I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that I’m the only person in the U.S. who never saw The …
Yeah, I know. You’re thinking that it should be Big Red, right? It’s always Big Red. The Big Yellow, though, …
As soon as I discovered the first body, I knew it was going to be a bad day. Wait a minute, I mean as soon as I discovered the body. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. And, what’s more, I didn’t actually discover the body at all; I just spotted it where Casey left it lying when she went screaming down the hall for help.
She wasn’t looking for my help, that’s for sure. She pushed her way out the door of Mr. Abbot’s office and almost ran me down on her way to find someone, no doubt a man, who would take any responsibility off her shoulders. Fine with me. I’m normally pretty pumped up with the women’s lib stuff, but I didn’t have any problem staying in the background on this one. From the doorway I could see Mr. Abbot’s bottom half and a whole lot of blood. I didn’t bother to walk in and peek around the desk to see the top half. Let some macho male deal with it. I took the dozen steps back to my own office and concentrated on a cup of lukewarm coffee.
Right offhand I could think of quite a few people who might want to do away with Darwin Abbot, and if I wasn’t at the top of the list, I was pretty sure I was on there somewhere, or at least that’s what some people might surmise. The funny thing is, I didn’t really want him dead; I just wanted him out of my life. I’d been figuring that wasn’t going to happen any time soon, since he was my boss, but now it looked as though someone took care of it for me.
Abbot was a real pain in the ass; just ask any of the people who had to work for him. He was typical, though, in that he thought all the women in the world wanted nothing more than to jump in the sack with him and enjoy his humungous equipment. Actually, as far as I knew most of us just felt kind of sorry for him. All talk and no action was the general consensus. As they say those who can, do; those who can’t, talk.
That wasn’t where my problem with Darwin Abbot lay, anyway. Once I made it very clear that his amorous attentions would get an unexpected—and unwelcome—response, D. Abbot was looking elsewhere for a playmate. I’ve always had reservations about screwing around with any boss, anywhere. Jobs are hard to come by these days, while a quickie piece can be found around any corner if you’re looking. All you have to do is walk by and wait for him to decide which line he’ll use. A job is a whole other thing, and I had plans to hang onto this one until the time came to replace old you-know-who.
So, there we were, 10 o’clock on a Tuesday morning, with me doing my work, and Abbot’s, and about a third of Casey’s. Nothing out of the ordinary, except for a body behind the Chief Financial Officer’s mahogany door. I can’t help it, I figured there was absolutely as much work going on in his office that day as there ever was. I heard running feet pounding the plush carpet and I didn’t stick my head out of my own cubicle. I was sure I’d be involved soon enough.
I don’t suppose it took more than a minute before everyone in the building knew what was going on. There are three floors of us, maybe forty people altogether, but gossip seems to seep through the walls sometimes. This was gossip of the highest order, and I saw Kelly and Benimore whizzing past my door on their way down from their top-floor offices.
I never quite understood why Darwin Abbot chose to have his office down on street level with the lowly clerical staff. As CFO, he was certainly entitled to sit up in the elegant executive penthouse suite, as the bigwigs liked to call their offices. Most of us would have been happy to see him up there, too. Aside from the fact that he was obnoxious as hell, it kind of put a damper on breakroom chatter when we knew he might be lurking right outside the door. At least once, something confided over bagels and coffee came up later with unpleasant results.
Nevertheless, ground level is where he chose to be, where he supposedly did all the high financial thinking for the corporation, and where he expired with no elegance whatsoever.
“Someone has to know something, damn it!” Kelly was puffing. It appeared that somebody else beat them to the only elevator. Paul Benimore, one step behind, as usual, was nodding, either from exertion or because that was how he always answered his boss. Just beyond my office they slowed and caught their breath as they approached what had become a crowd of, oh, about forty. As for me, I just sat quietly in my office. It would all get to me in time, and I was in no hurry at all.
“I don’t know, Marty,” Benimore whined. “The girl said she went in and he seemed to be dead, that’s all. She hung up before I could say anything.”
Martin Kelly, bullish and important, shoved his way through the mass of curious employees. “Did someone call 911? Anyone try CPR? Who’s in charge of Health and Safety this month?” His loud and rambling questions stopped abruptly as he reached Abbot’s office door and got a look at what I’d seen just a minute earlier. Behind him the noise level gradually subsided as the word filtered through to those still at the rear: If only by silence, the President of the company acknowledged the death, so it must be true.
I was pretty sure Casey wouldn’t have been capable of dialing the first “9”, but somebody had managed the call. Through my triple-glazed, softly tinted, UV-protected and vertical-blinded windows I saw them all arrive: police, fire truck, paramedics and a whole slew of civilian onlookers. We hadn’t had so much excitement in a very long time.
This new crowd, suited and uniformed, swarmed onto the scene and shuttled the more regular inhabitants down the corridor toward the conference room. Two or three officers went along to keep the mass moving. One bulky female cop followed, peeking into office cubicles as she went. When she got to mine, she seemed a little surprised to find me sitting quietly at my desk instead of joining the rapacious quest for information.
“Come on, dearie, you’ll need to wait with the others in that big room. The Lieutenant will talk to all of you in a little while.”
Dearie? The woman looked a bit like Babe Ruth and sounded a bit like my Aunt Daisy. I managed to grab my purse before she herded me out.
“Do I need to lock my door?’ I asked.
“Oh, no. We’ll be checking out all of the offices. You’ll be able to come back in an hour or two, I should think.”
