“Got a new file for you, Chavez.”
A stack of paper landed on the desk of Special Agent Paul Chavez of the Albuquerque field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Chavez glanced up at the special agent-in-charge.
“What is it?”
“Domestic dispute, A’n’B. Referred from the Santa Fe PD.”
He stared at the mass of police reports, forms and photographs. “Since when do we clean up their domestic cases?”
The SAC shrugged. “They say the suspect might have fled interstate, or come from another state, or something like that. Look, just wrap up that angle, so we can kick it back to them, all right?”
Another late night, Chavez thought, and started to go through the documents. Sam would be upset.
In fact, it didn’t take long before Chavez himself started to get riled. The reporting officer’s description of the crime was bizarre. “Victim found suspended by feet from tree limb in front of residence, covered in brightly colored paper” ... “extensive bruising, mostly on the chest, back and stomach” ... “various hard candies and small toys found on the ground beneath the victim.” What the hell was this?
For a moment, he thought about walking into the SAC’s office and throwing the file back on his boss’s desk. He’d had enough of his colleagues’ stupid pranks, and if it wasn’t them, it was the local PD playing a joke on the Bureau. But then Chavez saw the photos of the victim, one Douglas Wright. He had never seen someone that badly beaten who was, apparently, able to speak afterwards.
Wright had identified his assailant as his brother-in-law, Matthew Larkin. The potential motive was obvious; there were a disturbing number of police reports in the file about Wright himself. They all involved alcohol and domestic abuse directed toward Wright’s wife, Larkin’s sister Elizabeth. Not unusually, the wife had refused to press charges.
This wouldn’t be the first time, Chavez knew, that a family member took matters into his own hands when a victim of spousal abuse seemed unwilling to stop her abuser. But according to the city police detective’s notes, the victim’s ID of Larkin didn’t square with the facts. Larkin was supposedly at school somewhere in Connecticut at the time of the assault. In addition, Wright was a large man, and, according to his wife, Larkin was the starving-artist type...hardly likely to have overpowered the victim, let alone been able to haul him up into a tree. The detective’s notes suggested that, given Wright’s past track record of alcohol abuse, they might be able chalk his injuries up to a drunken brawl which Wright couldn’t remember.
But rather than run it down themselves, the local PD had passed the buck to the FBI. Chavez sighed, and started making calls.
* * *
Lily was trying to convince herself to leave Visulex, Professor Harte, and probably Harkness University itself far behind. Two weeks had passed since the debacle of the President’s visit to see Matthew, and he hadn’t reappeared in the hospital since. It was beginning to look like he wasn’t coming back.
That concept caused her mind to spiral for a moment, and she tried to get a grip. Really, Lily thought – forcing herself to view matters logically – there was no point in remaining. The balance of the project had been put on “indefinite suspension,” meaning that all of their data was worthless. The rest of Harte’s grad students were gone; David, Hector and Gloria had all left on “academic leave.” Lily had been particularly disappointed in Hector.
You can always tell when a situation has gone bad, Lily thought, when people start using phrases that need quotation marks around them. The euphemisms were flying thick and fast these days.
Classes had started for the fall, and everything was moving on.
It was looking more and more unlikely that Harte himself would be around for much longer, tenure or no tenure – especially now that he had compounded the disaster by seriously irritating the adminstration. Apparently, the University had planned to shop the Visulex project to DARPA or some other government agency, and had ordered the stores of the drug packed up for shipment; but Harte had “coincidentally” ordered their supply of Visulex to be destroyed the day before.
If she didn’t leave, Lily had thought, she would just find herself sitting in an empty room. So she had drafted a resignation letter, intending to leave it on Harte’s desk.
Then, on the way to the lab that morning, she had seen Matthew at the coffee shop. There was no question that it had been him ahead of her in line; he even looked back at her and smiled. But when she had pushed her way to the front, he was gone, leaving her to be growled at by a queue of caffeine addicts who hadn’t had their first fix of the day.
