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Publish or Perish
A Detective Elijah Boone Mystery
D. A. Ratliff
Dr. Mortimer Lane was about as dead as anyone could be. He was as dead as someone with daggers plunged into his left eye, heart, and lower abdomen, which was pretty dead.
I turned toward the campus police officer who was first on the scene. “Who found him,” I said, squinting at his name badge, “Officer Devers?”
“His administrative assistant, Iliana Perez.” He gestured toward a young woman standing in the corridor. “She arrived about eight-thirty this morning and knocked on his door. When he didn’t answer, she thought it surprising because his car was in the parking lot. She walked in and found him.”
I heard a grunt and turned to see my partner, Hank Guidry, enter, followed by medical examiner Julia Marrow and two CSU technicians. Despite being a homicide detective, my partner Hank always displayed a visceral reaction to dead bodies, one of disgust. His response to this body was no different. His nose wrinkled, his upper lip curled upward, and his eyes narrowed. I never needed to look at him to know his expression.
“Good heavens, Eli, a bit of overkill, don’t you think?”
Marrow laughed. “Somebody wanted him good and dead.” She flicked her hand. “Tight quarters here, gentlemen. Could you give us some room?”
I nodded my head toward the door, and Hank followed me. I was about to talk to the secretary when a tall, thin man in an impeccably tailored suit entered the outer office. He strode our way, a look of exasperation on his face.
“What is going on here? Campus police called me and said someone found a body in Dr. Lane’s office. I demand to talk to the officer in charge.”
I silently muttered to myself, “I hate this job,” and then spoke. “I am Detective Lieutenant Elijah Boone of the New Orleans Police Department. My partner, Detective Sergeant Hank Guidry. Let’s start with who are you?” His eyes turned to daggers as I suspected he was offended that I didn’t know who he was. I didn’t.
“I am Dr. James Adair Delong, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Is the dead man Dr. Lane?”
“We are waiting for the ME to confirm identity, but his admin identified the body as Mortimer Lane.”
Dr. Delong sucked in his chest. “Great. He’s the Archaeology and Anthropology Department Chair. I don’t need this now, but it saves a lot of paperwork.”
I bit my tongue but couldn’t resist one little snark. “I doubt he’s happy about this either. When was the last time you spoke with or saw Dr. Lane?”
“I spoke with him by phone on Thursday. I was off campus from Friday through Sunday for a wedding.”
“What did you talk to Lane about?”
“I called him to discuss an issue with a student who was making a complaint about his work.”
“A business conversation, and no, any conversation with Dr. Lane was hardly friendly.”
“Why was that?”
“He was a tedious, pompous man. Brilliant in his field but, in my opinion, had been slacking in his responsibilities. He has not published in a very long time, and the Regents are unhappy. You know the rule, publish or perish. Now, I must inform the president about this—matter. You may reach me in my office if you have further questions.”
Hank whistled low as the dean walked away. “I guess they take that publish or perish thing seriously around here. I think the good dean personally knows all about tedious and pompous.”
I chuckled. “Indeed, they do, and he certainly didn’t seem to like our victim.”
I spotted Iliana Perez in the hallway talking to a group of people. Word travels fast in halls of academia. I walked to the door and called her into the office.
“When did you last see Dr. Lane?”
“Friday afternoon, about four-thirty. He said he’d be working late and I could go home. He wouldn’t need me.”
“Did you go home and stay there all night?”
“Yes, I didn’t go out again until Saturday afternoon to the grocery.”
“What happened when you arrived on Monday morning?”
“I spotted his car in the faculty lot this morning as I turned into the parking structure and thought he was already at work.”
“Was he having any issues with a colleague or a student?”
Perez hesitated. “Dr. Lane argued with a lot of people. He wasn’t known for his patience.”
Shouting from the hallway interrupted, and Perez stepped into the doorway. Hank pushed her aside as we stepped into the hall where two campus officers were restraining a young man.
“Is he dead? Tell me he’s dead.”
“I’ll talk to you as soon as you calm down.” He swallowed hard and nodded. I motioned for the officers to let him go.
“Why are you here?”
I just wanted to see for myself if he was dead.”
“Why is that?”
Hawke’s upper lip curled, and I thought flames might erupt from his eyes. “Because he stole my discovery and planned on publishing it as his own. Tell me who killed Lane. I want to give him a medal.”
Marrow came to the door. “Eli, have a prelim for you.”
I nodded. “Hank, get this guy’s info and find out where he’s been all weekend.”
