Jake Hines and his team are plunged into the controversial world of cutting edge science when a biochemist is found dead at his desk.
Rutherford’s Property Crimes division is on a hot streak. Having recently attracted a string of New Science businesses, the town has had fourteen office break-ins in just five days, though nothing seems to have been taken. A series of threatening notes are left by an environmental group, and curiosity soon turns to alarm when a lead scientist is found dead at his desk at one of the invasion sites.
As the small start-ups that received the messages are damaged and frightened by sneak attacks, Jake and his team must embark on a steep learning. But is the professor’s death really to do with his pioneering scientific work, or is there more to it than meets the eye?
About the Author
Elizabeth Gunn is the author of the best-selling Jake Hines series of police procedurals set in Minnesota, where she grew up, and the Sarah Burke series set in Arizona, where she now lives. A long-time innkeeper with a taste for adventure, Elizabeth has lived ‘everywhere’ and been a private pilot and a diver, as well as a writer. She now lives in Tucson, Arizona and climbs mountains for fun.
Read an Excerpt
By Elizabeth Gunn
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2015 Elizabeth Gunn
All rights reserved.
I was brought into the world one crisp October evening, late in the twentieth century, by a janitor who fished me out of a motel dumpster in Red Wing, Minnesota. I was probably a couple of hours old, naked in a stiff breeze off the Mississippi and almost too cold to cry.
Smart money, if there had been any around, would not have bet on a bright future for this shriveled brown-skinned castoff with the puzzling face. But I caught a few lucky breaks – the Minnesota welfare system kept me from starving, and I was helped along the way by a great caregiver and a couple of talented teachers. So now, in my late thirties, contrary to reasonable expectations, I'm not in jail or living under a bridge. In fact, I'm a husband and father, with all the markers: the mortgage, the car seat, the worried frown from always being late. My name is Jake Hines, and I'm a cop.
I run the detective division of the Rutherford, Minnesota Police Department. It's a good job, usually – challenging enough to keep my synapses firing but not so alarming I can't sleep nights. My chief is a reasonable man, I've got smart detectives on my team, and I make a living wage – or it will be a living wage as soon as I conquer my ingrained tendency to spend next year's money last week.
As a lucky stiff damn well ought to, I stay pretty contented. Except once in a while ... like last Monday morning, on a beautiful day in the first week of October. I was interrupted on my way to my on-duty parking spot by a string of squad cars pulling out of the station. The drivers were all in fresh blue uniforms, sporting that bring-it-on gleam cops have at the start of a shift. Watching them, I began to ask myself: why did I work my butt off to get a desk job?
I used to be one of those carefree street cops, I remembered. Look at them now, getting ready to drive around all day in perfect golden sunshine, waving to shopkeepers and being admired by nubile young women. Meanwhile, I would be crouched in my chair under a blue energy-saver bulb, fretting about cold cases and struggling with next month's schedules. Oh, and come to think of it, I was slated for a budget meeting in half an hour – really, all that was missing from this day was an impacted molar.
Habit and a lack of alternatives propelled me through the tall front doors of Government Center and up into the processed air on the second floor. At least, I was glad to see, the People Crimes section looked orderly and quiet – six full-time detectives tapping on keyboards, describing the spousal abuse, gang rumbles and sexual assaults of a typical weekend in the heartland. All depraved crimes to be sure, but nothing major was going on or I'd have heard about it.
Property Crimes section, of course, showed the usual bustle – a dozen busy detectives chasing missing bikes and power tools, outboard motors and electronics. In line with national trends, auto thefts were way down in Minnesota – a thirty percent drop in the number of vehicles stolen over the last five years. Interestingly, the value of the vehicles stolen was down by even more – fifty percent. Newer cars are harder to steal, thanks to smart keys and electronic tracking devices. Druggies have to make their nut some way, though, so the theft of electronic gizmos was growing by leaps and bounds.
Property Crimes is essentially an arms race: whenever the mopes invent a new wrinkle, we find the ways and means to match. This year new versions of easily portable electronic gadgets were coming off the assembly line at dizzying speed, so naturally more hoodlums were swiping them. But improved communications with the sheriff's department, better tracking devices and neighborhood watch groups were all helping us. So surely Kevin Evjan, the headman of Property Crimes, was not watching me unlock my door and then following me into my office to talk about the same old, same old, was he?
He was focused on something, though – beady-eyed with determination and carrying two pages of handwritten notes. I got ready to fend him off.
Kevin's Irish–Norwegian good looks and roguish charm enabled a colorful social life, which given any encouragement he would gladly describe in vivid detail, especially on a Monday morning when his weekend adventures were fresh in his mind. His sexual adventures could be mildly amusing, but mostly I tolerated his stories because it seemed to me that high self-esteem was what kept his boat afloat in the Property Crimes swamp – he seldom complained and rarely asked for help. I started in Property Crimes, so I know what a soul-sucker it can be. As he plunked his long, handsome body into my visitor's chair, I reminded myself how lucky I was to have a Property Crimes headman whose bubble never seemed to burst.
