The Body in the Pool Chapter 19

The Body in the Pool

Book One of the Dismember Killer Series

 

Chapter Nineteen

Barnes and Melanie were back by noon. “It was a flipping farm of cubicles. I sent everything to a forensic accountant. It’ll be eons before they can make heads or tails of it.”
“Aren’t you full of good news.” Spence’s mood was black.
“Who pissed in your Wheaties?” Melanie frowned.
“Shit. There’s no easy way to lay this out there.” Spence stopped staring at his screen and made eye contact. “Turns out the leak was Tom.”
Melanie laughed and turned to her desk. She grabbed the wall calender hanging there.
“What are you doing?”
“Checking the date. You’re a couple of months late for April Fools.”
Spence shook his head.
Barnes pulled out his chair. “The new girl right?”
“Yeah.”
“Oh, come on.” Melanie’s face scrunched up. “We do not need this right now.”
“For now, he’s off the case. I don’t know if he’ll be back or when.”
“All these years, we’ve all debated what it might take to bring down ‘dynamite’, turns out it’s one bleach blonde bitch with a big mouth.”
Barnes snorted. “Say that three times fast.”
“Bleach blonde bitch with a big mouth, bleach blonde bitch with a big mouth, bleach blonde bitch with a big mouth.” Melanie sing-songed her way through the words.
Spence let it slide. They needed to process losing a family member. If making jokes helped, he was on board.
“I got a couple of the lab reports back.” Spence hoped this would get them focused on the case. “The mystery meat.”
Barnes provided a drum roll on the work table with his hands.
“Human. DNA was too fried for a match to Paulson. Think about it, how many bits of human flesh can we expect to find within 30 feet of a body missing those same bits.”
“That’s a new one for our serial killer.” Melanie frowned.
“We’ve had that thought about a number of aspects to this case.” Spence countered.
“I know, I just think we shouldn’t lose track of the minutia.”
“Fair enough,” said Spence. “The eyeball jelly is back as well.”
“Vitreous fluid,” said Barnes correcting Spence.
“Right, the vitreous fluid contained Rohypnol.”
“Somebody roofied the old guy?” Melanie asked in blatant disbelief. “That has never been done by our serial killer. He always overpowers them.”
Spence nodded his acquiescence. “It fits with the mode of death suggested by Choi, smothering. A few drops in a cocktail, he passes out. Couple of minutes with a pillow.”
“He passes way out,” Barnes chuckled. “That’s cold. And not our guy. I agree with Mel.”
“You two think we should pass this case off then?” Spence knew a copycat designation by his team right now, could tank Tom’s case for accidental information transmission. Harold was dead before the story hit the front page but it would still come down on Tom.
“That’s a hard call.” Barnes shook his head. “I think I’d rather take a gander at the personal financials we have access to now.”
“That sounds reasonable.” Spence looked over at Melanie who was staring off into space. Okay then, back to the data.
It was several minutes later when Melanie leapt to the cork-board and grabbed the preliminary autopsy report. She flipped pages. Then slapping the page in her hand, said, “No marks on his heels.”
“No what?” Spence asked.
“Marks on his heels. Paulson was 5’11”, 180 pounds. If he was dead already, how did the killer get him from the murder location to the pool without dragging him?”
“He carried him.”
“That’s a lot of dead weight. No pun intended,” she continued when Barnes guffawed.
“We’re looking for a big guy, a team, or someone with a little red wagon. That really narrows it down.”
Melanie flipped the papers back into order and retacked them to the board. “At least I’m trying.”
“As opposed to me?”
“You’re just staring at your screen, feeling sorry for yourself and Tom.”
Spence considered how to answer this without lying. Because Melanie was right. He did feel sorry for himself, for Tom, for the team. And he really hated Stephanie Lewis right about now. The ringing phone on his desk saved him the trouble of answering her. “Thomas.” He hung up ten seconds later. “It appears my wife is here.”

