It was a slow month for murders in the Summerport. Eli Doyle was frankly kind of ashamed to find himself in a place in his life where he was disappointed in a lack of violent death, but there he was.
"No I will not let you set me on fire," He said wearily. It was not the first time he'd had to say such a thing in the last hour.
Over the phone, Anna Julia Walsh's voice sounded bored, but Eli knew that in person she was frowning at him.
"It wouldn't be painful, you wouldn't even be harmed. This fire retardant solution I'm inventing would prevent any-"
"No!" Eli snapped and then paused. There was a scratching sound outside his front door. It was familiar, almost like-
"Hold on, I think someone's trying to break into my apartment," he said blandly and shoved his battered cell phone into his pants pocket without hanging up.
He took the three steps it took to cross his living room and flung the front door open. Crouched in the doorway, holding what Eli recognized to be lock picks, was an exceptionally filthy man reeking of alcohol. Eli had the great displeasure of recognizing him to be Banana Jones. Banana was a local drunk, most likely a runner for the resident mob, and named for his exceptionally long, skinny body topped by a mop of hair that he inexplicably kept dyed the most horrendous shade of electric yellow known to mankind.
"I can guarantee I don't own anything valuable enough to even buy you a pack of beer. I don't even have any beer myself," he told Banana bluntly.
This was the third time that week that someone had attempted to break into his home, though it was the first time he'd been present for it. The first time, the would-be burglar encountered one of Walsh's more... unconventional inventions and, presumably, left the premises covered in paint and likely minor burns. The second had just broken in and then left without taking anything, which had offended Eli for multiple reasons- firstly, law and injustice and such, and secondly, just because his TV was the size of an industrial microwave didn't mean it wasn't worth stealing.
"You gonna call the cops?" Banana asked after a bewildered pause. His voice was hoarse and Eli could smell the pot and booze wafting off of him like a wave overwhelming stench. He didn't want to deal with Banana Jones for a second longer necessary.
"Get the hell out of here and take a shower and I won't," Eli snapped and slammed the door shut.
He pulled his phone back out and said, "Sorry, Banana Jones was breaking into my apartment."
"For god's sake, you need to move out of that apartment," Alec Barrington-Johnsen, Walsh's live-in assistant, shouted, presumably from across the room given how faint his voice was.
Not faint enough to not be annoying, Eli thought irritably.
"Was there an altercation?" Walsh asked, sounding eager, if one knew how to listen for it in her voice.
"My apartment is perfectly acceptable," Eli said, disgruntled. His apartment was in fact anything but acceptable, being tiny, prone to vermin and impossible to heat in the winter. But if it was anything, it was affordable on a waiter's pay check.
"It is no such thing! Just move in with us!" Alec shouted, at the same time as Walsh said, "Now about that fire retardant-"
"I hate you both," Eli growled and snapped his phone shut.
Almost immediately, his phone began to ring.
"For the love of god, Walsh-" he began to say.
"Mr. Doyle, it's Ms. White from the university," a woman interrupted. Her voice was curt, but Eli knew from experience it was a sign of tension and not irritation or insult.
"Oh God, I am so sorry. Walsh is being- well you don't want to hear about Walsh. What's the matter?" He asked. He knew something terrible had to have happened for the dean of the local university to call him up, so long after he had graduated, and he had a terrible sinking feeling he knew what it was.
"Actually it does have to do with Walsh," Ms. White said. "There's no delicate way to put this but, Professor Kissinger is dead, presumed murdered. The police have arrived, but I don't anticipate... judicious results through ordinary means, for reasons... well for reasons you're aware of."
Eli made a face. That was code for 'half the cops in this town are on the mob's payroll, so justice means whatever is best for the mob or is the easiest', which was the sorry truth of living in Summerport.
"And I'm assuming you're wanting Walsh to look into things?" He asked. Walsh would be overjoyed to have something to do after so long without so much as an unusual burglary to investigate. Eli was kind of disappointed in himself for finding anything positive to see in a presumed murder.
"Yes. Professor Kissinger was a good man, he would want us to find the real culprit. I'll meet you in front of the Chemistry building. Professor Kissinger was found in his office this morning," Ms. White said and sighed deeply. "I'm sorry you had to find out this way, Eli, I know you were a student of his."
"These things happen," Eli said uselessly, because he honestly couldn't remember anything about Kissinger aside from his inability to correctly use PowerPoint, and felt horrifically embarrassed and somewhat ashamed.
Eli called Walsh and received the anticipated reaction from Walsh and Alec (elation from Walsh, resigned exhaustion from Alec) and then left his house and took the bus to the university campus.
It had been nearly three years since he'd set foot on it, but his feet still remembered the way to the area where all of the science buildings were clustered. This part campus was still and silent on a Saturday, the tall stone buildings sitting dark and empty. Something about the identical white stone structures reminded him of rows of tombstones in a graveyard, and Eli walked a little faster, tugging up his collar against the cold wind that was starting to blow.
Walsh and Alec were already waiting for him outside the Chemistry building, though Ms. White was nowhere in sight. The brisk wind was enough to bring colour to Alec's tan cheeks, whipping his trench coat around his knees. He was a tall, lean man with dark hair and eyes and facial hair that Eli knew had to take far too much upkeep to be sensible.
Where Alec was all long limbs and effortless bedhead, Anna Julia Walsh- known only as Walsh to her few friends- was a study in power and presence. She was a tall, powerfully built black woman, from her many hours spent training in martial arts and running marathons. She was in her early forties, but her skin was almost entirely free of wrinkles aside from a few at the corners of her eyes, and her hair was still pure black, though she kept it buzzed short since she was not one for appearances and didn't care to invest time in maintaining long hair.
"Finally," she said when she spotted Eli hurrying towards them, hands jammed in the pockets of his worn jacket, fruitlessly trying to keep them warm. "Where were you?"
"Ms. White isn't even here yet," Eli grumbled. "I had to wait for the bus, the first one didn't show up when it was supposed to."
"If you lived with us-" Alec began to say.
Thankfully, Ms. White arrived, effectively cutting off the lecture Eli had already heard a half dozen times in recent memory. Alec didn't even like him, Eli had little clue why the man was so persistent on that specific issue. Well, he did, sort of. He just preferred pretending he didn't, it made life so much easier.
"Eli, thank you for coming so quickly," Ms. White said, grasping his hand tightly with both of hers. Her graying hair was in a complete disarray and lines around her eyes showed how much stress she was under.
"Of course. Let me introduce you. Ms. White, this is Anna Walsh, the private detective whom I'm sure you've heard about in the news, and her assistant, Alec Barrington-Johnsen," Eli said, gesturing to each of them. "Ms. White is the dean here at the university."
"Eli was in my office several times a semester," Ms. White said with a small smile that didn't quite meet her eyes.
"I never knew you were a trouble maker," Alec said to Eli with a smirk. "Who would have known you had it in you."
"Actually, it was usually to complain about the academic quality of his courses, and their 'watering down' of subjects," Ms. White replied, sounding amused, but sobered quickly when her eyes fell on the door of the Chemistry building opened and several police officers exited.
"Shall we?" Alec asked quickly, being the best of the three at reading emotions in others.
Ms. White guided them up several flights of stairs to the taped off office of Professor Kissinger. A police officer with a truly horrendous patchy moustache was waiting for them outside the door. His arms were crossed and he had an air of irritation around him, which quickly faded once he spotted them approaching.
"Ms. White, if you'd said it was Walsh, I wouldn't have had any objections to you bringing in a private detective," Captain Ye said once they were within earshot. "She is one of the few people I trust not to muck around and ruin a crime scene."
"Captain, you flatter me," Walsh said and then immediately went into Kissinger's office, Ye trailing behind her.
"What can you tell us?" Alec asked Ye's right hand woman, Sergeant Samantha Castillo, who remained outside the office. He pulled out his omnipresent notepad from his coat pocket, ready to take down notes immediately. Eli sometimes wondered if he had one of those things for every outfit he owned on the off chance Walsh would unexpectedly have a case. It seemed like the sort of obnoxiously fussy thing Alec would do.
"Victim was found this morning by the custodial staff," Sergeant Castillo began to explain, long used to Walsh and her assistants appearing at half the crime scenes in the city. "He attempted CPR, but called an ambulance when that failed. The EMT who arrived suspected heart failure, but it's looking like the victim was poisoned."
"Poisoned?" Eli echoed. Usually Walsh's murders involved a lot more blood and gore. He'd developed an iron stomach and an ability to scoff at horror movies for their laughable inaccuracy for blood splatter.
"From what?" Alec asked, pausing in jotting down his notes.
"Cake," Castillo said, perfectly stone faced. "Most likely."
"You're joking," Eli couldn't help but say.
"I rarely joke," Sergeant Castillo said, which was very true. She was an exceptionally reserved woman with a poker face that could leave professional gamblers sweating bullet. "See for yourself."
Alec and Eli each snapped on disposable gloves and cautiously entered the office. Kissinger was the first thing one noticed in the small office. He was a large man, well over six feet tall and with a large pot belly. He had thinning brown hair and, in life, his green eyes probably had made his boyish face light up. He was lying prone on the floor on his back, presumably from where the EMT had placed him, but an office chair pushed against the wall was likely where he had died. The walls of the office were lined with books and papers, making the room feel almost claustrophobic, not helped by the sole window being covered up by some sort of flag, preventing any natural light from entering the room. The desk took up most of the room, covered in papers and books. On the center of it was indeed a small chocolate cake, a fork laying discarded next to it, frosting smeared on the papers it had been discarded on top of.
