A stocky little woman wearing a tie dyed skirt appeared in the doorway. "Excuse me," she said, "Frank asked me to bring some sketching materials up here." She held up a paper bag from the gift shop.
Ben crossed the room, smiling. "Thank you!" He looked in the bag. "This is perfect. Is the receipt in here? I'll see to it that the gift shop is paid for these."
After the woman left, Ben sat back down and began sketching. Liz watched him, fascinated. "Wow, you are good."
He blinked and glanced up at her. "Oh, umm, thanks."
A few minutes later, Frank led Colby Granger and David Sinclair into the room. "Here you go, Agent Eppes. Here's the rest of your team. The crime scene folks will be up here in a minute."
"Thanks, Frank. We'll be ready to start interviewing the other witnesses pretty soon."
"Hey," Colby said, "I see you have the three amigos of consulting on the job."
Maggie looked up and chuckled. "And now we have Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to add a touch of class. Hi, Colby. Hi, David!"
Charlie wandered back in and greeted David and Colby. He glanced at his watch. "Hey, Don, I've got to get back to campus."
"But you just got here," Don said, scowling.
"I've got a meeting and I really can't be late. I'll work on this tonight. Just get me the things I asked for. And you might want to have your techs run Ben's sketch through face recognition and see what shows up."
"Okay," Don said. "Maybe I'll stop by the house tonight if I get done here and bring you the stuff myself."
"That'd be great. I'll see you later," Charlie left the room, stuffing his notebook into his bag as he walked.
Once he left the building, he ran to his car, glancing again at his watch. He prayed the traffic would be light on the way back to campus. He hated leaving his brother in the lurch, but his career at Cal Sci was more important than a part time consulting gig.
He pulled into his spot and breathed a sigh of relief. Someone must have been looking out for him because he had not hit a single red light. He arrived at Millie's office with three minutes to spare. Three students sat in the reception area and met his greeting with scowls. Millie met him at the door and ushered him into her office, closing the door behind him. "Charlie," she said, waving him to take a seat, "thank you for coming today."
Charlie raised his eyebrows. "Did I have a choice?"
He waved a hand toward the door. "They're the complainants?"
"Yes, they are. Did you recognize them?"
"Of course. Jason LoBella and Daniel Weimar are in my freshman class. Greg Spencer was in the freshman class last year, and is in applied mathematics this semester. So I've been in class often enough to recognize them. Do I pass?"
"Charlie, I'm on your side."
"Are you? You've been pressuring me to cut back on my work for the FBI and spend more time here. You must appreciate the fact that three students are filing a complaint against me."
"Not just you. It's part of a general complaint that our high profile senior faculty are too busy with outside pursuits to spend time with the students who are paying big bucks to study under them."
Charlie sighed. "I have told you repeatedly that I never shortchange my students. May I see the complaints before you bring them in here?"
"Of course," Millie said, handing him a file folder. "They have specific complaints complete with dates and times."
"I can see that," Charlie murmured as he read the forms. He pointed at one line. "This date was a Sunday. I have never had a class on Sunday."
"Okay, so one of them got a date wrong. That does not invalidate the complaints." She waited until Charlie closed the folder and looked up at her. "You ready?" she asked softy.
Charlie nodded. "Yes."
"Now, you understand this is an informal meeting, right? I'm hoping to resolve this without a hearing. And you are aware that you could have a union representative sit in on this session, right?"
"Why does this sound like you're reading me my rights?" Charlie asked with a nervous grin. "I understand all that. Let's get on with it."
He rose as Millie went to the door and called the three students into the room. She had arranged four chairs in front of her desk. "Would you gentlemen have a seat? I want to make it clear that this is an informal meeting. It is my hope that we can resolve this without a formal hearing. Dr. Eppes and I have both read your complaints. If I may summarize, you are claiming the Dr. Eppes and other senior faculty are not giving you the attention you were led to believe you would be receiving when you decided to attend Cal Sci. Have I got it?"
