Chapter One—The Hallowed Halls
Oh, the hallowed halls of education—a place where aged sages impart knowledge to eager, young pupils. A place where young minds flourish from being nurtured with stimulating conversations and challenging classes. A place where the thirst for knowledge replaces the shackles of illiteracy. What a place to be. So, what were we doing here? Good question! Well it began with car trouble.
Perhaps I should introduce us first. I’m Beauford, but everyone calls me Bud. My partner is Jeff Terrell. We originally met in the Marine Corps when we served together with the military police in California and then later Iraq. We returned to the States, got out of the corps and spent a couple of years as rent-a-cops before Jeff became a private investigator. The two of us were doing okay. All right, maybe not okay, but we were managing to stay out of trouble and most of the time, pay our bills. The truth is real live private investigation is nothing like TV shows with lots of action, lots of beautiful women and romance. It’s more like lots of boredom, lots of cheap clients you have to chase down to get paid, and lots of bad coffee. On television, there are murder cases, robberies, kidnappings, and adventure. Our adventure usually involves listening to neighbors who gossip, going through garbage to find embarrassing facts, and dealing with a lot of bad take-out.
Today, Jeff’s girlfriend, Naomi, had car trouble. I don’t mean the battery is dead kind of thing. I mean it’s the kind of thing where Jeff stands over the engine and asks Naomi to try starting the engine and he looks like he is examining the engine, before he says he thinks the problem is with the starter. In other words, he didn’t have a clue as to what was wrong. Now me, I’ll admit it—I don’t know a thing about cars except you get in them to go somewhere. Good grief, I don’t even have a driver’s license.
So after half an hour of Jeff trying to impress Naomi, and of Naomi getting more upset because she was late for class, we finally came up with the idea of us taking Naomi to her college class.
Understand, these college classes are important to Naomi. She used to work as a receptionist at an insurance company until she met us. Hey, it’s not our fault she quit. Her job came to an end after a couple of homicides and her former boss was arrested. Not that she blames us, especially since it was her boss who tried to kill her. Anyway, Naomi is now taking classes at night in an effort to earn a degree and go into business for herself. She’s not quite sure what she wants to do, but she’s sure she doesn’t want to go back to being a receptionist for an insurance company.
So here we were volunteering to take Naomi to her class and to wait three hours until her class finished so we could take her home. It started out well enough. Jeff kissed Naomi good bye and we headed off to find the cafeteria. Yes, Naomi did give us directions. It’s amazing, we spent all those hours doing field map and compass training in the Marines, all those missions in the desert in Iraq where the closest thing to a landmark was the intersection of two roads in the endless sand, and yet we got lost going to the most popular place on campus. It’s a good thing we weren’t with the Lewis and Clark Expedition. We would have ended up in Pittsburgh, then headed south in search of Canada.
Furthermore, Jeff and I are not new to college. I remember when we first hooked up after getting out of the military. Jeff came to this very university to check it out. I remember us going to the registrar’s office and Jeff trying to get the young lady’s phone number. She was one of those picture perfect blonds with a tight sweater, a very short skirt, and a figure that would cause men to chase after her like hound dogs after bacon. I remember she gave him an application form, a college catalog, a smile, and no phone number. I remember we actually did find the cafeteria. I remember getting in line behind another possible freshman, and this individual coming up to the milk dispenser. It was the kind you find in school cafeterias throughout the country, where you put a large five-gallon carton of milk in the dispenser and weave the little plastic hose through the lever.
Anyway, this guy grabbed hold of the lever. He pushed it, pulled it, and twisted it. He did everything but lift up the lever. The machine has one moving part and this guy can’t figure it out. A young lady standing next to him got tired of waiting for him to figure it out. She lifted up the handle and showed him how to get milk from the big silver box. The boy looked at the glass of milk and said “Wow, how intense.” I remember Jeff looking at me and deciding if this is higher education, then we really didn’t need it.
So here we were, walking down the hallway in the basement of the science building. Once again we were wandering the halls of this noble institution, lost. It was just like old times; like we had never left. A woman came running from around the corner.
“Oh my god, he’s dead, he’s dead,” she screamed.
