DISCLAIMER: This story is written for the private entertainment of fans. The author makes no claims to the series' characters by the creation of this story. Fraser, Vecchio, Kowalski et. al. belong to Alliance, Paul Haggis, Paul Gross and all the creative genius who made this show so special. Jaelyn and other original characters are mine. I hope you enjoy them. No infringement of any copyrights held by CBS, Alliance, CTV, TNT or any other copyright holders of due South is intended. No money being made here. Turnbull just came over to play in my head and has now returned from whence he came. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it!
An Artistic Endeavor
By: Janice R. Sager
"I have an assignment for you, Constable. A real assignment. Doing real police work." Meg Thatcher glared importantly up at the tall man as he drew himself to sharp attention. Oh, Lord but she wished Fraser were here and not off recovering from being shot in the leg.
"This is a very delicate matter. If you mess it up, Constable, you could easily find yourself cashiered so fast your head will be spinning for a week. Do you understand me?"
The bright blue eyes blinked in veiled alarm. "Yes, Sir!"
"All right..." She really wished Fraser was here. If there was a possibility of screwing things up, then Turnbull was sure to do it.
The man was more than competent when handling the Consulate computers and the intricacies of the various forms they must deal with daily, better even than Ovitz who was supposed to be such an expert at it. The expert had given up and transferred back to Ottawa after only two weeks of dealing with the mess Moffatt had left in his wake. It had been Turnbull who'd risen to the challenge and reorganized everything. It had even been reorganized correctly!
But this... Well, there was no help for it. How much trouble could he get in by knocking on the girl's door?
She shuddered at the thought.
"Sir?" he questioned hesitantly, and she realized he was still waiting for her to dictate the requirements of his assignment.
"The daughter of the Canadian Finance Minister may, I repeat, may be missing," she explained.
"Missing," she repeated. "She's an Art Major at the University of Chicago. Apparently, she and her father had a major disagreement over the phone last week and he has been unable to reach her since. Whenever he calls her dorm, he only gets a recording. Her roommate refuses to return his calls. I suggested contacting the University Police but he doesn't want any kind of 'official' involvement. He seemed to be concerned that she might have formed, as he termed it, 'an inappropriate liaison'."
"He doesn't seem to be particularly fond of Americans, Turnbull. I suspect any liaison with an American boy, innocent or not, would be seen as 'inappropriate'." She sighed heavily and then drew herself up straight. "Be that as it may, it's not our mandate to police the girl's friendships or romantic assignations, no matter what her father might wish. He has, however, expressed a legitimate concern as to her welfare. And even if he isn't going through normal channels, we are duty bound to assist him, at least in assuring that his daughter is safe and well. If you can manage to convince her to phone her father that would be even better."
"Begging the Inspector's pardon," Turnbull offered conspiratorially, "but I don't think it's in our mandate to keep track of university students either."
Meg offered her subordinate officer a rather impatient glare. "He's the Canadian Finance Minister, Turnbull," she answered coolly. "If he wants the RCMP to knock on his daughter's dorm door, then the RCMP will knock on her door. Clear?"
"Good." She nodded and slapped a folder containing the pertinent information into his hand. "You have your orders. I'll expect a positive resolution to this by tonight. Dismissed."
By tonight? Oh dear...
Quickly, Turnbull made his way to his desk and, without bothering to sit down, opened the folder he'd been handed. The contents were skewed about inside and were out of order, evidence of the fact that Inspector Thatcher had felt rushed to put it together. She was normally a very meticulous person. If she were feeling rushed, he reasoned, then he should be feeling near panic! He deftly straightened and reorganized the sheets of paper even as he scanned them.
Arleen Schlemiel: 23 years old, studying for her Master of Arts in Arts Administration.
An Artist. Did she prefer Classical or Impressionistic styles, he wondered? Perhaps he'd even seen some of her work at the University of Chicago. There was a gallery there which was dedicated to showcasing the work of talented students. He couldn't remember seeing her name. It was even possible that he passed her when making his weekly visit to one of the many galleries or museums that were scattered throughout the Greater Chicago area.
No picture. A copy of her student visa. There was a brief description of the fight that she and her father had gotten into. Hmmm...
6011 South Ingleside Ave, #4.
Ingleside, Ingleside... He quickly reviewed a mental map of Chicago. The city was set up on a grid system, centered at the intersection of State and Madison. It was a quite ingenious and simple system really. There was a major street every half mile, the equivalent of four blocks. Each street was numbered as so many blocks east/west or north/south of the intersection of State and Madison, with the addresses increasing by one hundred as you moved further from the epicenter of State and Madison. So, 6011 South Ingleside Ave meant that Ingleside Ave was 60 blocks south of Madison and State. Hmm... he needed the closest cross street to pin it down exactly as to how far it was east or west but, assuming she lived in on-campus housing (which given that the Inspector had referred to a dorm door, he felt was safe to do) then 60 blocks due south should be the south side of the University of Chicago's campus. The Green Line of the L should go right by there. The Randolph/Walbash station was only two blocks east of the Consulate.
Yes, well, that would be the place to start.
He closed the now neat folder and laid it carefully to the side, having memorized everything within it. Then he frowned at his desk. There were still several reports needing to be input to the computer. A few of them then needed to be faxed, e-mailed or snail-mailed to Ottawa... He glanced toward the front door where he knew Constable Sterling stood sentry duty.
The 'Yutz in a hat', Turnbull remembered Detective Vecchio referring to him once. A search of an Oxford Dictionary had failed to turn up the meaning of 'yutz', but Turnbull didn't think it was meant as a complimentary appellation. Even Constable Fraser didn't seem to care for him, and Turnbull wasn't quite sure why. Having pulled up and printed the man's personnel record for Inspector Thatcher, Ren knew it read like something out of a spy novel.
He blushed slightly at the memory, knowing he shouldn't have read the record as it was printing. Having the ability to read at over 15,000 words a minute made not doing so quite difficult.
Constable Sterling was a highly decorated officer, having served in Bosnia and Switzerland with Canadian UN Peace Keeping Forces. Turnbull wasn't exactly sure why he'd been sent to Chicago... After all, such duty was not normally considered advantageous for a young man who was obviously on the 'fast track' to becoming a commissioned officer. Nor was there any mention of an injury from which he might be recovering. The man in fact appeared to be in superior health, cutting a very dashing presence indeed in his red serge uniform as he stood guard. Which was undoubtedly why Inspector Thatcher had assigned him the duty so often over the last few weeks. Turnbull had been given little opportunity to speak to the man because of it.
With a shrug, he put the irrelevant questions from his mind and turned to retrieve his Stetson. He paused a moment to offer the picture of the queen on the wall a proud smile. Ah, but it felt good to actually be asked to do some real police work for once. Well, not that he was sure simply knocking on a dorm door could really be classified as police work but it did get him out from behind his desk. Not that he minded working behind the desk. After all, paperwork was as important to good policing efforts as... Not that the Consulate was a police station, of course. Most of his paperwork involved filing marriage licences and visa requests, but it was important to the people requesting that it be filed and as a public servant who was dedicated to helping others in whatever way possible, that made it important to him as well.
"Oh dear..." The Queen's portrait was crooked again.
He quickly readjusted it, making a mental note to check out the hanging wire when he had a chance. Perhaps there was a kink in the metal which gave it a tendency to...
He had already moved to the door and swung it open. He stepped back quickly as an older man moved to enter. "Welcome to Canada, Sir!" Turnbull greeted him brightly.
"Bathroom?" the older man inquired curtly.
"Through the conference room, second door to the left. The bathroom is the door on the..." He paused a moment to orient himself. The road ran north and south, so, "...northwest corner of the room." He again offered a friendly smile, quite pleased with himself to have been able to provide clear directions.
He turned to where Constable Sterling stood immobile to the left of the steps. "At ease, Constable," he ordered crisply. It still felt strange to be issuing orders. Ren was the Temporary Assistant Interim Associate Deputy Liaison Officer and technically the other man's superior, but it wasn't a position he was comfortable with. He dismissed his unease and tried to assume a properly authoritative air. "I have to leave and need you to man the reception desk in my absence. I can't explain and don't know when I'll be back. It's all quite hush-hush." He had lowered his voice in a conspiratorial manner and now tapped the side of his nose with his index finger before standing upright again and continuing in a more normal tone of voice. "In any case, I've already prepared a nice Vichyssoise Glacée for the Inspector's lunch. It's in the refrigerator. The serving tray on the counter is already polished and ready to go. Add a couple of slices of fresh mango and a glass of iced tea with a sprig of mint, and you're all set. Hopefully, I'll be back before dinner. If not, and if she should choose to work late, you'll find all the ingredients you need to whip up a fine Caesar salad. Oh, and there's a Créme Brûlée in a covered container behind the Vichyssoise
He paused in thought for a second, trying to think if he'd forgotten to tell the man anything important...
"Oh, yes. The Inspector has a high level telephone conference scheduled for one. Other than that, there's just a little filing that needs to be done. Pretty basic stuff, really: Answer the phone, take messages, help the needy and feed the Inspector. I'm sure you can handle it."
"Yes, Sir," the other man responded simply.
Was that a hint of derision Turnbull heard in his tone? No, he had to be imagining it.
The door beside them opened again and the man from earlier stuck his head out. "The toilet's clogged," he told them.
"Ah," Turnbull nodded sagely. Such things happened. He gestured the other red clad man inside to address it. "Constable."
Was that panic Ren saw in his eyes for a moment? Ridiculous. Turnbull offered a friendly nod to both men as he settled his Stetson firmly in place, then turned to hurry down the steps. Constable Sterling had faced machine guns and armed rebels in Bosnia! Why should a plugged toilet frighten him?
The "L" was surprisingly crowded for one o'clock on a Thursday afternoon. Or, perhaps it wasn't. Turnbull was a regular commuter but rarely used the mass transit system at midday so he really couldn't say if it was surprising or not.
Belatedly, he realized that he probably should have changed out of his uniform before embarking on his quest. Ren was quite proud of his uniform and all it stood for but really preferred the anonymity of commuting in civilian attire when possible. Normally, he kept his uniforms at the Consulate so as to avoid this very situation. Dressed in jeans and pull-over shirt, he blended quite unremarkably with the other pedestrians or passengers. Also, the Inspector had specifically stated that the Minister of Finance didn't want any official involvement - although, perhaps he'd merely been referring to involvement of non-Canadian officials as simply by requesting their help he was in actuality requesting official...
Ren glanced up to see an older woman glaring at him.
"Mrs. Podruchny," he greeted her with a smile, realizing as he did that he'd inadvertently taken her normal seat. He rose immediately, naturally, offering her his place.
Her eyes raked the uniform as she moved around him. "Shoulda stayed in college!" she muttered with a heavy Slavic accent. "Waste your parent's money..."
His smile became slightly strained as he tried to make sense of this rather incomprehensible comment and what might have prompted it.
"Excuse me," a weary and annoyed voice behind him demanded attention.
He turned to see a mother carrying her child in one arm and a collapsible stroller in the other. The reek from the diaper hit him like a physical blow. Hastily, he squeezed himself to the side so she could pass, which meant that he bumped into Mrs. Podruchny as she was using a handkerchief to dust the seat he'd given up. She let out a grunt as she fell to one knee. The woman with the child paid neither of them the slightest bit of attention as she shoved her way past. Turnbull had to react quickly, flinging his arm to the side to keep his Stetson from being crushed behind him.
Naturally, it hit Mrs. Podruchny.
"I'm sorry!" he quickly apologized, helping her up. "I'm so sorry. Are you alright?"
The car suddenly jerked forward and he very nearly fell on her, losing his solicitous grip on her arm so that she plopped down in the seat with more force than her old bones wanted to endure.
She glared up at him again and cursed him soundly in Russian.
Ren pasted a distressed smile in place, pretending not to understand. Such language from a grand-motherly figure was simply shocking!
An older man across the aisle eyed him from head to toe. "You could be arrested for wearing that in Canada," he commented with a frown.
Turnbull glanced to his other side even as he straightened and grabbed an overhead strap to steady himself. "I beg your pardon?"
"The uniform," the older man specified. "It's illegal to impersonate a Mountie in Canada. You could be arrested."
"Oh!" Turnbull nodded and pasted another friendly smile in place. He was suddenly the center of attention in the car. Not that he hadn't been before, he knew, but people were openly staring and listening in now. "I'm not... That is, I am a Mountie."
"You're a Mountie..." the man repeated, in obvious disbelief. "You know what The Caution is?"
