The Body in the Pool Chapter 10

The Body in the Pool

Book One of the Dismember Killer Series

 

Chapter Ten

“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?”
“Tess.”
“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?”
“No.”
“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?”
“Yes.”
“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?”

 

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The Body in the Pool Chapter 9

The Body in the Pool

Book One of the Dismember Killer Series

 

Chapter Nine

They walked Mrs. Paulson through headquarters and down to the sub-floor morgue. The morgue had its own front desk receptionist, not a police officer.
Spence waited with Mrs. Paulson as Tom leaned in to talk to the young woman. She nodded and picked up the phone. Tom nodded to Spence.
“This way Mrs. Paulson.”
“Are you sure this is my husband? I really don’t want to have to see some other dead body.”
Spence caught Tom’s eye. This woman was weird. “Yes, ma’am.” Spence gestured down the linoleum hallway. They turned the corner and Spence opened the door marked Observation.
Mrs. Paulson stood stone still in the four by four room, her hands clasped in front of her of chest. A light to the right of the large, curtained window turned green.
“Are you ready?”
Mrs. Paulson nodded.
Spence pushed the button below the light and the curtain opened. On the other side of the glass was a body, the pool man’s body, covered by medical drapery to his shoulders.
“Oh,” Mrs. Paulson mewed.
“Is that your husband?” Spence asked, following the routine he designed to distance himself from the grief of others.
Mrs. Paulson nodded and Spence hit the button to close the curtains. This was the tricky part. Some families cried and begged him to leave them open longer. Others cried incessantly and he couldn’t get them into a car and on their way home.
Spence opened the door to the hallway and Mrs. Paulson followed him out into the hall.
“What will happen now?”
“We’ll investigate your husband’s death.”
She nodded.
Spence walked her back upstairs to the main lobby. The desk sergeant called, “Fredericks is out front.”
Spence smiled to himself. Thank you, Tom. “Let me walk you out.” He opened the front door and waited for her to walk through. The coat did not look like it should be touched. Neither did the woman in it for that matter. No tears. Maybe she was stunned or cried out from earlier. “Officer Fredericks will drive you home, ma’am. Thank you for coming in. We will be in touch.”
“In touch? About what?”
“Your husband’s case.”
“Oh. I’m not sure I want to know anything more about that.”
Spence nodded. “Of course.” He opened the door of the cruiser and after she slid in, closed the door. He leaned in through the driver’s side window. “Up in Shadow Brook. 912 Reindeer Lane.”
Officer Fredericks made a face and then nodded.
He slapped the roof of the car once and then headed back inside. They had a confirmed identification. Time to see what that got them.
Spence double timed it up to the fourth floor office. “Widow confirmed the ID.”
“Maybe the medical examiner can finish the autopsy now.” Melanie turned from her computer. “The start of our background information came in.”
“Give it to me.” Spence poured another cup of coffee and waited.
“Mike Hunter. Gulf War One. Chicago PD. Broke his back when a perp got the drop on him and sent him off the roof of a four story building. Pushed out on disability. Retired out here on a partial pension. Working at Whispering Evergreen Academy ever since. Where do they get the names for these places?”
“That matches up. What else you got?” Tom said from the doorway.
“Where you been?” Spence looked over.
“Had to make a phone call.” Tom blushed lightly as those with fair skin are prone to do.
“The new lady? Tess has been bugging me about it, wants you two to come over for dinner.”
Tom harrumphed. “I’ll see what I can do about that.”
Spence shook his head at Tom, then looking back to Melanie said, “Go on.”
“Bobby Tasker. College kid. GPA sucks. Lost his scholarship. Working at the Academy four months.”
“That lines up with what he said.” Tom nodded.
“What about the headmaster with bad eyes?” Spence asked.
“He moved around a lot in the beginning of his career. This gig is the longest one he’s had by years. Not married currently, one divorce. No kids. Divorce lines up with him taking this job.”
“Something to be said for getting away from the ex.” Barnes contributed from the television monitor.
“Alright, what more did you get on dear, dead Harold?”
Melanie switched paper stacks. “Harold is a CPA. He runs a very large accountancy firm. A number of big money clients. Several he provides with auditing oversight are huge.” Melanie widened her eyes to demonstrate how huge.
Spence nodded and gestured for her to go on.
“Married Arlene twenty years ago. No kids. Moved into Shadow Brook five years ago.”
“He insured?” Spence thought back to the pricey items at the house.
“You’ll love this part. Fifteen million, all to the wife.”
Tom caught Spence’s eye. “All those snazzy goods.”
“People been killed for a lot less than 15. Does she get control of the business, too?”
“Still delving into that but it looks like no. Harold had an odd set up with his investors where ownership of the company remains in the company. In other words, the wife gets a small portion of stock. Controlling interest will be divided among the five biggest stockholders.”
Spence said nothing. He absentmindedly stuck the stir stick for his coffee in his mouth and chewed.
“You haven’t even heard the best part. Guess who was a client?”
Tom slapped a pencil down on his desk hard enough to break it. “Whispering Evergreen Academy?”
“He’s on the board there.”
“You’d think I’d done this before,” Tom said with a wink.