Okay, maybe it wasn’t like old times.
“He’s dead. Someone help. He’s dead,” the young lady kept screaming. She ran up to Jeff and grabbed his arms. “Do something. Help him.”
Now my first thought is how do you help a dead guy? Jeff, on the other hand was dealing with an attractive woman holding onto him. She was in her late twenties, tall and sexy in a bright blouse, jeans and dark jacket. She wasn’t wearing any jewelry except for a flowered watch and a pair of pierced, loop earrings. On her back was a full dark knapsack. She had that wholesome beauty which needed very little if any makeup. In short, if she hadn’t been half hysterical about some dead guy, Jeff would be enjoying himself.
“Calm down,” Jeff said as he grabbed hold of her arms in order to keep her from running away. “What happened? Where is this dead guy?”
“He’s…he’s over there,” she replied pointing down the hallway to a room around the corner and out of sight.
“Come on and show me,” Jeff insisted while holding on to her arm and moving toward the direction she had pointed.
The woman shook her head. “No, no, I can’t”
Jeff took hold of her arms again. “Look it’s okay. Show me where you found the body. I’ll take care of it after that.”
She took a small step toward the way she had come. Then took another one as she once again pointed, “Around the corner, in a storeroom off to the right. That’s where I saw him. He’s dead. I just know it.”
“What happened?” Jeff asked.
“I was coming down the hall when I happened to look in the storeroom and saw him on the floor,” the young woman answered. “I panicked and started running. I don’t know what to do.”
Jeff let go of the woman’s arms. “You wait here. Bud and I will check it out and then we’ll see what to do. In the meantime, call the police.”
We left her there in the hallway pulling her cell phone out of her pocket. We turned the corner to find several closed rooms except for one partially opened on the right. We cautiously approached the door. Jeff slowly pushed the door open a bit more. There were shelves with boxes labeled with chemical names and formulas. There were also several places where patterns in the dust gave evidence that something had been removed recently. We stepped into the room to see the body on the floor. I could smell a strange odor, which became stronger as we entered the storeroom. Jeff kneeled down to check for a pulse. Feeling none he stood up.
The body was that of a young man, face up. He was dressed in jeans and a Fort Lauderdale tee shirt. Beside him, on the right side, was a large canister and a bath towel. There were no visible wounds, but from the lad’s pale color and lack of breathing, it was obvious he was dead. On a shelf to the victim’s left were a notebook and some textbooks. I stooped down to get a better look, to kind of sniff around for clues. First I checked to make sure he was dead. Then I checked out the canister next to the body. I started to feel light headed and had a hard time staying on my feet. The next thing I knew I had fallen down. I was still conscious, but unable to do anything but watch as Jeff came rushing to my side.
“Bud, what’s wrong?” Jeff asked as he knelt down by me. “Come on buddy. I’ll get you out of here.” Jeff put his arms around my chest and started to drag me out of the room. I could feel the strain on my muscles as Jeff pulled me into the hallway. It was rather uncomfortable and embarrassing, but I was in no position to argue. In fact, I even felt it was a bit humorous. He dragged me outside of the room and closed the door. I would have helped but staying conscious was about all I could do. I wouldn’t have felt so embarrassed if Jeff had been dragging me out of a bar, at least then I would have a good excuse for being in this condition.
Jeff went down the hall to find the woman. She was gone. He quickly came back, took out his cell phone, and called 9-1-1. He gave the operator a location from the sign on the storeroom. As soon as he finished, he checked to see how I was doing. I hadn’t gotten any worse, but I wasn’t feeling any better either.
“Don’t worry Bud. The paramedics are on their way.”
Great! We have one dead guy and me totally out of it. Still Jeff was there rubbing my back and encouraging me to hang on. No problem, I wasn’t going anywhere.
Jeff was still comforting me when a campus police officer showed up. “I just got a 9-1-1 call about someone murdered down here?”
“Not quite,” Jeff said. “I called in there was a dead body down here; in that storeroom as a matter of fact. But I never said anything about it being a homicide.”
“Maybe I got it wrong,” the campus police officer said. “What can you tell me?”