"Time of death?" Walsh asked Alec without looking up from staring intensely at something on the desk.
Obligingly, Alec knelt down next to the corpse.
"I'd say yesterday evening, probably between nine o'clock and midnight. Lipstick stain on his collar, what a player," Alec added with a small smirk before getting back to business. "No signs of an assault, to be expected of a poisoning. Purple lips and fingertips suggest suffocation, but no marks on his neck to indicate he was choked. Nothing blocking his airways. Poison is likely the cause. He looks... peaceful, so I expect he fell asleep at his desk and died without waking up."
"Without finishing his cake?" Eli asked, eyeing the desk.
Alec shot him an unimpressed look. "Obviously he was tired, Eli. The cake hardly matters."
Eli rolled his eyes. "What I'm saying is that it must have acted fast, like really fast. Most people, if you take two bites of something and then suddenly feel sleepy, you're going to freak out right? Try and get help? This guy was still in his chair, lounging there. He didn't have time to get up much less call an ambulance."
"An excellent deduction, Eli," Walsh said a small look of approval passing across her face. "Come look at this desk and tell me what you see."
This was something she asked regularly, though only from Eli, not Alec her actual assistant. Eli had no idea why she did it, but assumed it had to do with processing information and needing to be able to focus or something. The inside of Walsh's head and why she did the things the way she did was hardly something Eli claimed to understand.
"Most of these papers are analysis of soil samples and plant samples, mostly bean plants it looks like. There's an invitation to a conference dinner from a few weeks ago, so obviously this guy doesn't clean his desk that often," Eli said as he carefully examined the contents of the desk and then froze at the last item he saw. "And a note. It says 'I made your favourite, think of me when you eat it'? Gross. But that sounds like something you'd get from someone you're married to or dating, and the handwriting looks like a woman's. So if we find them, we find the killer?"
"No," Alec replied, standing up from examining Kissinger. "We'll need toxicology reports on the cake and the contents of Kissinger's stomach, he could have been poisoned earlier in the day, or over a long period of time and only succumbed now. Frankly I'd find that more probable, there aren't many poisons that act fast enough to kill someone as they're still eating."
"You did well enough," Walsh said to Eli. "But you missed several important things."
"But there's nothing left on the desk!" Eli protested. Walsh always got under his skin and hearing that he hadn't done well bothered him like hearing it from anyone else never did.
"Oh just tell us what the kid missed, we all know you want to show off for us or something," Alec said with a roll of his eyes. He didn't seem to notice the glare Eli leveled at him at being called a kid, or, more likely, simply didn't care.
Walsh snorted, but didn't argue and began to speak. "To begin with, the desk is exceptionally messy, like the bookshelves, meaning the killer wasn't the one to make this mess. I find it unlikely that they took anything, the way the papers are spread out suggests the person sitting at the desk was the one to arrange them, and there hardly would have been space for the killer to do over this man's shoulder, unless they were seven feet tall."
"So, what you're saying is Kissinger is a messy guy. You could just say that," Alec interrupted and Eli shushed him, enthralled as always with Walsh's deductions. For him it was like seeing the inner machinery of a piece of equipment, like Walsh had taken the side off the case of reality and was showing him how it worked. For Alec it was just a long winded explanation that could be shortened for greater efficiency.
"As I was saying, one of the reports you saw, Eli, has notations on it written in two different hands. Meaning that his research is likely not confidential if he's shared it with someone else. And there is one final thing. Eli, what's missing from the desk?"
Eli frowned at the desk. This was another irritating habit of Walsh. He never got why she bothered with her fishing questions.
"I thought you said nothing was taken?" He asked after he once again drew a blank on what she was looking for him to notice.
Walsh sighed gustily, like Eli had asked a monumentally stupid question. "Yes, but there is still something missing."
Before Eli could make the mistake of snapping at her in frustration, Alec's eyes light up and he said triumphantly, "A laptop."
Walsh nodded her approval. "Precisely. Even if you were a complete luddite who abhorred technology, which Kissinger clearly isn't, going by his Apple watch, you still need one while working as a professor here at the university. But there is no space on this desk for a computer."
"But you said nothing was stolen," Eli repeated, beginning to grow annoyed.
"What I am saying is that Kissinger must have a second office somewhere, likely at home," Walsh said and then sailed out of the room, leaving Eli and Alec to scramble to take a few photos of the corpse, the desk, the cake and the note.
Outside, Walsh was already talking to Ms. White, who was writing down Kissinger's home address. None of them bothered to tell her a written address was unnecessary for someone with Walsh's photographic memory, since people rarely believed them.
"Did Professor Kissinger have any enemies, or anyone who wanted to get back at him or anything?" Alec asked. Walsh rolled her eyes, since she rarely put stock in those sort of questions, given her low opinion on the average person's perceptiveness, but Alec liked to ask especially since it made their clients feel like they were putting in their full effort, since he was the one who had to put up with irate clients, not Walsh.
Predictably, Ms. White shook her head. "Obviously there are a number of students displeased with their marks, Professor Kissinger was a very exacting teacher, but that was hardly anything anyone would kill over."
Eli very politely didn't tell her that they had seen people killed over more ridiculous premises.
"Nothing else?" Alec pressed.
Before Ms. White could respond, there was a loud cry, followed by a woman sobbing loudly. The four of them turned simultaneously to see a young, dark haired woman nearly in hysterics, clutching at the imperturbable Sergeant Castillo.
"Please, you have to tell me what happened! I need to know!" The woman said to Sergeant Castillo between sobs, tears streaking down her cheeks.
"Who is that?" Walsh demanded, turning to Ms. White.
"Alicia Rodriguez, one of Professor Kissinger's graduate students. Just a moment, I'll speak with her," Ms. White said and strode down the hall to where Alicia was still clutching at Sergeant Castillo who was dispassionately refusing to allow her to enter Kissinger's office. Ms. White touched Alicia's shoulder gently and spoke to her softly. Walsh, Alec and Eli were too far away to make out what she said, but Alicia shook her head insistently and said loudly, "No, I need to see-"
"Ms. Rodriguez, this is a crime scene and I cannot allow you in, if you cannot compose yourself, I will have you ejected from the building," Captain Ye said loudly, coming around corner at the other end of the hallway, prompting another bout of loud sobs from Alicia. Ms. White said something else to her and gently guided her to the stairwell and then came back to where Walsh was waiting impatiently.
"I do apologize, Alicia is normally much more... Composed. But under these circumstances..."
Something suddenly occurred to Eli, and he asked, "What was Professor Kissinger researching? Was Alicia helping him with his research?"
Ms. White's eyebrows shot up at the abrupt question, but she replied gamely enough, "No, Alicia has her own thesis she is working on, in a different field. She was originally the student of a different professor, in the inorganic chemistry department, but Professor MacDonald was offered a very prestigious position in Europe a few months ago. Professor Kissinger offered to be her mentor when Professor MacDonald left our faculty.
"As for Professor Kissinger's research, I'm not aware of the specifics, but I believe it had to do with toxicity levels in plants after using an experimental fertilizer. Professor Choi might be able to help you there, she is researching something similar."
"Were Choi and Kissinger competing for funds?" Walsh demanded, suddenly looking intrigued. She had always found jealousy an interesting motivator, it made killers creative and rather unusually unpredictable.
"No, Professor Kissinger was receiving funding from the university, and mostly doing it out of his own interest. For this project, Professor Choi has funding from a private company," Ms. White explained. "Do you have any other questions?"
"Only one: where can we find Professor Choi?"
Professor Beatrice Choi was in the same faculty as Professor Kissinger, but due to the size of the Chemistry building and the growing number of faculty, her office was located in a newer building on the other side of campus, well away from the chemistry labs. It was a fact that irritated her to no end, which was well known to anyone associated with the science departments due to her constant attempts at getting an office in a more convenient location. Eli could faintly recall the ongoing passive aggressive arguments he'd heard gossip about her having with the Chemistry department when he'd still been a student.
Walsh, Eli and Alec tumbled into the squat, angular building, feeling like they'd been all but sandblasted by the wind, which was all but howling outside. Walsh appeared unruffled, but Alec and Eli were much more disheveled.
"Of course your hair doesn't look like a rodent attacked it," Eli grumbled, surreptitiously glancing at Alec's hair, which only appeared more rumpled than normal, like he'd just rolled out of bed after some vigorous non-sleep related activities.
"If you actually ever cut your hair or invested in any products, your hair might not be such a disaster," Alec retorted and ruffled Eli's wavy brown hair rigorously, prompting a squawk of protest and Eli swatting ineffectually at Alec's face.
Walsh whirled around, glaring at them narrowly and then continued on without a word, Alec and Eli released each other and shamefacedly followed in her wake obediently.
Walsh knocked smartly on Choi's office door and was greeted by a curt, "Come in."
Professor Choi's office was even smaller than Professor Kissinger's, made all the smaller by the fact that it contained two desks piled in papers rather than just one.
"Can I help you?" Choi asked, looking up from her computer. She was a petite woman who wore squarish glasses and was dressed sharply in an impeccable suit. At the other desk was a much younger man with curly blond hair and who was clearly a student, going by his much more casual attire, and the bags under his eyes.
