as the black sports car slowly left the driveway. Once out of sight the two young people appeared from the bushes and moved to the window. The man pulled a small cylindrical device from his pocket. A quick twist and he used it to cut a large hole in the window glass. He pulled a spray can from his back pack, which he sprayed into the open window. A fine mist settled in the air and illuminated a thin red line. He glanced at the woman next to him. She nodded and they carefully stepped through the window and over the laser light.

The interior of the house was brilliant with the early morning sunlight streaming in through huge front windows and a set of skylights in the main hall. With the owner out it was silent inside and the duo made no noise as they took the stairs to the second floor of the modern split level home.

The young man seemed to know exactly where to go as he led the girl into an office. On a large desk sat a computer. It was off but a flip of a switch and the internal motor hummed to life. The girl sat at the desk. As soon as the computer and monitor were completely on and working she typed the commands to check the files then after confirming what she was seeking she began the process to download the hard drive before erasing it completely.

The man picked up a wallet lying on the desk. "Damn. Forgot his wallet. There's going to be trouble." He turned to the woman who still sat before the computer. "How's it coming?"

"I'm in," she told him. She paused from saying more when the sound of a car engine came from the street below. Glancing out side they watched as a black sports car slowed and turned into the driveway.

"He's back. Keep it running. Keep it running," The young man told the woman. She nodded and resumed her work. Suddenly hearing footsteps she quickly hid in the closet, the computer not even half done.

Seconds later a young Asian man entered the office.


Dennis Chung, self proclaimed cyber-detective stopped cold at the sight of his running computer. He was certain he'd turned it off before leaving earlier. Another glance told him that someone had entered the house and from the progress on the screen he knew they probably still were. Typing quickly he halted the download, glanced around then left the room in search of whoever it might be. He made his way back downstairs to the living room.

"Don't move," a young voice commanded. A voice he knew only too well.

"Brad? This is crazy," Dennis told his attacker. He was surprised by the brashness of the young man, especially after he caught sight of the gun in the other man's hand.

"Shut up."

"Your father… "

"Shut up! Get on the floor." Brad moved closer, his finger tightening slightly on the trigger. Dennis sensed his anger and arrogance in the way he stood, ready to shoot the detective.

Dennis twisted and attacked. He knocked gun away, causing Brad to step back in surprise. The older man crouched into a ready position waiting for the younger man to attack, knowing he would. Instead something hard crashed over his head and he nearly dropped to the floor. Pure instinct controlled his reaction as he spun and backhanded the girl before realizing what he was doing. She collapsed quickly, fear marking her face. He hand came up to wipe the blood from her lip. The blow to the head had slowed his reactions and before he was able to turn back to face Brad, the boy had retrieved the gun and a single shot rang out, then there was nothing.


For a long moment silence reigned, then "Oh, my god, Brad. Are you crazy?"

"I had no choice," Brad told her, his voice was completely steady with no trace of the panic that was so clearly in the girl's voice.

"You… You killed him." She stared in shock at the man lying sprawled on the Chinese rug, now covered in slowly spreading blood.

For a moment Brad stared down at the body of the man his father had hired to stop the disappearance of secret computer programs from his company. Programs he was completely unaware his son was taking and selling for profit. "Well, there's no turning back. All right, sweetheart?"

He reached down and held his hand out to the woman. She took it and he helped her gain her feet. "Look, we knew there might be problems."

"But not this. You've got a gun?"

"It's for our protection. Okay? Suzanne, look, forget about it. He's dead. Now somebody might have heard the shot. So what do you want to do? You want to continue with the plan?"

For a moment Suzanne appeared to think about it. There was a visible shift in her face as she came to a decision. The pretty features seemed to harden. "Let's finish it… Fast." Her voice was cold and calculating, no trace of the earlier panic evident now.

They moved back upstairs where Suzanne resumed the download. Five minutes later the computer beeped its completed process and she typed the command to erase the hard drive. When she finished, Brad removed a strange looking device from his shoulder bag. He attached it to the side of the computer. She plugged it in. It hummed for twenty seconds then it was removed.

"It's done," Brad told her.

Suzanne checked the computer. "We're clear."

"Let's go."


Jim Ellison entered the house through the front doors, pulling on rubber gloves. Joel Taggart stood in the front hallway up a single step where he watched as Serena Chang examined the body of a young Asian man lying on an expensive Chinese woven rug. "Well, what have we got?" Jim asked the two as he approached.

Serena looked up at him then back to the body. "Well, we've got one set of fingerprints -- probably the victim's -- but these two hair strands are not. One came off the victim's jacket, the other one upstairs, next to a computer. Same colour, same length." She held up two small evidence bags each containing one strand of blond hair.

