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This is the second part of a serial, the first part of which was The Confession.
The Donner Investigation
“No. I didn’t actually know the man. I know someone who has done some work with him, but I have never met Doctor Donner myself.”
There was a long pause on the other end of the phone before she asked, “Then why would he have had your name and number written down?”
“What? I have no idea.”
“Your police department, name, and number were written on a sheet of paper from a notepad beside the phone. It appears he made a call to your police department right before he disappeared.”
I frowned, not that she would know that through the phone, “Give me the time and date information, and I’ll see what was logged about the call.”
She reeled off the time and date.
“Okay, what else do you need me to run down?”
She started in, and I was typing it up for the first few questions. Then I had a thought.
“Lieutenant Ekewaka, you wouldn’t happen to have all of this typed up already, would you? Perhaps it would be more efficient for you to send me an e-mail?”
“Oh, certainly, I could do that. What’s your e-mail address?”
I gave it to her and closed out the phone call with, “I’ll be watching for your e-mail and get right on it.”
I actually didn’t wait for the e-mail. I went down to the radio room and checked the logs for the time when Doctor Donner had called. The new shift was coming on, which had been the same shift as when the call had come in yesterday, so I quizzed the operator who had taken the call before she was on duty and plugged into the phone system.
“Hey, Amanda, do you remember this call from yesterday?” I pointed at the log.
She looked over at it and then tapped the screen with her finger to bring up the transcript.
We both read it together.
She shrugged, “He wanted to speak with someone about a possible crime, but wouldn’t get specific. I gave him your number, figuring that it wasn’t an emergency, and you know more about what is and isn’t a crime in any shady areas. It sounded like it could be related to some sort of fraud, although as you can see, he was trying to avoid details. He claimed it was a friend, but we both know how that can be.”
I laughed, “Yes, a friend of mine, hypothetically say, robbed a bank and buried the money in my, um, another friend’s backyard. Were I, uh, my second friend to dig it up and spend it, could the first friend have me, uh, my second friend arrested for theft?
“Great. Thanks. Of course, now he has disappeared in Hawaii, so I won’t expect that call any time soon.”
“Think what he did caught up with him?” she asked.
“No idea. This is just the start of the investigation.”
I exchanged greetings with the rest of the radio room crew on both shifts. Being a detective, I don’t interact with them every day as the patrol officers do, but most were there when I was in the patrol division.
I went back up and checked my e-mail. The list of questions was there. I typed up a quick reply based on checking the log, the transcript, and my conversation with Amanda. Then I set up the case in our system, showing my investigation was subsidiary to that in Hawaii. Next, I headed over to the university to question people.
I interviewed the dean, the Professor Donner’s grad students, other professors. Donner had apparently been working on a number of projects, none of which I really understood. At least I wasn’t alone. The dean could tell me about every grant Professor Donner had had, but couldn’t really describe his projects.
“Was he pursuing grants while in Hawaii?” I asked.
The dean shrugged and laughed, “Gilchrist is one of our best money magnets. I wouldn’t be surprised if he were. He was always finding new sources of funding. His experiments did not come cheaply. But I do not know of anything specific.”
“His wife said she thought he had perhaps been meeting with Chinese individuals,” I prompted.
Again he shrugged, “They have started funding a lot of research, but I don’t know of any specific ties that Gilchrist had to them. I do not have any record of their funding anything of his in the past. On the other hand, he tended to be very tight-lipped until he had the check in hand. He had done some work for three-letter agencies in his youth, and he tended to compartmentalize things.”
Interviewing the grad students and other professors brought out similar information. The only way anyone knew anything was if they were working on that specific project. Nobody knew the full extent of what Gilchist Donner had been researching, and as I mentioned things during later interviews that I had gleaned from earlier interviews, the subjects were often surprised to hear that Donner had his hands in so much. There were no known ties to China.
There were two subjects that never came up in any of the interviews: Russ Brodeur and displacement. I even asked about other associates. Donner had kept a tight lid on everything.
