Anyway, I didn't forget or anything. Hopefully I'm back on the horse now.
To go back and start at A, click here.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the times when that wasn’t the case were worse. At best, when the threat was serious, the job ended bloody and difficult. And just crazy. Because, obviously, it made sense not to warn someone you wanted to kill them, so once that warning was issued ‘sense’ was somewhere in the rearview and everybody was going to have a bad time. Especially the poor idiot who’d agreed to throw themselves between the mark and the eventual hail of bullets, or explosions, or…
When JJ had started there’d been a case with exotic poisonous frogs she’d been really happy not to be part of.
All of that meant that as personal security, you walked into an anonymous threat job honestly, fervently hoping you were going to find some overcommitted romantic interest, or family member trying to make a point. That didn’t mean you didn’t turn them in to the appropriate authorities, or fail to finish the job, it just meant you didn’t have to spend the rest of the job waiting for the inevitable descent into crazy-town.
JJ more or less frog-marched Corbet into his temporary office at the University early the next morning, but it was already full. As wanting Corbet to back out of his prime place in this whirligig was just as good a reason to be sending him threats as any—seriously, the dude had fewer associates and connections than she did—JJ needed an understanding of the people inhabiting Corbet’s life for the next three weeks. Was the department secretary infatuated? Did the person who would have done the conference without Corbet harbor some resentment?
“Ah, Liam!” A white-haired man in a bow tie who looked like he’d stepped out of a movie about universities at the beginning of the 20th century was on them before they’d made it through the door.
“Professor Higgins!” Liam shook hands warmly. “You’re looking well today.”
Higgins laughed. “Reports of my demise were sadly over-stated. The doctors assure me if I put up with their torture I’ve got another dozen active years in me.” He fiddled with his bow-tie and cast a glance at JJ. “Campus security informed me of what’s going on. I won’t ask if you’re sure.”
“My grandmother’s hired Commander Jennings, and I’ve done what I’ve been asked to.” Liam shrugged. “I’m here, and I have every intention of going through with my life as uninterrupted as I can.”
“Be nice if you gave the rest of us the same courtesy,” another man hissed, nearly bumping JJ out of his way as he barreled through the department lobby.
JJ watched him disappear into an office and turned to Corbet. “It’s generally not the person comfortable being rude in public, but I’m still going to ask.”
“Professor Dane has…” Higgins paused. “A brilliant mind but poor people skills.”
“And Mr. Corbet’s position in this situation would be his if Mr. Corbet was…not here?”
Liam snorted. “No, because my position requires talking to people and James is not a talker. He also doesn’t, I think, like me any less than he does anyone else.”
“I’m not sure that says much, given how less than fond he is of humanity in general,” a woman said, handing Corbet a tablet and a bottle of water. “I am to remind you that you’re talking for the next three weeks and you will lose your voice if you don’t drink enough water and do your exercises.” She looked at JJ and waved ineffectually. “I am Cherry Higgins, I’m in charge of guest services for the conference.”
“Higgins?” JJ looked between them, they didn’t look particularly similar.
Cherry handed another bottle of water to the old man. “I’m married to Professor Higgin’s long-suffering nephew, for my sins.”
Higgins laughed. “Charles is certainly long-suffering.”
“Is Charles here today, I wanted to pick his brain about something,” Liam asked, fiddling with the tablet.
“He is not.” Cherry pushed the sleeves on her jacket up to her elbows and glanced at the clock. “But he should be here during your break between presentations this afternoon.” She forced a smile. “And I’ve told him to stop lecturing, because you have security and it’s unfair to expect you to hide in your apartment forever, but you know Charles.”
Liam grinned. “I’m sure he’ll approve of Commander Jennings.”
“Miss Higgins, can I borrow you for a moment?” crackled over the intercom system.
She rolled her eyes and headed for an office in the corner. “Liam, don’t forget your lunch meeting changed. It was a pleasure meeting you, Commander. Please let me know if you need anything.”
Professor Higgins sighed. “I have work to do. Good luck today, Liam.”
“Thank you, sir.” Liam stepped back. “I hope you’ll have time to see a bit of the conference.”
“I intend to.”
JJ followed Corbet into his private, temporary office and closed the door behind them, but didn’t engage the privacy screening. Brown had popped in her ear a couple of times that everything was clear on the outside, and he was running standard background on everyone they’d run into and also deep background on the people with closest connections to Corbet.
He’d left Cherry Higgins off the list of associates, which was annoying but probably just an oversight as she was connected with the conference and not technically with the department.
“I’m sorry I didn’t put Cherry on the list,” Corbet said, adjusting things on the desk.
“Is there a reason for it?”
He shrugged. “I thought she wouldn’t be here. Last week Charles said she was going to step out this year and keep an eye on Bert if they let him out of the hospital.”
“What happened to Bert?”
Corbet blinked at her. “He had a heart attack. Fairly minor, but as it wasn’t his first there were concerns.”
JJ felt that particular sensation rush up her back. “So last week Professor Higgins, and his niece-in-law, were both not going to be involved. Is her husband one of the presenters?”
“No.” Corbet shook his head. “No, Charles in City Justice. He takes his vacation time and contracts with the university to oversee security for the conference, because of the influx of people and attention.”
So even if, as things had stood last week, he’d been on premises he might have been reasonably assumed to be preoccupied. “If you’d stepped out because of these threats, who would have done the conference instead?”
Corbet blinked at her. “Bert, I imagine, but he was ill last week.”
“Is that part of why you weren’t willing to cancel?”
Corbet’s face leached of all expression and looked down at his desk. “No.”
JJ almost pushed that because jesus talk about telegraphing that there was an issue. But it wasn’t any of her business and given she didn’t have a reasonable expectation of actual threat and she still needed him willing to listen when she gave him instructions it wouldn’t do any good to get his back up.
“Does it matter,” he asked.
JJ shrugged. “It depends on whether or not someone actually wants to hurt you, or if they just want you to step out of the conference. It might. It might not.” She’d wait and see what deep background turned up.