"Of course!" Turnbull replied, knowing he was being tested. "It's similar to your Miranda Warning, but not exactly. Our laws are different from yours. I'm surprised an American would know what it is."
"I retired from the RCMP ten years ago," the man across from him replied. "I'm just visiting my daughter. 'Thought you were a college student in costume for a play of some kind or other. What're you doing down here? Extradition?"
"Oh, no," Turnbull shook his head, slightly embarrassed to think he might be mistaken for someone performing such a serious duty. "I work at the Consulate."
"Hey, I seen you before!" A different passenger from further down the car suddenly spoke up. "Your picture was in the paper with that big ATF scandal, the one where they were running guns from someone up in Canada, right?"
Turnbull ducked his head, feeling himself blush again as he was mistaken for Constable Fraser. At least the man hadn't remembered that the "someone up in Canada" who'd been helping the corrupt ATF agents was actually an equally corrupt Mountie. That would have been even more embarrassing! "I'm sorry, no. You'd be thinking of Constable Fraser. He's the Deputy Liaison Officer for the Consulate. I'm only the Temporary Assistant Interim Associate Deputy Liaison Officer."
"Someone actually got paid to think up that title, eh?" The man across from him shook his head. "I've never heard of the RCMP working at a Consulate before. Those are part of the diplomatic corps."
"Yes, Sir," Turnbull answered. "Chicago is part of a trial initiative enabling the federal and local policing services of our two countries to better interrelate on matters of mutual security more efficiently."
The man shook his head and turned his attention back to his paper. "Huh. Just another way for Ottawa to spend our taxes."
Turnbull felt his smile falter slightly but manfully maintained his polite and friendly facade.
Mrs. Podruchny laughed. "And here I was thinking you'd become doorman!"
Ah, Turnbull thought as he awarded her a polite smile in turn, not sure what to say in response. It did at least explain her comment about dropping out of college.
"Why I never see you in uniform before?" she asked with a frown.
"--Forget it," she told him, levering herself back up. The car was lurching to a halt at the next station. "I get off now. Not like in the mornings. Argh, these doctors. They tell me to take it easy because of the arthritis and then make me to run all over town for the testing. You'll tell me some other time, yes?"
"Of course, Mrs. Podruchny," he smiled more genuinely. The arthritis explained her temper earlier. Poor woman, he thought, and helped support her as she stepped from the car. He felt doubly bad for the inadvertent hit which had sent her to her knees earlier. "Are you sure you're okay? I didn't hurt you, did I, when I"
The woman clucked her tongue and waved it off, calling back, "I'm fine. Strong and healthy. What do doctors know, eh? They get paid to tell you you're sick!"
Ren was forced to step back as those wishing to board pressed forward. He turned away, grabbing for his strap again and squeezing himself to the side so others could get by. He made a mental note to make her some homemade Klubnika so Slivkami. He could easily carry the hard candy with him and give it to her next time they ran into each other.
"Joshua!" a young woman scolded her child even as Ren felt himself bumped about the knees. He glanced down to see a towheaded young boy trying to squirm away from his mother's confining hold on his hand. The other hand... "I'm sorry," the woman offered perfunctorily and dragged the child to a seat, scolding him as she went. The child couldn't hear her. He was too busy protesting the loss of his ice cream, now smeared across Turnbull's pants and laying at his feet in a wet, sticky puddle. Ren glanced up in chagrin, not missing the irony of the situation as his eyes clashed with the 'no eating or drinking' sign.
The retired Mountie opposite him merely shook his head and chuckled. "Glad those are your boots and not mine!"
"Oh dear..." Ren sighed.
Ren was not particularly happy about the condition of either his jodhpurs or his boots as he left the public restroom at the 55th and Garfield Station, but there was nothing more he could do about either of them at the moment. The pants weren't a problem. They were merely a little wet and would dry quickly. However, in his enthusiasm to get the sticky ice cream off the carefully polished leather of his boots, he'd... Well, he'd used too much water. He hadn't meant to use any water, except that needed to dampen some paper towels. Unfortunately, the quality of the towels was such that they all but dissolved when he applied them to the task, which only served to make the sticky mess even worse! And then, while he was attempting to correct this new mess, a rather... erm, a very inebriated individual had come in and started ranting and raving about Chicago putting in paid toilet stalls. He'd demanded that Ren let him use a stall or he'd urinate on the floor!
Ren had tried to tell him that the stalls were free - he couldn't begin to understand why the man thought they weren't - but the man was far too drunk to listen and continued to rail against the injustices of the system even as he fought to lower his zipper.
Ren had quickly pushed a stall door open and all but shoved the man inside. He then turned, ignoring the man's crowing delight at besting a "damn government flunky - why don't you get a real job!", and saw that the sink he'd been standing before was plugged with dissolved paper towels. In fact, it was in danger of overflowing; but, what was worse, was that the bottom four inches of his boot, which he'd dropped when the drunk began yelling at him, was submerged.
He now "squished" when he walked, which was hardly a laudable sound for a Mountie to make! It would take him hours to clean and dry them properly; days possibly, unless he wanted to risk the leather drying too fast and cracking. Nor did he have a spare set. The red serge and boots were normally reserved for state occasions and special ceremonies, but because of the experimental nature of the RCMP posting in Chicago it was deemed necessary that they present a highly visible and recognizable profile, meaning that they were required to wear the dress uniform on an almost daily basis - with the exception of Inspector Thatcher, of course. Her job was of a more diplomatic nature and it was deemed that the uniform might actually get in the way of such endeavors.
Ren needed to invest in a second set of boots but knew his uniform allowance wouldn't cover it. He'd have to pay for them himself.
Setting his Stetson firmly on his head as he left the station, he purposed to put such self-pitying thoughts from his mind. He had a job to do. If he wanted the Inspector to be in the mood to overlook the sound of one of her junior officer's boots "squeaking" when he walked tomorrow, he needed to resolve this case as quickly and efficiently as possible.
It took him only a moment to orient himself. He could grab the number fifty-five and then transfer to the number four at Cottage Grove... but he decided he'd had quite enough adventure on the Chicago Transit Authority's bus lines for the day, thank you kindly. He didn't have to worry about children with ice cream cones or exploding diapers if he was walking. Besides, it was a beautiful - he frowned up at the heavily clouded sky, the low scudding clouds dashing eastward on a brisk and cold wind, and amended the thought - it was a crisp autumnal day, and he could use the fresh air.
His pants would dry faster.
What was a child doing eating ice cream on such a... He shook his head and dismissed the thought before setting out due east, thru Washington Park.
The address he wanted, 6011 Ingleside Ave, turned out to be one wing of a large, old brick building located just southwest of the very modern steel and glass School for Social Services Administration Building, which itself was located due south across the Midway Plaisance from the University of Chicago Hospital. It had been a very pleasant walk, actually, despite the five minutes he'd spent chasing his hat when a rather strong gust had knocked it from his head. A helpful student who was burdened down with books and a broken backpack had stopped its flight by stepping on the brim. The damage had been minimal and most of the dirt had brushed right off...
The Scotch Guard he'd applied last week really helped.
He tucked the item carefully under his arm before entering the building. The layout was quite simple. There were only two apartments on each floor; therefore it was simple enough to realize he needed the second floor of the three story walk-up.
The building was actually quite old, he judged. From the architecture, he'd estimate it was built somewhere after the turn of the century. Given that the University was founded in 1890, it couldn't be much sooner than that, nor did it have the English Gothic touches that were a hallmark of many of the truly older buildings on campus. The interior looked as if it had been remodeled; perhaps shifting purposes as well as the campus expanded and newer buildings were used to house classrooms. Judging by the narrow, wood doors with their tilting window casements above them; the narrow stairways; the use of broad, plain moldings and the old cast-iron radiators for heating, he'd estimate the current remodeling to have been done in the 1950s.
It was in surprisingly good condition for its age. There was nary a squeak on the treads as he made his way upward. His professionally trained eye noted the old but working light fixtures, the antique knockers on the doors, the solid fittings of the brass doorknobs and decided it was fairly secure as well. There were no hidden alcoves or shadowed doorways in which a malfeasant might lurk in wait and a scream should easily be heard. The likelihood of a kidnaping occurring within these halls was quite slim.
If Ms. Schlemiel were indeed missing, it was unlikely she'd been abducted against her will, at least from this location.
The apartment he wanted was on the east side of the second landing. Squaring his shoulders and wondering if all would be for naught should the lady in question open the door, he lifted his hand and knocked. Well, his assignment would have been completed very quickly, he thought, hoping it would be so simple.
The door was jerked violently open. "It's about time you"
The woman who answered the door stopped in mid-tirade to stare at him in surprise. She blinked, letting her gaze rake him from head to toe. "Don't you think it would have been smarter for her father to call the local authorities?"
"Um Possibly?" Ren answered hesitantly, feeling strangely like he'd started a conversation in the middle.
Of course, the sight of the very bald woman before him might also account for his lack of verbal skills. Her lipstick was a deep red and her eyes were rimmed with heavy kohl, making her face appear paler than it was. Her attire, by contrast, was surprisingly conservative: a matching, tailored pantsuit of powdered mauve over a sheer white stretch-lace turtleneck with faux pearl earrings and necklace.
The woman leaned to the side and offered the short hall and stairwell behind him a glance. "I don't suppose you saw a teen-something Goth girl heading in this direction, did you?"
Renfield was at a total loss as to what she was talking about. "A teen-something... Goth..?" he repeated, with an intensely confused and pensive frown.
"Gothic. Looks like a vampire, all dressed in black? Clothes, lipstick, hair..." She rolled her eyes and sighed wearily. "Hell, a vampire probably has more coloring than she does. I take it you didn't see her?"
"Uh, no..." he admitted, nearly stammering the simple word as he tried to picture someone wearing black lipstick. Apparently, he needed to get out more.
"Coffee?" she suddenly asked, turning away and heading toward another room while leaving the door open in apparent invitation. "I just got in," she called over her shoulder even as she disappeared through an open archway.
Ren glanced around the small two bedroom apartment as he stepped inside and shut the door behind him, unsure what the question and comment had to do with each other. He ignored the comment and answered the question. "No, thank you," he called back.
The apartment was quite large by dormitory standards; not at all like the one-room shared efficiency dorm he'd known during his one year of university before deciding to join the RCMP. The living room was about ten by fifteen, he estimated, and a third of that space was dedicated to an old dinning room table which was covered in stacks of books and papers. A small computer desk sat behind it, where one of the chairs obviously did double duty. The walls were covered with artwork, most of it original, and all of it very eclectic: a Picasso-like study of a cat, a black and white winter pastoral scene in ink, a poster of Leonardo DeVinci's anatomy of man, a photographic negative image of a lighthouse in a storm...
"You like it?" the woman reappeared and leaned against the kitchnette archway, sipping a cup of coffee.
"Oh, yes!" he enthused. "It's a fascinating study of light and shadow, the after image flash on the retina if you will, capturing the sound more than the sight. I can practically hear the crack of the lightning behind me!"
The woman grinned. "You're an artist."
"Who, me?" Ren felt himself blush crimson and ducked his chin in embarrassment. "Oh, no. No, I'd never call myself... That is, I've played with, dabbled really, I..." He smiled and shook his head, or actually his entire upper body as he couldn't bring himself to raise his head. "You flatter me."
"Only an artist would hear the lightning behind him," she affirmed.
The door behind Renfield suddenly flew open with a soft thud as it banged into a door stop on the wall. He spun in surprise to see the "teen-something Goth girl", with a backpack that looked ready to explode, tromp into the room and throw herself, and her bag, onto the nearby couch with a huge sigh. "God! Why didn't you tell me you didn't have an elevator?"
"And listen to you beg and whine for me to help you carry your stuff upstairs?" the woman asked. "No way. I told you not to bring so much. And get your feet off the coffee table!"
"Yes, mother!" the girl replied sarcastically, but she did drop her feet.
"I'm not her mother," the woman assured Turnbull.
"Whoa!" The teenager suddenly sat up, noticing him for the first time and taking in his uniform. "Dudley Do-Right. Is that for real?"
Renfield awarded her a friendly smile. "The uniform? Why, yes. Indeedy-do it is," he assured her. "My name's Constable Turnbull. I'm with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and I work at the Consulate here in Chicago."
She bobbed her head in a strange way which he had to assume was a nod of appreciation as she said, "Cool..."
He caught sight of the still open door in his periphery and turned to close it.
