Stone Walls, part 8

Duster was in shock. Bob was dead. But why was she questioned about it? Because she was on parole? Sandra felt her nervousness and took her hand in her own.

"It's okay sweetie. If they really suspected you, you'd be under arrest right now. They're just covering all the points right now," the guard said, reassuring her.

"Yeah? Then why are they so hot to get me to the station? Wouldn't they just take our statement at home and have us sign it there? I think they suspect that I do have something to do with it and just don't have enough proof˛that's why I'm not going there in handcuffs," Duster said fearfully.

Sandra wondered if she was right. Taking her cell phone from her pocket, she dialed the number to a lawyer friend of hers, just in case.

Sandra was separated from Debra and questioned.

"Were you and Ms. Michaels drinking last night?"

"I was, she wasn't. I had a couple of beers with my meal."

"Did you pass out at any time last evening?"

Sandra's mouth dropped comically. "You must think I'm a hell of a panty waist to pass out from two lousy beers. No, I wasn't drunk or passed out at any time Detective."

"Are you positive? Was it possible that you fell asleep on your way home last night?" They had already established that Debra drove them home the night before.

The prison guard choked back a laugh. She remembered the trip home well. She had been ňfrisking' Debra the entire way and almost caused her lover to crash the car. "Detective, let's settle this now. I was no way, no how unaware of Debra's location at any given second last night, during or after dinner at Tony's."

The Detective sighed. He pressed a button and had the computer print out a statement. "Sign here," he said wearily. She read it carefully then signed it.

Debra met her in the lobby. They silently agreed to wait until they were outside to speak.

"They wanted to know if I was drunk and out cold last night," Sandra said simply.

"Hmm, they wanted to know what my job entailed. What tools I used and stuff. I think he was killed by something that had my prints on it," Duster guessed.

"Tools at work are used by everyone."

"Yeah, that's what I told them too. I think they were hoping to have a nice easy case. Pin it on the ex-con, open and shut case," Duster said bitterly.

"Now they don't know who the killer is," Sandra whispered. Or the motive.

The atmosphere Monday morning was overwhelming. Doug had brought the crew to the conference room to discuss briefly what he knew about Bob's death and letting his employees know how things would be the next few days. A supervisor from another department would cover for a while. They filed out subdued and when they entered their section, they saw the police barriers in place around Bob's office.

Doug walked up behind Debra and put his hand on her shoulder. "I heard the Patrol pulled you in for questioning. I'm sorry about that."

She shrugged. "I'm fresh out of prison so I'm the logical choice to shake down first."

"Perhaps, but I knew better and told them so Friday night when they called me. You and Bob got along great and you had no motive to kill him."

"You know what bothers me most about this whole thing Doug? You can't enter the warehouse unless you have your handprint on file. So his killer was someone who works here. Every one of us has to look the others in the eye and wonder who the killer is."

Doug understood perfectly.

Duster thought about it all day, her mind trying to come up with some sort of motive for Bob's death. It wasn't until she spotted another odd invoice did she remember that she had given him copies Friday afternoon. Staring at the screen, she felt a cold chill. Looking around to make sure no one was looking, she hit print and took the paper. Deciding not to risk another supervisor, she went directly to Doug's office.

He pointed to a chair facing his desk. "What's up hon?"

"Doug, do you know if Bob's desk had copies of invoices on it when the police searched it?"

Mr. Wilson thought about it for a moment then shook his head. "Nope, his desk was clear as far as I know. Why?"

She pulled out the paper from her pocket. "Friday afternoon, I brought a copy like this one to Bob. He found several others like it. None of them have user codes on them, either for who took the order or who shipped it. He said he would look into it. I saw this one this afternoon and got the willies. Is it possible we stumbled across something fishy and he was killed for it?"

Doug looked at the invoice then started to punch it into the computer, but Duster stopped him.

"Wait, think about it Doug, someone might have a program running to let them know someone else is snooping, how else could they realize Bob knew about this?"

"You think it might be that serious?"

Duster nodded.

"What else do you remember about the ones he found?"

"Not much, just that they were all the same item number being sent and going to a PO box."

"Hmm, maybe someone is sending stuff to friends without them being paid for," he guessed. Let me ask Accounting about this, just a sec."

He rang up the office and spoke for a bit, giving the order number. He hummed several times and thanked the person on the other end.

"They've all been paid for. Funny thing is, Bob spoke to them about it on Friday too."

"If they are being paid for, why would anyone kill Bob for it?" Duster sighed. "Maybe I'm just paranoid."

"No, I'm a firm believer in women's intuition. So, if the items are paid for, then maybe they're shipping something else in the boxes. Let me follow a hunch."

Doug called up shipping. "Hey, John, Doug here. I'm having to redo some calculating on shipping prices, could you tell me what these items all weigh after packing?" he asked, giving five different stock numbers, one which was the item being sent.Ţ He wrote down the weight for that item and thanked John.

"Well, the item sent should weigh 1.2 pounds boxed­and according to this invoice, it weighed 1.8 pounds."

"Something else was in with it," Duster echoed his thoughts. "But what?"