“Found someone dead on the floor,” Jeff answered. “Called 9-1-1 and we were waiting for you, or someone else, to take over.”
Before the campus cop could respond, two paramedics came rushing around the corner with their kits and a gurney. “Someone called about a person down.”
“Yeah,” Jeff answered. “There’s a body in there. I’m pretty sure you’re too late.”
“Hey, let us worry about that.” The paramedics entered the storeroom. Meanwhile, the campus police officer pulled out his cell phone and made a call. While we couldn’t see what they were doing, we could hear the paramedics opening kits and talking. Within a few minutes, they came out. “You were right. He’s gone. What’s wrong with him?” one of the paramedics asked pointing to me.
“He collapsed,” Jeff answered. “Can you do something to help him?”
One of the paramedics kneeled down to take a closer look at me. He pulled back an eyelid and lifted up my lip. Here I was, feeling nauseous and miserable, unable to really move, pissed as hell about the situation, and yet I felt like laughing at the position I was in.
“It’s probably a reaction to the nitrous oxide,” the paramedic said. “He should be all right in a few minutes. Don’t worry. It even started to bother us when we were in there.”
“Nitrous oxide?” Jeff asked.
“Yeah, laughing gas,” the other paramedic explained. “The gas in there was laughing gas. It’s a kind of anesthetic.”
Before he could explain further, two cops came around the corner and met up with the campus cop. After a brief conversation, the two police officers and the campus cop came over to us. “Someone called in a dead body?” the senior police officer asked.
“Yeah,” one of the paramedics replied. “He’s in the room over there. We checked for vitals, but he’s dead.”
One of the police officers went into the room and took a quick look around. He came out and closed the door. The other one spoke into the microphone on his shoulder. He called for the coroner and the detectives.
I was beginning to feel better, not much, but better. It had been less than fifteen minutes, but I was now able to kind of sit up, as long as there was a wall to support me. I still felt like throwing up, and would have but I didn’t want to make a mess in the hallway. Hey, my social upbringing was paying off.
The uniform officers had sealed off the area. Doctor Karl Petrofski, the medical examiner showed up. Petrofski was an old man who had actually retired a few years ago, but after two months of staying at home and becoming bored with gardening he came back. No one complained. Even at almost seventy, he hadn’t really slowed down any, and it certainly hadn’t dulled his senses. No doubt about it, he was by far the best there was at what he did.
Petrofski entered the storeroom and kneeled over the body. It took him almost two minutes to complete his initial examination, which included taking the body temperature. He came out and looked at us. “Jeff, how are you doing?” he asked.
“I’m fine, but Bud seems to be affected. Can you take a look at him? The paramedics said it was laughing gas. But should it be affecting him this way?”
Petrofski bent over me and looked in my eyes. Then he opened my mouth. “Yeah, he’s fine,” the doctor said. “It probably was the gas. It looks like that’s what killed the boy. But the autopsy will tell us for sure. As for Bud, take him outside for some fresh air and he should be okay.”
“How long has he been dead?” Jeff asked.
“Hard to say for sure, but it looks like less than two hours. Say, what are you two doing here?”
Jeff chuckled. “We gave Naomi a lift because her car broke down.”
“Who’s Naomi?” Petrofski asked.
Jeff smiled sheepishly. “We’ve been dating for a few months. I think you met her when I was working on an earlier case.”
“Oh, yes, I remember,” Petrofski replied. “She’s a really nice girl. I didn’t know she was a college student.”
“Who found the body?” a loud voice bellowed before Jeff could answer. We turned to see Mike Hammond, Eddie Haskins, and Lieutenant Debra Dankton from the detective division. Lieutenant Dankton was a petite woman who believed in speaking softly and carrying a big stick. The fact that she held a third-degree black belt in karate made it real easy, something that a lot of people behind bars didn’t appreciate. Haskins was a tall, black man who had majored in elementary education before he discovered his affection for children was limited to his own two daughters. Still, he was a first-rate detective. As for Hammond, with his large belly, he had a Santa Claus physique and a junk-yard dog personality. Many thought he had bullied his way onto the detective squad. But they didn’t know about the four commendations he had won for bravery or how his bulldog tenacity helped him solve cases. “Hey,” Hammond bellowed again. “Who found the body?”
