LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA. PRESENT DAY...
“Hey...perfect timing,” Ralph Tucker said as his boss flung open the suite’s door.
Lab assistant Heather Portman heard the domicile chime from the Customizer Two--Pennult, three-dimensional printer in the lab’s main area, where Ralph was as he worked on some paperwork. She had just made it back from a meeting for her working lunch break in the Anaheim area and was excited to see the results for the small firm’s most recent client. “Triple D Select” was still very nascent at five months, and the owner, Dr. Ellen Chase, was already starting to get nervous about Triple D’s finances.
And with good reason. Dr. Chase was one of those young, former Silicon Valley employees of one of its major international businesses whom decided to strike out on her own and find her own gold in California. But to do that, she had to acquire some serious funding from investors. Most of Triple D’s stakeholders were also from Dr. Chase’s demographics--twenty to thirty-somethings, all from various parts of the world whom met in the Valley and were all ambitious, smart, and out to become the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg. Only, in the new Three-D industry.
As what happened often with the inevitable office politics, Heather had learned from Ralph that Ms. Chase’s investors were already grumbling about Triple D’s slower start than what they had anticipated. After only five months. Even though Ralph was her subordinate, he always seemed to have the ear on what was going on in the tiny company well before she did! It made Ralph all the more valuable in Triple D, as far as Heather was concerned.
Since the investors were also Dr. Chase’s friends from the past, the pressure was not high. But the temperature was definitely heating up to produce higher profits. Despite the Los Angeles Times' glowing article on Triple D in its Tech section within two months of Dr. Chase opening up for business. Despite the several customers to-date the small company had, with each of them posting positive reviews on social media. In the end, Triple D simply needed more clients than what it was generating each week.
So, the anxiousness that lab assistant Heather Portman was feeling was not just the cool-factor of seeing a new Three-D printed project. The company had to make sure every project was perfect, and the three-person outfit had to figure out how to get more clients...while the three of them worked the lab to produce even more projects!
“Hey, slow down there, kiddo,” Ralph advised Heather as she threw her jacket and purse onto a nearby chair. “This is not a fast food joint!”
“Might as well be,” she responded sardonically as she walked over to the main computer that ran all the Three-D printing.
Ralph was just finishing up some marketing to-do’s list and was gathering up his papers. It was nice and quiet until--
“What is this?”
Heather and Ralph both jumped in their respective chairs and looked toward the suite’s front area from the laboratory. Dr. Chase’s retort came so quickly, neither of her employees had heard the door open. She then closed the door with some gusto and made her way to the lab. Heather and Ralph glanced at each other.
Immediately, Dr. Chase held out a couple of distorted-looking pieces; both about the size of a grapefruit. They looked akin to a child’s clay-type toy that one shaped with. Only these pieces had a rather darker feel about them...
Heather and Ralph stopped what they were doing and walked over to the thirty-something boss. She hadn’t even bothered to take off her lab coat before she did her errand. Which, apparently, had to do with this situation. Both Heather and Ralph recoiled upon seeing the two pieces in Ms. Chase’s hands, as if they were some dead animals she found somewhere!
“Are those from us,” Heather asked as she braved walking up to Dr. Chase and took one of the pieces.
“Yep,” was all that Dr. Chase said; her eyes burning with fury but her face maintaining composure--ever the professional, Ellen Chase was.
Upon further examination, Heather could see that the distorted piece in her hands did look familiar...but something was very off about the pieces. They weren’t “broken” or even mangled.
“Wait a minute,” Ralph said as he looked on while Heather turned her piece around and around for inspection, “that’s from the Outer Watch account, isn’t it?”
Ralph catching on quickly seemed to soften Dr. Chase’s demeanor. “Very good, Ralph.” She then tossed the other grotesque piece to him.
“Ellen,” Heather said defensively, “this is not our fault. Remember, Outer Watch purchased one of those other Three-D printers from Michelangelo’s Air! Their programming probably couldn’t read our code...I told them they should have bought one of our printers.”