But I didn't have time for any of his raunchy monologues right then. Any minute, my phone would ring and the chief's secretary would summon me to his office. There are hard realities that can be mitigated in this building, but Lulu's summonses are not among them.
'Hey there,' I said, hanging up my jacket, not meeting Kevin's eyes. I still had work to do for the meeting.
Undeterred, Kevin settled the crease in his pants, inspected the shine in his loafers approvingly and said, 'Something weird is going on.'
'Can it wait a couple of hours? I need to get ready for a meeting.' On Monday mornings the chief liked to go over plans and schedules for the week and month ahead. Most of our plans are reduced to rubble by noon on Tuesday, but we keep trying because our job description says we never quit.
'The details can wait, sure. I just want to let you know I'm going to need a consult today. I'm dealing with a rash of break-ins like nothing I've ever seen before, and before it goes any further we need to decide on a policy. Or strategy?' He did a large shrug and turned his hands up. 'Attitude, maybe.'
'Attitude, that's a good one. Go away now and I'll give you all the attitude you can handle by ten o'clock.'
'Deal.' He folded his notes along a precise center crease and stood up. As he went out the door, he said over his shoulder, 'Be ready to think outside the box.'
Well, there now, I had my instructions.
Outside the box or in it, I didn't have time to worry about him right then. I did anyway, a couple of times, nagged by the realization that Kevin Evjan rarely confessed to uncertainty. But my curiosity had to wait while Chief McCafferty and I addressed personnel issues and, oh, God, money.
Without much argument, we agreed on a maternity leave, two commendations for extra effort, and one promotion. Then we got to the hard part, the budget for the upcoming year, and Frank began to lay out some big uncertainties.
'I don't see any goddamn way,' he said, 'to make a credible budget for a city that seems to be growing in its sleep.'
A big, broad-chested man with a rich baritone voice, Frank McCafferty could rattle the windows with his protests when anxiety gripped him. Budget season was always a fraught time for him because the city of Rutherford was a lot like me – its needs invariably exceeded its means.
The air grew bluer as he reviewed the challenges.
'Every damn meeting I go to – and do I ever have a day without one now? – we're talking about a ribbon cutting for a remodeled building, or green-lighting another New Science start-up – experimental hemp, herbicide-resistant wheat.' He waved his arms around. 'Does it seem like there's no crop left in Minnesota that we're not experimenting with?'
'Science is changing things fast, all right.'
'Some of these plants I can't even pronounce – what the hell is quinoa?' He said it queen-oh-ah.
'I think they say it keen-wah,' I said. 'Ancient grain. Gluten-free.' I read that on the package and it was all I knew.
'What the fuck's wrong with gluten all of a sudden?'
'Don't know. If Trudy says eat it, I eat it.' The one useful piece of advice I carried away from Boy Scout camp was never argue with the cook.
'Well, sure. But my point is we've been getting along fine without all these bright ideas. But now it seems to me we have a dozen busy scientists working on some version of them in a shiny new lab in downtown Rutherford.'
'I should have bought one of those empty buildings downtown when they were all on the market so cheap.' Except for having zero credit left anywhere in the world, that would have been a good idea. 'That empty block on South Broadway's filling up fast now.'
'Why not, when there's tax-increment financing? Hell's bells, did you see the story on the front page yesterday? A six-story building going in where that closed hardware store's been standing empty for four years.'
'Why do you find that alarming?'
'Well, is anybody thinking about how many more cops it's going to take to police all this? A whole new subdivision's being bladed off out west of Granite Avenue, where there's never been anything but corn.'
'Well, that's where they put the new co-op building for small start-ups, isn't it? That place they call Three to Get Ready.'
'Funny damn name for a building. But I guess it means just what it says, huh?'
'Yeah, the city got a federal grant to build offices where people with new product designs get three years of cheap office rents courtesy of the Commerce Department while they try to make their idea fly.'
'Such a sensible idea to come from the Feds.'
'Hold your breath while they screw it up, right? But what have you got against it? Isn't recovery good news?'
'Sure, but every time I ask for a raise in my budget the city fathers start crying that the recession isn't over yet. What have we got here, hard times or runaway growth?'
'Depends what you do for a living, I guess.'
'Well, in what I do for a living, I need a plan I can stick to! Every year for the last five we've slid a little farther behind in equipment and personnel because they won't give me money enough to keep up. Tell me the truth, Jake: how many cold cases have your part-timers got now?'
'About the usual,' I said. 'We're working on it.' Better be careful of that one. Today he wanted me to support his argument, say we had too many cold cases. But if I got into details he'd remember them, and by the middle of the week he'd be in my office saying, Tell me again about that McCoy case; can't we bear down a little harder and get that cleaned up?
