Math Is Murder

Math Is Murder

by Robert C. Brigham, James B. Reed


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781469797281
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 03/26/2012
Pages: 260
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.59(d)

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iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2012 Robert C. Brigham and James B. Reed
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4697-9728-1

Chapter One

Late Sunday Afternoon and Evening

"Murder! Yes, MURDER!"

All stare with horror. One of the men screams, "My God! Look out." The standing Elmo Sherwin's massive right arm is aimed straight at the older woman who shouts, "No, please no!" The pleas have no impact. The offending limb, with increasing velocity, continues its downward arc while the miscreant's round cherubic face quivers and intelligent myopic eyes twinkle. The man who screamed and a young woman each grab their liqueur glass. The other man, Jim Albright, snatches both his and another's. Just in time! The gargantuan arm smacks the walnut table and only the hand-cut 24% lead crystal and expensive vessel in front of Elmo falls safely to the soft tablecloth.

All but Elmo sigh with relief. No damage has occurred, unless you count the expanding light orange stain on that cover. Theresa Bedlow, approaching 70, does seem to count it. She is not happy. Of course, it's her home, her glasses, her tablecloth. The others, again except for Elmo, know Theresa is capable of strict discipline to those who anger her. They await her reaction.

Theresa is Provost and Vice-President of Academic Affairs at Marcus Rome State University. Elmo is a mathematician at Sloane, a private university about 100 miles to the north. He's in a special class, absolutely brilliant! One of the best mathematicians in the world. It's strange, though, he's kind of a lost soul in most other areas of life. Like social situations.

The other three are faculty in the Mathematics Department. All are in their late thirties or early forties. They were hired within a couple of years of each other because their research interests matched an area the department wanted to build. Their collaboration has resulted in several papers in refereed mathematical journals. Of the three, Jim's relationship with Theresa is special. About twenty years ago, when he had no idea what he wanted to do with his life, he had enrolled in a criminal justice class she taught. She was the best teacher he had ever had.

There has been a conference at MRSU Wednesday through Saturday, attended by mathematicians from around the world, and Elmo gave the keynote talk. The research group prevailed on him to stay over to Sunday to discuss its work, which bears a relationship to some of his own activities. They had planned to invite him to dinner. Somehow Theresa learned about it and insisted everyone come to her home, said she had read about Elmo in the conference announcement and wanted to meet him. It's unusual for a provost to infringe on such an event. However, she always enjoys getting together with exceptional individuals and has maintained over the years a layman's interest in mathematics.

Theresa is questioning her interest in Elmo at the moment, but says nothing. Elmo breaks the silence. "Damn, oh, damn, damn, damn, damn! Why do these things keep happening to me? When I told my wife I was coming here, she reminded me not to get too excited," he whines like a child. He looks around, red-faced, and his eyes lock with Jim's, who nods toward Theresa. Thank God Elmo gets the signal. "Oh, right, right." A sheepish look engulfs his face as he glances at his host. Then, with eyes averted, "Terribly sorry. Tend to be a bit clumsy at times, you know." Now there's an understatement! He looks at her pleadingly.

So does the rest of the group. They know Theresa Bedlow does not suffer fools. Of course, Elmo's no fool. Just clumsy.

Jim has admired Theresa from the first day he walked into her class years ago. A dynamic instructor. Uses the Socratic method. Scared him to death, afraid he couldn't provide the deep analysis she demanded. And usually he didn't. But she found something in him, and has stayed in touch as he completed doctoral studies and wound up on the mathematics faculty. Before entering academe she'd been a lawyer, a chemist, and a homicide detective with the sheriff's department. Over the years she climbed the academic ladder at MRSU, serving as head of the Department of Forensic Science and Dean of the College of Science before assuming her present position. But to Jim and many of her other students she always will be a beloved and caring teacher.

Theresa eyes the penitent sternly, through steely gray eyes. She's not the slightest bit impressed with Elmo's mathematical pedigree. Intellectual dexterity is what she values. All hold their breath as she replies in a testy voice, "It's all right, Elmo. No real damage done. But perhaps it would be wise to curb your enthusiasm somewhat."

The mathematicians suppress sighs of relief. No storms for the moment. Jim looks at Elmo. My God, he seems to have no idea he's been gently rebuked, an impression he corroborates by jumping to his feet, sending his antique chair sprawling to the floor in the process. Oh boy, Jim thinks Theresa's really going to blow now. Her patience, never a strong point, seems to have diminished with advancing age.

Miraculously, there is no explosion. And, after another abject apology and terse acceptance, Elmo characteristically plunges ahead. "Well, of course I'm excited. Who wouldn't be after an evening like this? Fantastic food! Great discussion! God, what haven't we covered? Politics, religion, philosophy, literature, computers—even mathematics! The breadth of your knowledge amazes me, Theresa. And now murder! What on earth do you have in mind? Oh, this is so exciting!" As he resumes his seat, remembering to everyone's relief to set the chair upright first, he offers a beatific smile and with obvious glee rubs his hands.