The Body in the Pool Chapter 18

The Body in the Pool

Book One of the Dismember Killer Series

 

Chapter Eighteen

Tess arrived at the restaurant early. She was actually dying for a Reuben, had been since she suggested it to Magda in text last night. She also wanted to be sure they dined in a window booth. Spence’s seriousness the night before had left her with lingering unease. Deuces surrounded the bar, all next to large plate glass windows. She selected the table she wanted and ordered a Mango Mana-tea while she waited. Magda, true to form, was 20 minutes late.
“Tess, my darling, you are the size of a house.”
Tess laughed. “Thank you, I think.”
“A completely adorable house, of course.” Magda kissed both of Tess’s cheeks and then sat down signaling the waiter as she did. “I’m dying for a Martini. How about you?”
Tess shook her head. “Alcohol is bad for the baby.”
“Oh, right. The baby. One Martini then, s’il vous plait.” Magda beamed at Tess. “Tell me everything.”
For a moment Tess wondered if Magda knew, then she shook herself and tried to remember all the reasons she and Magda had been friends in culinary school. Which she could sum up in one word: fun. Magda was fun. “You’ve always been way more entertaining. Tell me what you’ve been up to.”
“Oh darling. Things have been simply dreadful. Matt actually had the nerve to put me on a shopping budget. Can you imagine? Me? On a budget?”
Tess laughed. “No. Absolutely not.”
“That’s absolutely what I told him.” Magda bubbled over with laughter. “Let’s order, I’m famished.”

They were into dessert, well Tess was, Magda was sipping coffee, when the subject of Matt’s work came up.
“He’s been ridic busy lately. Apparently one of his clients is in a mess of hot water. A bunch of money disappeared.” Magda leaned in towards Tess, “And the client canceled their deliberate malfeasance insurance last year.”
“And now money is missing?”
Magda nodded. “It’s about to be such a scandal. Of course Matt’s terribly stressed and working long hours. He had the nerve to suggest we might have to cancel our trip to Barbados next month.”
“I can’t imagine.” And she couldn’t. Spence took Tess on a cruise to Alaska for their last vacation. It happened to be their honeymoon, three years ago.
“I didn’t tell you the best part. Last night when Matt got home, he told me the guy they think stole the money was murdered yesterday.”
Tess stopped hard, her spoon half-way to her mouth. “Murdered?”
“Like murdered, murdered.” Magda flopped back in her chair, wrung out by the rehashing of such vibrant gossip.
“Matt’s not a suspect, is he?” Tess asked with a concerned note in her voice.
“Don’t be silly. It’s Matt’s clients that might be in hot water, in more ways than one.”
“With Matt as their lawyer…” Tess let her sentence trail off.
“He is rather good, isn’t he?” Magda smiled. “Complete pit-bull. Ridic sexy. Except when it’s about my credit card bill.”
Tess laughed.
“We should do this again.”
“I’d like that. I’ve been super bored since the whole bed rest thing.”
“It sounds positively ghastly. I don’t know how you stand it.”
Tess’s hand moved to her belly in an automatic response. “You do what you have to.”
“No, my darling, you do what you have to. There’s a reason my stomach is still perfectly flat and it’s not just Pilates. Speaking of which I’ve got to run. I’ll grab the bill this time.”
“You don’t need to do that.”
“Nonsense. I’ve done nothing but natter at you today. The least I can do is pay for the privilege.”
Tess stood up from the table. “Thank you.” She gave Magda as firm a hug as she could manage with the bowling ball in her belly.
Magda laid a gentle hand on Tess’s belly. “Next week?”
“Sure.” Surprisingly, Tess found she meant it.

While she waited for Magda to pay the check and leave, Tess texted Spence. I’m dropping by the office and boy do I have a scoop for you.

The Body in the Pool Chapter 17

The Body in the Pool

Book One of the Dismember Killer Series

 