"We're interested in Professor Kissinger's research, Ms. White told us you'd be able to help us," Walsh said.
"Professor Kissinger would likely be able to help you more than I can," Choi said, both eyebrows raised.
"He's dead," Walsh said bluntly. Choi's face drained of colour and from behind them, they heard the younger man exhale sharply. "He was likely murdered, and we believe his research may have been a motivator," Walsh continue dispassionately.
"Are you with the police?" The young man asked sharply.
Walsh eyed him, before dismissing him as irrelevant.
"Jacob!" Choi scolded, looking shaken. "I'm sorry, we're under a lot of stress as it is, deadlines you see. This is my graduate student Jacob De Grasse, he's assisting me in my research. And you are...?"
"Anna Walsh, private detective, my assistants Alec and Eli. Ms. White asked us to look into Professor Kissinger's death. Now Kissinger's research...?
Choi nodded quickly and gestured for them to sit down on the chairs squashed into the cramped rooms. "Jacob, please go get an extra chair from the lounge."
Jacob left and Alec and Walsh sat, leaving Eli to stand at their shoulders.
"When did Professor Kissinger die? How did it happen?" Choi asked, expression shaken. "Why did no one tell me?"
"Were you close?" Walsh asked, completely ignoring her questions.
"He was only found this morning, most of the information is strictly confidential at this point. I'm sure Ms. White is preparing to speak to the staff right now," Alec said, taking pity on the poor woman.
Choi nodded and then answered Walsh's question, saying, "No, Professor Kissinger and I were only colleagues. We barely spoke until our newest research projects happened to coincide recently."
"Yes, but what was the research on? Ms. White mentioned plant toxicity," Walsh said impatiently.
Choi gave her an odd look but replied, "That was his research. I was given funding by Samtex, an agrochemical company, to look into the effects of dihydrate panphozital on plant growth. It's an experimental fertilizer, and so far it's caused unprecedented plant growth. It could revolutionize the agricultural industry especially in developing nations, as it's inexpensive to produce and easy to use."
"And what was Kissinger researching?"
Choi's expression abruptly changed from a look of enthusiasm to something much more closed off. "Obviously I don't know the details on that, but it was related to the toxicity in soil and plant matter after the use of fertilizers, including dihydrate panphozital."
"So, you were on opposite sides of the same research," Walsh concluded bluntly.
Choi's expression darkened, and she said, voice sharp, "That's hardly the case. Our research was much more complicated than that. Now if that's all...?"
"One final question, were you at the National Agrochemical conference held a few weeks ago? I believe there was a dinner held at the end of the conference?" Walsh asked, feigning offhandedness.
Choi blinked, startled by the abrupt change in topic. "Yes, nearly everyone from the chemistry department was there, even my graduate student was invited. It was a largely attended event."
"That's all I needed," Walsh said dismissively and stood to leave.
"Do you have a card, if we have further questions?" Alec asked quickly, Walsh already nearly out the door.
"Here's my card," Choi said and pulled a card from a drawer in her desk. "My phone number has changed recently but I haven't had a chance to have new cards printed, so I'll write down my new number for you. Please don't hesitate to contact me," Choi said and handed the card over to Alec. "Professor Kissinger was a brilliant man, he deserves justice."
"Thanks," Eli said over his shoulder, and nearly collided with Jacob De Grasse, finally returned with an extra chair. Instead, Eli stumbled sideways and knocked a stack of papers off of De Grasse's desk. "Sorry!" He said and scooped them up and put them back where they belonged and then quickly hurried after the retreating backs of Alec and Walsh.
He caught up with them outside, where Walsh had already gotten a cab waiting.
"Well that was interesting," Eli said and piled in after Alec into the backseat of the cab.
"Choi has motive," Alec said. "Bet she did it."
"I don't think so," Eli replied with a frown. "She seemed genuinely surprised when Walsh told her Kissinger was dead. Also, Walsh, did you have to be so blunt? That poor woman looked like she was about to faint."
"I hardly have the time to baby every suspect I meet," Walsh replied, unconcerned. "Now both of you be quiet, I need to concentrate before we arrive at our destination."
"Where exactly are we even going?" Eli asked, realizing he had no idea since he'd just fallen into Walsh's wake without comment. It was a common problem.
The Kissinger family home was located in one of the more upscale parts of town. It was small for the area, but still expensive and well cared for given its pristine exterior and its manicured lawn. Alec paid the cabbie and the three of them walked up to the single story home.
"This place is seriously nice," Eli said, eyeing the perfectly trimmed rosebushes lining the driveway up to the two car garage.
"You'd be impressed with a shack given you live in a flophouse," Alec said dismissively, and easily dodged the foot Eli kicked at him, without even looking.
"Shut up Rich boy Mcmoney pants," Eli grumbled and stomped after Walsh, who was already ringing the doorbell.
The door opened a moment later to reveal an exhausted looking woman wearing comfortable clothing, all of it clearly new and from expensive brands. Helen Kissinger was very tall and ordinarily must have been unusually beautiful, but her eyes were red from tears, and her shoulders slumped making her look small and exhausted.
"Can I help you?" She asked, sounding weary.
"Mrs. Kissinger, I'm very sorry for your loss," Alec said before Walsh could say anything to offend her. "Captain Ye or Ms. White might have mentioned we were coming, this is Detective Walsh, and Eli and I are her assistants. I'm Alec Barrington-Johnsen."
She nodded and opened the door further for them. "Of course, yes Captain Ye mentioned you. Please come in."
She led them down a hallway and through a gleaming kitchen to a richly furnished living room and sat down on one of the sofas like her legs couldn't hold her up any longer.
"I'm sorry for the mess, the maid only comes in on Thursdays, and I meant to tidy things up this morning but..." she said, gesturing at the room.
To Eli's untrained eye, the room looked perfectly fine to him, but he said, "That's completely understandable Mrs. Kissinger, we'll be out of your hair soon, we just have few questions for you."
"Were you aware of your husband's affair?" Walsh asked bluntly. If Eli had been drinking anything, he would have spat it out.
"Excuse me?" Mrs. Kissinger asked, startled. Her brown eyes were wide, spots of colour appearing high on her cheeks, bright against her otherwise pasty complexion.
Eli and Alec both turned to stare at Walsh in shock.
Walsh either didn't notice or, more likely, did notice and failed to care. "Your husband, were you aware of the affair he was having with his graduate student, Alicia Rodriguez?"
"I-I..." Mrs. Kissinger looked completely at a loss, mouth parted in shock.
"Walsh!" Eli scolded at the same time Alec interrupted, "I'm so sorry Mrs. Kissinger. We're all under a lot of stress, trying to solve this case as quickly as possible. It can make Detective Walsh a bit... indelicate. Why don't you tell us about your husband. When did you last see him?"
"Yesterday morning, he left for work at ten in the morning. We texted a few times around five, he told me he was staying late on campus at his office to get some work done," Mrs. Kissinger said, gratefully latching onto the change in subject.
"Was that unusual for him?" Alec asked, jotting things down quickly. Walsh appeared bored by the conversation, eyes roving around the room.
"No, he preferred to work from his home office here, but he usually graded papers at his office at the university so that he didn't need to carry them back and forth from campus. We were away on a weekend trip recently, so he had some catching up to do on his grading. It wasn't the first time this week he stayed late. I wasn't worried until I woke up this morning and realized he hadn't come home last night," Mrs. Kissinger explained.
"Do you often sleep deeply enough not to wake when he comes home?" Alec asked, looking surprised.
"Yes. I'm... well I'm on medication to increase my fertility. James and I are trying to start a family. The treatments make me rather narcoleptic," Mrs. Kissinger said, a smile appearing on her face and then quickly fading when she remembered the circumstances of their conversation and looked like she were about to start crying.
"I need to use the bathroom," Walsh said abruptly.
"Oh, the bathroom is just down the hall," Mrs. Kissinger said, looking a little startled and gestured towards a doorway.
"Thank you," Walsh said, and then shot Eli a look that he knew meant 'find an excuse to follow me as soon as possible', and exited the room.
Eli sat patiently for several minutes while Alec asked Mrs. Kissinger several distracting but useless questions about Professor Kissinger designed to calm her down. When enough time had passed he pretended to feel his phone vibrate in his pocket.
"It's my mom," he said, glancing at the small front screen and shot Mrs. Kissinger a sheepish, innocent look. "Sorry, I need to take this. I'll be right back." Before Alec or Mrs. Kissinger could respond, he ducked through the doorway Walsh had disappeared into.
Like the rest of the house, the hallway was richly decorated with paintings and professional looking photographs, and Eli had to force himself not to get distracted while hunting down his erstwhile boss. She emerged from the third doorway, drying her hands.
"I thought you wanted me to follow you," Alec said in confusion.
Walsh rolled her eyes. "I did, but I also wanted to take a look at Mrs. Kissinger's medicine cabinet."
"Find anything poisonous?" Eli asked, raising an eyebrow. He hardly suspected the woman to be the killer, she was much too distraught for it to be an act. People who were pretending to be upset about someone's death were normally much more over the top, rather than Mrs. Kissinger's exhausted sadness.
"Hardly," Walsh snorted. "Though she appears to be a bit of a hypochondriac, she has several prescription bottles in her name for a multitude of symptoms." She led the way down the hall to another door. "We only have another three minutes before Mrs. Kissinger becomes suspicious of our absence, so be quick about examining the office."
