The Body in the Pool Chapter 29

The Body in the Pool

Book One of the Dismember Killer Series

 

Chapter Twenty Nine

The three detectives convened briefly in the parking lot of Saint Paul’s Church at 7:15 Tuesday morning. A couple of cars in the lot suggested they weren’t the first to arrive.
“This is inhumane. Do you have any idea how early I had to be up to drive the kiddo out to my mother’s and be here, at the ass end of everything civilized, by 7:15?” Melanie was in rare form.
Barnes held up a paper bag in one hand and a coffee carrier in the other.
The smell of breakfast and coffee brought a smile to her face. “If you treated your ex-wives half as good as you treat me, you’d still be married.”
Barnes snorted. “You’re assuming I still want to be married.”
Melanie laughed and Spence smiled, a little sad for Barnes that it came down to this. Barnes’ most rewarding, intimate relationship was with his work wife.
The photography team arrived: two police officers trained not in how to take aesthetically pleasing shots, but in how to get the most front presentation of each face for identification. It was more interesting than traffic duty, Spence supposed. “How does this work?” he asked them.
“I’ll be in the parking lot and try to catch people as they arrive and depart. My partner will try to grab everyone inside. This guarantees 99 percent coverage.”
“99 percent, huh?”
“Nothing’s perfect.”
They shared a quick laugh.
The small church contained only one chapel. On the way in Spence went over their brief. “Pay attention to how people are reacting to things they hear. Funerals always talk up the dead like they were saints. This should piss off anyone who has an ax to grind with Harold. I think we should hold off asking any direct questions until the reception. Let alcohol loosen tongues.”
“And if they don’t serve any alcohol?” Barnes gave Spence an exaggerated horror face.
“We arrest them all,” Spence laughed as he replied.
“Who are you planning on arresting, Detective Thomas?” Stephanie Lewis rushed up the path behind them.
Spence paused with his hand on the door and considered his options.
Melanie whirled on her heel. “Have you no decency?”
“The public has a right to know,” Stephanie replied. “And I have a right to report it.”
“The public may have a right to the facts. This,” Melanie pointed to the church, “is you hunting for salacious entertainment to drive up readership. And using people’s grief to do it.”
More cars were pulling into the lot. People were headed towards them. Spence nodded at Melanie and then pulled open the door. After the kerfluffle on the steps, the lobby was rather quiet and empty.
Spence estimated 80 seats in the small church; few were occupied. Melanie moved to sit in the middle on the right, Barnes to the back on the left. The indoor photographer stayed in the lobby on a diagonal line of sight to the door. Spence decided to wander the side aisle unless forced to take a seat. He could move back and forth that way, catching more reactions.
People entered the church in twos and threes. The crack of dawn start was clearly affecting people’s natural inclination to be early to these sort of events and gossip with each other.
At the buzz on his hip, Spence slid out his cell phone to read a text from Melanie. At least ten are from Paulson’s office. Spence made eye contact with her and nodded. He recognized several people from the board of directors at the Academy. Doctor Wallsgraf sat alone.
He tried to estimate how few people that left as personal guests paying their respects. The door opened, Spence glanced over his shoulder and saw Nurse Nancy sliding into the last row on the far side of the room. He met her eyes briefly and she gave him a watery, weak smile.
The organist was halfway through the second hymnal when Arlene Paulson swept into the church in a dark gray fur coat and a black pill box hat complete with netting. She swooped up the aisle like the QE2 streaming into port. She sat in the front row, alone.
The funeral followed a standard program: song, priest, song, priest, song, then friends were invited to speak.
No one stood. The priest returned to the pulpit. “Do not be shy with your praise of our dearly departed.”
One of the employees from his office got up and spoke about what a great boss Harold had been because he took three hour lunches and never noticed if you skivved off, too. The employee laughed at his own joke, no one else did.
After a pause that again bordered on a bit too long, Roger Boffherd slowly made his way to the podium. He cleared his throat more than once and fiddled with the note card he removed from an interior pocket in his suit coat. Spence perked up. Roger was nervous and doing a bad job of hiding it. Roger slid one hand down the front of his tie to smooth it out.
“Harold Paulson was a good friend. I first met him when he joined my golf foursome, many years ago. At my behest he served on the board of my pet project, Whispering Evergreen Academy. We served together for a number of years. His dry wit was always a welcome break from the mundane duties we were discharging. Along the way he talked me into partnering with him on the tennis court. I’ll miss his devastating backhand. I will miss his quiet strength.” Roger’s words stumbled as he tried to start the next sentence, rubbing one hand across his chin and mouth before continuing on. “He had a way of making you feel you could trust him. That’s a commodity all too often missing these days. Rest in peace Harold, you will be missed.” After clearing his throat again, he nodded once at the congregation, and walked back to his seat.
Spence’s phone buzzed, another text from Melanie. Did you catch that mouth rub? Oh, yes, he did. Another text, this one from Barnes. Solidad chortled quietly when Roger said Paulson was trustworthy.
Spence had missed that. He had been too absorbed by Roger’s performance. He thumbed back, Nice catch.
The service wrapped up with Beyond the Blue Horizon. Spence lingered in his side aisle, watching people gather themselves and depart slowly. He’d been to funerals where there hadn’t been a dry eye in the house. This was not one of those. It seemed like a lot of people were mentally shrugging it off and ready for breakfast at the local bar and grill.
Glancing at his program, Spence noted the reception was being held in the church rectory. He gave a momentary sigh for the opportunity lost to snoop about the Paulson household. With luck, the report from the accountants would be available when he got to the office and they could poke around the Paulson house legally.
Making her way down the center aisle, Arlene Paulson nodded royally as people gave their condolences. She stopped abruptly at Nancy. Spence could feel it coming. He caught Barnes’ eye and nodded towards the ladies. Barnes was closer, not close enough. Arlene Paulson pulled back her head and spat with vehemence in Nancy’s face.

