“Professor, what brings you here so late at night?” Katherine Slankard asked.
“Couldn’t sleep, had a moment of inspiration,” the professor explained, “so I thought I would rush right on down and get to work.”
“Well, if you need anything, you know where to find me.”
“Thanks. I should actually only be a few minutes.”
The professor smiled as he walked down the hallway to the storage room. Things were going well. He thought he would have had to use his ID badge to get inside the lab, but the janitor recognized him and opened the door for him, so there would be no evidence he was even there.
Even if there was, that wasn’t an issue. He frequently visited the lab, mostly for consulting on projects, but often enough to do his own research. His research was what brought him there tonight. He had worked long hard hours on his latest project, and now, he just needed a few supplies and he could create his final product. He laughed to himself. Calling it a product was, in fact, the best word to describe it, but it also made him sound like drug dealer. Drug may have been an appropriate word, but not quite the right one.
He found the storage room and it only took a few moments for him to gather the supplies he would need. He slid on the gloves he had brought and carefully made his selections. He didn’t need a list, he had it memorized.
He could have made his product in the lab itself if he had an office there. He had asked about that possibility, and he thought he would receive it, but the higher ups at ORP Chemical Corporation had nixed it. He had smiled and pretended to be understanding, but really, he was hurt. He had done good work for them the past few years and there were several spaces open. But none of that mattered tonight.
The professor placed his supplies in a medium sized cardboard box. None of the supplies were unstable, none would cause him any issues if carried another way, but the cardboard box was as inconspicuous as he could think of. And so he started his walk back toward the front door.
“Goodnight Katherine!” he hollered as he neared the door.
Unfortunately, she turned the corner before he could exit. “Goodnight,” she said, but then she noticed the box. “What’s in the box?”
The professor named a few of the supplies. They were innocuous enough.
“You know you can’t take supplies from the lab,” Katherine said.
“Can’t you make an exception just this once?” the professor pleaded, “You know me.”
“I do know you, but I can’t make an exception. And you know why too. What’s going on?”
The professor said, "Like I said, a moment of inspiration. Wanted to take these for an experiment.” Yes, he thought, experiment was a solid word for it. Still, not the most accurate, but better than drug.
But Katherine wouldn’t budge, “Even if its for your students, you know you can’t take the chemicals. Do I have to report you?”
The professor made his decision in that instant. He set the box down. “No, please don’t report me.”
Katherine smiled. “Good. Now goodnight, professor,” and turned around. But it was too late. The professor had already picked up an empty beaker from a nearby table and in the next instant smashed it over her head. She crumbled to floor.
The professor waited only a moment to be sure she was really dead, then picked up his box and left the building, careful use only his gloves on the exit door.
When Agent Kimberly Clark got the call she was excited. Of course she knew she should be sad, would be terrified even. Excited was definitely the wrong emotion. But she was so tired of desk duty, of paperwork and grunt work, that when the call came, she couldn’t help but be excited. Excited about her first murder case at major crimes.
Kim, as she liked to be called, was a fairly petite woman. She had a soft-spoken voice and though she wasn’t what many guys found “sexy” she had discovered that she was attractive enough to feel content with her own self-worth. Her brown hair was in a bob style, and she knew she could grow it out even longer if she wanted. So as she got ready, she was content to dress modestly. She normally dressed modestly, sometimes a bit provocatively, but never slutty. And for her first murder, she wanted to appear professional. And so she chose her outfit and drove as quickly as she could to the crime scene, wondering the whole way what she would find when she got there.
The crime scene wasn’t a home, so she lowered the probability of the issue being a marital dispute in her mind. Of course that could still be the ultimate motive for the murder, and she didn’t want to set aside any option before starting in on the clues, but she felt free to let her mind wander.
She didn’t know if she wanted a quick and easy case for her first one, or a challenge. A tough one would show her detective skills, a quick and easy one would boost her confidence like a baseball player getting his first hit.
That reminded her and she asked Google who won the game last night. Of course the Cubs had won in extras. Paul would be furious when she got there. His beloved Nats just were not having the season they were supposed to.
She pulled into ORP and as she walked toward the door she already saw police tape. She flashed her badge at one of the other officers and walked into the facility.
