Chapter 11

“Don’t give me that crap!”

Curiosity overrode Eric’s better judgment and he placed an ear near the closed door. After the staff meeting, he’d swung by Mario’s office to find out why the detective hadn’t attended the staff meeting and found it shut tight. Which somewhat  muffled the shouting match going on inside between Mario and another man. But not completely.

MARIO:  For the third time, we don’t have it!

MAN: C’mon, don’t give me that crap. Your men opened the room. They were in before my guys. A personal computer contains a ton of evidence. They snatched it so you could get a leg up on the investigation.

MARIO: That’s ridiculous.

MAN: Oh, so the laptop walked off by itself? The roommate confirmed she owned one.

MARIO:  Then Courtney probably had it with her. Her assailant must have stolen it, along with her purse.

MAN: She was going to see her boyfriend. It was after ten o’clock. I doubt they planned to study. Things may have changed since we went to college, but that, to me, adds up to one thing: sex.

MARIO:  You never were any good at math.

MAN: Very funny. You won’t be laughing when I file a complaint with the District Attorney. I want that computer by tonight, or else.

The doorknob rattled, and Eric barely had time to jump out of the way before a man stormed past him out of the room. Eric recognized him by the back of his shaved head, but more by the strong scent of cologne: Detective Wexler from the SDPD. He waited until the visitor from downtown rounded the corner before he made his presence known.

“Hey,” Eric greeted Mario from the doorway. After what just went down, he thought it best to wait for an invitation before entering. As he suspected, Mario looked so wound up, Eric feared his head might pop off, but he ushered him in nonetheless. The smell of Wexler’s pungent cologne lingered in the air.

“What can I do for you, Eric?” Mario asked tiredly from behind his desk.

“You weren’t at the staff meeting, so I came by to find out what was up.” He hesitated then ventured to ask, “What was all that about?”

Mario rolled his eyes and blew out a frustrated sigh. “Power. Gary enjoys flexing his muscles. Always has.”

Eric slid into a chair. “You’ve known him long?”

“We went to the Academy together,” Mario revealed. “After graduation, we were posted in the same unit. Then I transferred here, and he’s been giving me flack ever since. He thinks campus police officers are one step above security guards, or rent-a-cops.”

“But you’re not,” Eric protested. “You can run circles around that guy. Anyway, at least you don’t smell like Pepe Le Pew.”

Mario broke into a grin. “That’s encouraging. Anyway, I know I shouldn’t let him get to me, but it’s a blow to my precious ego having to give up such a juicy case. Reporting to a lug nut makes it even worse.”

“But is that really the way it has to be?”

“According to California Penal Code, yeah. The UPD has jurisdiction over all crimes occurring on campus property, with the exception of murder,” Mario explained. “In the case of manslaughter or homicide, the municipal police department can step in and take charge of the investigation. Which it has, and, as it turns out, the person-in-charge is none other than my nemesis. Like it or not, though, I have to do what he says. Still,” he added, turning away and rubbing his chin thoughtfully, “I have half a mind to solve the case right under his nose. Prove who’s the better investigator.” Mario looked up at Eric and smiled ruefully. “But, of course, I can’t.”

But I can, Eric thought excitedly. He could investigate and turn everything over to Mario! For some time, Eric had been trying to think of a way to repay Mario for taking him under his wing. He’d become more than a mere mentor; Eric looked up to him like he would an older brother. Besides, this was the opportunity he’d been waiting for! A chance to prove himself. No harm could come of it, as long as Mario was kept in the dark. That way, if his superiors ever asked, Mario could truthfully say he had no knowledge of Eric’s activities whatsoever. It was perfect.

“It would be foolish to investigate on my own,” Mario said, bursting Eric’s thought bubble.

“Yeah, real stupid,” Eric agreed, nodding his head solemnly, although ideas of how to proceed were already beginning to percolate inside his head.

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