Episode III: Part V - The Case of the Missing Virus
“He’s not answering — neither is Delia,” Morelli grumbled, throwing his landline receiver at its cradle, his partner standing in front of Morelli’s desk.
“It’s unlikely calls to both would go unanswered,” agent Anderson alluded. “Should we pay your friends a visit?”
Taking a breath, Morelli pushed his chair away from his desk and stood. “Let’s go,” he barked.
Escorted downstairs and into the basement, Matt and Delia quickly realized the sectional cellar had been converted into a makeshift lab. It was a dim, blue fluorescent-lit area, illuminated that way during inactivity. A variety of lab equipment was stacked and arranged neatly on multiple benches. Everything else was white — the floor, ceiling, walls, tables and drawers. On top of a small desk, a computer hummed away, it's display screen blank. The smell alternated between a sickening aroma of days old chicken broth and diluted gatorade, the result of work Mitchell was involved with.
Turning on the main basement white fluorescent lights, they were guided to the end of the lab and toward a second section of the basement encompassing an empty room. The steel walls were a light green. The room’s egress was via a heavy, hermetically sealed stainless steel sliding door, designed to be opened and closed by use of a large handle to slide the door left and right on its own track. The door was manufactured with a sealed viewing window, appearing to be twelve inches square centered approximately eighteen inches from the top. Four small fluorescent ceiling lights illuminated the inside, highlighting its eerie green coloring. The room was large enough to accommodate several folding chairs and two cots.
Unlocking the door and sliding it to the left, one of Mitchell’s minions abruptly waved his arm. “Both of you — inside,” he ordered.
Hesitating, Matt stepped into the chamber, followed by Delia. To say they were apprehensive was an understatement. Working together for many years on a multitude of cases would on occasion result in one or both engaged in dangerous, even life threatening situations, but never one in which they would soon find ourselves the subject of biological experimentation. Matt worried -- not for himself, but for Delia.
Turning around and starring at Mitchell’s minion, Matt shouted out, “Okay, so what’s …….”
Wham! Before Duggan even finished his question the nefarious thug had slid the door shut, locking automatically. Like the back of a police cruiser, there was no door handle or locking mechanism on the inside. He knocked on the thick glass viewing window, waving and smiling like a sadistic fiend before turning and walking away. Through the door window the basement resumed its dim, but eerie soft blue lighting.
“May as well have a seat," Delia said, using her foot to pull a chair away from a wall. Craning her head in Matt’s direction, she sighed. “I almost hate saying and asking, but, just out of curiosity, what was your question — before Mr. Manners closed the door in your face?”
Still staring at the door, Matt pivoted. “Uh .... next .... what’s next?” he mumbled, turning around and walking toward the second chair.
Delia chuckled nervously. “I don’t think either of us wants to know what’s next.”
“I will say this,” Matt proclaimed, continuing to look around the room, “this chamber of horrors is everything a missing scientist might need — even one that has apparently gone rogue -- perhaps even insane.”
“Neither one is here,” agent Anderson informed Morelli, walking out of Matt’s Office. Having checked out the upstairs, two other agents, Ross and Davidson, reported no physical evidence to indicate any kind of a scuffle or altercation had occurred. “Other than their absence, everything appears to be in order,” Anderson added.
“Everything except the front door is unlocked, the office lights are off, it’s 10:00 am and both are missing,” Morelli continued.
“Frank, they’re not answering their landline at home or their cell phone,” agent Davidson reported, but I did find an iPhone in Delia’s desk drawer. He handed the phone to Morelli. “It’s off.”
Powering-up the phone, the passcode screen appeared. “It could be hers,” he guessed. “Perhaps a secondary, or back-up phone. She’s a sharp-witted investigator. What Matt lacks, she completes.”
Returning Davidson’s glance, Morelli bellowed, “I want you and Ross to drive to their homes — see if either or both are there." Turning to Anderson and gently wobbling the iPhone, “let’s take this cell phone back to the forensics lab and see if they can crack this passcode. If my hunch is correct, we may have just located both.”
“Insane? Now I’m freaking out,” Delia shrilled.
Matt pivoted in her direction, a puzzled expression on his face. “You’ve always insisted on transparency — even during our most dangerous cases. Talk to me, Delia. Am I missing something here?”
Delia fidgeted in her seat. “Remember when you asked if I uncovered anything regarding our missing scientist?”
Matt looked up at the ceiling, then down again. “Uh hmm,” he mumbled. “Yeah, I remember. You told me I wouldn’t believe what you uncovered.”
Delia sighed. “Talk about coincidence — but before I tell you, do you think it’s time we free ourselves from these zip ties?
Matt beamed. “It’s our ticket out of here. Do you still remember how?”
Chuckling, Delia stood. “Watch me,” she said. Standing and moving away from her chair, she turned around so Matt could see the tie.
“I need to position the locking bar so that it’s centered between your wrists, then tighten it as much as I can,” Matt observed. Turning around, and with his own hands bound as well, he managed to do both. Delia’s face contorted with pain, the plasticuffs cutting into her wrists like a searing hot wire.
"Okay, give it a try," Matt said.
Stooping down several inches, Delia leaned forward. She raised her arms behind her as high as she could. In one swift motion she slammed her arms down, her wrists making contact with her pelvic bone. Nothing. She tried again, still nothing.
“You can do it, Delia,” Matt encouraged.
Pursing her lips and grimacing with pain, she tried a third time. The zip tie snapped.
"Good job," Matt cheered.
Massaging her bloodied wrists for a few moments, she walked behind Matt. Using a manicured fingernail to create a gap in the locking bar on Matt’s zip tie, she pulled the strap backwards until it was all the way out. Matt kicked both under the closest cot.
“Okay," Matt said as he rubbed his wrists, "when these bozos return, I want you on the floor — with your hands behind your back. I’ll concoct some phony story you fainted, then hit your head when you fell. I doubt Mitchell will want to test his virus on any of his captives who are unconscious or injured. That should get him or his goons to open the door.”
Delia held up her hands. “My wrists are bleeding.”
“Sorry,” Matt noticed. “Looks like I pulled your restraint too tight.”
Delia smiled. “It’ll make your story more convincing that I hit my head. I can pool some of the blood on the floor, smear a little on my forehead and side of my face, then position myself with my head next to the pool of blood.”
Matt grinned. “Now you know why I hired you,” he said, patting her on the shoulder.
“Unlike the walls, the floor is white,” Delia pointed out. “It should be easy for them to see the blood on the floor through the door window. “
Matt pondered. “We have to time this just right. We don’t know exactly when they’ll be back.”
Delia smeared blood on the floor. Using his pocket square as a paint brush, Matt dabbed the handkerchief on her bloodied wrists, covering the right side of her forehead and temporal area down to the front of her ear. She sat on the floor, ready to lie face-up with her hands behind her back. Matt stood next to the door window.
Click to read Episode III Part VI "MATT DUGGAN - DETECTIVE SERIES "