She could tell Paul wasn’t happy already as she took in the body and blood that had spilled over the floor. But Agent Proctor would be all business, he always was.
“What do we know?” she asked, and he gave her a rundown of the basic facts. Dr. Slankard was the manager of the late-night shift. No cameras revealed anything. The few people inside the lab were already been vetted, and the crime scene folks had already started dusting for prints.
Dr. Keeling, a man in his late fifties to early sixties, was the man in charge of the whole facility. “No,” he was saying, “I can’t think of any enemies she had inside the lab. I just don’t know who would do this.”
Dr. Keeling kept talking, but Kim started tuning him out. Instead, she took in more of the crime scene. Pieces of glass were still on the lab floor. This act was probably not premeditated.
Paul was asking, “What about rivals? Was she working on anything particular that others would want to get their hands on?”
Dr. Keeling shook his head, “No, most of the projects here are fairly mundane right now. I can get you a list if it’s helpful, but I doubt it.”
Kim spoke up, “What about you?” He seemed like he was still in a bit of a shock over the whole scene, but she knew never to leave a stone unturned, “Was she about to take your job or anything?”
The doctor again shook his head, “She easily could have. In fact several headhunters from other companies have tried to poach her, and she has talked to a few, but normally we just bump her pay up another 2% and she’s content. She was as solid as they come.”
Kim didn’t want to make any assumptions, but it didn’t sound like there was any reason for an insider to go after her for work related issues. “What about inter-office romances? Was she seeing anybody?”
Dr. Slankard’s body was still on the ground, the ME working toward delivering her for autopsy, though it was obvious what had happened. A lover was a real possibility. There was no ring, so it wouldn’t have been an affair, but maybe an uncomfortable breakup. Or of course, Dr. Keeling could be hiding research of a sensitive nature.
Just then, though, one of the crime techs spoke up, “I think I’ve got something,” he said. He pointed to an area on the ground. There was no blood, so Kim wondered what was significant about it, unless there should have been blood. Instead he said, “There is a dust pattern here. Once we do our think we can mark it off, but there was something sitting here on ground.”
“Something?” asked Paul, “care to postulate what?”
The tech used his hands to show the dimensions, “I’d guess a simple box of some sort.”
Both Kim and Paul turned to Dr. Keeling, “Is there a box there usually? Perhaps deliveries or something?”
Dr. Keeling shook his head, “No. A box sitting there would be unusual. Let me check something.”
He went to a computer terminal at a desk in the far corner, away from the crime scene, typed in a few strokes, then came back. “The computer doesn’t say any of our chemicals are missing, but we will do a visual inventory. I’ll call in some extra help. It may take a little while, a few hours at least. You’re welcome to wait, or I can just call you with the results.”
Both Kim and Paul knew the answer to that question. Even though it was her first murder, Kim knew enough to explain, “Sorry, but we’d prefer to stay here. If you don’t mind, we’ll talk with the employees who were working in other parts of the lab and see if anyone noticed anything. Just let us know when you find something.”
Of course, both Paul and Kim would keep an eye on the work Dr. Keeling would do. If something was missing, ORP might have good reason to cover it up. They didn’t want to give anyone a chance for that.
Fortunately, Dr. Keeling at least seemed to be on the up and up. He found them after a while. They had spoken to a few people, but no one seemed to have either seen anything or have reason to be hiding anything. But Dr. Keeling handed them a sheet of paper, “Here are the chemicals that are missing,” he said.
Paul looked over it first. Then he handed it to Kim. She only recognized a few of the names, and was about to ask for implications when Paul beat her to it.
Dr. Keeling grimaced, “Most of those chemicals are harmless. Even combined, most of them wouldn’t have any practical purpose that I am aware of. There are a few that are dangerous though.”
“What are we talking about here – dangerous as in could poison someone or dangerous as in, its not plutonium but its that bad?”
Dr. Keeling replied, “Closer to the first, but some of these are easily made into airborne agents. I’m not sure what kind, but this could be a biological attack.”
