Authors: John Sandford
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller
“Nope. She gets a trust fund payout until she’s thirty, enough to pay college tuition through to a Ph.D., if that’s what she wants, and to live in a decent apartment and eat. Then it ends. She gets nothing more in the will. Of course, if he’d lived, he could have changed that.”
“How old is she now?” Virgil asked.
“Nineteen. I interviewed her. She wasn’t too upset about him getting killed,” Trane said. “He wasn’t present as a father—only his money was. I gotta say, my impression was that she’s way too lazy to actually kill somebody. And she’s got a solid alibi for the whole time span when Quill was killed.”
“Quill, on some level, seems to have been successful with women? Maybe girlfriends? Jealousy?”
“Not finding it. Hasn’t dated recently, as far as I’ve been able to determine, but . . . maybe. I’m still looking. Nobody’s come forward. His wife and his exes say he was incredibly smart, which was why they were attracted . . . And, of course, he had family money. Quite a bit of it. Money’s often attractive in a man.”
“I wouldn’t know. I’ve had to rely on my good looks and personal charm,” Virgil said.
She gave him the stink eye, unsure whether he was joking or not, and Virgil said, “You’ve got to get used to my sense of humor.”
She said, “I talked to Lucas. He said you weren’t a terrible guy. Most of the time. Nothing like Hitler anyway. I was supposed to remind you to keep your hands off his daughter.”
“That’s a Davenport joke,” Virgil said.
“I got the impression that it was ninety percent joke and ten percent death threat,” Trane said.
“Yeah, that’s about right,” Virgil said. “So. In five hundred words or less, tell me what you’ve figured out.”
“Won’t take five hundred words. He was killed in the carrel. He must’ve trusted the killer because he’d turned his back to him in a close space—the killer almost had to be inside the carrel with him. If it was a him. It might not have been because the carrel would be crowded with two men in it. If the killer is a her, she’s strong. I’ve tried lifting a similar laptop over my head quickly and then swinging it down hard enough to kill. I can do it, but twelve pounds, overhead, chopping down, accelerating, doing it fast enough that Quill wouldn’t see it coming . . . It’s harder than you’d think.”
“The autopsy gave me nothing more than the cause of death. He had no alcohol or any trace of drugs in his system. Nothing under the fingernails or on his clothes—and no reason there should be, he obviously didn’t resist—and no DNA.”
“Okay.” Virgil scrolled down the computer screen, tapped the screen. “You’ve got all these NCIC files on a guy named Boyd Nash. What’s that about?”
“Nash is a . . . I guess a scientist would say he’s a dirtbag. I don’t understand all the details, but he’s some kind of scientific predator and he had some contact with Quill.”
“Yeah. He looks for new research that he can get some details on, then he goes to this law firm that cooperates with him . . . Conspires with him, I’d say . . . Anyway, give me some rope here because I don’t entirely understand it . . . They find a graduate student or low-level technician who knows something about the field that the research involves and they write up a description of the work and then they file for a patent. When the original company or laboratory tries to use their own research, the law firm files for a patent violation. It’s technical and complicated enough that the courts don’t usually understand what’s going on. Sometimes Nash wins, sometimes he loses, but if he wins, he can get a substantial settlement because fighting the court’s judgment can cost more than the settlement. The law firm gets a third, of course, but Nash can still get out with tens of thousands of dollars.”
“In other words, he steals research, pretends it’s his, or belongs to somebody he’s working with, and uses a court decision to extort a settlement from the good guys.”
“That’s about it,” Trane said.
“You eliminated Nash as a suspect?”
“Not completely, but there seemed to be better leads,” Trane said. “The night that Quill disappeared, Nash was in Rochester. He checked into the DoubleTree hotel for a convention . . . It’s in the notes, something like the American Institute for Medical Technology. I talked to him, he gave me names of people he
spoke to there, both that night and on Saturday, and on Sunday, when the convention ended. I called those people and it all checked out. He had American Express receipts for the hotel for both nights, Friday and Saturday.”
“It’s only about an hour and a half each way. He could have been down there until ten o’clock . . .”
“I know. I worked through all that,” Trane said. “It seems unlikely—it’s the kind of convention he’d go to, for the contacts he needs, and why would he think he’d need an elaborate alibi? He couldn’t have known Quill would be at the library at midnight. And how would he have gotten in the library? Lot of moving parts there.”
“All right. Now, tell me about this big feud that Quill was involved in.”
