ANNO DOMINI ~Allium~
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BOOK 1, CHAPTER 15: RANSACKED LABORATORY
“A cake massacre took place this morning in the Lincoln Square area.” News reporter Jane Pelham was covering a breaking news story on television channel NBBC 50 Chicago on Friday morning. “The enormous cake, from Mondo Cake World, was en route to Lyonbole Public High School in North Center in the signature Mondo Baked Van when the driver was forced off the road after nearly hitting an inattentive cyclist. This quick maneuver resulted in damaging the cake, which originally stood as tall as an average adult man.”
Detective Ulysses Townshend stood in the breakroom of the Chicago Police Department, microwaving a breakfast pastry while leaning against the counter by the sink. His paper cup of coffee had gone cold, but he wasn’t intending on taking another sip anyway.
The Friday morning news was on a TV in the corner, but Townshend ignored the cake coverage. Officer Duke Harrison walked into the room to get a cup of water when he noticed the detective standing motionless, looking half asleep.
“Morning, Detective,” Harrison said as he used the water dispenser.
Townshend looked up slowly at the person who had spoken to him.
“Good morning,” he replied, his voice croaky from sleep deprivation.
Harrison looked at the news for a moment. The cyclist involved in the incident was being interviewed.
“Riding a bicycle in the city is different than my hometown in Indiana,” the cyclist said. He was a sturdy man with a large beard and a sly smile. “In Indiana, the bikes ride you! Heh heh hehhh!”
Harrison chuckled, reading the headline.
“‘Cake Massacre’. Lyonbole Public High School? They’re pretty upper class for a public school. Isn’t that the school where the current salutatorian candidate is supposedly smarter than the valedictorian candidate?”
“Meh, high schools are hives for rumors,” Townshend muttered, uninterested.
“Have another long night?” Harrison asked, taking a sip of water.
“Yeah,” Townshend muttered. “I was working on an interesting case. There was a fistfight at a retirement home. Everyone involved was over seventy.”
Harrison raised his eyebrows.
“That’s … interesting, indeed,” he said.
“It was a simple case,” Townshend said, stepping away from the counter and cracking his back with a stretch, “but it took me so long … because … my wife ….”
After many earfuls involving Ulysses Townshend’s anguishing tales of Mrs. Townshend, Harrison chuckled and held up his hand.
“I gotcha.” Harrison swigged the last of the water from his paper Dixie cup. “Hey, did you hear anything else about that sickness? You know, the one you were talking about a few days ago.”
The microwave beeped, but that wasn’t the only reason why Townshend perked up slightly.
“Oh, the one Ivan Dudek’s family had.” He removed the steaming breakfast pastry from the microwave and let it drop to the counter. “No, I haven’t heard. I’m not even sure how Mr. Dudek’s family is doing. That sickness was something I stumbled upon myself by coincidence and accident. While it’s true that law enforcement can obtain a warrant to access medical records, there’s no criminal connection with people getting sick. It’s Nature versus Man, something that even the most frivolous judge wouldn’t have in their court. I haven’t looked into the matter any further.”
Harrison nodded, saying, “Are you on a case right now?”
Townshend used his finger to poke the breakfast pastry, tearing a hole through the outer crust and releasing a vent of steam and mouthwatering aromas.
“Not yet,” he said, taking a whiff of the pastry, “but I’ll probably end up foiling another Ponzi scheme. Damn things are like flies. You just can’t swat ‘em all, I swear.”
He licked a glob of cheese off his finger when his cellphone rang, and he saw the chief of detectives was calling him.
He answered the call, “Hello, Chief.”
“Detective Townshend,” the chief said in a raspy voice, “can you come to my office right away?”
Townshend glanced at his breakfast pastry that was approaching its ideal temperature for consuming.
“Yes,” Townshend replied. “I can be there soon.”
“Good, I’ll see you then.”
Harrison watched Townshend hang up.
“Was that the chief of detectives?” he asked. “I can tell by his raspy voice.”
“That was him, alright,” Townshend said flatly. He pointed at his breakfast pastry on the counter. “Guard that with your life, Officer. I’ll be back for it. I hope.”
The detective slipped on his tan trench coat, grabbed his cup of cold coffee he had no intentions of drinking more of, then walked briskly out of the breakroom. On that morning, the police station was buzzing with the typical pre-noon activities. Every officer, receptionist, desk worker, and custodian had a face Townshend had registered into his memory — Ulysses Townshend never forgot a face, almost as if he had a photographic memory for faces and the names that went with them.
Chief of Detectives Oscar Coppery was sitting at his desk when Townshend entered. A tough man in his late fifties, Chief Coppery had been fond of Townshend for a long time due to his excellent detective work, and he greeted the detective with a warm reception.