Greg Spencer looked at his companions and spoke up. "Yes, Dr. Finch. That's an excellent summary. We feel that we're victims of a bait and switch. We came here expecting to study with Dr. Eppes, and, well, we've documented how many times he's cut a class short, or strayed from the syllabus because of his outside work."
"Dr. Eppes? Do you have any comment?"
Charlie steepled his fingers and pressed them to his lips. "Have you also documented the times I let a class continue beyond its scheduled end time? When I stray from my syllabus to bring you real life applications for the subject we're discussing, do you believe that harms or helps your understanding?" He looked from Greg to Jason to Daniel.
Jason said, "Are you saying you made up all the times you canceled or shortened a class?"
Charlie shrugged. "I'm not the one bringing the charges. Are you prepared to say that I did not make up the time we missed on those occasions I ended class early?"
"No," Greg said angrily. "we don't have that documentation, but I can tell you that there are a group of us who are keeping track of your classes, and we will start documenting the times you let a class run over."
"And," Daniel added, "that stuff about real life applications. That's just bull. I heard about that time you had some thugs in your class and you sent some kids to find campus security. Those guys wouldn't even have been in your class if you hadn't been working for the FBI. You put your students' lives in danger because of your extracurricular activities, Dr. Eppes."
"That's a poor example, Daniel," Charlie said. "Those two thugs targeted me not because of my work with the FBI but because they were trying to take my brother's mind off the case by threatening his family."
"Okay," Greg said, "what about today? You were in the middle of a lecture, and your cell phone rang. And you took the call. That's not the first time this has happened, either."
Millie leaned forward. "Dr. Eppes, you must turn your phone off during class and office hours."
Charlie blushed. "Sorry. I always set it to vibrate. I tend to forget to turn it back on if I turn it off."
"From now on, leave yourself a post it note or something. But we expect the students to have their cell phones off during class, and I think it's only fair that you have to adhere to the same rule. Now, gentlemen, regarding your complaint. I do believe that you have reason to complain," she ignored Charlie's sharp glance and continued, "and I will assess the extracurricular activities of all of our faculty, especially those named in your complaint. I would ask, however, that you delay pursuing this any further until I can make my assessment. Is that fair?"
Jason and Daniel turned to Greg. Jason said, "Sounds good to me. What do you think, Greg?"
Greg nodded slowly. "How about we hold off for a month? If we're not satisfied by your actions then, we'll request a formal hearing."
"I like it," Daniel said.
Greg turned to Millie. "Okay. You've got a month." He stood and the other two stood with him. "Thank you."
"All right," Millie said, standing and walking to the door with the students. "I will keep in touch with you. And I want to hear from you if you have any more data for me, all right?"
After the students had left, she closed the door and slumped down into her chair. "I know it seems like I fed you to the wolves just then."
"But we have a month to figure out how we're going to resolve this. Personally, I do not blame the students. This has been going on since long before I was an undergrad. Schools tout their big name professors, and when students arrive, they see the big names once or twice a year, and spend the rest of the time being taught by grad students."
"Millie! I do not do that. I am in my classes..."
"I know. I know. But it's the same principle. They have the perception that you are shortchanging them. We are going to change that perception. Hopefully we can do it without a noticeable change in your own schedule." She grinned. "But you, my friend, are going to have to keep your cell phone turned off while you are in class. Now, was that phone call anything to do with the stolen Van Gogh at the Norton Simon?"
Charlie laughed. "News travels fast."
"It sure does. I have a friend who's a curator there. She couldn't wait to call me with the news. It wasn't supposed to be a secret, was it?"
"No. I guess not." Charlie glanced at his watch. "I'd better get going. Don't want to shortchange my seniors." He stood and picked up his briefcase. "And I'll turn my cell phone off."
After class, Charlie turned his cell phone back on as he walked to his office. It immediately beeped, indicating missed calls and voice mail. He scrolled through the list of missed calls. There were eleven calls from Don. His voice mail contained three messages from Don. Charlie punched in his password and listened to the messages.