Chapter Seventeen

Spence was in the office before seven the next morning. He needed time to order a drive-by on the South Lake Grill.
Once he got to his desk he scrolled through his emails looking for reports: the Stephanie Lewis situation, lab reports, warrants, that preliminary written autopsy Choi said he was finishing last night.
The autopsy was there. He opened it and read through. He hit print, stapled the pages together, and added them to the cork-board under the New Reports heading. Melanie came through the door as he was sticking the tack in it.
“Morning.”
“Prelim autopsy,” Spence responded.
Melanie hung up her coat and crossed back to the cork-board to read the report.
Spence returned to his desk.
“Water injected into the lungs after death?”
“Yup, that’s what Choi told me last night.”
Melanie stared at Spence. “Who does that kind of shit?”
“Got me.”
Barnes came in and Melanie started explaining the preliminary findings.
“Warrants. We’ve got warrants for the business and the personal accounts. Who wants to serve?”
“We’ll go.” Melanie nodded at Barnes who nodded back.
“Go to it. And get digital where you can.”
Melanie laughed. The partners grabbed the coats they had just shed and left the office.
Spence was back into reading his email when Tom came through the door. Spence glared. “What the fuck were you thinking?”
Tom stopped dead in his tracks. “I wasn’t, I wasn’t thinking.”
“Partners for seven years, four years in that god awful hell of a sand pit before that. And you do this to me?” Spence kicked his chair back out of the way.
“I’m sorry.”
“What if something happens to Tess or the baby?”
Confusion streaked across Tom’s face. “Why would anything happen to Tess?”
“You don’t think asking her to sneak behind enemy lines and do a little recon is dangerous?”
Tom opened his mouth and then closed it without answering.
“You forgot you called her?”
“I didn’t-”
“Texted her.” Spence shouted, interrupting his partner.
Tom swallowed. “I did forget.”
“Then what were you talking about?”
They stood, staring at each other, computer fans whirring in the background, the hum of the overhead lights. Tom waited for the penny to drop.
“Stephanie Lewis.”
“Yeah.”
“You’re the leak.” Spence felt a weight crushing his chest.
“Yeah.”
Spence sat down, his head in his hands, elbows on his knees.
Tom hung up his coat and waited.
“You should have told me.” Spence’s voice was distant.
“I didn’t want to involve you. I saw the headline and I hoped it wasn’t, she hadn’t.”
“I ordered surveillance on her.”
“This isn’t how I thought it would go down.”
“Oh, you thought through the ramifications of dating a reporter?” Spence’s anger rose in his throat.
Tom shook his head. “I meant the end of our partnership, I figured one of us would get shot.”
“That can still happen,” Spence snapped back.
They stared at each other before Tom started to laugh, Spence slowly joining in.
“I am well and truly fucked.”
“Maybe not. Did you go see her?”
Tom nodded. “Last night.”
“Go to the lieu. Tell her Stephanie lied to you, you didn’t know she was a reporter until you saw the article. You never read The Times.”
“That’s a lot of lies to live with.”
“Or you end your career. I’ll back you either way.”
“I better go throw myself on her highness’s mercy.” Tom smiled then his face relaxed. “You’ve been a good partner. Even better friend.”
“Stop talking like you’re dying. It’s only your career that’s committed suicide.”
“Thanks.”
“Stop stalling. Go, before she gets around to the surveillance reports.”
Tom nodded and left the room. He went down the stairs to the floor below. It felt like everyone’s eyes were on him as he walked across the open bullpen. No conversations stopped, nothing that obvious. But voices dropped as he passed. He knocked on the closed door of his boss.
“Busy,” Her voiced barked.
“It’s Harding.” Tom heard her chair hit the wall behind her desk, five seconds later the door whipped open.
“You better have one hell of an explanation.”
“That’s why I’m here.” Tom watched her nostrils flare way too up close for his comfort. The bullpen behind him was silent now. If he turned, he knew he would find all eyes were watching the show.
“Come in.”

The Body in the Pool Chapter 16

The Body in the Pool

Book One of the Dismember Killer Series

 