The Body in the Pool Chapter 8

The Body in the Pool

Book One of the Dismember Killer Series

 

Chapter Eight

Spence and Tom drove carefully out of the city, observing the grueling traffic heading the opposite direction until they reached the tree-lined lanes of Shadow Brook. The morning sun was struggling to burn through fog at the higher altitude.
“Look at these houses, man. Can you imagine the mortgage on four or five thousand feet?” Tom stared out the window at the mansions set half an acre back from the road on plots that stretched five acres or more.
“Not only the mortgage I don’t want to think about. Can you imagine how long it takes to mow all that grass?”
Tom laughed. “These people have a yard service. A gardener maybe?”
“Why have land if you aren’t going to take care of it yourself?”
“I’m not Tess,” Tom said shortly.
“What’s that mean?” Spence replied, annoyed with the direction this discussion had taken.
“You’re rehashing the whole why have kids if you’re not going to raise them yourself question.”
“I wasn’t-” Spence stopped abruptly. “Yeah, sorry.”
“Between us, I agree with you man. Tess is a baker though, it’s not like she’d be going off to war if she goes back to work.”
“She lost all her clients with this bed rest thing. I don’t blame them, no choice, they had to get baked goods for their own businesses to succeed. She’d be starting over from scratch with a new baby.”
Tom nodded.
“I want her to be happy, I do.” Spence let out a frustrated sigh. “I don’t want our kid raised by strangers so Tess can be happy.”
“Is that it?” Tom asked.
“Pretty much.”
“No, is that the house?” Tom gestured and Spence slowed the car.
The house in question was smaller than the average on the mountain, perhaps two thousand square feet on an acre. Spence made a slow U-turn and pulled into the circular drive.
He turned off the car and faced Tom. “On the count of three.”
Tom nodded.
“One, two, three.” Spence slammed out his fist. “Rock.”
Tom whipped out a flat palm to meet him. “Paper.”
“Crap.” Spence sighed. Loser, loser, tell the wife her husband is BBQ chicken dinner. He exited the car, straightened his coat, adjusted his cuffs, and checked his breath. Then decided he needed to pop a mint before heading up to the door. Tom followed behind him a step slower. Spence rang the bell taking in the pumpkins on the step left over from Halloween. These were no choppy eye hole and gaping tooth mouth deals. These were artful pumpkins: a delicately carved skeleton and an arched cat. The door opened immediately as though Mrs. Paulson was waiting inside the door for him to push the bell button.
“Yes?” She asked coolly.
“Mrs. Arlene Paulson?”
“Yes.”
“I am Detective Spencer Thomas with the county sheriff’s office. This is my partner Tom Harding. We need to speak with you regarding your husband.”
“Please come in.” Mrs. Paulson opened the door wider and stepped back to allow the detectives into her home.
She gestured over to a formal seating area off the front entry. A small arrangement of furniture in front of the fireplace. Spence chose a very upright and firm chair. Tom stood in the background. With a calm demeanor she sat across from Spence on a settee. He gave a brief moment wondering how anyone found this chair comfortable and then set his face on his compassionate facade. “When was the last time you saw your husband, Mrs. Paulson?”
Spence though he caught a momentary flicker of something in the woman’s eyes before she smiled and replied, “Last night in bed of course.”
“What time was that?”
“I believe it was quite early. I want to say 8:30 or so.”
“He was gone when you woke up this morning?”
“He had an early meeting at the club, I believe, and then he went on to his office.”
“I see. You had no reason to be concerned, then?”
“Of course not, Detective. What is this all about?” A touch of irritation was beginning to creep into Mrs. Paulson’s tone of voice.
“We have reason to believe your husband did not make it to his meetings today. A body matching his description was found late last night.”
“Matching his description? That could be anyone.”
Spence was struck by her comment, Wallsgraf had said essentially the same thing. “The fingerprints match your husband, ma’am.”
Mrs. Paulson said nothing as large tears rolled down her cheeks. Spence was quiet, allowing her to process the shock to her system. She would have questions, they always had questions eventually. Mrs. Paulson brought her hand up to her mouth and focused her large eyes on Spence. Tears continued to roll out like a spring storm with the volume turned off.
“Are you sure it’s him?” Her voice quivered.
“Yes, ma’am. Fairly certain. We would appreciate it if you could come down to the office with us and make a formal identification.”
A small sob escaped her. “He’s not at the hospital?”
“No, he’s not at the hospital.”
There was a beat before she spoke. “Is Harold dead?”
He was drowned and had his penis cut off, that was certainly dead in Spence’s book. It would not be smart to say that to the widow. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Should I come with you now?”
“That would be preferable. Of course we can do this tomorrow if that would be easier on you.”
“No, no, I want to make sure please.” Her voice cracked on the word sure.
“Can I call a friend or family member to accompany you?”
For a moment Mrs. Paulson said nothing and then she replied, “I don’t know.”
Spence waited while she presumably thought about it.
“No, I think I would rather not have to explain this to anyone right now.”
That was an odd sentiment. Spence filed it away in the part of his mind that was always analyzing. “Shall we go? We can drive you.”
Mrs. Paulson nodded. “I need my coat and bag. I’ll be a minute.” She bustled from the room and Spence heard her feet on the stairs before he spoke to Tom. “You called the tears.”
“It’s an easy call to make.” Tom showed Spence his notebook. On the page were Chippendale, Oriental, and first editions. Spence nodded and looked around the front room identifying what Tom was referring to. Money.