“Ulysses!” he said with a big smile and a raspy voice. “Glad you could make it.”
“No problem,” Townshend replied modestly, discarding his cold coffee into the trash.
“Good work with that incident at the assisted living residency,” Coppery commended. “I heard it was a brawl.”
“Oh, it was,” Townshend said with a smirk. “Beat the dentures out of each other, they did. I’m serious.”
Coppery laughed the way a lawnmower starts.
“But you found the evidence the defendant needed for the case.”
Scooping up a folder off his desk, Coppery stood up and walked over to Townshend, his stiff knees not giving him as much problem as usual.
“There’s a new case I thought would be perfect for you, Detective.” He handed over the folder. “You’ve been interested in diseases lately, so I thought of you when I was presented with this one.”
“Well, it’s more of a happenstance than an interest,” Townshend replied, opening the folder.
“There’s a medical laboratory that got hit,” Coppery explained. “It’s a relatively new facility, and it was quickly gaining recognition as being one of the nation’s leading medical labs.”
“The Cook County Medical Laboratory and Research Center.” Townshend skimmed over the report. “I’ve heard it has a fantastic reputation. What kind of hit did it take?”
“The call came in this morning from one of the lab technicians,” Coppery told him. “Henry Guerrero, that was his name. Anyway, he said the place was ransacked. Equipment and files were everywhere, although there wasn’t much property damage other than the busted entrance and some other minor things.”
“Hmm.” Townshend looked over more of the report, confirming what the chief was telling him.
“Mr. Guerrero also explained that he couldn’t contact anybody who had been working there the previous day,” Coppery continued.
Giving it some thought, the detective remained quiet for a moment. The story was very intriguing, but something else was lighting his fire. In a recent case Townshend had investigated … a person murdered a close acquaintance who was sick … and the murderer confessed to doing so to avoid catching the disease.
Upon reviewing the coroner’s report for the victim, Townshend had learned multiple samples were sent to a laboratory for testing … and that was none other than the Cook County Medical Laboratory and Research Center.
He tucked the files back into the folder and closed it.
“I’ll take the case,” Townshend said dutifully. “You were right, Chief, this case is right up my alley.”
“Good to hear,” Coppery replied, delighted.
“I would like to enlist the assistance of two officers to come with me during the investigation of the scene. Officer Duke Harrison and Officer Lars Briggs come to mind. And I’ll also need to check two medical records from a hospital.” There was a twinkle in Townshend’s eye Coppery adored and respected. “Two females, mother and daughter, both under the family name ‘Dudek’.”
Harrison and Briggs took a squad car and followed Townshend, who was driving his personal car, to the Norwood Park community area. The Cook County Medical Laboratory and Research Center was located in a new building, sleek and modern, and appeared tranquil at first look. Two squad cars from the local jurisdiction had already arrived when Harrison, Briggs, and Townshend parked nearby.
“This isn’t our jurisdiction, Townshend,” Briggs said as they walked toward the other officers. “Why are we here? You weren’t very clear with your reasoning for bringing us with you.”
“I like to pull strings,” Townshend replied, shrugging, “and I think you two will like this, if my hunches aren’t baloney.”
“You’re still not every clear,” Briggs muttered.
“Don’t worry, I have a reputation with Chicago’s police force,” Townshend said modestly as he waved at the other two officers who had arrived first.
“Yeah, quite a reputation,” Harrison chuckled.
The other two officers were talking with somebody in front of the laboratory’s entrance. From the closer distance, it was easy to tell there was some damage done to the double doors that led inside the facility. Some pigeons were perched overhead on a powerline, and they stared down at the men, hoping for one of them to throw out some food.
“Good morning,” Townshend said as he approached the others, holding out his badge as proof of being a private investigator. “I’m Detective Ulysses Townshend, private investigator. With me are Officers Duke Harrison and Lars Briggs. We’re here to investigate possible criminal activity that may have taken place at this facility.”
“Ah, nice to meet you, Detective,” one of the officers said. He had wavy red hair and a slight Polish accent. “I’m Officer James Leary, and this is Officer Collin Sook.”
The man who was talking to the officers shook Townshend’s hand with a firm grip. He appeared to be around thirty years old, had a brown complexion and a strong jawline.
“Thank you for coming, Detective Townshend.” The man spoke with a sturdy voice. “I’m Henry Guerrero. I was the person who called in.”
Townshend nodded with a courteous smile. Henry Guerrero had already given an air of clear-mindedness with the notion he possessed a strong understanding of what he had witnessed, making him an ideal candidate for informing the detective of the situation.
“Mr. Guerrero,” Townshend said, “can you tell me about what happened?”
“This is where I work full-time, Friday through Tuesday from nine a.m. to five p.m.” As he spoke, Townshend already had his notepad out. “I was off the past two days, and I came in this morning as usual and noticed the door had been forced open.”
