Page 64 of Smoke in Mirrors

He stopped talking for a moment. Thomas kept quiet. So did Leonora.

“I was one of two people on campus at the time who had some knowledge of the nature of Sebastian’s work,” Andrew continued. “In the course of our relationship, he talked to me a bit about his theories. He couldn’t help himself. He needed to discuss them with someone and I was there.” He moved his hand again, this time in a dismissing gesture. “Also, to be blunt, he knew full well that I wouldn’t have been capable of stealing his concepts and publishing them as my own.”

“Why not?” Thomas asked.

“I was in the computer science department. Exactly where I belonged. I’m more of an engineer than a mathematician. My mind doesn’t work the same way that Sebastian’s did. I freely admit that I wouldn’t have been able to fake my way through a peer review article in his branch of mathematics even if I’d had unlimited access to his notes and papers. Which I did not.”

“But someone else did?” Leonora asked softly.

Andrew looked past her, through the windows, toward the sleek yacht berthed at the dock below the garden.

“As I said, there was far more than the publication of a minor paper in mathematics at stake. There was fame and fortune to be had. Not to mention a reputation that would survive for generations in academic circles.”

“Go on,” Thomas said.

“There was an extremely ambitious assistant professor in the department of mathematics at Eubanks who was capable of comprehending the full implications of Sebastian’s work. They had been friends and colleagues for a time, but they quarreled. Sebastian never trusted him after that.”

Thomas watched him. “What are you saying?”

“I’ve done a lot of soul-searching over the years,” Andrew said. “I’ve often wondered what might have happened if I had taken Sebastian’s fears more seriously. Perhaps I might have been able to do something. But to this day, I honestly don’t know what that something would have been.”

“I don’t see how you could have done anything,” Leonora said. “You couldn’t possibly have guessed that someone might murder him in order to steal his work.”

“No.” Andrew sighed. “It simply never occurred to me at the time that Osmond Kern would kill for the privilege of getting his name in the textbooks.”

Chapter Seventeen

Andrew stood in the doorway to say good-bye. “Sebastian’s murder was a real turning point in my life. I took a long, hard look at my future and decided that I wasn’t cut out for higher ed, even assuming I could get another teaching position. So I took a job with a local software startup instead. Ben worked there, too. We did okay when the company went public.”

Thomas gave the big house an amused glance. “Yeah, I can see that.”

“What are you going to do with the information I gave you?” Andrew asked.

Leonora exchanged glances with Thomas, who shrugged.

“We don’t know yet,” Thomas said. “We’re still trying to fit pieces of a puzzle together.”

“If anything comes of your investigation, I’d like to know about it.”

“We’ll keep you in the loop,” Thomas promised.

Andrew nodded. “I’d appreciate that. Sebastian was a very difficult man. Exasperating. Brilliant. Eccentric. No social skills to speak of. But for a time he and I were more than friends. He deserved to have his name attached to that damned algorithm. I’d like to see him get his rightful place in the textbooks.”

Leonora started to respond, but she stopped when she noticed the large car rolling toward them down the long drive. A woman was at the wheel. There were two children in the back seat.

“My niece’s twins,” Andrew said. “Their son of a bitch of a father filed for divorce last year. Married his girlfriend. Doesn’t have much time for his daughters now. The girls started having a lot of trouble in school. You know how it goes.”

“Yeah.” Thomas thought about how his grades had gone south after his parents’ divorce. “I know how it goes.”

“The family decided that Katie and Clara needed quality time with a reliable male role model so they won’t grow up thinking all men are undependable, untrustworthy scum like their dad. The upshot is that I get them a couple of times a week.” Andrew smiled. “What the hell, I’m male and I’m reliable. I’m also retired so I’ve got plenty of time.”

The car stopped a short distance away. The woman behind the wheel waved at Andrew. He returned the greeting. The rear doors popped open and two small girls erupted from the interior of the vehicle.

“Uncle Andrew.”

“Uncle Andrew.”

“I’ve been working with them on their studies.” Andrew grinned proudly. “They’re both doing fine now.”

“Pretty cool,” Leonora said.

“I could have used an uncle like you when I was a kid,” Thomas said.

The short day was rapidly drawing to a close by the time they reached the Wing Cove exit. The mist that had dampened the windshield for the past twenty miles became a hard, driving rain with little warning. Thomas adjusted the wipers and eased into the right lane of Interstate 5.

He and Leonora had talked for a long time after leaving Andrew Grayson’s Mercer Island home. But their reasoning was starting to get circular.

“You’ve got to admit that some of the pieces do fit together,” Leonora said. “We’ve been looking for links and we’ve got some. Say that Bethany came to suspect, in the course of her own work in mathematics, that Sebastian Eubanks had actually developed the algorithm. Say she concluded that Osmond Kern had stolen it and published it as his own. What if she had confronted him with her suspicions?”

He kept his attention on his driving. “You think Kern murdered her to keep her from revealing the truth?”

“Why not? If he killed Eubanks thirty years ago to get the algorithm, why wouldn’t he kill again to keep his secret?”

“Then what? You think Meredith stumbled onto the same truth so he killed her, too? Why would she have cared about a thirty-year-old discovery in mathematics?”

“That algorithm made Kern wealthy. Maybe she tried to blackmail him.”

“Huh.” Thomas slowed a little to compensate for the heavy rain and the gathering darkness. “Okay, I can see her trying a little blackmail and getting killed for her trouble. But that still doesn’t explain Alex Rhodes’s connection to this thing. Or the rumors of drugs.”