False Signs
Chapter 4

The drive to the campus took a lot longer than either Taylor or Whitaker expected. It wasn’t the campus itself that was the problem, the in-dash GPS took care of getting them on campus without much trouble. The problem was, the GPS didn’t know much beyond where the campus itself was, and they found no entry for the registration office, which was their next stop.

Texas Tech isn’t a huge campus, but all the buildings looked similar, and the street signs weren’t helpful. Eventually they stopped and asked for directions, and then had to ask a second time after the first set of directions didn’t help them any more than the GPS.

Eventually however, they pulled up in front of the building and headed inside the office. It took a few minutes of Whitaker showing her badge to first, students, then successively higher level adults until they got to a person who was able to actually help them.

“Ok, you needed the schedule of a student?” a woman with short blond hair asked them, as they sat next to her desk.

“Yes,” Taylor said. “Her name is Julie Jones. We’ve been told she’s a student here.”

“Can I ask what this is about?”

“I’m sorry, but no,” Whitaker said abruptly.

“OK, well, I have a Julie Jones listed as a freshman undergraduate.”

“Is this her?” Taylor asked, holding up a picture.

The woman switched programs and after a few key strokes, a student ID matching the picture popped up on screen.

“Yes. I have a note in her file from ... well it looks like all of her professors. It seems she has missed some tests and hasn’t shown up for several weeks. I’m afraid she’s going to be dropped from some of these classes if she doesn’t show up soon.”

“We were told she stayed here on campus.”

“Yes, she is assigned to room 214 in Chitwood Hall.”

“Can you give us directions?” Whitaker asked.

They excused themselves from the admissions office and headed toward Chitwood Hall, which thanks to the directions they were given, they managed to find in no time. They got strange looks from the kids walking through or milling about as they made their way to the elevators, and Taylor thought that they probably made quite a sight.

Whitaker could have probably passed for some type of administration official in her crisp pantsuit, but Taylor, while not slovenly, was wearing jeans and a loose t-shirt long enough to cover the pistol on his belt. His hair wasn’t exactly military issue anymore, but he still kept it cut close and it wouldn’t take much for someone to guess he was ex-military.

They rode the elevator up and found room 214, which was promptly answered by a somewhat chubby girl.

“Yes,” she said, looking strangely at Taylor more than Whitaker.

“Miss, I’m Agent Whitaker with the FBI,” she said, showing her badge once more.

Taylor couldn’t help but think that thing was coming in awful handy.

“We have some questions about your roommate, Julie Jones,” she said, continuing.

“Julie!” The girl said excitedly, “You found her?”

“Found her?” Taylor asked.

“We haven’t seen her in weeks. We reported her missing to the campus police. They took a report and everything.”

The fact that the administration person didn’t mention this at all, told Taylor all he needed to know about how seriously they took that report.

“When was the last time you saw her?” Whitaker asked.

Taylor had been about to ask the same question, and was surprised when Whitaker beat him to it. Since they left the apartment, she hadn’t done anything other than flash her badge and sit quietly.

“Just over two weeks ago. She works at the Tech Pies, a pizza place down on 2nd street. She went to work on that Friday night and just never came home.”

“And you never heard anything from her? Was there any clue she wasn’t planning on coming back that day?”

“No. I thought maybe she’d gone and spent the night at Samar’s place. She did that sometimes, but Monday, she didn’t show up for any classes. I called Samar on Wednesday looking for her, but he didn’t answer.”

“Have you seen her with Samar, often?” Whitaker asked.

“Sure, they were, like, always together on the days they weren’t both working.”

“How did they seem together?”

“Good. Julie complained she didn’t get to see him enough since he got assigned to nights. But she really liked him. Honestly, I was a little jealous. He was a nice guy and treated her really well.”

“Have you heard Julie mention Samar hanging out with any new people,” Whitaker asked.

“I don’t think so. Like, what kind of new people?”

“Never mind,” Taylor interjected before Whitaker could reply. “Thanks for your time.”

With that, Taylor nudged Whitaker away from the door and to the elevator. She went with it, but gave him a dirty look.

“What the hell was that?” She asked when they were out of the room.

“We got what we needed. What were you going to do, ask her if she’d seen him hanging around with a bunch of Muslim guys with long beards acting scary? Might have just of well asked ‘Do you think he was a terrorist?”

“It was a valid question.”

“After everything she said, what did you think the answer would be, ‘Ohh, he was a great guy and we all liked him, except he kept bringing around this scary guy who only talked about killing Americans’. Look, I’m not trying to say it’s impossible. I haven’t ruled out that he was the guy behind everything, but don’t you find all this a bit hinkey? She goes to work and never comes home and less than a week later the armory blows up! If he was a self-radicalized terrorist, what’s the point of all this?”

She stopped walking and crossed her arms, “Fine, I admit it’s not cut and dried.”

