“You get to see a lot of blood in this line of work,” He thought, “but not usually coming out of someone you used to be sweet on.”
Her body was warm but she wasn’t breathing, meaning she’d been hit within the last half hour.
A fast scan of the room showed Franklin nothing else had been disturbed. He needed to get out of there before anybody else arrived and called the cops.
Then he spotted the corner of a piece of paper just under Doreen’s waist and yanked it out. It was the bottom of a legal document, just the page number and part of a file name. He stashed it in his pocket, wiped the exterior doorknob of the office with his handkerchief and high-tailed it out of there.
Back at the car, Franklin sparked up a Lucky and studied the scrap of paper. Concentration came hard after seeing what had happened to Doreen but he forced the image from his mind and examined the file name in the glow of his Zippo.
“…son/probate/new.docx” it read. Nothing he could use for now but important enough for someone to whack a secretary.
Somebody out there was getting panicky. And panicky people make mistakes.
While he was wondering how to alert the cops to Doreen’s corpse without getting implicated, three squad cars sped past, sirens screaming. He pushed the stick into drive and slowly followed them. As he expected, they were going into Saville & Billings.
He needed to stay ahead of the cops on this or they’d bust the case apart and he’d be in the poorhouse. Work had been slow lately and he needed to deliver on this one.
Step one had to lie back at the college.
This time the receptionist opened up easily: “You back again?”
“Yeah. I found Doreen and she said to meet her back here. Said her brother was supposed to be coming too, but he was late. Anybody else come looking for her before I showed up?”
The girl went in back and asked somebody. Franklin heard a female voice confirm, “Yeah. A tall guy asked for her just before I went on my break. I told him I ain’t allowed to give out details of the students.”
“Can I talk to your friend?” asked Franklin.
The friend was a short, dark-haired girl with some kind of Eastern European accent, the kind you hear in coffee shops all over town.
She said she was annoyed because she was trying to do her job professionally when one of the students blabbed where Doreen could be found. “Tall, English guy,” she explained, “Left in a hurry.”
“Did he say anything else?” But Franklin knew that was all he would get from the broad and took his leave.
What would a tall English guy want with Doreen? Somehow he needed to get inside Saville & Billings and get a match on the file name in his pocket. But that wasn’t gonna be easy with the cops swarming all over the place.
Sleep wouldn’t settle on Franklin that night and he tossed and turned, fighting off the image of Doreen that wouldn’t leave him alone and tumbling the scant facts of the case over and over in his mind.
The crumpled, empty cigarette packet on the bedside table persuaded him to get up and drive to a store to restock.
There was no reason why he shouldn’t swing by Saville & Billings while he was out.
It was 4:00 am. The time when it’s hardest to stay awake. At the office block he noticed the cops were winding down.
So it wasn’t too hard to edge under the crime scene tape and slip into the building, his heart pounding like an anvil.
Franklin decided to take the back stairs, removing his shoes so they wouldn’t click on the marble.
He could see through the glass panel of the door that the lights were off on the murder scene floor and the lock yielded to his credit card with only the slightest click. The forensic boys had finished for the night and the duty boys were downstairs.
He had a hunch the staff wouldn’t have logged off their computers. Once Doreen’s body had been discovered, the cops would have made them evacuate the building before they could follow standard procedure.
Skirting the rear of the office, he touched the spacebars of the PC’s, one at a time, holding his body against the screens so the glare wouldn’t alert the cops downstairs.
The fourth machine proved his hunch right and he guessed at Doreen’s log-on, just as she had taught him when they were seeing each other. It worked. He entered the partial file name into the search box.
It was a shame he hadn’t done a legal secretarial course himself, he thought wryly. That would have made this task easier.
The computer returned at least a hundred files bearing the fragment of data he had entered. This was going to be harder than he thought. The best he could do was to take a couple of screen shots and save them to a memory stick he kept in his back pocket.
Just as the stick glowed to signal its task was done, he heard voices and the fluorescent light fired up.