Elmo looks at Theresa with interest. It's obvious he admires her razor sharp mind. But what is he seeing? No one would ever call him observant. An hour after he leaves her home he'll be incapable of recalling that she's tall—5'10"—and thin—barely 130 pounds. Nor that her face is long and angular, with a protruding jaw, slightly crooked teeth, and those gray eyes that miss nothing. Nor that her hair is fine, pure white, cut short, and straight. Nor that she's wearing an ivory pull-over blouse, navy blue slacks, dark comfortable low-heeled shoes, and no jewelry. Such details hold no importance for him.

Theresa Bedlow, on the other hand, misses nothing. Months from now she'll be able to describe every aspect of her guests' dress and demeanor. Take Elmo Sherwin, for example. Although Theresa probably wouldn't right now. Almost six and a half feet tall, easily 280 pounds, and a body having the firmness of a pillow. Brown eyes. Light brown hair. Mid 40s. And unbelievably brilliant. When Theresa phoned Jim to set up the dinner, he sang Elmo's praises. He told her about the 160 papers and 8 books Elmo's published, and that he was a consultant with the National Security Agency, the Department of Defense, and the National Science Foundation. Elmo's research has set the mathematical community on its ear. She listened, but she makes her own decisions about people. She'll base her opinion on personal observation, not on what Jim says. So far Elmo's receiving a failing grade.

Looking every bit the professor she is, Theresa stares directly at Elmo. "My secretary got me thinking last week. Tell me, Elmo, what do you think of Dexter?"

Elmo looks blank. "Er, I ... I don't know a Dexter. Well, I guess there's Dexter Williams, a topologist at the University of Illinois. Is that who ya mean?"

She says, "No, Elmo, I don't know him. Why on earth would I? It's a TV show. I've not seen it, but my secretary never misses an episode."

Jim blurts, "It's a great series!"

This was a bad mistake. At his outburst, Theresa bequeaths her renowned stare reserved for those who don't measure up. Her eyes return to Elmo. "It's about a serial killer. His adoptive father, a policeman no less, recognized this tendency, realized it couldn't be controlled. So he steered it into productive activity."

"Productive?" Elmo's puzzled. "What can be productive about killing a bunch of people?"

"Ah, but you've hit on the heart of my question," she replies with a reluctant hint of approval. "He kills only those who deserve to be killed, those whom the rules of society can't touch. My challenge to you, Elmo, or to any of you, is to decide if there are people so evil that someone should take it upon himself to execute them?"

Jim recognizes her tactic so often displayed in the classroom. She's raising a controversial subject to make her guests think, state their views, and then justify them with coherent arguments. She expects them to challenge accepted beliefs. And, of course, she won't reveal how she herself feels. It's déjà vu for Jim. He had been terrorized in her class, afraid of being called on and even more afraid of not measuring up. God, he hopes this isn't going to be a repeat of those days. Why does he feel this way? He's a man now. At the moment it doesn't seem like it, though. Elmo has no such problems as he explodes, "No! It's never acceptable!"

"Would you care to explain your stand?"

"No," he mutters and slumps in his chair, his eyes filled with anger. She stares at him with disgust. Clearly her earlier tentative approval has vanished and she doesn't see the genius the others do.

"What about you, Jim?" And as feared he's no longer the man who calls her Theresa, at her insistence when he was hired. He's that skinny kid quivering under her gaze in a long ago classroom who wouldn't dare to address her by anything except Dr. Bedlow. You would never call her attractive, but her figure had dominated the room and commanded nothing less than total respect. It still does. Jim pushes back his chair, scratches his ear, and looks thoughtful. He's killing time while his mind races. She sees through the ruse. "Come on, Jim, get on with it."

Just like two decades earlier, he's scared he'll say something stupid which, of course, is enough to make him do just that. He doesn't think she expects much, though. He's pretty sure she considers him a philosophical lightweight. But he also knows she likes him. And she seems to be impressed with his math. She's been following his career, claiming not to understand the details of his research. And probably she doesn't. But, boy, can she ask penetrating questions! She's staring at him now, awaiting an answer. He wonders what she's seeing. Physically he's nothing special. Still kind of skinny, actually, but pretty strong from daily workouts at the gym. And almost six feet tall with light brown, almost blond, hair and hazel eyes. He knows one gorgeous woman says he's quite handsome and that's enough for him. Theresa's eyes are boring into him, and he's definitely at a loss for consequential words. All he can do is mumble, "Gee, I don't know. I just don't have much experience with violent death." She regards him with resignation.

Jim's colleagues enter the discussion half-heartedly, with routine observations about no pity should be shown to those monsters who torture their victims or repeatedly rape women, or that's what we have the courts for. Even Jim can see that these unimaginative responses are no better than his and won't cut it with Theresa. She gazes at them with dismay and disappointment, probably wondering about the intellectual depth of the math department under her sway. It makes him defensive and he thinks, after all, we're mathematicians, not philosophers. But he doesn't say it aloud.

Jim asks her for her opinion. She opens her mouth. Out of it comes nothing. Out of her slacks pocket arises a rousing rendition of Pomp and Circumstance. Theresa extricates her cell phone and strides to the kitchen.

