Monday, May 30, 2016
Sharon Marmont held a Montblac pen from Bloomingdale’s in one hand as she stood up to greet me. Fancy pens were ones of her vices, and I didn’t want to know about any others.
“Thanks for coming, Tom.” We shook hands. “Phil Kemp, this is Tom Jurgen. He’s a private detective. Phil is a person of interest in a murder.”
This was Marmont’s River North office. She was a lawyer. I’d met Marmont as a reporter, and I’d worked for her after becoming a private detective. She called me for what she termed “the WTF defense”—arguments that she can’t bring into a courtroom without being charged with contempt of court, or being sent for a psych evaluation.
She’s tenacious and smart. I’d helped her defend a vampire on a murder charge (he was actually innocent), and coached her on introducing evidence from a ghost. I was getting a certain reputation for this kind of thing. Not one I enjoyed, but it helped pay for breakfast cereal.
Phil Kemp stood up. He was short and stocky, with a gray crewcut and a blunt nose. His handshake was tight and tense. “Tom. Nice to meet you.”
Marmont folded her arms and sat back in her chair. “Phil, why don’t you tell Tom what happened?”
Kemp sat down with a grunt. “Well, I work for a company called RoundTen. It’s a software company. I’m head of Human Resources. We have a lot of proprietary products, and we’ve had a lot of trouble with employees quitting and then going to work for competitors. Kacey Shields, she’s one of our top programmers, she got an offer from JRTech two months ago. They’re good, not the best, but they offered her a lot of money—”
“Phil?” Marmont clicked her pen. “Back to the point?”
“Sorry.” Kemp sighed. “This sounds crazy.”
“Don’t worry.” I’d heard that before. “I have a high threshold for crazy.”
Kemp rolled his eyes. “Well, I was sitting in my office, and Jim Carr walks in. This is two days ago. He’s one of our top salespeople. He sits down and says he’s got to talk to me about this other company, JRTech. I already figure he’s leaving, so I start thinking about how much we can afford on a counteroffer, and then . . .”
Kemp paused to look at the floor. “See, I keep this baseball bat on a shelf in my office. It belonged to my dad, he played semipro ball—”
Marmont clicked her pen again.
Kemp rubbed his eyes. “Sorry. Anyway, all of a sudden, the baseball bat—it just sort of came up in the air, and then it came down on top of Jim’s—on his head. And there was blood all over the place, and Jim sort of slumped over, and, and—then the bat just fell on the floor. I called 911, but when they got there Jim was dead. I didn’t touch the bat! I swear I never touched it. I told the cops, but they thought I was crazy. But it happened in my office, and no one else was there, and . . .” Kemp lowered his head and reached into his back pocket for a handkerchief.
Marmont and I looked at each other. We’d both heard stories that were stranger. The fact that I was in her office meant she believed him. And his embarrassment at crying in front of us made me believe him too.
I nodded. Okay.
Marmont leaned forward. “Phil? Tell him about the door.”
He blew his nose. “Yeah. Right. It’s just that Jim came in and sat down, and then a minute later the door opened again. Nobody was there. I don’t know—I figured somebody must have seen us in there and decided not to come in, but—I didn’t see anybody outside. The door just opened, and then it closed. And then well, like I said—the bat, and Jim was dead, and I called 911.”
“Right. Tom, look at this.” Marmont turned a laptop computer to face me and pressed a button. “There aren’t any cameras inside any office, but the hallways have them. The company is kind of paranoid. But they did turn over the video pretty fast once I talked to their CEO.” She smirked. “This is outside Phil’s office.”
I leaned forward. The camera looked down a typical corporate hallway, bland beige carpeting and walls painted in eggshell white. The video was blurry, but I could see a door with a nameplate that read “Phillip Kemp, Human Resources.”
A tall woman in a blue pantsuit hurried down the hall. She stopped to talk to a man in jeans and a necktie, apparently angry about something. Then they headed off in opposite directions, out of the camera’s sight. The hallway was empty.
Then Kemp’s door opened. All by itself. A moment later it closed. With no one in sight.
I stood up to look closer. “Can you run that again?”
Marmont stroked the laptop’s touchpad. “As many times as you want.”
You can’t really magnify or “enhance” videos the way experts do on TV. I had to squint and ask for another replay before I could be sure.
The doorknob turned. With no hand on it.
This was more interesting than tailing cheating spouses. So I sat down again and looked across the desk. “So how are we going to convince a judge that the murder was committed by an invisible killer?”
Marmont smiled. “That’s your job.”
So the first thing I did after reading Marmont’s case file was call my friend Rachel. She lives upstairs from me, and she’s psychic—at least a little. She’s also my girlfriend. Again, at least a little. She’s useful on cases involving the supernatural. And she’s got some connections.
“Invisible people?” She laughed. “Not as crazy as you think. Let me make a few calls.”
I wasn’t sure if that was good news or bad. But we agreed to meet later for drinks. And whatever.
Then I drove downtown.
RoundTen.com was in loft building in the River North neighborhood. I took the elevator to the 3rd floor.
A young African American woman at the front desk looked at my business card. “I’ll have to call someone. Is it Jurgen or Yur-gen?”
I get that a lot. “Jurgen, as in just call me Tom.”