"Blond, huh?" Jim crouched to look over things. He looked at the bags, ignoring Serena's 'Mm-hmm' in reply. His sight zoomed in on a matching hair at the open window. "You got another one at the point of entry."

Serena looked up surprised at the window, more than eight feet away. "No. We swept that clean."

Jim shook his head, realizing his mistake. He quickly tried to cover. "I think you missed one. I saw it when I checked the window before coming in."

Serena walked over to look. Joel crouched across the body from Jim. Jim looked up at him before pointing to the body. "The weapon that was pressed against him. It was probably a nine mil. Whoever did this knew him and he knew them."

Ellison stood and headed for the window, Joel on his heels.

Joel had to admit to himself that he was rather excited. This was his first major case since he'd switched over from the Bomb Squad to Major Crimes as a full detective. He knew his investigative skills were more than adequate but considering that much of what he'd investigated previously had to do with bombings this was new and he was so ready.

He watched as Ellison examined the window. Sure enough Serena had discovered another blond hair, the same as the other two, at least as far as she could tell without her equipment. Taking an educated guess Joel told Jim, "If I was coming to nail him, I wouldn't have wasted time cutting out the window glass. I would have picked the lock. It's a lot faster."

Jim nodded. "They cut the window to bypass the alarm then used an aerosol spray to expose the trigger beam."

"Aerosol?" Joel asked, wondering how he could possibly know that.

"Yeah. My guess is that the victim came home and found somebody here."

Joel missed seeing Jim as he stood once more and walked away, following some trail only he could see. "Hmm. Which would mean that, uh… Jim?"

"Here Joel," Ellison called. Joel followed his voice to an office area upstairs. Jim was standing there with a slightly puzzled look on his face.

"Hmm. So you think that, uh… "

Ellison interrupted him, "someone wanted something. Probably something in this room." He paused. "Man, something's weird."

"Yeah. Nothing's been disturbed. Look, they even left his wallet. Dennis Chung, thirty-seven. He's got a private investigator's license." Joel scrambled through the wallet but there was nothing else of value. He put the wallet into a plastic evidence bag to be examined more closely later. "Looks like nobody took anything."

"Maybe they didn't need to," Ellison commented. He shivered slightly. "There's an electromagnetic charge in here."

Now it was Joel's turn to be puzzled. "How'd you get that?

"You don't feel the hair on your arms standing up from static electricity?"

"No," Joel began but then he realized it was true, the hair on his arms was in fact standing up. He could hardly feel it but it was there. He watched as the senior detective picked up a paper clip and let it go in front of the computer casing. It snapped sharply to it where it stuck like a magnet. Or like the computer had been magnetized.

Jim confirmed this theory when he spoke next. "This equipment's been magnetized. I'll bet all the data in the computer and the files and the safe down here has been wiped out. They even tore the labels off all these disks." He held one up in verification.

Joel snorted in disbelief. "So we got nothing?"

"No. We have someone who wanted to break in and bypass the alarm system when nobody was home. Someone who wanted to steal the files or erase them. Someone who was surprised when Dennis Chung came home. This murder was unplanned. Our someone knows we're looking for them. My guess is they're going to crack and make a mistake."

"Right," Joel replied but he didn't feel entirely convinced.


Blair Sandburg was in his element, standing at the front of his classroom, teaching young minds and imparting knowledge. God, how he loved this. As he spoke his eyes wandered over every student, mentally calling role and placing names to faces. He knew each student, knew what they liked to study, whether they were serious Anthro students or just trying to catch an 'easy' class. Of course his class was never 'easy.' He was well known for challenging his students, offering them projects and essays that made them think. Those that took his classes liked that and it made him popular among his colleagues.

"Today children are sacrificed on the altar of neglect and abuse, but in ancient tribal customs, it was a matter of solemnity. Ritual sacrifice by definition means surrendering of value of something that was physically and morally and sexually uncorrupted, which means that everybody in this room would have been safe, right?"

There was a general murmur of laughter at Blair's words at the same time the door opened and two students walked in. Blair knew them both. Brad Ventriss was a lazy student, who got by on what his father's money bought, and rarely did any extra work so he barely skimmed by on what he did do. Suzanne Nadine, his girlfriend, was a harder worker but still a borderline student. She was nice enough when she wasn't with Brad but something about the unpleasant young man brought out the worst in her and Blair didn't much care for either of them.

"Sorry, Mr. Sandburg," Suzanne apologized as she walked past him to take her seat near the top row of the lecture hall.

"Perfect timing. We were just talking about human sacrifice," Blair told them, trying to ignore his frustration at their interruption.