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The Body in the Pool Chapter 28

The Body in the Pool

Book One of the Dismember Killer Series

 

Chapter Twenty Eight

Spence walked quietly back into the office and sat down at his desk.
Melanie spoke without looking up. “I sent the file to the shrink. She thinks she can have her review to us tomorrow. Tomorrow is going to be a big day.”
When Spence failed to respond, Melanie turned in her chair, “What’s wrong with you?”
“I saw the bean counters.”
“And?”
“Millions, many, many, millions.” Spence nodded.
“The Academy had that much money?”
“I have no idea. He was stealing from all his clients.”
“ALL of them,” Melanie exclaimed.
Barnes turned from his monitor to face the room. “That’s a lot of new suspects.”
Melanie opened her mouth and then closed it again without speaking.
“You look like a big mouth bass I once caught,” said Barnes.
“I’m thinking. And here’s what I think. Yes, a lot of people are probably super pissed at Harold or will be when they find out what he did. But—” Melanie thrust out her pointer finger, “his body was at the Academy.”
“She’s got a point,” Spence said to Barnes.
“Literally,” Barnes deadpanned.
“We all need to be at that funeral tomorrow and the reception after. We need to talk to as many members of the board as we can.” Spence was back in the saddle. “I’m going to update the lieu and get us a photography team to take pictures of everyone. I want to be able to identify them all.”
“I’m not sure if we still care, Arlene hasn’t booked any trips since her husband’s death.”
“I’d love to be able to cross her off our list. I think we can get a warrant for her place based on the embezzlement, once we have the report to put in as documentation, which should come in tomorrow.”
“Listening to the list for tomorrow makes me feel like I need a nap today,” Melanie sighed.
“I’d love to say take the afternoon off. We need to be as prepared as we can be tomorrow. That means data mining today. I want further backgrounds on everyone. If they sneezed on a buffet in Vegas when they were seven, I want a photograph of it.”
Melanie and Barnes nodded and went back to their computers. Spence headed back downstairs to knock on his lieutenant’s office door.
“Thomas, again?”
“It’s about the Paulson case.”
“What now?”
“I don’t think this is a Dismember case. Harold Paulson was embezzling from all his clients. We’re about to go hard at it. If you want to pull us, this is the time.” Spence kept it brief.
“How deep are you?”
“Deep.”
She leaned back in her chair, tapping the eraser end of a pencil on the desk. “If I pull the case from the task force, the media will notice. The headlines will read Paulson murder no longer considered a Dismember case.”
“And our killer will be on guard.”
The lieutenant nodded at him. “What do you need to pull this in?”
“Photography team for the funeral. The accounting department probably needs a little overtime. They’re all thrilled to have landed the white whale of accounting crimes.”
The lieutenant barked out a short laugh.
“Any chance we could get Harding back?” Spence asked, knowingly pressing his luck.
“Not happening. His relationship with the reporter went on for months.”
“Begging your pardon, he didn’t know. She lied about who she was.”
“So former Detective Harding informed me,” her voice dripped with acid.
“You’ve decided to bounce him?”
“Disciplinary action is pending.” She picked up the report she had been reading when Spence arrived.
“He’s one of the best detectives you have at your disposal and our team is less effective without him.”
“Thank you, Thomas. You may go now.” She did not look up from her paperwork.
Spence accepted his dismissal.

