Twenty minutes later, Frank’s team rushed into his room only to find it empty. A frantic search of the hotel and grounds turned up nothing. Not even a fingerprint was found in a short check of a few of the usual places fingerprints are always left in a hotel room occupied by normal guests. A housekeeping maid on the floor said, when questioned, she had seen a guest carrying a small bag go down the back stairs about 30 minutes ago. She looked at the Professor’s picture and said, “Yes. That’s the man. He was a good tipper and had very good manners.”
A check of the hotel’s surveillance cameras confirmed the maid’s report. There was no question the Professor went down the back stairs as the team from Frank’s office was coming in the front of the hotel. The team chief called Frank at CTC and told him the Professor was gone. Frank was furious and asked, in an icy tone, what had happened? The team chief said he didn’t know. The Professor must have been scared off by something the two women, who were sitting on him, did.
Frank said, “The woman you talked to has more experience than your whole team combined. She is the best I have ever worked with. I’m sending her back to the hotel to find out what happened, since you can’t tell me. Report immediately to my office. You and your team get the next flight to Washington.”
As usual, the team chief was left with a dial tone.
Frank called Kathy when he cut off the team chief. Kathy and Kelly had just arrived back in Georgetown to eat, rest and resume coverage of Hankins.
Frank asked her what could have happened to make the Professor disappear.
Kathy said, “Frank, I’m surprised. I can’t tell you what happened. The team leader refused my offer to help. I offered to go over his plan and he blew me off. He is without a doubt one of the most condescending son-of-a-bitches I have ever run into. I was surprised at how they were dressed, all in dark suits and ties. They looked like a Government team in a sea of tourists, beach people and golfers. It’s hard to find a group of young men in suits at Broadway at the Beach. That’s about all I can say. Is the Professor’s Cadillac CTS still there?”
“I don’t know. Please go up there, show your badge, make it a criminal law thing and find out what happened.”
“Okay. I’m on my way.”
“Kelly, you have to cover Hankins on your own. Frank wants me to find out how and why the Professor got away from his team. Remember no risks, no confrontations, and do not get made. It wouldn’t hurt to use a different car.”
“Got it. Call me if I can help.”
On the way back to Myrtle Beach, Kathy wished she had a siren. This speed limit driving was making her crazy. The return trip took her 40 minutes, not bad considering traffic conditions. She left her Ford Taurus in valet parking and flashed her badge at the attendant and told him to keep it handy. The front desk was clear when she walked up, flashed her badge and asked to see the manager. The manager came right out and asked her to come into his office. She showed her badge again, along with a picture of the Professor coming into the hotel.
Kathy said, “This is important but no need to upset the routine of your hotel or its guests. This man had a room on the fifth floor. I want to know what name he used, how long was he here and whether he had been here before. Also what ID he used. After that I want to see his room. Please put it off limits for a few hours. Lastly. I want to know what our team did when it came into the hotel early this morning. I’ll need all the relevant camera coverage, starting with this man coming into the hotel last night and going up to the fifth floor. Coverage of him leaving by the back staircase is especially important.”
Kathy smiled her sexiest and told the manager she didn’t want to take much of his time. He called an assistant manager and passed on Kathy’s requests and told him to make it his top priority.
While she was waiting, Kathy went up to the fifth floor, checked camera coverage and walked down the back stairs. When she opened the outside door, she saw the route the Professor must have taken. He wouldn’t have stashed a second car in the hotel lot, but in the shopping strip mall adjacent to the hotel lot. She walked over and checked camera coverage. It was not extensive but, if operating, it should show cars coming and leaving, as well as foot traffic in most of the parking area. Again flashing her badge, she checked in with the small rent-a-cop mall security office.
“Sure you can see our camera take. We record over it every other day, so if you want today, you got it.”
“Show me starting from 6:30 this morning.”
“Can do. Just sit over there at the other monitor. Tell me if you want to stop or blow up a frame.”
It took a few minutes for Kathy to orient herself to the camera angles. There were a few overlaps but more gaps than multiple coverage. Right at 6:55 AM, she saw a figure entering the southeastern edge of the parking lot. She had Terry blow up the image. It looked like the Professor to her. She then tracked the figure to a green car two rows in from the street. Blowing up the image, she saw it was a VW Passat with a South Carolina license plate. She watched as the car started out and got a license number. Thanking Terry and getting him to make her a copy of the tapes, Kathy went outside and called Frank.
Kathy told Frank, the Professor had a clear view of the coffee shop used by the team that morning from his balcony. The doorman told her all the suits came in together. Kathy told Frank there was a half-full coffee cup and a burned down French Gitane cigarette with the full ash intact. Kathy said she believed the Professor was sitting there early this morning, having his coffee and a cigarette when the team came en masse across the street. It looked like he left abruptly. The hotel camera time confirmed his departure. She added, “I visualized the route he must have taken. The natural escape route led to an adjacent strip mall parking lot. I checked with the security office regarding camera coverage and now have coverage of the Professor walking along the edge of the strip mall and getting into a late model green VW Passat, South Carolina plate SIT 301. I don’t think he’ll keep the Passat very long. Finding the Passat quickly is our best shot at locating this slippery bastard. One more thought, if we can keep the whole affair quiet, the Professor won’t be sure the danger was real or just his paranoid instincts kicking in. If he isn’t sure, he may keep to his schedule.”
“Kathy, that is a first class bit of police work accomplished in an amazingly short time. I wish you would come back and work for me.”
“Frank, thank you. It’s nice to be wanted. Anything else I can do before I head back to Georgetown and Mr. Hankins?”
“No. But I want you to know that I’m sending your pompous friend back from whence he came when he shows up. I pulled you off because I didn’t want you getting mixed up in a possible high profile arrest with all the media coverage. This administration is so hungry for positive press that they will leak anything that makes them look good. I’ll be in touch.”