Chapter Sixteen

Butch greeted Spence at the door. His tail beyond mere wagging, into full helicopter rotor mode. “Where’s Tess, huh, boy?”
“Tess is in the kitchen,” her voice called out.
Spence followed the sound. “Does she still want ice cream?” He held the bag as he rounded the corner.
“Did you go buy me more ice cream today?”
Spence nodded.
“You are a sweet, sweet man.” Tess kissed his cheek. “You must be exhausted. How’s the case going?”
Spence sighed. “Rough.”
Tess took the ice cream out of the bag and placed it in the freezer. “Leftovers okay?” She pulled several Tupperware containers from the fridge and handed Spence a beer.
“I love you.” Spence took a long draught, “I’m not even hungry.”
Tess leaned towards Spence, inhaling deeply. “Kung Pao Chicken. And you didn’t bring me any?”
Spence took another long drink from the bottle and looked at Tess with sad eyes.
“I forgive you. You had a mighty long day.”
“I did. What about you?”
“Nothing too exciting. I did talk to Magda Sugden today.”
Spence stopped drinking mid gulp and pulled the bottle from his mouth. “What made you think to call her?”
Tess smiled. “I thought I might while the days away by calling up one or two old friends.”
Spence nodded. “What did Magda have to say?”
“She invited me round for tea tomorrow. Her husband is super busy right now and I knew you’d be tied up for days on this new case.”
“Are you going?” Spence held his breath.
“Why wouldn’t I?” Tess widened her bright green eyes.
Spence set the bottle down on the table. “Because her husband is general counsel on the case we are working right now. Why do I think you know that already?”
“I had no idea.”
“Tess.”
“Spence. I had no idea Matt was general counsel.”
“Which one of them called you?”
Tess laughed. “No one called me. I called Magda.”
“Tess.” Spence wanted to be mad; this wasn’t on Tess though. It was on one of his team and his team wasn’t here. He took a long drink of beer, counted to 15, and tried again. “Which one texted you?”
Tess laughed again. “Tom. He asked if I knew Matt Sugden’s wife. I actually had no idea who he meant until I came across that travel mug they gave the guests at their wedding, as though that made up for a crack of dawn ceremony.”
“Please don’t go over there tomorrow.” Spence crossed the kitchen to hug her.
“What if I meet her somewhere else? Lunch out?”
Spence held her closer and didn’t answer.
“What do you need to know, I’ll steer the conversation in the right direction.”
“Please don’t. It is way too dangerous for you to get into this.”
“Kind of too late now honey. Way weirder if I cancel.”
Slowly releasing his hug, Spence tipped his wife’s face up to meet his. “We need to talk about guidelines for this operation.”
Tess’s grin lit up her freckled face. She pulled her long red hair back into a bun and stuck a pencil through it. “Absolutely.”
“You meet somewhere neutral for lunch.”
“Done.”
“You do not eat any food that you left unattended. Pee between courses, Tess.”
“What if the mains come while I’m in the ladies?”
“Pretend you changed your mind and order a new meal. Drink only water and keep your glass way on your side of the table.”
“I can do that.”
“Do not ask about Matt or his work.”
“I have to ask about Matt. I’ll keep it simple, has he made partner yet? How many vacation days do they manage to get away each year? I do know how to have a conversation with an old friend, Spence.”
“I’m gonna kill Tom for bringing you into this.”
“You don’t actually suspect Magda of anything do you?”
“No. Maybe. Her husband worries me.”
“You didn’t like him before this. That’s half the reason Magda and I rarely speak anymore.”
“Really? Because I thought her husband was an ass?”
“It’s hard when one half the couple doesn’t like half the other couple to keep things balanced. It’s not like we have kids in common or anything.”
Spence sighed. “What’s the other half the reason?”
Tess laughed, “He didn’t like you.”
Spence shook his head. “Where are you going to meet her?”
“Are you going to stake the place out?”
“Maybe. At least have a couple of officers do a drive by.”
Tess rolled her eyes. “Hang on. Let me text her.”
My day went wonky. Can you meet for lunch instead? Dying for a Reuben at the South Lake Grill.
Tess showed Spence the text before she hit send.
“As long you don’t end up really dying for a Reuben.”
Tess shook her head with a smile on her face. “I think you’re being silly. I can’t imagine what Magda might say to put me in any danger.”
Spence could imagine many things Magda might say.

 

The Body in the Pool Chapter 5

The Body in the Pool

Book One of the Dismember Killer Series

 