 

The Body in the Pool Chapter 27

The Body in the Pool

Book One of the Dismember Killer Series

 

Chapter Twenty Seven

Spence turned off the sound on his speakers. “Damn. I think we owe Mike a beer.”
“Can we hit Matt with the bottle when Mike’s done with the beer?” Barnes grumbled as he rolled his chair in the direction of his own computer. “Lawyers.”
“What I want to know is where he got that video? With the snow in and out it makes me think that wasn’t a standard security camera,” Melanie worried out loud.
“I can ask him if it will make you feel better. I’m not sure it matters though. We have the files from the accountancy firm. We will get a report on that sooner or later. I think we should follow up. Maybe get the station shrink to take a look at this footage and give us her take on that bunch. And we need an approach for the nurse.”
“I saw announcement for the funeral, tomorrow, I think.” Melanie rolled her chair over to her own desk and started in on the keyboard.
“We need a presence at that funeral,” said Spence.
“I was thinking it might be a good place to talk to the nurse. To talk to a lot of them again. At the reception after. I’m sure the board will be there.”
“I like that.” Spence nodded and picked up his phone.
“You’d think I’d done this before,” Melanie quipped.
Spence stopped mid-dial and looked at her, the phone still in one hand, his stomach in his throat.
“Too soon?”
“Even I knew that was too soon,” Barnes answered for Spence.
“Sorry,” Melanie ducked her head and resumed her work.
Spence continued dialing the accounting department. “It’s Thomas. I’m checking status on the forensic accounting for the Paulson case. Who’s working on that?”
There was a long pause, then Spence said, “What does that mean?”
Melanie and Barnes stopped working when the heard the tone in Spence’s voice and rolled closer to him.
“When will we know something?” Spence slammed the phone down. “They don’t know when they’ll have a report for us and it would be shorter to tell me who isn’t working on the case.”
“What does that mean?” Melanie asked.
“Funny, that’s what I said. Not that I got much of an answer. Someone will get back to me soon.”
“You want me to go down there?” Barnes asked.
Spence snorted. “We might have better luck if we send Melanie with baked goods.”
“I draw the line at tarting it up for a bunch of math geeks.”
“Did you find out the when and where for the funeral at least?” Spence smiled to let Melanie know she was forgiven for the earlier gaffe.
“I don’t like it. Tomorrow, seven-thirty service at Saint Paul’s Church of the Valley, Shadow Valley.”
“That is god awful early. Why would she do that?”
“Maybe that was all that was available. It’s fall. A lot of people dying,” Barnes remarked.
“Why the rush then? Wait a few days, get a decent time slot,” Spence mused.
“Maybe she couldn’t wait to be rid of the guy,” Barnes suggested.
“Again, this isn’t one of your ex-wives,” Melanie laughed.
“Maybe we should be looking at her like she is,” Barnes countered.
“Come again?”
“We’re assuming Arlene loved Harold. Maybe she’s grateful to whoever bumped him off.”
Spence stared at his co-worker. “Damn. Check her credit cards again. See if she booked any trips?”
“On it.” Barnes turned back to his keyboard and screen, using their access to pull new information.
“How about I call the department shrink and you go down to accounting?” Melanie gave Spence a hopeful smile.
“Yeah, alright.” Spence pushed back from his desk and left the office. The bean counters were housed on the first floor close to the holding cells for suspected criminals. Spence never could figure out the logic of that.
When he got to the ground floor, he was assaulted by noise. Somewhere on this floor people were loud. He paused at the duty desk. “Are they rioting in holding?”
“Nope.” The sergeant jerked his thumb to the right.
Spence continued on down the hall, the noise getting louder with each passing step. He pushed open the door to the accountants’ den. Normally this area was a pinnacle of silence and repose. Each accountant at their own desk, typing at their computers, headphones blocking the noise of everyone else typing. Today there was no calm separation. Several were gathered around one desk, the others were calling back and forth to each other. They seemed happy.
“If I didn’t know better, I’d think you all found Hoffa,” Spence called trying to catch anyone’s attention.
The head guy came over. “Better.”
“What’s better than Hoffa?”
“I’m not really at liberty to say.”
Spence ground his teeth. “Well then, do you think you might be at liberty to say when I’ll get my report on the Paulson request?”
“You’re the lead on Paulson? Oh, man. Come on over.”
That was a quick change of pace. Spence followed him.
“It took a little digging, but, um, oh man. We found something. Like the full digits in Pi, found something.”
Having no idea what that meant, Spence nodded.
“Harold Paulson was embezzling money.”
“From Whispering Evergreen Academy? We kind of knew that already.”
The accountant shook his head. “No. From every one.”
Spence stared at the man. “Can you clarify that?”
“Everyone. We have found odd transfers out of accounts for ALL his clients.”
Spence coughed. “All?”
“ALL. Ninety percent of it went to offshore accounts directly. The rest went to a corporate account and then was redistributed to Paulson’s personal bank account.”
“How much are we talking about?”
“I’m not…I don’t think we really have a final count.”
“How about a ballpark number?” Spence prodded the man.
“Millions, lots of millions.”
Spence sat on the desk behind him. “Wow.”
The man nodded. His eyes were bright and his face was shiny. “It’s the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me.”
“I can imagine. It’s ranking pretty up there for me.”
“I really want to get back to the investigation.”
“Sure. When can you get us the preliminary stuff? Maybe a list of the clients he embezzled from? And the offshore accounts?”
“I think we can have a tentatively complete list to you tomorrow? Will that work?”
“Yeah. I can work with that.” Spence exhaled and tried to wrap his mind around how exponentially his suspect list just multiplied. “I’ll go now.” He left their office, no longer noticing the noise around him. Dazed, he waited for and took the elevator back to the fourth floor.