When she returned Mrs. Paulson was wearing a full length chocolate brown fur coat. Spence wasn’t savvy enough to know what kind of animal died to provide this bit of luxury, he guessed it had cost a pretty penny though. As she locked the front door, Spence noted the Gucci bag on her arm. As he followed her down the steps to the his car, he noted the red bottoms of her shoes. Even without all the details Spence knew enough to estimate Mrs. Paulson was wearing clothing costing more than he made in a month. He wondered how the Paulson finances were doing and if Mr. Paulson was heavily insured.

The Body in the Pool Chapter 7

The Body in the Pool

Book One of the Dismember Killer Series

 

Chapter Seven

Thudding feet on the stairs and then Tom hit the room with a bag of breakfast burritos in one hand.
“Good man.” Spence reached for the bag.
“I got the security feed, too. I think we should pawn that off on someone who got a full night’s sleep though.”
“Maybe. I want to check out what happened tonight.”
Tom nodded and plugged a thumb drive into the TV in the corner. “At least it’s digital.”
“Music to my ears.”
“And the date is set.”
“I’ll marry you now.”
Tom threw a bunched up napkin at Spence. “Knock it off.”
They settled in with the remote and breakfast. A happy combination, viewing on fast forward.
“There’s jack all. It’s like the cameras were placed to catch irrelevant shit.” Spence crumbled his metal foil.
“From their point of view: kids sneaking out, stealing from the kitchen, helping themselves to bits and bobs from the chem lab, pretty relevant shit.”
“Doesn’t help us.” Spence arced his trash into the garbage can. “Two points off the rim.”
“The gate camera is placed to catch only the driver of the vehicle.”
“Maybe they’re hiding something.”
“I get that vibe about the whole setup.” Tom aimed for the garbage can. “Three points off the wall.”
“You don’t get an extra point for off the wall.”
“I do after the cleaning lady has been through. It’s a total bank shot.”
“Whatever. I’m going to dig into the school until we hear back on the body.” Spence rolled back to his computer.
“Almost six. Anything back on prints or background?”
“I sent background to the team. They don’t even come in until five.”
“Did you send prints to the team, too?”
“IAFIS. Let me check my email.” Spence scanned through the new emails. “Got it. I’ll forward it over, you compare.”
“How many?”
“Looks like nine possibles above seventy percent.” Spence clicked the forward and send buttons and went back to delving into the Academy.
By seven, the two other members of the task force housed with them in the office had arrived. Scott Barnes and Melanie Witlow.
“I hear you two couldn’t be bothered to call us,” Melanie said as she spied the breakfast burrito bag. She took a look inside, found it empty, and growled. “And you ate all the food. Tell me it wasn’t from the bar.”