"Keys," the as-yet-unnamed-older-sister demanded.
He turned back to see the younger young lady roll her eyes dramatically before digging them out of a pocket and tossing them across the room.
"We'll discuss why it took you more than an hour to park it and get your stuff upstairs later," the older sister promised. Moving forward, she snagged a chair by the dinning room table with her foot and spun it around. She sat down even as she turned her attention back to Turnbull and finally introduced herself. "I'm Jessi Lester, and that's my sister, Jamie. I take it you're looking for Arleen?"
"Yes, actually," he agreed, happy to be back on familiar ground. Well, metaphorically anyway...
"I was just thinking about calling the police myself when you showed up," she admitted with a slight frown. "She left a message on the answering machine a couple of days ago saying she had to go home for a few days; but then I've also got all these other messages from her father, half-begging, half-demanding, that she call him back. He even asked me to call him; but, like I said before - I just got back."
"Back?" he echoed, confused. If he'd understood the report correctly, the Minister had been trying to get in touch with his daughter for a good week.
"Family emergency," she answer. "I've been gone since last Friday. My mother decided to get remarried--"
"--And dumped me on her while they took off on their honeymoon," the younger woman interjected bluntly. "I'm not going back there. The guy's a jerk!"
"We'll discuss it later."
"That's what you said in the car."
The girl threw her head back and sagged into the futon as she sullenly stared up at the ceiling in obvious irritation. Renfield cast the couch she was sitting on a sympathetic frown, hoping that the hair dye she'd used to get her hair that incredible shade of black was permanent and not one of those rinses that...
"I'm sorry," her sister apologized for her. "What was I saying?"
He glanced back at the bald sister. "That you had just gotten back and were considering calling the police."
"Yeah... Then you showed up. " She sighed and shook her head. "I have no idea where she is. The message said she was going home and that she'd be back on Sunday."
"Sunday?" He frowned in thought and tapped a finger against his lips for a moment before looking up again. Perhaps she'd chosen to surprise her father. "Do you know when she left the message?"
"There's no time stamp." She shook her head. "The machine's not that good, but I'm guessing Tuesday or early Wednesday. What's weird is all the messages before it."
"Weird?" he echoed.
The woman frowned harder. "Well, if she'd gotten the messages from her father before she decided to go, she would have erased them; and there are several messages from him after it, so that means she didn't call and tell him she was coming. And one of them said that it was Wednesday night when he called and asked her to call him at work the next day, so she had to leave before that..."
"Hmm..." Ren nodded in pensive thought. Apparently there was a bit of a mystery to be solved here after all. "She was gone for at least a day before she called and left her message?" he asked.
"Longer," the room mate decided. "There's about five calls from her dad before her message. Why the hell didn't she just write a note and stick it to the frig, like we always do?"
"Oh? So you mean, this... this isn't normal for her?"
"Are you kidding?" Ms. Lester asked. "Arleen hasn't got an impulsive bone in her body! This is about as anti-Arleen as it gets; that's why I was thinking about calling the police."
Turnbull was silently impressed by this woman's observations and incisive questions. She'd make a fine peace officer - well, if she were willing to give up the bald look. He didn't think even the Chicago Police would countenance such a He abruptly dismissed the thought and shook his head. "The police can't do anything," he decided. "Not if she left a note saying when she'd be back."
"But what about her dad? She said she was going home."
"She might have been referring to Canada, rather than her family home; or she might have simply lied," he answered, and offered an apologetic shrug even as he dared suggest the missing woman might have stooped to subterfuge. "In any case, the police won't consider her missing until forty-eight hours after her expected return date."
Ms. Lester offered the room an unhappy shake of her head, and then suddenly turned to her sister. "Did you see a gold Lexus in the parking lot?"
"Like I know the difference between a Lexus and a Ford..." the other girl groused without opening her eyes.
Her older sister jumped to her feet and disappeared through a doorway to the right. Curious, Turnbull followed, ignoring the soft "squishing" as he walked. The room was obviously a bedroom. Ms. Lester had moved to the back and was peering through the upper panel of a double-sash, sliding-drop window.
She spun back around. "Her car is still there," she told him.
"Perhaps she took a plane," he suggested, letting his eyes rove the small and quite crowded room: twin-sized bed, old but functional desk with chair, four drawer chest, small night stand and lamp, and a sheet draped easel. There wasn't enough walking room around the various pieces of furniture for two people to pass each other without significant effort.
"She didn't have the money," Ms. Lester answered. "I assure you, full-time graduate art students don't make enough to hop on a plane at the drop of a hat. And her father obviously didn't foot the bill." She let her own eyes roam the room.
"Is this her?" Ren asked, pointing to what he'd at first believed was a black and white photo on the wall to his left, but which on closer inspection he saw was actually an exquisitely done charcoal sketch of a smiling and completely normal looking young lady.
"Gary!" Ms. Lester suddenly snapped her fingers. "If anyone knows where she is, it'll be Gary."
Ren nearly tripped over his feet in his haste to back out of the bedroom as Ms. Lester made a beeline for the living room. She immediately detoured into the small kitchenette, homing in on a phone just inside the doorway. "I should have thought to call him before," she muttered even as she picked up the handset and dialed.
"Yo Mountie," the girl on the couch called out, winning his attention. "So... why're you looking for my sister's room mate anyway? You going to arrest her?"
"Arrest her? Oh, no. No indeed. Her father has reported her missing. Or... possibly missing."
The girl gave the small apartment a quick glare before tossing her head back again and closing her eyes. "Can you blame her?"
Ren offered a confused smile, not understanding the obvious animosity the younger sister directed toward her present situation as well as her older sister. Perhaps it was a case of displacement, wherein she was redirecting her anger and pain over her mother's remarriage at the most convenient target... He thought the younger was actually quite lucky to have an older sister who would care for her while her mother and step-father were off on their honeymoon. Clearly, however, she didn't see it that way. He decided, yet again, that it wasn't necessarily a bad thing to have been an only child and turned his attention back to the elder Ms. Lester.
"...No! It's Gary!" She scowled down at the handset. "Crap. He hung up on me."
"I assume 'Gary' is Ms. Schlemiel's boyfriend?" Ren surmised.
"Yeah..." She had already pressed redial and lifted the phone to her ear. "Answer, damn you."
She glanced up in sharp confusion. "How did you know his last name?"
Ren gestured toward the bedroom. "I merely assumed... The artist who did her portrait..."
"Yeah, incredible isn't it." She offered the phone in her hand a vicious glare before turning to hang it up. "He turned his cell phone off, the coward."
"He knows his answer isn't good enough." She planted her fists on her hips in a clearly belligerent mood. "He tried to tell me the same thing her message did: that something came up and she had to go home but she'd be back on Sunday. I told him her father had reported her missing and he..."
"He went weird on me. Silent, you know? Then said he'd talked to her last night and not to worry and that everything would be okay on Sunday, but too fast like. Then he made some stupid excuse about someone needing him and hung up on me!"
"Hmm..." Ren again lifted his hand to his face and tapped a finger against his lips even as he knit his brow in deep pensive thought.
"You don't think he'd hurt her, do you?" Ms Lester asked. "I mean... He wouldn't! Gary would die before he let anything happen to Arleen."
The teenage-something Goth girl on the couch spoke up without bothering to lift her head or open her eyes. "Maybe they eloped," she suggested.
"Oh, god!" Ms. Lester turned to glare at the phone again. "If they eloped without bothering to tell me..."
"Hmm..." Ren offered again, still tapping his lips with a contemplative finger, much as he imagined Sherlock Holmes might have done if he didn't have his pipe handy; or perhaps Hercule Poirot, another famous literary detective he was quite fond of.
"What?" Ms. Lester asked, turning back to him. "Oh, you're remembering how I said Arleen didn't have an impulsive bone in her body, aren't you? You're right. She'd never elope."
Actually, Ren hadn't gotten quite that far in his thoughts yet, but he didn't think it wise to admit it. Instead, he nodded and dropped his hand. "Perhaps I should speak to Mr. Garrison, in person," he decided. "He may be more forthcoming when he realizes her father has actually enlisted the RCMP to help find his daughter."
"'Perhaps...'" the girl on the couch drawled sarcastically.
The older sister awarded her an irritated glare, but decided reminding her of her manners at the moment would merely be an act of futility. Instead, she stepped within the kitchen archway and started to write something on a pad stuck to the wall next to the phone.
"Gary's the Director of Installation at Gallery X. They're getting ready to change over to a new exhibit tomorrow so chances are you'll find him there." She wrote for another little bit, then tore the sheet of paper off and marched over to hand it to Ren. "I've included his cell number and dorm address too. He's been invited to submit an idea for a rather large on-campus project, so if he's not at the Gallery, you should find him at home. Course, he should have submitted the thing last week so..." She shrugged. "If all else fails, he has a Modern Art History class tonight. Get there early. Mr. York absolutely hates having his class interrupted."
Ren nodded and read through the note in his hand. Her handwriting was quite beautiful. Neat penmanship made dealing with his dyslexia much easier. "Thank you, Ms. Lester."
"Let me know what you find out, K? I'm going to be worried sick until she shows up on Sunday, and then I'm going to be seriously tempted to wring her little neck for scaring me like this!"
Hyperbole, Ren decided. She wasn't serious in her threat. None-the-less, the smile he offered was a bit stressed. "I will," he promised and turned to leave.
"Wait!" She suddenly stepped forward and took the slip of paper in his hand back. Then, retrieving a pen from her jacket pocket, quickly jotted another number down. "The phone number here. Do you think I should call her father back, or wait until you learn something?"
"Oh dear..." What a question! Ren frowned in thought. On the one hand, the man certainly deserved to be told what was going on where his daughter was concerned; but, on the other, Ren feared there was little enough to tell. Greatly daring, he leaned forward and lowered his voice. "I think perhaps a little delay might be best," he said softly, fighting manfully to ignore the very real fear of what could happen to him should the other man learn he'd made such a suggestion. The Canadian Minister of Finance would not be a man to cross lightly! "The little we know at present would only serve to upset him further." On top of which, Ren couldn't fail to remember Inspector Thatcher's warning that the man didn't like Americans. It was probably a good idea, just on general principals, to delay such a conversation.
"Right," Ms. Lester nodded. "If he calls again, I'll tell him you're on the case. Otherwise, I'll wait to hear from you."
"Sounds like a plan," he nodded and gave her a conspiratorial thumbs up. He turned to leave and then again spun on his heel at the door. "Oh! Um... if, you know, she should happen to call, or--"
The woman nodded in understanding. "--I'll make sure she calls her father."
He smiled again. That would indeed be a good thing, but... "Could you call the Consulate as well and leave a message for me? Constable Turnbull."
"Sure," she agreed with a smile of her own and, much to his surprise, reached up to press a soft kiss to his cheek. "Thanks for all your help."
Ren felt himself blush again. "Oh! It's... It's nothing. Really."
"Maybe," she allowed. "Maybe not. But I do know I feel better with you out there looking for her. Call me."
"I... I..." She couldn't mean... No, of course not! "When I find out something? Yes. Yes, indeedy. I will," he promised. Twisting his hat nervously in his hands, he backed through the door. Why had he been cursed with such fair skin, he wondered? He hated the fact that he blushed so easily. With a final nod of promise, he quickly turned for the stairs and made good his escape before he embarrassed himself any further.
Ren was familiar with Gallery X, having visited it before in his time off. It was actually part of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and not the University of Chicago, and was located just a few blocks east of the University of Illinois at Chicago...
Ren debated his options and, deciding that time might be a factor in finding Mr. Garrison at his place of work, reluctantly chose to board the green line of the L again. Fortunately, there were no incidents involving toddlers and ice cream this time.
He scratched his head as he paused outside the Columbus Drive Building, realizing belatedly that the University of Chicago didn't offer a Master of Arts in Art Administration... not if he remembered his perusal of the University's Art degree offerings correctly. It had been some months ago, shortly after he was transferred down here. He'd been interested in possibly taking a night course or two at the time; but, of course, his field of interest was in artistry itself and not arts administration. Perhaps he was remembering wrong?
Dismissing the thought, he doffed his Stetson once more and moved to enter. A young lady burdened with several large tubes was moving to exit. Naturally, he held the door for her.