“See, we’re getting along already.”

“Don’t push it. I guess next you want to go to her workplace, right?”

“It’s where the trail leads. She goes to work and never comes home. I’m not an agent, but it seems pretty obvious it’s our next stop.”

“Yeah, fine, but I want to grab lunch. They didn’t have breakfast at that hotel, and I skipped dinner last night.”

“We’re a week behind everything that’s happened. I guess an extra hour won’t hurt.”

She started walking again, headed towards the SUV with Taylor trailing behind her. They got lost once more in the campus, but finally made their way out and headed in the general direction of Julie’s work when Whitaker suddenly pulled off the road and parked in front of a store-front burger place. It was still a little early for lunch so only a handful of college kids were sitting inside.

They walked up, ordered, and went to find a table.

“I don’t get you,” Whitaker said after they found a table.

“What’s not to get?”

“I’ve seen your file, or at least the parts that weren’t redacted by the DOD. Giving everything you’ve gone through, why are you out here trying to prove this kid innocent.”

“Because I was asked to.”

“I doubt it’s that simple.”

“I was asked to talk to the kid’s mother and some people from his father’s old unit. They painted a pretty convincing picture, so I told them I’d look into it. I also told them if I saw a hint of him being involved with what happened, I would say so, and head back to Florida.”

“And the stuff in the apartment isn’t a hint?”

“Not the right kind. It doesn’t feel right. In the Army, when you’re out on patrol, there is usually no warning before you get hit. You have to develop a gut instinct, and learn to trust your feelings. If something feels like it’s going sideways, don’t ignore it. It could save your life.”

“And you’re saying this case has gone sideways.”

“Feels that way. Is being an FBI agent any different?”

“We rely on the evidence.”

“And before you get that evidence?”

“I guess. But why are you here at all?”

“I could say ‘cause I wasn’t doing anything else, but that’s not really it. I owe my life to people who helped when they didn’t have to. Gotta pay it back.”

“Hmm.”

They lapsed into silence for a few minutes while the food showed up at their table.

“What about you? How’d you get in the FBI?”

“I met an agent when I was in college at a competition, and she started telling me about her experiences, and it sounded interesting. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after I got my degree, so I applied.”

“Competition?”

“Judo.”

“Were you any good?”

“I was ok. Got on the national team, that’s where I met Agent Davis. Her daughter was on the team too, although a hell of a lot better than me. She went on to the Olympics, I never got past being an alternate.”

“Being an alternate for the Olympics seems pretty impressive.”

“I guess.”

“And do you like it?”

“Yeah, most of the time. What’s with the twenty questions?”

“You started it. I was just trying to be civil.”

“Hmm.”

“Do you still compete?” Taylor asked after a short stretch of silence.

“No. I did for a while but my ex-husband didn’t like it so I stopped for several years. I switched to mixed martial arts a year ago.”

“Ex-husband?”

“Yeah, he was a sure-of-himself, never-wrong asshole, too.”

“You’re probably right about the asshole part, but the rest ... nah. I’m wrong all the time.”

“Then why are you hell-bent on tracking this girl down?”

“Gotta follow my gut.”

She didn’t say anything and they went back to eating in silence. They finished up and headed back to the car. The pizza place was a little far from Julie’s dorm, about another mile and a half from where Taylor and Whitaker had stopped for lunch. Taylor had been thinking that being a college kid, she might have walked to work, but at almost two miles, that seemed a bit of a stretch.

The restaurant itself was fairly small, wedged between a Texas Tech souvenir store and an off chain coffee place. It had three very small tables up front and then a counter that led to the rest of the restaurant, which from what Taylor could see consisted of a large pizza oven, small dish area and what at best guess was the door to a walk in refrigerator.

After turning down the lunch special Whitaker flashed her badge and asked for the manager, who happened to be in what was indeed a walk in refrigerator, carrying a clipboard.

“Can I help you folks,” he said after waving off the curious girl who’d manned the register.

“Are you the Manager?” Whitaker asked.

“Owner. This is a small business so I’m here just about all the time.”

“We wanted to ask about Julie Jones. We understand she works here.”

“She did until she bailed on her scheduled shifts. I swear, college kids, today.”

“When was the last time you saw her?”

“About two weeks ago. Let’s see here,” he said and reached over to a metal rack filled with time cards. “She punched out Friday night just about two weeks ago at 11:02. I don’t remember exactly, but she wasn’t the type to hang around after her shift, so I’m guessing she took off right after.”

“Have you heard from her since?”

“No. Why are the feds here asking questions about a college kid? Did something happen to her?”

“Nothing like that. We just are trying to track her down and ask some questions.”

“Well, if you see her, let her know I have her last check.”

“Thanks,” Taylor, who hadn’t spoken to that point, said.

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Story tagged with:
Crime / Violence / Military / Mystery /