The CSU techs were busy collecting evidence as I entered. “So, what’ve we got besides the obvious?”
“Victim is Mortimer Lane, age fifty-eight, according to his driver’s license. Body is out of rigor, and considering the ambient temp and condition of the body, I would say he’s been dead since Friday night, roughly between seven and ten. Not sure I can get it any closer. “She pointed to the daggers, now in separate evidence bags.” The murder weapons are from a collection of daggers. Two are still on display.”
I walked over to a polished wooden box hanging on the wall. There were brackets for displaying five knives, but only two daggers remained.
“Killed with his own knives. Any idea which stab killed him?”
The ME pointed to blood that had seeped into the victim’s clothing around the stab wounds, the cloth now dried and stiff. “I think he was stabbed in the abdomen first, the heart next, and what likely killed him instantly. The stab in the eye looks like rage to me.”
“Yeah, that it does. Wrapping up here?” She nodded. “Good.” I looked at one of the CSU techs. “Get more techs here. I want everything on his desk logged as evidence.”
I looked over my shoulder at Hank. “Get me a search warrant for this office, any research labs, his home, and his car. Tell the judge I want the warrants now.”
I stopped by NOPD headquarters to check in with Captain Lourdes, head of Major Crimes. I like this man. He hates the bureaucracy we have to deal with and finds a way to deal with it in stride.
I sat down. “No need to tell me. Tenured college professor, department chair, next thing you will tell me is that there’s going to be a movie about his life. I imagine the mayor is in a tizzy.”
Lourdes laughed. “Not the mayor, but the university president is in a tizzy. He wants this solved now. Any leads?”
“Maybe. Lane wasn’t well liked. Pretty certain the dean of his college would have gleefully strangled him, but he has an alibi. There’s a disgruntled post-doctorate claiming Lane stole his research, but that’s it so far. Have search warrants for the obvious places and the Crime Scene Unit at all sites. We have uniforms doing door to doors where possible. Hank is interviewing people at the college. I requested the surveillance tapes.”
“That’s a start.”
I chuckled. “You’re never satisfied, Captain.”
“That’s what they pay me for.”
Warrant in hand, Hank and I went to Lane’s house accompanied by a CSU team. Hank called the alarm company to disarm the alarm. We found a keychain with two door keys on Lane’s office desk, and I tried one. It opened with the second key. Ordering the others to wait, I slipped on booties and gloves and walked into the house alone.
The professor lived in an older upscale neighborhood. The house was clean and sparse, except for bookcases of artifacts that covered numerous walls in several rooms. His office was tidy and also full of artifacts and books. I shuffled through the papers and journals on his desk, not seeing anything out of the ordinary. That didn’t mean much. I was no archaeologist, and what I looked at was gibberish.
As I flipped through a journal, Hawke’s claim that Lane had stolen his discovery echoed in my head. I needed to find out exactly what that meant. The NOPD had a forensic anthropologist on retainer, and I decided to call her to either shed some light on what all this paperwork meant or put us in touch with someone who could.
On the second floor, Lane’s bedroom was as spartan as the first floor but also crammed with books, many stacked on the nightstand. The other doors in the hall were open except for one. I tried the doorknob, locked. I tried the second door key, and it worked.
A second office had photographs of a stark rustic site with stone monoliths rising from the ground tacked on the walls. I picked up a notebook with William Hawke’s name on the cover. Lane had hidden Hawke’s research in a locked room. Motive? I intended to find out.
The following afternoon, Hank and I updated Captain Lourdes on what we knew. Hank went first.
“We’ve interviewed Lane’s colleagues, students, and staff. No one liked him but most respected his knowledge. Have the squad running down alibis, but we have quite a few we can’t corroborate.” He paused, looking at his pad. “Three people—two students and a professor—seem to hate Lane the most. William Hawke, who claims Lane stole his work. Jessica Wilson, who Lane turned down for a post-doctoral position, and Dr. Jeremiah Constantine, a professor in Lane’s department. None of them have alibis that we can prove. Hawke said he was at the library, but no record of him coming in or out. Constantine said, and I quote, ‘I hate the son of a bitch. I wish I’d killed him. Fitting the daggers that killed him were the ones he always bragged about.’”
Lourdes stopped him. “What do we know about those daggers?”
I answered. “I asked Dr. Frazier, the archeologist we have reviewing Hawke’s research. He said they were medieval Rondel daggers. I learned from Lane’s secretary that the British Museum gave him the set for all the work he had done for them.”