Chapter Five

“Detective Harding, have you been waiting here the whole time?” Doctor Wallsgraf asked when he returned to his office.
Tom smiled. “I was admiring your interesting collections.”
The headmaster paused in his stride. “I see. Detective Thomas said you’d like to interview the guard.”
“That would certainly help. Was there only one guard on duty?”
“No. We employ five guards daily on three shifts. If you will follow me to the security office.”
“Of course.”
The security office was two doors down the hall. The headmaster pushed open the partially closed door revealing two uniformed men. One young, extremely slight in build with what seemed like an entire boy scout mess kit on his belt. He was crumpled in a wooden chair squeezed into the corner, his elbows resting on his knees. The other man: older, craggy faced, and tending to roundness, sat in front of a bank of screens which displayed the contents of various cameras about the property. The room smelled of fast food, burgers and fries by the lingering ketchup scent.
“Detective Harding has a few questions for you,” the headmaster announced.
In case he was inclined to linger, Tom said, “Thank you, doctor. I’ll let you know if I need anything else. You’ll be in your office?”
The headmaster exhaled heavily. “Fine.”
The sound of a chuckle turned into a cough emanated from the older guard.
Tom suppressed a smile. Turning to the occupants of the room, he asked, “Who can tell me about the security policies here?”
The older guard nodded.
“And you are?”
“Mike Hunter. Been here about three years.”
“Go on then Mike.”
“Standard overlapping three by. One in the vid room on all three. One at the gate day and evening shift.”
“So there’s no one at the gate at night?”
“No reason for it. No one should be coming and going after hours, by the board’s decree.”
Tom nodded. “Board?”
“Board of Directors. They run the place although the good doctor will tell you otherwise,” Mike said with chortle.
“Got it.”
“I handle the evening shift, interior, Sunday through Thursday.”
Taking a stab in the dark, Tom said, “Kind of rough during football season, eh? I would have thought with three years you’d have seniority.”
Mike nodded his head. “You’d think that, wouldn’t you.”
Tom waited. Mike clearly had practice with the waiting game. Neither spoke for two minutes.
The skinny guard finally broke the silence, “I’m Bobby. I work the night shift.” His voice cracked twice in the two short sentences.
Tom glanced at the boy scout. Run with him since he was willing to talk or establish dominance by reminding Bobby he was mid-interview with his coworker. Tom made eye contact with Mike who shrugged. There was a story there.
“Hi Bobby. I’m Detective Harding. Can you tell me about your night?”
Bobby nodded. “I got here at eleven, like I always do. Well, maybe I was a little late. I got distracted by my chem homework when I was supposed to be getting ready but I can’t have been more than five minutes late.”
Tom glanced at Mike as Bobby ran on at the mouth. Mike held up seven fingers.
“And it was super rainy on the 405 and people always drive badly when it rains, which makes no sense to me because it’s always raining here. I should have gone to school somewhere warm but I got a partial scholarship which meant less loans, Seattle seemed like a good choice, you know. But then I got depressed from all the rain and I almost flunked out, lost my scholarship, and had to take this job to afford school.”
Tom tamped down his mounting irritation. Fountains of information eventually distilled into facts worth writing down, eventually. The secret was to perfect your interested face. Tom nodded to back up his face.
“Like I said I was a few minutes late. I started my rounds as soon as I got here. Well, almost as soon. I mean, I dropped my lunch off in the office first. But then I went right out. Well okay I stopped at the bathroom, too. But that was kind of already on my rounds. Right, I mean, I’m supposed to check all unoccupied rooms.”
Tom bit his tongue to keep from laughing.
“Everything was fine. I had to ask room 412 to turn down their music. And a couple of boys from 319 were looking out the windows in the hall with binoculars. Bird watching they said. I sent them back to their room.”
Tom noted 319 and ‘bird watching’ in his notepad.
“I was getting to the main floor rooms, I always start at the top and work my way down, when I heard the girl scream. God, it was terrifying. She was loud and shrill and I got goose bumps everywhere. I ran outside and found the kids by the pool. The boy was holding the girl and I think trying to quiet her down. He seemed more concerned about getting caught outside after curfew than the b-b-b-body in the pool.” Bobby sobbed as he stuttered out the last.
Tom waited to see if Bobby would regain control of himself.
Mike cleared his throat. “Video came back up not long after that I guess. The first thing I saw the kids were hugging and Bobby there was puking in one of the potted plants.”
“Did you call the headmaster?”
“I did. Then I flipped through the cameras to see if anything else was amiss, then went out to the pool deck. Got there before the headmaster. Bobby was, well, like that,” Mike gestured to Bobby’s current state. “The girl was hysterical. The boy pretty quiet. The body floating in the pool.”
“Did you see anything on the cameras?”
“Would have said so if I did.”
Tom shot a look at Bobby. He was done for. Time to press Mike. “Why is the maintenance window common knowledge?”
Mike shrugged. “Not my call.”
“You have an opinion about it.” Tom prodded.
Mike sighed. “It’s important we maintain a predictable schedule for the comfort of the students.”
“Let me guess, the good doctor,” Tom asked.
Mike nodded. “He’s not much for accepting other people’s ideas.”
“Even when they have more experience?” Tom asked. “What did you do before this? Military? PD?”
“Both.”
Tom nodded. “What else should we know?”
“That’s a hell of a question.”
“I can tell you’ve been on the job. What do you think we need to know about the school? The headmaster? The security process? The students?”
Mike took a deep breath. “The headmaster is generally an ass. He’s been worried lately. Clear as glass. The gate out front is useless. We’re wooded on the other three sides, no fences. The kids are mostly your run of the mill teenagers with a few budding criminals.”
“Got it.” Tom noted the lack of fencing as a point to check out. How close were roads to the woods? Could someone have come through easily? With a dead body? Tom brought out his phone and showed Mike the picture of the victim. “Do you recognize him?”
Mike took a long look. “Can’t be sure. It looks a lot like one of the board members though.”
“One of the Academy’s Board Members?” Tom asked again.
Mike nodded. “They come in monthly for dinner meetings. Pretty sure I’ve seen that guy or someone who looks like him.”
Tom handed Mike a card. “Call me if you think of anything else.”
“Will do.”

