(copyright 2017. All rights reserved)
Rather than sit in his office pretending to work through the monthly report while he waited for Tina to get back to him and listen to the groaning walls in the wind, he thought a visit to the Hydroponics lab was in order. If Mr. Granger has been murdered, maybe we should know who he is speaking to and on what he worked. And perhaps what others were thinking of him.
The walk to Hydro from his office was roundabout. He had to traverse the cafeteria, then cut through Dorm-B. It was the tail end of breakfast, so the cafeteria smelled of eating and too many bodies, each of whom wanted a ‘just a moment’ of his time. Fortunately, the corridor in Dorm-B was mostly empty. Eladio frowned at the open accessway to Hydro. That is not proper. The hatch, it should be sealed. Stepping into the peculiar smell of plants too long in water, he saw Tanner Jeppesen at a work station. He pulled the heavy door closed behind him, but it didn’t latch. Odd. He worked the handle back and forth, and finally the latch clicked into place.
Jeppesen didn’t turn, but grunted, “Ramirez.”
“Might I have a word?”
Jeppesen’s big shoulders stiffened, then relaxed. He turned after a moment, his gray eyes locking onto Eladio’s dark ones, and grumbled, “What?”
“I wonder if you could help me with something. At which station does Mr. Granger work?”
Jeppesen turned back to his work, pointing toward the far side of the lab almost as an afterthought.
Jeppesen did not respond to Eladio’s “thank you.” Eladio shrugged. Tanner Jeppesen, he is a hard man to like. Jeppesen was often gruff to the point of rudeness, and Eladio had witnessed him use his size to cow opponents in a discussion more than once. Eladio made his way to Granger’s workstation.
Granger’s work area was neat and tidy. Several plants in small pots sat under lights inside a terrarium. The computer screen was dark, but came up to a login prompt when Eladio tapped it. Nothing else on the desk. No tablet, so no notes. Eladio noticed a tiny pool of water under the table. Out of habit, he looked for the source of the leak. Where did you come from? We must not have you running loose. We cannot afford the waste. But he didn’t find anything on the work surface that was wet, nor any sign of a leak. He wriggled on his back under the table to see if there was a leaking line or some other cause, but saw no leaks there either. How did you get there my little puddle?
A pair of feet stopped by his hips, and Deke Baker’s weathered face appeared upside down under the table lip.
“Hello, Mr. Baker. Looking for what caused the leak,” Eladio said, pointing to the wet spot.
“Oh. Yeah. Any luck?”
“No, I can find nothing. Tell me, you were working yesterday, yes? Do you know whether Mr. Granger was?”
“Yeah. He was still here when I left last night around, I dunno, maybe eight thirty.”
Americans. What is difficult with twenty-thirty? “Do you know on what he worked?”
“Not sure. He was burrowed into his screen, so maybe experiment results?”
“Others were here?”
“Cindy and L.S. were still goin’ strong.”
It took Eladio a moment to place the two. Ah, yes, Cynthia Teal and Han Liu Xiang. “Thank you.”
Eladio slid out from under the table and Baker offered him a hand up. For as spare as his frame was, Deke Baker’s calloused grip was strong, and he easily pulled Eladio to his feet.
“Why the questions? And where’s Bob?”
In our morgue, had we one. “Mr. Granger failed to arrive for his shift,” Eladio said.
“Probably off on a bender. You hear the storm pick up last night? A real screamer. And snow? Who knew it could snow in a windstorm?Everybody was edgy at breakfast. Any word on when it’s gonna quit?”
“Soon is my hope. Is there a particular place you think Mr. Granger would go to decompress?” Eladio said, immediately regretting the phrasing.
“Dunno. Maybe Lanie’s?”
“That would be Elana Sokolov?”
“Yeah, uh, you know … they’re, um, chummy?”
“Yes. I have heard. Thank you, Mr. Baker.”