"Don't you mean we have to be quick?" Eli asked as he opened the door, revealing a large, richly furnished office. Against one wall was an enormous bookcase, against the other was a heavy oak desk with a neat stack of paper and a slim laptop.
"I hardly need that much time," Walsh said impatiently, and immediately went to snoop through Kissinger's desk.
"Interesting," she said, holding up a bound paper copy of another report, similar to the one Eli had seen on Kissinger's desk at the university. Even he could tell it had been written on by two separate hands- each was written in a different colour of ink
"What?" Eli asked.
"Kissinger had successfully proven that dihydrate panphozital contaminates the plants fertilized with it, making them toxic to humans," Walsh said eyes darting across the paper.
"Really? Then Choi would have motive to kill him, to protect her research and funding from Samtex," Eli said eagerly.
"Perhaps," Walsh said, but her expression said she remained unconvinced. "However, according to this report, the toxicity is only under extreme conditions, where over three hundred times the recommended amount of dihydrate panphozital was used. Even then it wouldn't kill a human, only make them ill. Therefore, it all rests on how much Choi knows, if she's aware of the circumstances necessary or not. It's entirely possible she committed murder based on inaccurate information if she overheard something at that conference dinner she and Kissinger were both at."
They rummaged around the room some more, but didn't find anything else of interest: more reports on soil samples, reminders for meetings, lesson plans and journal articles from chemistry publications. Eli wasn't even sure what they were looking for at that point, other than a note from the killer detailing who they were and how and why they'd killed James Kissinger. When their time was up, he pried Walsh off of Kissinger's computer and pushed her out into the hallway.
"How's your mom?" Alec asked when Eli returned, well after Walsh had.
"She's fine, just wanted to remind me what a fantastic son I am," Eli grumbled back and narrowly avoided stomping on his foot as he passed by.
"Here's the name of that restaurant we visited, if it's any use to you," Mrs. Kissinger said to Alec and handed him a piece of paper.
"Thank you very much, Mrs. Kissinger, you've been a great help," Alec said smoothly, and tucked the paper away in his coat pocket. "I think we have everything we need from you right now. Please call if you think of anything else," he added when Walsh exited the room without comment.
"You have a beautiful home," Eli added, hoping to distract her from Walsh's unpersonable exit.
Once outside, there is once again a cab waiting. Eli sometimes wondered how Walsh can always know exactly how long they need in any given location. In the cab, Walsh's phone rang as they pulled away from the curb.
"Walsh," she answered promptly and listened intently for several seconds before saying. "Excellent. Please email me the hard copy of the results."
"The toxicology report is already done?" Alec asked curiously. Eli raised his eyebrows. That was significantly faster than he ever remembered the police station ever working.
"I had Dr. Mullins do her own samples," Walsh explained, naming one of her few close friends, a doctor who worked at the local hospital, Saint George's General.
"Ah, the power of love," Alec said and waggled his eyebrows at Eli, who glowered back. They had an ongoing bet on whether or not Walsh was sleeping with Dr. Mullins or not- Alec thought she was, while Eli had his money on her being involved with Dr. Mullins' husband, Raul Mullins, who could put movie stars to shame. Eli wasn't interested in women, but could easily see why anyone would be interested in the sensible but kindhearted Heather Mullins, but he maintained that Dr. Mullins was too nice to be the sort to cheat, while Raul was a bit of a free spirit. Sometimes Eli was sincerely appalled by how far his morals had fallen since Walsh had all but kidnapped him to work on a case six months previous.
"That's hardly the case, Dr. Mullins simply knows how to work in a timely fashion," Walsh said, a hint of irritation creeping into her voice.
"Love," Alec mouthed to Eli, rolling his eyes. Eli was prone to agree given what Walsh had said was high praise coming from her, but he'd hardly give Alec that. Alec would never let him hear the end of it.
The cab pulled up the expensive apartment building that housed Alec and Walsh's home which also functioned as the detective's office, and Eli said, without much hope, "I really should be going home. I have an early shift tomorrow at the restaurant."
While he did function as Walsh's secondary assistant, it was an unpaid position, and much more akin to babysitting than anything else, so he still worked several days a week at the Chinese restaurant where Walsh had found him. It was a real shithole that only paid him minimum wage, but the staff were kind and Eli always got to take home as much leftovers as he wanted at the end of the night.
Predictably, Walsh ignored him and headed into the building, and Alec rolled his eyes and started to say, "If you'd just move in, you wouldn't need-"
Eli cut him off with a wordless growl of irritation, brushed past him brusquely and stomped in after Walsh.
The building was similar to the Kissingers' home, in that it was in nice area of the city and was exceptionally expensive. It disgusted Eli. Walsh and Alec both came from wealthy families and were mostly living off of their trust funds, though Walsh was paid for her detective work and Alec still used his medical license to do house calls for family friends, mostly hypochondriacs from fellow wealthy families who didn't trust even the private hospital in the city. Nevertheless, both of them were worlds away from anything Eli had lived, and he couldn't stand the idea of receiving pity or charity from either of them, even in the form of a room in their absurdly lush apartment.
The apartment itself was something else too, far too big to be practical for two people, covering two levels with multiple rooms that rarely saw use, and was decorated in a shabby bohemian fashion rarely seen outside of a rich person's home. Walsh, Eli often reflected, was often a contradiction in that way- she was a woman who cared little for her own appearance and didn't invest much time in it, but still had made the effort to decorate her home stylishly. It was all a little too absurd for Eli, so he chose to keep living in his much shabbier and much less bohemian apartment. It also meant not living with Alec which was guaranteed to drive him to insanity. Possibly even to murder. He'd picked up enough tricks in the last six months to get away with it, if Walsh wasn't on the case.
Inside, Walsh was already printing off the toxicology report from Dr. Mullins, preferring to see hard copies rather than looking at screens due to her history of crippling migraines.
"Poison?" Eli asked, dumping his coat and scarf carelessly on the back of a sofa and kicking his boots in the general direction of not being in the middle of the floor.
"In the cake too?" Eli persisted. This gained him an aggravated look and Walsh just thrust the entire report at him.
"Read it yourself, I need to think," she grumbled, and disappeared somewhere into the rest apartment.
The toxicology report was pretty interesting, Dr. Mullins was always a thorough woman, and Eli sat down on a couch, absently hearing Alec enter the apartment after him.
"When was the last time you ate anything?" Alec asked, taking off his own outerwear and heading towards the kitchen.
Eli grunted in reply, not really listening. The cake had in fact been poisoned, the same found in Kissinger's stomach, making it the murder weapon, so to speak, but it was a poison Eli didn't recognize... It had acted quickly, making him become disoriented, then paralyzing him, then followed by unconsciousness, and finally, death. Dr. Mullins had recognized it as a medication, but there was something off about the chemical compound...
"That's what I thought," Alec said with a sigh, and started banging around in the cupboards. Several minutes later, he dumped a bottle of water on Eli's lap, right on top of the toxicology report, scaring the crap out of him.
"Hey!" Eli protested, startling so hard he dropped the report along with the bottle on floor.
"Eat something before you waste away," Alec retorted and shoved a plate with a sandwich on it at him and sat down with his own plate.
Eli grumbled something inaudible back, but ate the sandwich anyways.
"So what did the report say?" Alec asked and then proceeded to just steal the report before Eli could reply. "Huh, didn't expect that. Mrs. Kissinger's the killer, I was expecting it to be that other professor."
"Just because it was an overdose from an antianxiety medication doesn't mean she did it," Eli replied, feeling conflicted. Something was telling him that Mrs. Kissinger wasn't the killer, even if the poison matched one of the medications Walsh had found in her bathroom.
"The wife is not the killer," Walsh announced loudly, walking back into the room.
"How do you figure? She's the one with the murder weapon and motive, if you're right about the lover," Alec said reasonably and stuck half his sandwich in his mouth. For someone who was very attractive, Alec had some exceptionally disgusting habits, though he still looked attractive with half a sandwich in his mouth, Eli thought grumpily.
"How do we even know he was sleeping with Alicia? Just because she was upset about him being dead? Because that would mean Kissinger was sleeping with a lot of people," Eli pointed out.
"That lipstick stain on his collar was hardly a shade his wife would wear, it was bright fuchsia, and far too fresh to have been from the morning when she said goodbye. Her attempting to have a child is clearly a sign of an attempt to keep a marriage together, so she obviously already knew about the affair, making her unlikely to commit the murder. Why bother to kill your cheating, philandering husband when you're already aware of it? No that would be a crime of passion, one committed in the heat of the moment upon discovery. This murder was carefully planned," Walsh detailed, ticking things off on her fingers offhandedly. "Not to mention the fact that the kitchen in that home is spotless, they likely have a cook as well as a maid. As wealthy as she is, I doubt Helen Kissinger has cooked a day in her life."
"That's all circumstantial evidence," Eli pointed out, though he had to agree with Walsh. "Nothing to convince the police with. We don't have even circumstantial evidence to prove Choi did it, other than a motive."
"And what about the poison?" Alec asked, eyes skimming over the abandoned toxicology report. "Dr. Mullins says it's an antianxiety medication, like the one you found in her bathroom."
"Choi is a highly intelligent chemistry professor, I expect she could find a way of manufacturing the same compound, to make it look like his wife did it," Walsh replied, but her expression was starting to turn to doubt as she thought.