Lourdes nodded. “So, we have three suspects. Any guesses?”
“My bet is on Hawke. His anger is palpable.” I shrugged. “We don’t have enough to put any of them at the scene. There’s been a glitch in the security software, and we haven’t gotten the security footage from the university. A forensics IT guy’s there helping retrieve the video. We had a uniform canvass the area surrounding his residence and the entire building where his office is. No one saw anything.”
“Autopsy results, forensics, trace, anything?” The captain glared at me in frustration. “We need some answers. So far, no screaming from the university or the mayor, but that’s coming.”
“Cause of death, stab wound to the heart, the other wounds from rage, as for trace, zilch. Fingerprints don’t help, either. Too many people in and out of his office. No print we found didn’t have a reason to be there.”
“Nothing on the daggers?”
“Only Lane’s fingerprints. His assistant said he loved to take them out of the case and show them off.”
Lourdes nodded. “Keep me informed.”
Dr. Cameron Frazier was working in an interrogation room. It was late afternoon when he called me to come down. I grabbed Hank to join us.
Frazier sat at the table, photos and notes spread about him. We sat opposite him. “What do you have, Doctor?”
He turned his laptop toward us, displaying an image of the upright stones. “This is an area in Scotland called Orkney Island, an archipelago just north of the Scottish mainland. It’s known for the remarkable number of ancient sites on the islands. This site is the Ring of Brodgar, a neolithic site and one of the few henges in a complete circle. These stones date back as far as 2500 BC, but the site’s exact age has been elusive. Data from an expedition in the early 2000s to determine its age remains inconclusive.”
I pointed to Hawke’s journal. “So, what did Hawke or Lane find?”
“No structures have ever been found inside the large ditch built to hold the stones. One reason we can’t determine the exact age.” He picked up the journal. “Two years ago, the British Museum funded an expedition to Orkney to search for structures. Dr. Lane, an expert on these ancient sites, was tapped to lead the expedition. Dr. Hawke was his assistant. They added several students and spent the last two summers on Orkney. From the data, it appears that Hawke followed an idea of his own and began to search the terrain by comparing site elevations taken over the years. Lane’s approach was to use ground sensing radar to look for structures.” He paused. “It’s a big area, Detective, and searching using radar is tedious. It appears to me that Hawke’s method worked. He targeted certain spots by considering how the land settles over structures or open areas. He found a structure, and that’s where it gets dicey.”
“What do you mean?”
“Lane amended his journal. He scribbled notes in the margins and inserted them into his final notes after he’d completed his report. It’s easy to see where and when he amended the text. Hawke’s claim that Lane took credit for his work appears valid.”
Hank whistled as Dr. Frazier continued. “Now, understand, Lane was in charge of the expedition. The entire team shares in the discovery, but the main credit goes to the person who made the find. I can see here that Dr. Lane changed all indications to show that the terrain observations were his and his alone.”
“So, Hawke is right.”
“Yes, in my opinion, this discovery should rightly go to Dr. Hawke. And, Detective Boone, while I’m associated with a different university, Lane’s reputation is well known. This isn’t the first time someone accused Dr. Lane of coercing his students or colleagues to allow him credit for their discoveries. He offered doctorate study and teaching positions in exchange for his accolades.”
We finished with Dr. Frazier and caught the captain up with the findings. It was nearly six, and Hank and I hadn’t eaten all day. After checking in with the forensic IT tech working on the security cams, we headed to Mama Leone’s for dinner.
Something about Mama Leone’s warm atmosphere settled my soul. Mama hugged us, gave us my favorite table, and told us not to order. She had a special dish for us. We chatted with Uncle Matteo as we waited and were not disappointed. Mama brought two steaming plates of Gnocchi con Gorgonzola, Noci, e Pere.
Hank stared at his plate. “It smells delicious, but what is it?”
Uncle Matteo rose and slapped Hank on the back. “It’s gnocchi with gorgonzola cheese, pears, and walnuts. Buon appetito.”
One taste, and Hank didn’t speak until he’d consumed half of his food. “I gotta think Hawke’s our killer. Young dude like that finds a big discovery that will make his career. He had to be livid.”
“I agree, but remember what the dean said. He was calling to discuss a student with a complaint. If Delong thought he had something on Lane, he’d jump at the chance to remove him. So that takes the wind out of Hawke’s immediate wrath.”
“True. So, where does that leave us?”
“Nowhere unless we get lucky.”
