The first thing Natalie learned about her partner was that he was afraid to fly. They sat in the airport bar, and Snow was hastily consuming his third beer. “Thirsty?” Natalie asked innocently.
Snow grinned, “I just hate flying,” he said bluntly.
“And why is that?” she asked.
Snow smiled and leaned forward and spoke quietly, as though trying to shield the other future passengers from knowing the truth he had stumbled upon. “So get this, when you’re up there watching the video on that nifty LCD monitor built into the seat of the passenger in front of you, you’re in a very unnatural position for a human being. The plane is traveling at unimaginable speeds, and you can actually see the curvature of the earth. You may be sitting comfortably in your chair, but if you have an outside seat, you’re about eight inches away from sub-zero temperatures, a pressure differential that would blow your eardrums out, and a nice eight-mile drop to the ground.” He stopped and looked at her wide-eyed, “I’ve heard that when airliners break up at high altitudes, the friction from the air actually strips the clothes from their bodies on their way down.”
Natalie repressed a smile while she wondered how many more eccentricities her new partner would display on her first day on the job. “I see, drink up then.”
The plane touched down in L.A. at eight o’clock Pacific time. Because the investigation now included the death of a federal agent, the FBI had agreed to assist them. Shortly after claiming their luggage, they were in a government vehicle with a warrant to search the offices of the Clark-Reynolds Technologies Company.
Their gray Dodge Intrepid pulled into the office-building parking lot and they exited the vehicle. It was a clear night, and the stars could be seen gleaming through the lights and haze of the city. They quickly climbed the steps to the building’s main entrance. The doors were made of shatter-proof glass, and they could see the security desk inside. Snow tried opening the door, but, predictably, it was locked. To the right of the door was a security panel as well as a button that they assumed would alert security that they were here. Snow pressed the button and waited.
“I would imagine that they won’t be too pleased to see us here at this time of night,” Natalie commented.
“We have a warrant, so we’re going in,” Snow smirked.
A moment later they saw a pair of muscular men wearing suits arrive at the door. They opened it and stepped outside. “Can we help you?”
Snow stepped forward. “I’m agent David Snow, this is my partner Natalie Taylor. We’re federal agents with the PSI, and we have a warrant to enter this building.”
“Let me see your badge,” the guard snarled.
Snow and Taylor presented their badges. The guard grimaced in annoyance, then waved them away. “You’re welcome to come back and schedule an appointment tomorrow morning.”
“I’m afraid this can’t wait. This is a warrant authorizing us to search the building.”
“Then I suppose you have to be here,” said the guard. “But you’ll have to wait until someone from management shows up to show you around.”
“Actually, we would be happy to wait,” said Snow. “We need to speak with someone who can talk to us about the two murders that have taken place.”
The guard sighed. “Follow me in and I’ll make a call.”
Snow and Taylor followed the guard into the building and into a reception area where they made themselves comfortable in the plush chairs.
“Take a seat, this might take a while,” said the guard.
The agents sat in silence for a few minutes. “Well, this would be a good time to break out a deck of cards, wouldn’t it?” Snow asked.
Natalie sighed. “You know, we’re well within our rights to just start seizing office equipment. We don’t have to wait here until someone shows up to escort us around.”
“True,” said Snow, “but if we do that, we’ll lose the cooperation of the people in charge. As it is, we can call them down here and hopefully get some straight answers from them.”
Quiet ensued as they continued to wait. Snow checked his watch, while Natalie sat, perfectly composed. They first noticed something was amiss when they detected what seemed like a ticking echo sound. Tick-ick-ick-ick….. Tick-ick-ick-ick. “Do you hear that?” Snow asked.
Natalie nodded. “Yeah, but I don’t think I’m hearing it.”
Snow realized that he was feeling it more than hearing it. “You’re right. That noise is psionic.”
Natalie put a hand to her head. She was beginning to feel pain. “I’m not feeling good,” she commented.
“Do you need to leave?” Snow asked.
“No. We’ll stay.” Natalie said, clenching her jaw in an effort to remain focused.
Snow climbed to his feet. The security guards were nowhere in sight, and other than this room, the rest of the building remained closed off to them. The only place for them to go was back outside. “Guard!” he shouted.
There was no reply.
“Guard!” he shouted, clutching his head in his hands. The ticking continued steadily, and his head was beginning to throb painfully. The ticking began to change into static, and for a moment, they could both hear the word, “testing.” There was a pause, and then through the static, they heard “Testing. Bryan, do you read?”
There was another pause, then a reply. “Yeah, I hear you, but this thing’s amped up too high. I think we need to work on it some more.”
The last word they heard was, “Gotcha.”
The noise and the static stopped as abruptly as it had began. The agents’ headaches quickly faded.
“What was that?” Natalie asked.
Snow shook his head a couple times, trying to ease the tension in his head. “The only thing I know is that normal psionics don’t do that unless its offensive. I’m guessing that they’re experimenting with electronic boosting equipment.
“Yes, but to what end?”
“That’s what we need to find out,” Snow said.
A moment later, a heavyset man with white hair came bustling through the doors. “Agents!” he said with a smile. “I trust you haven’t been waiting for too long. My name is Harvey Conrad, CEO of the Clark-Reynolds Technologies Company. I’ve been told that you have a warrant. May I see it?”
Snow presented the man with the warrant. “I’m sure you know what this is about.”
“Yes, the unpleasantness that has been going on the last few days. I’m truly sorry about the loss of your agent at our storage facility. If they would have simply waited, someone could have been summoned to show them around.”
“Are you suggesting that what happened was somehow the fault of our agents?” Natalie asked incredulously.