"And she just happened to know Mrs. Kissinger's exact medication?" Eli asked. "That seems unlikely."
"What about that Alicia Rodriguez, maybe Kissinger was trying to break things off, or was pressuring her into a relationship. She washis student, after all," Alec mused. "She's also a chemistry student, so if we're working with the theory on the killer making the poison to mimic Mrs. Kissinger's medication, she's just as possible as Choi."
"She'd hardly be more likely to know what Mrs. Kissinger's medication was, Alec," Eli shot back.
"I'm going to go attempt to reproduce making the poison," Walsh announced and stood to leave.
"Don't forget to use the fume hood!" Eli shouted after her.
"Don't blow up the building!" Alec added loudly at the same time.
They exchanged looks, both a mixture of disgust and irritation for having such similar thoughts.
Walsh rolled her eyes and stormed out of the room without a word.
The next day, Walsh showed up at Eli's place of work, Alec in tow.
"You need to stop doing this," Eli grumbled under his breath as he dropped menus in front of each of them.
"If you'd cease your attempts to be independent by maintaining this plebeian job, we wouldn't need to resort to these tactics," Walsh said, flipping her menu open, though she'd already memorized the thing the first time she and Alec had been there six months previously. She just liked to look at the stains on them to deduce what sort of customers had held them before her.
"I need this job," Eli grumbled and sloppily poured them both water and pretended to be reading them out the daily specials, for the benefit of his shift supervisor sitting across the room. "I like working here."
"This is hardly a productive use of the time of a man with bachelor's degrees in chemistry and computer programming and a master's degree in cryptography," Walsh said irritably.
"Jobs don't need to be productive, they just have to make you money," Eli hissed and jotted down their usual orders since he was running out of things to do before his supervisor would get suspicious and come over.
"You really don't need this job either," Alec added, scowling at Eli. "If you'd just accept payment for your work with Walsh-"
"That's hardly work, it's babysitting," Eli grumbled under his breath and then stalked off to hand off the order to the kitchen staff.
However, he couldn't avoid them forever, given they were the only customers in the restaurant and he was the only waiter working that shift. So he ended up back at their table a scant ten minutes later, setting their food down in front of them.
"After you finish here, go with Alec to pay another visit to Choi. I'm going to speak with Alicia Rodriguez," Walsh informed Eli.
"Are you sure that's a good idea?" Eli asked hesitantly. He thought it might have been smarter to send Walsh to Choi rather than Alicia. Somehow, he didn't expect good results from Walsh speaking to an emotionally fragile woman, and at least Choi could likely handle Walsh at her worst.
"I'll hardly get the information we need by being nice, Elliott," Walsh said irritably.
"I'm not certain you know how to be nice with sobbing women," Alec observed placidly, and ignored the look that garnered him from Walsh.
"Please don't say anything to make her slap you," Eli begged and then went to greet the family that had just entered the restaurant.
After work, Eli forced Alec to let him go home first so he could shower the smell of fake sweet-and-sour-pork off his skin and change into clothing that didn't feature cheap gold embroidery in the shape of a snarling dragon on his chest.
He told Alec to make himself comfortable while he got ready. Alec eyed Eli's couch (salvaged from the curb) and then Eli's rickety kitchen chairs (pulled from a dumpster and repaired with duct tape, determination and a prayer) and then said condescendingly, "I'll stand, thanks."
Eli growled something about spoiled rich kids under his breath and then stomped into his tiny bathroom.
"Do you enjoy living in squalor?" Alec asked, barely having to raise his voice to be heard through the thin bathroom wall and over the sound of running water. "Because that's the only reason I can see you preferring this to living with Walsh."
"Fuck off, rich boy," Eli shouted back and nearly dropped his bottle of shampoo.
"Do the roaches remind you of home? Do you find the criminals you live next to charming?" Alec asked, prompting Eli to loudly start singing the first obnoxious pop song he could think of to drown Alec out.
When Eli as emerged from the bathroom, roughly towel drying his hair off, Alec scowled at him and said, "You're going to get yourself killed living here. Quit being a child and make the responsible decision."
That hit a little too close to home.
"Drop it, Barrington," Eli snarled.
"I will not, until you've stopped acting like an idiotic teenager acting out against his parents. Were you born this stubborn or do you have to practice? Because I've never met anyone naturally this stupid and bullheaded. You know, and I know that living here is a stupid choice, so just act your age and-"
"Don't you dare tell me what to fucking do," Eli snapped, and then stormed out of his apartment.
It was a less dramatic exit than he would have liked, given he had to wait for Alec to follow him so he could lock the door behind him, but the taxi ride to campus was tense and silent enough to make up for it.
Choi looked up tiredly when they entered her office. There was an enormous stack of papers on her desk and De Grasse was nowhere in sight.
"Sorry to bother you," Eli said, pasting on a polite smile he didn't feel, "We would have called ahead, but we happened to be in the area and we have a few follow up questions for you."
She didn't look terribly convinced at Eli's feeble excuse, but sighed deeply and wordlessly gestured at the chairs in front of her desk.
"What can you tell us about the conference dinner several weeks ago?" Alec asked promptly.
"It was a very large event, all of the well-known names in the field of agrochemistry were there. I attended several lectures throughout the week, as I'm sure Professor Kissinger did, though I did not see him at any of them," Choi responded, eyeing them closely. She didn't seem at ease with their presence, though Eli didn't take that to mean much of anything. There were few people who were comfortable with being questioned by a private detective, even if he and Alec were only assistants to one.
"So you never spoke to Kissinger that week?" Alec clarified.
"Only on campus," Choi replied. Somehow, Eli had the feeling there was something she was avoiding saying. "About courses we are teaching next year, arranging schedules. Nothing of substance, or related to either of our research."
"What about at the dinner at the end of the conference?" Alec pressed. Eli subtly kicked him, trying to mentally will his fellow assistant not to go too far and completely shoot subtlety in the face. Alec kicked him back, twice as hard, and smiled encouragingly at Choi. Eli had to admit that it was a disgustingly charming smile, just crooked and inviting enough that even Choi looked a little less ruffled.
She shook her head, expression slowly growing a bit annoyed nevertheless. "No, we didn't speak, though I did see him there. Jacob did speak with him, mostly to apologize, I believe. He knocked his wife over and she nearly went into hysterics over it. A very... fragile woman, I gather."
"Are there any other professors here researching the same thing as you and Professor Kissinger? Who were at the conference?" Eli asked curiously.
Once again, Choi's expression grew icy at the mention at the similarity between her and Kissinger's research. "There were others from the university who attended, though I couldn't say anything as to the topics of their research projects. Now I do need to prepare for a class I'm teaching shortly, so if you have further questions, please call me instead of invading my office again."
With that, Alec and Eli were very firmly thrown out her office.
"What a cagey woman," Alec sighed, "Hopefully Walsh is having better luck."
Across town, Walsh knocked firmly on the door to Alicia Rodriguez's basement suite. It was in an area popular with students for its low rent and high concentration of bars.
"Hello?" Alicia asked, opening the door a crack. The visible sliver of her face appeared exhausted and grief-stricken, as expected from the lover of a dead man.
"I have some questions for you regarding the death of Professor Kissinger," Walsh said. Alicia flinched, eyes drawn downwards before flickering back to Walsh.
"I already answered the cops' questions. The last time I saw him was two days ago in his office when we were discussing my thesis," Alicia said, her voice dead.
"I'm a private detective, not with the police force. I have more specific questions," Walsh said. When Alicia didn't respond she mentally asked herself what Eli or Alec would say and came up with, "I'm sorry for your loss. May I come in?" To her ears, she sounded false, but it seemed to do the trick, and Alicia pushed the door all the way open.
"Sure," she said and gestured to a futon couch. "Sit down."
Walsh said, folding her hands carefully on her lap. "How long have you been sleeping with Professor Kissinger?" she asked bluntly.
"I- excuse me?" Alicia demanded, dark eyes going wide. "I'm not sleeping with him. He's my professor!"
Walsh rolled her eyes. "Denying it at this point is useless, and a waste of both our times. The sooner you tell me the truth, the sooner I can leave. So, just answer the question. When did your affair begin?"
Alicia pursed her lips and said tightly, "Five months ago. Before Professor MacDonald left for Europe. We met at a party. I didn't even know he worked at the university, I'd never taken any of his classes."
"Did he pressure you into an ongoing relationship?"
Bright red, Alicia stuttered, "N-No. It was... it was very- very mutual. We loved each other."
Disgustingly soppy, but the truth. Walsh decided to move on to her real questions, the ones Eli would scold her for, since he was strangely emotional for a man of his intelligence.
"And when did Mrs. Kissinger become aware of the affair?"
Alicia's jaw dropped, and she squeaked out, "She doesn't know." A lie, obvious enough that even a complete idiot would have noticed.
Walsh exhaled sharply out of her nose. Why did people always think they could get away with lying to her, it was like they doubted her intelligence.
"I already told you, answer my questions truthfully and I can leave you alone," she snapped. "So, when did Mrs. Kissinger find out about the affair?"
Alicia looked away, eyes downcast and cheeks flushed pink. "Not long after it began."
Walsh's eyes narrowed. That was the truth, but not all of it. But she didn't think pushing would get her any results, just more prevarication.
"How did she find out? Did Professor Kissinger tell her?"