“Then how do you explain the one that Ralph’s holding,” Dr. Chase challenged; her voice frosty, and one of her fingers pointing right at Ralph’s piece.
Heather and Ralph glanced at each other, then back at their respective object in their hands.
"That ugly piece of modern art was supposed to be a reproduction of that beautiful swan we made for the West Side Dish account...you know; that fancy restaurant on Rodeo Drive? Where they were catering for one of Hollywood’s movie studios! They ran out of time and had to skip the presentation for their client all together because our swan was the centerpiece of their project for their client!”
Now things were looking worse! Dr. Chase’s employees had nothing to say. But there was more. “Oh, and the Three-D printer West Side Dish used was one they bought from us and they want their money back now!”
All fell silent. That chime from the newly-minted Three-D piece in the lab’s main printer was periodically sounding. The Triple D crew was ignoring it for now, but it gave Ralph an idea.
“We...we probably should have printed both jobs from our lab instead,” he said as he gestured toward the printer. Heather was silently nodding; dejection all over her.
Ralph’s bringing up the printer reminded Dr. Chase to go over to it and check upon the printed project. Heather was just about to do that before Dr. Chase’s explosion.
“That’s actually a good idea, Ralph,” Ms. Chase said as she was still walking to the printer. “Even when it’s our printers we still...have...to....”
Heather and Ralph glanced at each other again. Now something was wrong with their business’s main Three-D printer. And if that went out of commission, Triple D Select would be out of business!
With the two morphed plastic yet in their hands, Heather and Ralph ran over to the large printer where Dr. Chase was. The printer, approximately the size of an upright piano, had an open chamber where the printed object could be easily seen. Indeed, Dr. Chase was standing right in front of the chamber--and looking right at a three-dimensional printing of a man’s face that was part of a full-bust! It was monochromatic dark-green, near-life sized, and was of a depiction of a middle-aged man with a receding hairline, and with a very serious expression as its countenance.
Instead of anger from Dr. Chase, she was shocked into silence, just as Heather was. Ralph had more of a confused expression. He looked at Heather, and she at him. Without saying anything outloud, they questioned each other whether or not they had mistakenly printed the bust. As Dr. Chase continued standing in front of the Three-D printer, both Heather and Ralph shook their heads at each other. For they knew with certainty that they had done the printing procedures for their day’s work correctly!
“Wasn’t this supposed to be a printing of some endangered fish,” Dr. Chase asked either one of her employees without looking back at them.
“For the US Fish and Wildlife Service--yes!” Ralph had said this while his eyes went back and forth between the bust and watching his boss, seeing if she would verbally lash out at the incorrect printed project. He walked up next to her, seeing that she was in too much shock. “They wanted to have a model of that species as a reference for one of their projects.”
“Aside from the obvious, Boss,” Heather inquired, after picking up on her shock, “what’s wrong?”
Neither employee said anything; waiting for her response.
“That’s my father!”
Heather glanced at Ralph. His brows furrowed in response.
“Your father,” Heather said with a mixture of incredulity and surprise. “Ellen, didn’t you say--”
“Yeah, he died a couple of years ago!”
“Murdered, if I remember correctly,” Heather said with apprehension; wondering if she should have even brought it up.
More silence from the crew.
“In--in order for us to print, we have to scan something--anything! So how the hell did we end up with a printing of your dead father’s face, Dr. Chase,” Ralph said; tension building in his voice as he began to think more on the implications of the event.
“No, no, no...” Heather now began to pace while shaking her head; one of her hands up to her mouth as she thought out loud. “This is not as simple as a Three-D printing gone bad--in fact, look at it! It’s like one of the Renaissance sculptors could have done that!”
“So how is it that our clients’ pieces turn out looking like a convoluted mess while this portrait of my father is perfect,” Ms. Chase put to her small team.
Neither had an answer.