The marble tiled lobby had two corridors branching off of it, each of them lined with several selected works from previous exhibits. The north corridor led to the Betty Rymer Gallery and the south lead to Gallery X. He'd actually spent some hours enjoying the current exhibitions in these two galleries just last week, though he could certainly spend several more. Both galleries were mazes of small and large areas that flowed one into the other, leading the visitor slowly through the exhibit and taking full advantage of as much wall area as possible. He was more familiar with the Betty Rymer Gallery than he was Gallery X, as the latter tended to focus largely on three dimensional, and even four dimensional, works. He found the four dimensional efforts - which encompassed time within their presentation - quite fascinating; but his first and foremost love would always be canvas.
As usual, there was a gallery attendant stationed just inside the door.
"Excuse me," Ren approached the young lady straight away and offered a polite smile. "I was wondering if you might know where Mr. Garrison is at the moment?"
The young woman chewed her gum for a second before cracking it between her teeth, then turned her head to the side and yelled, "Gary! Visitor!"
Ren fought to hide his surprise at this rather unorthodox call. Museums and galleries were usually places of quiet contemplation and
"There's no one else here at the moment," she assured him and then turned her attention back to the text book in front of her.
"Ah!" He nodded his understanding, embarrassed that his reaction had been so transparent.
"Yeah?" a male voice called from around the corner just before a tall young man in jeans and a light green pullover appeared. As his eyes clashed with Turnbull's, he suddenly froze. "Oh, my god..."
The man quickly glanced around in near panic and then grabbed Renfield by the arm, dragging him around the corner. "Did anyone see you come in here? What am I saying - of course they saw you!" His eyes raked the uniform in front of him. "I can't believe her father sent the RCMP all the way down" He suddenly decided to censor himself and glanced around again, then heavenward, obviously very upset.
"Actually..." Ren found it impossible not to correct that last assumption, "I work here."
As he'd half expected, the information came as a bit of a confusing shock to the other man, who blinked sharply and glanced over his uniform again.
"At the Canadian Consulate," Ren added by way of explanation. At least he seemed to have shaken the other man out of his near panic. "Has something happened to Miss Schlemiel?"
The man blinked yet again, bringing his thoughts sharply back in order and stepping away from Ren. "No," he answered. "No, she's fine. Something came up and she had to go home... visit a friend up in Canada..." he corrected himself, "for some reason. Death in the family, I think. Not her family." He licked his lips nervously and glanced around again. "She'll be back Sunday."
Turnbull had often been told he was rather gullible, by both his colleagues and superiors; however, he wasn't blind. He cocked his head to the side and dared speak his mind boldly. "I think you're lying, Mr. Garrison."
The man again cast his eyes heavenward as though seeking divine help. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he dropped his eyes to meet Ren's again. The dark brown depths spoke of silent worry and fear, but also a deep conviction. "Arleen's fine. I spoke to her last night. More than that, I can't explain. Tell her father she'll be back Sunday." He emphasized the date firmly. "I'll make sure she calls him right away. I promise."
Ren frowned as he carefully took in Mr. Garrison's obviously guarded mien, then cocked his head in the other direction. He leaned forward and lowered his voice to just above a whisper. "Is she in some danger, Mr. Garrison?"
The eyes closed momentarily and the jaw clenched, then the other young man was back in control. "No," he answered firmly. His eyes drilled into Ren's in a clear wish for him to understand and go away.
Ren answered with a lifted brow and again cocked his head in the other direction. It was a move he'd seen Constable Fraser use before when questioning information he'd been given. It seemed to work quite well for him...
Gary rolled his eyes and leaned forward, lowering his own voice to hiss urgently, even as his cell phone began to ring, "Your being here is what's putting her in danger! If you'll just go away and leave this alone, she'll be fine. I swear! She'll be back on Sunday. Just... back off!"
His cell phone rang again. Reluctantly, he answered it while giving Ren a glare. "Hello!"
The voice on the other end was filtered and distorted, sending a chill up Gary's spine. "Talking to Mounties isn't good for your girlfriend's health..."
Gary swallowed sharply and spun away from Turnbull. "He doesn't know anything!" he answered sharply. "Have... Timothy do it," he added awkwardly for the Mountie's sake.
"I wish I could believe you," the voice replied. "Those Mounties are so persistent. This worries me, Gary. It worries me a lot."
"You don't need to worry," he answered firmly. "We have an agreement. I'm not a fool."
"Actually, you are; but that's beside the point." He thought for a short moment and then continued, "Tell him that you know where Arleen is and that you'll take him to her."
"Oh, god..." Gary whispered.
Someone was knocking on his door, the steady pounding inexorably dragging Ren from sleep. It only served to make his headache worse. Who could possibly be seeking him out at such a late... Why was he lying on the floor? Not his floor; hard, cold... Dark. It was dark, but not because it was night. He couldn't open his eyes. There was something over them.
His hands were tied behind his back.
"I think he's waking up," a woman's soft voice whispered.
He belatedly realized that the knocking he was hearing was his own heartbeat in his ears. Apparently, he'd been hit over the head and... He had to struggle a moment to remember... He'd taken the L... Ice cream. A drunk. Chasing his hat. Bald. Goth girl. Portrait. Ah, yes! He'd been investigating the apparent disappearance of the daughter of the Canadian Minister of Finance. He'd talked to her room mate and then hunted up her boyfriend.
Someone must have hit him over the back of the head as they got into Mr. Garrison's van.
"Constable Turnbull?" the woman whispered, nudging his leg.
He groaned as the resultant movement made his head pound. "Oh, dear..."
"I hope he doesn't get sick," a man to his left commented in apparent concern. Ren recognized Gary's voice.
"Shhh!" the woman insisted.
Hmm... shushing him. That meant that someone might hear them - someone they didn't want to hear them. If it were someone who might help, he would have been gagged as well. And if Gary had been captured along with him, than he assumed the woman was Arleen Schlemiel. At least, he thought that assumption made sense. He really wasn't sure if it did or not because his head was too busy pounding to let him think very well.
The cold floor actually felt good against his face. He found himself very tempted to simply sink back into oblivion's gentle embrace...
I'm a Mountie, he firmly reminded himself! A Mountie who's been hit over the head, tied up and blindfolded. Oh, dear... He felt suddenly frightened and foolish. Perhaps he should feel angry instead, a part of him argued, but he just couldn't rouse that emotion. The best he could manage was embarrassment. Constable Fraser would never get into such a mess, he was sure!
"I hope he doesn't have a concussion," Gary offered quietly.
Turnbull hoped he didn't either.
Mentally girding himself to ignore his own situation, he forced himself to roll to his back and... "Oh, shoot!" he whispered as something of a stiff, cloth-like-texture was crushed beneath him. Felt, he was sure. So much for the careful blocking and steaming of his Stetson two days ago. He only hoped the crown wasn't too badly damaged. He couldn't afford a major visit to a milliner as well as a cobbler this pay check. And finding a good one was so hard...
He rolled his weight off the item and managed to struggle to a sitting position without crushing it further.
Ren frowned fiercely. The affront to his hat sparked his anger in a way that the attack upon his person had failed too. He was in uniform. Whoever had attacked him had attacked what that stood for: Law and order and... and The Queen. How dare they!
"Someone needs a serious lesson in manners!" he decided quietly.
"Manners?" Gary repeated him. "He needs a doctor..."
"No," he contradicted them, only to then have to contradict himself. "Well, yes, I have to admit, a doctor would"
"--Shhhh!" the woman warned fiercely.
"probably be wise," he whispered. "Ms. Schlemiel, I presume?"
"Yeah," she sighed softly. "I don't suppose you have any special Mountie tricks for getting us out of here do you?"
Ren fingered his ropes, testing their play. "I just might," he answered, remembering his hat again. Or a Constable Fraser trick anyway. He scooted himself over to the crushed item and picked it up behind his back.
Oh, dear, a small part of the brim was wet. Blood, he wondered? He'd never get that out himself. It seemed a milliner was going to be unavoidable...
It was a good thing he'd overheard that conversation between his superior officer and the American detective. He hadn't meant to eavesdrop, but they'd stopped right in front of his desk. He would have never thought, or even dared to think, of adjusting his uniform in such a way himself. As it was, it had taken him almost a week to get up the courage to try it. When finished, it was completely undetectable. He'd even thought about writing it up as a recommendation for all members of the Force but had chickened out before submitting it to Inspector Thatcher. She'd only give him that 'look', he knew. Besides, it was actually Constable Fraser's idea. If anyone were going to submit it for review, it should be him.
Ren had to wonder what Inspector Thatcher's response to it's practical use, in whatever case the two men had been discussing, had been.
"Could... I'm afraid I'm a little confused," he admitted as he worked. "Could one of you, if you don't mind, explain exactly what's happening? That is... I don't supposed this is some sort of practical joke or--"
"--I wish," Arleen answered softly.
"I'm being blackmailed," Gary explained. "Or was. I'm not sure what's going on now."
"Yeah. Apparently, someone didn't like the idea that I'd been invited to submit a proposal for the big Activity Center mural project. They kidnaped Arleen, then called to tell me not to enter or they'd kill her."
"Oh, my!" Ren exclaimed quietly in surprise.
"They also said they were watching me and that if I went to the police she was dead. Then you showed up and..."
"And that was who called you while we were talking," Ren surmised. "He told you to take me to Arleen. But," he frowned in confusion, "that would mean you knew where she was and"
"--No." Gary sighed. "That's just what he told me to tell you. I had no idea where she was. He told me to take you to a warehouse on Dexter. Instead, they jumped us in the van.
"Damn it!" he cursed softly. "He promised to let her go Sunday, after the submission deadline passed. If you hadn't shown up, everything would have been fine!"
"Oh, I'm afraid I doubt that," Ren shook his head sadly. "The kidnapper would have to assume that when released, Arleen would go to the police. There would be an investigation; and even if he were careful enough to ensure that there was no direct evidence to implicate him, the entire award process for the project would be thrown into question. The competition would need to be repeated and he'd lose everything that he'd hoped to gain by blackmailing you in the first place."
The ropes were being stubborn. Or maybe he hadn't sharpened his hat buckle as well as he'd thought... "Ouch!" No, it was sharp enough.
"Shhh!" Arleen warned him again, but it was too late. Ren's cry was answered by the sound of a key being turned in a lock.
As someone stepped into the room, Ren quickly palmed his sharpened hat buckle and then winced as he cut himself again. Hopefully, his red serge wouldn't get any blood on it. He did have a second dress uniform if he needed it, but he'd just had this one dry cleaned!
The indignities suffered by his uniform today were starting to add up, and it was beginning to really irritate him.
"In the name of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, you are..." He frowned fiercely as he realized he had no jurisdiction in the United States and couldn't make an arrest in the name of the RCMP. He quickly corrected himself. "I am making a citizen's arrest," (Could he do that? He was pretty sure he could do that.) "and I demand that you release us at once!"
He was answered with amused sniggers.
"I think Jack hit him too hard."
"Not hard enough, 'you ask me."
"Shut up in there!" a third voice from the hall ordered sharply. "I told you no talking. Get the boy and get out of there!"
"What are you doing?" Ren heard Gary exclaim. "Get your hands off of me! Let me go! Let me"
"Gary!" Arleen cried alarm.
The younger man's demands, and the sounds of struggle, were abruptly interrupted by the sound of flesh striking flesh and a soft grunt.
Ren gave his ropes a sharp jerk, hoping to leap to the other man's defense, but they wouldn't give. Drat it all!
What would Constable Fraser do in a situation like this, he wondered?
"Gentlemen!" he called out in his best command voice. Hmm... he needed to work on that. "I strongly advise you to give yourselves up. You won't get away with this!"
One of the men paused to kick his legs, surprising him, but it was only a glancing blow. "Shut up!"
"Idiot..." the other observed.
Ren and Arleen were forced to listen as an apparently unconscious Gary was dragged from the room. Then, as the others retreated, whoever had been in the hall stepped inside. Ren heard him move forward to squat down beside him.
"Tell me what you know," the unknown man ordered quietly.
Oh, dear. That was a very dangerous question, Ren realized. He'd already explained to Gary and Arleen that a police investigation could cost their assailant everything he'd worked for, whether the authorities were ever able to identify him or not. If he even suspected...
Silently, Ren began reciting the words his father had given him upon his graduation from the Academy: 'Only a fool isn't afraid in the face of danger. Courage isn't defined by a lack of fear, but by doing your duty regardless.' His duty here was to protect Ms. Schlemiel. He ignored his fear and refused to answer. Maybe he could distract the man... "Where are you taking Mr. Garrison?" he rejoined instead.
There was nothing glancing about the blow he received this time. His head was snapped sharply to the side.
