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Authors: Janice Kaplan

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BOOK: A Job to Kill For
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“Not that simple. You’d have to inject it.” Finished shaving, Dan cupped water into his hands and rinsed off the last traces of lather. “But an injection site would be pretty easy to miss.”

“You always know everything,” I said.

Dan dried his face with the fluffy towel. “I’m better at killing people than I realized,” he joked. “Don’t let anybody at the hospital know, okay?” He leaned over and kissed me gently on the lips. No shaving cream this time—just affection.

 

 

Lydia called me back at noon, her voice more energetic now. “I reached Judi,” she said. “She’s an associate at an advertising agency in Chicago, but she left a client meeting to talk to me.” She sounded surprised—her life was so diminished she could hardly believe anyone would cut short a pitch to take her call.

“Did she know what you were talking about?” I asked.

“More or less. She’d heard of Delta ij, but didn’t know anything about it. Apparently, it’s one of those big-deal mysteries on campus, like Skull and Bones at Yale. A lot of myths, but nobody ever admits to being a member. Part of the mystique.”

“How about Derek?” I asked.

“They liked each other,” Lydia reported. “Derek spent a lot of late hours in his lab, and Cassie would come by with oatmeal cookies or Reese’s peanut butter cups.”

“Probably the healthiest food he ate,” I joked.

“I loved that Judi remembered it,” Lydia said softly. Now she had another image to hold on to: her sweet daughter bearing sweets. I heard her voice fill briefly with emotion, then she cleared her throat. “Anyway, they ran into a problem with that professor you mentioned, Hal Bohr.”

I hazarded a guess. “Allergic to peanuts?” I ventured. “Didn’t want any more Reese’s in his lab?”

Lydia gave a little laugh. “No, he liked having Cassie come by. She started bringing him little treats, too. Only he took it wrong.” She took a deep breath. “According to Judi, the professor got—well, obsessed with Cassie. Asked her out a few times. Followed her home when she left the lab. One Saturday night, he showed up at their dorm room. When Judi told him Cassie and Derek had gone to a party, he started screaming that he had a date with her and she’d promised not to see Derek anymore.”

“All fantasy?” I asked.

“A hundred percent. According to Judi, Cassie tried not to be cruel but made her position very clear. Not interested.”

“Made even more awkward because her boyfriend worked in his lab.”

“I guess.”

“Did she report Hal to anyone?” I asked.

“Cassie thought it would just make him worse. She thought he was crazy. Judi talked to one of the deans, who took it very seriously. But then Derek died, and Professor Bohr was away the next semester. When he came back in Cassie’s sophomore year, it all seemed to have blown over.”

We both fell silent. Not the report I’d expected.

“I hope that’s helpful,” Lydia said finally.

“Definitely,” I said firmly. Though right now, I didn’t have a clue what it might mean.

 

 

As soon as we hung up, I went online and Googled Hal Bohr. I got to his personal home page, which then linked to various physics journals. Several reprinted his papers and praised his brilliant research. One offered an analysis of his apparently famous twenty-page mathematical proof. Oh, great. Anything in English?

I tried Wikipedia, which was somewhat more understandable. “Despite the coincidence of name and fame, Hal Bohr isn’t related to Niels Bohr, who won the Nobel Prize in 1922,” the entry concluded. “But they will forever be linked as two of the world’s most eminent physicists.” I paused for a moment, wondering who had submitted the information. Anybody could have written it. Maybe Hal himself.

Curious, I went to the entry on Niels Bohr and scanned through the discussion of his great contributions.
The electron’s orbital angular momentum is quantized as L = nh.
Hmm. Who knew. Maybe I could drop that in conversation with Grant sometime and impress him.

I kept reading. Actually, old Niels sounded pretty interesting. Cared about truth and philosophy. Said clever things like “Never talk faster than you think.” Escaped from Denmark during World War II and eventually came to Los Alamos to advise on the atomic bomb. While there, used the pseudonym Nicholas Baker.

I suddenly gasped.

Nicholas Baker?

The name reverberated from the clipping in Cassie’s secret cache. I didn’t have it in hand anymore, but every word I’d read had been burned in my brain. A married couple named Sandy and Jerry Baker had died in a Connecticut fire. They’d left behind a son named Nicholas.