"No," Alicia said, looking a little confused. Truth. "Why would he?"
"You'd be surprised by the idiotic things people do. Did you tell her?"
"What no!" Genuine surprise; truth.
"So how did she find out, by accident?"
Alicia glowered at Walsh and said firmly, "Look, none of this is your business. What does it matter how M- Mrs. Kissinger found out? How does any of this have anything to do with James being murdered?"
She had a point. Walsh knew, somehow, that it was important, but she had no proof. It would be best to end that line of questioning, before Alicia grew belligerent.
"Are you familiar with Professor Choi?" She asked. Changing topics abruptly was a useful tool in keeping suspects on their toes and prone to giving things away.
As expected, Alicia was startled into saying, "Somewhat. I've spoken to her before, about getting sources for my thesis."
"And what did you think of her?"
Alicia shrugged. "She's a very intelligent woman. Ruthless to her students, probably because she's so much younger than a lot of the other professors and students think that they can get away with crap with her."
An inaccurate, but truthful summation, similar to what Walsh had already concluded.
"One final question," she said as she stood and smoothed her slacks out. "Did you attend the conference dinner with Professor Kissinger two weeks ago?"
"I wasn't with him, but I was there," Alicia admitted. "I didn't really talk with him though, there were a lot of industry people to talk to."
"I have all I needed," she said and strode out of the suite before she could get tangled up in any useless small talk.
Alec and Eli were already waiting for her, squabbling incessantly, when she arrived.
"What did you learn?" she asked, cutting through their childish argument. Childish, but she had to agree with Alec. Eli moving in was the logical decision, as his apartment was a liability and a drain on his finances he didn't need, and living with her would be much more convenient during cases. Not to mention he'd be able to quit his terrible minimum-wage job, which was such a waste of time and intelligence that Walsh was very nearly offended every time Eli left for a shift.
"Choi is an ice queen?" Eli said, flopping over with a sigh.
"Anything of substance," Walsh corrected.
"She's hiding something," Alec said. "Though that's nothing we didn't already know. She said she spoke with Kissinger during the week, but only about classes, not research."
"And her assistant is a clumsy oaf," Eli added. "Apparently he took out Mrs. Kissinger and gave her a panic attack."
Walsh frowned. "When I sent you to question a suspect, I was anticipating useful results, not this," she intoned disapprovingly.
Eli sighed and said, "Look, Walsh, it isn't our fault the woman is an impenetrable fortress of ice and sharp glares, I don't know what you want us to say. We did our best."
Before Walsh could snap that clearly they hadn't been doing their best if they got her nothing, Alec asked, "What did you get?"
It was a clear stalling tactic, but Walsh allowed it; Alec needed to be rewarded for actually attempting to employ subtlety
"Alicia and Kissinger's affair started five months ago, Mrs. Kissinger was made aware of it an indeterminable time later. She was also at the conference dinner two weeks ago, though she claims she didn't speak with Kissinger, likely because his wife was also in attendance."
Alec and Eli waited for her to elaborate.
"So basically. You also got nothing," Eli said when she didn't say anything further.
"That is hardly the case," Walsh sniffed, shooting Eli an unimpressed look. "Alicia is hiding something, likely to do with the circumstances under which Mrs. Kissinger came to know about the affair. She is familiar with Choi, so conceivably she could be a co-conspirator, but it seems improbable given the intimate nature of that note which suggests a single killer, as well as the fact that Alicia's observations of Choi, while correct, were also impersonal, like that of someone who is unfamiliar with the other."
"That's an awful long winded way of saying that all you learned is that Alicia's hiding something and that if she killed Kissinger, she didn't do it with Choi," Alec observed languidly.
"I made one final observation, though I don't yet know its significance," Walsh all but growled at Alec. "Her apartment was uncommonly dusty."
Alec shrugged. "So what? She's a student, it would be weirder if her place was clean."
"I didn't say it wasn't clean, in fact the whole household was exceptionally well organized. However the entire place was dusty, as if she hadn't spent any time in her own home. It also smelled rather stale, like it had been locked up for a long period of time."
"Maybe Kissinger has an apartment or something," Eli suggested, brightening.
"I'll do some digging in Kissinger's financials," Alec volunteered. "See if there's any payments that look like they could be for rent on a second property."
"Eli, come help me recreate the poison, it could demonstrate the level of knowledge the killer, which would help in deciding if it was Choi or Alicia," Walsh said and strode out of the room without waiting to see if Eli was following or not.
"How is this my life?" Eli grumbled but hurried after her.
It was several hours of failed experiments later that Eli slunk home to his apartment to sleep before his shift the next day. Unfortunately, between the ongoing noise in the apartment above him, the fact that his apartment was a few degrees too cold to be comfortable, and thoughts on the current case, Eli couldn't sleep. He managed maybe four hours of intermittent sleep before he gave up and got out of bed, around five AM. He paced the scant space in his kitchen/living room area, running through the case in his head.
There was something about this case that he thought that they were all overlooking something important... Alicia Rodriguez, Professor Choi and Mrs. Kissinger all had motive to kill Professor Kissinger, but all of them had seemed genuinely upset about his death... Of course one could be regretful about a death while still having caused it, but Eli wasn't convinced that was what was happening there. Alicia had been too hysterical to be the killer, Mrs. Kissinger's motive was shaky if she had known about the affair for a long time as Walsh suspected and Choi... Well she certainly had motive, except she'd been genuinely upset and surprised by her colleague's death. She could have been an excellent actor but...
Eli froze in the middle of the room and dove for the toxicology report he'd taken from Walsh's and then abandoned on the counter.
If he was right... He was. He threw on his coat and shoes and raced out of his apartment. He needed to check this right away, or else the killer might accidentally throw out the proof Eli needed.
Alec frowned at the text message he'd just received from Eli earlier that morning before he'd gotten up. It was singularly useless, as was Eli's wont when he had a theory and was in a hurry to prove a theory
I had a thought, going to go check it- tell Walsh to look at the tox report again, Choi/Alicia might not be the killer
He sent a reply asking for clarification, but not expecting anything, and stuck his phone back in his pocket and shrugged. Walsh had disappeared not long after Eli had, Alec suspected she'd gone off to fuck Dr. Mullins (or Raul Mullins, if Eli was right, which Alec thought he might be, but he was damned if he was going to admit that to Eli). Whatever hunch Eli had, it could wait until the later in the morning when Walsh slunk back in. He sighed and went to retrieve a book from the secret stash of romance novels Walsh didn't know about, or at least had the tact to pretend didn't exist. There really was nothing for a non-genius to do but wait.
The chemistry building was unlocked, which was surprising, Eli had expected to have to hang around outside until they were opened at a more reasonable hour. It was cold and windy outside, more so than even the previous days, so he was grateful to get indoors. A quick glance down the hallway revealed why the door hadn't been locked- a janitor was emptying trash cans at the far end of the hall. Eli slipped inside quietly and quickly snuck into the stairwell before he was spotted and told to get out.
Choi's office was dark and empty, though thankfully unlocked. He slipped in through the door, closing it behind him so no one would wonder why it was open and come to investigate. Choi's desk was tidier than it had been the previous day, all of the paper organized and in neat stacks, her laptop nowhere to be seen. That wasn't what Eli was there for anyways. He turned to Jacob De Grasse's messier desk and began to carefully dig through it, searching for one of the paper's he'd happened to knock off it when they'd visited Choi's office. Choi was smart enough to have left her notes with her graduate student rather than on her own desk, she'd just been unlucky for Eli's clumsiness to have revealed her trick.
He found the paper he was looking for- containing the real compound used to poison Professor Kissinger. Dr. Mullins was good, but she wasn't a forensic analyst by trade. He could hardly fault her for mistaking a single CH3O for a CH4O and believing the toxin to be Helen Kissinger's antianxiety medication when it in fact was a lab-made compound Eli didn't recognize, but which was clearly a fast acting poison. He wondered if it was a fantastical coincidence, or if somehow, it had been intentionally created to look like Mrs. Kissinger's medication. If so, they weren't just dealing with a woman who worked with chemicals, but a veritable genius, perhaps even one on Walsh's level.
"I'd put that paper down if I were you," a voice behind Eli said.
Against his spine, he felt the unforgettable shape of the muzzle of a handgun.
Walsh entered the apartment, wearing different clothing than she'd had on when she'd left the night before.
"Good night?" Alec asked, hastily closing the textbook he was hiding the romance novel inside of and shoved the whole thing under his knees. Walsh raised her eyebrows at him, but just continued on her beeline for the coffee pot.
"Eli texted," Alec added, without turning to look at Walsh. "He had a hunch or something, he's always so cryptic when he'd lost in his own head. He told me to tell you to take a look at the toxicology report again."
"What did he say exactly?" Walsh asked, coming back into the room, holding a mug full of coffee.
Alec pulled his phone out of his pocket, startled when it was accompanied by several pieces of paper: the note from Mrs. Kissinger when Alec had been pretending that the restaurant the couple had visited the previous week had been relevant to the case, and Professor Choi's card.
Walsh stooped to pick them both up from the floor, and then froze, nearly spilling coffee. She scooped up both notes and then grabbed Alec's phone without pause and headed upstairs with it all.
"Hey!" Alec protested, and scrambled to follow, dropping his books on the floor carelessly.