“Some woman,” Jeff said. “Bud and I were walking down the hall when we ran into her. She screamed and we came to her aid. She told us about the body. We checked it out; then we called 9-1-1.”
“Did you screw up the crime scene?” Hammond said with a snarl on his face.
“Hey, give me a break. I know better,” Jeff answered. “Remember, I used to be a cop.”
“You weren’t a cop; you were an MP.”
“Okay, both of you mind your manners,” Lieutenant Dankton said to Jeff and Hammond. “What about Bud? He doesn’t look so hot.”
Hey, what could they expect; I was sick?Even though I was about to lose my lunch, I still had the presence of mind not to upchuck in the hall.
Jeff decided to answer Lieutenant Dankton. “Bud went in with me, but I think he got a whiff of the gas that killed the boy. It made him a bit shaky, but he didn’t do anything to your crime scene.”
Dankton leaned down and patted my shoulder. “Hey, take care big guy.” She nodded to Hammond and Haskins and they both went into the storeroom to a look at the crime scene.
Jeff took a look at me. “Come on Bud, let’s get you outside for some fresh air.” He helped me to my feet and kind of half carried me to the elevator. We managed to stumble out of the building. All right, I stumbled, and Jeff helped me out. We sat down in the grass next to the building. It had already turned dark, but the grass was cool and soothing. Petrofski had been right; the fresh air was helping. Even though it was early November, the temperature was mild. I enjoyed the cool air on my face. It was surprisingly quiet, especially with more than five thousand students attending classes in the evening at this university. Off in the distance you could hear the traffic on the highway that ran by the school.
Jeff sat down next to me and patted my back. “Take it easy big guy. You’ll feel better in a few minutes.” He looked around. I was sure he was looking for girls. Instead, we found Hammond.
“So here you are,” Hammond said with irritation in his voice. “I need to get your statement.”
“There isn’t much to it,” Jeff answered. “We were walking down the hall when this young lady came up to us and told us there was a body in that room. We checked it out and then called 9-1-1.”
“Yeah right,” Hammond replied. “Just one problem. Where’s this girl?”
Jeff looked at me. Why I didn’t know. I certainly didn’t know where she took off to. “I don’t know,” Jeff said as turned back to face Hammond. “When Bud and I were checking out the body, she took off. She must have gotten spooked.”
“Yeah, right,” Hammond said with a sigh. “Can you describe her?”
When it comes to noticing pretty girls, Jeff is extremely observant, especially when he gets to play the white knight. “She was young, but probably in her late twenties. She was a bit older than most college students, so she could have been a graduate student. She was about five feet six, slender, maybe hundred and twenty pounds, had shoulder-length chestnut brown hair, soft as cat fur, dark brown puppy dog eyes, soft full lips—”
“Hey Romeo,” Hammond snapped. “I need a description I can issue that won’t get the department sued for sexual harassment. Did you notice anything unusual about her?”
“You mean other than she’s the kind of woman you dream about being stranded with on a desert island?”
Hammond sighed. “Just tell me what she was wearing.”
Jeff smiled. “She was wearing tight blue jeans, a red blouse, a brown jacket and gold loop earrings. She also had a dark blue backpack.”
“Great,” Hammond scoffed, “this is about as useful as a rowboat in the desert.” He walked over to me. I was still sitting on the grass. Hammond leaned over. “Boy, Bud is as sick as dog. Still feeling queasy?” Hammond said with a smirk.
If he hadn’t asked, I would have been fine. Instead, I threw up on his shoes. Hammond jumped back cursing me. The problem was I really didn’t feel sorry for what I had done.
We stayed outside on the grass for quite a while, although we did move to a new location. Jeff’s cell phone rang.
“Hello,” Jeff answered. He listened for a few seconds and then responded. “Sure, we can meet you there in a few minutes.” Jeff, put up his cell phone and turned to me. “That was Naomi. It’s time for us to go and meet her.”
I was feeling better and able to walk without any assistance. I still felt a bit queasy, but was able to keep myself from throwing up again. We managed to make it to Jeff’s car where Naomi was waiting.