I got up and walked around the room, trying to get some perspective. How many Nicholas Bakers would there be in America? Hundreds? At least. Thousands? Maybe. Millions? No way. I shook my head, wishing I had a better grasp on math. On the other hand, it didn’t really matter. One way or another, “Nicholas Baker” was a common enough name that I couldn’t draw conclusions.

Oh, for heaven’s sake, of course I could.

I went into the kitchen and took a Greek yogurt from the refrigerator. Zero percent fat, but it would help me think. I sat down at the table and slowly stirred my spoon around in the creamy mixture. Almost as good as ice cream. Well, not really, but the Greeks definitely had a corner on the yummy-yogurt market.

Okay, Nicholas Baker.

Cassie must have had a reason to keep the article about the Connecticut fire with her important papers. The tragedy had occurred about a dozen years ago, which meant the orphaned Nicholas would be about the same age now as Hal Bohr. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to imagine the young scientist Nicholas Baker changing his name to Bohr. A reverse-name-change joke that only he would get, and a way of removing himself from the horror that had happened at home.

I finished the yogurt, proud of my eighty-calorie lunch. Feeling virtuous, I opened the freezer and took a spoonful of Edy’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup time-limited special ice cream. One spoonful couldn’t hurt. Mmm, excellent. Maybe one more spoonful. And since I might never find the flavor again, a third.

I managed to stop myself before I’d eaten the entire container—but not by much. I closed the freezer and went back to my study.

Let’s say my guess was right and Nicholas Baker and Professor Hal Bohr were one and the same. So what? Nothing illegal about changing your name. The slightly crazy, self-absorbed Nicholas/Hal would have liked launching his career with the famous scientist’s name. It didn’t make him a murderer.

I glanced at my watch, eager for a distraction. Jimmy should be home soon, and I’d drive him to his swimming lesson, then find someplace special to take him for his after-swimming snack. (Not ice cream, I thought guiltily.) An afternoon with my son might clear my head.

Only Jimmy didn’t come home.

I watched for him out the window for a while, then wandered outside into the cool but sunny day and mindlessly picked some weeds in the garden. I checked the time again. School ended early today, and our neighbor Carla Peters had carpool duty. She never ran late.

Finally, I looked down the street and saw Carla walking toward me, her new puppy, a labradoodle (the chic cross between a Labrador and a poodle), running frantically around on its leash.

“Lucky you!” Carla said, giving a cheerful wave when she saw me. “So now it turns out you officially have two genius children!”

“What? What are you doing home?” I looked at her, confused.

“Trying to teach this pup that the proper place to poo isn’t on my needlepoint carpet,” she said. She crouched next to him and patted him on the head. “Don’t let those puppy-dog eyes fool you. He’s a monster.”

At the moment, I couldn’t work up any polite interest in animal etiquette. “Where’s Jimmy?” I asked anxiously. “I thought you picked him up. He’s not here.”

“I know.” She stood up slowly. “That’s what I meant about another genius child. Jimmy went off to some special after-school program at UCLA, didn’t he?”

I tried to quiet my pounding heart. “I don’t know anything about it.”

Carla took a sharp breath and twisted the leash around her fingers. “The woman who picked him up had a note from you.”

“I didn’t write it,” I said softly.

“She’d given it to Ms. Berkeley,” Carla said, quickly transferring any fault to the first-grade teacher.

“Did you see the woman? Or her car?”

Carla shook her head. “Jimmy had already left with her. Ms. Berkeley seemed really proud that Jimmy had been invited to this gifted program. I planned to ask you about it. See if Aidan could get in.”

The puppy nipped at my ankle, then raced around in a circle, twisting its leash into a hopeless tangle around my leg. These designer dogs promised the best traits of both breeds, but this one seemed to be the worst. Like when the mogul marries the model—and the kids end up with his looks and her brains.

“Carla, you have to track down Ms. Berkeley and find out what else she knows,” I said urgently. “What the woman looked like. Anything. I’m going to drive over to UCLA.”

“My God,” Carla said. The color had drained from her face. She tried to untangle the leash, ducking around my legs as agitated as the puppy. “Don’t panic yet. I’m sure there’s an explanation. Maybe it’s something Grant set up.”

“Maybe,” I said. Though not with a forged note from me. Grant wouldn’t do that.