“I think you should call the cops, Boss,” Heather suggested.
“Why would she need to do that,” Ralph put to Heather. “I mean, the case is basically cold by now.”
“But that’s just it, Ralph,” Heather persisted, “they never caught that guy who killed her dad! How do we know that he didn’t hack into our system and uplinked a scan of Ellen’s father’s head before...”
She didn’t want to finish the details.
“And why now, if that were true,” Dr. Chase asked as her shock began to wear off. “We’ve been in business for almost half a year; my father died a year and a half before we opened...” She shrugged as she looked at her employees. “I mean, I admit, I don’t have a better explanation. But I just don’t see why my father’s killer would mess with my head now.”
Ralph was nodding at this point.
“Well,” Heather said, again, sensitive about Dr. Chase’s family situation, “he left you a good-sized amount of money that helped you secure a down-payment for your business, Ellen. I’ve heard of some criminals patient enough to wait for several years before they strike! And your father was a public figure...a big-time real estate guy making a lot of money buying up all those foreclosed homes and businesses isn’t exactly a Robin Hood icon for some in the public.”
Now, Heather’s words could have been taken as an offense to Dr. Chase. But Ms. Chase knew Heather well enough to know that she meant no disrespect to her father. Indeed, Dr. Chase actually nodded at her point.
Dr. Chase let out a big sigh while her two employees watched her; waiting to see what she wanted to do next.
“Well, all this speculation doesn’t change the business at hand, does it?” Heather and Ralph silently agreed with her. “Ok, Ralph, I’m going to need you to contact the US Fish and Wildlife people and tell them there’s a brief delay in getting their piece. This time I will personally sit in the lab until the entire printing process is done and I’ll deliver it to their branch office!”
“Got it,” Ralph said as he rushed to a phone in the front area of Triple D’s suite.
“Heather,” Dr. Chase now said to her assistant, “all I need you to do right now is to keep making calls and hitting social media about Triple D...we can’t get side tracked from getting more clients! I’ll call Outer Watch back and try to smooth them over and see if we can give them a discount or something.”
Dr. Chase had turned and started to leave until Heather called out to her.
“Ellen...you can’t act like this didn't happen! That was a printing of your father, Ellen! Someone is sending you a message!”
They both looked upon the bust with troubled faces.
“What did you want me to do with it,” Heather volunteered.
“Just put it into our reject-pile. But go ahead and put it through the smasher, Heather. I’ll see you guys later tonight.”
SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA. DR. MAUREEN CHASE’S RESIDENCE...
“Why didn’t you take a picture of it with your smartphone,” the heart surgeon asked her daughter.
“I didn’t want it to remind me of dad,” Dr. Ellen Chase threw back at her mother. They were on her mother’s backyard deck. It was elevated and they could see parts of the beach with all its palm trees and some of the brilliantly white edifices peaking above the horizon-vantage, relative to Maureen Chase’s neighborhood.
“I think you should have listened to your assistant...the police could use it as evidence. Why don’t you call Heather back and see if it’s too late?”
“I’m sure she’s recycled it by now.”
The two women were almost twins. Ellen had inherited all her looks from her mother--tall, slender. They were both relaxing on a couple of comfortable deck chairs.
“What do you think, mom?”
Maureen took a while before responding. “Again, I think Heather was right...someone is sending you a message. But I don’t think it was Richard’s killer.”
Ellen, surprised at her mother’s words, lifted her head up from the head-rest of her deck chair and looked at her mother through her big sunglasses.
“I think it’s Rich,” her mother said softly; her eyes never leaving the beach from the distance.
Ellen had just about enough with such Paranormal talk, between her employees at the lab and now her mother!