Oh, dear. Oh dear indeed, Ren thought, tasting blood. Fortunately, it was only his tongue where he'd bit it. He was scheduled to stand guard duty tomorrow morning and the Inspector would not be happy if his lip was swollen and split.
"Oh, my god!" Arleen whispered in horror. "You didn't... Constable? Constable Turnbull!" It was apparent she was blindfolded as well.
His unknown assailant grabbed a handful of hair and forced his blindfolded visage forward. "What do you know?" he repeated and shook Ren's head by the hair.
"Ouch!" Ren exclaimed, more in surprise then anything else. His head began throbbing again with the sharp movement.
"Are you crazy?" Arleen exclaimed. "He's a Mountie! They'll hunt you to the ends of the Earth if you hurt him!"
The man abruptly released Turnbull and silence descended for a long and dangerous moment.
"We don't know anything!" Ren decided to answer fearfully, including Ms. Schlemiel in the lie. He didn't have to fake the fear by much. He was very much afraid of what might happen to them if the other man didn't believe him.
"I don't believe you."
"Jack was a fool to put all three of you together. The boy probably told you everything, didn't he?"
"Oh, Lordy!" Ren gasped as he felt a gun pressed firmly against his temple. How in the world had he managed to get himself into such a pickle! Carefully, his heart beating double-time to 'The Minute Waltz', he began to work at his ropes again.
The man bent his head close and whispered into Ren's ear. "What. Do. You. Know?"
"Okay, okay..." Ren's voice squeaked rather embarrassingly, but he forced the words out anyway. He needed to keep the other man talking and distracted. There were a few things he could safely admit to knowing, and which might be used to sway the man from any drastic action. What to start with first?
"What are you doing?" he heard Ms. Schlemiel demand in a mix of bravado and fear. "Let him go! Let us both go! We haven't done anything to you!"
Ren's head was shoved to the side by the weapon pressed against his head.
"Well, ah, you see, for one thing, Ms. Schlemiel here is the daughter of the Canadian Minister of Finance - he's the equivalent of your United States' Secretary of the Treasury," he began, hoping to make the guy pause and think. "I'm afraid there will be quite a huge uproar should anything happen to her."
"There's going to be a huge uproar when her boyfriend turns up dead too," the man answered.
"No!" Arleen protested. "You can't kill Gary! This 'Jack' of yours, or whoever the hell he is, promised to let us go when the submission deadline passed!"
"No," she hissed. "No!"
"Jack has made a real mess of things here, and it's up to me to clean it up or his old man will have my hide. I should probably kill the both of you too, just to be safe."
"Safe?" Ren echoed, his mind frantically searching for anything that might dissuade this madman from such a course. He was too young to die!
He was also rather embarrassed to realize he was now trembling, drat it all; perhaps it would help hide the desperate sawing of his sharpened hat buckle against the ropes as he redoubled his efforts. If only they'd used cotton, polyester or even hemp instead of polypropylene. Had they used nylon, he might have been able to stretch it enough to work his way free without needing to cut it. Someone apparently knew their rope.
"Killing us wouldn't be safe at all!" he argued, feeling himself blush as his voice again broke most inappropriately. "You'll have the FBI, CIA, RCMP and CSIS all hunting you--"
"--Get the hell out of my way, you moron!" a voice suddenly demanded directly outside. The door few open with a loud bang. For a moment Ren thought it was the sound of his life ending. "What the hell is going on in here?"
Their captor jumped to his feet. "Mr. Mangus!" he exclaimed in surprise, then a moment later hissed, "Oh, crap!"
Ren felt his heart miss a beat or two. He didn't recognize the name, but he knew he didn't need too; the fact that he'd heard it was enough.
"Oh, crap?" the other echoed. "I'll give you crap. I'll turn you into crap! I sent you down here to check up on my son, not help him get into trouble!"
"I got here too late, Mr... uh, Sir." Their unknown inquisitor managed to catch himself this time before saying the other man's name.
"Idiot!" There was the sound of a dull thump which had Ren imagining that Mr. Mangus had perhaps delivered a sound slap to the other man along the side of the head. "You already told them my name! What do you mean you got here too late? What the hell kind of games is Jack up to now, and who the hell are these two idiots?"
"He's trying to impress you by winning some big mural competition of some sort. 'Said it was worth two or three hundred grand. But the girl's boyfriend is better than Jack and Jack doesn't think he stands a chance against him; so he kidnaped the girl last week and he's been using her to keep her boyfriend from entering. Then this guy shows up--"
"--This guy?" Mr. Magnus repeated. "He ain't the boyfriend? What, is he some kind of doorman?"
"Excuse me," Ren dared interrupt the conversation to introduce himself. "I am Constable Renfield Turnbull of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. And the young"
"--lady is Ms Arleen Schlemiel, daughter of Minister Schlemiel, the Canadian Minister of Finance."
"A Mountie? This is a joke and these two are actors in a play - right?"
"Jack really messed up."
"Tell me something I don't know!" the other man growled. "So where's the boyfriend? What does he know?"
"Apparently, Jack decided to use his proposal instead of his own. I tried to talk him out of it, but"
"--What!" Jack's father exploded. "Using blackmail and extortion to eliminate the competition is one thing, but stealing the other guy's work is... I sent him to college up here to keep him out of the business, not set up a local branch!"
"...Having decided to steal the other guy's stuff," their captor continued, "Jack decided to kill him so no one would know."
"Like no one's going to recognize the other guy's stuff, right? Hasn't he attended a single class I've been paying for?"
Ren could almost sympathize with the father's obvious frustration. Almost.
"And now, everyone knows everything so they all have to die," Mr. Mangus continued. "Art majors and a Mountie... Mounties are worse than cops! Like killing an FBI agent or something. There'll be a huge investigation! Anything I forgot?"
"That's about it, Sir."
"Great. Just freaking great!" The father offered an exhausted sigh. "So, how do we keep the cops from figuring it out?"
"First, now that you're here, we find Jack and stop him from using the other guy's stuff. He'll listen to you. This whole mural scheme needs to get dumped and Jack yanked back home before submittin' anything; that way he has no motive. Then these two, plus the boy, just disappear. We make sure no bodies are ever found. All the cops have is three missing persons and a whole lot of questions from up north."
"Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod!" Arleen whispered as she heard the men planning her murder with such cold detachment.
"Where did your associates take Mr. Garrison?" Ren interrupted, causing the two men standing over him to do a double-take.
"Good question," the father decided. "Where were they planning to dump him?"
"Jack told Roger and Allen to take him over to the docks, pier four. They were supposed to drown him and make it look like an accident."
"Accident? No one goes swimming at the docks!" Mr. Mangus exclaimed. "Don't you idiots know anything? Jeesh. Call 'em and stop 'em! Now!"
There was a long moment of silence in which Ren heard a cell phone being dialed. "You'll never get away with this, you know," he dared much to confront them. "If I can put the pieces of the puzzle together, so can others. They'll know what you've done."
"What others know and what they can prove in court are two different things," Mr. Mangus sneered.
"I can't get a signal out."
"Idiot! Of course you can't get a signal out! We're underground here. Go outside."
Ren heard their captor turn and leave.
"You!" Mr. Mangus then ordered, apparently addressing the guard who'd been in the hall earlier. "Kill them. Now."
"Ohmigod. Ohmigod, no! You can't... Please!" Ms Schlemiel was not above begging for her life. Neither was Ren for that matter, but he knew it would do them no good. "We won't say anything! I swear. Please, I don't want to die!"
Ren heard the unknown guard draw his weapon. "That might be a little messy, don't you think?" he asked. "There would be evidence left behind. Blood is very hard to clean up."
"Looks like they used to use this place for art classes or something," Mr. Mangus explained. "There are paint splatters everywhere. Now it's an empty storage room with a bunch of stuff that looks like it ain't been touched in years. Ain't no one going to be looking for blood down here."
"Oh, I think you'd be surprised," Ren answered boldly. "Have you ever heard of luminal? It's a fascinating chemical that when sprayed on even a seemingly clean surface will react with the slightest trace of blood to cause a phosphorescent effect under black light. Why I've seen forensic specialists find--"
"--Shut up," the guard ordered and pressed his gun to Ren's forehead.
It was now or never.
Whipping his hands up and around from behind him, Ren's left hand found and gripped the guard's arm, shoving it aside as he ducked and kicked out toward where the man's legs should be. The man cried out in surprise even as a deafening explosion sounded far too close to Ren's ear for comfort. Ren's other hand joined the first and locked onto the wrist, twisting it sharply outward even as the man began to fall.
Mr. Mangus was also caught by surprise. "What the!"
Ms. Schlemiel just screamed.
A second gun shot rang out. The man he was grappling with grunted.
Ren used the momentum of the man's fall to turn the duck and kick into a roll and wrested the gun from the suddenly slack grip before exploding back to his feet directly in front of Mr. Mangus. He knew the other man must have drawn his own weapon by now, and so he charged forward, stepping inside Mr. Mangus' reach before he could bring the weapon to bear. As Ren expected, he ran directly into the other man and forced him backward. They were jarred to a halt by the wall and Ren quickly brought his left hand up and found the other man's right arm, which he dared assume was his weapon arm. Ren then shoved the weapon he'd confiscated from the guard under Mr. Mangus' chin.
Not surprisingly, the other man froze.
Ms. Schlemiel as still screaming, so Ren leaned close to make sure Mr. Mangus could hear him. "Twitch and I kill you," he promised simply. He was quite serious about it too. The guard on the floor, he was pretty sure, was dead - unless Ren was mistaken, he'd managed to shoot himself in the heart; however, the man with the cell phone could return at any time. Ren could only hope he'd equate the two gun shots, if he'd heard them, with their deaths. The young lady's continued screaming, however, might alert him otherwise.
"Please stop screaming, Ms. Schlemiel," he told her urgently. "I'm fine. I'll have you out of here in a jiffy."
The mere sound of his voice was surprising enough to stop her screams. "You're... fine?" she echoed in disbelief.
Ren shoved Mr. Mangus' gun in his belt and finally reached up to strip off his blindfold. "Fit as a fiddle," he promised her and awarded his captive a malevolent smile.
He then grabbed the other man's shoulder and spun him to face the wall. "You are under arrest. I am charging you with two counts of attempted murder. Would you like to make a statement in answer to this charge? You are not obliged to do so, and I must warn you that anything you say can and will be given in evidence. Do you understand?" Ren quickly retrieved his handcuffs from their case on his Sam Brown and deftly cuffed him.
"That's not the Miranda!" the man scoffed.
"No, you're quite right," Ren agreed, turning the man back around to face him. "It's the Caution. I'll make sure the police administer your Miranda Warning properly when they arrive."
He glanced up as he heard a distant sound: probably a door opening somewhere. Mr. Mangus heard it too. He opened his mouth and took a deep breath preparatory to crying a warning - only to have Ren unceremoniously stuff his old blindfold in his mouth and bring the gun back up in warning.
"Oh, god!" Arleen hissed suddenly. "Someone's coming!"
"Shhhh!" Ren warned her softly. "Lie down and play dead."
He grabbed Mr. Mangus by the lapel and pushed him downward, forcing him to sit down. Ren then quickly stepped over next to the door. When the man with the cell phone appeared in the open doorway it was to see two bodies on the floor, neither of them wearing bright red, and his boss, obviously gagged and bound sitting against the wall.
"Mr. Mangus?" he called in alarm, even as he hurried forward. He froze two steps in as Ren grabbed him by the shoulder and shoved the gun he held in his back.
"Welcome back, Sir," Ren told him. "I'm afraid you're under arrest. Please lift your hands and don't move." The man sighed in defeat but did as told. Ren deftly frisked him, retrieving the weapon with which he'd been threatened earlier, and then stripped off his lanyard to bind the man's hands behind his back. "Sorry," he apologized. "I don't have another set of handcuffs."
"Can I sit up now?" Arleen asked from the middle of the floor.
"Oh! Yes, certainly." Ren shoved the man down next to his boss and turned to Ms. Schlemiel. "I'm sorry. Here, let me help you."
He stripped the blindfold away first, then attacked her ropes as she blinked her eyes and fought to see again. "Oh my god!"
Ren immediately followed her gaze to the dead man on the floor. "Sorry about that," he told her. "I'm afraid he shot himself while we were wrestling for his weapon."
She blinked at the other two men who were captive now and sitting against the wall. "How did you..?"