The professor smiled. His experiment was moving along well. He had truly felt sorry for Katherine. She didn’t have any family that he knew of, but he knew she was a frequent volunteer at a food pantry down the road from the university. He might give them a donation in her honor. That would be a nice gesture.
He sat at his desk in his office trying to focus on grading. When he couldn’t seem to do the math right, he set the papers aside and instead tried to read an article from the latest journal.
When that didn’t work, he gave in and pulled up the latest data on his experiment. Of course he hadn’t kept it at the university, but he had sensors that would transmit data to his computer. It looked like everything was going perfectly fine. The few samples he already had prepared would soon be joined by several more. He would have enough product – enough to enact his plan.
Just then there was a knock at the door. “Excuse me, professor?” a female voice said.
The door was open, but he could tell the girl – at probably nineteen or twenty, more like young woman – was just trying to be polite. He didn’t recognize her, but it was still early in the semester. He had timed his experiment that way on purpose. Start it too late and all the students go home for the holiday and he doesn’t get to see the results. Of course he might see the early stages, but he wanted to see every stage.
“Yes, please come in, uh –“ he paused, beckoning for her to share her name.
“Rachel. Rachel Moore.”
The name sounded familiar, she was definitely a student in one of his classes, but he couldn’t tell which one. And he admitted it, “I’m sorry Rachel, which class are you in?”
“Freshman Intro to Chemistry” she stated, which explained it. Freshman Introduction to Chemistry was his biggest class. This semester he was also teaching Freshman Intro to Biology, Inorganic Chemistry, Molecular Biology, and Advanced Chem Lab. 15 hours was a lot, but he would get 12 next semester. And by then he would have the results of his experiment.
He snuck a glance at his computer as the data. He smiled. Soon he would have plenty of sample. So he discreetly took one hidden vial from behind his desk and opened it. There was no odor, no sound, but he had just released his experiment into the air. Rachel had just become patient zero. If he left the office and closed and locked the door after this conversation, she would be the only one effected by the one vial. By the time anyone else came around, the chemical combinations would have dissipated enough to be of no effect, or of so minor an effect that it would not be noticeable.
“What can I do for you, Rachel Moore from Freshman Intro to Chemistry?” he smiled. He truly did enjoy teaching. Of course there were some frustrating students. He felt guilty any time he called the funeral home where funeral services for a dead grandparent had been held, but for every 19 students who had a perfectly legitimate death in the family, there was the one who made it all up. Most students, however, either just wanted to bunker down and get the work done, or they were actually interested in chemistry and had passion for it.
He quickly pulled up the Blackboard client and found Rachel Moore’s grades. Solid B-‘s. He had been around long enough to know what would come next.
Rachel affirmed his best guess when she said, “I was a straight A student in high school. I don’t mean to say I was perfect – I got the occasional minus, but I’m worried about my grade. I know your syllabus says you don’t offer any extra credit, but I was wondering if you had any suggestions.”
The professor smiled. He had her pegged. He nodded, “The study habits you had in high school are the place to start. First off, did you study? Some just breezed through high school.”
“No, I had to work. I memorized and made flash cards, I quizzed myself, highlighted my book, all of that.” She showed him her textbook, “I’ve been doing the exact same thing this year, and in my other classes, it seems to be working, just not in this one.”
The professor let his smile fade. Rachel wasn’t trying to be rude. But she had just indirectly said it was his fault she didn’t get the grade she wanted. Of course, she didn’t realize she had said that.
He replied, “First off, a B- in my class is nothing to be ashamed of. Do you have interest in chemistry or biology?”
Rachel shook her head, “Not really. No offense. But I’m more interested in English class and journalism.”
The professor’s smile returned. He could tell Rachel was a good student, and a hard working, polite, respectful student. That would take her far. He even wondered if he could have her write about his experiment. But he knew better.
“Rachel, those are all good strategies. But those are high school strategies. Have you ever heard of Bloom’s taxonomy?”
She shook her head.
He explained, “At the high school level, most teachers are aiming for simple comprehension and knowledge. So questions like, “state the definition of…” or “list the inert gases,” that sort of thing. Your techniques work great for that level. But I’m moving you up a step or two. I’m asking questions that have to with application and analysis. They’re questions that you can’t just regurgitate answers to. You have to reflect on what you’ve learned and actually do something with it. For instance…” he tried to explain more to her but could tell she was having trouble following. Not her fault, just a difficult transition.