We got lucky. As we left the restaurant, the forensic tech called. He had retrieved the video. We met him at headquarters.
“Took some doing, but we figured out the problem. There are cameras on all sides of the building, but no entry except the front entrance at any time. The other doors are fire doors and only open out. I checked those cameras, and no one came out during your requested time frame.”
The tech clicked on start, and we sat quietly, watching people come and go from the building. Around the six-p.m. timestamp, traffic slowed, and I had the tech speed up the vid a bit, stopping only when a figure appeared. At six-forty-seven p.m., William Hawke showed up.
Hank scooted closer. “That’s Hawke for sure. He said he was at the library.”
As Hawke walked up the steps, a woman wearing a hoodie ran up behind him and grabbed his arm. He jerked his arm away, spoke with her briefly, and then left. The woman stood for a moment before she hurried into the building. We couldn’t see her face.
“Hank, bring William Hawke in.”
Forty minutes later, a ticked-off Hawke sat fuming in an interrogation room. As Hank and I walked in, he jumped up, but the officer guarding him pushed him into the chair.
“What the hell am I here for? I told you I didn’t kill Lane.”
I sat down across from him and laid my tablet on the table. Hank leaned against the wall behind me. I formally opened the interrogation—date, time, and those present. Then I asked one question.
“Why did you lie to us?”
“I didn’t lie to you.”
“Yes, you did. You told us you were at the library. We checked. You weren’t—you were here.” I turned the tablet toward him, and the image clearly showed him at the scene.
“That’s you entering the archaeology building at six-forty-five p.m. It also shows you leaving at eight-seventeen p.m. Plenty of time for you to kill Dr. Lane.”
“Oh man, I didn’t lie. I didn’t think about the name. The library is what we call the resource room. Past students donated books about archaeology and anthropology and created a collection. I was in there looking for some information on other stone structures around the world. I didn’t think you would assume it was the main library.”
“I’m going to ask you again. Did you kill Dr. Lane?”
“No, I didn’t.” His eyes tracked to the still image on the screen. “Man, why don’t you ask her? She’s always following me, trying to get me to have coffee with her. She said she could prove Dr. Lane stole my work, but I didn’t believe her. He’d never share anything with her. I told her to go away and not bother me again, and I walked off.”
“Who is that woman, Dr. Hawke?”
“You can’t tell? That’s Iliana Perez.”
Hank once again brought a suspect into the station, and we repeated the interrogation process. Iliana Perez sat in front of us, hands clenched and shaking.
I didn’t mince words. “Ms. Perez, we know you lied to us. You returned to the department on Friday night. We have you on the security cam entering the building at approximately six-forty-seven p.m. and leaving thirty-four minutes later. Enough time to kill Dr. Lane.” I pushed a printed still from the video across the table toward her.
“That’s not me.” Her voice was on the verge of panic.
“Yes, it is. We have a positive ID. That is you, and you killed Dr. Lane. It will go easier for you if you tell us the truth.”
Tears spilled from her eyes. “I didn’t mean to, but he was so vile. I knew he took William’s research for himself. I saw his paper before he added all the lies. I tried to tell William, but he didn’t believe me. I wanted William to like me as much as I liked him. I went to Dr. Lane to beg him not to do this to him.”
“Tell us what happened.”
“He laughed at me. Told me I was nothing. He said I know you have a crush on William, foolish girl. He’ll never like a girl like you. Not smart enough to get into graduate school. That William was his assistant, so the results belonged to him. He pushed me, and I fell toward the cabinet. I spotted those daggers that I dusted every week, and I grabbed one, spun around, and stuck it in his belly. He lurched toward me, saying he’d kill me, so I grabbed another and stuck it in his chest.” She was gasping for breath through sobs. “He fell on the floor, not moving, but I wasn’t satisfied. His eyes were still open. So, I grabbed another dagger.” Her sobs turned to laughter. “The dean was pushing him to publish or perish. I stabbed him in the eye. Now, he perished, and William gets the credit.”
It was past seven p.m. before we wrapped up the paperwork. Hank and I were tired, hungry, and about to leave when Captain Lourdes caught up with us.
“Great job. You two didn’t want to join Major Crimes, but you’ve been an asset.”
“Thanks, Captain.” Hank nearly choked up.
“Eli, what’s that restaurant you love so much?”
“Don’t know about you, but I’m hungry. Let me buy you guys dinner.”
As we walked to the SUV, I smiled. Mama was just what we needed.
Please visit Deborah on her blog: https://daratliffauthor.wordpress.com/