“Okay. “ She picked up the phone and punched a button. “I hope—I mean, I just can’t believe Phil would do something like that. If you can help him . . . uh, yeah, it’s Simone. There’s a detective here to look at Phil’s office. What?” She picked up my card. “His name’s Tom Jurgen?” She looked at me. I nodded. “He says he’s working for Phil’s lawyer. What? I don’t know . . .”
I left Simone while she was still arguing on the phone.
Open cubicles filled one side of the office, employees tapping at keyboards or whispering on their phones. Offices on the other side had their doors closed. Fluorescent lights hummed overhead and security cameras dotted the ceiling every 20 feet or so. The place felt like a factory, manufacturing software instead of building cars or slaughtering cattle. No one looked happy.
I found Kemp’s nameplate and tried the doorknob. Locked.
“Excuse me?” A woman walked down the hall—the tall woman in the blue suit from the video. Today she wore a blue blazer and gray slacks, her hair pulled back in a tight ponytail. “I’m Jessica Finlay. I’m the CEO here. Who are you?”
“Tom Jurgen.” I pulled out another business card. “I work for Sharon Marmont, the attorney handling Phil William’s defense.”
She peered at me, not the card. “Anyone can print up a card.”
“Good point.” So I pulled out a copy of my state license that I kept in my wallet, along with my driver’s license. “This is me. Can I go in?”
Finlay shoved my card in a pocket. “You can’t take anything with you.” She unlocked the door.
Kemp’s desk sat on one side of the small office, facing the wall behind the door. Strips of masking tape made a circle on the floor, indicating where Carr’s body had fallen. A smaller circle of tape on the desk probably showed where the baseball bat had been found.
“What are you looking for?” Finlay crossed her arms.
I didn’t really know, so I didn’t answer. Mostly I just wanted to get a feel for the office, and the company.
She watched her, arms crossed, as I sat down at the desk. It had the typical accessories: a computer, photos of a wife and daughter, loose paperclips, a phone with a red light blinking steadily with waiting voicemail, a stack of unopened mail, and a pair of earbuds not connected to anything.
I opened a drawer. “So do you think Phil Kemp killed Jim Carr? Right here in this office?”
Before she could answer, a new man appeared in the doorway. “Hey, what’s going on?”
“Blake.” Finlay took a short breath, annoyed by the interruption. “This is Tom Jurgen. He’s working for Phil’s lawyer.” She showed him my card, looking at me. “This is Blake Griffin. He’s head of sales.”
Griffin was in his early thirties—younger than Finley and me by ten years or so. His blond hair was short, and a thin beard hid his chin. Griffin glanced at the card, handed it back to Finlay, and glared at me like a wolf trying to establish dominance over a cub. “What do you want here, Jurgen?”
I’ve had a lot of experience dealing with people who don’t like me doing my job—cops, lawyers, demons. A sales manager? Not very intimidating. “I’m trying to find out what happened to your employee. Jim Carr worked for you, right?”
Griffin snorted. “He got hit by a magic flying baseball bat. At least that’s what—”
“Shut up, Blake.” Finlay planted her hands on Kemp’s desk. “Mr. Jurgen, I’m horrified that Jim Carr is dead.” Her wrists shook. “And I really want to believe that Phil didn’t murder him. But I have to think about the safety of everyone in my organization. And that means not letting strangers run around in my workplace. So unless you have something specific to do here . . .?”
My time and her patience were running out. “I have a few questions. Did Phil Kemp hate Jim Carr for some reason? Killing him in his own office just to stop him from quitting seems like an extreme retention policy.”
“You don’t know anything about our business, do you?” Griffin jabbed a finger at the door. “Jim knows—knew—all about every project we’re working on here. It sounds crazy, but this is like the Mafia. You can make people sign all kinds of NDAs, but enforcing them legally is hard as hell. We’re all under a lot of stress here. Phil, well—he could have snapped. Right, Jessica?”
She grimaced. “I don’t think we should be talking to this guy.”
“I’ll go.” I’d heard enough to make me suspicious of both of them, even though I had no idea how the murder could have been carried out. I pushed the chair back and stood up.
“So one more question.” I looked at Griffin like I was channeling Peter Falk on those old Columbo TV movies. “Did Carr tell you he was thinking about quitting?”
He blinked. “No. Why would he?”
“Because most people who are going to quit tell their boss first. Why would he come here to talk to Phil Kemp before you?”
Griffin’s face hardened. “Nobody knows what he was thinking. He’s dead.”
Finlay was tired of the conversation. “Stop it. This is tearing my company apart. I don’t want any more disruption around here. We’re done here.”
I got the hint. “I’ll find my way out.”
Griffin followed me down the hall, but he turned back when I reached the front desk. I hesitated at the door, then looked at Simone, who was typing at a keyboard.
“People seem to like Phil Kemp around here.” I smiled.
“People seem to like Phil Kemp around here.” I smiled.
“He’s a great guy.” Simone didn’t look up.
“What about Blake Griffin?”
She stopped typing. Looked over her shoulder. “Everyone’s scared of him.”
I could see why. “Thanks for your help.”
She shrugged. “I better get back to work.”
I headed for the door. “Me too.”
Rachel knocked on my door at 7:30. “This isn’t a date,” she reminded me as she started her Prius. “But you’re buying the drinks. And maybe dinner. And, okay, I might give you a kiss later. Just don’t embarrass me there.”