Upstairs, Walsh was busy plugging in Alec's phone to her computer, and immediately opened up the photos that had been taken of the crime scene, flicking through them quickly until she came to one of Kissinger's desk. She zoomed in on one of the papers in particular, the report that had writing from two separate people on it. She first held up Mrs. Kissinger's note next to the image, then did the same with Professor Choi's card and dropped both to the desk. She swung around to face Alec and said, "Professor Choi isn't the killer, she was sharing information with Kissinger. She knew about the concentration required for dihydrate panphozital to be toxic to humans."
Her mind whirred so quickly it was difficult to get the words out coherently.
"That must have been what she spoke to Kissinger about but didn't want to tell us- it was probably a breach of contract to pass on information to Kissinger regarding her own research. Choi is a woman who values justice, and was concerned about the toxicity of her own fertilizer being disregarded by a company as unethical as Samtex. Additionally, the note the killer left does not match the handwriting on the card Choi gave you-" Walsh cut herself off as her mind caught up to the rapidly forming picture in her mind.
Before Alec could ask anything, Walsh was dialing a number on Alec's phone and putting it to her ear.
"Hello, Mrs. Kissinger? I'm terribly sorry for disturbing you so early, but I need to know, have you met your husband's graduate student, Alicia Rodriquez. What's your opinion of her?" She paused and then a frown marred the falsely pleasant expression she'd adopted when she'd dialed the phone. "Yes, I am quite serious. Yes, this is very urgent, it has to do with the person who killed your husband, so tell me your answer now. What do you think of Alicia Rodriguez? A lovely woman? Yes, I quite agree. Do you have her cell phone number? I'll need to speak with her this morning as well. Alright, thank you."
Walsh hung up the phone and handed it back to Alec.
"So Mrs. Kissinger is the killer? Or is it Alicia?" Alec asked, completely confused. He didn't see either women having it in her to commit murder, but he'd seen what a person could be pushed to do under extreme circumstances while working for Walsh.
"Neither of them is."
"But what about the affair? You said Mrs. Kissinger knew about it, but if Alicia was being pressured, or was jealous..." Alec said.
"I mentioned previously that the lipstick stain on Professor Kissinger's collar was from Alicia Rodriguez. I failed to recognize the importance of finding the same tube of lipstick in Mrs. Kissinger's office. At the time I just suspected Alicia had left it behind as a method of goading the wife of the man she was sleeping with, but upon speaking to Alicia I had to conclude that she wasn't capable of such a thing, and in fact it seemed improbable for her to be party to adultery with her strict code of morals. And when I mentioned Alicia just now, Mrs. Kissinger did not sound bitter or jealous in the slightest as the scorned wife of a man would. She sounded fond."
"And probably confused," Alec couldn't help but mutter.
"Fondness, from a woman on the subject of the young thing her husband is cheating on her with? Unlikely. That along with the dust in Alicia's apartment proves it, she was staying at the Kissingers. Therefore, Alicia, Professor Kissinger and Mrs. Kissinger were in a polyamorous relationship," Walsh concluded.
"A poly- are you serious?" Alec demanded.
"Quite. I expect that's why Alicia was so hysterical about the professor's death. A student might mourn for her mentor, but hardly on that scale, unless there's something more. Ms. White said that Kissinger volunteered to become her mentor, unusual for a man already so busy with a wife, fulfilling research and several classes to teach? Clearly he had a motive for wanting to spend time with her. But Mrs. Kissinger being fond of the other woman, along with the lipstick? There is only one explanation."
"This does leave us with no killer then, unless both women did it to kick him out of the relationship," Alec said sarcastically.
"That would hardly be the most efficient way of ending a relationship, Alec," Walsh said irritably. "Eli must have noticed something from the toxicology report to send us in the right direction. Text him to come here, while I look at this again."
"He didn't respond to my last one," Alec said with a frown, and send another conveying Walsh's demands.
Walsh's eyes flew over the pages of the toxicology report as she flipped through them impatiently, and then she froze.
"Dr. Mullins made a mistake- the poison wasn't an antianxiety medication, but a compound created in a lab similar to it," she said, looking shocked.
"But you just said that Professor Choi didn't do it, who else could have made the poison?"
Walsh responded by swearing and grabbing her coat.
The Chemistry building was open when they arrived, only a few students and teaching assistants milling around sleepily. Alec and Walsh raced up the stairs in tandem to Choi's office, only to find it locked.
"Maybe you were wrong?" Alec suggested, though he had a sinking feeling in his stomach that he knew where this was going.
Walsh responded by producing a set of lock picks.
"Careful with those! What if someone sees?!" Alec hissed, and then tried to block Walsh from casual view by standing in front of her. She got the door open seconds later and the door swung open to reveal a dark and deserted office. Professor Choi's desk was clean, while her assistant's was a disaster, with several sheets of paper trailing on the floor around it.
"Are you sure he was in here?" Alec asked, eye sweeping the empty room.
"Certain," Walsh said and stooped to pick something up. It was Eli's house key.
"What do you mean you don't have your key?" De Grasse demanded, the gun digging into Eli's back harder.
"I must have dropped it!" Eli protested, a little shrilly. It wasn't the first time he'd had a gun pointed at him, it wasn't even the first time that month. But it was always terrifying.
"Hey man, are you okay?" A voice called. Unseen, De Grasse's gun dug a little harder into Eli's back.
Banana Jones was standing, swaying a few feet away, his lock picks dangling guiltily from his fingers. One was still jammed in the lock on one of Eli's neighbor's doors.
"Oh, I'm- I'm fine," Eli said with a nervous laugh. "Just, uh. Locked myself out, you know how it is."
"Don't I know it, brother. All these doors. Always locking me out," Banana agreed and then staggered a little closer, his bloodshot eyes meeting Eli's. "You want me to get your door open?" He asked, wiggling his lock picks.
"What?" De Grasse asked, a little sharply.
"It won't cost you much," Banana told Eli with a shit eating grin. "Consider it a discount for not, y'know, calling the cops before. A favour."
"A favour would be unlocking my door for me for free," Eli pointed out brainlessly.
"Ain't nothing that's free in life, brother," Banana replied. "'Sides, all's I need is some beer. Mackie at the corner won't sell me no more, says I gots to pay him what I owe him, but I says-"
"We will give you your damn beer if you just open this damn door," De Grasse snarled, cutting Banana off mid-slur.
Banana blinked at him owlishly, like he hadn't noticed he was there.
"L'right man. You guys in a hurry to fuck, or somethin'?" he asked as he set to work.
Eli gave in to the urge to burst into hysterical laughter, on the verge of tears.
Banana got the door open quick enough and De Grasse shoved Eli in first and then followed, slamming the door in Banana's face and then locking it. From outside, Banana started cursing up a storm, but Eli was more focused on the gun being aimed at him. De Grasse's hand never wavered. He had held gun before. He wasn't afraid of using it, it was like an old friend to him.
"Now before you do anything you regret, maybe-" Eli started to say, voice carefully neutral, holding his hands out placatingly.
"This is your own damn fault," De Grasse told him, eyes wild. "If you'd just had Kissinger's wife arrested like you were supposed to, it wouldn't have come to this."
"I strongly feel that you committing murder is what brought us here, not me recognizing an obscure chemical compound," Eli said without meaning to. Panic tended to destroy his brain-to-mouth filter. Alec probably would have approved of the lack of subtlety, he thought a bit hysterically.
Out of nowhere, De Grasse's hand shot out and hit him in the head hard enough to make him stumble back, ears ringing.
"Shut up," De Grasse snarled. "Here's what's going to happen. You're going to write a very touching note saying you altered the toxicology samples for whatever stupid reason you come up with, and that the guilt of having tampered with evidence was too great- which is why you took your own life." His face was deadly serious, his green eyes boring into Eli's without a hint of remorse or hesitation.
"A-are you really sure this is what you want to do?" Eli asked, hands starting to tremble. "I-it's just a study, there will be other projects, J-Jacob, there's no need to do all this."
"Just a study?!" De Grasse roared, brandishing the gun at Eli. "This is my life! And that- that manwas going to destroy it all! Just because he was jealous of Professor Choi's intelligence! He's a washed up old man without an original thought in his head! He was ruining all of our work just because Choi was better than him and he knew it!" A crazed smile crept across his face. "But I got back at him. I was going to get the ultimate revenge, kill that jackass and pin it on his whore of a wife. But then you had to go and ruin all of that." He paused consideringly. "Well, at least now I can get my revenge on you too. I can just write my own note, who cares about that."
De Grasse advanced towards him and pressed the gun to the side of Eli's head.
Eli heard the sound of the safety being clicked off, an uncompromising click.
"Are you sure this is where he took Eli?!" Alec demanded he raced Walsh up the stairs of Eli's apartment. "What if De Grasse took him somewhere else!"
"That key was deliberately planted, it was Eli giving us a clue!" Walsh yelled back and shoved several people out of the way, ignoring their irritated cries. Alec narrowly dodged Banana Jones, who snarled at him in reply.
They skidded to a halt in front of Eli's door- which was predictably locked. They could hear muffled voices coming from inside: one soft, the other shouting indistinctly.
"Give me the key!" Walsh demanded, face set in stone.
Alec patted his pockets frantically, but couldn't find it.
"Where are your picks?" Alec demanded, as one of the voices grew even louder.
"There's no time for that," Walsh snarled and, with one powerful motion, kicked the door open.
