(Previously ….. Detective Victor Pauline has been called in to locate the runaway son of Dr. Dolby, scientist. The boy has taken something from his father’s safe and a number of people want it back.)
Back at the office, Pauline was weighted down with pamphlets and brochures from the lab. All of which he promised himself solemnly to glance at, later.
“So, what now, Boss? You on the job?”
“Well, Rollie, apparently, a number of people will be on this job. You and I will just be doing some backup and trying to help locate the kid as soon as possible”.
“And before he sells the gadget thing, right?”
“Before he sells the gadget and gets himself killed. The kind of people he will be dealing with aren’t Sunday school teachers and they will have no qualms about getting rid of unnecessary witnesses.”
“Right now,” Pauline took out the card from Dr. Ben-Hur, “I need to figure out a good place to have a nice, quiet witness conversation.”
“A restaurant, buddy, like for a lady. You know, lady.”
“Oh, yeah. I knew one of those once.” Rollie smiled. “You in love, Paulie?”
“Go on. Cupid is definitely in the air.”
“Ah, no. She’s just…attractive is all.”
“Right…….” Rollie grinned.
“Ah, shut up,” Pauline replied.
But Roland Mallory just kept grinning.
Pauline got a message from Sam Reynolds and called back.
“Yes, hello Detective Pauline,” Sam answered. “Hear you are looking for Thomas Dolby, Jr.”
“Yeah, call me Paulie. I thought we could meet. Go over your file.”
“Sure. I found him in a flop house on the South side last time,” Sam responded. “You want to meet first? There’s a Starbucks close by.”
An hour later the two men were at the Starbucks. Pauline ordered a Blond to go. Sam already had his at a table.
“So,” Pauline sat down, “your impression of the kid?”
“He’s a little shit,” Sam replied.
Pauline had to smile, remembering his own encounter with young Dolby.
“Spoiled by a doting mother,” Sam continued. “Youngest child. Two older brothers, but apparently, they are much older and have been out of the house for a while. Both, very successful. This one….” Sam shook his head and sipped his coffee.
“So, what, late-in-life kid you think?”
“Yeah, one of those surprises that happen. Think the mother was forty when she had him. Like I said, dotes on him and also makes excuses for him which is not helping. I think the kid has a serious drug problem.”
“Well,” Pauline sighed, “I guess if you can’t beat them at their own game, you take another tack, or something.”
“Or something.” Sam smiled. “Let me give you the address of this last place. You want to follow me over?”
Pauline nodded. He paused writing in his notebook. “Did Dolby tell you what was taken?”
“Some kind of coder machine?”
“It’s a decoder machine. Spy stuff. Could be worth a lot of money to the right people. These same people probably wouldn’t hesitate to remove Thomas Dolby from the supply chain. Whether he knows it or not, he is a one-hit-wonder and that’s it.”
“I agree. Ready?” They got up and went to their vehicles.
Pauline followed Sam’s old truck out of the drive and then down to the neighborhood.
Sam parked in front of the same run-down place he had been to before and waited for Paulie on the steps. The place was an old clapboard, peeling paint.
“Looks worse than the last time, if that’s possible,” Sam told Paulie quietly.
They went up the steps. Reynolds banged on the decrepit screen door. There was no answer. They could hear some movement inside.
“Central Police. Open up,” Paulie shouted.
Eventually footsteps could be heard shuffling to the door. It opened. A male, late teens peered out at them. He said nothing.
“Looking for Thomas Dolby,” Paulie used his very police voice with the kid. He held up his badge to the screen.
The youth shook a shaggy head. “He ain’t here.”
“When you see him last? “
“Don’t know. Maybe a month.”
“We need to come in.”
“You got a warrant, Man?” the kid sneered.
“Do I need one, pal? You got something to hide we need to know about? Maybe call some of my friends in blue to come and help out?”
“Ah, shit!” The teen turned away from the door and flopped down on an old chair, his arms crossed, a scowl on his face.