I went back to my offices and typed up the interviews to send to Lieutenant Ekewaka. I also called my local contact with the FBI. I had called and left a message as soon as I got back, and he returned my call just as I had hit send on the e-mail with all of the interview reports attached.
“Hey, Gage, it’s Twenty-One,” he said in answer to my greeting on picking up the phone.
“Find anything on this Gilchrist Donner?” I asked.
“Yeah, who’s in charge of the investigation in Hawaii?”
“Detective Lieutenant Hokulani Ekewaka of the Honolulu Police Department. She has a very pleasant voice.”
“Okay, I’ll get directly in touch with her. Plus some people will be flying out there from Washington.”
“Washington?” I asked.
“DC, not the state,” Twenty-One said.
“I figured that, but why are people flying out from Washington to investigate Donner’s disappearance?”
“I’d prefer not to say, but not all of them are from my agency.”
“I get the drift,” I said.
“Good, can you forward everything you’ve gotten so far so I don’t have to duplicate it?”
“Sure, Twenty-One. Can I send it as an e-mail? I had just sent it to Lieutenant Ekewaka right before you called back.”
“Anything that seems sensitive?” he asked.
“Not from what I can tell. If there is, I think I would need a Ph. D. in physics of some sort to recognize it.”
There was a pause on the other end before he asked, “You already sent it via e-mail to Hawaii?”
“Yes,” I confirmed.
“Fine, send a copy my way.”
“Great. Anything else?” I asked.
“No, but,” again a hesitation, “you probably won’t hear anything more about this. Your part in the investigation is more than likely done.”
I shrugged, not that he could hear that over the phone, “Not like I figured I had any other part. If any reporters ask me anything, what do I say?”
“Oh excrement!” That may not have been quite the word he used, “Have reporters gotten onto this?”
“None that I know of, but when a prominent academic disappears, someone is bound to notice eventually.”
“Okay, good. If anyone comes snooping, direct them to our local office and our PR guy can give them the run-around.”
I laughed, “Alright, Twenty-One. Maybe when you get this all figured out, we can go out for a beer, and you can tell me who nabbed the professor.”
He sighed, “This may be one of those cases where I’ll never say another word about it. Sorry, Gage, but you know how it can be.”
“Understood. If I hear anything else, should I pass it to the lieutenant in Hawaii, to you, or to both?” I asked.
“Definitely to me. If it can be shared with Honolulu, I shall.”
“Terrific. I know where things stand. Maybe we can go out and get a beer sometime in the next few weeks even if you can’t share anything.”
“Okay, we’ll do that. Thanks, and I’ll catch you later.”
“Yeah, bye,” I hung up.
What in the world had Gilchrist Donner been into? I had no idea based on the interviews. I just didn’t know or understand enough physics. I printed two copies of my reports and filed one, folding the other and shoving the copy into the inside pocket of my jacket. I decided to see if I could get any answers from another physicist. It was the end of my day, and I clocked out. I walked from the station over to the museum and institute.
At the desk, the man said, “The museum is closing in half an hour, sir.”
I asked if Doctor Brodeur were available and gave my name. He made a quick call, and I could hear Russ’ voice say, “Send him up, please.”
I followed the instructions to get to the elevator and punched in the special keycode I was given, and it took me up to the fourth floor. Russ was waiting for me as the doors opened.
“I wasn’t sure if I’d ever hear from you again, Detective Gage. To what do I owe the honor? Come on back to my office,” he motioned me to follow him.
“Maybe I should wait until we’re in your office,” I suggested.
We talked about other subjects as we walked through a maze of hallways. I felt like I should be leaving breadcrumbs.
We got back to his office, he closed the door, and mixed me up a drink, “I couldn’t have a wet bar on the university campus. One more good thing about having my own independent operation.”
“Are you trying to get me inebriated and take advantage of me?” I asked, accepting the drink.
He laughed, “I’d go broke. I saw how much you can put away at Barney’s. Anyway, what can I do for you this afternoon?”
“Professor Gilchrist Donner disappeared in Hawaii,” I said.
He looked over at me quizzically, “What do you mean disappeared?”
