Fandom: The Mentalist
Word Count: ~5000
Warnings: The story features off-screen serious violence to a child along with implied general mistreatment.
Author's Note: Originally written for Yuletide and cross-posted here.
Summary: The CBI is called in to investigate when a young graduate student is murdered.
"The victim's name is Rachel Miller," Cho said as he led the way into the office. "Twenty-six. She's a graduate student in the department."
Jane scanned the room as they entered, automatically cataloging the careless positioning of the body, the blood-stained copper hair, the pool of blood soaking into the institutional broadloom beneath her. Blood, blood, and more blood. He turned away, feeling slightly sick--it was impossible to be blasé about blood now, though he did his best to fake it--and began examining the rest of the office.
It was a typical university office, dominated by desks and bookcases. A quick glance at the shelves gave him a good idea of the specialties of all three of the office's occupants. There were a couple of books he'd read before, when some aspect of mathematical theory had caught his attention. The rest looked like too much effort to bother with just for one case. Although...he paused as one particular book caught his eye. Interesting. He pulled it out and flipped through it, dividing his attention between the book and the conversation behind him.
"Who found her?" Lisbon was asking.
"Fellow graduate student," Cho replied. "Tom Martin. He shares the office with her. Found her when he came into work this morning."
"I thought the university was closed for the holidays," Van Pelt said. "What's he doing here?"
"He said something about finally getting things done now that the undergraduates gone," Cho said dryly. "Apparently it's a common sentiment around here."
"We'll need the names of everyone who's around," Lisbon said. "And the names of anyone else she was close to around here. Does this guy know who her friends were?"
Unlikely, Jane decided, studying her desk. It was clean and neat and entirely practical. No photographs. No knickknacks. Not even a plant. Rachel Miller was not a woman who brought her personal life to work.
"He didn't say anything about her friends," Cho said, "but we have the name of the professor she was working with. Mark Archer."
"Okay," Lisbon said. "Van Pelt, get back to the office and start following the paper trail on Miller: phone records, bank records...anything that might tell us who might have wanted her dead. Cho and Rigsby, interview Martin again and see if you can get anything else out of him, then talk to the campus police. Find out if there have been any threats or assaults...anything unusual happening on campus. Jane and I will pay a visit to Professor Archer."
The professor's house was modest and well-maintained: bland and boring and entirely respectable.
"You've been quiet," Lisbon said as they followed the path to the door. "Any thoughts?"
Jane shrugged noncommittally, not quite ready to start sharing hunches. "It's a little early to say yet. Beautiful, brilliant, driven mathematician found dead in her shared office...there are a lot of potential motives there."
"What makes you think she was brilliant and driven?"
He tilted his head and smiled at her. "Isn't it obvious?" he asked as he rang the bell.
The door was answered by a boy who looked to be about thirteen. A bit on the small side for thirteen, but not self-conscious about it. Confident. Self-contained. And desperately unhappy.
Lisbon smiled at him reassuringly and pulled out her badge. "We're with the CBI," she said. "I'm Agent Teresa Lisbon and this is Patrick Jane. We're looking for Doctor Mark Archer. Is he here?"
The boy nodded. "I'll get him," he said politely, and closed the door, leaving them standing on the doorstep.
"Curiouser and curiouser," Jane murmured.
Lisbon glanced sideways at him, clearly but the door opened again before she could speak. A broad-shoulder, bearded man greeted them
"My nephew said you're with the CBI?"
"Doctor Mark Archer?" Lisbon asked. At his nod, she continued, "I'm afraid we have some bad news. Can we come in?"
The inside of the house did nothing to change Jane's initial impression. Comfortable brown leather furniture and heavy tables filled dark-panelled rooms in such a perfect stereotype of masculine decorating that it was almost a parody.
"All he needs is a few animal heads on the walls," he whispered to Lisbon. He gave an exaggerated wince as she elbowed him in the ribs, and considered it worthwhile as he saw her lips twist involuntarily toward a smile.
The smile disappeared as they entered Archer's office. Archer directed Lisbon and Jane toward matching armchairs opposite his desk, then sat down behind it, leaning back a little in his chair. Jane watched him carefully as Lisbon broke the news
"Rachel? Really? What happened?"