“Mom, that’s ridiculous! How could you say that, being a scientist? Someone, most likely dad’s killer, had hacked into my Three-D scanning network and uploaded a scan he had done of dad before he killed him...besides, if you and Heather want to get all Supernatural on me, why would “ghost-dad” waste his time in the tangible world by trying to send me a message via a Three-D printing when all he could do was talk to me! Or write me some kind of note...why do people who believe all this crap always insist that the dead must use some kind of electronic device to talk to the rest of us?”
Maureen simply shrugged. Her daughter scoffed and continued.
“So, based on that belief, my question would be, What did our ancestors do when the dead wanted to communicate with them, but they did not have electricity back then?”
“Some people still do it...it’s called the Ouija Board, darling. But you know this.”
This time, Ellen laughed and nodded. “Ok, that’s a good point. But it also goes to my point...all this BS about ghost hunters--and I’ll even throw in aliens, too!--when they use all those pseudo-equipment and pseudo-science is nothing but a twenty-first century version of our ancestors using those Ouija Boards, mom! In principle, it’s the same thing. The only difference is we borrow a lot from real science to justify our belief in those Paranormal or Supernatural things.”
Maureen was a quiet woman. But her not saying much was not the same thing as agreeing with her daughter.
“Well, I suppose you’re right,” the elder Dr. Chase finally said after sipping from her drink that had been by her side. “I wouldn’t even be surprised if I’m subconsciously saying this because it’s hard for me to let go of your father.”
“Now, mom, I wasn’t bring this up for that kind of conversation. Never let go of dad in your memories, mom. You know me; ever the rationalist.”
Ellen got up from her deck-chair and grabbed her things.
“Where are you going, darling?”
“Oh, I’m not done for the day yet, mom.” She went over and gave her mom a kiss on the forehead and started to walk off before her mother called out to her.
“Say Hi for me to Heather and that freeloader!”
That last part made Ellen stop in her tracks as if she ran into an invisible wall! “Mom! Why would you say that about Ralph?” Ellen walked back over to where her mother sat.
“Because the only reason he even got that job with you is because his uncle was a close friend of your father! And his uncle is one of your investors.”
By this time, Ellen was cocking her head out of surprise. “How come I never knew about this? I’m the owner of the business, for crying out loud!”
“How many people did you interview for Triple D, darling?”
Ellen thought for a bit, but was still lost where all this fit into her mother’s revelation. “Ten, maybe...I don’t know, mom. It’s been--”
“I mean, for Ralph’s position.”
Now Ellen reclaimed the deck-chair she was sitting in a couple of minutes earlier. “Well, now that you’ve mentioned it, mom...I was so focused on hiring someone for my assistant since that was a bigger job in the company...I guess I pretty much just hired him a week after opening Triple D!”
“Yeah, right after that Jeremy Smithguard joined the Board...some of the other investors didn’t like him shutting that position before others even got a chance to apply for it!”
Ellen thought for a minute. “Mom, how close of friends were dad and this Jeremy...?”
“Smithguard,” her mother finished for her. “Oh, I’d see him from time to time with your father. They’d go golfing a couple of times, or so. But, you know how your father was. He wasn’t the most sociable person. But I’ll say one thing, that Smithguard was pretty good at giving your father some good advice about all that internet stuff that you and your generation are so fond of!”
Now it was Ellen who was looking down toward the beach.
“What are you thinking about, darling?”
“I don’t remember ever seeing any of dad’s friends before. He usually kept work separate from his personal life.”
Maureen gave a face. “True...Now, remember, by the time Jeremy and Rich were friends, you had long moved out of the house and were off to the university to study your computer sciences. So that probably explains why you’ve never seen him.”
Ellen’s turn to give a look. “I guess...”
“Besides, darling, we all need someone to confide in. No matter how independent we may seem.”
Confide in, indeed.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA. TRIPLE D SELECT LAB...
Heather had gotten a text from Dr. Chase. It was a little on the odd side. Dr. Chase wanted her to dig up some old information from the company’s financial and corporate files--both electronic and physical files! And she asked that Heather take them home with her and read through them and wait for her to call...so much for prioritizing the problems with the Three D printing for that day! What Dr. Chase requested would take a couple of days, at least.
