Chapter 27 – It’s Time To Tango (Part I)

«      »

“Why did you send me the list of professors that you did?” Elaine asked.

Warren blinked a few times and rubbed his temple, he looked to Toller as if for help, but she only shrugged.

“Must you hang from the ceiling like that?” he asked, still craning his neck. “Come to think of it, how are you doing that?”

Agent Tango—or Ellis Warren as he introduced himself—did not look like Elaine had expected. He was tall and cabled, with a distinctly Latin features and tanned skin; reminding her more of the hero from a TV spy special than the blundering agent Hadaly had met in World of Warcraft. His suit fit nicely, snug in all the right places; although a little too snug around the shoulders and his sternum where his jacket formed a bulge from his gun-butt and another on the other side obviously for an extra clip of ammunition. She reminded herself that she should look up proper photographs of people once she determined their identities before meeting them in person in the future.

While spending the discussion upside-down might have been acceptable, it wouldn’t do for the next course of action. So she decided to answer his question.

Strands of Elaine’s hair fluttered as she leaned up, toward the ceiling. “Electrostatic attraction,” she said as her fingers flashed at a menu projected in her goggles. “The technology uses Van der Waals forces to keep me affixed to the ceiling as long as the electric potential in the ceiling doesn’t change. That’s also why the lights are off.”

Moments later, she dropped to the floor with the grace of a gymnast–but to the trained eye, it would have seemed more like she fell slower than she should have. At first the acceleration of her fall matched gravity; but the further she fell, the less the attraction of gravity mattered. As she crossed the logarithmic lower bound between ceiling and floor her velocity plateaued, then reduced, and her fall slowed mere inches from the ground. The landing cushioned as landing on a memory foam mattress and not a carpeted concrete floor.

Toller pursed her lips, “Did anyone else…?” She shook her head and glanced at Warren, who returned her previous shrug. She glanced away as if embarrassed.

“You got it to work without the bug!” Frog’s beamed a smile at Elaine.

“Actually, no,” Elaine said. “Manual that time, I don’t trust the Featherfall sensor trip yet.”

“Oh,” Frog said.

Another emotion passed between Warren and Toller, which elicited a smirk from Frog but Elaine static and stoic expression remained unmoved. Her eyes unfocused instead at some point far-far away, tracking a display inside her goggles’ virtual desktop.

Agent Kathy Toller looked almost dwarfish and pale next to Warren’s tall, tanned figure. Her suit was exactly the same as Warren’s almost down to the last detail (except her jacket set one size larger and better hid her sidearm from view.) Perhaps FBI agents all shopped at the same store to get their suits and afforded the same tailor. The only difference that Elaine could make out was that Agent Toller wore a small gold pin on her lapel in the shape of an eagle.

“I’m not going to ask,” Toller said after a drawn out moment. “Why are we still standing in a dark room? I’ll get the light—”

Elaine’s pale hand flashed in the dim light. “Wait,” she said.

Toller paused in midstride. “Fine. Why?”

“Before I tell you,” she pointed at Warren. “Explain to me why you sent me the list of professors that you did?”

Warren flashed a smile for his partner and folded his arms across his chest. “You don’t know already? They’re obviously tied up together in some sort of conspiracy. From what I’ve seen of your investigation–taken from reading your posts on math forums, by the way–it seems to involve cheating.”

“You’ve been investigating these professors?” Frog let her incredulity dissolve into her tone. “And here I thought that all this was about my girl Elaine.”

Warren rubbed the back of his head with his palm and shrugged. “What can I say, our investigation of Ms. Mercer came back to be nothing to write home about and what was going on with the dean turned out to be very curious. Not a few days ago, his friends here practically kidnapped him in front of us. We started looking into it. It led to some interesting places.”

Elaine’s glasses glinted in the dark. “Such as tying together Harwood, Whitaker, Linscott, Morehouse, and Shutters.”

“Apparently you know more names in this conspiracy than I,” Warren said. “I’ve only had the chance to speak with Whitaker’s wife and Professor Shutters… Not together, of course, but…” He smiled broadly and motioned openly. “Could you tell me what bitcoins have to do with cheating?”

Elaine nodded. “Of course.”

“Of course what?”

“That would be exactly what I intend to find out in the next moment, and it’s why I asked that your partner not turn on the light.”

“I don’t understand,” Toller said–who had seemed content to remain quiet up until this point. “What do you mean moment?”

“Stay quiet a moment and you’ll know why,” Elaine said.

“But–” Warren started to say, but Frog shhed at him and pointed at the door to Dean Harwood’s inner office.

Muffled voices emanated into the quiet room. The sound of a hard, hasty voice–shaking with anger and frustration–followed the low but tight words of Harwood’s baritone.

“The dean?” Warren lowered his voice to ask. Elaine moved closer to him and lifted the goggles onto her forehead. “He’s not alone.”

“It’s worse than that,” she said.

“How could that be…worse?” Toller asked.

“Let me show you,” Elaine said.

«      »

About this entry