Dead End Job: A Louisa Hallstrom Novel(16)

By: Ingrid Reinke

I was frozen on the spot for what seemed like hours, a wave of massive and crippling anxiety settling on my body and weighing me down like chain mail. Move, Louisa, Move! My thoughts screamed at my useless body. I stood over Sarah, frozen for agonizing seconds. Then suddenly, cutting through the silence, I heard myself take a raggedy, long breath. I felt a second of relief-until I heard an ear-piercing scream fill the office. At the same moment that I thought to myself that the noise was horrible, I also realized that it was me who was making it. The office seemed to darken around me as I fainted right there on the floor.

Chapter 5: Sign Here, Stupid

“Ohhhmyyyygoddddd, Ohhhmyyyygoddddd, Ohhhmyyyygoddddd!!!!!!!!! Louisa wake up, wake up! What happened to Sarah? Ohhmyyyygodddd!!!!!!”

Apparently the Ativan hadn’t been strong enough to prepare Martin for this particular situation. He was hunched over me on the floor outside of Sarah’s office, holding my head in his lap, and was fanning my face, but the physical effort had caused him to start sweating, so I woke up to his double chin and two soaking wet armpits above my head. He still smelled faintly like vodka and French onion chips, but now the overwhelming odor was sweat, and I could see droplets forming on his forehead that were making their way down his face onto his chin, threatening to dislodge and drop into my eyes and mouth.

Personally, I was confused. Part of me felt groggy and really wanted to get away from Martin, go home, and get to bed. Unfortunately, the other part of me was screaming about the issue of a dead body in the office—a dead body that I had found.

Even though the floor had been empty when I’d initially found Sarah, by now there were dozens of employees milling around our area, horrified, interested, and puzzled. Many of their faces I’d never even seen before. Some were staring into Sarah’s office, and they were all whispering and staring at me. It seemed like they were stuck, like children, waiting for instructions. When the entire law enforcement entourage suddenly poured into the office from the front entrance, headed by a ghost white but still relatively composed receptionist, the group of people wandering around our corner of the building grew even larger. In the crowd I spotted Mr. Curtis, Martin’s boss, among the other group leaders, with a gaggle from HR and even more of Merit’s employees. It seemed like everyone came in at the same time, and there were at least six uniformed officers, the officials from CSI, the coroner and his assistant, three plain-clothes detectives, and the police sergeant who was the ranking uniformed officer on the scene.

I studied the police officers. The head detective was a very petite Asian woman with long, sleek, black hair, worn down and cut in a sharp line below her shoulder blades. She had ivory skin, with a perfect dusting of rose blush, immaculate and subtle eye makeup and a well-tailored, grey wool skirt-suit with a deep purple blouse. Her tiny fingernails were cut into perfect ovals, and she was wearing sky-high black patent heels with no scuffs. She was anywhere from twenty-five to forty-five years old, but because of her Asian genes and perfect skin, it was impossible to tell her age exactly.

In direct contrast were the other two detectives. One was an extremely obese man in his fifties wearing an un-tucked Hawaiian shirt, whose overtaxed buttons were straining to hold in his protruding and visibly hairy belly. He probably weighed close to three-hundred fifty pounds, and his heavy breathing was so strained it made me worry that he would drop dead at any minute, and then there would be two bodies to deal with.

The third detective was a Hispanic woman in her early thirties. She was wearing athletic clothing, probably just coming from the gym, where she obviously spent lots of time. She was at least 5’10” and had her hair pulled up in a tight braid. You could see that under her fleece jacket and black lululemon pants that she was bulging with huge muscles and scant body fat. She was completely flat in the chest, and had a classic-looking but faded tattoo of a rose with thorns poking out above her sports bra strap on her left breast. Her lips were full and naturally rosy and her eyes were deep brown, almost black, with the kind of long black lashes that don’t need mascara. Despite her attractive features there was something in her demeanor that was extremely intimidating—the type of woman you wouldn’t mess with.

Because I knew it was inevitable that I would be talking to one of these three people very soon, I was trying to decide which one of them I would least dislike dealing with and realized that I would really rather not speak to any of them. Of course, I would really rather not have seen a dead body either, but my feelings on the matter at this point were irrelevant.