I rush to the closed door leading to the bathroom and rap on the door. “Mr. Black? Mr. Black?”
There’s no answer.
I shake the handle and it clicks open.
The bathroom is empty. I step to the closet and put my ear against the closed door. No sound here, either. Has he run off again?
I open the closet, and what I see scars my brain. William Black is sitting on the floor, knees pulled up to his chest, shoulders shaking.
“Mr. Black?” I slip in and shut the door behind me.
“William?” I squat next to him and touch him on the arm. Static shoots from my hand up my arm.
He looks up at me, red swollen eyes and a wet face boring one thought into me: That is you very soon, Tim. It’s been too long since I left my daughter alone in that sterile hospital. I can’t let her die alone, and yet here I am. Is this me, when I get the phone call that she’s gone? Is this broken man me?
I sit on the carpet and restrain my fear of the moment coming to me as well. Nobody should have to bury their child. But such is life, and such is the curse of sin on our wretched race.
“I am sorry about Noah.”
He nods at my soft words. Here is a man who must appear strong and in control, yet is just as broken as his wife. I scan through my memory. Who has cried for Noah?
Ruthie Lewis had teared up. A few of the women in the library had teary eyes. His mother, of course. But this father hasn’t had a place to grieve until now.
I steel myself to the task. It’s up to me, up to our team, to discover and punish the ones responsible. Broken hearts will never be mended, but justice has a way of spreading salve over that wound.
“I’ll find whoever did this,” I promise him. It starts him weeping again.
“I apologize, Mr. Black, but I have to examine your lab then get back to the station.” I don’t mention the girl, knowing it will cause more distress. “Would you like me to proceed alone?”
He sniffs and wipes his eyes, shaking his head. “No. No. I’ll take you in to see the blasted place.”
We exit the closet, and he splashes his face. “Please don’t mention this to my wife. I need to be strong. For her. For everyone.”
I give my word. He pulls a wool sweater over his collared shirt and straightens his shoulders. Forcing a smile, he opens the bathroom door.
Brooke stands up and searches his expression, then mine. I motion to the office door. “I’ll make this fast,” I promise. These two have had no time alone since their son was found…murdered, it seems. With so much to process, I don’t want my questioning to complicate things.
Black shifts his shirt collar and pulls out a key tied to a thin leather string. He unlocks the door and replaces the necklace.
The lights turn on automatically. When I step in, I knock into a pedestal next to the door. A large, metal gadget tips and falls toward the ground. Black dives and catches it.
“It always happens,” Brooke Black says. “You really should move that pedestal somewhere else, dear.”
He doesn’t answer.
I study the object. It’s metallic with gears within gears front and back.
“What is it?”
“It’s the Antikythera Device,” he says. At first, his eyes are proud, but quickly they lose their joy.
“What does it do?”
“It’s an early computer. It calculates latitude, longitude, adjusting for the seasons. Does some other things, too.”
“Looks new. Did you design it?” It was primitive and seemed complicated to use.
He shakes his head, rolling his eyes disappointedly. “No.” Maybe his son made it.
“What is Antikythera?”
“It’s a place in ancient Greece, where it was…” He tsks away the rest of his sentence. “Anyhow, this is my office.”
The office is small with no windows, as expected. A desk sits on the right, and bookshelves cover the wall across from us. I take a picture of the bookshelves, but seeing nothing of interest here so walk to a door to the left. “Is this your lab?”
He draws a breath and nods. “Please put on a coverup and plastic over your shoes.”
I comply, stepping into the white cloth outfit and fastening it over my clothes. He hands me plastic goggles, and when I have them affixed, he unlocks the door. His wife sits down at the desk and picks up a picture frame of Black with his son.
A series of pipes criss-crossing the laboratory ceiling draws my attention. They start and end at large generator-looking boxes on either side of the room. On the floor at the center of the room is a circular disk. Otherwise, the room is empty, with no doors or windows.
The control panel is on the wall next to the door, and I puzzle over the knobs and displays. “What kind of experiments do you do, again?” I ask.
“Quantum,” is all he says.