"I sharpened my hat buckle," he told her and, finishing with her ties, lifted an arm to display the cut rope which still dangled from his wrist. His hands were covered in small cuts, some of which were still bleeding. "Drats!" he frowned sharply. There was definitely blood on his sleeves and the left one had a good size cut as well. It had probably gotten caught inside the rope of his bonds. A glance behind him easily found his hat, half crushed and, yes, stained with blood. He reached up to the back of his head and discovered the large goose egg and scalp wound which was responsible. He also discovered a trail of dried blood that flowed downward into the collar of his uniform.
Irritably, he turned to his captives. "I'm afraid I'll have to insist you gentlemen pay for the cleaning and repair of my uniform."
Arleen could care less about his uniform. She dismissed all other questions and turned her mind to more pressing matters. "Gary!" she whispered. "They're going to kill him! We've got to stop them!"
"I don't think so," Ren assured her and turned back to his captives. "Mr. Mangus gave orders that they not kill him at the docks, but didn't issue any further instructions. I assume they are waiting for orders?"
The cell phone man nodded in defeat, knowing that resistance to the inevitable at this point would only make the charges against them even worse. "I told them to meet us at the north side of Washington Park. They're driving a blue panel van. 'Can't miss 'em."
"Thank you," Ren told him and bent to reach inside the man's jacket for his cell phone. He paused in mid-motion to ask, "May I?"
The man gave a half-nod, half-shrug which Ren took as affirmation.
"Thank you kindly."
"Hey, we get a deal for cooperating, right?" Mr. Mangus asked, leaning in from his minion's side. "We get a deal?"
"I have no authority to agree to such," Ren answered. "Yes, operator, this is Constable Renfield Turnbull, Temporary Assistant Interim Associate Deputy Liaison Officer for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police assigned to the Canadian Consulate in Chicago. I need to request immediate police assistance and report a series of crimes, the most pressing of which is an assault and abduction in progress..."
Ren was in the process of introducing Gary and Arleen to Ray Vecchio outside Interview One, after they had finished giving their statements to other members of the twenty-seventh district police station, when uniformed officers brought Jack Mangus in for questioning and processing.
"You son of a bitch," the smaller man paused in the hallway to hiss at Gary. "You're trying to set me up. Making up ridiculous stories to get me disqualified from the competition, huh? One phone call and my dad will have me out of here in a heartbeat!"
"Your dad's too busy sitting in one of these rooms talking to his own lawyer to worry about you!" Gary answered angrily, stepping between Jack and Arleen in an unconscious gesture to shield her from him.
Lieutenant Welsh just happened to be returning to his office from visiting the break room and easily read the scene before him. "What's going on here?" he demanded as he quickly moved forward to head off what was clearly a volatile situation. He didn't wait for an explanation. "You," he ordered one of the uniforms, "get this guy in a room or holding cell or wherever you're headed with him, just get him outta here. Let's keep it moving."
"I'll still be out in a matter of hours, and you'll still be a loser!" the handcuffed young man yelled over his shoulder, resisting the officers and forcing Welsh to add his own light shove to get him moving again. "One hour to deadline, Sucker!"
Ren and Ray suddenly had their hands full as Gary surged forward with obvious intent. The sound of his growl drew Welsh's attention and he immediately placed himself between the unknown man and the prisoner who was clearly taunting him.
"One hour!" the prisoner yelled one last time before being dragged around the corner to wherever he was going.
Gary reluctantly subsided and offered only a soft, "Bastard!" for the departed figure.
"Something going on here I should know about, Detective?" Welsh demanded, and then did a sharp double-take as he realized he didn't recognize the man in the bright red uniform in his periphery. "You're not, Fraser."
"Constable Turnbull, Sir," Ray quickly stepped forward, figuring the less talking Turnbull did - the better. "Turnbull, Lieutenant Welsh, my boss." He also hoped Turnbull would take the hint that he was addressing Ray's boss and would keep his mouth shut! Ray knew it was a vain hope.
"Ah!" Turnbull rejoined with a bright smile and extended his hand. "A pleasure, Sir."
Welsh offered a perfunctory handshake but his attention had switched back to Vecchio beside him. "We have two of them running around Chicago now?"
Ray knew he had to talk fast to keep his boss happy. Short and concise was always the best way to deal with him - he didn't have time to waste on long explanations. "Uh, not normally, Sir, no," he answered, hoping to God it wasn't going to become a normal situation! "Fraser's off recovering from the Zolton Motherwell case."
"The Performance Arsonist guy?" Welsh asked. "Fraser got burnt?"
"Shot," Vecchio answered. "The leg again, but it's only a flesh wound," he quickly reassured his boss who had the grace to look slightly alarmed. "He'll be fine in a day or two."
"Good. Good... He needs to buy armor for those jodhpurs," Welsh decided and then turned his attention back to the group in front of him. He waved at the corner the prisoner had disappeared around. "One hour?" he asked.
"An art competition, Sir," Turnbull explained in a strangely conspiratorial tone. "Mr. Garrison here," he indicated the young man beside him, "is in the running for a rather lucrative mural project at the Activity Center on the University of Chicago campus. The deadline for entering a bid is one hour - or actually," he glanced at his wrist watch, "53 minutes and 14 seconds."
"That bastard kidnaped my girlfriend to keep me out of it and then decided to kill me so he could use my bid instead of his own!"
"Jack Mangus, Sir," Vecchio leaned in to identify the 'bastard'.
"Jack Mangus?" Welsh echoed. "Any relation to Johnny 'the feds would love to bust him for anything' Mangus, from down in Indianapolis?"
"His son, Sir," Vecchio answer. "His father came up and tried to help him out so, thanks to Turnbull here, we got him for attempted murder along with his son. And that's just the start."
"Maybe a mini-invasion of red down here isn't a bad thing after all."
"Oh! And damaging my uniform!" Turnbull interjected quite seriously. "My government will want to extradite them for that."
Then again, Welsh thought... He let his eyes rake the uniform beside him, which he had to admit did look a bit worse for wear. Fraser would never look like that. Musta been a real mess to bring the bad guys in. "I think attempted murder and kidnaping take precedence, Constable." He turned his attention to Mr. Garrison. "You're saying that guy kidnaped your girl and threatened to kill you so he could steal your art work to pass it off as his own, all to win some stupid art contest?"
"Mural project," Turnbull leaned forward to explain again, "worth somewhere between two and three hundred thousand dollars."
Welsh's brows went up. "Really?" He was a bit impressed. Perhaps this was serious after all. He glanced at Mr. Garrison again. "Can you prove this 'bid' he stole is yours?"
"Yes," Gary nodded, "but unless I can get to the dean's office before seven o'clock, I'll still be ineligible for consideration."
"Vecchio!" an unexpectedly strident voice suddenly demanded attention.
The small group turned their gazes to the other end of the hall where they discovered Louise St. Laurent and FBI Agent Ford glaring at them.
"Oh, crap. Catch you later, guys," Ray muttered and lifted his voice as well as his hand as he hurried forward. "Coming!"
Welsh dismissed his detective from thought, knowing the two who looked ready to eat him alive at the moment would soon be fawning all over the man once he told them about Mangus. Instead, Welsh glanced over at the clock on the wall and made a decision. "You have a license to drive in the States, Constable?"
"Why yes, Sir," he answered. "Driver's training is a mandatory requirement for all officers in the RCMP and I'm happy to report that I graduated at the top of my class." He blushed slightly, realizing that he must sound like he was bragging. "I am often assigned to drive the Inspector or visiting dignitaries to various functions around town. Why, just last week, the Chairman of the Canadian Beef Marketing Board--"
"--Whatever," Welsh interrupted the unnecessary explanation and dug out his keys. He slapped them into the other man's hand. "These fit a grey 1991 Chevrolet Caprice out back. It's mine," he emphasized firmly, "so be careful with it. Use the flasher on the dash and get this young man to the which ever dean's office he needs to go like it was yesterday. Understood?"
"Oh! I I"
"--Don't argue, Constable." Welsh took him by the shoulders and gave him a gentle shove down the hall to get him moving. "There isn't time to get a squad car to do it and I have a thing about the Arts. ...Just don't wreck my car!"
If Ren were being strictly honest - and, well, he always was - he'd have to admit to quite thoroughly enjoying himself as they raced through the streets of Chicago with a flashing red strobe light and siren to clear the way. Or help clear the way. It really was quite appalling the way some people seemed to completely ignore the emergency warning signals! In any case, the effort was far more challenging here than it had ever been in rural Alberta. He could almost imagine himself behind the wheel of a fully tricked out RCMP cruiser in the heavy traffic of downtown Toronto, rushing to the scene of a crime in the hopes of stopping some dastardly deed!
Except that, of course, the Chevrolet Caprice was a far cry from the police modified Crown Victoria which the RCMP favored. It was in fact even larger than the sleek Consulate limo he was accustomed to driving! The handling was terrible; nor was it equipped with anti-lock brakes. The screech of the tires as they rounded a corner a bit faster than he'd have liked and fish-tailed was quite dramatic but not very professional. He shook his head and caught a misfiring of the engine. Hmm... it needed a tune up. Ren would have to be certain to mention that to Lieutenant Welsh when he returned the vehicle and thanked him for the loan.
"Oh, dear..." Ren frowned as they came up to the turnoff at 56th and Greenwood; he quickly applied the brakes and they came to an abrupt halt before the Cochrane-Woods Art Center.
"What?" Gary, in back with Arleen, leaned forward to ask in confusion.
"Restricted parking," Ren answered, indicating the campus parking permit sign to the right of the driveway.
"It's after hours," Arleen told him, leaning forward as well. "The campus police don't patrol the parking lots after five."
"But still, it's"
"I'll pay the fine!" Gary promised and pounded on the seat back. "Go! Go! Go!!!"
Ren found himself obeying out of sheer habit. Having someone in a near panic yelling in his ear was not the most pleasant thing in the world. He would certainly be sure to hold the young man to his word if they did get a ticket, he promised himself. Oh, but what would the inspector say if someone reported it to her? The mere thought of it made him blush. It would be too embarrassing for words! Perhaps he could just find a place to drop Mr. Garrison off...
"That's him. That's him!" Gary was suddenly pointing past Ren to the front of the building where an older man was exiting.
"Dean Woodridge! He's in charge of the competition. Let me out!"
The backdoor of the car had opened even before Turnbull could bring the vehicle to a full stop. Both Gary and Arleen flew out of the car and raced toward the other man, although according to Ren's wristwatch they had a good ten minutes to spare.
"Oh, dear," Ren thought aloud. He still needed to ask Ms. Schlemiel to call her father. He quickly scanned the area for the safest place to park - other than in the restricted lot... The curb on the street was painted in a red fire zone. He could only see part of the next parking lot down but suspected it too had a color coded restriction sign on it. Glancing at the group on the steps, he saw them turning to head into the building. He might never find them again if he didn't join them at once! Chewing his lip in worry and embarrassment, and hoping that Ms. Schlemiel was right in regard to parking here after hours, he swung the large car into a spot. Moving quickly, he locked it and ran up the steps to catch the others as they disappeared through the doors.
"Woo-whooo!" he called after them. "Wait for me!"
"That's quite a serious accusation you're making, you know," the dean commented as he unlocked the door of his office again. "Aside from the kidnaping, assault and attempted murder, of course. He could be expelled if you can prove it, but that's the rub: you have to prove it. Can you do that? I'll need more than the word of a friend who claims to recognize it as yours."
"If he used my stuff, I can prove it," Gary nodded firmly.
The dean nodded and moved through the outer office into his inner sanctum. "Alright then, you will have to file a formal complaint - we can consider this conversation good enough for right now but there will be no backing out of it once I open Jack's file. If you can't prove your accusations, you will be the one who's facing disciplinary action. I know you're only taking one course here, but your actions will be reported to the authorities at the School of the Art Institute as well. I'm sure they would frown quite seriously upon any effort to malign another artist without sufficient evidence. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Sir," Gary nodded and repeated. "If he used my stuff, I can prove it."
The dean had withdrawn a Manila envelope from a locked file cabinet, but now paused before opening it. "'If?'"
"I didn't see him steal it!" Gary sighed. "If it's not my stuff, I'll tell you."
The dean shook his head. "That's not good enough. The bids are supposed to stay sealed until the Board of Directors opens them next week. I can't let you see this unless you're sure it's yours."
Turnbull dared lean forward to interrupt. "Perhaps Mr. Garrison could describe his work and you could take a looksey to see if it matches what Mr. Mangus submitted."
