Loose Ends: Part 1

Haley and I stopped in front of Dr. Hansen’s door. “I’ll see you in a little bit.”

She squeezed my hand and stepped away to grab one of the chairs next to the wall in the engineering department. We weren’t the only ones there. The engineering department was a combination of a workroom, departmental assistant’s office, and common room. Ten or more professors’ had offices that surrounded the room.

The nice ones had windows. Dr. Hansen, as the department head, had a corner office.

Haley sat next to one of the tables and pulled out her phone, looking up at me as I watched her.

“I think you’ve got an appointment.”

“Yeah,” I turned back to the door and knocked on it.

What she hadn’t said was, “I’ll be listening out here and if they try anything, I’m coming in.” She didn’t need to. We’d already discussed it.

Dr. Hansen opened the door. As he backed up to let me in, I was reminded that he was nearly a foot taller than I was. It wasn’t that intimidating because he was in his fifties and while he wasn’t fat, he wasn’t muscular either.

There wasn’t any reason to be nervous about a guy who’d been a good college basketball player with no known superpowers—except that he’d had a mind control device tie pin the last time I’d visited. Given that he’d known about the video I’d passed on to Agent Lim and appeared to have a hitman disguised as a janitor in the department lobby, I took it as a given that he worked for the Nine.

On the bright side, I hadn’t seen the hitman this time.

I followed Dr. Hansen into the office to find Dr. Strazinsky already sitting in one of the two chairs in front of the desk. He nodded at me and I sat in the other chair and Dr. Hansen walked around the desk to sit in his own chair.

I took the moment to notice a framed newspaper article with a picture of a much younger version of Dr. Hansen dunking a basketball. His college and doctoral diplomas hung above it on the wall.

When Dr. Hansen finished rolling his chair next to the desk, he looked from Dr. Strazinsky over to me. Then he sighed.

“I assume that you’ve seen the news reports. Higher Ground is under investigation for working with the Nine.” Then he shook his head. “They’re not just under investigation. They’ve been closed down. Not only that, but Russell Hardwick was found there and it’s clear that he had connections to the Nine as well.”

He looked over at Dr. Strazinsky and then back at me, “I’m going to assume that you’re not surprised that your internship is over. The FBI came in almost at the same time the Heroes’ League. I’ve been told that you’ll be able to collect personal objects from your desk provided the FBI doesn’t keep them as evidence.”

His hand moved toward his tie and there it was—the same tie pin that he’d been wearing the last time. Fortunately, I was wearing the same glasses that automatically blocked the “Dominator command inflections,” last time.

He touched the tie pin. “I’m wondering if either of you called in the FBI.”

Looking over at Dr. Strazinsky, he said, “Ken?”

If I’d ever known Dr. Strazinsky’s first name, I didn’t remember it. So that was new.

I didn’t have time to reflect on what that said about me because Dr. Strazinsky was already talking. “As I’ve told you before, I’m in regular contact with the FBI, but I didn’t call them about this—though I have been considering calling them about you—”

Dr. Hansen raised his and said, “Stop. Neither of you move or talk without my permission. When I ask you questions, you will not raise your voices or call for help in any way.”

For all his hurry to give us orders, his voice stayed calm.

This was a change. The last time he’d been subtle, using the tie pin to ask questions, but he hadn’t given orders. If I hadn’t had anti-voice control tech, I’d never have known. Now though, it was obvious. I wondered how far I could let him go—that and if the hitman was now in the lobby.

Meanwhile, Dr. Strazinsky’s eyes had widened and his face reddened. I decided that I should show a little more fear and let myself take an audible breath.

Dr. Hansen glanced over at me, but then turned back to Dr. Strazinsky, “Tell me what made you suspicious.”

Swallowing, Dr. Strazinsky said, “It wasn’t any one thing. It was a few little things. You asked me about Nick too often and knew a little too much about Higher Ground. I don’t know which of them did it.”

Nodding slowly, Dr. Hansen said, “That’s good to know. Wait for me to ask you to talk before you say anything more. Now Nick, what about you? Did you notify the FBI?”

Being careful not to move anything but my mouth, I said, “No.”

Dr. Hansen stared.

He put his hand into a desk drawer and pulled out a nine millimeter pistol and pointed it at me. “You’re faking it. Does this help you remember?”

Daniel, I thought, now would be great.

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