The place was filthy with junk scattered willy-nilly on floors and an old sofa.
“We need to look around,” Paulie told him.
“I told you he ain’t here. But, what the hell. Knock yourself out.” He grabbed a pack of cigarettes, fingering it.
Paulie, nodded to Sam who went to do a search of the house.
“What about a girl? Was with Dolby when he was here. Skinny, white, red hair.”
The kid pulled out a cigarette and lit it with a cheap Bic lighter.
“Oh, her. The bitch. Thought she was better than everyone else. Yeah, went to that rich-bitch high school with Dolby. Waste of space.”
Meaning she wasn’t interested in you, asshole, Pauline thought to himself.
The kid took a drag of his cigarette and thought. “It was some dumb name like Stacey, Stacey Racey or some shit like that.”
“Great, and your name, Sir.”
The kid paused. “John Smith.”
Paulie was about to write it down in his notebook and looked up.
“I need your real name.”
“John Smith, asshole. And don’t say one damn thing about Pocahontas.”
Sam came back to the living room shaking his head.
“Okay, then, Mr. Smith. We will be going.” He flipped his notebook closed and pulled out a card. “It’s important we find Thomas. There might be a cash reward involved.”
He handed his card to the youth. The kid took it with dirty fingers. Smith surveyed the card, blew out some smoke and stuck it in pocket.
“We’ll let ourselves out.”
Out by the cars, they compared notes. Sam opened his truck and pulled out his slimline binder. He flipped it open and turned a page.
“Crestview High School. North Valley, very private, very expensive.” He gave Paulie the address.
“Okay, well looks like we will be doing some driving today,” Pauline told him.
“Yup. See you there.”
In the office of the principal, Ms. Galbraith, they introduced themselves.
“Stacey Racey?” The woman sniffed. She studied the air over their heads. “Friends with Thomas Dolby.” Her face took on a sour cast.
“Hum. You probably mean Stacey Racine, a junior here. Yes, she has red hair and may have been friends with Thomas. Although….” her voice trailed away. “Do you wish to speak to her?” They both nodded their heads.
The principal hit her intercom button. “Maxine, please check the schedule for Stacy Racine and have her come to my office.”
“May I offer you gentlemen something to drink?” The smile stiff and forced.
She’s trying hard to keep her cool, Pauline thought to himself.
“Nothing for me, Ma’am,” he told her, “but, thank you.”
The woman nodded and then paused.
With steel grey hair and a conservative tweed suit ensemble, Pauline was sure she was the epitome of an old-fashioned school matron rich parents were looking for.
“Am I permitted to ask what has happened to Thomas? We don’t know, and his mother is… not very forthcoming.” She paused and appraised them with a set of large grey eyes. Thick glasses glinted in the sunlight.
“That is what we are trying to find out now, principal Galbraith. That is why we wish to speak to Miss Racine.”
The woman nodded understanding. She drummed her fingers on the desk.
“I must stay here while you talk to her. She’s a minor and her parents aren’t here so…”
“We understand. Just a few questions.”
There was a knock on the walnut paneled door and the secretary stuck her head in.
“She’s here, Miss Galbraith.”
The principal nodded and a frail, skinny girl with pale skin and flaming red hair appeared. She was dressed in a conservative blue school uniform.
Other than the hair and the skin, Sam thought to himself, I would have never recognized her.
“Please come and sit down, Stacey.” The principal’s voice was soft.
The girl did as she was bid and sat in a chair. Head down.
“We’re looking for Thomas Dolby,” Pauline told the girl. “I am from Central Valley Police and Mr. Reynolds here is a PI. Do you have any idea where Thomas might be? It’s very important that we find him.”
The girl shook her head.
“You knew he was going to Rehab?” Pauline could see Miss Galbraith perk up at this tidbit of news.
The girl nodded yes.
“When is the last time you heard from him?”
