Read Murder Misread Online

Authors: P.M. Carlson

Tags: #reading, #academic mystery, #campus crime, #maggie ryan

Murder Misread (9 page)

More to the point, so were
Hines and Walensky.

Hines said, “There’s
something here of yours, Mr. Fielding?”


Now Reggie,” said
Walensky, “let’s go slow. He can’t tell you the answer to that
until he sees the items, now, can he?”


That’s right, Wayne,”
said Hines, his jaw tight. “So let’s go let him have a look. Mrs.
Chandler, I’ll see you right after. We’ll look at your husband’s
office together. Professor Fielding, what’s your office
number?”


103,” said Charlie.
“Around the corner, down the hall.”


Fine. Porter, see these
other people to their offices and get McConough to stay with Mrs.
Chandler for a few minutes. Then bring the stuff to 103. Everybody
else can go to their own offices and I’ll be along soon. Please
stay in the building.”

Charlie glanced at
Walensky. His mouth was tight, his bushy brows contracted. “I’ll be
glad to interview them, Reggie. I know Peterson, Fielding,
Bickford, Reinalter…” he said in a surprisingly mild
voice.


Thank you, Wayne. Go
right ahead. But I’ll take Professor Fielding right now.” Sergeant
Hines offered Walensky a hint of a smile, and Charlie’s tiny
remaining hope faltered. Maggie had been right: the two policemen
were engaged in combat, and losing the damn memo book had dropped
him right in the middle. Well, nothing to do but cooperate. Find
out the truth. For his own sake now, as well as Tal’s.

Hines accompanied him down
the hall and around the corner to his office. Charlie, walking on
unsteady legs, wished Walensky had come along. He knew Walensky,
and maybe he wouldn’t have felt quite so friendless and threatened
if the paunchy captain had been along. On the other hand, the last
thing Charlie wanted was to be the football in this game the two
cops were playing. Well, help them both. Find out the truth. He
unlocked his door.

Hines scrutinized the
office professionally as he followed Charlie in. Charlie felt
revealed, almost violated, as the dark gaze hit each item, riffling
through his life. The bookshelves, crammed with videotapes instead
of books. The wood coatrack with his shabby plastic emergency
raincoat and an old black umbrella. The file cabinet bearing the
videotape machine, the television, the sixteen-millimeter
projector. The screen rolled up in the corner. The vintage
Wizard of Oz
poster,
half obscured by a stack of books that had been crowded out by the
videotapes. He worked so hard to keep things orderly, but under
Hines’s cool gaze it seemed a sty. On his desk, reference books. A
mug containing pencils and his Donald Duck pen, a silly gift from
Deanna. Student schedules. The grant proposal he’d been discussing
with Maggie that morning was spread out in the center of the desk.
Near the edge lay the ruler that Tal had been waving only a few
hours ago. It seemed like years.

Porter appeared and placed
his packages on the oak chair Tal had used as a soapbox, then
closed the door and leaned against the jamb. Hines said, “Let’s sit
down for a minute, Professor Fielding.” He waved a hand at
Charlie’s desk chair, and Charlie sat down uneasily while Hines
sank into the chair that faced the TV screen. He said, “You do
educational TV?”


No.” Charlie had to clear
his throat. “It’s reading research. How people scan a page of print
most efficiently. The letters are on the TV screen, and we measure
their eye movements while they read.”


Pretty complicated. But
kids probably like the TV.”


Maybe. We aren’t working
with kids yet.”


I thought this was an
education department, like how to teach school.”


Sure. But first we have
to find out how adults do it. Then we can try to reconstruct how
it’s learned. And then, finally, we can design a way to help kids
who are having trouble learning.”

Hines nodded. “So the idea
is to find the facts about how it’s done, before telling kids you
think they’re doing it wrong?”


That’s right.”


Good idea. Facts before
theories. Same thing we tell rookie cops. Porter, let’s see that
book.”

Porter selected one of the
bags and placed it on the desk.

Charlie nodded and pushed
his glasses up on his nose. “It’s mine,” he said
unhappily.


You’re sure?” Hines
asked.


As sure as I can be when
it’s in a plastic bag. You see his ear?” He pointed at the Chaplin
cartoon on the cover. “That little tear’s been there for months. Of
course, I’ll have to look inside to be a hundred percent sure, but
still—”


Okay. Thank you. Now,
when did you see it last?”


Let me think. This
morning, before I left home. I checked the time I was supposed to
meet Dr. Ryan. Then I put it in my outside jacket
pocket.”


Right or
left?”


Right.”


And you haven’t looked at
it since?”


No, there was no reason
to. I’d saved the whole morning to talk to Dr. Ryan, and nothing
else came up that I had to note down.”


Not the lunch
appointment?”


I could remember that
without writing it down.” Charlie’s glasses had migrated down his
nose again. He pushed them into place, wishing Hines would show
some reaction, some emotion, any emotion, instead of regarding him
with that impassive gaze. Porter too was unmoving, leaning relaxed
but attentive against the doorjamb.


Well, now, Professor
Fielding, we found that book on the lower trail. Can you tell us
how it got there?”

Charlie’s mouth was
bone-dry. “I don’t know. All I can think is that it fell out of my
pocket.”


You were on the lower
trail?”


No. Well, yes, when we
all went to see… to see Tal. I told you before.”


Yes, we have to keep
going over things. Now we want to know exactly what
happened.”


Well, Maggie—Dr. Ryan—ran
out of Plato’s. Then in a minute she came back in with the student,
um…”


Doris
Keating.”