The Body in the Pool Chapter 26

The Body in the Pool

Book One of the Dismember Killer Series

 

Chapter Twenty Six

“Who made that bad decision, Roger?” Adam said.
Roger sipped his coffee before answering. “Harold and I discussed it when he joined the board and we decided we could drop that rider from our policy and increase our accident coverage without substantially changing the overall cost.”
“You decided? This wasn’t brought before the board for a vote?” Helena shouted.
Roger shook his head shortly.
“And the legal ramifications of that?” Solidad asked Matt.
“It would really depend on the wording of the board charter. Without having a copy in front of me, my best guess is that you are all still on the hook. This board is responsible to the families who pay you to educate and house their children. Everyone is being cagey about the financial ramifications, however, if money is indeed missing, it could be enough to bankrupt this academy.”
“I think that’s premature,” Roger tried to interject.
The rest of the board members were too busy exclaiming and starting to formulate sentences, arguments, or attacks.

Spence slapped the space bar to pause. “I’m guessing they all wish something stronger than coffee was being served.”
“They must be pretty sure there’s a problem for this kind of kerfluffle,” Melanie responded.
“We really need that report from the forensic accountant.” Spence hit the space bar again.

“You are responsible for this mess,” Solidad was shouting at Roger. “I will sue you if I have to accept any financial responsibility for your bad decisions.”
Matt stood up, stuck two fingers in his mouth, and let out an ear piercing whistle.
Slowly people sat back in their chairs and begrudgingly gave him their attention.
“All of this is moot. We need to contact the accounting firm. No decisions can be made and no amount of shouting will change the situation you find yourself in. Try to conduct yourself as reasonable adults.”
With a tentative low voice, Roger asked, “Did one of you kill Harold because he was stealing from the Academy?”
There was a collective gasp.
Matt cleared this throat. Before he could speak, Solidad’s mouth twisted and out came, “Maybe he was knocked off for banging the nurse.”

Simultaneous hands reached for the space bar.
“Harold was banging the nurse?” Melanie stared at the screen. “I want to back it up and listen again.”
“Oh she said it alright. We need to chat with Nurse Nancy again away from no-means-no Matt’s eagle eye.”

