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Chapter Twenty One

Returning from the Coroner’s office, Colt looked at the back of his hand on the steering wheel and tried to imagine something smaller than the width of a single hair. When he used 88’s computer to check the Internet, he learned that NanoScience was “the study of matter at the atomic scale; a billionth of a meter.” A description of some of the scientific applications followed, but the information was beyond his understanding. An insect virus? A cloned gene inserted into an insect virus to produce a protein? A protein used as a nano capsule to deliver genetic material to human cells inside the body? Colt read it twice and it gave him a headache. It might have all been in a foreign language. He still had no idea what nano science was. Learning to be a paramedic had been hard enough. He couldn’t imagine sitting in a laboratory, day after day, studying something you couldn’t even see.

By the time he reached the Westside, it was early Wednesday afternoon. Colt stopped for a hamburger and thought about the missing foot. He felt a rising sense of outrage. It belonged to Bibi; it was part of her body and the albino had no right to it. The foot had to be retrieved.

After lunch, Colt drove to CU and parked in the short-term parking lot behind the hospital. He got out of his truck and glanced at his face in the side-view mirror. Did he look official? Could he pull this off? He smoothed his blues and checked the firefighter badge on his shirt. No, he decided, the badge would be better inside his wallet. He could pull it out quickly, flash it like cops do on TV and then put it back in his pocket before anyone got a good look at it. Colt didn’t want to cut through the ER and run into someone he knew.

He walked around the outside of the massive hospital building and set off across the campus to find the Nano Research Center. He looked for anything familiar and thought about Bibi. Why would such a classy girl like Bibi be with someone like the albino? Maybe she went out with him a couple of times because she was fascinated with his white skin and hair. Maybe they did something stupid and he got her pregnant. Then, on Sunday, the day of the accident, she told him she was going to have a baby. She said she loved her Air Force pilot, the man she intended to marry. While they ate lunch, she burst into tears. She was afraid to tell her parents—what would they think? She told the albino she was planning on an abortion. The albino didn’t know what to do. Outside, after lunch, the accident intervened, like the hand of fate. The coward albino left her there to die, but at the last minute, on an impulse, he took her foot. If he couldn’t have her, he could keep a part of her. Colt was certain that was the way it happened.

Deep in thought, Colt wandered and became lost on the vast campus. It took almost half an hour before he found himself at the bottom of the stairway where he had followed the albino. He bounded up two stairs at a time. At the top, he paused, tucked in his shirt and approached the entrance to the Nano Research Center.

The thick glass doors were locked and an arrow pointed to a red button on the wall. Colt pressed the button twice and stood waiting, hands on his hips, trying to look important. A security guard in a gray uniform appeared behind the glass doors. He was small, with a thin black mustache that might have been drawn on his upper lip with an eyebrow pencil.

“County Fire Department,” Colt said, lowering his voice and trying to sound authoritative. “Arson investigation.” Colt pulled out his wallet, flipped it open and flashed his badge. He thought it was a good performance. He had the wallet back in his pocket before the guard could get a good look.

“Hold on,” the guard said. He waved to someone inside, and Colt heard the electronic signal that released the lock. The little mustache swung one door open and motioned Colt inside. “What can I do for you?” he asked.

Colt walked into an enormous lobby. The overhead lights were low. The far wall was glass, and Colt saw that the building was a hollow square, several stories tall, with a center courtyard. He looked the guard in the eye and said, “We’re tracking an arson suspect. He’s been observed coming to this building during the evening.”

“You are—?”

“Los Angeles County Fire arson investigator.”

“We have people in and out 24/7.”

“The suspect’s distinctive. He’s an albino. Wears black clothing. All buttoned up.”

“Oh yeah,” the guard said. “That sounds like Darkman. C’mon.” He pulled out a ring of a dozen keys and used one to unlock the door to the security office. He held it open for Colt.