He stopped when he could tell she had lost him, “What I mean is that. It’s no longer enough to just repeat what your teacher tells you. You need to think for yourself. What happens if… What does this actually mean? Those kinds of questions.”
Rachel nodded, and hesitantly asked, “So like instead of highlighting facts and terms, ask questions of the text as I read it? The terms might be important, but the implications are more important?”
The professor beamed. She had understood after all. “Yes! You do that and I’m sure you’ll ace the test come Friday.”
He thought she would be glad about that, instead, she looked panicked.
“Did you forget about the test?” he asked.
“No,” she said, standing, “I just realized I really need to use the bathroom. Thanks, but excuse me!” she said as she dashed off.
The professor smiled. That was quick. His vial had done its job after all. He opened another file in his computer. He had named it “Data Entry 5673-2668765.” To anyone else, it would be incredibly boring. No one would think about opening it. To him, though, it contained a special meaning. He smiled at his own cleverness. And he wondered how Rachel would be doing on Friday. If she was doing how he expected, perhaps he could move up his timeline.
Kim and Paul reported back to their boss, Chief Gamble. Gamble was an old curmudgeon, but he had a decent sense of humor. As long as you worked hard and stayed with the lines, he was happy with you. People respected that.
“Bio-terrorism?” he asked, “Is that really what’s going on?”
Paul took over as the more senior of the two, “That’s what we’re led to believe, sir.”
Gamble shook his head. “Alright, what are next steps?”
Paul continued, “First, we need some inter-agency cooperation.” Gamble laughed, but beckoned Paul to continue, his only statement on how difficult inter-agency cooperation might be, knowing that it was exactly what was needed. Paul kept going, “second, we need to find out if there has been any chatter. Homeland Security, CIA, NSA, all of that. Or, if this is a homegrown thing, then FBI.”
Kim jumped in, “Right. Then, we also need to contact CDC, plan for the worst, hope for the best. What strategies do we have for dealing with a successful attack? Since we don’t know where or when the attack is coming, we can’t evacuate or anything like that, but we do need to make plans.”
Gamble nodded, but then said, “Ok. We’ll deal with all of those points. We’ll deal with our friends in the acronym business and we’ll get all the latest information. Obviously this case has become more than just a murder. But its still a murder none-the-less. So where are we on that front? Let’s keep it simple.”
Kim nodded. It was a fair strategy. Treat it like any other murder and the larger pieces would fall too. She said, “I was planning on talking with Dig Deeper Chemicals. I don’t think they’re suspects, but they might be able to tell us another side to the story.”
Gamble asked, “Like if an ORP employee had a secret meeting to defect.”
“Get right on it. What about you Paul?”
Paul explained how he was going to go back to ORP, talk to the daytime employees, see if they could tell him anything. He expected a dead end, but he wanted to see if he could shake anything loose.
Soon, Kim was in the car again, heading toward Dig Deeper. She wondered why it was called Dig Deeper. But her mind quickly started to wonder again: If it was a biological attack, what kind of attack would it be? Would it take place here in DC, or had the robber merely acquired it in DC, planning on taking it up to Baltimore, Philly, New York, Boston? Or take it south to Charlotte, to Raleigh, to Atlanta, to Miami? Or even take it west, maybe even all the way to LA? But then wouldn’t it have been easier to steal from a facility out there?
She pulled into the parking lot for Dig Deeper and was greeted by a friendly secretary who sent her right on up to the director’s office. He introduced himself as Dr. Jamner. “What can I do for you today?”
Kim had to admit she didn’t really know where to start. She explained about the robbery at ORP, but didn’t want to disclose too much.
Dr. Jamner laughed, “I understand your concern. But I can assure you, we’re less rivals and more collaborators. If one of us had an innovation, it would take over both labs, and though the discovering lab would get credit, the other lab would profit nearly as much. That’s just the way things are working these days. The one thing I could say is that the robbery could not have happened here.”
“Oh,” Kim asked, “Why not?”