Tom cleared his throat. “You know I can’t lie to a team member.”
“Besides it’s from like three hours ago,” Spence put in.
“You could have called.” She unwound her scarf and hung it on the makeshift coat rack with her blazer.
“Someone needed a good night’s sleep. There’s a week’s worth of security video to go through.”
“We know who’s dead yet?” Melanie asked.
“Working on narrowing down the possibilities,” said Tom.
“You need a hand with that?”
“Why don’t you and Barnes get started on the security video. We’re still waiting on witness backgrounds at this point,” Spence suggested.
“Do we at least get the details?” Melanie sighed and tried to pour a cup of coffee from the empty carafe.
“Dead white guy in a pool this time. His nether region left to grill on a BBQ,” Tom salaciously provided.
“Don’t get ahead of yourself. We don’t actually know that the bit on the BBQ was nether. It could have been the world’s smallest all beef frank. Lab’s working on it.” Spence cracked his neck and returned to his screen. His cell phone buzzed.
“Wifey?” Tom asked.
Spence read the text. Long shaggy dog fur all over your pillow. “She’s unhappy, I got the call out while I was picking up ice cream last night.”
“She let the dog sleep on your side of the bed again?” Melanie asked with a laugh.
Spence nodded.
“Pregnancy cravings are heinous. I would have let the dog do much worse than sleep in the bed.”
“Uh huh.” Spence got up from the computer and poured himself a fresh cup of coffee from the pot Melanie had started.
“I think we have a winner winner BBQ chicken dinner,” Tom yipped.
“Oh, that was just wrong.” Melanie groaned but still came around the desk to look at Tom’s screen.
“Harold Paulson, age forty-six. Owns an accountancy firm. Married, no children. Lives out in Shadow Brook.” Tom hit the print function.
Spence crossed to the printer and pulled the page as it slowly cranked out. “He got a record?”
Tom shook his head. “CPA. He’s on file from his licensor exam.”
“For once the IRS done good.” Melanie stirred a fresh cup of coffee. “Want Barnes and I to go pick up the widow for a formal?”
“Nice try. Full night’s sleep equals video duty. You see what you can get on the man, the business, the legend. Tom and I will go.”
“You two get all the fun,” Melanie quipped.
“Right,” Tom said as he stood. “Ten bucks says she’s a crier.”
“You’re on. I say she’s the babbling brook,” Melanie countered. “You want in on this?” She nudged Barnes.
“Sure, I’ll take happy.”
“This isn’t one of your ex-wives,” Melanie retorted.
“What’s that leave me with, stoic?” Spence shrugged. “That would be a nice change.”

 

The Body in the Pool Chapter 6

The Body in the Pool

Book One of the Dismember Killer Series

 

Chapter Six
Tom and Spence met up in the hallway outside the headmaster’s office. “You get my text about the security guard,” Spence asked.