As the video resumed, Matt said, “We have no evidence that would suggest such a thing unless you have knowledge you have not shared with the group, in which case as your lawyer, I would advise you keep that knowledge to yourself.”
Roger wiped his mouth neatly with his napkin before placing it onto the space in front of him at the table. “It is clear we are not going to accomplish anything tonight. I think we should adjourn.”
Helena snorted, “Of course you think we should adjourn. I think we need a plan of action going forward. And since I know how a board actually works, I’m putting it out there that we should work out action items and assignments before we adjourn today.”
“Second.” Adam was quick with his word.
“It had been suggested and seconded that we work out action items and assignments. Discussion is now open.” Although with the dirty look Roger dished round the table as he spoke, no one said anything.
“Shall we call for a vote then?” Roger sighed heavily, “All in favor of making a plan?”
It was a round of unanimous ayes.
“Lovely. And what is your brilliant plan, Helena?” Roger was getting downright snarky.
“Clearly, we need to ascertain where the money went?”
Roger chortled. “Earth shattering. How would you like to go about that?”
“We do what Matt suggested and get Harold’s company to open our own records to us.”
Solidad laughed, “I came up with that, what an hour ago? Matt, when are you free to trot down to the accountancy?”
“I can make time in my schedule Monday morning.”
“Wonderful. Consider it settled.”
”It’s not like I knew. I couldn’t have known it was…I’ve known Harold for 15 years. I never thought…” Roger seemed incapable of completing a sentence.
Adam shook his head. “I refuse to be responsible for this mess. Decisions were made on behalf of the board by the President and Treasurer without consulting us. Those decisions have made this malfeasance possible. Harold’s estate should be sued for recompense and barring that Roger should need to make good.”
Matt cleared his throat. “I will review the wording of the board charter to evaluate the legal responsibilities of the board members in this situation. Although suing the Paulson estate is certainly the first method I would advise to collect the missing funds, if indeed funds are found to be missing.”

Melanie hit the space bar. “That man loves to use that phrase.”
“He’s a lawyer, he’s covering his ass.” Spence resumed the video.

“If, if, if. The problem is we have no idea what’s actually been going on here. We don’t know who’s doing what with what money. People are making decisions. I loved attending this Academy and I was honored when I was asked to serve the board. Things have really gone downhill in recent years.” Adam delivered a pointed glare at Doctor Wallsgraf.
“This academy was run admirably under my tenure. All accounts within my access are in impeccable order.”
“No one is accusing you,” Matt said flatly. “You can know all you want, however, without evidence, you have no case to stand on. I suggest we adjourn.”
People nodded and fussed. Adam stormed out. Helena and Solidad slid their chairs closer together in a conversation the microphone couldn’t pick up above the din. And then the video cut out, back to gray snow.

The Body in the Pool Chapter 25

The Body in the Pool

Book One of the Dismember Killer Series

 

Chapter Twenty Five

The three squeezed in around Spence’s monitor and waited for enough of the file to buffer through the madly slow internet connection. A snowy gray screen gave way to a conference room. Large oval table, high backed chairs, and an expensive-looking conference phone in the middle of the table. The camera had a wide-angle lens on the whole room. Several people were seated around the table with fine china cups and mostly untouched plates of dessert.
Spence hit pause, “If the microphone is embedded in the camera the audio is going to suck on this thing.”
“We could call the lip reader if we need to,” Melanie suggested.
Spence pushed play. “Might as well see how it goes.”
The video resumed playing. The audio was quite good.

“Such a vile thing to happen at our school,” said a brunette female in her early to mid-forties.

Spence paused the screen again. He turned the monitor at Tom’s desk around to face the team. A web page with pictures of the Board of Directors and their short bios filled the screen.
“Solidad Marquez?” Spence asked.
Melanie agreed, “Vice president in charge of membership.”
“One down,” said Spence as he pushed play.

“We can stand the publicity, but really, we shouldn’t have to.”

Spence hit pause again. “Roger Boffherd, Board President. How nice for him.”

“There has been way more publicity than the situation required,” Matt, the lawyer, contributed.
“Isn’t there some way to squash all the talk?” Roger inquired.
“I don’t really see how,” Matt replied. “The whole serial killer angle is entertainment for small minds.”

Melanie slammed her hand down on the space bar. “I think our friend Matt the lawyer just implied this isn’t a serial killer case. Is that what you heard?”
Spence nodded. “I wonder what kind of knowledge he has to assume that?”
“I’m wondering if he’s right.” Melanie hit the space bar to resume the playback.