Yes. Dr. Ryan said there
had been an accident and to help Dorrie call the police, and she
ran out again. So we got Dorrie to the phone, and she called you
people and you told her to wait at Plato’s. But Bart thought we
might be able to help, so he and I left Nora Peterson with Dorrie,
and we ran down to the lower trail.”


Which way? Across College
Avenue from Plato’s?”


That’s right. The steps
that come up next to the College Avenue bridge. We ran down those
steps and followed the trail down toward the creek. We crossed that
little stone footbridge and went on—”


You turned right or left
after you crossed the stone bridge?”


We turned right. We could
see Maggie from the little bridge.”


Okay. So you’re on the
lower trail, right next to the creek now.”


Yes. We
ran along a little ways. We could see there was… something on the
trail.” Charlie licked his parched lips. “But Maggie was waving at
us, yelling to us to stop. So we did. She said to stay where we
were and keep anyone from coming down the trail until the police
arrived. We asked her what happened and she said Tal had been
killed. I couldn’t believe it.” The shattering horror of her words,
his own instant defense against them:
No, not true, not possible.
Charlie
shuddered.


That’s a natural
reaction, Professor Fielding.” But there was no special glimmer of
sympathy from either policeman. “Now, we’ll get back to Dr. Ryan in
a minute. Right now I want you to focus on where you were on the
lower trail when you stopped.”


I was… well, it’s hard to
remember. Maybe I could show you.”


Okay. Just for now, give
me a rough idea if you can. Try to visualize yourself standing
there, where Dr. Ryan told you to stop.”


Okay.”


Now, there are three
bridges over the gorge in the area, three different heights. The
lowest one is the little stone bridge you crossed.”


Yes.”


Next one up, to the north
of the little stone bridge, is the metal footbridge you cross if
you use the upper trail.”


Yes. That’s the one I
crossed on the way to Plato’s.”


The highest one is the
vehicular bridge, the College Avenue bridge. That’s south of both
the other bridges. That’s where the steps go down to the lower
trail.”


Yes.”


Now, you’re standing
there looking at Dr. Ryan, right where she told you to stop. The
stone footbridge is behind you.”


Yes, and the College Ave.
bridge is even farther behind me. You want to know if we’d passed
under the metal bridge of the upper trail.”


Just to get a rough idea
of where you were standing.”

Charlie squeezed his eyes
closed. It came back to him, the sense of horror, the rippling
water nearby, Bart’s heavy breathing right behind him. He said,
“Well, I can’t be certain, but I think the metal bridge was almost
overhead. A little bit ahead of us, maybe. Check with Bart.
Professor Bickford. He might remember.”


We will.” A noncommittal
nod of the dark head. Charlie, hungry for a reaction, couldn’t tell
if the detective believed him or not. Porter, too, was listening
without a flicker of emotion, as though this were some goddamn
poker game. Where the hell had they found his memo book? Hines
said, “So you didn’t pass under the metal footbridge?”


I don’t think so.
But—well, you know, I did cross over it before, when we were on the
way to Plato’s.” Charlie leaned forward, forearms on his desk,
eager to explain the idea that had just come to him. “And you know,
we stopped a moment to look down at the lower trail. When we saw
the man hiding down there. So it could be.”


You’re suggesting it may
have fallen from the upper trail at that time? Do you remember any
moment when it might have happened?”


Well, no, not really. But
I don’t remember any other time I dropped it, either. Damn it, if
we’re going to go by my memory, that book is still in my
pocket!”


I understand, Professor
Fielding.” Hines’s voice had slowed, but there was nothing lazy
about the sharp eyes that were measuring Charlie’s discomfort.
“It’s difficult to remember all these details, I know. But we have
to try. Now, back to Dr. Ryan. You and Professor Bickford were
standing on the trail where she told you to. Now, where was
she?”


Next to—to the
body.”


Which side? Left, right?
Near side, far side?”


Uh, far side. And to the
left, away from the creek.”


You said she was waving
her arms.”


Yes, she had on that
light blue shirt, waving both arms, and yelling for us to stop.
After she told us to keep people away she said she was going a few
steps farther along the trail to head off anyone coming from the
campus.”


So she went on, farther
away?”


Yes.”


How far?”


Well, we could still see
her so it was probably just this side of the bend. You know, where
it angles up again.”


Yes. And you and
Professor Bickford were where?”


Where we were stopped.
Not quite under the metal footbridge.”


Did either of you move
away from there?”


Well, Bart was pretty
nervous. Guess we both were. He said we should go check the other
branch of the lower trail, beyond the little stone bridge, to see
if anyone was running off that way. But Maggie was right that we
should keep people away until the police came. So finally we
decided he should stand on the stone footbridge to stop anyone
coming down from College Ave., and I’d look farther along the
trail.”


I see.” Hines glanced at
Porter, then back at Charlie. “He stood on the bridge, and you went
along the trail by the creek, away from the body?”


That’s right.”


How far did you
go?”


Not far.”


You went under the high
bridge? The College Ave. bridge?”


Oh, yes. A few yards past
it.” Palms damp, heart pounding like the soundtrack of a western,
praying that the killer would not be there. “Then I heard sirens
and when I looked across the creek I could see police coming down
the trail from College Ave. So I went back to where Bart was, and
we talked to them.”


Right. You’d seen no one
when you went to investigate the trail?”


No. But of course it
wouldn’t be hard for someone to hide, really, because of all the
bushes and bends in the trail.”


Okay. So at the time of
the arrival of the first officers at the stone footbridge, you’re
on the left branch of the trail. Ms. Ryan has gone along the right
branch all the way past the body and is waiting on the trail beyond
it, and Professor Bickford is standing on the bridge.”

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