Archer looked and sounded genuinely shocked and distressed. Still, it wouldn't hurt to test his reactions further.
"Someone bashed her head in," Jane said flatly.
Archer swallowed hard and slid his chair back a little, putting distance between them. "Who would do that?"
"We were hoping you could tell us," Lisbon replied. "Did she have any enemies that you know of?"
"Rachel? No! Of course not."
Jane raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Really? None? No fellow graduate students who she beat out for fellowships? No undergraduates seeking revenge for failing grades?"
"Rachel didn't teach last term," Archer said, "and I can't imagine anyone in the department...it's competitive but not that competitive."
"She was killed in her office," Lisbon said. "Who else had access to that space?"
"At this time of year? It's mostly graduate students and a few faculty members who go in," Archer said. "The staff have access, but they're all off until next year. I doubt any of them have been around."
Lisbon pulled out her notebook and wrote a few notes. "Do you know anything about her personal life? Family? Friends?"
Archer shook his head. "Not much. We didn't usually talk about our personal lives. She has a sister, I think. I don't know about other family. Friends...she shares an office with Tom Martin and Emma White. As far as I know, she gets along with both of them. They might know who else she talks to."
Jane stood and began slowly circling the room, studying the contents while Lisbon carried on with the interrogation. He gave particular attention to the bookshelves--in his experience, they were always revealing. Even the ones whose contents were clearly for show. For the most part, Archer's books mirrored the books he'd found on Rachel's shelves, supplemented by a few history texts and a sizable collection of science fiction in one corner. Nothing jumped out at him as suggestive of a murderous mindset. But there was the unhappy nephew to consider. He turned around to face Archer and Lisbon.
"Rachel was driven," Archer was saying. "She was aiming for a job at a top school when she graduated. It didn't leave her much time for other things."
"What was your relationship with her like?" Lisbon asked neutrally.
"Professional," Archer said emphatically. Apparently he'd caught the undertone there too. "She was an excellent student. We co-authored several papers together. I had high hopes for her future."
"I'm sure you did," Jane said sardonically, letting his eyes stray across Archer behind his desk, surrounded by books. Two people whose identities were defined by their work; it was no longer they'd gotten along. But that's where it had ended, Jane decided. He hadn't been sleeping with her. He probably hadn't killed her either. Jane stepped away from the bookcase and gestured apologetically. "Can I use your bathroom?"
"Of course. It's just down the hall, on your left."
Jane exited the office, carefully pulling the door closed to mask his path, then wandered off in search of Archer's unhappy nephew. He found the boy in the third room he tried, nose buried in a book. Jane glanced at the cover as he as crouched down in front of the boy. It wasn't an author he recognized, but the figures of spacesuits on the cover gave him a pretty good idea of where the book had come from.
"Good book?" he asked cheerfully.
The boy looked up with a guilty start, relaxed when he saw who it was, and then tensed again in an entirely different way.
"It's okay," he replied neutrally.
Jane sat down across from him, careful not to crowd him too much. "Science fiction," he said, making a show of examining the cover. "Do you read a lot of that?"
The boy shrugged, half-hiding the book in his lap. "Sometimes. Uncle Mark has lots. He lets me borrow some of them."
So if it wasn't his uncle who objected....
"But your dad doesn't like it?" Jane asked sympathetically.
The boy twisted uncomfortably and didn't reply.
Definitely the father, then. Abusive? Or just unreasonably strict? Jane felt a flash of anger at another parent who didn't appreciate what he had, and pushed it aside with the ease of long practice. The boy's current unhappiness didn't necessarily have anything to do with his father. Or with the case. It was pure curiousity--and a little pity--that had him here. Time for a different tactic.
"Do you get to visit your uncle a lot?"
"We're staying with him."
"You and your dad? For how long?"
The boy jumped at the voice, and Jane turned to look. The man in the doorway shared was clean-shaven, but otherwise bore a startling resemblance to his brother, including the broad build.
The man gave Jane a quick one-over, then strode forward, smiling widely. "Sorry, I didn't realize anyone else was in here," he said, thrusting out his hand. "I'm Terry Archer. Daniel's father."
Jane shook his hand and matched the smile watt for watt. "Patrick Jane," he said. "I'm with the CBI. We're investigating the death of one of your brother's graduate students."