“This facility is open seven days a week?”
“Science never sleeps.”
“Is this the main entrance?” Townshend asked, drawing a dog on a surfboard.
“Yes,” Henry answered, “but not the only entrance.”
“I see,” Townshend said, equipping the surfing dog with sunglasses. “Continue please.”
“When I noticed the door, I called Phil Adamson, the facility director, and told him about it. I told him I’d call the police after taking a look inside.”
“Why not call the police before entering?” Townshend asked. “If whoever did this was still inside,” he glanced at the damaged doors, “… or still inside, it could be dangerous.”
“True,” he said, “but I wasn’t worried.”
“People do stupid things sometimes, don’t worry about it,” Townshend said dismissively. “The report I received this morning said that you had tried contacting other workers.”
“That’s true,” Henry told him. “After I took a quick look inside, I realized that the place looked like it had been looted, like someone had gone through the papers and stuff. I didn’t stay inside very long, because as you said,” he looked at the doors, “it could be dangerous … so I didn’t get to see the full extent of damage. When I came back out, I tried calling several people who I knew were working yesterday. Many of the technicians here are either part-timers or on internship, so they don’t work every day.”
“And did you speak with any of them?” Townshend asked. He was debating with himself if he wanted to include the sun in the background of his doodle.
Henry shook his head.
“No, sir. Not one of them picked up.”
Townshend looked up from his notepad. Briggs was trying not to smile at the surfing dog doodle. Harrison was observing the area. Leary and Sook were waiting on Townshend’s response. The pigeons had increased in number, waiting for some fries or popcorn to hit the ground.
Townshend snapped his notepad shut and exhaled with a big smile.
“Well, this is fun!” he said zestfully.
“We should check inside,” Briggs stated. “Someone should remain here with Mr. Guerrero,” he looked at the several cars coming in as more technicians showed up for work, “and with the rest of the employees.”
Looking around, Townshend asked, “Why are the other workers showing up now? Shouldn’t they have already been here?”
“Like I said,” Henry explained, “most of these people aren’t full-time like me, so they show up later. I’m usually one of the first here to set things up, and the person who was supposed to be here with me worked yesterday and didn’t answer his phone this morning.”
“And this person isn’t here today?”
“No, sir. This isn’t like him. He’s always on time.”
“And everyone else who worked here yesterday wasn’t answering your phone calls,” Briggs added.
“Sounds suspicious,” Townshend said bluntly. When Henry looked insulted, he added, “I’m kidding. Harrison, Briggs, let’s do this.”
“Detective?” Officer James Leary said, somewhat irritated by Townshend’s rather unprofessional behavior. “Shouldn’t we wait for the lab director to get here first? Mr. Guerrero had told us that he should be here —”
“Yeah, but I’m not fond of waiting,” Townshend told him, already moving toward the entrance.
“But, sir,” Henry said, “at least let me go with you to show you around.”
“It’s probably dangerous, remember?” Townshend turned to the other officers. “Get information about everyone Mr. Guerrero tried to contact who worked here yesterday, including the person who should be here now.”
Leary and Sook looked at the detective with distaste, not saying anything in response. Briggs gave them an apologetic shrug before following Townshend and Harrison to the entrance. Before entering the facility, Townshend examined the damaged double doors using a gaudy magnifying glass he had in his inner coat pocket. After a moment, Townshend looked away from the doors with a look of confusion on his face.
“What is it?” Harrison asked, noticing Townshend’s expression.
Not answering immediately, the detective took another close look at the doors, paying particular attention to the parts that were damaged, such as the hole where the deadbolt had been.
“This is peculiar,” he said, still looking through the gaudy magnifying glass. “These double doors are likely galvanized steel and very tough. However, it looks as if the one with the lock was damaged by some sort of excessive force. There’s mild warping on much of it.”
“What kind of excessive force?” Briggs asked. “It doesn’t look like they were beat open with a battering ram, and the damage looks to be centralized around the lock.”
“The lock is completely destroyed,” Harrison said, “almost like a power drill was used on it. There have been reports in the past when a person was able to systematically remove a deadbolt with power tools, although they typically have some locksmith know-how.”
On the ground by the door, there were shards of metal glinting in the sunlight. Picking up a shard, Townshend confirmed it was the same metal in the lock.
“Well, a drill would create metal scraps like these,” Townshend said, “and I’d say that this came from the lock.” He looked around at the ground some more. “The pieces are scattered pretty far, though. A drill would probably leave a mess closer to the door.”
“Wind could’ve blown them,” Harrison said, noticing the scattered pieces, “or the perp could’ve scattered them either by accident or on purpose for some reason.”