“Here we have much more strict protocols about who comes in and who leaves the labs. We do work with some more sensitive chemicals here, and so we have extra precautions. I don’t say that to boast – more sensitive chemicals come with their own fair share of headaches. But, for instance, no one could access our chemical storage without at least scanning in an ID badge. For some of the chemicals, it requires much more clearance.”
Kim wondered about that. “If you have the more sensitive chemicals, then why not at least attempt a robbery here? Wouldn’t it be easy enough to fake an ID or steal someone elses?”
Dr. Jamner nodded, “It would be. But why risk if you have access to the other lab?”
Kim followed up, “Who actually has access to labs like these, besides employees and staff?”
Dr. Jamner said, “We invite researchers and professors from all over to come in and support our work or use our facilities to do their own business. They have to pass a background check of course, but they’d have access.”
“Does ORP do the same thing?”
“Yes, of course. Though I’ll admit, one of the perks of coming here instead that we provide free office space for our consultants. The thief wouldn’t have had to leave the facility. They could have just dealt with the chemicals here, assuming their target was nearby.”
Kim had a thought. “That’s actually really helpful. I assume there is a lot of overlap between the two labs. Do many consultants work for you and for ORP?”
Dr. Jamner explained, “No, actually they don’t. It’s not an official policy, like I said we are more collaborators than anything, but its just a by the nature of things issue. Different sides of town. We’re closer to some colleges, their closer to some. It’s not an even split, like I said, we provide our consultants better perks, but its not a big enough difference to make up for the convenience of just working with the closer lab.”
Kim nodded, and simply said, “Thanks for your time. I appreciate it.”
Dr. Jamner said, “Before you go, can I ask, am I still a suspect?”
Kim smiled. “It’s an ongoing investigation. We’ll check out your alibi, but for now, just stay close by.”
She got in her car and started laughing. That was the official line, the right thing to say of course, but she had a new idea, and she was going to run with it.
Rachel woke up and rushed to the bathroom. She got ready for the day like normal and even got a cafeteria breakfast, which she normally didn’t do but felt like she needed to on test days. After breakfast she went to the bathroom and headed back to her dorm, where she made herself some hot chocolate in the microwave and then settled down into studying. But every ten minutes it seemed she had to go to the bathroom. She wondered if she should see a school nurse. First, she checked her own temperature. It was normal. Her stomach felt fine. The nurse would probably say it was just nervousness.
She studied some more, then looked at the time. 12:20. A quick lunch, then 15 minutes of cramming, and then 1:15 Chemistry test. Fortunately, Chemistry was her own Monday/Wednesday/Friday class. It made for long Tuesday/Thursdays, with her English class first thing in the morning at 8, journalism at 9:30, her math class at 1:15 and American History at 4, but it worked for her. She wanted to skip chemistry Friday afternoon all too often, but so far she had stuck with it. Hopefully that paid off today.
She came back to the dorm to see her roommate, Claire, sitting at her desk, texting on her phone. Claire had been the smarter of the two. She had jam packed mornings, but by lunchtime on Friday, her weekend had begun.
Rachel set her alarm for 15 minutes and got to studying. She made it five before she had to race to the bathroom. Five more and she had to race in again. She didn’t know what was wrong, but this couldn’t be normal, could it? The alarm went off and she had to go again.
When she came out of the bathroom after that, Claire said, ‘Everything okay?”
Rachel sighed, “You noticed, huh?”
Claire laugh, “If you had to go more often, I’d say just stay in there.”
Just about, Rachel thought. But what she said was, “Yeah. I don’t know how I’m going to get through this test.”
“Just talk to the professor, I’m sure he’ll understand. Cute girl like you having trouble controlling your bladder,” she laughed.
Rachel stuck out her tongue, ignoring the joke, “Another time, maybe, but I just had a conversation with him on Wednesday afternoon. If I act funny he’ll think I’m cheating.”
“Then what about wearing a diaper,” Claire laughed.
Rachel seriously thought about it, “No way. I’ll hold it. I’ll ace the test and get out and run to the bathroom.”
“Of course you will.”
Rachel rolled her eyes this time, and started to head out the door.