Wait a minute. I couldn’t have people checking my office. I had personal things in there! No one needed to know that I kept a sleazy romance novel in my bottom drawer next to a half-eaten Kit Kat bar, or that my emails occasionally spoke of matters that didn’t really concern my work. I was—at least in my own mind—the most efficient worker, the most intelligent, the most honest of all the people in the whole damn building, but I was human, after all.
When I got to the conference room, the dozen or so chairs were all taken, of course. I looked around to see who had landed where. The execs were nowhere to be found, probably corralled on the upper floor, where they’d have coffee and doughnuts available and a chair for every executive bottom. Casey was also conspicuously absent, although that was to be expected in the circumstances. I hoped the cops had someone who could see past the hysterical girl and get some sense from the normally sane employee. I spotted Karen Portman and Sheila Black sitting on the floor and decided to join them. Two hours is too damn long to stand up looking professional.
It wasn’t long before the bulky cop, whose name turned out to be Blunt, appeared at the conference room door and announced, “Virginia Simmons, Katherine Clarkson!” I raised my hand and saw Kathy do the same a few feet away from me. Officer Blunt signaled for us to join her; it seemed our presence was requested in another area. We groaned our way up from the uncomfortable floor exchanging glances: You know what’s going on? Nope, me neither.
We were hustled to the first floor lunchroom, where two officers, male, sat at a table waiting for us with notepads at the ready. Another officer—female, of course—was resetting the coffee machine. The expression on her face was malevolent, and I didn’t think it had to do with the choice of Sumatran or Breakfast Blend.
“Sit down, ladies,” the first man said. He was maybe sixty, thin and dour, with an air of having been through this too many times. He didn’t offer a hand or rise at our approach, but I wouldn’t really have expected it. I could have done with a cup of hot coffee, though.
“I’m Detective Lt. Madison. I have just a few questions for you, and then you’ll both be free to leave. Miss Simmons?” He looked at us both and finally settled on my face.
“That’s me,” I admitted, “and it’s Mrs. Simmons.”
“Mrs. Simmons. I understand that you were one of the first to be aware of the incident. Can you tell me what you know of all this?”
I snuck a quick peek at Kathy. “I really don’t know anything at all. I didn’t even see Mr. Abbot come into the office today. I’ve been in my office working all morning.”
You know that look you got when your junior high school principal had you on the carpet and both of you knew, absolutely, that he had the goods on you? Well, that’s the look I got there in the lunchroom.
“Of course, we’ve already spoken to Casey Boronski. She indicated that you were very near Mr. Abbot’s office when she found him. Did you perhaps forget that you had been in there?”
I held up a hand. “Hold on a minute! I wasn’t in there; I was headed that way when Casey almost knocked me down. There was a report he needed by noon today, and I’d just finished printing it out. I didn’t even know if he was in his office.”
He raised his eyebrows and shot a look at the other officer, who was busy taking notes as we talked. “Would that be usual?”
“It wouldn’t be unusual. Darwin Abbot kept his own hours. I’m here every day at seven, and so is Kathy; the others on this floor are all here by eight. But Abbot—Mr. Abbot, I mean—came in whenever he felt like it. And left when he felt like it, too. We were not encouraged to question his whereabouts.” It was the truth, and I admit I got a certain pleasure from voicing it.
Kathy spoke up. “He’s supposed to be available by phone if he’s out of the office for some reason, but a lot of the time he never answers. He just says he must have been in a dead area.” The appropriate phrase silenced us all for just a second.
The detective looked from one of us to the other. “I understand that you two have the offices closest to the deceased’s. Did either of you hear anything unusual this morning?
Kathy shook her head vigorously. “Most of my work is transcribing from tapes. With headphones on I don’t hear much of anything in the office. Besides, my job doesn’t have anything to do with him directly, thank goodness.” She realized what she had just said and I heard a small moan. “I didn’t mean anything by that. We got along okay; it’s just that he was, uh, not as easy to deal with as some of the others.”
“I see,” Madison said with a little smile. “We do understand that things occasionally get said under these circumstances that normally might be thought out a little better. Do you have anything you’d like to add?” Kathy replied in the negative, and was allowed to leave.
Detective Madison loosened his tie and apparently sent some invisible signal to the female officer, because she poured fresh coffee into a paper cup and set it in front of him. I wasn’t offered any.
“Are we going to be much longer?” I demanded. “If it’ll be more than a few minutes, I could use some coffee, too. I know how to get my own, though.”
Madison looked annoyed; the woman smothered a grin. I liked her better all the time.
“By all means,” he said magnanimously. I stood and pulled my brown-stained mug from the closet and took my time filling it to the brim.
“Okay, I’m ready.”
“Would you say that Casey is trustworthy? That is, would it be safe for us to assume that she is a reliable witness?”
I gnawed at my lip as I considered my answer. “Casey is a good worker, at least when she’s not fighting with her boyfriend, and as far as I know she’s as honest as they come. Whether you can trust her perceptions in a moment of crisis, I couldn’t say. But then, you don’t know me, either. My opinion shouldn’t carry any weight.”
He ran his fingers through thinning gray hair. “We’re going to be asking a lot of questions, and talking to a lot of people. We don’t know any of them…yet. Right now we’re asking you because your office was close to Abbot’s. Presumably you were in a position to know him. Casey Boronski seems to feel that you would have a handle on what might have happened if anyone does.”
I felt my jaw drop. Did Casey believe I had something to do with all this? We weren’t close friends, but I sure thought she knew me better than that.
This is the first part of something I started writing a while back. As with most of my writing, it tends to be a bit long-winded. I welcome suggestions as to the best way to firm it up. I offer no apologies, though. I like to write things that are comfortable to read, and as we all know, neither pillows nor prose are worth much if you take all the fluff out of them.