The guests chat amiably about Elmo's presentation at the conference until Theresa returns. "I'm so sorry," she says, "but I have to ask you to leave. Something has come up I must deal with immediately." All rise in unison, but Jim's worried about the look on Theresa's face. Is it fear? Or worry? He's never seen her the slightest bit flustered, but she definitely is now.

"What's the matter? Is there anything I can do?" he asks.

"No, Jim. Everything's under control. Please, just leave."

Jim notices it's only 9:30. He's thinking about that gorgeous woman who believes he looks good. He's been thinking about her all evening. And fantasizing. Soon he'll be with her, earlier than expected. Any concerns for Theresa's problem pale in comparison with the visions now filling his head.

Chapter Two

Sunday—Late Evening

The cell phone rings as Detective Sergeant Tom Warren, tired but content after a weekend off, is watching basketball. He's looking forward to a good night's sleep before beginning his early seven o'clock shift. Instinctively he glances at his phone, his eyes focused on the caller's number. "Shit!" It's the University's Communication Center. He notes its 2121 hours.


"Is this Sergeant Warren?"

"It is."

"Sergeant, the body of a male victim was found in Conroy Hall. Someone on the cleaning staff discovered him. Said there was a lot of blood."

Tom takes one of the unused stenographer's pads he keeps by the phone.

"What time was that?"

"The 911 call was received at 2108 hours."

"Where is he?"

"On the ninth floor, in one of the offices."

Tom knows the ninth floor houses the headquarters of the Mathematics Department. "Did the cleaning person go into the office?"

"No, sir. She took one look and ran away screaming."

"Who's at the scene?

"Two officers and two more are responding. Detective Chen is there. He was on campus when the call was dispatched."

"Is Doctor Bedlow still our contact person in Administration?"

"Yes. Should I give her a call?"

"Ok, go ahead. What's the case number?

He heads the first page of the pad with "2011-010445" followed by "S/7," a death investigation. On the next lines he puts successively "Conroy Hall, 9th floor," "2108 hours 13 Mar 2011—911 call received," and "2121 hours—call from Communications Center." He terminates the conversation, saying he'll be there in about half an hour.

Tom pulls on a lightly starched white Oxford shirt, black slacks, black slip-on shoes, and one of his locally famous geometrically patterned ties. His Glock on the right hip and handcuffs and cell phone on the left complete the ensemble. Pad in hand, he's ready for work. Slipping into the department's unmarked Chevy sedan, he enters "2145 hours—left residence." His documentation of a new investigation has begun.

Over his police radio he says "Hotel-101, is 10-8/10-51".

"10-4" replies the dispatcher.

"A death investigation," he muses as he drives virtually on autopilot the familiar route to the campus. "It's been three years since the last homicide. Suicides, particularly among the students, and sudden health related deaths are more frequent. But this doesn't sound as straightforward, what with the blood and all."

Fifteen minutes on low traffic back roads bring him to Rome Drive, a four-lane thoroughfare leading to the main campus. After he passes the sign reading: "WELCOME TO MARCUS ROME STATE UNIVERSITY, 35,000 STUDENTS AND GROWING," he makes a quick stop: "2207 hours—arrived on campus."

Now it's a short distance along a circular drive to Conroy Hall. Invariably, contact with Conroy reminds him of his friend Jim Albright whom he still sees occasionally. They were both students here 20 years ago. At that time Conroy Hall was called the Science Center. When he heard about the renaming he had asked Jim if this Conroy fellow was a famous scientist. Jim had laughed. "Nah. Don't you understand how things work these days? Theodore Conroy was CEO of the Rivers Financial Conglomerate and filthy rich. He gave the university 10 million bucks, a pittance to him. The university in turn renamed the Science Center."

Tom parks in the faculty lot adjacent to the building. "2211 hours—arrived at Conroy Hall." The lot is empty except for a brown Honda Accord, a white Toyota Corolla, several police cars with flashing red and blue lights, and two Crime Scene vans.

As Tom opens the door, his cell phone rings. He shakes the notion that the door triggered the ring and instead looks at the screen. He sees a number he doesn't recognize and no caller name. "Hello."

"Tom, this is Theresa Bedlow."

Just what I need, he thinks. "Hello, Dr. Bedlow." He likes her. In fact she used to be one of his teachers, and a damn good one at that. It was due to her that he pursued a career in law enforcement. But he doesn't have time now to deal with her.

"What the hell is going on, Tom? I got a call saying someone was dead in the math department."

Knowing full well this former homicide detective was capable of interrogating him relentlessly, Tom was relieved he didn't yet have much information. "I'm just arriving on the scene now, Dr. Bedlow. I'm still outside Conroy."


Excerpted from MATH IS MURDER by ROBERT C. BRIGHAM JAMES B. REED Copyright © 2012 by Robert C. Brigham and James B. Reed. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Math Is Murder 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A terrific, old fashioned who-dunnit. If you love a good mystery with smart clues and interesting characters, Math is Murder is the book for you!