“What took you so long?” Naomi queried. “I expected you guys to be waiting in the cafeteria. What happened?”
“There was an incident,” Jeff said.
“What kind of incident?” Naomi said with a degree of anger in her voice.
Jeff smiled. “There was an incident in the science building. We came across a dead body.”
“You what?” Naomi yelled. “A dead body! How did you find a dead body? Who was it? Never mind, you were supposed to go the cafeteria, gawk at the pretty girls, eat junk food and wait for me! Instead, you go off and find a dead body.”
“Relax,” Jeff said throwing up his hands to protect himself from Naomi’s anger. “We were walking down the hall when this girl came up and told us about some dead guy. What were we supposed to do?”
“Call the police and leave.”
“Now, Naomi. You know we can’t do that.”
“Yes, you can,” Naomi yelled. “You take out your cell phone and dial 9-1-1, and leave. You don’t have to get involved in murder cases.”
“Wait a minute,” Jeff said trying to calm Naomi down. I found it kind of amusing to see Jeff, a five foot, ten inch, lean muscular individual having to restrain a petite woman. When Naomi got riled, her shoulder-length dark hair turned into a lion’s mane and her dark eyes burned with a fury that was easy to see.. “It was just a dead body,” Jeff said. “No one said it was murder. It was probably some kid who overdosed on some drug.”
Naomi moved until she was face to face with Jeff. “It had better be. Because if it is anything else… Remember, the last time you found a dead body, you almost got me killed. I am not going to have people shooting at me again. I’m not going to have people breaking into my apartment and trashing it again. I want to grow old, join some old folks club, and complain about health care. You are not going to get me involved in a murder case again. So quit looking for dead bodies.”
“Actually, someone else found the body,” Jeff said with a foolish grin that seemed to only infuriate Naomi.
“I don’t care who found the body,” Naomi yelled. “You are not supposed to find dead bodies, and you are not going to get me involved in another murder. Have I made myself clear?”
Jeff was losing this battle. “Bud and I checked it out and called the police. That’s all we did. Honest.”
“Then what took you so long?” Naomi demanded.
“Oh, it was Bud,” Jeff answered.
Great, blame it on me. Here I am, still recovering from my brush with death. All right, maybe I’m being a bit melodramatic. Still it wasn’t my fault.
“When we checked out the body,” Jeff continued, “Bud got a whiff of the gas that killed the boy and lost consciousness.”
“What?” Naomi exclaimed. She came over and gently took my head in her hands so that she could look into my eyes. I have no idea of what she could see since it was already dark and the lights in the parking lot did little more than illuminate the key locks on the doors. “Bud, are you okay?”
“He’s fine,” Jeff answered. “It was just a little gas. We got some fresh air and he’s as good as new.”
Naomi turned to Jeff. “Yeah, right. What did you do to him?”
“Nothing,” Jeff said. “Look this is what happened. Some young lady came down the hall and told us about a dead body in this chemical storeroom. We checked it out. Bud got a whiff of the gas and he went down. I dragged him out and called the police. They took over the scene. We have nothing to do with the case. We’re out of it. The closest we will get to this case is reading about it in the newspaper. Now will you relax?”
Naomi gave Jeff one of those you-had-better-be-right-or-I-am-going-to-smack-you-so-hard-your-grandkids-will-be-dizzy looks. “Are you sure Bud’s okay? I don’t want to find out he’s been exposed to some deadly chemical or biological agent and have him start some kind of epidemic and kill everyone. Haven’t you seen the movie Outbreak with Dustin Hoffman?”
While Naomi had a good point, I was sure I wouldn’t be the start of the epidemic, not with seven or eight others who had also gone into the room. Also, the body was down at the morgue and not in a contained area. Still, Naomi’s paranoia wasn’t making me feel any better.
“Hey, what do you want me to do?” Jeff pleaded. “You want me to take Bud to get checked out?”
“I want to make sure you two are finished with this case.”
“Scouts honor,” Jeff said holding up three fingers on his left hand and crossing his heart with his right. That got me to wondering—was Jeff ever a Boy Scout?