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?”
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.