Dead End Job: A Louisa Hallstrom Novel(15)

By: Ingrid Reinke

“Find Sarah. Need call.”

Sarah was an important Principal in our group—not only was she second-in-line behind Elaine for the office head position, but she also supervised most of the staff. Her status gave her the dubious prestige of working out of the office right next to Elaine’s at the west corner of the building, near the back entrance. Because I was in the very center of the building, I rarely saw her unless we had a team meeting or I ran into her at the ladies room. That was OK with me—she was one of those people who didn’t seem to possess the social skills needed to determine whether the person you were speaking to was actually interested in the conversation. Poor Sarah also had terrible timing. Being a very sweet and verbose woman, she had made several sad attempts to befriend me and the other twenty-somethings in the office, but despite her best efforts, we could not be sold on her endless rambling stories about her children’s softball games or her husband’s attempts at home remodeling. So about three months ago, she just stopped making the effort. I don’t think anyone besides me really noticed too much of a difference, because Sarah was the head attorney in our group, so her schedule was always crazy. Between the merger and her kids’ softball games, at any hour of the day it seemed that she was either working or bussing some snot-nosed brat around to a tournament or practice. I often saw emails coming in from her after midnight and before 6:00 AM.

I hadn’t noticed her around this morning, but I figured that this was just because I had spent most of my morning feeling bad for myself and generally zoning out. I was tired, so I just called her extension, even though I know how ridiculously lame that was when her office was only about fifty steps away. No answer. Damn it. I got up and headed over to her office to see if I could flag her down for Elaine’s “very important” client call.

There was absolutely no one on her side of the building. We were pretty empty anyway—after the major staffing cuts that happened a few years earlier we had six empty cubicles and two empty offices in the immediate vicinity. The IT group kept trying to move over to the empty area, but Elaine had convinced our office services group somehow that we “really needed the space,” and she even had Mark put things in the cubicles and offices that made them look like they were being used. When I reached the back of the office I noticed that Michelle, Laura, and Nathan, the three analysts who were usually there, along with the Associates Maya and Priti as well as Elaine’s admin Mark, who sat at this end of the office, were either not in yet, or out of town to meet clients somewhere in our huge Northwest territory.

I slid open the door to Sarah’s office, expecting her to be on a call, but there was no one sitting at the desk. The office was set up so she could view people as they walked in, with one chair behind the desk and two chairs in front – a pretty typical layout for someone who works with clients. She also had a huge window behind her desk that looked out on Elliot Bay, and there were pictures drawn by her elementary school-aged kids hung on the walls, along with snapshots of her family and dog. Her laptop was sitting open on the desk, and there were papers spread out all over the surface and some on the floor. Her purse was also there, but the contents had been dumped on the back of the desk in a little pile: wallet, lipstick, a bottle of allergy medicine, tissues. Plopped right on the floor near the office door, the rolling suitcase she used every day was tipped over, partially-blocking the entrance to the office. Then I noticed there was also something spilled all over the floor of the office, an almost-black liquid that pooled out from underneath the desk and spread out in a four-foot-wide circle that crept towards the office door.

“Sarah?” I asked weakly. No answer. I stepped around the back of the desk.

The realization that the liquid was blood happened at the same instant that I stepped around the desk to see Sarah sprawled out on the floor, face down.

She was a tall woman, so while her head and upper body were slumped almost all the way underneath her desk, her lower body poked out into the sitting area. Her feet were splayed against the file cabinet behind her desk. She wore her usual dumpy brown JC Penney suit and the kind of black leather, square-toed boots that had gone out of style a decade ago. When I stepped around the to the back of her desk I could see that her mousy brown hair was matted with blood, which had dripped from a huge, gruesome injury on the back of her head down the side of her face and colored her pale skin dark red. The sheer amount of liquid that had spilled out of her head and spread all over the floor behind the desk made it apparent to me that there was no way that Sarah Lieber was alive.