A Dubious Rock

Chapter One

The Homeland Security agent who took on the murder mystery was a young woman. Her name was Marta Ewing. She sat at her desk in the Los Angeles office of the bureau. It was already late in the evening two days after the body had been discovered. There was a perplexed expression on her usually fine sculptured face. She wasn’t thinking about the case, she was wondering why she had been shackled by the probably unsolvable murder.

It started two days ago when she returned to the office from the crime scene. Her boss, Special agent Bob Boone appeared and motioned her into his office. He then closed the door.

“You had no right to accept this case in the name of Homeland Security,” he chastised her.

“You’re going to take me off this case, aren’t you?” she responded arrogantly.

“On the contrary,” he responded with what appeared to be a sinister grin to her. “It’s your case now to solve. This should teach you a lesson.”

“I’d better get at it then,” she responded as she stood up.

“But, Agent Ewing, don’t do it again,” he threatened as she walked out the door.

She interpreted it to mean he would not help her.

The agent made her way back to her desk in a sour mood.

Marta had been with the bureau for five years and yet this was her first crack at being the lead agent on a case. She should have been happy—but she wasn’t.

She wondered if it was punishment? Or did the higher ups want her to fail? She was sure her boss had it in for her.

Marta Ewing had been a desk jockey since she started working for the secretive agency after four long years on the New Orleans police force as a street cop. She usually did the grunt work for the other agents in the office and at times felt she was grossly underutilized.

Her performance reviews pointed to the lack of getting along with others and her unusual high sense of paranoia. She saw something dark and politically dangerous in all her assignments. This hindered her ability to judge what she had learned and to blame others.

Her behavior was a product of who she was in real life. She was five foot-nine and with a slender build. Many thought she was almost too skinny, but otherwise she was an attractive woman. She had been a player on a championship volleyball team at LSU in her college days. It gave her the stamina of an athlete and the arrogance of a successful competitor, but also a sense of insecurity. She felt she could always do better.

Her long blond hair, ice blue eyes, and severe high cheekbones made her appear to be a runway model. She was also very smart and that combined with her abrupt manner only added to her mystique.

Most of the other agents were actually afraid to deal with her. They had reported she was too hard to deal with. Everybody now knew it.

She sighed heavily as she sat at her desk. She was determined to succeed, but others always got in her way.

Eventually, she decided she must solve the murder mystery herself to get everyone off her back. She saw herself as a hard and tough woman and believed she could do it. Marta shrugged off her problems and began to go over the evidence she had strewn across her desk.

Most of the data she had received was from outside the bureau.

The coroner’s report said the victim had been shot three times in the back from about a hundred feet from a downward angle. The shots were from a foreign-made automatic weapon. The bullets that were recovered were not American made, they had been produced in North Korea. The coroner estimated the body had been exposed to the South Pacific sun for at least three days.

The report from the Coast Guard said that the currents could have drifted the speedboat into the dock from a distance of over one hundred and thirty miles during that time period. How could no one notice, she thought?

As Marta studied the sea current maps provided by the Coast Guard, she realized with the one-hundred-and-seventy-mile range added, the speed boat could have started somewhere over four hundred miles out in the open sea—and there was absolutely nothing within hundreds of miles from that spot.

Marta concluded the speedboat had been launched from a bigger ship. But no one had reported a missing boat and no ships were detected along the current trail.

“This is too frustrating,” Marta screamed out to herself and banged her fist on her metal desk. She quickly looked around to see if anyone noticed, but discovered she was the only one in the office.

There was little more knowledge gained from autopsy part as well. The victim wore an industrial diver wet suit with no tags inside to identify the maker. Under the diving gear, she only wore flimsy panties and no bra. The coroner noted that she was a natural blond and had all her teeth.

The victim’s age was estimated to be twenty-five years old. But tests of DNA, fingerprints, teeth impressions and facial recognition concluded she was not in any of those systems. The victim was in strong physical shape from exercise. This made Marta wonder how someone, who clearly took care of herself, was not in any system. Was she a spy?

***

The only other piece of evidence she had to go on was the rocks.

Marta had sent them out to an outside lab for chemical analysis and found something unusual there. The rocks contained high amounts nickel, manganese, copper, zinc, cobalt, and other minerals including several rare earth compounds.

The note from the lab technician said the rocks were rare and he had additional information to give her, but it had to be discussed in person. He hoped she could come by in the morning at 9:00 A.M. The note was signed by Tom Greer and had a phone number below his name.