Eli's entire focus was on the gun pressed against him, but he faintly registered a familiar noise.
"I-I get that all of this is important to you, but you didn't get all of the information!" Eli said quickly before De Grasse could do anything.
De Grasse snarled, "What do you mean. I heard that pathetic has-been at the conference. He proved that our fertilizer is toxic, he's ruined months of research!"
"You didn't hear all he had to say!" Eli yelped as the gun ground into his hair a little harder. "The- the toxicity it wasn't enough to ruin the fertilizer, you could still use it!"
The gun against his head wavered.
"Wh-what?" De Grasse said, sounding shaken.
"You killed a man for nothing!" Eli shouted, and then belatedly remembered all of the times Alec had yelled at him for antagonizing men holding him at gunpoint.
"Oh God," De Grasse whispered, and then several things happened in quick succession.
The gun slipped away from Eli's head completely.
He tackled De Grasse trying to wrestle the gun away from him.
De Grasse growled at him and tried to flip Eli on his back only to be punched in the face.
Eli yelped at the shock of pain punching someone in the nose caused, a sharp zing from knuckles to shoulder.
The door slammed open.
De Grasse pulled the trigger on the handgun and Eli's entire arm lit up in white hot agony.
"Get off of him!" Alec snarled and all but threw De Grasse into Eli's coffee table, which splintered upon impact. De Grasse struggled to get up, but froze when Walsh put one imperious foot on the center of his chest, her gun pointed firmly at him.
"Mr. De Grasse, the police will arrive any second to arrest you for first degree murder and attempted murder and quite possibly for assault," Walsh said very calmly, though her eyes betrayed her fury. "I'd suggest staying very still so I do not unexpectedly find you threatening and have to shoot you somewhere nonvital and unpleasant."
De Grasse very quietly whimpered.
"Stay still!" Alec snarled at Eli, who was blindly trying to squirm away from him, thinking he was De Grasse. "You're bleeding and you're making it worse, you idiot!"
Recognizing who it was, Eli relaxed and let Alec pull him into a sitting position and carefully take his coat and shirt off.
"It only clipped you," Alec observed, examining the small gash on the outside of Eli's bicep. "Do you hurt anywhere else?"
"Honestly my wrist hurts more than that does," Eli said, holding up his right arm.
"Just a sprain," Alec observed, touching his arm from elbow to palm very gently, almost a caress. "Only you, Daphne. This would only happen to you."
"Don't call me that," Eli grumbled, "He didn't even say 'and I would have gotten away with it if it weren't for you meddling kids'."
"That only happened one time," Alec retorted. "And that guy was so high I think he thought you were actually Daphne."
"Does that make you Velma?" Eli asked and whined when Alec started tying a makeshift bandage on to prevent Eli's blood from getting on the admittedly already filthy carpet.
"Quit squirming, you big baby. And no, obviously I'm Fred," Alec said.
"But Walsh is the leader, you can't be Fred. I don't think Fred is meant to be Iranian anyways," Eli pointed out, trying and failing at not squirming. He hated receiving first aid. A small giggle squeaked out of him, and he could feel the hysteria rising: the adrenaline was starting to fade.
"They're all white, Eli," Alec grumbled just as Eli giggled again. The noise turned into a sob halfway out of his mouth and Eli's eyes started to burn. Alec pulled Eli into a loose hug, pressing Eli's head firmly against his chest and rubbing his back in slow, gentle circles. "You're okay, you're fine. It's over now."
Eli responded by out-and-out sobbing and clinging to his jacket with his good hand.
By the time Captain Ye and Sergeant Castillo arrived a few minutes later, Eli had subsided and was sitting properly upright, though his eyes were noticeably red and wet.
"Better late than never, Captain," Walsh drawled, still standing over De Grasse with her gun pointed at him.
"You failed to mention which apartment we'd find the killer in," Ye replied irritably and then hauled De Grasse upright and slapped a pair of handcuffs on him. "We were informed by a fellow with really awful yellow hair. Take him in, Castillo, I'll be right behind you."
Castillo steered a shell-shocked De Grasse out of the apartment, rattling off his rights and charges as she went, never skipping a beat.
"So you have proof he did it, right?" Ye asked Walsh. "Proof I can use in court," he added, since he was familiar with her bad habits.
"There's notes on the chemical compound used to poison Kissinger," Eli said, allowing Alec to help him to his feet, with less grumbling than usual. "And he confessed to committing the crime when he was threatening me."
"Excellent!" Ye said. He was a little too enthusiastic, prompting Alec and Walsh to glower at him in tandem.
"Excellent that we have a confession, I mean. I'm sorry you were put in danger, Eli. Again," Ye said awkwardly, clearing his throat gruffly. "Good work, Walsh. The force isn't the same without you and your hard work."
"The force couldn't handle me and my hard work," Walsh replied in a bored tone.
Things wrapped up quickly after that, statements were given, Eli's apartment was photographed as a crime scene and after several exhausting hours, everyone left his apartment.
"You're spending the night," Walsh informed Eli once the last CSI tech left. "It's the logical decision based on-"
"Yeah, okay," Eli agreed, surveying the mess that had been made of his small home, especially the pieces of laminated wood strewn about the room from the broken coffee table. "Aw man," he added, spotting his front door. "I'm never getting my damage deposit back."
"So I have a proposal," Alec said the next morning. Technically it was afternoon, since adrenaline and life-threatening situations really took it out of Eli, so he'd only just woken up in one of Walsh's spare rooms and had stumbled into the kitchen in search of coffee. It was nearly 3 PM.
"'M not moving in here," Eli mumbled, trying to figure out the fancy single serve coffee machine Walsh owned for some reason. Possibly just to cruelly deny Eli coffee in his hour of need.
Deftly, Alec batted his hands away and hit a few buttons and got the machine to spit out a cup of coffee.
"No, I'm giving up on that," he agreed. "I get that you don't want our... charity, even if that isn't what it is. But I have a compromise."
"I didn't think that word was even in your vocabulary," Eli said, a bit snidely because he'd been shot the day before and still hadn't gotten through his morning coffee and was dealing with Alec first thing when he was looking obnoxiously attractive and rumpled.
"Are you going to shut up and listen to me?" Alec snapped back and then took a deep breath, visibly forcing himself to calm down.
Eli thought about his destroyed apartment and Banana Jones lurking around his building and begrudgingly said, "I'm listening."
"I own another apartment, a few blocks from here, from before I met Walsh. I was going to sell it, but never got around to it, but apparently it's a good investment to keep, according to my father. Right now though, it's sitting empty, and I'd feel better about keeping it if I had someone living in it," Alec explained.
"I'm not living there for free," Eli replied. "I'll pay you rent."
Alec very tactfully didn't point out that on Eli's budget, he couldn't afford to pay half of what rent would be worth in that neighborhood.
"No, you aren't," he countered. "If you won't accept money for working for Walsh, consider this your pay check."
"No," Eli insisted stubbornly.
"For God's sake, Eli, you could have been killed yesterday!" Alec snapped, slamming his own cup of coffee down on the counter.
Eli blinked at him slowly, looking confused.
"Just... No one should be doing this work for nothing. It makes me feel bad, it makes Walsh feel bad, and you'd literally be doing me a favour. So, Take. The. Stupid. Apartment."
Eyes wide, Eli squeaked, "Okay."
"Good!" Alec snapped back, still feeling unjustly annoyed.
They stood in the kitchen in silence for a long moment, both quietly drinking their coffees. And then- "But I'm paying for utilities," Eli said and then darted out of the kitchen before Alec could stop him.
"You damn well are not! Stop running! you'll pull out your stitches!"
"I will not! They're in my arm, stupid!"
Upstairs, Walsh sighed and rubbed a hand over her face wearily, listening to her two assistants attempt to kill each other one floor away.
"Tired after that long case?" Raul Mullins asked sympathetically from her computer screen.
"I really am sorry about that mistake," Helen Mullins added, peering over her husband's shoulder into the camera. "I just wanted to get it done as quickly as I could for you!"
"It's understandable, and nothing came of it in the end," Walsh replied. "I appreciate your hard work."
"Well, all's well that ends well," Raul said with a smile, rubbing at his wife's shoulder when she continued to look upset.
"I do have one question unanswered," Walsh mused. "That compound was tricky work, I had difficulty creating it myself, and I have more experience than Jacob De Grasse has. Someone must have helped him, though it certainly wasn't Choi." She had her suspicions of who that was, but was sincerely hoping she was incorrect.
"You need to take a break," Raul said, when Walsh started mumbling to herself, caught up in theories.
Walsh eyed him and said, "I was planning on taking a vacation, but then the two of you decided to leave for the weekend."
"We'll be home soon," Helen soothed. "Though I wouldn't say no to a little-"
"Get back here, you insufferable child!" Alec thundered from downstairs.
Walsh glanced at the door and sighed again.
"Perhaps later, after the children have gone to bed," she said.
"Alright, later. Love you," Raul said, echoed by his wife.
"And I you," Walsh replied, with a smile seen by a very select few.
"Stop treating me like a baby!" Eli hollered.
"I will once you've stopped acting like one!" Alec yelled back.
Walsh rolled her eyes and stood, cracking her back. She would have to go out for the evening if she wanted rest, which she certainly needed. There was always another case waiting for her.
12/16: Minor edits made to fix typos and a few wonky sentences