The Body in the Pool Chapter 4

The Body in the Pool

Book One of the Dismember Killer Series

 

Chapter Four

Another flight of stairs and several more long hallways, Doctor Wallsgraf stopped before Room 319. “Please keep in mind the boy is a minor.”
“A minor over the age of sixteen,” Spence retorted. “I don’t suspect him of this crime, I do need to know what he saw.”
The headmaster nodded.
“And I think that would go better if you waited out in the hall.”
“The students don’t have single rooms.”
“Where is there a measure of privacy?”
“There’s a study at the end of the hall. You could use that.”
Spence nodded. “Can you arrange for my partner to speak to the security guard on duty?”
“Fine.” The headmaster replied shortly. “I suppose the sooner you decide we are victims and have nothing to do with this crime the sooner you will be gone.”
Spence held his tongue and waited for Doctor Wallsgraf to knock.
When the door opened, the headmaster asked the young man to send Curt out into the hallway. His roommate complied with an excited, “Dude, po-po is here for you.”
A moment later, the seventeen year old in question appeared at the door. “I didn’t do it I swear.”
Spence’s hair rose fractionally. This was a standard response from teenagers, giving a detective an advantage if he wanted to push it. Spence thought he might as well. “Well then, Curt, let’s talk about what you did do.”
“Curt, this detective just wants to know what you saw tonight.” The headmaster said soothingly.
Spence sighed. “Let’s step down the hall to the study and talk there.”
Curt nodded.
“Thank you.” Spence said in a tone to dismiss the headmaster, although he could feel his eyes watching them walk away for more than a reasonable amount of time. The headmaster was definitely nervous about what Curt might say. Was he more nervous than was reasonable to expect given the circumstances?
The study room was barely five feet by eight feet and the front wall was all glass, granting anyone passing by in the hall a full view of any goings on. Spence pulled out a chair, “Have a seat.”
Curt sat; his left knee bouncing up and down.
“What’s your full name?”
“Curt Anderson.”
“And you’re seventeen?”
Curt nodded.
“Have you called your parents about tonight?”
“Hell no. I mean heck no.”
“Could you have called if you wanted to?”
“I guess but they would make a lot of fuss.”
Spence nodded, requirements met. “Parents tend to do that.” Especially in his line of work. “So you and Stacy.” Spence waited.
A slow smile spread across Curt’s face. “She’s smokin’ hot.”
“Been an item long?”
“Not really. She’s kind of,” Curt paused, “Complicated. She’s not into how much money you have or who you know or where you summer. It’s all about art. I had to spend like all summer studying up to have a conversation with her.”
“Right on,” Spence said as he laughed. “Tonight, you two were heading outside to…”
Curt swallowed. “Look at the stars.”
Spence nodded. “Nice cloudy night for it.”
Curt fidgeted in his seat.
“How’d you go out?”
“Through one of the glass doors in the library.”
Spence nodded. “And when you got outside did you notice anything?”
“Like what?”
“Anything that wasn’t as it usually is?”
“No, everything was fine.”
“You didn’t happen to look at the pool on your way out?”
“We kinda did actually. We were thinking the pool might be fun. Changed our minds cause the cover is such a pain in the ass to drag off and right in view of the house…” Curt trailed off.