“Oh my God,” Trane said. “You ever get in one of those situations where somebody’s yelling at you and you feel like your sinuses are getting jammed up by the sheer bullshit?”
“All the time. That’s my life story,” Virgil said. “What’s going on?”
A woman named Katherine Green, Trane said, a newly tenured professor in the university’s Department of Cultural Science, had written a well-received book entitled
, which argued that medicine which worked well in the West might not work so well in other cultures, or what she called microcultures.
In a particularly controversial passage, she’d suggested that families in Marin County, California, and Clark County, Washington, had developed their own microcultures that rejected the
Western imperative of childhood vaccination. The Marin and Clark microcultures’ emphasis on a naturally robust lifestyle would likely prove as effective as vaccination, Green said, possibly more so.
“That started people screaming,” Trane said. “Because it seemed to offer support for the anti-vaccination movement, which mostly consists of uncertified crazies.”
The book made it onto
The New York Times
’s bestseller list, and Green, after making a three-week tour in support of sales, returned to home ground at the university, where she was invited to give a lecture at the Coffman Memorial Union.
“I’ve seen a video,” Trane said. “About halfway through, several people started booing. That started a bunch of arguments, and people in the audience started pushing one another around. There were a couple of campus cops there and they got everybody back in their seats, and Green managed to finish the lecture.
“Then Quill got up and said her book was ignorant, unscholarly, uninformed, and a bunch of other stuff. Green has a reputation herself—she likes to fight. It seems like she lives for controversy. She called him rude, culturally illiterate, a racist, and a few other things, and he called her a silly twat. Yelled it, actually,” Trane said. “That set things off again, and they had to call more cops because it got out of hand—a small riot. A graduate student got hauled off to jail and was charged with assault because he hit another guy with a chair.”
“Did it break like they do on TV?” Virgil asked.
“No,” Trane said, a trifle impatiently. “Anyway, Green tried to get Quill fired for sexism, filed against him with the Title IX committee—the word ‘twat.’ Quill insisted that he’d called her a silly twit, not twat. He was lying because he did call her a twat. It
was plain as day on the video, but there was no way the U was going to fire or even censure Quill. He was way too important.”
A week or so after Green’s lecture, Quill and three professors from the medical school held an open seminar at the Mayo Auditorium to discuss the wrong-headedness of Green’s book and to question the very existence of the Department of Cultural Science, which, according to flyers posted in the medical school, advocated “Witchcraft vs. Medicine.”
“Well, you can guess what happened. Green showed up with staff and students from Cultural Science, and they had another riot on their hands,” Trane said. “It’s been pretty much open warfare since then. Quill proposed eliminating the Cultural Science Department entirely—it’s hard to get rid of tenured professors, but if their department is abolished, well, they don’t have jobs.”
“Then everybody in Cultural Science is a suspect.”
“Yeah,” Trane said. “That would be eighteen faculty and graduate assistants and support staff, and a large but unknown number of students.”
“Sounds like you’ve come down on Quill’s side of this thing,” Virgil ventured. “You know, intellectually.”
“Of course I have,” Trane said. “I wouldn’t say it on television, but the Green people, the Cultural Science people, are a bunch of Froot Loops.”
Virgil leaned back in his chair, put his boots up on the desk, and said, “I don’t know. I feel the great karmic twang might favor Greenites. I’ll start there, find this Katherine Green.”
Trane rubbed her face with both hands. “Karmic twang? Oh my God, he said ‘karmic twang.’ You could probably go undercover with Cultural Science. They’d love that T-shirt.”
From the other side of the cubicle wall the cop, who’d by now
finished his tuna fish sandwich, said, “I thought he said ‘karmic wang.’”
Trane said, “Shut up,” then said to Virgil, “I’ll get you a phone number.”
“I’d like to go through Quill’s house this evening, if it’s not sealed up,” Virgil said.
“I’ve got the key, I can meet you there after dinner . . . like, seven o’clock?”
Tuna Fish said, “You oughta tell Karmic Wang that Green is quite the hottie.”
Trane again said, “Shut up,” and to Virgil said, “I guess she is, but that’s irrelevant.”
Tuna Fish said, “No, it’s not. The hottest sex is always between two people who don’t like each other. That’s why feminists date drug dealers or drummers at some point in their lives. In your situation, you got the handsome, brilliant, rich, and probably horny divorcing professor on one side and the best-selling academic, unmarried hottie on the other. Did you even look at her boobies? Think there might be sparks?”
“Thank you, Dr. Freud.”