“I called this meeting because it is imperative that we decide on a strategy.”

A new woman was speaking. The detectives compared her to the website. Melanie whispered, “Helena Starling, Special Projects.” The video kept rolling.

“Now that the bastard is dead, we have to figure out what to do about the missing money,” Helena continued.
“Are we sure the money is really gone?” Roger asked.
“We’ve been over this, Roger. I asked Harold for the numbers in our Capitol Improvements Budget and he never gave them to me. He’s been dodging my calls for months now.”
“Maybe Harold was behind in his paperwork. I believe he said he took on several new clients at the start of the year,” Roger said.
“You cannot go on defending your good buddy, Roger.” Solidad was angry and her tone of voice made it very clear. “When I asked Harold how much was invested and how much was liquid in the Repair and Rebuild Fund, he couldn’t give me numbers on that either.”
“Again, Harold has been busy. Or was busy. The man is dead. We should show him some respect.”
Matt’s slow and calm voice carried clearly. “We need to get our hands on the files. That should make the situation clear. It’s frankly inconceivable to me that you don’t have an independent auditor. Even more inconceivable that none of you have access to the school’s long-term accounts.”

There was such a long silence, Spence feared the sound had gone out on the recoding.

“I maintain we have no proof Harold was embezzling academy money and it would be disrespectful to trouble his widow at this time.” Roger sounded a might tetchy.

Barnes popped the space bar. “Anyone else wondering if Roger was helping Harold embezzle the money?”
Spence chuffed and started the video.

“I’m not sure why you think demanding access to the Academy’s accounting would be disrespectful or a bother to his widow?” Matt asked.
“We have to do something about this, Roger. We can’t keep our heads buried in the sand and pretend everything is fine,” Helena insisted. “We promised our parents an indoor swim facility. We guaranteed it would open by next fall. We can’t move forward at all on the project without funds, which I highly doubt are where they should be.”
“Fine.” Roger clanked his coffee cup back into the saucer. “Fine. You go talk to widow. You tell her you think her husband was embezzling.”
Matt’s voice intruded again. “There is no need to say anything like that. In fact, it would be legally reckless to make such a comment without evidence. The corporate office for his firm is the appropriate place to make a request for documentation and access.”
“Matt, you’re not even on this board,” Roger defended his ignorance. “Arlene inherits everything, I’m sure. All of this is a direct reflection on Harold and her.”
Matt cleared his throat. “I am this board’s general counsel. You pay me to provide you with sound legal advice and assistance. That is what I am offering you now. Whether or not Arlene inherits everything, which I do not know as Harold’s will is not in probate yet, the corporation Harold ran will continue to function. That is who will give you the answers you need now.”

Melanie reached for the pause button but Spence knocked her arm away.

Eventually Solidad spoke, “I agree we should ask for the paperwork. I will go with you Roger, if you insist on a board member only trip.”
“I’m not going.” Roger looked as shocked as he sounded.
“Then I will go and wisely take our general counsel,” Solidad asserted.
“Are you implying I am behaving unwisely?” A vein in Roger’s temple began to throb visibly.
“Honestly, I’m wondering: how dumb are you?” Solidad said before taking a bite of the cake in front of her.
“I don’t think we need to resort to name calling,” said Doctor Wallsgraf. “Let’s try to stay on topic.”
Solidad snorted and shoveled in another bite of dessert.
“Matt, can you fill us in on our legal position?”

Melanie whispered with the video still rolling, “Adam Stingle, Operations.”

Matt nodded and cleared his throat. “Legally speaking, if Harold has embezzled a considerable amount of money from the Academy accounts, you, as the board, could be held responsible.”
“Don’t we have insurance for this sort of thing?” Adam asked in horror.
“Not against deliberate malfeasance,” Matt calmly replied.
“How the hell did that happen?” Helena shouted.
No one answered. The silence dragged on.