“Never,” I promised.
Rachel’s got red hair and eyes the color of hazelnuts, along with a sarcastic mouth and a mean punch. But she also has a lot of contacts in the psychic and magical community around Chicago.
The bar was called the Rodeo Royale, so its décor featured horses, cowboy boots, and lassos, but the jukebox played the Carpenters when we walked in. Quiet—at least for a Wednesday night at 8:00.
Rachel pointed to a man at the bar. “That’s him. Hey, Danny!”
Danny was African American, taller than me, with arms that looked like he’d worked out more in the last week than I have in the last ten years. We shook hands, and then he kissed Rachel on the cheek. I told myself not to be jealous. Several times.
We moved to a table and ordered beers. Danny looked me over. “You’re a private detective?”
“That’s right. Rachel’s a friend.” I tried not to overemphasize “friend” too much, one way or the other. “She helps me out sometimes. So what do you do?”
“I’m a video producer. Corporate training films, mostly. Rachel helps with the graphics. So what do you need to know?”
I glanced at Rachel. She grinned. “Go ahead. I told him.”
It wasn’t even the strangest question I’d ever asked—by a long shot: “So you can turn invisible?”
Danny nodded casually, as if I’d asked him what his birthday was. “It’s not that hard. There’s a couple different ways.”
He reached under his sweater and pulled out a small ring on a chain. “I’ve got this thing. I just hold it in my hand and no one can see me as long as I’ve got it my hand closed.”
“My precious,” Rachel whispered.
Danny groaned. “Yeah. I never heard that before.”
“It must come in handy getting into the movies.” I sipped my Heineken.
He laughed. “I don’t do that. We’ve got rules.”
“There’s a group of us. Like a club. Just a bunch of us who know how to do it.” Danny gulped some of his beer—a Harp, along with a shot of Jameson’s Irish whiskey. “We like to talk about how it works, what we do. There’s some who use spells, others have charms like me, there’s one guy who says he learned it in the Orient, like Lamont Cranston.” He laughed again.
“What do you guys do mostly?”
“We don’t steal. I mean, okay, yeah, sometimes I do sneak into a movie.” He shrugged. “Mostly we play tricks on people. One guy’s a magician, uses it a little in his act, but it doesn’t help with cards tricks or stuff like that. We move things around in stores, make funny noises in museums, pester con artists playing three-card monte on the subway, stuff like that.”
“Investigate the shower room at the gym?”
Danny shook his head. “That’s one of the rules. Won’t say it never happens, especially when people figure out how to do it first. But at least in our group, we try to—” He looked embarrassed. “Use our powers for good. We’re not superheroes or anything, but yeah, some of us try to stop crimes and stuff. It’s a thing.”
I liked the idea of invisible crimefighters. But I had to ask him: “Have you ever heard of someone using it to kill people?”
“No.” He stiffened in his chair. “No way.”
“Sorry. It’s a murder case.” I told him the story.
Danny listened. Then he took a deep breath. “Anything’s possible. It’s not like I know everyone in the world who can do it. But nobody I know.”
I tried a different angle. “Do you know anyone with this ability who works in the software industry? Maybe at a company called RoundTen?”
He shrugged. “Software? Maybe. I never heard of that company, but we got people all over. I could ask around.”
“Is there any way to tell if there’s someone invisible around?” This came from Rachel.
Danny thought about that. “No way I know of. But it’s never really been a problem.”
“Or any way to turn someone visible?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Spray paint, maybe?”
I made a mental note. “Okay. Thanks.” I couldn’t think of any more questions. I reached for my wallet. “Let me pay for—”
Then my Heineken bottle slid across the table. It dropped over the edge, spewing beer over my pants, and rolled across the floor.
I grabbed a napkin. “Sorry about that. I don’t know—”
And then Rachel’s Budweiser rose in the air.
“Whoa!” Rachel shoved her chair back, clutching the edge of the table. The bottle whirled around her head—once, twice—and then it fell, breaking into dozens of shards next to the stool’s legs.
Danny slipped off his chair. “Jason, is that you? Not funny, man!”
The bartender looked up from another customer. “Hey, somebody’s got to clean that up, you know?”
“Sorry!” I grabbed Rachel’s shoulder. “You okay?”
“I’m fine, jerk.” But she patted my hand. “You think I need you to protect me?”
“Hell, no.” I squeezed her shoulder. “I’m hoping you’re going to protect me. Let’s get out of here. Danny?”
He was waving his hands like he was searching for someone, well, invisible. “Wait . . . wait . . . oh, damn it! Yeah, we should leave.”
I laid some cash on the table, plus a little extra for the cleanup duties. “Thanks! Sorry about the mess!” We headed for the door, Danny and me huddling around Rachel until she realized we were trying to protect her. She elbowed my ribs and gave Danny a sharp jab in the back.
Danny stumbled onto the street. “Ow! What was that for?”
“You get used to it.” I stood between them, rubbing my side. “Who’s Jason?”
“It wasn’t him.” Danny rubbed his head. “He plays jokes, that’s just his thing. But—”
The door burst open behind us. But no one came out. I grabbed Rachel, and she tried to squirm away from me. Danny reared up, waving his arms again. I heard the bartender shout.
