- VI -
“None of this makes any sense,” said a clearly frustrated Nora Laas as she considered the murder board set up in the security office where the latest pertinent statements from their suspects and witnesses had been added.
“In my, admittedly limited experience, there are exactly two kind of murder investigations. Those were the guilty party is identified within forty-eight hours and then there are those were the investigation drags on over weeks, sometimes without ever getting enough evidence to convict anyone. We might be in for a long haul for this one.”
The security chief resolutely shook her head. “That cannot happen here. We need to find somebody before we’re out of the nebula which means we have maybe three or four more days but that’s it.”
“I was not aware there was a time limit on this investigation.”
“I made a promise to the captain.”
He frowned at that.
“Besides, once we get out of here and return to the nearest starbase, JAG will simply take over and bring in their own investigators. I’d be damned if I let some outside people handle this investigation. Or worse: Tazla Star.”
“Right,” he said. “That would be truly awful.”
She aimed him a scolding look. “We have more than enough suspects each with their own motives. I’m convinced we’ve already talked to our killer, we just have to get that last piece of missing evidence to make that final connection.”
“The easy part, then.”
When Nora was about unleash one of her deadly looks again, Clancy quickly raised his arms in surrender. “Okay, okay. We can figure this out, I’m sure. Let’s start from the beginning and put the pieces together,” he said and walked closer to the board, tapping a control and to Nora’s surprise the transparent surface was cleared of all content. “Best to start with a blank slate,” he said and produced a short, stick like device. He removed a cap at the very end to reveal a thin, felt-covered tip.
He held up the stick. “A marker pen. I thought we’d go old-school on this,” he said and then drew a small black x-mark at the very center of the board.
“What the hells are you doing?” she said when she saw him defacing the sensitive screen.
“Don’t worry, this isn’t permanent,” he said, offering a little grin over his shoulder. “Doctor Katanga has narrowed down the time of death to close to 2345 hours, plus minus ten minutes,” he said and wrote that number underneath the x and then drew a big circle around it. “What do we know so far?”
Now nodding after she realized what Clancy was up to, “According to multiple witnesses, Gedar returned to main engineering at 2322.”
Clancy created a small mark to the left of the x and wrote the time and a short description. “And he returned with Louise Hopkins.”
The security chief quickly shook her head. “No, he didn’t.”
“According to Kolrami—“
“According to Kolrami,” she interrupted, “he saw them together arguing but that was just before he returned to engineering by himself.”
He nodded to accede the point and noted the Hopkins argument for 2320. “I suppose next we have Kolrami and the rest of the duty crew leaving main engineering by 2330,” he said and made another note.
“And approximately at the same time, Kolrami spots Professor Rosenthal, seemingly heading for main engineering.”
Clancy made another note. “At the same time he was supposed to be in a meeting with Hopkins and Colcord. We should speak to them and get verification.
Nora stood and tapped her combadge. “Nora to Hopkins.”
“This is Hopkins,”
came her prompt reply.
“Lou, I’ve got some questions about the murder case, do you have a few minutes?”
The chief engineer hesitated before responding. “We’re in the middle of aligning the main sensor platform for the array. It’s not the best time.”
Nora looked at the counselor but his insistent look made it clear that he thought they shouldn’t delay.
“Just a few questions. You don’t have to come here. Can you go into your office and talk?”
“Give me a second.”
They could hear her excusing herself from her team and walk away. After a moment there was the sound of a door closing. “Alright, go ahead.”
“We’ve taken a witness statement that places Professor Rosenthal outside of main engineering at around 2330. But according to previous statements, you, Colcord and Rosenthal were in a meeting until you were called away after Gedar’s body was found. Do you remember Rosenthal leaving at any point before?”
“Let me think for a second,” she said. “Yes, you’re right. The professor left at some point shortly after I returned to get a refreshment. We decided to have a short break.”
Clancy could tell she was surprised to hear this. Or perhaps slightly irritated that her friend had not shared this before.
“I’m sorry it totally slipped my mind,”
Hopkins went on, perhaps sensing Nora’s frustration by her silence. “I left the meeting with Jin … Lieutenant Gedar. We talked for a minute or so then he headed back for main engineering and I returned to the meeting. A short time later Rosenthal left to get a refreshment.”
While Hopkins talked, Clancy scribbled something onto the board. It took Nora a second to find out what he had written: ‘Ask her about the argument with Gedar!!!’
“A few minutes later Colcord stepped out as well.”
Nora nearly gasped audibly “Charlie Colcord left the meeting?”
“Yes. She was wondering what was taking the professor and went to look for him. Rosenthal returned and after a few minutes so did Colcord and we continued the meeting until … you know.”
The security chief rubbed her forehead after hearing all this for the first time. “What time did Rosenthal leave the meeting and how long was he gone?”
“I’m sorry, Laas, I couldn’t tell you the exact time. But he was gone for about ten minutes. Colcord for maybe five.”
“Okay, think very carefully, what were Rosenthal and Colcord like when they returned? Was there something different about either one? Anything suspicious.”
“My God, do you think that either of them could have … done this?”
“I don’t know yet. What do you remember about their behavior after they came back? Anything out of the ordinary at all?”
She was clearly thinking about it. “Not really. The professor made a joke about the replicator not working properly, or not giving him what he had been after and that that had been the reason he was gone that long. But both of them were pretty focused for the rest of the meeting.”
Nora nodded even though Hopkins wouldn’t be able to see it. “Thank you, Lou. I’ll contact you again if I have any more questions. Nora out.”
In the meantime Clancy had made more notes to the board.
2330 (estimated): Rosenthal leaves meeting.
2335 (estimated): Colcord leaves meeting.
2340 (estimated): Rosenthal returns to meeting.
2342 (estimated): Colcord returns to meeting.
Next he produced another pen, this one bright red and drew a short line underneath the first, covering roughly ten minutes before the time of death and ten minutes after. The overlap made things pretty obvious.
“Damnit, both of them had plenty of opportunity to go over to main engineering and kill Gedar,” said Nora, looking over the board.
“But according to Hopkins neither of them acted suspicious after returning. Now, I could be wrong but neither Professor Rosenthal nor Ms. Colcord strike me as the stone cold killer type.”
“I don’t care,” she said sharply. “They both had opportunity and we know that Colcord had motive.”
“Yes, but let’s remember that Rosenthal is actually the one who left first and was gone the longest. And he’s the one who was spotted heading for engineering. Problem is he does not have a motive.”
“That we know of,” she said. “We need to bring him in again. Both of them. Something happened while they were gone and I’m not going to let them go until we now exactly what that was.”