Tom pulled his phone. “Nothing.” It chirped in his hand. “Now.”

“Crap. The guy had a ton of shit on his belt. Wondered if he had anything useful.”

Tom shrugged. “I doubt that guy has the guts. He puked on camera after finding the body.”

“Acting skills?” Spence tossed out.

“Not so you’d notice. You want me to go back, ask for the belt?”

“Maybe after we figure out who the guy not doing the backstroke was.”

“Got a line on that. Mike, the other guard, who we need to run background on by the way, says he thinks pool man is on the board here.” Tom raised an eyebrow.

“Board, huh. Think the headmaster is lying or suffering from ‘it can’t be anyone I know’ syndrome.”

“Let’s find out.” Tom gestured to the headmaster’s office door then stepped forward to knock on it. He didn’t wait to be invited in before he pushed the door open.

“Have you finished interrogating the staff?” Doctor Wallsgraf had undergone a bit of an attitude change.

Spence moved forward brandishing his cell phone. “Are you sure you don’t recognize the man in this picture? Think carefully. I’m sure when you normally see him he isn’t pale and wet and dead.”

A soft choking sound came out of Tom. Spence cleared his throat to cover.

The headmaster stared at the screen. “Well, really, it could be almost any middle-aged, white man, going a little bald.”

Spence kept the picture in front of the headmaster’s face.

“No, I don’t know him. And I really think this has gone on long enough. It’s the middle of the night. If you have further questions you can come back in the morning and discuss them with the Academy’s lawyer.”

Spence retracted his arm and phone. “I’ll check on our forensic staff.”

The detectives left the office headed for the pool deck. “I’m leaning lying.” Tom said.

“Because he lawyered up. I’m leaning ‘no one I know could be murdered’ syndrome.”

“Beer on it.”

“Sure.”

On the pool deck the technicians were still collecting bits of minutia which might prove probative. Spence looked over the scene once more. It would have been rather dark out here. The pool was quite close to the school, meaning sound could travel. The body was either brought in through the gate, with a key? Or through the woods?

“What are you thinking?” Tom asked.

“Prior knowledge. This is not a scene you stumble on.”

“I agree. We should get the security tapes for the last week? See if anyone has been hanging around.”

Spence nodded. “I’ll wrap up here, why don’t you go see the guards, get them to send everything over.”

“See you at the station.” Tom turned back the way they came.

Spence called to the tech who alerted them to the BBQ mystery meat. “Hey, Patty, you find anything else I should see?”

“The usual ton of crap and a lot of pictures. I’ll get it all back to you as soon as we can.”

“Thanks. Hey, uh, any of those donuts left?” Spence smiled. With a laugh, she pointed him to an almost empty box. Spence grabbed a chocolate glazed and headed back to his car. Bronson was still at the side gate with his clipboard and recorded the hour and minute of Spence’s departure.

“I think your ice cream is back to straight cream.” Bronson pointed to the leaking bag on the ground.

“Great. Toss it for me, would you?”

Bronson nodded.

Spence didn’t immediately start the SUV once he climbed in. Almost four in the morning. The autopsy would start at eight. He could go home and grab a few hours or he could head to office and start following up. Tess would be asleep. He was bound to wake her if he went home. He started the car and headed for his favorite early morning coffee shop next to the office.  At his desk in the task force room, he found a physical copy of the ten print card for the dead man amid the overwhelming paperwork. He logged onto his computer and checked for IAFIS results. Nothing back yet. Of course on a Friday morning, the search could take hours. In the meantime, he kicked off a background check on the headmaster. He texted Tom, names of the guards for background. Tom responded immediately. Mike Hunter and Bobby Tasker. Spence added those to the queue. He turned around in his chair to look at the locational map. If they added a red “found” dot to the school, how did that fit in with the other bodies? He moved closer to the map and tried to locate the approximate coordinates of Whispering Evergreen Academy. Most of the previous bodies had turned up in city based spaces: parks, zoos, library rotundas. A couple of state parks had been touched. This site was very much in the middle of nothing else. That was a point against this being their serial killer.

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.