The Body in the Pool
Book One of the Dismember Killer Series
“We need to get back out there.” Tom stood up.
“Barnes, you done with that footage yet?” Spence turned to their silent partner.
Barnes shook his head. “I can meet you out there when I am though.”
“Text me if you catch anything interesting,” Spence added. “Let’s go shake our headmaster until the truth falls out of him.”
Tom and Spence, feeling the pain of no sleep, let Melanie drive. Spence took advantage of the time to text Tess. How’s it going love?
I’m bored. How’s your case?
Spence sighed. This whole partial bed rest thing was killing them both.
Tom leaned forward. “What’s up?”
“Everything okay with the baby?”
“Yeah, she’s bored at home and wants to know stuff about my work now.”
Tom laughed. “Be careful what you tell her my friend.”
Spence laughed. As if. No details. You’re supposed to be resting.
I’ve rested so long my brain atrophied.
Spence could hear that. Okay. One little bit. There was another murder.
I knew that last night you cheater.
Spence laughed out loud. I never said it would be an exciting bit.
You have until the count of 3.
Spence caught sight of the imposing and apparently useless gate outside the Academy. Gotta go love, we’re here.
Where? Don’t leave me hanging…
Spence counted three news vans parked along the fence in front of the Academy. Reporters and cameramen blocked the gate rolling B footage and waiting for the next exciting to happen.
The arrival of their unmarked squad car was exciting enough. Melanie rolled forward slowly, gesturing people out of her way. They ignored her.
Reporters shouted questions at the detectives through their rolled up windows. One of them was on the ball, catching sight of Spence, shouted, “Detective Thomas, is this another victim of the Dismember Killer? Is that why you are here? What can you tell me about this victim in light of Dismember?”
Spence ignored him. “Use the horn.”
Melanie slammed her hand into the center of the steering wheel and kept it there. Spence reached up and hit the light bar, adding the siren to the cacophony for good measure.
When they reached the guard booth, Melanie took her hand off the horn, and rolled down her window. “Detective Witlow, Sheriff’s Office.”
Spence silenced the siren.
“Is Doctor Wallsgraf expecting you?” the guard asked.
Spence leaned over. “He invited us.”
The guard stepped back into his booth, presumably to call up to the house.
Tom laughed from the backseat.
“Well, he did. Right?” Spence turned to Tom for confirmation.
Melanie met Tom’s eyes in the rear-view mirror.
“Technically he did say we should come back in the morning but it was when he was throwing us out and and under the guise of talk to my lawyer.”
Melanie laughed and then turned abruptly back to the window to hear what the guard was saying.
They drove through the gate as it swung open and parked by the main door.
“Shall we knock this time?” Spence was feeling punchy from the combination of lack of sleep and the exciting sensation that they might be gaining traction.
“No need.” Melanie nodded her head towards the door. “We have a greeting party.”
At the open front door stood the headmaster and another man.
“Expensive suit,” Melanie noted.
“Pretty shoes,” Tom added.
“Lawyer, expensive one, too,” Spence concluded.
The three detectives exited the vehicle. “Doctor Wallsgraf.” Spence nodded his greeting.
Stepping forward the lawyer effectively blocked entrance to the school. “Matt Sugden. General Council for Whispering Evergreen Academy. I assume you have a warrant to serve?” His eyes paused as they crossed Spence’s face.
Spence’s brain kicked into overdrive. He knew the lawyer from somewhere. Where?
Tom spoke to fill the interim. “I wasn’t aware we needed a warrant for a friendly chat.”
“To enter this facility uninvited you need a warrant.”
“This facility is the scene of a major crime.”
“Which you processed last night and forced statements from witnesses without counsel.”
“All of the witnesses had adequate time and opportunity to seek counsel if they desired.”
“You interrogated a minor without parental guidance.”
“I spoke to a seventeen-year-old student who insisted he did not want to call his parents,” Spence interrupted. “You’re throwing up barriers to this investigation. I don’t want to have to arrest Doctor Wallsgraf for impeding an investigation. I could on the basis of the lies he told us last night.”
“I never lied-” the headmaster blurted and then stopped as the lawyer held up his hand.
“We will stipulate to 20 minutes of questions with Doctor Wallsgraf supervised by me. The Doctor will answer only those questions I agree to.”