“Yes,” Townshend replied skeptically, taking several steps away to examine another larger scrap of metal. “Look at this.” He beckoned to Harrison and Briggs to come closer.
“What’s that?” Briggs asked. “Another part of the lock?”
“Looks like part of the bolt itself,” Harrison said.
“A rather large piece,” Townshend commented, “and it’s all the way over here. While it’s possible that the perp could have tossed it over here, that outcome is so … boring. Let’s go inside.”
The three men walked through the doors, which still swung on the hinges perfectly fine. On the ground, which appeared to be well-kept and typically clean, were more pieces of metal scattered several feet away from the door. Another large chunk of the deadbolt was resting on the ground a considerable distance from the door.
“More of the bolt?” Harrison crossed his arms. “And these metal scraps are everywhere.”
Townshend examined the hole in the door where the lock had been, sighing after a few seconds.
“This has me stumped, I have to say,” he said almost jokingly with a smirk. “As dumb as it sounds, I’d say this lock just exploded on its own.”
Harrison and Briggs looked at the detective with disbelief.
“You’re right,” Briggs told him, “that does sound dumb. There’s no evidence of a blast anywhere around the door.”
“Nothing resembling gunpowder traces or scorch marks.” Townshend nodded in agreement. “It could have been a chemical bomb, though. We’ll need forensics here to check things out. Like I said, there’s a multitude of reasons why these lock pieces are scattered about, but ….”
“But those reasons are boring,” Harrison said, rolling his eyes.
Townshend frowned at Harrison’s comment, then the three headed deeper into the facility. Consistent with the report, there was little damage inside, although everything was a mess. Papers were scattered, filing cabinets were open, and computers and equipment were knocked over. There were numerous rooms in the first section of the facility, each appearing to be offices and storage rooms all with the same looted characteristics. Farther down the hall was another set of double doors similar to the entrance doors not only in manufactured specifications, but in regards to the damage done to the lock.
“Townshend!” Harrison called, looking at the second set of doors. When the detective came over, Harrison told him, “It’s the same. The lock is damaged the same way, and pieces of it are scattered everywhere.”
“And no other signs of damage or scorching,” Briggs added. “They look like the same kind of doors, too.”
There was a creepiness that lingered throughout the laboratory. The lack of human activity always brought with it a menacing, stalking stillness, and it added to the sterile, colorless, dreary space within the facility.
After a brief period of thought, Townshend whipped out his notepad and pen again. He flipped through the pages, turning past the doodle of the surfing dog wearing sunglasses with the sun shining overhead, and he began to write down actual notes.
Townshend, Harrison, and Briggs entered the police department’s breakroom that afternoon. Townshend walked slowly to the table and sat in one of the chairs.
“You were wondering why I asked for you two specifically to accompany me during today’s investigation?”
“I was,” Briggs said.
“I’m curious too,” Harrison added.
Townshend leaned back in the chair, his hands holding the back of his head. His eyes moved around the room while he searched for his explanation.
“Do you remember that incident the other day involving the Dudek family?” Townshend asked. “The one with the man who robbed the pharmacy because his wife and daughter were sick.”
“What about it?” Harrison was intrigued. He moved in closer, resting his arms on the table. “Do you think their illness is related to the medical lab we visited?”
“I don’t think so,” Townshend told him, “but I hope so.”
Briggs rubbed his chin. “I don’t get it.”
“I requested to review the medical reports for Ivan Dudek’s family,” Townshend said, toying with his pen in his hand. “Those reports will need to come from the hospital. If those reports indicate that samples from the Dudek family were sent to that medical lab for testing, then …,” his voice trailed off, “then it might mean something big is transpiring, especially if there are many other people with the same illness.”
“The medical reports you were talking about earlier,” Harrison said, “saying you weren’t interested in them because they’re unrelated to a crime.”
“Does this mean you suspect criminal connections with people getting sick?” Briggs asked. He was feeling unassured about the possibility.
Townshend replied with a meager shrug. Harrison shook his head.
“But you were just saying that it’s ridiculous for people getting sick being a crime,” Harrison said doubtingly. “You’ve changed your mind?”
Taking a deep breath and letting it out, the detective intentionally dropped his pen on the table. The small sound it made as it bounced filled the quietness between speaking.
“I don’t know what I’m getting at,” he told the officers. “I’m just following a hunch and hoping that it isn’t baloney.”
“Because otherwise it’d be boring, right?” Briggs asked somewhat smugly.
Ulysses Townshend looked at his pen on the table. He heard the rhythmic dripping in the sink, and it sounded a little faster paced that week. He smelled the coffee that still lingered in the air. He imagined the flavors of ham, scrambled eggs, cheese, flaky crust, artificial flavors, preservatives, and caking agents; somebody had done away with his uneaten breakfast pastry left out from earlier.