Art Adkins
Author & Leadership Instructor
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Mindwalkers - Chapter 7

Chapter Seven

Over one million shares had been purchased in three days.  Harry Sloan slid back in his chair and went over the financial records a second time.  During the next ten days he intended to purchase an additional three million shares of Akron Pharmaceuticals.  After the initial acquisition of shares was complete, Harry was going to make a major play and purchase over fifty million dollars of the company.  The infusion of capital would stabilize Akron and hopefully drive the suitor into the open.

The purchasing of shares was not the only maneuver Harry was employing.  He had already spoken to the public relations department for Waterbury Enterprises and there was going to be a huge press release in just over two weeks announcing Shirley’s support of Akron Pharmaceuticals and lauding Carol and Paul Akron for their philanthropic work.  For every dollar generated by Akron Pharmaceutical, Paul and Carol funneled ten percent of it to a charitable organization they had established to feed hungry children.  It was a noble cause that would generate additional support from the media and the public.   

Shirley would also announce she was set to purchase additional shares of Akron to participate in these worthwhile endeavors to benefit humanity.  Harry smiled to himself.  This financial chess game was appealing to him.  Before he could contemplate his next stroke of genius, the door to his office swung open and Dustin Zane walked in.

“I see you have been busy.  Akron’s stock is up.  How much more are you going to buy?”  Dustin Zane slipped into a chair.

“Three million more shares within ten days and then Shirley makes a press release.”  Harry looked at Dustin Zane.  The man had a way of staring through you that was unnerving and Harry was glad he was on their side.  “Have you arranged for increased security for Shirley?”

“Yup.  With this latest news, I may need more.”

“How are Bubba and June?” asked Harry, concern showing on his face.  “I heard Bubba got shot.”

“Flesh wound to the leg.  Nothin’ to slow him down.”  Dustin Zane rose from his chair and took two steps to the door before turning around.  “By the way, I’ve ordered additional security for you and your family.  One of my people is already at your house and your guard is outside your door.”

“Is that really necessary?” asked the tiny accountant, wiping his glasses before sliding them back onto the bridge of his nose.

“I think so.  And until it blows over, I would appreciate your cooperation.”  Dustin Zane smiled, but it was obvious the point was not open for debate.  “Bubba thought it was an excellent idea.” 

“Thanks.  I think.”  Harry laughed as Dustin Zane left. 

Glancing at his monitor that was tracking the stock market, he noticed shares for Akron Pharmaceutical had ticked up slightly.  That had to be annoying someone.  But who?  Time would tell.    

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The flight to Maryland had been done quickly and Slade was glad he had not driven.  The renting of a rental car was done just as fast and within no time, Slade found himself sporting around the Baltimore area taking in the scenery.  He had only been there once before and that had been on business when he was with LAPD.  A fraud investigation, with ties to Baltimore, had brought him and his partner to the city.  It had been a great time and the locals had been very hospitable.  There was a lot of history in the area.

Taking advantage of the advice given to him by the receptionist at the car rental company, Slade found the restaurant she had described to him, claiming it had the best seafood on the east coast.  Near the port and tucked away behind warehouses that were undergoing an urban revitalization program by City government, was the seafood establishment proudly proclaiming to have the ‘best of the ocean’ on their menu.  The old wooden boards and rusted tin gave the place character and Slade found himself taking a liking to the establishment and he had not even seen the menu.  The building reminded him of a structure he would have expected to have seen from the 1800’s.

Once inside, the delightful décor did not stop and the aroma drifting from the kitchen cemented the choice as an outstanding selection.  He would have to remember to thank the car rental clerk if the food proved to be as phenomenal as everything else. 

Once he had been seated and his order taken, Slade had taken the call from Bubba informing him the numbers found on the assassin were not connected.  Bubba and June were heading to the Watchman’s estate on Sanibel Island.  Hopefully they could turn up something more than they had so far.  That was the interesting part about detective work – the next clue could be lying around the corner.  You just had to go and look.  Slade laughed to himself.  Sounded like a little bit of the old cop was coming out in him.

Lunch proved to be as outstanding as advertised with the grouper being as delicious as he thought it would be.  Patting his stomach as he slipped behind the wheel of the rental car, he knew he would have to run extra to counter the intake of calories he had just consumed.