“You’re welcome. It’s better than anything you’ve come up with,” Tuna Fish said.
Virgil: “Give me the number for Green.”
Trane gave him the number, and asked, “How are we going to do this? You and me?”
“How about if I work it as kind of, like, an assistant or intern,” Virgil suggested. “On my own, because there’s no point in both of us standing around looking at the same guy. You do your thing,
I do mine, and we meet every morning and again every night until we get the killer.”
“I’m happy you’re so . . . sanguine . . . about getting him. We had a fifty percent clearance rate on murders last year. If we don’t do better, Knox’s going to be the new lieutenant guarding the landfill. I’ll be the sergeant in charge of the sloppy diaper dump.”
“Aw, we’ll get him,” Virgil said. “If we don’t, I’ve got an extra pair of barn boots I can give you. You know, for the diapers.”
Virgil called Green, who rejected the call. He called again, was rejected again. The third time a woman answered, a low-pitched growl. “What? Who is this?”
Virgil introduced himself, and Green said, “I’ve spoken to the police several times, Margaret Trane—”
“Yes, but I’ve been appointed to be Sergeant Trane’s assistant on the case and she suggested I start by talking with you,” Virgil said. Trane rolled her eyes. “I need to get a feel for all the various . . . personalities . . . who knew Dr. Quill.”
“I didn’t know Quill, I only knew who he was. And I certainly didn’t murder him, though I should have for calling me a twat. I think it would have been ruled justifiable homicide.”
“Still . . .”
She agreed to meet him at four-thirty, at her office in the Humphrey Center. When Virgil got off the call, he and Trane talked
about the case for another ten minutes, then he asked her for a few of her business cards to give to interviewees. She said, “Take a whole stack,” and pushed them across her desk.
Back on the street, Virgil drove across the Mississippi to check into his hotel, which indeed did have an Applebee’s, a Starbucks, and a beer joint. The room was small and decorated in tints of sage, which made him look sickly pale in the bathroom mirror, but was nothing to complain about after years of Motel 6’s. He dumped his bag, went back down to the street, got his car, drove back across the river to the Humphrey Center, a boring brick bunker that any SS dead-ender might have approved of.
Hubert Humphrey, the former vice president and onetime Democratic presidential candidate, had a lot of stuff named after him around the Twin Cities, including an airport, a domed stadium—later torn down—and the building where Virgil was parking.
Minnesota, for some unknown reason, had chosen the thirteen-lined ground squirrel as its mascot, although they called it a golden gopher, and, in a stroke of literary brilliance, had named it Goldy Gopher. The university’s colors were red and gold, and red was splashed everywhere on buildings, including the Humphrey Center.
The center housed the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and both the Cultural Science and Anthropology departments, all of which had gopher-red carpets. Above the atrium were hung the flags of all the nations of the world, Virgil thought as he walked in, though he didn’t count them.
Green’s office was on the third floor, and Virgil took the stairs,
cruised by the Cultural Science office once, checked a bulletin board in the hallway, saw nothing of interest except for a homemade “Pretty Kittens” poster with pull-off phone number tabs and with a photograph of two attractive, decidedly non-collegiate-looking blondes holding kitties in their laps. Virgil spent a moment considering the ambiguity of the poster, then ambled back to the office, a few minutes early for the appointment.
The bird-like, gum-chewing secretary gave him a puzzled look: he didn’t fit into any of the niches with which she was familiar. “Yes?”
“I’m Virgil Flowers, BCA agent. I have an appointment to speak with Professor Green at four-thirty.”
“Really? Where’s your gun? You don’t look like a police officer,” she said. She gave her gum a few rapid chews with a snap at the end for emphasis.
“My gun’s locked in my truck. I don’t usually carry it,” Virgil said.
“Really? Is that a new trend with police officers?”
“I’m trying to start one. Anyway, when I need to kill someone, I use a shotgun,” Virgil said. “They’re awkward to carry in offices.”
“Oh . . . Okay . . . Well, that makes sense . . . I guess,” she said. “We were expecting you. Let me check that Dr. Green is off the phone.”
She turned away, made a call, mumbled for a moment, hung up, and said, “This way.”
Virgil followed her to a modest office done in blond wood with a blond wooden desk and gopher-red carpet and a blond occupant. A large built-in bookcase dominated an interior wall and was stuffed with academic awards, appreciation plaques, ethnic
pottery, and doodads. A vase of pale yellow silk flowers sat on a windowsill, which looked out over an atrium.