The Body in the Pool Chapter 24

The Body in the Pool

Book One of the Dismember Killer Series

 

Chapter Twenty Four

At seven Monday morning the entire Dismember Killer task force, all three of them now that Tom was on leave, were scheduled to meet to discuss where they were at, what likely options they could pursue next, and how to deal with the pressure from the media to make an arrest when they didn’t even have any possible suspects. Spence decided to pop by Krispy Kreme on the way into the office. Yeah, the whole cops and donuts thing was way overblown and cliche. Exceptions could be made for Krispy Kreme though.
The front of headquarters was wall to wall reporters shouting questions at the media liaison from the mayor’s office. Spence recognized Stephanie Lewis in the bunch. Staying off to the side, he paused to listen. It was a good way to guess at the next big headline.
“What’s the task force doing about Dismember?”
“It’s been ten months and eleven dead, why can’t you stop him?”
“Why haven’t you called in the FBI?”
Spence chuffed, why couldn’t they dig up new questions. They kept recycling the old ones. If catching a serial killer who had no prints or DNA in the system was easy, why didn’t one of the reporters do it?
“Is it true Detective Tom Harding has been placed on administrative leave?”
Stephanie Lewis. Spence’s free hand tensed into a fist. He’d heard enough. He badged the card reader next to the single door used by employees only and headed inside.
He dropped the dozen box in the center of the table and started a fresh pot of coffee.
Barnes entered and flipped open the box without preamble.
“Morning.” Spence greeted him.
Barnes provided only a head nod in response. Barnes rarely said anything even after multiple cups of coffee; Spence didn’t take it personally.
At twelve minutes after seven, Melanie rushed through the door. “Sorry, I’m sorry. Lars is out of town and I got stuck in traffic while dropping Junior off at my mother’s.”
Spence nodded.
Melanie helped herself to a raspberry-filled donut. She took a bite, and groaning, said, “Was this you Spence? You’re a god among men.”
Spence smiled and nodded.
“He’s sweetening the pot after his partner screwed us,” Barnes said with annoyance.
Ahhh, here it was. This was indeed the reason Spence picked up donuts. Not that he was trying to make up for anything, he had hoped with their mouths full of the best donuts known to man, they might be a little sweeter in their words. “Did the Seahawks lose last night?”
Barnes stuffed the last three bites of donut into his mouth and walked to the coffee maker to pour a cup before it finished brewing.
“Hey!” Melanie exclaimed. “Don’t. It affects the whole balance of the pot.”
Barnes took his hand off the carafe and turned to his computer instead. “Looked at the expenditures of the Paulson household. The Missus is shopping every day. Clothes, shoes, art galleries. They both eat out frequently. And I see charges for different restaurants at similar times on the same night.”
“Nice.” Melanie shook her head. “I always wonder when I hear about that.”
“Expensive vacations,” Barnes continued on, “Very little actual cash in the accounts. It comes in, credit card bills get paid, and then it moves off again.”
“I’m still working on resolving where that money is going. Offshore is what I can tell you now. If that pot is done, I’ll take a cup.”
Barnes poured Melanie a cup of coffee, then one for himself. “I don’t know how specific we want to get on this until the accountants get done.”
“That’s probably good enough.” Spence shrugged. “We got a tip last night that the board was meeting at the Academy. I reached out and this morning Mike, the guard, emailed us a video. Anyone up for a little entertainment with your coffee and donuts?”
“Is this video from inside the Academy? We don’t have a warrant for that,” Melanie reminded them all.
“If a private source provides the police with video they had lawful access to…” Spence let the sentence hang while he poured himself a cup.
“Does Mike the guard have lawful access to the video?” Melanie pushed.
“As far as I know. His job is to work the video security office.” Spence looked to Barnes.
“Might as well see what we have before we get all worked up about it.”
Melanie threw a hand up in the air, “Fine.”