I grabbed my bag and got in my car, racing down the driveway and swerving a little too fast onto the street. I careened through Pacific Palisades, trying to pick the fastest route to Westwood. I turned onto Sunset, then decided to gamble on the thruway. My lucky day—for traffic, at least. No backups. Maybe I should take it as a sign that everything would be all right.

I zoomed into the left lane. Carla could be right about a reasonable explanation. Maybe Dan had written the note and the teacher had just made a mistake. Grateful that the Lexus had a voice-activated Bluetooth, I called Dan’s office, but the nurse said Dan had just begun a complicated facial surgery and wouldn’t be reachable for a few hours.

“I can page him for you if it’s an emergency,” she said.

“Not yet,” I said. I wanted to be a little clearer before I dragged Dan, scalpel in hand, away from the operating room. “Have him call me when he can.”

I tried the next number on my speed dial, but Grant didn’t answer his cell phone. I left another message for him to call me.

Speeding up, I darted around a cruising convertible, then pushed hard on the gas to pass a Porsche doing eighty. I felt the car veer and gripped the wheel.
Slow down,
I told myself. I watched the odometer slip back to sixty-five and tried to get my head into some more rational mode. It could all be a misunderstanding. No big deal. Some special program Grant knew about for Jimmy and discussed with Dan. I’d been distracted and they hadn’t bothered me.

Or else it was a very smart ploy.

Jimmy’s school issued a five-page memo each year called “Safety First.” Teachers went to a two-day “safe students” seminar. Children and teachers were all wise to the dangers of abductions, kidnapping…. God, I didn’t even want to think about it.

But nothing would make a teacher drop her defenses faster than telling her she had the smartest kid in the school. Ms. Berkeley had been proud. Carla wanted her son taken next.

Taken. I shuddered. Who would have taken Jimmy—and why?

Dan and I lived nicely, but anyone looking for major ransom wouldn’t pick a doctor’s child. Too much big media money in LA—and right here in Pacific Palisades—to even think of us. Jimmy had gone to a birthday party in a house that had a bowling alley and miniature-golf course in the basement, plus a fifty-seat movie theater in a separate wing.

My cell phone rang, and as soon as I said hello, I heard Carla’s voice.

“I spoke to Ms. Berkeley,” she said. “You don’t have to worry. The woman who picked up Jimmy was completely legitimate. Had a UCLA ID. Left information about the program. Her name’s Sandy Baker.”

Sandy Baker, the woman who died in the fire.

I swerved, barely missing an eighteen-wheeler barreling along next to me. The truck driver shook his head, then for some reason gave me a thumbs-up sign. I slowed down and got into the lane behind him. Again, Sandy Baker was a common enough name, but I couldn’t keep believing in coincidence.

“Any description of her?” I asked, my voice shaky.

“Ms. Berkelely said she looked like an academic. Plainly dressed but with a nice scarf. Gray hair pulled back in a bun. Tall and patrician.”

Exactly how I would have described Elsa Franklin.

I hung up and took the exit for Westwood, caroming through the street and onto the campus. I abandoned the car in an illegal spot, but didn’t care. I raced over to the development office. Kate, the assistant, sat at the front desk

“You’re Lacy Fields, aren’t you?” she asked when I rushed in, panting slightly.

“Yes. Good memory.”

“Not really. Elsa said you might come by.”

I looked around frantically. “Does she have a little boy with her?”

“Pardon?”

“A boy named Jimmy. My son.”

Kate shrugged. “I doubt it. Elsa’s not really a kid person.”

Not believing her, I swung around in the direction of Elsa’s office.
“Jimmy!”
I called, cupping my hands on either side of my mouth to make a megaphone.

“Nobody’s back there,” Kate said.

“I need to talk to Elsa,” I persisted, starting toward the back.

“She’s not here.”

I stopped and looked at Kate. “Where is she?”

“I don’t know. But she left this for you.” She handed me a sealed envelope. Hands shaking, I ripped it open and took out an embossed Crane’s card, the classy kind people once used for thank-you notes. But this had a single sentence:
Go to the front entrance of the physics building.
Then a phone number, written neatly in the middle of the page.

I left the office and dialed the number.

“Elsa Franklin?” I asked.

“Are you at the physics building?”

“No.”

The phone went dead.

I found the building, and dialed again.

BOOK: A Job to Kill For
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