Then a big green bottle of Jagermeister flew through the air right at my head. I ducked, and it smashed against Danny’s skull.
He slammed to the sidewalk, groaning. The bottle hit the concrete and shattered, spilling liquor over the curb.
I tried to shield Rachel in case another bottle attacked us, but she pushed me away and knelt next to Danny. “Hey! Blink at me! Are you okay? Danny, talk to me!”
“I’m fine!” But his head was bleeding. “What the hell was that?”
I grabbed my cell phone and looked around. “I’m sorry.” I shuddered, imagining an invisible attack from any direction. “This is my fault.” I hit 911. “Just sit tight.”
Rachel looked up me, her face fierce. “If this is about your case—”
“Then it’s a stupid move. Because it’s so obvious.” Which meant I was either looking at this the wrong way, or the killer wasn’t very smart. I wasn’t sure which possibility I liked worse.
I could think about that later, though. I gave Danny my handkerchief to stop the bleeding as the 911 operator picked up. “Hello? We need an ambulance.”
“I want you to make me invisible,” I told Danny.
Rachel punched my arm.
Danny had bandages on his head and two IVs in his arms, along with a blood pressure cuff and a clip on his finger to measure his temperature. We could view all his vital signs on a monitor next to the bed, except none of us could decipher the numbers and acronyms. But the nurse had told him he’d probably be released him in a few hours.
At least the hospital room had a view of the lake. The rising sun was closew to blinding us. I lowered the shade.
Danny sighed and stirred the pudding cup on his tray. “Yuck.”
“I’m sorry about this.” I’d slept about two hours after making sure Danny was safe at the hospital. Now I was angry, and high on caffeine and a sugar doughnut. “But they came after you right after I started asking questions at RoundTen. If I could get in there and listen—”
“You can spook someone into confessing with your mysterious laugh?” Rachel smirked.
“Yeah, that sounds pretty stupid,” Danny said. “Not you, Rachel! I just mean, isn’t that a little obvious? Right after you ask some questions?”
He had a point. “It could be a coincidence. Or it could mean the killer’s not a criminal mastermind. Lots of people commit crimes out of panic. They don’t plan, they don’t think things through, they just keep trying to cover it up.” That’s what I was hoping, anyway.
“Okay.” Danny reached under his hospital gown. “Here it is.”
He pulled the chain around his neck and lifted it up. “Here’s how it works.”
He closed his hand around the ring. And disappeared.
“Whoa!” Rachel jumped back. The bed looked empty, but we could still see the depression in the sheets.
Then Danny was back, a big grin on his face. “That’s how it works. You can’t just put it on your finger, you have to hold it tight.” He held it out to me. “You try it.”
I took the ring. “Okay. Here I—”
The hospital room was suddenly dark. I could still see Danny and Rachel, but only through a deep fog. The sun through the window seemed shrouded with gray clouds, even though a moment ago it was searing our eyes.
“Tom?” Rachel stomped a foot on the floor. “Stop playing around.”
I opened my fist. “So, was I invisible?”
“Don’t do that again!” Rachel glared at me. “At least not while I’m around.”
“Here’s the thing.” Danny hit a switch to raise the bed more. “Holding onto that thing is hard. You let go of it for a second, and everyone can see you. After a while, your hand starts to shake. So don’t let go of it.”
I slung the chain around my neck. “Thank you.”
“And don’t lose it!” He pointed a finger at my chest. “I’ve got a thing next week, and if I’m not there, I owe somebody a six-pack.”
I grabbed my jacket. “I’ll take good care of it.”
I didn’t know what I was looking for. The only lead I had was Blake Griffin. Something about him seemed—off. But I was on your basic fishing expedition.
The elevator was empty, which made getting invisible easy. Getting inside the RoundTen suite was tougher. I had to wait for someone to open the office door, and then slide through quickly before it closed. I’d actually practiced at home before driving downtown.
Simone was whispering on the phone. “Yeah, it’s crazy around here. There were cops in here this morning. Wait, hang on . . .” She hit a button. “Hello, RoundTen, how may I help you?”
My arm already ached as I headed around her desk and down the hall. I wondered how long I could hold onto Danny’s ring, and started looking for places to hide if I needed to let go.
I found the sales department, an open area of cubicles full of busy salespeople, male and female, whispering on the phone or pounding at their computers. No chitchat, no computer solitaire or Facebook checks—the atmosphere felt tense as death row.
A door in back had Blake Griffin’s name. Unfortunately for me, it was closed. Even more unfortunately, it stayed closed for 15 minutes.
Finally it opened, and a young woman trudged out. She had short blond hair, a tight blue blouse, and an irritated frown on her lips. “Okay, Blake. Got it.”
“Good, Tina,” Griffin said from inside the office. Was she a saleswoman who wasn’t hitting quota, or an IT worker come to fix his computer? Whatever. She left the door half open, just wide enough for me to jostle it a few inches and slip through. Griffin didn’t seem to notice.
A big window with closed blinds looked down on his black desk, which didn’t look like he was a member of the clean-desk club: It was messy with sales reports, pens, three half-filled cups of coffee, sales brochures, and software magazines.
Griffin was listening to phone messages while scrolling through his email. I tried to read subject lines as fast as I could while he deleted spam. “Hicks Proposal,” “Renwick counter-offer,” “Weekly Sales report,” etc., etc. Nothing titled “Invisibility secrets” or “I know why you killed Jim Carr.”
