Her Last Goodbye Page 16

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Morgan said.

Elliot was a widower? But then losing a spouse so young could explain Elliot’s maturity.

“How much do you know about Tim’s background?” Morgan asked.

“Tim was up front about his family’s legal issues since his personal information gets mixed up with his father’s.” Elliot interlaced his fingers and leaned on his forearms. “I’m glad I hired him. He works his ass off, and he’s never given me any reason to doubt his loyalty.”

“What can you tell us about his wife?” Lance asked.

Elliot shrugged “I really don’t know Chelsea that well. We have holiday parties, and several times a year we hold picnics, where we participate in team-building exercises. Spouses are welcome. Chelsea always comes. She seems very sweet. Loves her kids like crazy,” Elliot said with a sad smile.

Lance glanced through the glass. Everyone looked young. Very young. Many must be fresh out of college, and apparently not one of them owned an iron. At the ripe old age of thirty-three, Lance felt ancient. A young man in skinny jeans and a knit beanie cruised by on a skateboard. The glass muffled the click-clack of his wheels on the polished concrete.

“How valuable is the research Tim’s team is working on?” Morgan asked.

“Very,” Elliot said. “The technology we’re developing has the potential to transform Internet access on a global scale, increasing access to low-cost, multigigabit wireless connectivity.”

“Tim is a state-college grad,” Morgan said. “I would think a high-tech, cutting-edge firm like Speed Net would want graduates from more prestigious universities.”

Elliot steepled his fingers. “I went to a prestigious university. I didn’t fit in. Rich, privileged kids weren’t and aren’t my people. If you’ve watched your parents struggle to pay bills, if your family has been evicted from their apartment in the middle of winter, if you’ve made a meal out of government cheese and ketchup packets, you understand the value of success in a way someone who hasn’t struggled doesn’t. If, in spite of your family’s poverty, you’ve managed to get an advanced college degree, you have my attention.”

Refreshing attitude.

Elliot sat back. “Plus, I can’t afford MIT grads anyway.”

And practical.

“Who is your strongest competitor?” Lance asked.

“Gold Stream,” Elliot said with no hesitation. His mouth flattened. “Levi Gold and I used to be partners. We started our first tech company, TechKing, when we were twenty-two. We had a disagreement and sold the company.”

“How ugly was your disagreement?” Lance pressed. “Would he hold a grudge or try to sabotage your research?”

Elliot shook his head. “If someone tried to hack our system, I’d look hard at Levi. But kidnapping? No.”

“Does anyone here at Speed Net have a grudge against Tim?” Morgan asked.

“No.” Elliot frowned, but the wariness that clouded his eyes belied his denial.

“But surely your team members argue?” Morgan suggested. “Stress is high. There’s a lot at stake.”

“We have our share of disagreements, but we’re all professionals here.” Elliot said in an almost snippy voice. “I’m the boss. If anyone has earned a grudge, it would be me.”

Lance sensed Elliot was holding something back. “Do your other employees know Chelsea?”

“Yes. They would have met her the same way I did.” Elliot crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back, putting a few more inches of space between them. One finger tapped on his opposite bicep.

Elliot’s body language radiated stress. Lance shared a quick glance with Morgan. The communication between them was silent but swift. Her interest was piqued too. But she also knew the power of silence. A few seconds ticked away, allowing them to hear the muffled sounds of activity on the other side of the glass.

Elliot sighed loudly. “All right. We had a company event about six weeks ago. It was a picnic. Tim and his daughter were running in the three-legged race. It was cute. He’s totally hung up on his kid.” Elliot took a breath. His brow lowered. “Chelsea was sitting at a picnic table, pushing the baby stroller back and forth. I noticed one of our other engineers on Tim’s team, Kirk, watching her.”

He paused, a furrow forming above the bridge of his nose. He stared at the wall as if replaying the scene in his mind. “I’m sure it was totally innocent. Chelsea is a very attractive woman. Young guys, particularly nerdy young guys with little experience with women, are bound to notice her.” Elliot looked over his shoulder. “If you look through the glass, Kirk is the one with the skateboard.”

Lance scanned the office. Beanie boy had emerged from the locked room and was cruising across the space to an open kitchenette. He could have been in high school. He still had pimples. “How old is Kirk?”

“Twenty-three,” Elliot said. “Kirk earned his PhD last year. He’s brilliant, but he has Asperger’s. Emotionally, he’s much younger, and social communication is difficult for him. He can talk all day about the challenge of delivering high-frequency, 5G spectrum wireless without a sufficient fiber-optic cable infrastructure. But he can’t ask a girl out on a date.”

“Has Kirk ever had any negative interactions with female coworkers?” Lance scanned the people on the other side of the glass. More than three-quarters of the employees in sight were male.

Elliot shook his head. “No. Everyone here is a geek. We all speak the same language, and as long as the conversation doesn’t venture into personal territory, Kirk is fine.”

“Can we talk to everyone on Tim’s team?” Morgan asked.

“Of course.” Elliot rose. “Do you want me to send them in one by one?”

Lance nodded. “Please.”

Elliot hesitated at the door. “You’ll be gentle with Kirk?”

“We will.” Morgan gave him a sincere, close-lipped smile.

“And understand, they will not be permitted to talk about the project,” Elliot said. “It’s a general rule.”

Lance thought, Thank God.

But he said, “Yes. Of course. One more thing. We’d like a list of all your employees.”

Elliot frowned. “I don’t know. I assure you they were all vetted before they were hired. And the sheriff took a list with him. I assume he was checking everyone for criminal records.”

“We know,” Lance said. “It’s always good to have fresh eyes on any investigation. You’d be surprised what can be missed with an overabundance of information.”

“All right,” Elliot agreed. “Everyone who works here signs off on periodic drug and background investigations due to the sensitive nature of the business. I don’t like to violate my employee’s trust, but this is an extraordinary situation.”

“Do you remember where you were last Friday night?” Morgan asked casually. “We need to be thorough.”

“I understand.” Elliot nodded. “I was with my brother at his place.”

“What did you do?” Lance asked.

“Nothing really. He was working on his road bike. I watched. We had a few beers.” Elliot shrugged. “Derek’s girlfriend broke up with him a few weeks ago. He’s been depressed.”

“I don’t suppose anyone saw you there.” Morgan looked up from her notes. “Did you order takeout? Run to a convenience store?”

“No. Sorry. If had known I was going to need an alibi, we would have gone out,” Elliot said drily. “Let me get Kirk for you.”

He left the room. A few minutes later, Kirk shuffled into the conference room, turned his skateboard over, and set it on the table in front of him. Bouncing into the chair Elliot had vacated, Kirk watched his skateboard wheels spin. He flicked quick, almost furtive glances at Morgan and ignored Lance completely.

Morgan gave him a soft smile. “Hi, Kirk.”

“Hey,” Kirk mumbled. His gaze darted from Morgan’s chest to her face, then dropped, and he stared, red-cheeked, at his skateboard.

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