If that had been the first time, she would have dismissed it as a trick of the mind, her feelings of guilt coming forward. But she had been catching glimpses of Matthew, or someone who looked like him, out of the corner of her eye for days. In the parking lot at the Trask Center. In the audience at a campus event. In the back row of a precept class she was teaching. He was always gone when she looked closely.
So instead of leaving the letter for Professor Harte, she’d spent the morning going back through her research notes at the lab. Could she somehow be seeing Matthew, wherever he was? She pushed a dark tress behind her ear and turned another page. Lily didn’t know if she believed Harte’s theory, that Matthew had traded his waking and sleeping lives and was now on some other plane of being. Matthew had not appeared in over a week, and they had no idea why.
But if Lily was really seeing him, then maybe there was hope.
And she had to be involved. Would Harte have decided to advance Matthew into Stage Two, if she hadn’t asked to be transferred to another patient? It was her mistake, no matter what Hector said, and she couldn’t leave it for anyone else to fix. She was clearly the most qualified person to deal with him. After all, even Dr. Harte hadn’t spent as many hours poring over Matthew’s creations.
The phone rang, startling her. She stared at it a moment, dreading another long conversation with one of Harkness’s lawyers. But it was either that, or have them over here in person, poking and asking unanswerable questions. She picked up the receiver.
“Lab 4A,” she answered, not bothering to hide her weariness.
“May I please speak to, ah, Dr. Timothy Harte?” She didn’t recognize the voice; it was too polite to be one of the University’s suits, too tentative to be military.
“Dr. Harte isn’t here at the moment. May I ask who’s calling?”
“My name is Special Agent Paul Chavez; I’m with the Albuquerque Office of the FBI. I was calling with some questions about one of Dr. Harte’s patients. Maybe you can help me.”
Lily felt a sudden chill, but tried to keep her voice normal. “Can you tell me what this is regarding?”
“I need to know whether a patient is still in your hospital, a student by the name of Matthew Larkin. I spoke to your Dean of Students, who said Larkin had been there. He referred me to Dr. Harte for his current status.”
“All requests for information regarding Dr. Harte’s patients have to go to Dr. Harte himself,” she extemporized. “I can take a message if you like.”
“All I really need to know is if Larkin has been there for the past few days. Federal privacy law allows you to tell me that much. Look, Miss...I’m sorry, what was your name?”
He’ll figure it out anyway, she thought. “My name’s Lily Breckenridge, I’m his assistant.”
“Ms. Breckenridge, I’m investigating an assault and battery that occurred in Santa Fe about a week ago. A man by the name of Douglas Wright was attacked, and beaten up pretty badly. He claims the assailant was his brother-in-law, Matthew Larkin.” Lily heard papers rustling on the other end. “The wife, Elizabeth Wright, said that it couldn’t have been Larkin, since her brother was in school there.
“What’s best for Mr. Larkin would be for him to come forward now so we can get this straightened out. So,” Chavez sighed, “would you please tell me if Matthew Larkin is still there so I can close out this line of inquiry?”
Lily’s mind raced, and she tried to put on her most bureaucratic tone. “He has not been discharged yet.” That’s true at least, she thought.
There was a pause on the other end of the line. Then, “Are you sure, Ms. Breckenridge? You sound like there might be something you’re not telling me.”
“That’s how his status is listed,” she said, resisting the urge to slam down the phone. “If you want more information, you’ll need to speak with Dr. Harte.”
Another pause. “All right then. I may call back if I have additional questions. In the meantime, let me give you my cell number.” He rattled off a string of digits. “If you or Dr. Harte thinks of anything else that might be important to my case, please give me a call, day or night.”
She thanked him and hung up the receiver. Then, she immediately picked up again and dialed a different number.
“Dr. Harte? It’s Lily. Matthew has made another appearance.”
* * *
[Go to Chapter 7.2]