Brad Ventriss turned to walk backwards, a malicious grin on his face. "That's kind of like me sacrificing my day to be here."

"Yeah. That's exactly what it's like. That's funny. Why don't you take your seat," Blair told him, waiting impatiently for him to sit. He watched as Brad paused up the steps, them continued on to take a seat beside a pretty brunette girl. As he walked by, he stooped and stroked her leg before sitting. She pulled away then moved seats.

Blair covered his watching of this transaction by speaking yet again, even as Brad picked up a manila envelope left on the desk by the other student. "Yeah, hurry up, before we all fossilize. So, um, where were we?"

The lecture continued for the full length of the class. While he lectured, Blair's mind kept coming back to what he'd seen. He remembered Jill Gordon from another class he'd taught. She'd always been a good student, a hard worker who earned her high grades fairly. She'd been a bright happy woman but lately she seemed a little withdrawn. Blair wondered vaguely if Bard Ventriss had anything to do with that change.

Before he realized, the bell was ringing to signal the end of class. Student began to rise and make their way to the front of the room.

"Next week we'll be reviewing Mayan city planning and going over the final exam. Let's have those term papers, people. Come on, everybody. I'm sure they're not all that bad." Students dropped their papers on Blair's desk as they left. Brad dropped off the manila envelope. Blair picked it up.

He opened envelope and pulled out the papers inside to see a yellow note paper clipped to top of the first page:

This finishes it. So stick to the deal.
Rick


"Hey. After everything I went through to get Jill to back off, what are you doing messing with her? Unless you… really did it," Suzanne demanded as she caught up with Brad in the quad.

For a moment it didn't look as if Brad would stop, but her hand on his arm reached him and he turned. "Hey, come on. I told you. She was high and I pushed her off and she got pissed. Look, she's just trying to squeeze money out of my old man. You know what that's like. All right, we're going to be out of here in a week. Everything's fine."

"Fine, yeah. We just killed somebody and ran," Suzanne mumbled.

"Hey! Everything we brought in, we brought out. There is no way they can pin us to this guy," Brad reassured her, soothing a hand up and down her back as he embraced her.

"What if he had hard copies on all the stuff we erased? I mean, there's all kinds of things that could have been there." She was still worried but the warmth of his embrace relaxed her and she felt better.

"No. It's fine," he told her. For years they had been best friends. Then when they were old enough they had become so much more. At times he'd wondered why he still stuck with her. Then, he would remember her in the sack and it all came back. He did love her, in the only way he really knew how. She was, on the other hand, completely devoted to him and to pleasing him. He knew it and he used that knowledge to his benefit but he also knew that the moment she became a liability she was history. Of course the secret thing was she loved this, the suspense, the lawlessness of what they were doing. She thrived on the violence even though she tried so hard to hide it from herself. But he knew. He knew and exploited that knowing. He grinned, then leaned in to kiss her.


Blair searched the quad for the familiar figure of his student. Time to confront him, maybe this time would be the one time his Daddy's money couldn't buy him out. Ah, there. Blair rushed up the pathway to where Brad and Suzanne were kissing.

"Hey, Brad. Brad Ventriss. You know a guy named Rick Feldman?" Blair asked. He took the slightest bit of pleasure in knowing he'd startled the two.

"Um… "Brad began, but Sandburg cut him off.

"He's a grad student, taught an anthropology section here last year."

"Don't know him."

"Well, I do. And I also know his handwriting and it looks a lot like this." Blair held up the manila envelope, the first page with the yellow note still clipped to it. "You know, you might have gotten away with it, but you didn't even bother to look at the first page. Buying a term paper also buys you an 'F.' Arrogant and stupid is not a good combination."

Ventriss reached out and gripped Sandburg's shoulder, intent on holding him in place. "Hey."

"Get your hands off me." Blair shrugged, trying to loosen the hold.

"I didn't buy the paper, all right? You're not asking me any questions here? There's no discussion? You're just going to give me an 'F'?"

Suzanne cut in before things got out of hand. "Hey, let's just chill, okay, guys? I'm sure we can work this out."

"Yeah. Chill," Blair mocked as he managed to remove Brad's hand.

"Oh, yeah, we can work it out all right. If he likes his job, he'll drop it," Brad sneered. The confidence he displayed angered Blair and it took a lot to not just flatten the smug face into the pavement.

"You threatening me?"

"You keep pushing my buttons, Sandburg, you'll find out. Let's go." Brad wrapped an arm around Suzanne's shoulder and the two left, walking away from Hargrove Hall and away from the fuming Blair Sandburg.

Act II