A Hispanic man stuck his head through the door. “Hey, Blake, I’m out to meet with Leone. Back in two hours.”
“Okay.” Griffin didn’t look up. “Close the door, will you?”
The salesman shut the door, and I was trapped.
I moved away from the desk and found a bare spot of wall to lean against. My wrist was already trembling from the strain of keeping my fist tight.
Griffin turned back to his email. He opened the one with a NO SUBJECT subject line:
Garry Angelos is ready to file unless we give him something. What do you want to do? —Ross
The return email address was rossw@JRTech.
JRTech. I remembered after a minute. JRTech was the company where one of RoundTen’s programmers had gone two months before, according to Kemp. And also the company Jim Carr wanted to talk about before the baseball bat rose up hit him on the skull. “File” probably meant “lawsuit.” About what?
Griffin thought for a moment. Then he typed:
Delay until I can get some money together. —BG
The door opened suddenly. Without a knock, so I didn’t have time to get into position to escape. Jessica Finlay walked in. I guess the CEO didn’t need to knock.
Griffin stood up fast. “Jessica. What—”
“Did you sign off on this?” She held out a sheet of paper. I saw the word INVOICE printed across the top.
He glanced. “Yeah. It comes out of our training budget.”
“It’s almost all of your budget. Cancel it.” She dropped it on Griffin’s desk. “From now on, anything over $1,000 needs prior approval from me. Or Jeff.”
Griffin didn’t want to give up easily, though. “If I’m not in charge of my own budget, what am I in charge of?”
She crossed her arms. “Sales. I just looked at the latest figures. Even if Jim was still—around, we’ll be down eight percent for the quarter.”
“JRTech is all over us! And morale is down, between Jim and Phil and—”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake!” Finlay stared at him. “Do these training courses you want to spend so much money on come with a list of excuses? Bring your numbers up, and then we’ll talk about training.”
I made my way close to the door, waiting for her to leave. Griffin sat down behind his desk. “All right.” His face was red. “I’ll get it done.”
“Good.” Finlay yanked the door open.
As much as I wanted to get out of there, I forced myself to wait. I wanted to see how Griffin reacted to his boss’s displeasure.
He sighed, then opened a drawer and pulled out a pint bottle of whiskey. 11:30 in the morning. He took a long drink, capped the bottle and put it away.
“Goddamn it,” he whispered.
Another knock on the door. “What?” Griffin shouted.
Tina again. “What did Finlay want?”
“Don’t worry about it.” He pushed his chair back and rubbed his eyes. “Did the cops talk to you?”
“Yeah. They don’t know anything.
“Good.” He sighed again. “Do you still have the thing?”
“Yeah.” She cocked her head, worried. “Do you want it back? I want—”
“No.” He turned his chair away from her. “Just don’t do anything . . . stupid.”
“You need to relax.” Tina smiled. “Everyone’s out to lunch. Do you—”
“Not now!” He yanked the drawer open again. “Just—go sell something, all right?”
She winked. “Whatever Blakey wants.”
I managed to dart through the door behind her. My free hand brushed her butt, and she swung around as the door closed. Not suspicious. More . . . eager? I held my breath and edged away from her as the door closed. After a moment she shrugged and made her way to a desk, where she sat down and picked up her phone.
I thought about listening in on her calls, but I was afraid she’d only be cold-calling prospects for the next half hour. My arm was shaking and my fingers felt numb as ice, and I wasn’t sure I could hold onto the ring much longer.
So I ran back up the hall. I’d spotted a dark room halfway to the reception area, and the door was still open. I ducked inside, knelt on the floor next to a humming computer, and opened my hand.
My arm was shaking. Danny had warned me, but I hadn’t realized how hard clenching the ring for more than a few minutes would be. I tried not to gasp with relief.
So of course, right then the lights came on. I grabbed the ring again and scuttled out of the way, hoping the woman who came in to check something on one of the servers hadn’t seen me.
At least she kept the door open. I slipped out and made my way down the hall.
Down in my Honda I relaxed my arm for a few minutes, and then called Marmont to report.
“So I think Griffin is hiding a potential lawsuit,” I told her. “And he’s embezzling money. And Carr worked for him. That’s got to put him in play for Carr’s murder.”
Her sigh sounded like every single one of my editors when I was a reporter. “It’s a start. I suppose. We need something rock solid before I can talk to the police about an invisible killer.”
And like all—okay, most—of those editors, she was right. “I’ll keep digging.”
When I regained full use of my arm, I checked out JRTech’s website back at my apartment. I found a phone number and an email address for rossw: He was Ross Winters, VP of Human Resources. I thought about calling him about the lawsuit right away, but that might spook Carr.
I also found contact information for Kacey Shields, the RoundTen sales associate who’d gone to JRTech. Her I called—but the receptionist who picked up told me she was no longer with the company.
Interesting. I looked her up on the Internet and found a phone number. She answered on the third ring. “Hello?”
“Kacey Shields? My name is Tom Jurgen. I’m working for Philip Kemp, of RoundTen, where you were once employed? I wondered if I could ask you—”
“Oh, god, no.” She sounded tense. “I can’t talk about that. Who are you?”