Terry Archer let the smile drop. "That's awful," he said, a mask of concern sliding over his face.
"Yes, it is," Jane agreed, still smiling. And you're very good, Mr. Archer, but you need to work on your recovery times.
"Daniel, why don't you go do your homework," Terry said. The boy nodded and retreated from the room, taking his book with him. Terry turned back to Jane. "This graduate student," he said. "Do you have any idea who did it?"
"Oh, we're considering all possibilities. Professional and personal."
Terry's eyes widened just a fraction too much. "You aren't suggesting my brother had anything to do with this?"
"We're considering all possibilities," Jane repeated.
His next question was interrupted by the appearance of Lisbon. "There you are," she said, sounding annoyed. Jane wondered what excuses she'd made for his failure to return. Whatever they'd been, they had apparently worked--Doctor Archer was nowhere in sight.
"Here I am," Jane agreed. "I was having a nice conversation with Terry here. Mark's brother." He turned his head toward the other man and gestured in Lisbon's direction. "This is Agent Lisbon of the CBI."
The smile and handshake were back again in full force before being replaced by a more solemn expression. "Agent Jane was just telling me that you're investigating a murder?"
"He's a consultant, not an agent," Lisbon corrected. "And yes, we're investigating a murder. Did you ever meet a graduate student named Rachel Miller, Mr. Archer?"
Archer cocked his head thoughtfully, gazing upward as if searching his memory. "I don't think so," he said at last. "I don't usually visit my brother in his office, and he doesn't usually have his students here."
"That's all we need to know," Lisbon said, smiling warmly at him. "Thank you for your time. Jane? You ready to go?"
"Sure," he said. He waited until they were outside--and out of earshot--before asking where they were going.
"Doctor Archer gave him a name and address for Rachel's sister. We're going to go break the news."
Sarah Miller-Baumann responded to news of her sister's death with a fierce, tightly-contained anger that burned away tears and drove her to ruthless thoroughness while answering Lisbon's standard set of questions. Her husband Rick was more subdued, reacting to the news with shock and sorrow...and a flash of guilt that Jane suspected no one else had noticed.
Guilt--but no relief. Probably not an affair, then. Not with the way he was holding his wife's hand. So what was it?
"When was the last time your saw your sister?" Lisbon asked.
"A couple of weeks ago. We went met up for lunch. We were supposed to be getting together again this week, but we were both so busy." The last word was spoken in a tone of disgust, a temporary rejection of the lifestyle that had led her to undervalue her time with her sister. Jane could sympathize with the sentiment.
"How were things for her at school?" Lisbon asked. "Did she mention any problems with anyone? Her adviser, maybe?"
"Mark? No," Sarah replied immediately. "She thought he was fantastic."
That earned a twitch from Rick. Something he knew that his wife didn't?
"How about her fellow students?" Lisbon asked.
Sarah grimaced. "Rachel...had very high standards, for herself and for other people. Sometimes she wasn't the easiest person to get along with. She wasn't inclined to let things slide. There's always some sort of friction in her life: people she's upset, people's she's upset with."
"Anyone in particular she's been having problems with recently?" Lisbon asked.
"She didn't name names. I think...if anything had been that bad, I think she would have told me. I hope she would have told me." Her voice wavered a little, anger momentarily failing her.
Rick's hand tightened comfortingly around his wife's, the very model of a loving husband. "Of course she would have," he said soothingly.
"Do you--" Lisbon began, then stopped as her cell phone chirped. "Excuse me for a minute."
As Lisbon carried her conversation to the other side room, Jane leaned forward confidingly. "Was Rachel having any financial problems?"
"I don't think so," Sarah replied with a thoughtful frown. "She was well-funded by the university. And she wasn't...money wasn't Rachel's primary concern in life. As long as she had enough to live on, she was happy."
"She wasn't spending more than usual? Buying unexpected gifts?"
"No, not at all."
Sarah sounded genuinely puzzled by the questions. And not a twitch from Rick.
"Mr. Baumann." Lisbon pocketed her cell phone and rejoined the group. "Why didn't you tell us that you saw your sister-in-law two days before she was killed?"
Rick paled almost imperceptibly. Really, he was terrible at deception.
