Hardison drove to the crime scene quickly. He could hear everyone's conversations over coms, including the one between Eliot and Allison.
"You guys stopped for donuts?" Parker asked over comms. "Come on, you knew I wanted some!"
"Parker, that's not important." Nate said.
"Yo, can we switch off the Eliot channel?" Hardison asked. "Not that I'm not enjoying eavesdropping, but it's kind of annoying."
"No, we need it on in case the client says anything else." Nate said. "Allison trusts Eliot. She might tell him something that she wouldn't tell Sophie."
"I doubt that." Sophie said. "No offense to Eliot, but there's something that Allison remembers that makes her not wanting to be around him much. What happened? I thought she was a friend?"
"They had a falling out." Nate stated. "But I'm certain that if it's important, that Eliot will tell us what we need to know." Not a statement or a demand, necessarily. Just a certain fact.
Hardison listened absently as Nate rattled off some other instructions. Go over the information that Hardison had sent them, check in on the sister, stake out where she works to see if anyone was going to show up looking for her, set up some surveillance on the house, and start looking into the people interested in the client's thesis work. Basic "start of the job" stuff.
"Yo, Eliot, swing by the tech shop on the way home." Hardison said. "I can run a trace on her phone and laptop and see if anyone else tries to do the same.
"It'll also give us some insight as to how deep into her project she was in." Nate added.
"Same as to her personality." Sophie agreed. "We'll have to end up running two cons with this one; one on her and one on whoever ended up taking her work. The more we know about her, the easier it'll be to keep her in the dark on what's happening."
On Eliot's com, Hardison could hear the client start to try and argue with Eliot.
"You were working." Eliot tried. "You should be able to keep working on whatever it was. I don't know anything about computers, so it's easiest if you just go in and pick one out."
"If she's working on a Steranko system, it's not going to be that easy to just replace a new computer, dude." As Hardison spoke, he heard Allison agree with him. "Ha!"
"Then what kind of solution do you have in mind?" Eliot asked. Hardison could feel the question aimed at both her and them.
"Eliot, I know she was your friend, but you're probably going to need to convince her." Sophie said politely. "From our interaction, she's definitely trying to search for a form of independence right now. After all, her home was just broken into and she was just attacked. Try to phrase it in a way that would help her find a source of independence or communication towards that route."
"Then you should be able to email your professors letting them know you've had a setback, right? And check your emails." Eliot said.
"Good, good. Stick with the rule of threes. One more should convince her."
"And also make sure that you can do whatever other stuff you do on a laptop." Hardison cringed inside. He could just feel how flat those words fell.
"You were doing so good up until that last part." Hardison said in tandem with the client. He laughed again, imagining Eliot's face. There's no way he wouldn't be annoyed by that.
"Try one more thing. Offer to let her pay you back." Sophie encouraged. "She doesn't want to feel like she owes you for anything."
"Look, if it makes you feel any better, you can pay me back for the laptop afterwards." Eliot went with. "And you'll be able to use it to check your banking stuff, see if they stole your wallet and tried to use it."
Hardison pulled up to the apartment. It wasn't the nicest looking complex, definitely wouldn't compare to his and Parker's place, but it wasn't the worst.
The amount of patrol cars and cops out front were the worst. Same for the ambulance.
"Uh, Nate." Hardison muttered, hopping out of the car. "Something's up." Hardison watched as someone was wheeled into the ambulance. There was no rush, but there was a sheet over the person.
Someone was dead.
"What's going on, Hardison?" Nate asked.
"They're wheeling a body bag into an ambulance." Hardison whispered, walking up to an officer. He had a plan forming quickly to try and get some information. "Hey man, what's going on? Is that a body?"
"Do you live here, sir?"
"Nah, man, I'm just here to pick up some stuff for my girl." Hardison offered the man a smile. "She been staying at my place for a while, and I'm thinking about asking her to just move in officially, you know?"
"You might want to wait on that." The officer advised. "A resident in the building has passed."
"Oh my gosh, what happened?" Hardison allowed concern to flood his voice. "Oh my gosh, my girl will be worried sick! Is everyone else OK? Did someone do something? Oh, I know my Jeanie will be just be all up in concern."
"No, sir, you can tell your girlfriend that everyone else in the building is just fine." The officer explained coolly. "We won't know until the M.E. report is done, but the current assumption is that Mr. Doles passed from a heart attack."
"Oh no, Mr. Doles?" Hardison asked. "I know my girl was kinda close to him."
"Allison mentioned a Doles when I got her last night." Eliot muttered quietly. "Said he was jerk."
"Not that the man definitely didn't have his problems, sometimes he could be a crotchety old one, you know?" Hardison added quickly. "But wait, why are all the police here if it was natural causes?"
"We're required to do an investigation to double check on matters." The officer replied.
"Gotcha. Man, I'm glad ya'll are out here doing your job, protectin' us people like that." Hardison clapped the man on the back and offered him a smile. "I gotta ask, is it cool if I go on in? I know you're doing your job and all, but I wanna be here for my girl, you know? Get her stuff that'll make her feel a little comfier and too, especially since someone just died. She's special. She's real special, and I," Hardison paused for effect. "I think I wanna provide and care for her for the rest of her life. No," one more pause. It took all his effort not to hide a cheeky smile. "No, I know I do. She's the one, and I know it. I want her to move in, and I want her to feel comfortable."