The professor set out water bottles at each desk. It had cost him a little, but when most students saw the bottles, they would be encouraged and motivated and do better on the test. It also allowed him to be sure no student cheated by writing answers on their own water bottle.
Of course, Rachel might not appreciate it. If the pace of the – no drug was not the right word, and experiment wasn’t the right word either, he had decided, if the pace of the concoction was as expected, she would be hard pressed to get through class.
Students started filing in about ten minutes before class. That’s how you could tell it was test day. Normally students came in loudly, talking with friends, about five minutes before class started, with a few coming in right before the bell. On test day everyone was quite, everyone arrived early.
The professor made his tests challenging. He didn’t want them to be overly difficult, but he had learned that super easy tests didn’t really help either. He thought he had found the line where if students paid attention in class, did the work, and put in a little effort in studying, they would wind up with at least a B. A lot of students didn’t like that, but he thought it was fair.
Soon he saw Rachel walk in and sit in her usual seat. He wondered how she was feeling, wondered if she knew what he had done. But of course there was no way for her to know, know way for her to understand, just yet.
He kept an eye on her, but didn’t want to stare. So he went back to his laptop. Students often wondered what he did while they took the exam. Sometimes he really was just fiddling, but today he would be tracking his other concoctions. They would be ready soon, and he was eager to introduce it to a larger audience.
The clock struck 1:15 and he began class promptly. He explained the requirements and tried to field a few questions. Then he made the statement, like always, “Go ahead and put your books, notes, water bottles and everything else except for pen or pencil away. Remember once you start the test you must complete it before leaving the room,” – he took a glance at Rachel and noticed she winced just slightly. “And as always, remember, I am rooting for you. I want you to succeed. I want you to do well. This class is not curved, everyone can earn an A.” He started handing out the test packets, “As soon as you receive one, you may begin.”
Rachel got her packet and wrote her name at the top. She still practiced some high school habits, and one was going over the test questions before she answered the first one. There were a few basic definitions and terms, but true to his word, the professor had asked several questions about the implications, about application and analysis more than knowledge and comprehension. Of course, she had studied by going over the chapters and asking questions of each section, and sure enough, she knew answers for every question but one.
As she worked, she unconsciously opened up the water bottle on her desk and drank several sips. Every few questions she would drink a little more as paused to rest her hand, which got tired of writing out the answers when she was more used to typing.
She was surprised she had lasted this long without needing to use the bathroom, but knew it was coming. Or maybe whatever it was had already passed through her system.
She was about half way through the exam when it hit, and hit hard. She really needed to go. She tried to write faster, but it didn’t really help. She took another swig of the water bottle and then realized she wasn’t helping herself.
But actually, she thought, drinking from the water bottled kind of distracted her system. So she would drink a little, and keep going, drink a little, then keep going.
Soon she was about three fourths of the way through.
The professor began collecting the papers of the early finishers. Early finishers fell into two categories. One category was the diligent student who just didn’t need all the time. The other category was student who hadn’t put in the effort, was surprised by nearly all the questions, and had decided to just give up. He used to have sympathy for the second group, often wondering if he needed to make his exams easier. But then he started figuring out whose grades in the class to actually look at. Normally a few students’ grades could tell him if he needed to be gracious or if the test was just right. Never the top students, never the bottom students. But he knew who should be getting about a B or A- and he could judge the test based on their work.
He looked at the clock and announced, “10 more minutes, folks.”
As they turned in the test, he quickly graded the first page. So far, it seemed about right. He glanced up, and saw Rachel hard at work. He couldn’t tell what she was thinking.
About half the class had left, and so far, he had a good mix of grades.
At the five minute mark, he had about one fourth of the students left.
A little after the five minute mark, Rachel came forward and handed in her exam. He said, “Thanks,” and smiled. He flipped through it quickly and noticed that every answer had been completed. “Good work,” he said, but then he noticed.
She was wet.
Rachel was so embarrassed. She couldn’t hide the spot. She hadn’t wet her pants since she was in, like the sixth grade. So she walked as fast as she could without calling attention to herself. She thought she had done well on the test but no longer cared about anything except getting back to the dorm room and cleaning herself up.
As soon as she was out of the building, she ran.