"Rick?" Sarah twisted on the couch to look at him, pulling her hand from his grasp.
"She had your name in her appointment calendar," Lisbon said pointedly.
Rick sighed. "I was looking for advice on birthday gifts for Sarah," he confessed. "Her birthday's in a couple of weeks, and I wanted to get her something special. I thought Rachel could help."
Lisbon looked unconvinced. "Why didn't you tell us?"
"I was hoping I could still surprise Sarah," he said. "I thought--it was stupid, but I thought it might cheer her up. Not now, of course, but later on." He gave his wife an apologetic look. She nodded, but didn't return her hand.
Jane waited until Lisbon and Sarah left in search of tea before he pounced on Rick.
"Why did you really set up that meeting with your sister-in-law?" he asked casually.
Rick did a passable impression of looking annoyed. "I told you--"
"If you don't tell me the truth, I'm going to tell your wife that you arranged that meeting in order to try to seduce Rachel."
Rick froze. "But...but I didn't," he stammered.
"Oh, I know. But trust me, your wife will believe me. She already has her suspicions about you. She knows you're hiding something."
Unfounded suspicions--at least on that count--but there nonetheless. It wouldn't be hard to tip her to the other side.
Rick glanced at the doorway nervously. "There was this guy," he said quickly. "One of the other surgeons introduced us. He had a system. A foolproof way to play the stock market. Said it had been developed by his son...he's some kind of math genius. I met the kid and he was...I mean, it sounded good. And you know, you see these kids on TV, winning chess championships and graduating from university at twelve. The guy just needed some capital to put the system into action."
A child genius had come up with the system? That was a new twist.
"So you gave him money," Jane prompted.
Rick nodded, shamefaced. "I should have known better," he said. "But the guy was so convincing, and a couple of my colleagues contributed too..."
"Why did you want to see Rachel?"
"When I didn't hear from the guy for a while, I started to get suspicious. I tried to get in touch, the number didn't work, and I remembered he'd said that his brother was a math professor--that was where his kid had learned a lot of this stuff. I wanted to ask Rachel if she knew him. Find out if he was on the level, maybe see if she could find a way to get in touch with the guy." His eyes strayed to the door again. "Look, if Sarah finds out how much I've lost--"
"The math professor," Jane interrupted. "That was Mark Archer. Rachel's adviser." With Daniel Archer playing the role of child genius, no doubt. Pushed into con games by his father. Jane tried not to dwell on the familiarity of that scenario.
"Yeah," Rick admitted.
"What did Rachel say when you told her?" Jane asked.
"She was pretty upset. I guess she was afraid her adviser had been sucked into things somehow. Or that he was going to get in trouble from his brother throwing around his name."
Jane felt a rush of satisfaction as the pieces fell into place, the events leading up to Rachel's murder now clear in his head. All that was left was to prove it.
He turned his attention back to Rick. "You should tell your wife about the money yourself," he advised. "She's going to find out eventually anyway. It'll be worse if she finds out on her own. She'll be left wondering what else you're hiding."
He wouldn't tell, of course. They almost never did. And when Sarah finally found out what he was hiding from her, she'd probably leave, and not--despite what Rick thought--because of the money.
Lisbon looked around the room at her team. "What do we have?"
"We contacted a couple of her friends," Rigsby replied. "No one can think of anyone who'd want to hurt, and all of her close friends are out-of-town."
"The campus police don't report any ongoing problems: no break-ins, no reports of rape, no reports of stalking...nothing like that," Cho said.
"I ran Terry Archer like you said, Boss," Van Pelt said. "He's got a long record. Petty stuff, mostly. Fraud-related. Apparently the local fraud squad already has him on their radar. They think he's doing some sort of stock market scam, but they're still working on building a case."
Jane glanced at Lisbon, surprised. He'd been sure she'd dismissed Terry Archer.
"What?" she asked, catching his look. "After all those years working with you, you think I can't see through that kind of flashy charm?"
He held out his hand, palm up, acquiescing. "It was a good call."
"You could have said something too," Lisbon said.
"True," Jane agreed.
"Doesn't sound like there's any connection to our case, anyway," Rigsby said.