I have no time to ask, and would understand little of his answer. If there is one thing most physicists aren’t good at—and I know this from my wife — it’s summarizing in vernacular, the workings of the quantum world.
To the left of the panel is a huge, recessed floor to ceiling vault. “May I look in here?”
Mr. Black crosses his arms. “Detective, I don’t understand its relevance. You’ve spent no time at the scene of my son’s death. Instead, I’ve given you free rein of my house. Upstairs, downstairs, you’ve closed off my library, you’re looking in my lab. None of this is related to my son’s death. You want to see inside my vault? Show me that on the search warrant.”
I don’t push. He is right. The warrant would not cover the vault. Besides, it’s mostly curiosity, for my wife’s sake, that makes me wonder what’s in a huge bank vault in a quantum physics lab. Then again, I have too much else to do. “That’s fine. Never mind.”
This place is spotless. Nothing out of place. I hurry out of the cover-up and the Blacks walk me down the corridor.
“Thank you for your help, today. Again, I’m sorry about Noah. We’ll figure out who did this. As much as it is possible, stay at peace.” Something comes over me. Maybe my own distress, maybe the tension of the moment, but I step over the invisible line and say, “I will pray for you.”
Brooke Black stops and turns toward me, mouth agape. “Are you a church man?”
I nod. “I’m a Christian.”
Her eyes tear up and she grabs my hand. “Thank you. Please pray for us. I don’t know how I’m going to survive.”
“Do you go to church?”
She nods. “We do. I do.”
“I’m sure the people at your church, and your pastors, that can help you. Don’t wait too long.” I speak from experience. I waited too long.
“Noah went, too, until. I mean, at least he was going to church until he—I mean he decided, we decided, he shouldn’t go anymore.”
I don’t know what to make of that, but it prods me to ask, “Did Noah have problems? Depression? Suicidal thoughts? Enemies? Girlfriend trouble?”
“No. He broke up with Jamie last month.” She wagged her head. “He didn’t want her anymore, which I never understood because she is…was truly good for him. She really cares…cared for him. Someone needs to tell her. Poor Jamie. She’s going to be heartbroken. I can’t even grasp that he’s really gone, Detective Reynolds. How can it be true? How can there be death?”
I wish I had answers for her. “Like I said, your church will be a source of help.”
She smiles weakly. “William is a church-going man. He was even a deacon, weren’t you, dear?”
Black nods, but is disinterested in the conversation. We continue toward the entry hall. I catch his eyes and a cold chill shoots down my back.
Whoa. I stop in place, remembering the ghostly voice at the door, the darkness I felt at the crime scene, and the shock when I touched him in his grief.
He likewise stops. I do not break contact, but keep a steady gaze. Lord, grant me wisdom in this. What is going on here? I only sense evil.
He pulls his attention away with a blink and a sigh and strides to the front door.
I check with the two officers stationed in the entry. They’ll be here until the next shift begins. Investigators are still in the library. I don’t open the library door, as a passageway will implicate Mr. Black. “Keep this door shut. Let me know if anything turns up.” The officer confirms.
I shake Mrs. Black’s hand. It’s cold and frail. My other hand meets her upper arm. “Stay strong,” I say.
Then I take her husband’s hand. “I’m very sorry about your son.”
His chin turns toward the music room and he blinks away tears. “Thank you, Detective. Keep us updated. Money?” he adds, more to himself. “I can offer money—a reward—if we need to…. I believe that’s what we are supposed to do.”
The adrenaline has faded, and shock is setting in.
“If anything warrants a reward, we’ll let you know. It depends on the sum total of evidence we find.” He opens the door.
My mind is revving miles a minute, so when I sit down in my car, I lean back and take a breath. But the break is short-lived. We still have no cause of death. I check my phone and see two messages.
One is Maura from the lab:
Tim, please come immediately. There’s something extremely peculiar about the Noah Black case. I need a consult. The lab’s frozen until this is taken care of.
The second is from the officers at the Jamie Lewis homicide:
Urgent. Boss, you’ve got to see this crime scene before anyone touches anything.
NEXT: Chapter 2 scene 1
Copyright 2021, Darlene N. Böcek
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