The Body in the Pool Chapter 23

The Body in the Pool

Book One of the Dismember Killer Series

Chapter Twenty Three

Spence rode his motorcycle out the winding country roads still littered with fall leaves, although they were brown now rather than the vibrant yellow and orange of last month. The Roadhouse was the kind of place popular with people who cared more about the quality of the food and having a good time, than the labels on the beer or the bottle of wine. It was the kind of place that had a sign by the bathroom which read “men’s room to the left, because woman are always right” and a clientele who appreciated the humor.
Spence didn’t mind waiting for a table. The hostess always handed out a cup of coffee while you waited. He still got a seat before Tom arrived.
Tiffy was a second behind him with a refill for his coffee and a menu. “Where’s that pretty wife of yours today?”
Spence smiled. “She’s resting.”
Tiffy grinned, “She must be due to pop soon.”
“Not soon enough,” Spence laughed.
“Imagine how she feels,” Tiffy said with a smile. “What can I get you?”
“Corned beef hash and eggs, over easy, and make it two.”
“Tom coming in then?”
Spence nodded.
“It’s been an age since I’ve seen him.” Tiffy stated with a hint of question.
“He’s been rather occupied lately.”
“Ahh, a woman.” Tiffy shook her head. “He never brought her here, she can’t have been much good for him.”
Spence couldn’t help but laugh out loud, “You have no idea how right you are.”
“Get you the paper to read while you wait?”
“Thanks. Appreciate it.”
Spence sipped his coffee and stared out the window trying not to think too much. Tiffy slipped the paper onto the edge of his table and kept on walking without disturbing his thought process. Spence slid a mindless hand over to to take the folded package and cracked it open to scan the front page. Blaring across the entire front was an article by Stephanie Lewis on the latest in the Dismember Killer case, Harold Paulson. She identified the victim by name—practically common knowledge after this many days. She reported the death as a drowning. She didn’t mention the BBQ. Clearly, she was no longer getting any inside information.
Tiffy delivered the ordered meals complete with the thick homemade bread and fresh jam that accompanied every breakfast. Spence picked up his fork and was on the verge of pricking his eggs to allow the yolks to soak into the corned beef, when Tom slid into the booth across from him. “I see your manners are in top form.”
“Letting this food get cold would be a crime against humanity. Poor manners be damned,” Spence quipped.
“Miss you, man.”
“Ditto.”
They were silent for a moment as Tiffy delivered a cup and filled it with coffee for Tom and topped off Spence.
“Sorry I was late. Mike called.” Tom stuffed a yolk-laden bite of hash into his mouth.
Spence mumbled “what did he say” with a full mouth.
“He’s on duty this afternoon and will check what the security cameras picked up and send you the video.”
“Nice.”
Then a few more minutes went by in silence as they tucked in with relish.
Finally with a sigh, Spence slid his plate slightly back and picked up his knife to spread jam on his toast. “I’ve got issues.”
“Tell me something new. I’ve known that for years,” Tom snarked at Spence with affection.
“I’m not altogether sure that this recent murder is a Dismember.”
“I’m not surprised to see a copycat.”
“I don’t know to be honest.” Spence took a big bite of his toast and jam. “This last guy, it was made to look like a drowning. They found traces of Rohypnol in his eye juice.”
“Eye juice? Seriously?” Tom set down his coffee cup hard.
“There’s a term for it. I don’t care.”
“Roofies, huh? We haven’t seen that before with Dismember.”
“It was usually longer before the body was found, things were more dessicated.”
Tom nodded. “You use the words dessicated and eye juice over breakfast?”
Spence tilted his cup at Tiffy. They waited while she refilled their coffee infusion before Spence continued. “That’s not the half of it. He wasn’t actually drowned.”
“What? We found him face down in a pool.”
“The water in his lungs was injected after death.”
“Choi found that?” Tom paused. “Give that man a raise.”
“No shit.”
“Is Dismember changing up his game or do you have a copycat? Any motives popping up?”
Spence smiled. “You always were quick. Paulson may, and I stress the may, have been embezzling funds.”
“From the Academy?”
Spence raised his eyebrows over his coffee cup. “We’re digging.”
“The forensic accountants take years.”
“I guess this case won’t get solved for years then, is that what you’re saying?”
“We’ve got a solid 82 percent solve rate,” Tom stopped abruptly. “Well, we did. They assign you a new partner yet?”
“I wouldn’t let the lieu until your investigation is over.”
“It isn’t going to go my way. Accept the new partner. You guys need the help.”
“We do.” Spence hated to admit it.
“Barnes and Melanie pissed off?” Tom asked despite already knowing the answer.
“Barnes is pissed. Melanie is inquisitive.”
“And yet you trust me.”
“We’re family. You made a mistake. We’ve all screwed the pooch before. Not all as publicly as you.” Spence cracked a smile.
Tom snorted in response.
Tiffy took advantage of the momentary silence to stop by. “Good to see you Tom. Where you been hiding yourself?”
“Been wasting my time on a woman with half your graces.”
Tiffy laughed and slipped the check onto the table. “Glad you’ve seen the error of your ways. Don’t be a stranger.”
Spence put his hand over the check. “You’re on leave,” was his response to Tom’s unasked question.
“Thanks.”