The waitress had given him directions to Johns Hopkins University or JHU as the locals called it.  She had a nephew who went there and was effusive in her praise of the school.  According to her, Johns Hopkins University lived up to its reputation as being an outstanding learning center, producing the most gifted and brightest.  Essays and papers were published regularly in leading medical magazines across the country and the graduates of the prestigious school were highly sought after by hospitals, research centers and others in the medical community.  There was no shortage of applicants for enrollment and research was always being conducted in some area JHU was pioneering in the medical world.

Arriving on campus, Slade came face-to-face with the age-old problem confronting every major school in the United States: parking.  It took him three tries to locate a spot near what looked like the Admissions Office and even then he was not certain if he had chosen wisely.  In the end, parking proved to be the easy part.  The line of students inside the Admissions Office was horrendous and spiraled out the door and down the hall, snaking endlessly outside the building.  Apparently there had been a computer error and many of the incoming freshmen had been assigned wrong classes.  They were armed with their schedules and were waiting patiently to have their ‘issues’ resolved.  The noise was a low roar and students were waving their schedules in the air as they discussed the issue with each other.

Bypassing the line of students, Slade walked quietly up to an elderly woman assisting a young girl and was desperately trying to convince her to go on-line and remedy the problem herself.  The message was being sent, but was not getting through.  The computer had messed up her class schedule in the first place and she had no desire to repeat the frustrating process.  The girl was adamantly protesting and kept shoving her schedule to the clerk who would push it back. 

Slade interrupted.

“Excuse me.”  The young girl glared at him and was obviously irate at his intrusion.  “Where is the Medical College?  Just point me in the right direction.”  Slade smiled at the clerk.

“It’s in East Baltimore.  Grab a map by the door.  You can’t miss it.”  The elderly admissions counselor had removed her glasses, but picked them back up, dismissing Slade.

“Thank you.”  Slade disappeared out the door.

The drive to the medical campus was not as bad as he thought it would be and he had a chance to admire the red brick structures with the white trim that comprised the college.  Architecturally they were beautiful.  The medical wing of the University occupied several city blocks and Slade once again had to hunt for parking.  Finding a spot within walking distance, he took his time ambling back to what appeared to be the main building. 

Slipping inside, Slade approached a young woman seated at a curved desk.  She appeared to be used to answering questions and had the most pleasant smile Slade had ever seen.  She had a knowing look on her face and a bank of phones near her right hand.  A small listening device was attached to her right ear and she immediately greeted him when he walked up.

“May I help you?”

“I sure hope so.  A young man I know went to school here.  I would very much like to talk to his Professor.  Is there any chance you could tell me where to find him?”  Slade gave his best smile and leaned toward the young woman.

“What is your friend’s name?”  Her fingers were poised above a keyboard and she glanced at the monitor on her desk to make sure she was consulting the correct screen.

“Stanley.  Stanley Watchman.”  Slade was in awe at how fast her fingers flew across the keyboard and within seconds she was scanning the monitor for the desired information.

“Stanley Watchman.  Graduated two years ago.  His faculty advisor was Professor Peabody.  Would you like for me to check and see if he’s in?”

“Yes, I would.  And thank you,” added Slade, as she dialed a number from memory.

“Hi, Lois.  Is Professor Peabody in today?  I have a gentleman here who would like to see him.”  The young woman canted her head and listened for several seconds before answering.  “I see.  Do you know when he’s coming back?”

Slade tried to appear disinterested in the conversation and turned his back to the receptionist.  Someone was drinking coffee and the rich aroma was wafting down the hall.  At that very moment he would have liked to have had a cup.  Coffee was one of his weaknesses and he enjoyed a cup routinely during the day.

“Sir.”

Slade turned back to Linda, which was her name according to the tag pinned on the front of her blouse.  “I’m sorry.  I was just admiring the facility.”

“Professor Peabody is not in.  Seems he has been off for the last two days.  Staff has not heard from him.  Can anyone else help you?” 

“No.  But thanks anyway.  You’ve been a big help.”  Slade smiled to her again as the uneasy feeling in his stomach started to churn.  He had taken only a few steps when he turned back to Linda.  “Does Professor Peabody usually take time off without telling his staff?”