Conrad shook his head, “Of course not, but I am saying that had they not been so quick to enter the building, we would have been more than happy to assist them in their investigation, and its possible that this entire unpleasantness could have been avoided.”
“Why did you disturb the site of a murder before reporting it to the police?” Natalie asked.
“As you know, the Clarke-Reynolds Technology Company works on a number of classified government contracts. I had corporate security examine the crime scene to ensure that there was nothing deemed classified could fall into the hands of investigators,” Conrad replied.
“Nevermind the fact that disturbing the scene of a homicide is a crime,” Natalie stated.
Conrad’s face was suddenly solemn, and very serious. “Nevermind the fact that your agent was trespassing on private property, poking around without a warrant. I already have our lawyers looking into the legalities of filing charges in this matter. Besides, I assure you that the crime scene was not disturbed, once we discovered that there was no sensitive information lying about.”
“Speaking of the crime scene,” Natalie said, “When your people arrived, they found the dead agent as well as three of your security guards, who were bound after apparently being tazered. The report says they stated that they saw two agents enter, but they didn’t see either of them leave. Nevertheless, when the police arrived at the location, they searched the entire building and found neither the second agent nor his body. Can you explain how he left the building?”
Conrad shuffled uncomfortably. “I have no idea how he left without being seen.”
“That building has surveillance cameras mounted in every room, correct?” She asked.
Conrad nodded, “Yes. I showed the tapes to the police when they arrived. Would you like to see them?”
“Please,” Natalie said.
Conrad walked to a door, placed his identification card in front of one of the sensors, and they heard a beep, followed by three clicks as the door unlocked. He led them down a series of hallways, then arrived at a heavy metal door, which he also unlocked. He led them into a room that contained numerous security devices, a machine that created corporate security ID cards, and two-dozen wall mounted televisions. “This is our security office. All of the security cameras from here and our remote locations feed to this room.” He sat down at a computer station, and opened a file. One of the monitors on the wall activated and began playing back the video taken at when agent Holt was murdered.
“As you can see, there were no other security officers on duty at that location when the incident occurred. You can see your agents questioning our security guard. They then go down to room eleven, pick the lock, then they go inside and start rummaging through the place.”
“What do you keep in that room?” Natalie asked.
“That’s where we store a lot of data from the various projects we work on here.”
“Was all of the data accounted for after our agent was found?” Snow asked.
“Yes,” Conrad replied.
“Now, as you can see they’ve found something they’re interested in. Your agent hooks up a removable hard drive to his PDA and accesses the contents.” He paused a moment. “And that’s where the recording cuts out.”
They watched a brief moment of static, followed by the video catching the corporate security investigators arriving on the scene. The agents watched as the security team examined the scene. “As you can see, my security agents didn’t disturb the scene and left the evidence intact when contacting the police.”
“Why did the video cut out?” Snow asked.
Conrad shrugged, “It was a system-wide failure that affected the entire building. For all I know, the power might have cut-out at that time. The security cameras are fed here through the computer network, and none of those lines were unplugged or cut. There’s also a backup recorder on-site, which suffered the same failure. We’ve already gone over all of this with the police, and we turned over a copy of the security file to the FBI earlier today.”
“And what assurances do we have that the recordings weren’t altered?” Snow asked.
“The security system leaves a digital watermark on the recording. You can research the system if you would like, but it’s next to impossible to make changes without it being detected,” Conrad said.
“Are you familiar with psionic abilities?” Snow asked bluntly.
Conrad looked at him with a smile. “I assume that’s a joke.”
“No,” said Snow, “I very seriously want to know if you have any knowledge of psionics.”
Conrad chuckled, “Only that they’re a product of some science fiction author’s overactive imagination.”
“Alright, let’s go back to the murder of Doctor Russell. Can you tell me what he was working on at the time of his murder?” Snow asked.
“He was working on a classified military project. If you want to know more about it, you’ll have to contact the Department of Defense for security clearance.”
“Is there anything you can tell me about what happened?”
“Not much,” Conrad said. “His death came as a shock to us all. We do have an employee in research and development, who hasn’t come to work since the murder.”
“Was he on the same project as Russell?” Snow asked.
Conrad shrugged. “He had the same security clearance. They may have worked on the project together, but it’s difficult to say for sure. I honestly haven’t checked into it. His name is Eli Kemp. I’ll pull up his address for you.”
“Do you mind if we look around the building for a while?” Snow asked.
“Only if you allow me to accompany you. Your court order may get you onto the premises, but it does not override military security protocols.”
They spent the next half hour going from room to room, cubicle to cubicle. They saw a number of unknown prototype devices, which they didn’t have the security clearance to investigate. Other than security, they did not see anyone else in the building, and they found no obvious evidence of what caused their earlier headache.
“I think he’s lying to us,” Natalie said as they walked towards their car.
“Yeah, I could tell he was lying to us,” Snow agreed, “but I don’t think the company is directly responsible for either death.”
Twenty minutes later Snow and Taylor parked outside of a two-story house in an upper-middle class neighborhood. They left their car, walked to the doorway, and knocked.
A moment later, they heard someone approach the door. “Who is it?” came a voice from inside.
“Federal agents. We need to speak with Eli Kemp. Open up!” Snow yelled.
They waited for a response, but none came.
“Open up!” Snow repeated.
They heard the sound of a car engine staring, followed by the sound of the garage door opening. “He’s trying to run!” Natalie said, unholstering her gun.
Natalie ran towards the garage as they heard the squeal of tires. Before she could intercept it, a blue Audi tore out of the garage, skidded into a turn, and raced down the normally quiet neighborhood street.
“Come on, we’re following him,” said Snow, as he ran towards their car.
To be continued...
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