Colt entered a well-equipped room. Electronic monitoring screens covered two walls. He saw camera views of hallways, elevators, stairwells and the front entrance of the Nano Center. A second guard ate a sandwich and a bag of corn chips at a desk in front of the security monitors. The room smelled like tuna fish.

“This guy’s an arson investigator,” the little mustache said. “He wants to know about Darkman.”

The second guard stood up. “I’m Ricky,” he said. He pointed to the mustache. “And that’s Bobby,” He wiped his hand on his pants and extended it.

Colt shook his hand without giving his name and nodded to Bobby.

“Darkman’s involved in arson?” Ricky said. “I always thought there was something weird about him. Just look at the way he dresses.”

Colt could smell the tuna on Ricky’s breath. At least he looked more like a real security guard than his partner. He was almost Colt’s height, over six feet, and appeared to be in decent shape.

“What do you need?” Bobby asked.

“The investigation is still preliminary, but I want the name and address of...uh...Darkman.”

“We just have names and university ID numbers,” Bobby said. He pulled up a list on his computer screen.

“Whatever you have.”

“Hell, Ricky,” Bobby said, “what’s his real name?”

“I dunno,” Ricky said. “His first name starts with an M. Mike something.”

“No, that’s not right,” Bobby said. He scrolled through the list to the M’s. “I think it’s Mark. Yeah, here it is. His first name is Mark. Last name Draper. Mark Draper.” Bobby beamed.

“Thanks,” Colt said.

“You want his ID number?” Ricky asked.

“No, I don’t need that.”

“He walks to work,” Bobby said, “so he must live in the neighborhood.”

“And he works in this building?”

“Lower level two. That’s as far down as you can get.” Bobby played with his keyboard and brought up a schematic map of lower level two, he pointed to an office. “That’s it—LL2/3.”

Colt studied the map. “What’s this at the bottom of the fire stairs?”

“Entrance to the underground tunnel,” Bobby said. “It connects parts of the campus. Students and faculty use it…on snow days.” Bobby chuckled.

“What’s this about?” Ricky asked.

“Is he starting fires?” Bobby asked. “Is he doing bad shit?”

“Sorry, it’s confidential,” Colt said. “I can’t talk about an ongoing investigation, so please don’t discuss my visit with anyone. If you see him, don’t say anything.”

“Oh we won’t,” Ricky said. He sat down to finish his sandwich.

“Do you know what this Mark guy does here?” Colt asked.

“I think he works part time, at night,” Bobby said. “He’s not one of the big shot scientists.”

“What do they do?”

“They’re inventing little tiny things that go in your body.” Bobby said.

“Yeah, they change your genetics,” Ricky said.

“What does that mean?” Colt asked.

“They’re doing stuff like this.” Bobby picked up a Nano Research Center brochure and handed it to Colt.

Colt opened it and read aloud, “The Center is leading the research in dipolar molecular rotor crystals and nanocapsule vaults.”

“Yeah,” Bobby said. “That’s what they do here.”

“What I think,” Ricky said, “is they’re making better athletes. You know, faster runners, bigger muscles, stuff like that. They don’t tell us, but that’s what I think.”

“OK, thanks guys,” Colt said, concluding he wasn’t going to get anything else from Dumb and Dumber. “The arson squad appreciates your help.”

“No problem,” Ricky said, stuffing his mouth full of chips. “I’ll release the door for you.”

When Colt walked outside, he realized he was damp with nervous sweat. Impersonating a law enforcement officer wasn’t easy, but he thought he had done a good job. He pulled out his cell phone and called 411. “In West Los Angeles, the number for Mark Draper.”

The number cost 45 cents. The address, 410 Albion Street, cost an additional 45 cents. For less than a buck, Colt had the information he hoped would help locate Bibi’s foot.