The dean frowned unhappily and let his eyes rake Ren's uniform. "You're the Mountie he told me about?"
Ren pasted a bright smile in place and offered his hand. "Constable Turnbull, Sir."
The dean ignored the hand and turned his frown on Gary. "I would've been happier if you'd brought a regular cop with you. Have you even reported this to the police yet?"
Gary rolled his eyes.
"Yes, yes! It's reported!" Arleen answered for him in exasperation. "The creeps are already in jail!"
Turnbull opened his mouth to correct that assumption, knowing it was very unlikely that any of them were actually in jail as yet - most likely they were still being interviewed or talking to their lawyers - but Ms. Schlemiel continued before he could do so. He decided it wasn't important anyway.
"--The guy wouldn't have tried to kill you if he hadn't stolen it, Gary!" She frowned at the dean. "Open it already!"
"This had better be yours and you'd better be able to prove it," he warned Gary. The young man nodded and the dean opened the envelope. Inside was a presentation folder and a computer CD. The clear plastic slipcover of the presentation folder displayed an artistic rendering of the Activity Center with what Ren assumed was the proposed mural in place.
Gary seemed to suddenly relax. "It's mine," he confirmed with a nod. "He changed the background to get rid of my signature," he pointed to the bottom right corner where a stylized "JM©1996" resided, "but everything else is mine."
The Dean turned the presentation folder around and slid it toward Gary. "Prove it," he ordered simply.
Gary ignored the folder and nodded at the CD. "Open it," he said.
The dean frowned in mild confusion.
"Oh!" Turnbull suddenly exclaimed as a light went on. "You used a watermark!"
"No." Gary shook his head but offered the Constable a secretive smile. "Something better."
The dean had moved to sit at his desk and now inserted the disk into the CD drive. Turnbull offered a curious tilt of his head for Mr. Garrison as Dean Woodridge tapped on his keys.
"They wouldn't let us use a watermark; part of the rules." Gary shrugged and moved to watch the computer screen over the dean's shoulder. "It had to be in a layered .pdf anyway, so it would have been pointless."
"PDF format usually allows for encoding the author's name with the work," Ren knew, realizing that this would have rendered the effort to steal the project impossible.
"I hadn't bothered to fill that stuff out yet," Gary answered. He frowned slightly. "He rewrote the text of the proposal, but that's okay. Scroll down to the actual artwork."
Both Ren and Arleen moved to join Gary behind the dean's desk so they too could see what was happening.
"There. You see that eye?" He pointed to the first of several people which were depicted in the midst of various athletic events throughout the ages against a faded Colosseum backdrop, in this case a carefully-posed naked Greek runner. "Zoom in," Gary told the dean.
The dean frowned and shook his head. "My secretary does all the computer work here"
"Allow me," Ren offered, as he was closest to the mouse. A few clicks brought the face into larger focus.
"I love .pdf," Gary grinned. "Keep going. It's in the reflected light of the right eye."
"Ah!" Ren nodded as he worked. "You imbedded your signature."
"Kinda," Gary grinned and wrapped his arm around Arleen. It took only a few more clicks to reveal Gary's 'proof': the nose and curly haired top of a little cartoon man who resembled Gary was peeking over the edge of the 'highlight'. Below him, in white on black, were the words, "Gary was here."
Ren grinned and sat back. "A Kilroy!" he exclaimed.
"A what?" Arleen asked.
"A 'Kilroy'," Ren answered. "According to the most accepted version of events, James J. Kilroy was a shipyard inspector in Boston, Mass. during WWII. He wrote the phrase 'Kilroy was here' on various surfaces to show that he'd been aboard the ship and inspected the bulkheads and rivets. Troops assigned to the ships saw his strange moniker and wondered who it was who'd been there before anyone else. The phrase caught their imagination and soon 'Kilroys' began appearing everywhere, as a sort of silent representative of the American troops fighting spirit, and continues to do so to this day. Normally, it's a bald man with a big nose peeking over the top of something, and not a young man with curly hair, but the concept is the same."
"I got the idea from a professor of mine who used to do technical drafting for the Air Force. He said he always inserted a tiny Kilroy in his work; you couldn't see it unless you knew where to look and had a magnifying lens, but it was there. I'm not in the Army or anything, so I made up my own little man to look like me."
"Given the odd nature of the insertion, I would definitely have to call that proof," the dean nodded. He then frowned in thought. "On second thought, Mr. Mangus could always claim you tampered with his work..."
"Ah!" Ren declared. "The question would then be decided by which man could produce the earliest version of the original without the insertion." He turned to Gary. "He would not have been able to change your original artwork, so I'm afraid it was likely destroyed, but I assume you kept back-up copies of your earlier work on the computer on disks?"
"No," Gary answered, looking upset. "I had a couple of them on the hard drive but Jack probably deleted the file after he stole what he wanted."
"'What he wanted'," Ren agreed with a knowing wink and a finger touch to the side of his nose. "That's the key. I somehow doubt he thought to copy the entire file. He probably only took your final draft. I also somehow doubt that Mr. Mangus knows a lot about computers."
"He knows enough to delete the files," Gary shrugged. "If he did that, I can't prove a single thing!"
"Oh, yes you can," Ren assured him. "If all he did was delete them, the files are still there."
"The trash folder!" Arleen suddenly exclaimed in surprised thought.
"Probably," Ren agreed, "but even assuming he was smart enough to empty the trash, the files are probably still on your hard drive. Unless Mr. Mangus took the time to do a low level format of your entire hard drive, or the system has been used since the files were copied and the those sectors overwritten, the files are probably recoverable."
"Recoverable?" Gary asked. "You mean you can rebuild files after they've been deleted?"
"Oh, yes!" Ren nodded. "Experts at the RCMP do it all the time. Computer forensics is an important investigative weapon in the fight against crime."
"Can you do it?"
Ren had to stop himself from instantly volunteering. "I can," he agreed, with an embarrassed blush for having to admit to this rather technical skill, "but that wouldn't be wise."
"Why not?" Arleen frowned sharply.
"It would be tampering with evidence," he explained. "We have to let a Chicago Police Computer Forensics Specialist handle it. It also has to be compared to Mr. Mangus' computer. It should be relatively easy to determine who created the original files."
Gary rolled his eyes and hung his head. "That'll take forever!" he sighed. "The competition will be over by the time they get to it!"
Ren smiled. "Not necessarily. May I use your phone, Sir?"
The dean glanced up at the Mountie and offered a confused nod.
Ren's friend, David Mathers - whom he'd had the fortune to meet the same day he discovered that little cyber-grind down on Madison, and who just happened to work for the Chicago Police Computer Crimes Division down at Central - had been quite happy to assist them in recovering Mr. Garrison's files. A couple of phone calls was all that had been needed to make it official - not that, as it turned out, official channels were needed. Apparently, Jack Mangus had cracked under the knowledge that his own father had agreed to testify against him and had confessed to everything. Still, Ren had thought, it never hurt to follow the rules.
David had met them at Gary's place and, much to Ms. Schlemiel's delight, they'd discovered the 'deleted' files still in the computer's trash folder. Gary had been able to burn a new CD within a matter of minutes and handed Dean Woodridge, who had accompanied them out of sheer curiosity, a copy of his original proposal less than an hour after Turnbull had called David.
While David and Gary had been busy on the computer, Ren had managed to convince Ms. Schlemiel to call her father. It hadn't taken much convincing on his part as, despite their argument, she'd never intended not to speak to him again. The argument, she'd explained, had been over her change of major from Art History to Art Administration, which entailed a change of schools as well. Her father had been convinced the only reason she was doing it was to be with her boyfriend, but he underestimated her; and, obviously, knew nothing about Chicago. Attending two different schools had never interfered with their relationship, which had been on going for more than a year.
The conversation was rather tearful actually, a sudden and delayed release of pent up emotions following the rather nightmarish ordeal of being kidnaped and held captive for almost a week. It was perfectly understandable, if a bit disconcerting. Ren had quickly engaged David in a discussion so as to grant her at least a semblance of privacy in the one-room efficiency apartment that was Mr. Garrison's place of residence.
Ren and the other men had been laughing quietly over some of David's more colorful tales concerning other stupid mistakes he'd seen criminals make when using computers, when Ms. Schlemiel had unexpectedly called Ren to the phone.
Oh, dear! The Canadian Minister of Finance wanted to talk to him? He was suddenly tongue tied and incredibly flustered. "Canadian Con I mean, Consulate Turn Constable. Constable Turnbull... Sir!"
"Constable... My daughter tells me you took a nasty hit to the head. Sounds like maybe you need to see a doctor, son..."
"Oh, well, um..." He blushed crimson over how badly his lack of verbal skills had just reflected on him! Ren didn't think he really needed to see a doctor but he couldn't very well correct such a senior member of government! "Perhaps? Maybe... that is, if, ah"
"My daughter tells me you saved her life, Constable Turnbull," the man continued briskly, fortunately dropping the question of a doctor, "at considerable risk to your own, from the sound of things."
Ren didn't think it was possible for him to blush further, but from the feel of things he was mistaken. "Oh, Sir! I... It... that is, I... I was only doing my duty!"
"And most commendably too, Constable," the man agreed. "I will personally see to it that A Letter of Commendation and Merit is forwarded to your Commanding Officer first thing tomorrow morning."
"Oh, Sir, I I--"
"--No thanks, Constable; you deserve it. Now let me speak to my daughter again."
What else could he say or do? Ren smiled self-consciously and handed the phone back to Ms. Schlemiel.
David frowned as Ren cleared his throat and tugged at the collar of his tunic before moving to rejoin them. "Good or bad?" he asked, trying to assess Ren's obvious discomfiture.
"Oh, good. Good," he admitted, fighting to regain his composure and not suddenly smile so hard that he split his face! "Very good, actually."
David relaxed and grinned along with him as he slapped him on the back. "It's always great when a case falls into place and everything has a happy ending. You need a lift home?"
"Oh, I Actually, I have to return to the Consulate. The Inspector was expecting my report by tonight."
David glanced at his watch. "It's almost nine," he observed, turning to lead the way out of the apartment with a silent wave of goodbye for the other men who were busy discussing something to do with an art exhibit at Gallery X. Ms. Schlemiel was tucked under Gary's arm as she talked to her room mate on the phone and showed no signs of wanting to move from there. The three returned the wave and Ren found himself automatically following his friend out the door as he continued, "Don't you think everyone's gone home for the day?"
"Oh, no," Ren answered with a shake of his head, dispite the fact that the other man had his back to him. "The cleaning staff usually arrives around eight and, also, usually someone is assigned to man the phones until nine, due to time zone differences between the west and east coasts, and--"
"--Okay, okay!" David grinned, and shook his head in sympathy. "I get the picture. Even if your boss is gone, he's probably going to want to see your report on his desk first thing in the morning, huh? Bureaucrats: they're all alike. It's over on Stetson, right?"
"Yes, but... I need to return Lieutenant Welsh's car."
"Lieutenant Welsh..." David echooed pensively. "Where have I heard that name before?"
"He's the officer in charge of district twenty-seven's Violent Crimes Unit."
"--Right! My Lieutenant used to be his partner, way back when. 'Always talking about the good ol' days. Your Welsh sounds like he was a bit of a cowboy in his younger days. I'd like to meet him."
"He's not he's not that is, I don't really I just met him today myself."
"Today? He loaned you his car and you're telling me you don't even know him?"
"He-- Apparently, he likes the Arts. And"
"--Whatever," David interrupted. "He's probably gone home for the day. 'Woulda just taken a car from the motor pool. You can introduce us some other time. You just dropping the car off out back?"
"Course ya are. I'll meet you and give you a lift back to the Consulate."
"That's very kind of you, but... I don't want to impose."
"What 'impose'? It's on my way."
Ren frowned in confusion as he followed his friend, "I thought you lived over on Deering Street?" which he knew perfectly well was in the opposite direction of both the 27th and the Consulate.
His friend only laughed and agreed, "Yeah, so?" and continued leading the way out of the building.
It was quite late by the time David dropped him off in front of the Consulate and waved good-bye. Turnbull smiled happily and turned to mount the stone steps with a merry whistle upon his lips. He was even able to ignore the embarrassing squeak of his still damp boot. It had certainly been a long day, he thought. Inspector Thatcher had undoubtably left long ago, and he had little doubt that she would demand to see him first thing in the morning.
To his surprise, he found the door before him locked.
"That's odd," he thought aloud and glanced at his wristwatch: 10:03 pm. "The cleaning crew must have finished early," he decided with a shrug and dug out his keys. He'd just pop in and type up his report before changing clothes and heading home...