"Oh, I don't know," Jane said. "I don't think Terry Archer's especially mathematically-inclined, and the people who have the money to invest in that kind of scam are usually fairly intelligent. He would have needed help selling his system. Making it sound good."
"Someone like a mathematics graduate student," Lisbon said, realization dawning across her face.
"And then what?" Cho asked. "They argued over money?"
"Maybe," Jane said. "It wouldn't be the first time. Or maybe her adviser found out and got angry about the betrayal of trust."
"There wasn't anything unusual about her financial records..." Van Pelt said uncertainly.
"She probably hid the money," Jane said confidently. "Put the accounts under a company name."
"This is all speculation until we get some evidence," Lisbon said. She turned toward Rigsby and Cho. "Go pick up both of the Archers. We'll talk to them here and see if we can't get a little more out of them. Van Pelt, dig a little further into Sarah Miller's financial accounts. And see what you can find out about Terry Archer's scam."
"Don't forget to bring Daniel along," Jane said.
Lisbon looked at him skeptically. "Mark Archer's nephew? You don't think he's involved somehow?"
"I think he's a little young to be left alone while his father and uncle are being interviewed by the police," Jane said, smiling guilelessly.
Lisbon held his gaze for a moment, then shrugged. "All right. Bring the kid too."
Daniel was installed at an empty desk while Cho grilled his uncle and Rigsby took on his father. Jane watched the beginnings of the interrogations, with all of their expected, fervent denials, then wandered over to where Daniel sat writing dutifully in a notebook.
"Still doing your homework?" he asked, claiming the chair across from Daniel. "Aren't you supposed to be on vacation?"
The boy glanced up briefly, then looked back down at his notebook. "It's extra work," he said.
Jane looked down at the notebook. Daniel was copying lines from one page to the next--long, technical terms that, from Jane's limited exposure to the public school system, did not look like anything the average thirteen-year-old would be expected to do. "Extra work for whom?" he asked. "The school? Or your father?" It looked like the whole show was done by rote. That meant Daniel was just a prop in his father's show, not a partner with real talent. Jane wondered idly where Terry had gotten his "system" from, if his son hadn't developed it. Maybe Terry did share Mark's talent for math after all.
Daniel pulled in tighter on himself and continued to write. Jane studied him and contemplated what to say next. He certainly couldn't advise a thirteen-year-old to follow the path Jane himself had taken when he'd been seeking escape. On the other hand, Daniel had options Jane hadn't had. Like an uncle who cared enough to provide reading material and didn't live his life on the wrong side of the law.
"You have a choice," Jane said at last. "You don't have to become what your father wants you to be."
Daniel's pen stilled, then he set it down and looked up. "Are Dad and Uncle Mark going to jail?" he asked.
"Depends if they did anything," Jane replied.
"If they killed Uncle Mark's student."
"Yeah. If they killed your Uncle Mark's student," Jane agreed. He paused, then added, "For what it's worth, I don't think they're both guilty. At least one of them should be around to take care of you."
Daniel bit his lip and nodded, then picked up his pen again.
It didn't matter, Jane decided. Soon enough his father would be in prison, and his uncle would have custody, and everything else would be nothing more than the odd moment of guilt when he remembered the faces of the people he'd helped swindle. Or maybe he was young enough that he'd escape that particular burden.
He stood up and prepared to put the next phase of his plan into action.
Jane watched Lisbon escort the brothers to the elevator, noting the distance between Mark and Terry, with Daniel being kept firmly on Terry's side by a firm guiding hand on his shoulder. Mark Archer had not, apparently, been aware of his brother's activities, and hadn't been impressed when Cho broke the news. On the other hand, Jane thought, studying them critically, it didn't look like Mark Archer believed his brother was a murderer.
"We're letting you both go," Lisbon said. "But you're still under suspicion, so don't leave town."
"At least not until tomorrow," Jane added as soon as Lisbon was out of earshot.
It was Terry Archer who asked. "Tomorrow?"
"Rachel had some encrypted files on her laptop," Jane lied cheerfully. "The CBI technical analysts stumbled across them tonight. Her sister says it's probably a journal. Apparently Rachel wrote everything down. We figure the password is hidden somewhere in her office. We're sending a team over to look for it tomorrow. I'm sure she mentions her killer in there."