“Before he left for Rehab,” she said in a low voice.
“But not since?”
She shook her head no.
“Anything else you can tell us?”
She shook her head again.
Paulie got out a card and Sam got one out too and handed them to her.
“Call if anything comes up or if, you just want to talk. He could be in serious trou…danger.” Pauline added.
She nodded. “Can I go back to class?” She looked at the principal who nodded.
The girl got up and left the room quickly without looking back.
“Did Thomas have other friends, principal?” Paulie asked.
“Thomas…,” she faltered for a moment. “Thomas didn’t really make friends here. I don’t think he liked Crestview much or school for that matter. No, I think his interests were…. elsewhere.”
The two men got up and thanked her and left.
Sam laughed when they got outside.
“His interests were elsewhere. ‘Ya think?”
“I do think, Sam. And, that’s probably the understatement of the day. Let’s get lunch.”
“So, what’s your take now, Sam?” Pauline dipped a fry into his ketchup.
“Well, not much from the girl. Then again, she might not know much,” Sam took a swig of his coffee. “If I were you, I would put a tail on the girl. Very discrete, mind.” He cast a beady eye at Pauline who nodded.
“Don’t really think this group of teens specialize in the truth. Still, even if she knows nothing, the kid is likely to try and contact her.”
“Agreed,” Victor sipped his coke. “We know the kid has money, because the mom let him have some before he left. So, he can be paying cash for everything and we can’t trace him that way. We could track his phone, but he’s smart, and he could get a cheap burner, so that won’t work.”
“Next question is who’s he going to contact?” Sam asked. “Who does he know? He’s a high school senior.”
Paulie glanced at him with a smirk.
“Well, at least in name. Anyway, he wouldn’t have a clue as to where to go to fence this thing, unless….”
“Unless, the person who told him about the device in the first place, also set up the sale and told him where to go.”
“Exactly,” Sam shot back, still chewing. “And, for my money it’s either LA or San Francisco ‘cause that is where the International flights fly from. I doubt this buyer is someone Stateside.”
“So,” Paulie took a big breath, “we really need a break as the which direction he is going.”
“That’s right, partner, we could really use a break right about now.”
Pauline got a text from the Chief. “See me when you’re back.”
He parked the pool car and went directly into Chief Gaines’s office. He related what they had done.
“Okay, we’ll get a tail on the girl. See where she goes, who she speaks to.”
“We need more than that,” Paulie told him. “We need someone to hack her phone and her computer if possible to see if Dolby contacts her and tells her where he is going. It could be LA or San Francisco and we need to figure out which, quickly.”
“Did you try talking to her?” the Chief asked.
“We did and got nothing. And, yes, it was in the principal’s office and all that. But my bet is this pair is not big on authority figures and have trust issues. Probably think we just want to bust his chops ‘cause we’re mean.”
“Well, what else would you think if your boyfriend was on the run from the law and you were sixteen?”
“I’ll make phone calls. You’re going back to Dolby’s to talk to the computer geeks some more?”
“Yeah, I’ll grab Rollie and we’ll go out together. Second pair of eyes.”
“Okay, have that Reynolds guy go with you too and search the grounds. He is very good at finding people, I’m told. Maybe he’ll come up with something.”
As Paulie left, the Chief leaned a pudgy hand against his furrowed brow. He went back to studying his papers with a sigh.
Later that afternoon, Pauline and Rollie led the parade back to the Dolby mansion and Sam followed. They got there, and two uniforms were stationed outside of the home in the event the boy tried to sneak back in.
Pauline called them over.
“Rollie, you take these two men and search the grounds. It’s a big place. There is always a possibility the kid is hiding somewhere close by.”
“Aw, why do I always get the egg hunt?” Rollie whined.
“Sgt. Mallory, you are a person with excellent observation skills and we need you for this.” Pauline gave his partner a dazzling smile. The three cops moved away down the drive and fanned out.