He stepped into a puddle.
A puddle? "What in the world..?" A spilled bucket of mop water, maybe - but why in the world hadn't the cleaning crew... The acrid smell of smoke struck him next. With a feeling of dawning horror, Ren swung the door shut behind him and flipped on the foyer's light switch.
Thatcher was more than a little angry as she stepped from the cab in the early morning light and saw Fraser there before her, struggling with a pair of crutches and the heavy door. "What do you think you're doing?" she demanded abruptly as she quickly mounted the stairs and joined him.
Fraser turned in surprise. "I that is" He waved at the door.
"--You're still supposed to be off recuperating!" she told him firmly, extracting her own keys and brushing aside his efforts with the door. "Not that I couldn't use your help. The place is an absolute disaster! You've managed to pick a very inconvenient time to go and get shot, Constable."
"I I'm sorry? Sir..." Ben answered, not sure what else to say and more than a little confused by her obvious irritation.
"I sent Constable Turnbull off yesterday on a very simple assignment - to knock on a university student's door for heaven's sake! - and the man never returned. In the meantime, Constable Sterling managed to destroy the place. The man's even more of a klutz than Turnbull! I should've known there'd be trouble when he couldn't even unclog a toilet. He scrambled all the phone lines, crashed the computer system and managed to set off the fire sprinklers! There's water everywhere so it's probably not safe for you to come in. The first thing I need to do is put a 'Closed' sign on this..." She stepped forward into a perfectly clean and, more importantly, dry foyer. "...door," she finished lamely.
Fraser gazed around her and saw nothing amiss. "The cleaning crew?" he suggested.
"They refused to touch it last night," she answered moving forward. "Not part of the contract, they said; and they didn't have time. They were going to send someone out later this morning. I and the rest of the staff moped up the worst of it, but..."
"Perhaps they came earlier than expected."
"Perhaps..." she echoed doubtfully.
"Or... Constable Sterling returned to clean up?"
"Constable Sterling was ordered never to set foot inside this building again!" she told him quite firmly. "The only reason I didn't cashier his egotistical... self," she kept herself from cursing with an effort, "is because approving his request for an immediate transfer was faster." Gesturing Fraser in, she closed the door behind them and locked it. It was, after all, still before normal business hours. "The man should be put under glass with a warning sign that reads, 'Break only in time of war.'"
Silently, Ben agreed, and hoped the immediate transfer had been to Baffin Island. Ottawa had sent Constable Sterling down here to teach him humility. He'd been assigned three months of sentry duty within minutes of his first meeting with Inspector Thatcher. Ben didn't know exactly what had transpired in those minutes, but he had his suspicions. The man seemed to think he was God's gift to women. Given the way he'd been walking when he left the Inspector's office, Ben suspected she'd disabused him of that theory.
"I'll check my messages," she decided, heading for her office. "Perhaps there's an explanation there - if I can even manage to boot the system and retrieve my email! Turnbull is going to have his hands full straightening everything out when he finally shows up, but frankly I'll be so happy to see the man that I wouldn't care if he'd gone and married the Minister of Finance's daughter!" She suddenly brought herself up short. "I take that back. Anything short of that, however, will be happily overlooked as long as he shows up on time. You check the kitchen: just don't be surprised by what you find. Sterling put a metal bowl in the microwave and left it. We're lucky he didn't burn the place down!"
Oh dear, Ben thought, and mentally girded himself for the disaster he fully expected to find. No wonder the cleaning crew had refused to tackle the job last night. It sounded like there would be several hours of serious labor involved. He adjusted his grip on the crutches, knowing there would be little or nothing he could do to help in his present condition. Well, perhaps he could tackle whatever Sterling had managed to do to the computer network.
He was forewarned that his concerns were for naught by the smell of fresh paint even before he swung open the free hanging door. To his surprise, the kitchen was spotless. It was, in fact, immaculate. If it weren't for the smell of fresh paint, Ben would have suspected that Inspector Thatcher had suffered some sort of delusional dream. He'd been expecting to at least find smoke stains or scorch marks on the ceiling and walls near the microwave - which he noted was missing. It had undoubtedly needed to be thrown out. It was also undoubtably the smoke stains and possible scorch marks that had necessitated the paint job.
The janitorial service they had contracted with must have come back in the middle of the night and tackled the job while everyone else was gone. There simply was no other explanation. He was a bit surprised that they'd actually taken the initiative to seal and paint the damaged areas, but...
Dief nosed his way around Ben and trotted across the newly waxed floor to his water dish, which Ben noted was freshly washed and filled. He cocked his head to the side as he watched his canine companion, knowing that only he or Constable Turnbull ever attended to that particular task, and a second possible explanation began to dawn.
"Turnbull?" he called out, hoping to confirm his suspicions but he got no answer. With a pensive frown, he turned awkwardly on his crutches and left Dief in the kitchen, deciding to explore the mystery further before reporting to Thatcher.
She had mentioned something about the toilet so that was his next stop. The downstair's bathroom also was perfectly cleaned. So was the attached laundry room - except for the pair of Sam Brown boots which rested atop the dryer. Size 15. Which meant, that unless Turnbull had seen fit to change his uniform before setting out on his assignment yesterday, he had indeed returned at some point last night.
Ben frowned and headed for the stairs, but paused as he came up beside Turnbull's desk. As always, the surface was perfectly organized and neat. What drew his attention was the folder in the center of it. The title read "Case Report: Schlemiel, Arleen. Missing Person/Kidnapping/Attempted murder." Yesterday's date was at the bottom and an official red stamp slashed across the middle of it stating, "Case Closed."
Ben's brows rose in sharp surprise. Arleen Schlemiel: that was the university student's door the Inspector had sent Turnbull to knock upon? He had to wonder if she were any relation to Minister Schlemiel, the Canadian Minister of Finance. Given that he was Constable Turnbull's immediate superior, Ben felt no compunction whatsoever about scanning the report. His brows went up even higher and he set his crutches aside so he could sit down and read it properly.
He'd just gotten to the part where Lieutenant Welsh had loaned Turnbull his personal vehicle when a soft snore suddenly caught his attention. He glanced up and immediately placed the sound as coming from his right. Dief was sitting quietly beside him, giving the closed conference room door a curious look. Loath to leave the report and the incredible story contained therein, Ben rose nonetheless and retrieved his crutches. There was only one likely explanation for the sound. Quietly, he approached the door and swung it open.
There sat Turnbull; or, he corrected the thought, there 'slept' Turnbull. The man was seated at the large mahogany table dressed only in his starched boxer shorts, white T-shirt, black socks... and, apparently, a pink floral apron! Beneath his folded arms and sleeping form was his red serge tunic; beside him was a spool of red thread and scissors. A needle and thread had fallen from his hand and, off to his left, sat his Stetson - which had obviously seen better days. A dark spot on it caught Ben's attention and, moving silently, he made his way forward to inspect it. He was not surprised to confirm the presence of dried blood. A close inspection of the back Turnbull's head showed him where the man had been hit and knocked unconscious - all in keeping with the report that Ben had just read.
Dief, who'd followed Ben in, glanced up and asked if the other man was alright.
Ben's finger shot to his mouth and he shushed the animal sharply, not wanting to wake Turnbull. Not only had the man faced off against several armed men yesterday, and prevailed, but it was equally obvious that he'd spent the night cleaning the Consulate! He deserved his rest.
With a silent shake of his head, Ben decided to speak with Thatcher immediately. Moving as quietly as possible, he retreated from the room and headed upstairs, taking Turnbull's report with him.
Ren sighed and turned his head to the other side, only to have bright sunlight slash across his closed eyelids. In confusion, he blinked open his eyes and glanced around. The confusion was quickly replaced by dismay as memory knit itself into place. His eyes shot to the clock above the mantel only to discover it was after eight o'clock in the morning.
"Oh, no!" he exclaimed, realizing that he must have dozed off. Inspector Thatcher would be here any moment, if she wasn't already! A glance at the red serge on the table before him, followed by a glance at his present - less than requisite attire! - had him leaping to his feet. His jodhpurs were in the dryer, which meant he'd have to try and sneak down the corridor
His knee smacked the edge of the table with a loud "bang!" He bit back an exclamation of pain even as he stumbled backward and fell against a sideboard near the door. The water decanter tilted dangerously and he immediately made a grab for it, only to have it evade his fingers and fall to the floor with an unmistakable "crash!"
To his chagrin, the door beside him immediately swung open and he found himself standing face to face with an open mouthed Inspector Thatcher. Her eyes started to rake his form only to immediately leap back to his face even as he felt his cheeks heat with an intense blush. Instantly, he drew himself to sharp attention.
Oh dear, oh dear! He prayed the ground would just open up and swallow him whole!
Thatcher grabbed desperately at her composure as she suddenly found herself confronted by the rather ridiculously half-dressed man before her. Laughter was completely out of the question; but then, given his report and the Letter of Commendation she'd just read, so was a reprimand. She decided to simply ignore it and allowed herself a quick glance to where the faux-crystal water decanter lay in shards on the tiled flooring: that she knew how to deal with. "The cost for that will be deducted from your next paycheck, Constable," she told him automatically.
Oh dear, she thought, hadn't she just decided not to reprimand him? She found herself incredibly flustered and, if there were anything Meg Thatcher hated, she hated being flustered!
She watched as he nodded minutely, his eyes drilling a hole through the wall behind her as he held himself ramrod straight and answered with a perfectly correct, "Yes, Sir!"
"I've read your report, Constable," she hurried on, hoping to mitigate the harshness of her words, but not wanting to appear overly friendly either... Oh, she hated being put on the spot like this, especially when it was her own doing!
Why couldn't the man have simply stayed dressed, for heaven's sake!
She grabbed the bottom of her tunic and tugged it down, drawing herself to her full height and wrapping her professional mein about herself like invisible armor. Compared to Turnbull, she still felt incredibly tiny.
"The Minister of Finance sent his personal thanks along with a copy of his Letter of Commendation via e-mail. The actual document should arrive within a few days. Make sure I get it at once so that it can be properly inserted into you personnel file, along with a copy of my own Letter of Commendation."
"Yes, Sir!" he repeated correctly.
"And... thank you," she offered awkwardly. "I mean, for all the work you obviously put in here last night. You didn't need to do that. The cleaning crew is due to arrive shortly per arrangements last night; but, anyway, I appreciate it."
The man continued to hold himself perfectly still before her. Even her thanks sounded autocratic! She just really was not handling this well... but what else could she do? She turned toward Fraser at her side.
"Constable," she addressed him crisply. "I'm ordering you to take care of this man. See to it that he..." This was coming out all wrong, she knew, and fought to reorganize her thoughts. "Just... get him dressed and checked out by a doctor before taking him home," she told him bluntly. "Use one of the Consulate cars."
"Sir--" Turnbull dared to interject, only to have her anticipate his objection.
"--No arguments, Turnbull," she told him firmly, using his name rather than his rank on purpose. It was just that one half-step down from formality that she felt comfortable with. "You were knocked unconscious for a considerable number of minutes from the sound of things and almost certainly have a concussion, whether you realize it or not. I will not have you endangering your health out of some misplaced sense of duty. Besides," she continued more gently, "you've already done more than enough here to assist in righting the disaster Constable Sterling managed to inflict during your absence."
She leaned forward slightly and assured him in a somewhat conspiratorial undertone, "He won't be returning."
She straightened again and continued. "I think the rest of the staff, Constable Fraser and myself are quite capable of handling the rest of it from here. As such, I'm ordering you to take a few days off, regardless of what the doctor says. You are not to return to work until next Monday at the earliest - and if the doctor recommends longer, not before he says. Clear?"
She knew the man was not about to relax until after she left the room and, under the circumstances, she didn't want him to as it would only force her to acknowledge his... rather bizarre attire. She and Fraser exchanged understanding nods and she spun on her heel to exit the room, only to abruptly halt in the open doorway as she suddenly remembered something. "Oh, I'm also shortening your official title. Hereafter you will simply be the 'Assistant Deputy Liaison Officer.' Congratulations. Make sure you requisition a new name plate when you return." With that she left and closed the door behind her.
In surprise, Ren dared break discipline and glanced at Constable Fraser. His immediate superior officer was unabashedly grinning at him and reached out to award a clap to his back. "Good job, Constable," he said simply.
Ren suddenly found himself grinning in return, basking in the camaraderie of finally knowing he belonged.