"That will clear everything up, then," Mark Archer said, looking relieved.
"It should," Jane agreed. Terry, he noticed, look less than thrilled by the news. Jane smiled as he watched them leave.
"You what?" Lisbon asked disbelievingly.
"I told Mark and Terry that there was evidence in Rachel's office that would reveal who the killer was."
Lisbon slapped his arm. Jane pulled away from her.
"What? This isn't the first time we've played this game."
"And I suppose now you expect us to spend all night camped out in front of the math department?"
"Well, someone probably should. I'd do it by myself, but, you know--I don't have a gun." He held out his hands widely, emphasizing his lack of weapon.
"Fine," Lisbon said. "You and Cho can take the first shift, and then you and Rigsby can take the second shift, and you and Van Pelt can take the third shift."
"And where will you be during all of this shift-taking?"
"Probably getting you out of trouble."
"You sure he's going to show?" Cho asked.
"Mmm, about eighty percent," Jane said. "Terry's savvy enough to know that we don't have the evidence to go to trial right now, but if Rachel's diary really exists, that could be enough to put him away." He took a sip of tea, savouring the warmth.
"You're sure it's Terry?"
"Oh yeah," Jane said. "Terry's the sociopath in the family."
"How do you know he's a sociopath?"
"All the great con artists are sociopaths, Cho. That's how they can smile at people and then turn around and stab them in the back." He held out the bag he'd bought along with his tea. "Biscotti?"
Cho shook his head at the offer. "You used to do that too. Smile and lie to people."
"Fake psychic isn't quite the same as con artist," Jane said thoughtfully. "I actually gave people something they needed."
"Yeah, but they didn't know that. And if they suspected, well, they knew that going in. They never suffered the same let-down your typical con artist's victims does."
"You were selling an illusion. Isn't that what con artists do?"
"That's what all entertainers do," Jane said with a shrug. "But some of us work cheaper than others."
Cho looked back toward the window. "Eighty percent," he said. "Want to bet on it?"
"Sure--" Jane began. He was interrupted by the sound of Cho's cell phone.
"Cho. Uh huh. All right. I'll him, Boss." He hung up. "Daniel Archer is in the hospital. They've charged his father with attempted murder."
Jane stiffened as a hand touched his shoulder. Lisbon squeezed his shoulder and sat down beside him, hand moving to rest on his arm. Her eyes strayed to the still form in front of them.
"It's not your fault," she said quietly. "You couldn't have known that Daniel would figure out his father was the killer and try to stop him from destroying the evidence."
Not his fault. The slightest of miscalculations....
"You couldn't even have known that his father was the killer," Lisbon added.
That was a lie, of course, but there was no point in dragging Rick Baumann into it now. Let him destroy his own marriage. Enough damage had been done already. Most of it borne by the boy in front of them.
"He was afraid his uncle would go to jail for the murder, and he'd be left with no one to protect him from his father," Jane said flatly. No one to prevent his father from using him in his schemes.
He'd known Daniel had been unhappy, but he'd underestimated how trapped the boy had felt. How scared he'd been at the thought of being left alone with his father, with no one else to turn to. Jane had focused on the similarities between their experiences, and had downplayed the differences. Like the survival skills that carny life imparted. His access to a world where no one would do more than raise an eyebrow when a teenage boy showed up without an adult and asked for work. And the difference between thirteen and sixteen, when it came to identifying options.
He sighed and looked at the boy again, willing him to breath. To wake. To move. "If he'd just waited..." he said and trailed off. If Daniel had waited, he'd have been safe. And if Jane had told him more about what was going on, if he'd found the right words to show Daniel how to escape from his situation, he might have been inclined to wait. It was a fool's game, playing out the what-ifs. Irrational.
Jane was nothing if not rational. Most of the time.
"The doctors say there's a good chance he'll wake up," Lisbon said. "Better than fifty percent."
"Fifty percent." Jane laughed harshly. "And then what?"
"And then his uncle will take care of him," Lisbon said. "The evidence against his father is indisputable. Even if we can't get him for Rachel Miller's death, he's going away for what he did to Daniel. We got him."
"Right," Jane agreed. "We got him." He turned back to the machines keeping Daniel alive, watching the ventilator rise and fall. "We got him."
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