Chapter 4 – The Accusation Waltz (Part II)

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Frog fell heavily into one of the stiff, thinly upholstered chairs and crossed her legs. She leaned back with all the bravado of someone just along for the ride, but stopped short of putting her sneakers up on the dean’s desk. Elaine pulled the remaining chair a little closer and angled it so that she could get a better view of said desk and the documents lying across it. Scattered about the surface were financial documents that seemed related to grants and operations juxtaposed with numerous statistical analysis charts and bullet-pointed memos about graduating class grades and test scores for the College of Engineering.

The dean ruffed the pages of the large brown folder again to demonstrate his possession of it.

“It came to my attention today that you’ve been using your discretionary grant fund in somewhat unorthodox ways, Ms. Mercer.” The dean leaned back in his seat, keeping his back ramrod straight and set his hands on his desk. “I had a rather rude visit by some agents of the government today who tell me that you’ve shown up on a terror watch list due to your purchasing choices. You’ve been buying prepaid cell phones in bulk and that’s landed this department under scrutiny.

He stabbed a finger into the desk. “I don’t like it when people come to me asking questions about what my students are doing when I haven’t been apprised of their current activities. I see from your finical report that you haven’t accurately depicted these purchases. I’ll have to speak to your research coordinator about that, but it seems that you’ve wandered into some rather fishy territory.

“As I recall, you’ve already had more than one run in with this office. Earlier this semester you got yourself in hot water over not communicating enough with your advisor and that could have ended very badly if it wasn’t for Mrs. Early’s intercession on your behalf. From now on, about project—” He picked up a piece of paper and scanned the headline. After a long moment he squinted and read aloud. “—DARK TURING SUNRISE… Where do you get these names? Any further purchases of bulk cell phone orders must be approved of by this office first. I see no reason why you shouldn’t get them…but I…would prefer…

“Ms. Mercer…? Are you listening to me?”

The Enoch handset on her hip vibrated slightly while he spoke and Elaine glanced down at it. The screen displayed a small dampening wave spread through the shortwave radio spectrum. She pulled it open while the dean went on—and he started to slow his speech as she peered at the larger screen within and punched a few buttons.

“Would you do me the courtesy of taking calls on your own time, Mrs. Mercer?” the man said. “We are talking about your future with this academic institution right now.”

Frog frowned at her and pursed her lips, then raised an eyebrow when Elaine turned the screen towards her.

“You said you had a problem with someone touching things today?” Elaine said.

“I didn’t say that,” the dean snapped, then calmed himself. “Well, I didn’t precisely say that, but one of the FBI agents who came to visit me felt the need to peruse everything in the room. I cannot understand people like that. So, I thank you not to put your fingerprints on my things while you’re a guest in my office.”

“Just a moment,” Elaine said.

She punched a few more buttons on the handset and held it so that only Frog could see it.

The screen read: The office is bugged.

Really? Frog mouthed voicelessly, darting her eyes around the room. Where?

The lamp. Do you have your makeup compact?

Elaine looked to the dean and put a hushing finger to her lips while Frog rose from her chair and walked nonchalantly over to the desk. “Do you often get visited by the government?” she asked.

The dean’s brow furrowed in confusion but he replied carefully. “I can’t say that I’ve had the pleasure more than twice in the past.”

Frog withdrew her makeup mirror out of her pocket and popped it open. She crept up on the lamp with it and ran it under the shade. Something she saw in the mirror’s surface brought a smile to her lips and she nodded to Elaine. Who returned the nod.

“Tell me,” Elaine said. “Do you ask them for their badges? Do you remember their names?”

“I didn’t think to check their credentials—but I did see their badges,” the dean said. “You’re not suggesting that they weren’t FBI are you? They only came by to ask questions so I didn’t see the need to call the regional office to make an inquiry.”

Frog reached underneath the shade of the lamp and grabbed something small and magnetic attached to the base of the bulb. She held it up against the light for Elaine to view it for a moment before she smushed it into one of her makeup pots, snapped the compact closed, and handed it to Elaine.

“What is that?” the dean asked. He stood up and leaned across his desk to peer at the makeup case as she handled it.

“It’s a listening device,” Elaine said. “A very sophisticated bug and I suspect that one of your visiting agents planted it here. That’s why he behaved so strangely and touched everything in the room—he was trying to find an appropriate place to plant it.” She scanned the compact with the Enoch for a moment and attempted to emulate a smug smile. “I thought so. The aluminum and trace metals in the makeup case are blocking its signal.”

“How did you discover it?” The dean brushed himself off as if he had just discovered ants crawling on his suit. He looked agitated and annoyed.

“The device has a burst transmitter to make it less likely to be detected,” Elaine said. “It must have misfired because it broadcast while you were speaking—the buffer was probably full and it needed to clear its cache in order to keep recording. That’s why I wasn’t too worried about that you said about the agents. If they’re listening, they’re listening asynchronously and won’t get the rest of that conversation after the burst transmit.”

“You are very resourceful,” the dean said. “I can see why people hire you as a private investigator.”

“Going to tell me why you really summoned me to your office for an after-hours talk now?” Elaine said, shaking the makeup compact at him. She expected he’d take that as her indicating that the FBI bugged his office to gather intel on him—rather than what she really suspected, which was that they hoped to gather intel on her. The disposition of the bug would tell the entire story.

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