“Go on.”
“We, uh, we left the pool deck, looked at the stars a while, and then came back. The night security guard makes rounds right before he comes on. We wanted to be back in our rooms before then.”
“Does everyone know about the rounds schedule?”
“Oh yeah. When they make rounds, how many of them are around, when the security system is down. Gotta know when it’s safe to…look at the stars.”
These kids were informed, excellent criminals in the making. “What did you see when you came back?”
“It wasn’t what I saw. Well, it was. First I heard the gate bang. That’s what made me look over that way. Then I saw the pool cover all wrong on one side.”
“And then?” Spence prodded.
“We walked over to look. I don’t know why. As soon as I saw the pool cover I wasn’t worried anymore about the guard coming. Why is that?”
“Immediacy. Our brains are designed to respond to things in the now even when it makes no sense. Even when worse is coming in the next five minutes. The now holds sway.”
Curt nodded. “That’s cool dude.”
“It’s something.” Spence said wryly.
“I kind of dragged Stacy along with me. And when I looked in the pool that dude was like floating there.”
Spence nodded and waited.
“Stacy lost her shit. Like totally freaked out. Screaming. I knew we were busted when she started that.”
“Who showed up first after Stacy started screaming?”
“The night guard. He came running, which was super funny because he has all this stuff on his belt and it was flopping all over the place, and he was trying to hold it all and run at the same time.”
Spence gave a courtesy laugh.
“I know right. Idiot. Like when has he ever needed half that junk.”
When indeed. Spence grabbed his phone. “Give me a quick second.” He texted Tom: Check the equipment on the guard’s belt. “Thanks. Let me ask you this. You didn’t see anything weird when you left the building, did you smell anything weird?”
“Not when we left. But yeah I smelled BBQ when we came back. Made me kind of hungry, then kind of like I wanted to puke.”
There was no way Spence was going to mention what he thought had been grilling. “I can see that. Is there anything else?”
“Like what?” Curt asked.
“I don’t know. Anything that makes you think ‘huh, that’s weird.’ Or that you can’t quite place. Something that rubs you wrong?”
Curt burst out laughing.
“Double entendre aside. Anything?”
Curt shook his head.
“Anything the headmaster wouldn’t want you to tell me?” Spence fished a little since he had the pond to himself.
Curt didn’t say anything for a moment. “It’s decent here. They try to be strict,” he laughed. “They’re not really on top of shit. And lately, I dunno. It’s like the headmaster has been extra distracted.”
Spence raised an eyebrow and waited. Curt was focused on the tabletop, using the side of his thumb nail to scratch at a gouge. “Can I go back to my room now?”
“Sure.” Spence stood and pulled his card case from his pocket. He handed Curt a card. “Call me if you think of anything else.”
Curt nodded. “Are you gonna talk to Stacy, too?”
“Of course.”
“Could you not mention the whole studying all summer to talk to her thing?”
“No problem.” Spence said with a smile.
“Thanks, man.” Curt left the room.
Spence flipped through his notes. Not much there. Maybe Tom had better luck with the guard.

The Body in the Pool Chapter 3

The Body in the Pool

Book One of the Dismember Killer Series

 