“Thomas Jurgen. I’m a private investigator. It’s about Jim Carr’s murder.”
“Oh.” Surprised. She’d been expecting questions about something else “I don’t know anything about that.”
“You worked for Blake Griffin, right?” Maybe the name would spark a reaction.
“Yeah, but I don’t . . .” Shields hesitated. “I can’t tell you anything. Please don’t call me again.” She hung up.
Huh. People who don’t want to talk always make me suspicious.
I spent part of the afternoon running internet searches on every name I had. Not just Google—PIs have access to specialized databases that search engines don’t. I found out that Blake Griffin had been fired from three other companies before RoundTen, and disputed at least one termination in a lawsuit that got settled out of court. Jessica Finlay had launched two other startups and declared bankruptcy once.
Jim Carr had been named in a lawsuit against a previous employer accused of fraud—again, settled out of court. Tina? I didn’t know her last name. Kacey Shields had no criminal or civil record, although she had lots of student debt. Phil Kemp—yeah, I should have checked him out earlier—had two speeding tickets on his record, and he’d skipped jury duty once and paid a fine.
Ross Winter of JRTech had once been arrested on a drunk and disorderly charge. JRTech’s CEO had been busted for marijuana in college.
By this point I was just yanking the slot machine, hoping for triple cherries, or whatever paid off in Vegas. I was tempted to check out my own name, but I didn’t want to think about what I’d find.
The rest of the afternoon and early evening went to other cases—phone calls, more internet searches, and two hours of surveillance that didn’t prove my client’s wife was cheating on him unless he thought her boyfriend worked in a shoe store. By ten o’clock I was too tired to fix anything more than a sandwich for dinner. Rachel was out at her book club. I watched the news and a few minutes of the talk shows, and went to bed.
But yeah, I walked around my apartment waving my arms to make sure no invisible intruders were lurking in plain sight. Can’t be too careful.
The next morning I was still trying to figure out my next move when Marmont called me. “Did you meet Jessica Finlay at RoundTen?” She doesn’t waste time with chitchat like, “How are you?”
“Yeah, when I went to check out Kemp’s office. Why?”
“Unclear. She was hit by an SUV in a parking garage near her office. The driver says she was waiting for him to pass, then she suddenly fell forward. He couldn’t stop. He didn’t see anyone else.”
Damn it. Griffin. But who would believe it? “Does this affect the case against Kemp?”
“It doesn’t sound like the cops are treating it as a murder. So, no. Call me if you get anything useful.”
I went through my notes. The key to detective work, like being a reporter, is asking questions until you've got a story you can confirm with facts. If you don’t have enough facts, ask more questions. If you can’t think of any more questions, find someone new to talk to.
Finlay would have been on today’s list. But now she was gone.
I called Kacey Shields again and left a message. I half-expected her to call back with a restraining order, but instead she called a half hour later to give me the address of a coffee shop in Lincoln Park. “Two hours.”
So two hours later we sat in a corner where I could see if the door opened by itself. Kacey Shields had dark hair, eyes that looked like she hadn’t been sleeping, and a gray U of Chicago sweatshirt.
“I don’t know anything about Jim’s . . . murder.” She drank herb tea. “I liked him. I liked Phil. I’m just scared because of . . .” She shook her head. “I’m not sure I should tell you.”
She wanted to talk, or she wouldn’t have suggested we get together. She needed reassurance.
“I’m not a lawyer,” I told her. “So I can’t make any promises. If you’ve committed a crime, I probably can’t keep that to myself, but anything else—”
“I don’t think it’s a crime, I just don’t want to get sued!” She closed her eyes and groaned. “I still have students loans to pay.”
“I’ll have to report to Phil’s lawyer if it seems relevant to the case,” I warned her. “That may give you some protection. I don’t know. But I’ll do my best to keep it to myself.”
“Okay.” Shields took a deep breath. “JRTech was trying to recruit me. I told Blake. And he told me to take the offer and then—be a spy, basically. Tell him what JRTech is up to in their sales department. He offered me some money, and JRTech was offering me more than I was making, so I said yes.”
She sipped her tea. “It was kind of exciting at first. And at least I didn’t have to deal with Blake every day.” She shuddered. “Or that bitch Tina.”
Tina? “Short blond hair? Tight blouses?”
She grimaced. “Tina Alsop. Bitch. She and Blake . . .” She ran a hand through her hair. “I’m not going there. Everybody knows, but I hate office gossip. I just want to do my job, okay?”
Tina. I should have talked to her. Mental note—then I nodded. “All right. What happened?”
“Nothing!” Shields leaned forward in her chair. “That’s the thing. After a few days, it was just another job. There wasn’t anything to pass along to Blake. Some pricing information, yeah, and part of a marketing campaign they were putting together for next quarter, but nothing that would ruin their company, or make RoundTen rich.”
She leaned back in her chair. “But Cheryl, my boss, found out because I sent Blake an email on my work computer, and it got flagged. Stupid, right?” She drummed her fingers on the table. “They fired me, so I’ve been hiding from Blake and trying to figure out what to do. They said there’d be a lawsuit.”
So this was the lawsuit Griffin was afraid of? It made sense—Carr would have gone to Kemp because it was an HR matter.
It seemed a long reach to murder. But like I’d told Danny and Rachel, most murders don’t seem to be committed by evil geniuses. Just scared people.