He hates unsolved felonies. I agree we could use a couple or three more detectives, but sometimes I remind him that while everybody loves stories about DNA identifications, most cold cases are cold because nothing is cooking on their trail.
We finally settled on a request for five new detectives, three for Property and two for People, and a part-time steno to take some of the load off LeeAnn before her desk collapses. We figured ask for five and you might get three, and we could live with two if we had to. It was the best we could do because Frank knew he had to put more uniforms on the street – he had twenty more street miles to patrol than this time last year, and the equivalent of a village coming soon to downtown.
After an hour of talk we ended up with almost exactly the budget I would have predicted before we started. On budget issues, Frank is like a big, well-trained hunting dog – he's very capable but he needs to be stroked occasionally to stay motivated.
By ten o'clock I was glad to get back to Kevin's problem. Property Crimes might not be pretty but usually it was reassuringly matter-of-fact. A normal conversation in Property Crimes involved (a) what's missing, (b) who probably took it, and (c) whether or not there was a chance in hell we could catch the bugger.
Usually the answer to (c) is probably not. But we always tried, and we made sure the injured party knew exactly how hard we tried. Least we can do, I figured, especially when we couldn't do anything else. Filling out insurance claim forms has to be one of the least gratifying activities known to man, so we tried to compensate by giving good search reports. Rutherford's recovery rate might not be any better than average, but we made our clients feel cared for. So what did we need this attitude business for?
But Kevin was clutching his handwritten notes, looking ready to make the sale.
'Looks like you added a page,' I said.
'Two, actually,' he said. 'Tom Sjelstrom brought in his report.'
'OK.' I turned over my wastebasket, empty because all the paper that belonged in it was still on my desk. Propping my feet on the metal can, I settled my tush in my chair. 'Pour it on me.'
'Fourteen break-ins in the last five business days,' he said, 'mostly downtown. Offices, not stores. And not one item taken from the lot.'
'My guys have searched, with the help of the owners. They can't find anything missing. These are all small business offices and labs, mostly start-ups burning through government and foundation grant money. Small staffs and they know their equipment. It's all still there.'
'Fourteen, no shit? But you said break-ins – what was broken?'
'Actually, hardly anything. In almost every instance they jimmied a lock on a door or a window. Quite sophisticated work – very few marks. When it was possible, they even re-set the lock when they left.'
'So how do you know they were break-ins? Were they trashed?'
'No. Neat as a pin.'
'The intruder left a message.'
'The same message every time?'
'Close to the same. Adjusted here and there to fit the jobs being performed.'
'Which are what?'
'Mostly experimental stuff – one's doing studies on molecular structures, half a dozen are working on genetically altered crops. It involves complicated computer modeling and they have small farms or grow plots out in the country. Two are labs – one biochemistry and neuro ... something – they explained what they were doing but Tom couldn't understand it so he wrote down "science."'
'Ah, science. That'll narrow it down.'
'Right.' Kevin gave me a level look, which I read as snarky's not going to help. 'Two of the break-ins were in small investment houses specializing in taking start-ups public. One is a two-person office that specializes in finding grants – a small start-up lives or dies by its grants, they say. The biggest company that's been broken into so far is Minnaska.'
'Huh. Nothing experimental about them, is there? Everybody's favorite weed killer for the last twenty years.'
'Yeah. But their big hot success is with GMOs. You know what that means, right? Genetically modified— OK, don't get insulted, I just want to be sure we're on the same page. Their store on the Beltway didn't get hit – this is the lab downtown. The biggest lab of this lot' – he waved his papers – 'by far, with what looks like a fair-sized admin office at one end, full of suits.'
'You went to look?'
'I did. Mac and Bernie took the call, came back and said, "Better go see, Kevin, must be some big new hummer of a crop in the pipeline."'
'So you went and saw what?'
'Busy scientists in blue lab coats and gloves. You want attitude, Jake, these guys have got it up the ying-yang. They talk in code and look as if it's very satisfying to know how the world's going to end.'
'They told you that?'
'Of course not. They said they're working on improvements to their existing products. But they had a kind of a clever look when they said that. Like maybe it's an improvement to an existing product and maybe their geniuses have discovered something so life-altering it's going to blow our minds right off to the moon.'
'Good to know you hit it off with these people,' I said. 'What else?'
'The office suits look like very successful bankers. Their eyes start to glaze when they have to talk about anything but money, but they stayed focused long enough to tell us they're helping to find the money for the improvements. That's their job, they say – to help.'
'Sounds like a swell bunch of guys. And the B-and-E experts left them a message?'
Excerpted from Noontime Follies by Elizabeth Gunn. Copyright © 2015 Elizabeth Gunn. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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