“No and that’s what’s unusual.  His secretary said he was supposed to grade some papers today and hold a lecture.  She tried calling but got no response.”  Linda looked totally confused and Slade nodded in understanding.

“I’m sure he’ll call.” 

Once outside, Slade asked for and found the nearest coffee shop.  After buying a steaming mug of java, he asked for a telephone book and took it to a small table.  It did not take him very long to find Professor Peabody’s name in the listing.  Copying the address down, he slipped the napkin into his pocket and returned the phone book to the cashier, but not before refilling his cup with a rich blend of a dark roast. 

The map he had did not accurately correspond to the streets in the city and he was slightly confused.  Admitting to himself he needed better directions, Slade started to solicit the aid of passing motorists.  The fourth person he stopped was able to give what he thought were good directions to Professor Peabody’s home.  It was a short drive outside of town.  The woman had told him it would take about thirty minutes to get there.   She said she lived in the general direction of Professor Peabody’s house and was confident he could find it with her directions. 

The drive was uneventful and Slade found himself wishing he had more time to visit Baltimore.  He would have to remember to bring Katherine back so they could sightsee.  Katherine.  Just the thought of her made his heart skip a beat.  He knew he was going to spend the rest of his life with her.  It was inevitable and something he wanted more than anything else in the world.  Here lately it was a thought that not only kept resurfacing in his mind, but dominated his thoughts and actions.  Smiling to himself, he laughed out loud and shook his head.  Love.  Such a strange emotion.

Snapping out of his daydreaming, Slade had to brake hard as he shot past the driveway to Professor Peabody’s home.  The Professor lived in a hilly part of the county, with lush vegetation and huge old growth trees.  Slade thought they were some type of oak, but was not sure.  Whatever they were, they had partially obscured the entrance to the home and all but hidden the mail box so he could not see the street numbers stenciled on the side.

Turning into the drive, Slade drove down the gravel road, listening to the sounds of his tires as they made a crunching noise on the tiny rocks.  The small driveway ended in front of a large colonial house, complete with large white pillars and a red brick façade.  It was an older home, with some ivy growing up one side, covering the wall and almost reaching the roof.  The lawn was well manicured and there was a splash of color afforded by some flowering plants near the door.  Other flowers, some of which escaped him by name, were strategically placed around the yard.  It was an idyllic setting and Slade stepped out of his car and took a huge lungful of air.  The scent of the bushes and flowers came to him and he breathed heavily again drinking in the pleasing aroma.

A small red brick path led to a gargantuan oaken front door and Slade raised the metal knocker and rapped on the wood twice.  The hollow sound could be heard echoing through the house and he waited on a response.  Receiving none, he left the front door and walked around the side.  The garage door was open and two cars were neatly parked inside.  Moving to the door leading into the house, Slade knocked a second time and again received no response.  Testing the door knob, he froze when the handle turned and the door swung silently open on well oiled hinges.

Slade quickly evaluated his situation.  His instincts were telling him something was amiss.  He had no weapon and no back up.  Maybe the shooting in St. Augustine where Stanley Watchman had been killed had unnerved him.  Maybe.  His instinct had always proven reliable in the past.  It had kept him alive on the streets of Los Angeles and he had learned to trust it.  But that was in Los Angeles.  This was a professor’s home in the country…. 

Ignoring the inner voice inside his head, Slade started to step across the thresh hold, but stopped.  Why was this door unlocked?  Why not the front door?  He had tried it before moving to the garage, but the front door had been secured.  Why leave an invitation open like this?  The garage door was open and the access door was unlocked.  Carefully Slade looked around him, starting with the space immediately in front of him.  Satisfied there was nothing he was going to step on, he knelt down and peered into the house.  Three steps led to the interior of the home.  So far he could not see anything suspicious.

Slade left the side door and looked around inside the garage until he located a tool box.  Rummaging around inside, he finally found what he was looking for.  A chalk line.  It was used to make marks on concrete or across large sections of a roof when putting down shingles.  The line, or string, was housed inside a pear shaped plastic device that fed the string out one end.  The chalk was poured in through an aperture, coated the line and when it was stretched tight, the carpenter could snap the line and the chalk remained indicating where the cut or shingles needed to be placed.  Only Slade was not interested in the line, he wanted the chalk.

