by Alex Morgan
Zachary Fletcher is given the details of two deaths in Antarctica
|Maine Psionic Officer Zachary Fletcher grabbed the top of the threshold and leaned into the room, filling the open doorway with his muscular bulk. You wanted to see me, boss?”|
“Hey, Fletch,” Captain Malcolm Bowers, Chief of the City of Orono Police Department, looked up at Zack’s greeting. He beckoned Zack to enter and waved him to a seat in front of his desk. “You’re wearing shorts in the winter. In Maine?”
“It’s not that cold outside,” Zack said, removing his coat.
“I’m not talking about the cold. I’m talking about your legs. They’re so pale and white. Like two pillars of salt. You need to get some color on them.”
“Yeah, right. When do we get a chance to sunbathe up here? Anyway, they’re probably not as white as your pasty ass.”
“The Bureau chief in Augusta said you had a strange one for me.” Zack made himself comfortable in the chair. “He was kinda cryptic in his message.”
“I asked him to be because I wanted to be the one to fill you in on the few details we have.”
“Sounds rather ominous.”
“Rather weird, really.” Bower leaned forward on his elbows. “A body from one of the American outposts in Antarctica was recently returned to the University of Maine. The university has a research program down there so that’s why the body was sent there. It has been down there since June because, as you know, that’s winter, and nobody gets in or out during that time. The body has been frozen all this time until it could be flown back here for an autopsy.”
“I’m guessing the cause of death was not natural causes.” Zack stroked his beard while he spoke.
“Poison,” Bowers replied.
.Zack’s eyebrows crept up. “Murder? That is unusual for Antarctica. Who is the victim?”
“Charles, or Chuck, Gardner.”
Zack scowled. “That name sounds familiar.”
“I thought you might remember him from your days in the FBI. Gardner has been imprisoned a few times for domestic terrorism.”
“Now I recall,” Zack said. “He’s a white supremist. Neo-Nazi, extreme-right fanaticism. He was connected to the bombings of an abortion clinic and an LGBT support center.”
“A few people died in those bombings, but he’s also threatened public officials whom he disagrees with. Been jailed many times for assault.”
“And they keep letting him out,” Zack growled.
Bowers held up his hands. “I know. He might be in an area where he’s garnered sympathy for his causes or perhaps people are scared of him.”
“So, you want me to find out who killed him and give them a reward?”
Bowers chuckled. “No such luck. He made a lot of enemies, but it seems he reveled in it. But we don’t know if he had any enemies in the Antarctic.”
“What was he doing down there in the first place? That doesn’t seem to be somewhere that he can practice his campaign of hate and violence.”
“As part of his punishment for his last bout of iniquity—he threatened to shoot up a gay bar—he was sentenced to serve a few years in the Antarctic as a pilot. Apparently, they need people to fly planes and unfortunately for them, Gardner is qualified to do that. They sent him down there thinking that he couldn’t get into trouble so far away from everyone else.”
“Had he caused problems down there?”
Bowers shook his head. “Nothing too bad. Just a bit of drunkenness and getting into fist fights, but not anything near what he’s done here in Maine.”
“But somebody poisoned him, so he must have done something bad enough for someone to kill him.”
“That’s not all, though.”
“There’s more?” Zack asked wryly.
“During the autopsy, the ME detected higher than normal levels of radiation in his body.”
“Whoa.” Zack sat up straight. “Where did that come from?”
“That is what Professor Messner at the university wants to find out. There’s nothing at the outpost or the research laboratory that has a radioactive source large enough to cause these kinds of levels.”
“If he was exposed, certainly more people could have been as well. Have they been tested for radiation?”
“Crosthwaite has informed the researchers down there about the findings, so the medical staff, small as it is, is running tests to find out if anyone else shows signs of radiation poisoning. Wait. You said Gardner was poisoned. Is this what you were talking about?”
“No, sorry.” Bower held up his hands. “Gardner died from methanol poisoning. That much is certain. What isn’t known is how did it get into his system? Did he take it accidentally? Did he take it to end his own life? Did someone give it to him, either to kill him or as a prank that went south?”
“Was he poisoned by radioactive methanol?” Zack quipped.
Bower made a face. “The ME reported that he found two needle marks in Gardner’s right arm, but it isn’t certain if that was how the methanol was introduced into his system.”
“I doubt Gardner would sit still to allow someone to stick a needle into his arm, but he isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. Did he have a history of drug use? I don’t remember that being mentioned before.”
“There’s nothing in the report about any drugs in his system, except for Atorvastatin for cholesterol and Lisinopril for blood pressure,” Bower said.
“Does anybody there have an idea why someone would want to kill Gardner?”
“The woman in charge of the research program at U of Maine, Dr. Claire Messner, told me there was only a skeleton crew of people there over the winter, about thirty-five to forty researchers and support staff. But once winter was over and they could return home, everyone scattered to the winds, all over the world. Dr. Messner is trying to get a list of the people who were there over the winter.”
“And if they are all over the world, it’s going to be difficult to find everyone and harder yet to get them to remember what happened six months ago.”
“Maybe, but there’s one more piece to this puzzle,” Bower said. “A week or so before Gardner’s death, a researcher died after falling into a glacier. Dr. Lindsey Whitehead. Gardner had flown her out to a remote spot where she was looking for meteorites. It seems that she fell into one of the crevices and never came out. Her body has never been recovered.”
“At this point, her body has probably been crushed and pulverized by the glacier will never be recovered,” Zack muttered, stroking his beard again in thought. “Is her death considered suspicious in any way?”
Bower shrugged. “Dr. Messner said she was a seasoned researcher and had worked in Antarctica for several years. She knew the dangers of being on the ice, so she would have taken extra caution around a glacier. But Gardner reported that the winds were blowing at over 60 kilometers and hour, and anybody with a slight build could have been knocked off of their feet and blown into a glacier.”
“Gardner and Whitehead were the only two people there?”
“So, the only ones who knew what happened out there are dead,” Zack said.
“There really doesn’t seem to be much of a mystery though. Gardner took her out to find meteorite samples in dangerous weather and she died. As far as we can tell, Gardner didn’t have any reason to kill her.”
“Unless she didn’t share his extremist propaganda.”
“I asked Messner about that, but she didn’t know what Whitehead’s ideals were and didn’t seem inclined to be vocal about anything except her work. For all appearances, her death was just a tragic accident.”
Zack sat in thought for a few minutes. “A death without a body is always suspicious, although it’s pretty doubtful that Dr. Whitehead will pop up somewhere, alive and well. Could her “accident” actually be murder, and Gardner knew the truth and was silenced for it?”
“At this point, anything’s possible,” Bower said, throwing up his hands again. “That’s why you were called in. Since 1959, Antarctica has been independent, with no country having any sort of sovereignty over it. Any crimes committed there are under the jurisdiction of the country where the criminal is from.”
“But it hasn’t been determined if Gardner’s killer is from the U.S., right?”
“No, there were a few other countries with citizens present, so we’ll have to talk to all of them once Messner can locate them.”
“’We’? As in ‘me’.” Zack made a face. He began formulating a strategy in his mind. Of course, with Antarctica being so remote and unclaimed, it would make sense to send a Psionic Officer down there. With other countries involved, diplomacy and tact would have to be used with utmost caution and delivery. And his telepathy could alert him to someone lying to him and his clairvoyance might be able to locate a clue or evidence to whether Gardner’s death was an accident or murder. He might learn more of Whitehead’s death as well.
Doesn’t look like I can get out of this one. Like it or not, I’m going to Antarctica.