Chapter Three

Tom led the way down a long hallway. Marbled floors echoed their steps. Dimly lit wall sconces provided minimal illumination. Tom turned a corner and stopped in front of an open door.
“Mr. Wallsgraf?” Tom asked.
“Doctor.” The man behind the desk removed his glasses and looked up.
“No, it’s Detective Harding.”
“No. I mean, I am Doctor Wallsgraf.”
Spence stepped into the office. “Detective Thomas.” Spence noted the over-sized mahogany desk, the lightly faded Persian rug on the floor, and roaring fire in front of leather wing-back chairs to one side of the room. “I can imagine this situation has been quite distressing for you.”
“Why, yes it has.” The headmaster’s face softened.
“It is important that we get as much information as we can about the situation.”
Wallsgraf nodded. “Of course. I don’t know what I can tell you that I haven’t already told Detective Harding.”
Spence smiled. “I know how frustrating the process of detection can be to those who are encountering it for the first time.”
Tom made a sound not unlike a warbled cough.
Spence shot him a quick glance. “Start from the beginning of your night for me.”
“From dinner? Or?”
“Do you live on site?”
“I do.”
“Let’s start with what woke you.” Spence sat in a chair in front of the desk.
Tom milled about the edge of the room, looking at the items Doctor Wallsgraf chose to display and listening to the conversation without watching their body language.
“I believe it was a scream that woke me. Clearly a young, female voice. I sat in my bed for several minutes trying to place what had occurred.”
“You didn’t immediately investigate?” Spence interrupted.
“Well, no.” Doctor Wallsgraf stopped speaking.
Spence waited. He could wait all day if he needed to. The pressure of speech would eventually force words.
“Sometimes.” Wallsgraf stopped again. “Our population is unusual. The occasional nighttime sound is not exceptional.”
“When did you decide this was exceptional?”
“The security officer on duty called me.”
Spence nodded and made a note in his book.
“I got dressed and went downstairs.”
“If you remember, what exactly did the officer say to you?”
“I don’t remember the exact words, essentially he informed me two students were out after hours, breaking curfew, and that there was a security breach.”
“Did you think the students in question were the security breach?”
“I did wonder what he meant. The guard thought I should see for myself.”
“You got dressed and went downstairs. Very reasonable, continue.”
“The female student was hysterical. I asked the boy to take her to our nurse. The security officer informed me there was an issue in the pool. I walked out onto the pool deck and then immediately called the police.”
“Did you recognize the victim?”
“No.”
Spence pulled up the picture on his phone and held it out. “Are you sure you don’t recognize the victim?”
Blood drained out of the headmaster’s face and he shook his head.
“I would like to speak to the students and your security officer.”
“I don’t think that should be necessary.” Wallsgraf’s eyebrows squished together.
Spence smiled. “It is necessary.”
Doctor Wallsgraf ceased making eye contact. Spence watched his eyes flick about the room. He picked up the fountain pen on his desk, unscrewed the cap, then replaced the cap and then the pen on the desk.
“I can arrange for you to see the security officer. However, it is quite out of the question for you to interrogate students without their parents present.”
“How old are the students?”
“Our students range from twelve to eighteen years of age.” Doctor Wallsgraf’s nose twitched.
Spence waited.
“Sixteen and seventeen.”
“I think you know we can interview them in conjunction with a crime as material witnesses without parental presence as long as they have been given the opportunity to contact their parents. Do they have access to phones here?”
The headmaster sighed. “They all have cell phones.”
“I thought so.”
Doctor Wallsgraf stood. “Follow me.” He stalked across the room and into the hall. Spence returned his note pad to his pocket, caught Tom’s eye, and followed the headmaster out of the office. Tom would stay in the office as long as possible to take note of everything ‘in plain sight.’
Spence had little trouble matching stride with the several inches shorter headmaster. He even had breath to ask a few questions. “How long have you been the headmaster?”
“Seven years at this school.”
“You’ve worked at other schools, then?”
“Of course. I can provide you a list if necessary.”
“That would be helpful.” Spence wondered what he might find in the headmaster’s background. When a previously reticent interviewee suddenly volunteered information, it made Spence’s hair stand up.
They walked several long hallways and one flight of stairs before arriving at the infirmary. Doctor Wallsgraf knocked before entering. “Nancy?”
“Yes, headmaster?” Six feet of blonde, curvy goddess stepped around a curtained alcove. It was the middle of the night and she was flawless.
“The detective would like to talk to Stacy and Curt.” The headmaster gestured to Spence.
“Detective Thomas, ma’am.” Forget hot for teacher, Spence had a shrewd idea a lot of students got sick around here.
“Hello, detective. I’m afraid I sent Curt back to his room. He really wasn’t helping matters with Stacy.”
“Then can I speak with Stacy while I’m here?”
“She’s asleep now, the poor thing. I prescribed hot Chamomile and honey. That seemed to do the trick. Hysteria is nine-tenths exhaustion you know.”
Spence sighed. No point in waking the girl up now.
“You know detective, Curt is likely to be asleep as well. Perhaps you could return in the morning to question them both.”
Spence considered the headmaster’s suggestion. The problem with returning in the morning: it allowed the headmaster to ‘adjust’ what the students might say without his influence. “Let’s take a look see at the boy’s room. See if he’s awake, tweeting about his experience.”