“Did Jim Carr know?”
Shields nodded. “I called him for lunch after I got fired. I was hoping he could help me find a new job. We’re not dating or anything,” she added quickly. “Just friends. I told him the whole story.”
“What day was that?”
“The day before . . .” She stopped. “Oh, god. Did I get him killed?”
I didn’t want her to panic. “He was killed by somebody who wanted him dead.” I knbew it sounded stupid, but it was all I could think of.
She bit her lip. “Yeah. What should I do?”
I didn’t know what to tell her. “Probably get a lawyer. Otherwise don’t tell anyone else. I can recommend a few, if you need a name.” People have tried to sue me before, with varying degrees of success.
“All right.” She pushed her chair back. “Thank you.”
I stood up too. “Thanks for talking to me.”
I called RoundTen. Simone didn’t recognize my voice when I asked for Tina, but she transferred me.
“Tina Alsop at RoundTen, how may I help you?” She sounded chirpy and cheerful.
I tried my best to sound like a TV private eye. “Ms. Alsopn my name is Thomas Jurgen. I’m working with Phil Kemp’s lawyer on the Jim Carr murder. I wonder if I could meet to ask you a few questions.”
“Okay. I guess.” Her voice dropped low. “Where’s your office? I don’t really know anything.”
“I’m just trying to cover all the bases. And I don’t actually have an office. Can we meet somewhere?”
“Oh. I thought all private detectives had an office.” She giggled. “Is that just in the movies?”
I hadn’t told her I was a private detective. As far as she knew, I’d never seen her before.
But Finlay had showed Griffin my card.
“Offices are expensive,” I said. “I usually work out of my apartment. Is there a coffee shop or someplace else near your office where we could talk?”
“Okay, there’s a bar near work, it’s called the Door? I’ll meet you there at 6:30.”
“Got it. Thank you.”
I wondered what she’d tell Griffin. Then I remembered I had a way to find out.
My entry to the RoundTen office went the same as before. I’d attached a small digital recorder to a lanyard around my neck so I could keep one hand free. Simone was ordering office supplies while talking to a friend on the phone: “. . . don’t know! Nobody’s saying anything. Andrew called a meeting but he just said to keep doing our jobs and tell everyone we’re not going anywhere. So . . .”
RoundTen was the kind of company where no one ducked out before 5:00, it seemed. At 5:30 every cubicle was filled, even if everyone seemed too shell-shocked to work hard. I made my way back to the sales department and found Tina filling out a form on her computer while the rest of the sales force made phone calls or sent emails.
I was gambling the muscles in my right hand that Tina would say something to Griffin before leaving to meet me. I figured that like before, I could find a place to hide for a few moments in my hand started to seize up. I’d also found that I could press my palms together and move Danny’s ring from one hand to another without turning visible, which made the 45-minute wait a little more tolerable. One salesperson snuck out at 5:35, and I was able to sit down in his chair without anyone noticing. I was getting better at this.
At 6:05 Tina got up, stretched, and headed for Griffin’s office. I followed, clicking my recorder on. A salesperson glanced over at the sound, but went back to her emails when her phone buzzed. “Hello, this is Joanne Piombo at RoundTen, how may I help you?”
I managed to slip behind Tina into Griffin’s office, but the door bounced off my knee. I managed to dart away before she kicked it shut. “This door sticks, Blake.”
“What do you want, Tina?” Griffin had another bottle of whiskey on his desk, and his hair looked as if he hadn’t brushed it in two days.
“The private detective you told me about? I’m meeting him at the Door. Jurgen something?” She sat down and crossed her legs. “What do you want me to say?”
“How did he—” Griffin rubbed his eyes. “Forget it. Don’t tell him anything. And for Christ’s sake, just don’t do anything stupid this time. All right?”
“What? I was just trying to help you.” Tina stood up and leaned across the desk. “It looked like an accident, anyway.”
“Not like Jim Carr.” He took a gulp from a coffee mug. I was pretty sure he wasn’t drinking coffee,
Tina pouted. “Come on, what was I supposed to do? You told me—”
“Goddamn it, I didn’t tell you to whack him!” Griffin pounded a fist on his desk. “I just needed to know what he was going to say! You didn’t have to kill him.” He rolled back in his chair. “Jesus Christ, this is a nightmare.”
“But I did it.” Tina giggled. “Sorry.”
My hand trembled. Wow. I’d been wrong—kind of. Tina had killed Jim Carr—and Jessica Finlay too. But proving it would be difficult, even with the tape. Aside from the whole “I have a ring that makes me invisible,” it would be inadmissible because it was made without the consent of either party.
Still, the tape had to be useful to Marmont somehow. I thought about giving them my best spooky laugh, but decided that leaving was a better idea.
Then the door opened.
They were obviously cops, even before the African-American woman showed them her badge. “Tina Alsop? I’m detective Johnson, this is detective Flores. We’d like you to come with us.”
Tina glanced at Griffin as if he’d protect her. Then she took a closer look at Johnson’s badge. “What? I don’t—I’m supposed to meet someone.”
“That can wait.” Flores was a wiry Hispanic man, shorter than his partner. “We need to ask you a few questions.”
“What’s going on?” Griffin tried to move his whiskey bottle behind his phone as he lurched up.