“Not acceptable. We need to speak to the girl, the nurse, all of your security guards, all of your board members.” Tom threw out every category he could think of in the heat of battle.
“The nurse?” Doctor Wallsgraf asked at the same moment the lawyer asked, “All of the board members?”
Melanie smiled. “The deceased has been positively identified as Harold Paulson.”
“Strange you didn’t recognize him last night, Doctor, even after we suggested he might be one of your board members.” Spence said hoping to prod the headmaster into unguarded speech again.
“Perhaps they should come inside,” the headmaster tentatively suggested.
Matt stepped back to allow them into the hall. Clearly left over from when the building was a home, the entry hall soared up forty-plus feet high, capped with a rotunda of glass. It would have been an oddly round room if not for the various doors and hallways that jutted out on all sides like the tentacles of an octopus. Matt directed them into one of the close rooms. Eight by ten, elegant antique furniture, and an original parquet floor.
“You may conduct your interviews here.”
“It would be more effective if my colleagues could interview the others while I speak to Doctor Wallsgraf here.”
Matt shook his head no. “I need to be present at all interviews.”
This guy was working Spence’s last nerve. “It is not the fault of the police if counsel did not bring adequate support staff, as I did.”
The standoff lasted 84 seconds.
Then the headmaster cleared his throat. “I think I can answer their questions on my own.”
Matt shook his head. “The board was very specific with their instructions.”
Spence was starting to wonder if Matt’s head worked in any way other than to shake no.
Tom sat down in one of the chairs. “Let’s get this going.”
Spence took the chair next to Tom, leaving Melanie standing in the background. She pulled out her cell phone and started working the keys.
“Doctor Wallsgraf, why did you fail to identify Harold Paulson?”
Matt held up a hand. “That is a leading question which implies my client had knowledge. You’re attempting to force an incriminating statement. I won’t allow it.”
Spence swallowed a nasty retort.
Melanie took advantage of the break to step forward, “I’m getting terrible throughput in here. I’m going to step outside.”
“I can’t allow that.” Matt shook his head, again.
“I know you don’t mean to imply you’re holding an officer of the law against her will,” Melanie said with a sweet tone to her voice.
The headmaster spluttered, “I’m sure that’s not what he meant. Of course, you can leave.”
Matt sighed. One point to the sheriff’s office and he knew it.
“Why thank you, Doctor.” Melanie smiled as she exited the room, carefully closing the double doors behind her.
“Doctor Wallsgraf, were you shown a picture last night?” Tom was playing it like they were front and center in a court room.
The headmaster looked to Matt before answering. “I was.”
“How many times were you shown the picture?”
“Two or three, I’m not sure.”
“Did you recognize the man in the picture at any of those viewings?”
“Were you told the man had been tentatively recognized as a member of the board of Whispering Evergreen Academy?”
“I need to stop you right there.” Matt held up a hand. “Was the man tentatively identified as a member of the board last night?”
“He was,” Tom asserted. “Were you asked at any point if the man might be a member of the board?”
The headmaster swallowed. “Yes.”
“And what was your response?” Tom asked.
“That he wasn’t.” The headmaster’s voice was very quiet.
“You do see how this looks? A member of your board is murdered on school grounds. You are one of the first people on the scene. You deny the identification, even when prompted as to whom he might be. What are we to think?” Tom’s voice lowered to match the headmaster’s level, building an illusion of connection.
“My client lives on the grounds, of course he was early on the scene. And the discovery of the dead body put my client into a state of shock. There was no malicious misdirection.” Matt squashed the intimate conversational state with his matter of fact tone. Point for the lawyer, and he knew it.
Spence picked up the questions. “What was Harold Paulson’s role on the board?”
“He was the treasurer. Our accountant.”
“That was done through his firm, correct?”
“Was the board satisfied with Mr. Paulson?”
“You are fishing, detective. Do you have any more direct questions?” Matt interrupted the flow yet again.
“I assume you will want a warrant for us to examine the Academy’s financial records.”
“You assume correctly.” Matt smiled.
Spence pulled his phone from his pocket, “The boss. Excuse me.” He stepped out of the room and quickly texted Melanie. Wrapping up, get your ass back here.
Spence stepped back in the door. “Shall we go see the girl, Stacy?”