“Okay, Sam Reynold, let’s go speak some Geek.” They went to knock on the door.
An hour later, they had interviewed all the scientists Pauline had met before. They didn’t seem to be any closer to anything that would help them track Thomas Dolby. They were also introduced to another scientist, Max Johnson from New York.
“I’m the numbers guy.” He smiled. Max wore a big Star Wars! cartoon t-shirt. He had a big belly and sloppy brown hair.
“Numbers?” Pauline asked.
“Yes, right. The basic code is based on languages, but…”
“But?” Pauline found himself getting irritated at this guy’s sophomoric superior attitude.
“Randomization.” The man seemed to enjoy their ignorance.
Sam and Victor stared at him. Dr. Ben-Hur entered the conversation.
“Just spit it out, Max. They don’t know this stuff. You know probability studies, like what will happen when you roll a pair of dice, kind of thing?”
Both men nodded.
“Randomization,” Dr. Johnson finally started talking. This was after all, his pet project. “Randomization is the science of creating random number sequences so that, the next number in the sequence cannot be guessed or predicted.”
They were still a little blank.
“Meaning,” Dr. Ben-Hur added quickly, “by creating random sequence numbers in each code, it makes the code that much more difficult to hack and/or to predict when the next code will arrive. The language notes are the written message and the number sequences which keep changing every time, keep the code safer from decoding attempts.” She shot a dark glance at Johnson.
“Okay, then,” Pauline replied. “I think we are getting how this thing works and why it is so valuable.” He looked at Sam who nodded his head. He made some more notes in his book. “I think we’ll go now. Call if anything seems important.”
Johnson flounced away on flip-flops with an air of dismissal.
They were making their way to the elevator. Pauline heard his name. He turned and Dr. Ben-Hur was coming toward him.
“Meet you upstairs?” he said to Sam.
“Sure,” Sam got on the elevator up.
“Paulie, just one thing.” She came up to him and he was dazzled by the eyes all over again.
“Thomas used to join us for lunch sometimes upstairs. We couldn’t talk to him about our work of course, but he did seem to like to chat.”
“He used to talk about how he hated the Valley and really wanted to live in LA. Wanted to live there so he could learn to surf. Used to talk about ‘getting away from the mausoleum.’” She waved her hand around the room.
“Hum, that could be of some use. Thanks Doctor.”
“Call me Gallah, Detective Paulie.” She smiled.
He stared at her a moment.
“Ah, do you like French food?” He asked.
“There’s a little place in town, not very big, but the food….”
“I adore French food.” She put a hand on his arm. “You have my number. Call me and we can set it up.”
“Yeah, well, yes. I’ll do that” he stammered. “First thing I get home.”
She smiled again and turned and when back to her lab.
Pauline went upstairs and joined Sam.
“So, did you get the damned date or not?”
Paulie looked surprised.
“I’ll take that as a yes. She’s a dish, that one.”
They left to get in their cars.
Driving back to the station, Pauline compared notes with Rollie.
“So, what on the grounds?”
“Nothing, there are a couple of gardening sheds where he might hide but nothing to show he’s been there. Plus, the Dolby’s have gardeners and maintenance men crawling all over the place. Chances are they would’ve seen the kid. Not a hair of his head. I don’t think he is anywhere near that place.”
“What’s you get?”
“Well, he hates the Valley, wants to live in LA and become a surfer. Other than that, not much.”
“The more I know about this kid, the less I like him,” Rollie added. “I mean, his parents could afford the best education in the world and what does he want to do? Drop out and become a surfer. Jesus.”
They both studied that thought a moment.
“What now, boss?” Rollie asked.
“Now, you and I go home and get some sleep. The spooks are hacking into the girlfriend’s phone. We wait to hear if he contacts her and says anything meaningful.”
“You mean something other than “I way want to do you, Baby!”
“Yeah, just like that. Let’s go. We might not get another chance for a while.”
(Continued on Part IV)