"Charlie, it's Don. Ben's sketch turned up a match. I'm having the witness statements and the information on the suspect faxed to you. Call me when you get this."
"Charlie, it's me again. I guess you're still in class or your meeting or something. Give me a call."
"Charlie. Crap. The suspect is missing. Call me right away. When I get a chance I'll head on over, just in case you forgot to turn your phone on. Call me."
Charlie chuckled as he unlocked his office door. The basket under his fax machine had overflowed. He grabbed the papers and headed to his desk, dialing Don as he walked.
"Don, it's me. I just got out of class and got your voice mails. What's up?"
"Our suspect is Ellen Davis. She's an elementary school teacher, and she's missing"
"Don, wouldn't you take off too if you had a Van Gogh worth millions?"
"Yeah, but the weird thing is she has no record at all."
"Why's she in your system then?"
"Background check for a job. We have her fingerprints, photos, and her whole history. This is kind of a big crime for her first."
"True. Did you find anything on the boy? Were any of her students missing?"
"No. We tracked them all down. When do you think you can get on this?"
Charlie checked his watch. "I have office hours in fifteen minutes. I'll be tied up here for two hours or so. Then I can get to it."
Don sighed. "Okay. If that's the best you can do..."
"Yeah, Don, it is the best I can do. I'll talk to you later."
"I have to go," Charlie closed his phone. He was sorting out the papers from his fax machine when he heard a tapping on his door frame. He looked up and smiled, "Amita! Hi." He crossed the room and hugged her. "Mmm. How are you today?"
Amita pulled back and touched his face gently. "Better than you, if the grapevine is to be believed."
"Believe it. Hey, I only have a couple of minutes before office hours, but do you think you could come by later and help me with something for Don?"
"Sure. Aren't you cutting back on your consulting?"
Charlie shook his head. "No, but I'm going to do it when I don't have any school responsibilities."
"Okay. As long as you don't burn yourself out."
"I won't. I enjoy coming up with ways to help solve crimes. It's challenging, and it's usually a matter of life and death." Movement in the doorway caught Charlie's attention. "Come in, Sandy." He glanced at his watch. "You're right on time."
Amita patted Charlie on the shoulder. "I'll see you later."
Sandy was asking her third question about today's homework when Charlie's mind started to wander. Don had said the suspect was an elementary school teacher. There was a case with an elementary school teacher. Diamonds. It had something to do with diamonds. And gambling. She was a kindergarten teacher who was forced to steal diamonds to save her brother's life. He wondered if this Ellen lady ...
"Dr. Eppes?" Sandy's voice drifted into his consciousness.
"I'm sorry. What?"
"I know this is probably boring for you, but it's confusing to me."
"I'm sorry, Sandy. I promise you I am hanging on your every word now." He looked at what she had written and began to guide her step by step through the solution.
When they finished, Sandy smiled. "This has got to be hard on you."
"No, it isn't. I love teaching."
"Yeah, but your brain must be going a mile a minute while ours are just plodding along. Like before, while I was asking you this basic stuff, I'll bet your mind was off someplace in the mathematical stratosphere. Anyway, thanks for your help."
"You're welcome. And feel free to ask for help any time."
Sandy stood to leave. "I will. And, for the record, I think those guys who filed the complaint against you are idiots."
Charlie stood to see her to the door. "Thanks. You don't know how much I appreciate that."
Four more students stood in the hallway outside of the door. "Why don't you all come in and have a seat? Unless someone has something they want to discuss in private?"
After two and half of his two office hours, Charlie leaned back in his chair, eyes closed, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. It had been years since he felt this much pressure when dealing with his students. Now he felt like he had to walk on eggshells around them, afraid of offending any of them. There was a tapping at his door, and he jumped.
"Hey," Amita said gently as she entered the room. "I'm sorry I startled you." She walked around behind him and massaged his shoulders. "Rough day?"