Marta figured he didn’t want to leave any paper trail and decided to meet with the technician in the morning. She placed a call to his number, got his voice mail, and said she would be there on time to meet with him.

She then went home for the evening.

Chapter Two

Marta called her office on the way to visit the rock technician and left word for her boss that she would be late. It was over a thirty-minute drive to the laboratory and back. When she got there at precisely 8:50 A.M., she noticed there was only one car and one van in the large parking lot.

The sign on the door said the lab didn’t open until 10:00 A.M., but Marta believed the technician wanted to discuss the rocks privately before the other workers arrived. The front door was open, so she went inside.

There was no one in the reception area. She thought it was unusual as someone had always met her in the reception area before. The security door to the lab was ajar, so she peeked inside and then went into the laboratory.

“Tom, Tom Greer,” she called out. But there was no response.

She immediately went into high alert and drew her pistol as she systematically began to search the large open area. There were over twenty lab tables with machines, shelving with beakers and bottles of various chemicals, space dividers and desks in the room. Danger could lurk behind any of the obstacles. She crouched down as she moved forward.

This put stress on her long athletic legs, but she needed to lower her profile. She was glad she had worn a pants suit and didn’t have to continually hike up a dress.

By then, Marta realized not bringing a partner was a mistake, but didn’t know who she could trust, so she had gone alone.

When she heard a noise, her instinct was to run towards the direction of the sound. She came around a corner and saw a man lying on the ground. He was tied up and unconscious. Another man in janitors garb stood at a desk pressing keys on a computer. The bag of rocks sat on the edge.

“Halt,” Marta shouted. “Back away from the key board and put your hands up.”

The man saw her and dropped down behind the desk so fast she wasn’t able to react. Suddenly, a bullet was fired in her direction and broke a beaker near her head. Fortunately, Marta was agile enough to dive out of the way of the liquid and landed behind a tall solid rock-crunching machine. Everything the liquid touched began bubbling which told her it was a very corrosive acid.

“I’m Homeland Security. Give up now!” Marta screamed.

“Come and get me,” the man answered with a slight Hispanic accent.

“The police are on their way. You won’t get away,” Marta responded as she peeked around the big machine.

What she saw was a beaker filled with liquid headed right at her position. She quickly rolled away and got to her feet just as the container smashed on the floor and the liquid turned into a dense wall of something that looked like smoke.

Marta realized the man seemed to know a lot about the chemicals in the lab and decided she had to move again. She lunged across the aisle just ahead of two well placed bullets and landed behind a metal desk. She scrambled around the corner and saw the man get up from his position and make a run for the front door carrying the rocks.

She believed the man heard the police sirens on their way to the laboratory and decided to get out. She had to stop him.

She stood up and headed down the row towards the door.

“Stop or I’ll shoot,” she screamed.

The man didn’t slow down, but looked back and fired in Marta’s direction. His aim was way off the mark. Marta took up a classic shooting stance and took a shot. It hit the man in the leg and he yelped as he went down. He let go of the bag of rocks, but managed to get to his feet and crashed through the door to the lab.

By the time Marta reached the same door and went through it, she could see the man jump into the back of a nondescript van. It sped away.

The police rolled into the parking lot from the other direction and immediately ordered Marta to drop her gun and put her hands up.

By the time Marta finally convinced them that she was a Homeland Security agent, the perpetrators were long gone. She gave the police the license plate and a description of the van. Two cruisers took off and placed a BOLO on the van as they went after them.

***

Marta then reentered the building along with the remaining policemen. She scooped up the bag containing the rocks and explained that they were evidence in another case.

When she reached the inert body, she noted he was not badly injured, just knocked out. The paramedics quickly arrived and began working on the man.

She attempted to access the computer, but found the computer on the desk had been affected with a virus that jumbled up everything on it.

Next to the desk was a tray of chemicals that looked like they had been placed there on purpose. Marta believed the criminal was intending to destroy the machine or maybe the building before she got there. It also told her he knew what he was doing with the chemicals. She was beginning to put together a profile of the shooter.

When she called her boss, he instructed her to stay there and wait for a forensic team to arrive, then to head back to the office with the rocks.

“I winged the shooter and he left some blood on the floor,” she informed him.

“That’s bad,” he responded. “You’ll have to give up your weapon and be confined to your desk until you are cleared to go back in the field.”

“But…”

“That’s policy,” he cut her off and said. “And Marta, I’m glad you asked for help.”

“Yes, sir. But how did the perp. know I was meeting the lab. technician before working hours?”

“Hmm,” he responded. “We’ll look into it immediately,” her boss responded.