"Aw, that's sweet."Parker commented. That made Hardison smile a little more. "It'd be sweeter with donuts, though."
"What floor is your girlfriend's apartment on?"
"Fifth." Hardison knew that Allison's place was on that floor as well.
"I'll let the boys know that you're coming up." The officer promised. "Which apartment number is hers?"
"507." The officer paused a little at that, thinking. "Is something wrong?"
"Mr. Doles called about a noise complaint last night." The officer said slowly. "Said that is sounded like someone was fighting or trying to bust down a door?"
"Well, sir, I know my girl was with me all night." Hardison said. "Do you think someone broke in?"
"If you wouldn't mind allowing us to have a look around the place when you went in, we'd appreciate it."
"I don't wanna violate her privacy like that." Hardison said. "She can be a bit of a messy person sometimes, you know?"
"You'll let us know if someone did break in, though, right?"
"Of course." Hardison promised.
"Alright, then." The officer leaned his head over a little to his walkie-talkie. "We got a male coming up to 507, his name is," the officer paused.
"Spencer." Hardison couldn't help it.
"Spencer. please allow him through."
"Thank you so much." Hardison said, beaming brightly at the officer. "I really appreciate it, man."
With that, Hardison made his way quickly up to the third floor. As he walked up, he heard Eliot talk about the laptop and phone choice with a cashier. "Look, I know this thing is old, but it's what she wants."
Hardison pulled out his phone in the stairwell, thinking quickly as he pretended to be on a call. "What kind did she pick out? She couldn't have grabbed an older model."
"Yeah, this thing is an old brick. It runs, what is that, Windows '97?"
"No, no, don't purchase that thing, she's probably just trying to be affordable. She's actually gonna want something nicer than that." Hardison said as he walked onto the fifth floor. The officers he passed nodded at him as he went, only watching for a moment as he pretended to look for the key. "See if they've got one of those newer touchscreen ones available. Put out last year, at the latest." It still wouldn't compare to what she would need for her work, but it would be easier for Hardison to work with remotely without killing the computer.
"I'm looking at that one over there for her, actually." Hardison heard Eliot name one of the more recent models of touchscreen computers out there. The other woman complimented him on the choice. "I'm just not sure if she'll like it."
"She'll like it, I promise." Hardison assured as he finished picking the lock (Parker had been teaching him). "Send me all the info later." Hardison was glad he finished that sentence before he opened the door. When he looked into the room, what he saw shocked him.
"Uh…" He closed the door quickly, stuffing his phone back into his pocket as he took in the scene in front of him. "Nate, we got a serious problem."
"What? What is it?" Nate's voice.
"Sophie, she said her place had been broken into, right?"
"Yes, she," Sophie paused for a moment. "She wrote down that someone had tried to break down her door." Hardison looked back at the door. Perfectly fine. No signs of being broken. It was…
It was new. It was extremely new, with some bad sanding done to make it look a little older.
And her apartment looked spotless, like somebody had just moved in but was a bit of a neat freak and didn't own a lot of stuff, or had just overhauled their whole place and bought a bunch of new crap.
"Someone beat us and the cops here." Hardison said, looking around. "This place looks spotless. Like, if Mr. Clean had a way more neat-freak cousin that flips his lid at the slightest bit of dust spotless." Hardison took a glance over at her small kitchen, and saw a whiteboard on the fridge. There was a phone number written down. "Ya'll, I got a Portland area code written down over here." He rattled off the phone number to the group. "Not Allison's, or anyone in her family. Doesn't look like her work either."
"Got it." Eliot said over the comms. "I'll ask her about the number later. Allison picked up a decent external drive along with the phone and laptop."
"External drive?" Hardison thought it over. He'd heard her say something about having backup drives. He couldn't see anything there now that looked like one. It was all just… just too new. "Tell me when she logs into your wifi, and if she has the drive plugged in when she does."
"She'll be using the phone later to call work."
"Once I'm in her phone I'll make sure to check if any of them match." Hardison promised.
"Got a discount on it all!" Eliot lied, happiness coloring his voice. Hardison tuned him out again, taking photos of the space to analyze later. The whole apartment just looked staged, like it was about to be sold. Even her closet was pretty barren, save for some clothes.
"Yo, Eliot, want me to snag some of her stuff from here while she's staying at your place?"
"Just take the stuff. Please?" He heard instead. Hardison pursed his lips. Eliot may be good with 99.99% of women, but this one was apparently the .01% he was not good with.
"I'm gonna take that as a yes." Hardison decided. He went back to the kitchen to grab a bunch of plastic grocery bags, and started stuffing clothes in them. When it came to the under-things, he looked away determinedly. She technically needs them. She's a girl, she wears this shit. Eliot would kill me for looking. He might still kill me for throwing them in a bag. Hardison went back to the closet one more time, making sure everything was clear. It was once he did that he noticed something he should've noticed before.
"Shit." He muttered, reaching up behind the metal rod that held her hangers. Behind it Hardison grasped a small, black little electronic circle with an antenna attached.