Walking back to the door, Slade poured some chalk into his hand.  Moving close to the open door, he blew some of the chalk from the palm of his hand into the room in front of him.  Patiently he waited for the chalk to drift inside.  The cloud of chalk had traveled about four feet into the room when three tiny red lines of light appeared at various heights across the space in front of him.  Lasers!  Slade backed away from the door a second time.

Leaving the garage, Slade went to the rear of the residence and approached the back doors.  They were an ornately decorated French combination leading onto a patio that emptied near a pool.  They were both locked.  Peering inside he could not see anything, but had very little doubt a similar trap awaited the unsuspecting.

He was half way around the house when he found a network of vines growing on a lattice capable of supporting his weight.  Gingerly he tested the natural ladder before heaving himself up toward the second floor.  A small patio overlooked the pool area and he surmised it led inside to a bedroom.  Reaching the upper level, he walked around the upper deck before approaching another set of French Doors.  He had guessed correctly.  The upper patio was complete with a small table and chairs and Professor Peabody and his wife probably enjoyed many an early morning cup of coffee on the veranda.  The view was spectacular and he gazed out at the encroaching woodlands, mesmerized by the natural beauty.

This part of the house was comprised of mostly windows and aside from the French Doors it appeared to embrace an open style of architecture.  Moving as close to the glass as he dared he peered inside.  When his eyes settled on Professor Peabody he initially jumped back before regaining his wits.  The Professor was seated in a chair and was staring out at Slade.  He had been there for sometime and Slade noticed the single gunshot wound to the center of his forehead.

Moving carefully, he peered inside another window and saw the Professor’s wife lying on the floor, blood covering the side of her head.  A twinkle of light.  Slade snapped his head to the right.  A proximity sensor!  All he could see were the lights flashing.  A timer!  The thought rocketed through his head and his instincts immediately took over.  Turning, Slade sprinted for the rear of the deck, ran to the railing and without pausing jumped over the side toward the swimming pool.  A brief thought struck him and he hoped he had picked the deep end.

Just as the water closed over his head the first explosion blew out the upper floor windows, followed quickly by a detonation on the first floor.  Debris was thrown across the pool and the entire house was engulfed in flames.  Holding his breath as long as he could, Slade waited for the worst of the fireball to lose steam and he surfaced, being careful to remain in the deep end of the pool.  Only his quick thinking had saved him.  The entire upper patio deck was gone.  The explosive device had been set and directionally aimed to kill anyone peering inside the window.  The people inside were already deceased; the bomb had been for whoever had arrived to find them.  Efficient and deadly.  Slade let the thought drift through his mind.  

Once the fire had subsided away from the pool, he climbed out and moved away from the house.  In the distance he could hear sirens and he knew the local fire department was on their way.  They would be too late.  The explosives had been incendiary devices and they had been placed by a professional.  There would not be enough remains left to recognize or identify the bodies.  Whatever secrets the killers had found or left behind were gone. 

It took the fire department two hours to extinguish the blaze and by the time the inferno was under control, the police department had arrived and a throng of neighbors had assembled.  Slade started answering questions and explaining to the local police what he had seen and what had transpired.  By the vein of questions it appeared it was going to take a while.

Moving over to one of the police cruisers, Slade slumped against the fender and stared at the house.  A thought struck him and he reached for his phone, but it had been destroyed when he jumped into the pool.  Bubba and June.  They may be walking into a trap in Sanibel.  Little did he know they had already encountered the same type of reception.

Asking to borrow a phone from the policeman standing next to him, he tried Bubba’s number but received no response.  Hopefully they were alright.

What had Stanley Watchman been involved in?  The death count was getting higher.  What secrets had the young man uncovered?  Slade’s eyes turned hard.  Twice he had almost been killed and he had no idea what he was looking for or who he was searching for.  One thing was for sure.  He would find out.  And even the score.

Slade slipped into the back seat of the patrol car so he could be driven to the station and an official statement taken.  This investigation was long from over.

Read Chapter Eight