"Mmmhmm. But it just got better."
Millie's voice rang out from the doorway. "And it's going to get even better, Charlie."
Amita stepped back, dropping her hands from Charlie's shoulders. He sat up quickly. "Why?"
Millie grinned. "I've been speaking to your students, Charlie, and not just the teacher's pets. I've talked to people you flunked and people who dropped your class because it was over their heads. And they all agree that you go above and beyond in dealing with your students. I have contacted the students who filed the complaint and told them I have found no justification for taking action against you. You're in the clear, Charlie."
"That's wonderful!" Amita said. "Isn't it, Charlie?"
Charlie nodded, but his brow was still furrowed. He leaned forward, putting his elbows on his desk. "How did they take it?"
"I don't know. I sent them emails. Why?"
"They can appeal your decision, can't they? Go above your head?"
"Of course, but when I pass on my data, I don't think it will go any further. Relax, Charlie. You. Are. In. The. Clear. Of course," she added with a wave of your hand, "I will still expect you to remain as conscientious as you've been, and make sure you separate your consulting time from your duties here."
"Good. I will see you at our meeting tonight, then." Millie turned to leave, almost running into Don. "Well, good afternoon, G-Man."
"Good afternoon, Professor. What's Charlie in the clear about?"
"Ooh, I've got to watch what I say around the feds. Sorry, but that's a matter of employer/employee confidentiality. You'll have to badger your brother into telling you." With that, Millie headed off down the hallway.
Don came into the room, looking perplexed. "Tell me what, Charlie?"
"No big deal. Anyway, it's resolved now. I was thinking about your elementary school teacher. Have you found anything more about her?"
"You sure everything's going okay here? Is this why you've been acting so weird today?"
"Yes. This was why I was acting weird, and yes, I'm sure everything is fine now. The teacher?"
"The teacher. Well, Liz is on the way to interview her husband. We've still got nothing on her that would make her likely to commit a crime like this. Why? You got something?"
"Not really. I was just thinking. Remember that kindergarten teacher who tried to rob the jewelry store to bail her little brother out of trouble?"
"I was just wondering if this was a situation like that. Maybe somebody is making Ellen... what's her name?... commit crimes she wouldn't otherwise commit."
"Ellen Davis. We already thought of that angle. We're checking her relatives, friends, and any casual contacts she might have."
"Good. I haven't had a chance to go through the stuff you faxed me yet, but I'm finally done here for the day, and I've asked Amita to help."
Don studied Charlie's face. "Listen, Buddy, we've got people who can handle this kind of thing. Why don't you take a break on this case?"
Charlie yawned but shook his head. "Let me take a shot at this." He flipped through the pages of witness statements. "Since we have an ID on your suspect, these statements will probably be of limited value. The agents who conducted these interviews; did any of them mention anything notable in any of the interviews?"
"Not really. Colby, David, Liz and I did the interviews. I don't think any of my witnesses saw anything of any value. The others didn't mention anything, but I can ask them when I get back to the office."
"Good. Have you talked to the skydivers yet?"
"Not yet. That's where I'm heading now."
"Okay, good. Fax me whatever you get from them. We can assume – at least for now – that those four skydivers have had actual contact with the masterminds behind this theft. Meanwhile," he glanced at Amita, "we'll probably order Chinese and spend the night here. If you're up to it, Amita?"
"Well, probably not the whole night. But, yeah, Chinese sounds good. Or, how about sushi instead? We had Chinese last night."
Charlie pulled out a well-marked sushi menu. "The usual?"
Amita took the menu and dialed. "Are we becoming creatures of habit, Charlie?"
A smile crept across Charlie's face as he started wiping a blackboard clean. "Yes, we are. And so is our suspect."
Don laughed. "Okay, I can smell the smoke from the wheels turning already. I'll fax you what I get, and you call me when your inspiration strikes, deal?"
"Hmm?" Charlie looked up. "Yeah. Deal. See you later, Bro."