What concerned Heather the most was Dr. Chase directed her not to tell Ralph what she was doing. And that she had to tell him she was going out of town to secure a new client to make up for the West Side Dish account that the company had lost that day.
Indeed, Ellen called Ralph and told him that she had some things that she had to tie up in Long Beach and she would be back in the lab tomorrow.
It was just after 9:00 that same evening when Arthur Blake got a call from Dr. Ellen Chase. He knew her very well and had a good working relationship with her. Of the many businesses that leased space in the mid-rise edifice where Triple D Select was located, she was one of his favorite tenants. But he was not expecting the odd call he got from her that night...
“...who was it you said came in with Ralph,” Dr. Chase asked over her smartphone. She was still in her high-end car; parked in another parking structure she did not normally use.
“Uh...he signed in as Jeremy Smithguard. I’ve seen him several times before, Dr. Chase. I assumed he was legit since he was either with Ralph or he had one of those card-keys.”
“Is everything ok, Dr. Chase,” the guard asked after a while.
“Arthur, how would you like to earn some extra cash tonight? I need a little security with me...you up for it?”
Again, odd. But there was no good reason to doubt her. “Sure, Doc. I’m off in another--”
“How about I pay you double for that hour? Don’t worry; I’ll talk with the landlord about it tomorrow.”
Apprehension. “Yeah, sure, Dr. Chase...where should I meet you?”
Even though Dr. Chase was paying Arthur good money for helping her, she still felt obligated to tell him some of the situation as they carefully made their way to the Triple D suite. He was, after all, potentially putting his life at risk. If, in fact, the situation with Jeremy and Ralph was what she suspected. Yet, she could not call the police, given most departments would not send a couple of officers to investigate based on her mere hunch!
Besides, like Ralph said earlier that day; the official police investigation into her father’s murder was pretty much a cold case by that point anyway. It just made sense to use an armed security guard under such circumstances...
...until she saw that he was not needed!
“Oh, no!” they both called out upon seeing the two bodies!
Ralph Tucker, yet in his lab coat, and Jeremy Smithguard, the tall middle-ager in his business suit, were both splayed out on the laboratory’s floor of Triple D Select. Arthur wasted no time in calling 911 Emergency, while Dr. Chase was working to keep herself together for all the blood and flesh-bits she was looking at! Her hunch about getting Heather out of the lab under the subterfuge of researching those old files turned out to be the right decision after all.
Dr. Chase noticed that the Three-D printout bust of her father was still in the printer’s chamber. Upon Dr. Chase’s call to Heather to inform her of what had happened, she asked why Heather hadn’t taken the Three-D bust to the reject-pile and put it through the recycle smasher like she asked her to do?
“Ellen...I not only took it to the recycling smasher and had it crushed; I watched the recycle truck take it away!”
With all the commotion with the Emergency responders and LAPD beginning their investigation, Dr. Chase was just outside the doorway to her business. She had used her smartphone to log onto Triple D’s main printing terminal station to check the work-history for that day. She thought on Heather’s words.
“I think I know what happened, Ellen,” Heather said after more thought; her voice sounding down from all the bad news. “There probably was another command sent to print the statue, and while you and I left the office--”
“Our printer printed a second copy. Yeah, that’s what I thought, too, Heather. Here’s the thing about that: One, even if that were true, we’d have to figure out who’s sending those printing commands.”
“Well, like we speculated before,” Heather said with a bit more confidence in her voice, “probably someone hacking into our system!”
“But that takes me to my second point, Heather. That’s not the case.”
“What? Well, how else could our Customizer print off another bust of your father?”
“That’s a good question, kiddo. Because I’ve logged onto the system with my phone to check the action-history...”
Heather waited. “And?”
“The work-history shows everything else we’ve printed this morning...Heather, there’s no history of my father’s bust even being printed!”