Monday, May 30, 2016

The Invisible Club, Part Three

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?”
            “She’s dead.”
            What the—“Murder?”
            “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?”

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1 comment:

  1. Love this - cool characters, great stressful office atmosphere, tight plotting, Tom working on other stuff. Now worried about the red rock and Jason . . .