“We’ll discuss that downtown,” Johnson said. “Miss Alsop?”
“S-sure. Sure.” Tina gulped. “Let me just—” She jammed a hand into her pocket and pulled up a gold chain bracelet. “I just need to—”
And she disappeared.
Damn it. The cops were all the way inside the office. Tina could sneak around them and get away. What she’d do next was an interesting question, but she didn’t seem to have very good judgment based on what I’d heard from her and Griffin.
So I moved to block the door.
Tina slammed into me. I felt her bounce back, and we all heard her curse. Johnson and Flores whirled around, reaching for their weapons, but without anyone to threaten, or shoot, they kept their pistols holstered.
Tina collided with me again, harder this time, trying to knock me down and push past me. I grabbed for her, and managed to snag an arm. But I dropped the ring.
“What the—” Johnson had her gun out now. “Freeze! Flores—”
I was visible. “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” I pulled on Tina’s arm, but she twisted away, laughing like a mischievous ghost.
I rolled over, grabbing for my jacket for my secret weapon—a can of red spray paint. Just like Danny had suggested.
I pressed my finger down and blasted the air. Some of the paint stuck. I saw a shoulder and part of an arm. And, yeah, half of Tina’s butt. I lunged forward.
Tina tried to run out into the sales office, but I leaped and managed to catch one leg. She plunged to the carpet, grunting and cursing, and I crawled on top of her, doing a little swearing of my own. “Turn visible!” I panted, holding desperately to her arm as she tried to lash out at my eyes. “Visible!”
Finally she sagged on the floor. “You asshole.” Then the bracelet was on the floor, and she was real again—half covered in red paint, but visible to everyone in the office standing around staring at us. And to the two cops standing behind me, their weapons drawn.
“Stay on the ground,” Johnson ordered. “Hands on your heads.”
“Both of you,” Flores added. “Uh—where did she come from?”
Griffin stood in his office doorway. “Oh, no,” he groaned.
Griffin’s face was pale with sweat. “I never told her to hurt anyone. Just watch them! That’s all I said.”
I knew one detective on the Chicago police force who could sort of stand me. Elena Dudovich wasn’t on the Carr murder, but she actually came in to vouch for me when I called.
“Tom Jurgen is a pain in the ass.” Dudovich slouched in a chair, clearly wanting to get away from me. “But yeah, he honestly believes all the crazy stuff he says. And sometimes he’s right. You might want to listen to him.” Then she yawned. “Is that it? I’ve got cases of my own, you know.”
So Flores let me watch through a one-way window as his partner questioned Griffin.
“What about this charm she said you gave her?” Johnson had the bracelet in front of her on a white table. “This makes you . . .” She had to force the word out. “Invisible?”
“I got it from a friend.” Griffin shook his head. “I know it sounds crazy, but it works. Let me show you . . .” He reached forward.
“No.” Johnson yanked the bracelet away. “Let’s just talk about your pal. Tina? She says you told her to take care of things.”
“I didn’t! She’s lying! She’s delusional.” Griffin rubbed his eyes. “We . . . yeah, we slept together. A few times. She got obsessed. She thinks . . .”
Flores glared at me as if I hadn’t just helped him solve his case. “Tina Alsop’s fingerprints are all over the baseball bat. We matched them from a shoplifting arrest four years ago, but it took a few days.” He growled. “We would have arrested her today anyway.”
I stood up. “So Philip Kemp is in the clear?”
Flores waved at the window as Griffin kept insisting that none of this was his fault. “They’re both blaming each other. That makes it hard to pin it on Kemp right now, even aside from that tape of yours. Which we can’t use anyway. I’m just hoping they’ll both make a plea deal that doesn’t mean anyone has to testify about flying baseball bats and invisible killers.” He shrugged. “But I guess that’s the D.A.’s job.”
At least it wasn’t mine. But I had to ask one thing: “Is there any chance I could have the ring back? It belongs to a friend.”
“Here you go.” I dropped the ring on the table next to a basket of warm breadsticks. Danny snapped it up. “Thanks.”
We were having dinner at an Italian restaurant downtown. Marmont told me to put the bill on my expense account. She was happy she wouldn’t have to ask a judge and jury to believe in an invisible killer.
Flores and his partner seemed to be afraid of what their boss might do with Danny’s ring. So they marked it “lost” in their report.
Tina’s gold bracelet? I didn’t ask where that might end up.
“So I guess I see where you get those arm muscles from.” I swirled my spaghetti on my fork as Danny put the ring back around his neck. “My arm may never feel the same again.”
I tried not to feel jealous as Rachel squeezed his bicep. Then she reached over felt my arm. “Huh,” she said, surprised. “I guess I like thin, wiry guys. Who knew?” She smiled at me and went back to her ravioli.
“On the other hand,” I said, anxious to change the subject, “I guess I’m just lucky I have a friend who can hook me up with invisible people.” I nudged Rachel’s knee. She nudged back. “I might have to get one of those things, Danny.”
“They’re hard to come by.” Danny picked up a fork. “I got it from—”
His beer moved across the table.
“What the—” Rachel blinked.
“Jason?” Danny’s voice was low and threatening.
Suddenly a man appeared next to him—African American, short, with a mischievous grin on his face and a big red rock in his hand. “Hi, folks, I’m Jason. Mind if I join you?”
# # #