“He went missing. His wife thinks he was there partially to discuss funding with some people who may have been Chinese. The Honolulu authorities asked me to find out some information on this end to help their investigation.”
“Are you here to interview me?” he asked.
“Not in an official capacity, no. Nobody seemed to know that the two of you were working together. I don’t know what sort of experience Professor Donner had in his past, but he seemed to keep a lot of things secret or compartmentalized. I get the impression that he may have done some work related to defense or another governmental agency in the past. Maybe he still was doing that, too. But I don’t know enough about physics to know if any of what he was doing had those sorts of applications.”
Russ shrugged, “I don’t know what else he was working on, although we had a few projects together that were a screen for the displacement project.”
I pulled out the reports I had printed and handed them across.
Again, he looked at me quizzically but took them. He started reading the pages, “Oh, I see what this is.”
He read through the first two pages with a few nods and then got to the third page and choked on his drink. After his coughing fit, he asked, “He was working on this, too?”
I shrugged, “Those are the notes I wrote up based on the interviews.”
He blew out a breath and then continued reading.
Finishing, he asked, “Are you still investigating this?”
“Not really,” I said. “I was just helping out Honolulu PD in their investigation. I also suspect federal officials have joined the investigation, so I don’t anticipate further involvement. I just wondered if there might be some clues in there that I wasn’t catching.”
“There probably are some very interesting clues in here, but I don’t think it would be wise for me to explain them. You’re better off being able to say you know nothing about it. You said the Feds are in the investigation now?”
“Yes,” I confirmed.
He nodded and bit his lower lip, “They’ll pull in people who understand, I’m sure. In the meantime, I would suggest burning this report.”
“Really? Seems a bit overly dramatic.”
He nodded his head, obviously making a decision as he rose and said, “Come with me.”
I stood up and followed as he led me through another door and into a laboratory.
“You did print this only so I could read it, correct?”
“Yes,” I admitted.
He opened a hood, threw the paper in, closed the hood, and then pressed a button. After a minute, I could see bright blue flames that seemed to disintegrate the papers rather than burning them.
“That should take care of everything. If asked, we never discussed more than that Gilchrist disappeared. There is no report you showed me.”
“That bad?” I asked.
“It’s the sort of thing people get very serious about. I don’t know much about that branch of physics, but I know that governments treat it as a secret. Of course, it’s not very secret, but the direction he was going was unusual. Still, best I not explain and you be able to say you never knew.”
“Could we use your displacement machine to send a drone back and find out what happened to Donner?” I asked.
“We would have to know exactly where he was and what time the kidnapping took place,” Russ said. “Without that, we’re just poking a stick in the night.”
“Heh, poking a stick in the night? Interesting analogy,” I said. Then we went on to other topics.
The next morning as I came in to work and sat down at my desk, something was niggling at me. I didn’t know what. Something just seemed out of place.
I popped on the computer and checked my e-mail. There was nothing special there, other than a few e-mails trying various scams. One would think that with the e-mail address being at a police department’s domain that I wouldn’t get those.
I then checked our database to see if any incidents had been flagged for my attention. Nothing. It’s a very small city, and sometimes I have to create my own work when there are no active investigations. We probably have enough activity for a police detective three-quarters of the time. I flipped through all the records from yesterday and this morning to see if anything looked promising. Again, nothing.
Then I realized something was missing from the database. I flipped back through all of the records. The Hawaiian case was missing. I dug into my file drawer to get the file and the case number out. The folder with the hardcopy report was missing from my files.
I went out to the desk to check the log of people who came in in the last sixteen hours.
“Hey, Thompson, do you know of anyone having gone into my office last night?” I asked the guy who had been on the desk for the night shift and hadn’t left yet.
“Sure, Gage, the computer guy was here to take care of the service call you put in,” he pointed to the entry in the book. “He said they’ve been really backed up with all of this pandemic nonsense, so they’re working nights to get in places when nobody is around.”
“Okay, thanks, Thompson. Just a few things moved around, and I wondered.”
I went back to my office and sat down. I had not put in a call for service for my computer.Published in