By the time he was halfway back to his truck, Colt’s shirt was bone dry. He felt like he was walking into a blast furnace. The hot Santa Ana wind, a 50 mile-per-hour heat wave from the Nevada desert, had arrived in full force. He walked past the Police and Fire Building adjacent to the hospital, stopped and turned around. Colt thought about the tunnel entrance to the Nano Center and wondered whether he could get to the albino’s office on LL2/3 without going past the security guards. He decided to find out.

The campus police occupied most of the first floor. Colt had heard that the university had its own large police force but that their fire department wasn’t much and relied on L.A. City Fire for protection. The campus fire department had an office at the end of the hall. When Colt entered, an older man, probably a retired firefighter from the City or County, looked at Colt’s uniform and greeted him. “Hi brother, what can I do for you?”

“Evening,” Colt said, letting his uniform speak for itself and not introducing himself. “I understand there’s a tunnel system under the campus.”

“That’s right.”

“Can I get a map?”

The man considered Colt for a moment. “We have an old one that shows where the tunnels are marked for above ground standpipes and hydrants.”

“That works.”

“What’s up?”

“My cousin’s starting CU. I promised I’d get her a copy.”

“Ours is about 80% accurate. She can get a better one in the bookstore. Tell her most of the students don’t even use the tunnels. Hold on a minute.” He went to a filing cabinet, searched one drawer, then another and withdrew a large Manila envelope. He pulled out a 12”x18” sheet and handed it to Colt. “Here you go.”

Colt glanced at the map and saw how complex the passages were under such a large campus. “This’ll do, thanks.” He folded the map and tucked it into his pocket.

“Stay safe, brother.”

Colt walked back to his pickup, looking at the map.

When Colt arrived home, it was just after four in the afternoon and Roy was already sitting on his cardboard mat under the stairs. “Hey buddy, what are you up to?” Colt said when he got out of his truck.

“Munstaf binker tor,” Roy answered.

As Colt approached the stairs, he saw that Roy held a wallet in his hand. “What’s that Roy? Where did you get that?”

“Binker tor,” Roy repeated, and pointed to a pink backpack.

Colt snatched the wallet from Roy’s grimy hand. He found a drivers’ license inside, and couldn’t believe the picture he saw. A young woman with blue eyes stared back at him. Colt was certain he was looking at Bibi with long hair. He checked her name and address.

Darci Tierney

895 Tobias Avenue

Van Nuys, CA 91404

“Roy, where did you find this?”

Roy stared at Colt.

“Where? Beach?” Colt bent down and walked his fingers on the ground. “At the beach?” He pointed north toward Malibu and looked at Roy.

Roy looked back at Colt.

Colt was certain Roy had found the backpack near the Surfrider Restaurant and he was certain Roy would never be able to tell him. Colt sat down on the stairs and searched through Darci’s belongings. He pulled out a pair of jeans, tank tops, T-shirts, a sweatshirt, a pink brassiere, two pink thongs, a washcloth, a plastic bag with a toothbrush, toothpaste and sunscreen and two small books.

While Colt was busy with the backpack, Roy got up and headed for the beach underpass. “Yinstoch wentel,” was his final comment.

Colt opened one of the books. It had a pink and blue cover and the title was BABY NAMES FROM AROUND THE WORLD. In the girl’s section, the “M” page was folded down and the names “Mai,” “Maria,” “Melissa” and “Micki” were underlined. In the boy’s section, the underlined names were “Reilly,” “Rod” and “Ryder.” The second book was actually a small photo album. The plastic pages contained only two photos. The first showed a black and tan German shepherd, lying on a cement walk somewhere, looking up at the camera. The second picture was of Darci, with short blond hair, standing in front of an old Ford Mustang.

Colt again imagined the injured girl in the parking lot and heard her whisper “baby” in his ear. Her name was Darci, and she lived in Van Nuys, not Malibu. Colt marveled at the chain of events that led him to discover her identity, and began to wonder what kind of life Darci could have led in Van Nuys.

He took out his cell phone and searched his pockets for Nate Petruno’s card.

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