As Tuna Fish had said, Green was a hottie, one of those attractive, smart, professional women with wire-rimmed glasses and a nice haircut and tidy breasts under a pale blue blouse who’d look great with her head on a pillow and her legs wrapped around his neck, in Virgil’s humble opinion. He didn’t mention his opinion but looked steadily into her eyes and extended a hand to be shaken, which she did.
She pointed at the visitor’s chair, sat down herself, and asked, “Have you really killed someone with your shotgun?”
“Yes,” Virgil said. “He was trying to kill me at the time. I tried to talk him out of it, but he was recalcitrant and continued trying to kill me. So, I shot him. I feel bad about it. But not too bad. The memory isn’t incapacitating or anything.”
“That would be an interesting study . . . people who have killed other people and how they feel about it,” Green said. “Has modern American gun society so deadened our reactions to killing that we don’t even experience an emotional toll when we ourselves kill someone? A longitudinal study, going back after a month, six months, a year, two years, and so on, would be interesting. Does the memory fade? Does the shooter avoid negative psychological consequences because of cultural conditioning through social media? How do American reactions to killing compare with non-gun societies? England, perhaps. Or Denmark.”
Virgil crossed his legs, settling into his chair, and said, “I personally know several guys—actually, I know a woman as well—who’ve killed other people and their reactions are all over the place. Some of them, it doesn’t seem to affect, but others are screwed up about it. Still others seem screwed up, but only to the
extent that it gets them time off or disability pay or job preferences.”
“Interesting,” she said. She made a note on a desk pad. “Now, what can I do for you? On this Quill murder? I’ve told the police—”
Virgil held up a hand. “I know, I read Sergeant Trane’s account of your testimony. I just wanted to push it around the plate.”
“I don’t believe I’ve encountered that idiom before, ‘push it around the plate,’” Green said. She scribbled another note. “Where’d you hear it?”
“My mother used it,” Virgil said. “So. What was your personal relationship to Dr. Quill?”
She recoiled. “None. I never . . . Are you suggesting—”
“No, no, no.” Virgil smiled. “I’m not talking about sex, heaven forbid. I’m asking if you talked, outside of these conflicts you had recently, about the t-word thing?”
“‘T-word’? You mean ‘twat’?’”
“Yes. Did you talk—”
“I don’t believe I ever said a word to him in my entire life before he came to my lecture and began yelling at me,” Green said. “Then I went to his seminar, and, well, we didn’t actually speak, we shouted at each other.”
“And you didn’t kill him?”
“Of course not! I mean—”
“I had to ask,” Virgil said, holding up his hands, flashing another smile. “How about other people from Cultural Science? Is there anyone involved with your department that you might think capable of murder? Even if the murder was impulsive, as opposed to planned?”
She stared at him for a moment, then said, “I suppose you do have to ask.” She turned away, looking out a window at the brick
wall of another building, then turned back and said, “Do you know about Clete?”
“Clete? Was he the guy charged with assault after your speech?”
“Yes. Clete May. He has what I’d call a machismo thing—sometimes a problem, sometimes not. That can be quite useful when doing cultural research. You know, he’s happy to carry heavy things for us women, pick up the check more often than he has to, possibly defend us in the more misogynistic cultures. That kind of thing. He also has a tendency to lean into our female students and staff.”
“‘Lean into’? You mean ‘grab’? ‘Pressure’? ‘Assault’?” Virgil asked.
“No, I meant what I said: lean. He leans into them. He moves into their spaces, whether he’s welcome or not. Somehow, I feel that you might be familiar with the concept.”
“I would never lean into anyone’s space if I weren’t welcome,” Virgil said.
“How can you tell without trying?” Green asked.
“You’d have to be a moron not to know,” Virgil said.
“Interesting. Differing levels of empathy among males. Does it begin in childhood? Is a dominant mother involved?” She made another note, then asked, “Would you consider your mother to hold the dominant role in your kinship group?”
“Your nuclear family?”
“Well, I never thought about it. Now that you ask, no, not especially. We were all pretty equal.”
“Interesting,” she said. “Did your family group hold any extensive moral attitudes?”
Virgil shrugged. “My father’s a Lutheran minister. I went to church every Sunday and Wednesday night until I was eighteen.”
“Interesting,” she said, and she made another note.
