Dead End Job: A Louisa Hallstrom Novel(19)

By: Ingrid Reinke

“I guess so. Normally. But we are really busy right now, especially Sarah.” Suddenly my bladder started sending me urgent evacuation alerts and I was getting really uncomfortable. “Uh, yeah. Can I use the bathroom? I had lots of coffee this morning.” I lifted up my empty coffee cup to show her.

“In a minute,” she snapped back, waving me off. “Now, can you please give me an idea of what exactly Ms. Lieber was working on for this merger?”

“No,” I replied bluntly.

Detective Wang did not like this answer one bit. She slowly adjusted back in her seat and glared, digging in her pointy stiletto heels. If I was going to play this game, I was apparently going to have to play by Detective Wang’s rules. I sighed and gave in.

“I can get in some serious legal trouble if I talk about it. Merit even had me sign something a few months back stating that I would not disclose what is happening in the office under penalty of dismissal.”

Detective Wang leaned forward, close to me, and put her elbows on the table.

“I don’t know if you realize this,” she said softly, “but you could be in some serious legal trouble already, Ms. Hallstrom. You see, we know that you came into the office last night because of the keycard access records we had the receptionist pull for us when we got the call. What were you doing in the building at seven forty-five on a Tuesday night?”

Oh. Shit.

I had completely forgotten about my Tuesday night date and anxiety pill escapade at the office. This was the first time I realized that I was in the station not to help the police with the investigation, but as a suspect.

The room suddenly didn’t seem so cold. In fact, my armpits were getting sweaty and my palms were sticky. I took a deep breath and tried to slow down my racing heart. A panic attack was exactly what I did not need at this precise moment. I stared down at the black smudges on the crappy white table, trying to zone out of the situation.

The detectives stared at me, waiting for an answer. I had to pull myself together. I took a few more deep breaths and managed to calm myself down a little bit. I knew that I was no murderer.

“Look, I didn’t kill Sarah. I did not, nor could I ever, kill anyone,” I said emphatically. “I had a date at a restaurant across the street from the office last night and it didn’t go so well. I got there at six-thirty but I left before eight. I was having an anxiety attack, so I walked across the street to the office to grab my medication out of the locker in my cube. Then I went home. I didn’t see anything. No one was there. I promise you, that is what happened.”

I was forgetting something. I wracked my brain, trying to remember any detail that would make my story seem more believable. Suddenly it came back to me in a flash—the night watchman! He would remember me! Excited, I blurted out, “Chi-mo!” I was victorious. It took me a second to realize that my nickname for the night guard would make absolutely no sense to the detectives. I tried again. “There was a night guard at the front desk when I came in! I swear, the guy watched me go up in the elevator then come down and leave within five minutes. I don’t know who killed Sarah, but I know that it would probably take longer than five minutes to kill someone, rifle through their purse and desk and dump out their suitcase. There was no one in the office when I went in. I’m sure that guy will remember me.”

“Let me get this straight,” said Detective Wang incredulously. “You went to the office just to take a pill after your date, and then you left immediately and went home?”

“It was a really bad date,” I explained.

The detectives looked at me, then at each other. “Excuse us for a moment,” Detective Wang said. They both got up and left the room.

I knew from the police shows I’d watched that they were most likely in the hallway discussing the validity of my strange story and deciding how to proceed. I just hoped it wouldn’t take too long—I didn’t want to piss my pants. Much to my relief, a few short minutes later Detective Schreck came barging through the door, suddenly filling up the cramped area.

“OK, Ms. Hallstrom,” he wheezed, staring down at me. “We’re going to contact the restaurant and night guard from last night, and if everything checks out, we’ll prepare a statement for you based upon the information you have given us during the interview. Then, we are going to have you review and sign the document. In the meantime, I’d like to take you downstairs to the lab to undergo a test to see if there are any microscopic particles of blood on your person. Do you consent to the test?”

“Uh, yeah, sure.” The faster I could clear my name and get me the hell out of there, the better. “As long as I can go to the bathroom first,” I added, squirming a little bit in my seat.