"I don't know but this is getting scary. What if this person is-"

"People. More than one is involved. Someone with computer access, a packer, and probably a shipper as well," Debra corrected him. He nodded in agreement.

"If these people are shipping something like drugs, we could be in more danger than we fear."

"It wouldn't be drugs Doug. Think about it. They could just as easily drop it off for payment. There isn't any need to use your business as a middleman. I think they're sending something belonging to the company. Something small and expensive that weighs less than half a pound."

"Computer chips," Doug said, his eyes focused on the wall. "It's gotta be. Nothing else fits the bill. I need to run an audit and inventory on them-" he began, standing up.

"No! Doug! Think like a criminal! They probably have eyes all over the place in order to get away with this for so long. If someone spots you digging around the storerooms, they'll know about it. As far as they know, only Bob knew about this, so they think they're safe. They'll lay quiet for a bit until the patrol stop hanging around then back to business as usual. If I were you, I'd wait until after hours when everyone has gone home, then come back and investigate quietly. And I'd bring a few Patrolmen with you just to be careful. Go to the station and explain what we talked about­and don't use the phones here˛just go home early for some reason then come back tonight."

Doug looked at her and grinned. "I'm glad you're on my side."

Detective Anderson listened carefully to the owner of Wilson Electronics, asking questions when needed to clear up details. He picked up an old fashioned pencil and tapped it on his desk.

"It makes sense. Perhaps we were hasty to suspect Ms. Michaels. In fact, if it weren't for her criminal record, she'd make a great investigator. I'll get the ball rolling on this PO box and find out who it belongs to. We have a hacker on the police force. Maybe if you give her the access codes she can sneak in without triggering any alarm programs and get more information on the other shipments. I don't want a single member of this group slipping past us. Are there any night watchmen at night?"

"One, we hire independent security guards and they change constantly."

"So it's doubtful they are in on it. Let's meet at the warehouse at 18:30 and check the inventory. Is that a good time?"

"Yes, I'll see you then Lt. Anderson," Doug agreed, shaking his hand.

Duster took the lumpy looking muffins from the oven and sighed. She'll never make it as a baker. She wondered if she should bother baking the other half of the batter when her intercom buzzed. Hitting the switch, she heard Doug's voice on the other end. She hit the button to let him past the door.

She rushed to apartment door, eager to hear what had happened. Entering, he took off his jacket and sat down at her kitchen table. She offered him some tea and sat down.

"So, what's happening so far?"

"You were on the money. Inventory for the XR-339 chips are short by 1455 pieces. They are our most advanced chips we sell, going for about $900 a pop."

"That's over a million dollars!"

"Yes, and something else was found. This has been going on for about 6 years. Without a more careful inventory, they might have done the same thing with other items as well. The Patrol found a trace program used to flag inquiries on those orders. It was disabled and has a trace program by the Patrol attached to it. If it is reset, they'll know which terminal did it. So, now it's up to them. Now, for the bad news.

"Debra, you and Sandra need to go into hiding. According to the trace program, your printing those orders set it off. They know someone else knows about it and they know it's someone from your section. The Patrol suggests you and Sandra take a vacation or something, get out of town. The Patrol will contact your parole officer and explain why you won't be reporting in. Ditto for Sandra's job. They want to protect you and the rest of your section by letting them know it was you and that you've figured them out. You'll not show up for work several days in a row and you'll be ňterminated' for it. The gang will be convinced you took off and think they're safe."

"But, Doug, why not just have me approach them and offer to join them? Then I'd get more information on their operation."

"Well, that was the patrol's first suggestion but I torpedoed it. I won't take a chance on you getting hurt. And what about your girlfriend? Do you want to risk her life as well? They could use her against you."

Duster swallowed, imagining Sandra hurt or worse. She had to agree with Doug. It wasn't worth the risk. Let the Patrol handle it. "Alright, let me pack a bag and head for Sandra's place. She'll get off duty in about an hour. I'll pack her stuff and be ready when she gets home."

"Good." Doug stood up and removed several credit vouchers from his pocket. "I want you to take this. You can't get to your bank until tomorrow and you'll need traveling money." He hushed her protests and then handed her a calling card so any calls she made couldn't be traced. "I don't want to know where you are going, but please call me every three days at home. My number is written on the back of the card and so is Lt. Anderson's in case you can't reach me. Good luck Debra, and thanks. I owe you one."

"No, I owe you for taking a chance on me Doug. I can never repay you enough."

Duster rushed Sandra from her apartment and back into her car, promising to explain on the way. She tossed the bags and bedding into the back seat and got behind the wheel. She stopped at a all night gas station and picked up some road maps, some snack foods and drinks, and filled the tank.

Sandra sat stunned, trying to digest what her lover had told her. She watched silently as Debra headed out of town. "Where are we going?"

"I don't know. I thought I'd just keep going for a while before we decided. Why don't you take a nap? I know you have to be tired after a double shift," she suggested gently. The guard nodded and grabbed a pillow from the back seat and leaned against Debra's warm body, using the pillow to cushion against the center consol. Duster grabbed a blanket and tossed it over her friend before resting her arm protectively over her.

"Sleep well little one."

To Be continued

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