Virgil tried to regain control of the interview. “This Clete May. Do you think—”
“He might be capable of violence, but he’s not a stupid person, a thug, by any means. I know that he’s studied martial arts, but also that he’s deeply interested in Zen Buddhism. He makes friends easily enough, yet I sense a certain . . . calculation . . . in all of it. I’ve heard him talk about fighting—street fighting—but I’m not sure he’s done it, but he sure talks about it. Maybe he gets it from movies, I don’t know.”
“I’ll speak to him,” Virgil said. “You won’t come into it.”
“I appreciate that,” Green said. “There’s another man, Terry Foster, who served in the military in the Middle East. He’s quite mild-mannered. I’ve never seen anything that would suggest that he could become violent, but I’ve been told that he was wounded in action over there. I’ve never heard him speak about it and I never asked.”
Virgil noted the names, and Green said he could get contact information from the secretary. He pushed her on her relationship with Quill, and if she was telling the truth, there was nothing there but an academic conflict.
“Quill was trying to get your department abolished. If that happened, who’d be hurt worst?”
“Well, me,” she said. “I’m the head of the department. If the university abolished the department, I might be able to move to Anthropology, but it would certainly be a step backwards. Most of the students could probably transfer their credits there, but we have
two Ph.D. candidates who’d be badly damaged by such a thing. They are deep into their thesis work and might have to start over.”
Virgil took their names. They were both women, and Virgil said, “Women are less inclined to this kind of violence. A heavy physical attack. When women kill, it’s usually a last resort to fend off what they see as a life-threatening situation. They use a gun or a knife, but they don’t bludgeon somebody, because they recognize that men are larger and stronger. If they feel desperate and cornered, they go for a real kill, with a real weapon. And they’re often older than student age. Not always, but usually.”
“Then you think the killer is male?”
“Oh, probably. Not a sure thing, but probably,” Virgil said. “Women do bludgeon people to death, but it’s usually a child. Usually their own.”
Green winced, then asked, “Anything else?”
Virgil shook his head. “No, not at the moment. I might come back to consult with you if anything suggests that one of your students or staff was involved . . .”
She smiled for the first time, but her smile reminded Virgil of Lucas Davenport’s smile, which could turn predatory and even downright mean. “Do that.”
In the outer office, Virgil got contact information for the people mentioned by Green. He asked the secretary, “The Wilson Library is around here, isn’t it? I went to school here, but it was quite a while ago.”
“It’s right next door,” she said. “You gonna go look at the murder scene?”
“I guess,” Virgil said, “since I’m right here.”
The secretary dropped her voice. “It was pretty gory. The blood soaked into the floor, and I’m told there’s no way to get the stain out. They’ll probably cover it with carpet, but it’ll be there forever.”
“That would be a little grim for the next occupant of the room,” Virgil allowed.
The secretary shivered. “I wouldn’t take it.” She leaned forward in her chair to look down the hall to Green’s office, then sat upright again and asked, quietly, “If I tell you something, would you promise not to tell anyone?”
“Sure, unless it’s awful and illegal.”
“It’s not, though some people”—she tilted her head toward Green’s office—“would probably think so. Things are so dangerous in the world now that my husband made me get a carry permit. I have a Sig 938 and a carry purse. If I get attacked, somebody’s gonna get three Speer Gold Dots right in the breadbasket.” She snapped her gum.
“Be careful,” Virgil said. “Really, really careful.”
“I am careful,” she said solemnly.
Virgil moved closer, and asked, “You think Professor Green is clear on this thing, right?”
“Oh, sure. She likes to create a lot of commotion, but she wouldn’t hurt anyone.”
“Do you think that there are any males—you know, who have attachments to her or fantasies about her—who might be thinking they’re protecting her? By killing Quill?
“In the department?” She thought for a moment. “People will tell you Clete May, but he’s a big cream puff. No, I can’t think of anybody.”
Virgil left the truck where it was and walked around to the Wilson Library. The director, who looked like a library lady should, with horn-rimmed glasses and a doughy oval face, reacted as Green’s secretary had. “You’re sure you’re a police officer?”
“I wouldn’t want you to worry about it, so”—Virgil dug Trane’s card out of his ID case and handed it to her—“call Sergeant Trane and ask.”
“No, no . . .”
“If you don’t, you’ll worry about it,” Virgil said.
She called Margaret Trane, identified herself, asked the question, smiled, said, “Yes, he is wearing an Otis Taylor T-shirt. I think he looks quite handsome in it.” She listened some more, then exclaimed, “Shut up! Three times?” She looked at Virgil, reevaluating. “He doesn’t look old enough.”