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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

"D Is For Doxy" Chapter 4

And for those of you who have been waiting on the edge of their seats for chapter 4 of "D Is For Doxy," here it is:


     I put in the rest of the weekend thinking about both cases.  I didn’t draw any conclusions, though.  Mrs. Baker’s case was the kind that would work itself out over a matter of time.  I just had to be in the right place at the right time.  Mrs. Lawrence’s, on the other hand, called for a little discretion and tact.  Both of which I needed to use in great amounts to avoid getting tangled up in the case the police would try to make.  I have nothing against them, but sometimes our methods of work clashed.  They had to go by the book; I had no such book I needed to follow.  But, I did have to live with myself, so ultimately, I tried to work as cleanly as possible.
     I had called Mrs. Lawrence on Sunday to get a few questions answered.  Such as:  What kind of work had her husband done, did he have any employees, and where had he spent his free time?  Knowing that he had ran a consulting firm didn’t mean that much, I don’t think.  At least, not to me.  I’d have to check into it, though, to see what it actually entailed.  The employee’s names she gave me and a few clubs where he had hung out at, however, interested me a lot.
     Monday, when Lawrence’s business would have normally opened up, I used getting in touch with his employees.  There were only three others besides himself.  Mrs. Lawrence must have called them and told them not to show up at work, for when I got in touch with them, they were all at home.  I arranged a meeting with all three of them at a restaurant nearby where they had worked.  At noon, I walked through the door of the place and looked for them.  They had decided on an upscale Italian joint, the kind where someone greeted you at the door.  When the maitre d’ buttonholed me, I spotted three likely looking men seated at one table together and walked past the greeter without a word.  I had work to do.  I strode right up to the table and spoke.
    “My name’s Randall.  Are you the three guys I came to meet?”
     They nodded their heads in agreement, so I pulled out a chair from the next table and sat down.
     “Can I get your names all straight first?”
     The one to my immediate left started the introductions.
     “I’m Walter Able.”
     “David McPhearson.”
     “Harlan West.”
     I gave them my name once again to make it unanimous.
     “And I’m Steve Randall.”
     I carefully shook hands with each of them.  Each displayed varying degrees of the hearty handshake; firm and strong.  Did this conceal something else on their part?  Only time and talk would tell.
    “The reason I’ve asked you here,” I began, “is because Lawrence’s wife hired me to trace his killer.  I don’t think she’d mind my telling you that.  I’ve brought all of you here because I want to find out what he was like at work and what it was like working for him.  I don’t think of you three as serious suspects because, on the face of it, you’d have everything to lose and nothing to gain.  I can tell you that nothing appeared to be missing at the office.  You can relax on that.”
    I watched them, and they breathed an inaudible sigh of relief.  They could still turn out to be guilty, one or more of them.  But, if they were, I’d find out about it.  I tried to keep it easy going for them, though, to start out with.
    “Are you the only three employees he had?”
    Harlan West answered first.  He must have been the senior employee of the three.  He was the oldest looking of them.
    “Yes, it was a small firm, but we handled a lot of accounts.”
     “Just what is a consulting firm?”
    “I’d like to answer that,” broke in Walter Able.  “People and companies come to us and have us look up things for them.  Business strategies and avenues for growth and revenue.  We are quite respected in our little niche.  Mr. Lawrence always made sure our clients were well satisfied with our work.”
    “Oh, I see.  So, were you in close contact with him a lot?”
    “Not really.  We each had our own office we worked out of, and our own particular clients to take care of.”
    “Sort of like a big law firm.”
    “Yes, similar.”
    “Was Mr. Lawrence an easy guy to work for?”
    McPhearson answered this one.
    “Oh, yes.  Extremely easy.  He never expected us to work over or on the weekends.  And he paid us more than the going rate for our kinds of positions.  I know he did me and I’m sure my fellows will say the same.”
    “How much did you make?  I trust it’s not a secret, is it?”
    “No, everything was above board.”
    “He was very open about everything,” added Abel, “but to answer your question, each of us made upwards of sixty thousand dollars a year.”
    “Upwards?” I asked.
    “Including the annual Christmas bonus.”
    “Oh, of course.  I assume you all liked him and your work?”
    “Quite well.”
    “You’d tell me if you didn’t?”
    “We came here,” pronounced Harlan West, “because, like you, we wish George Lawrence’s killer to be brought to justice.  We did not come here to be badgered or accused.”
    “You’ll have to excuse me if I seem over bearing, it’s just that, as of yet, I don’t think I have a good angle to work from.  And I’d like to try to find one as quickly as possible, because, unlike you, while I’d like to see his killer brought to light, I don’t make sixty thousand dollars a year, and this case is a well-paying one.  For me, anyway.  Now, I’ll still put all my efforts in to it, but it’s nice once and awhile to be able to afford to pay my bills for another month in the process.  So, if you’ll excuse my persistent badgering, maybe we can find something that would help me further along to a solution.”
    “I can quite see what you mean, but, for the life of me, I can’t think of anything that would even remotely resemble a clue.  What about you, Walter.... David?”
    “Nothing I can think of,” said David McPhearson.
    “Nor I,” added Walter Able.
    “So, you see,” intoned West once again, “however much we’d like to help you, no single incident comes to mind that seems relevant to his death.  We just enjoyed a quiet, uneventful workplace with a man that really knew his job.  He was always pleasant to work with and I personally never had any problems with him.  I’m sure the same could be said of Walter and David here, too.”
    I looked at them and they nodded their heads in unison.
    “Well, there must be something we’re overlooking.  I’m almost certain of it.  How about frequent visitors to the building?  Did anyone turn up a lot lately?”
    “Not that I can recollect.  I’d have to ask Susan.”
    “Susan?  Who’s she?”
    “I almost forgot her.  She’s a secretary that comes in on Thursdays and Fridays and does some typing and filing for us.  You know, just general things to keep us freed up.”
    “And how can I get in touch with her?”
    “We hired her from a secretarial placing organization.  Temporary help, that kind of thing.”
    “What’s the name of the place?”
    “Westbury Placements.  Their office is near here.  You can find them in the telephone book.”
    “Good, I’ll look their number up.  This Susan, what’s her last name?”
    Walter answered me pretty quickly.  I wondered if this Susan just happened to be a good looker?
    “Susan Prescott is her name.  When we first called, they sent her over and she worked out fine.  We just made sure we got her to come back in permanently.”
    “How did you do that?”
    “Good secretarial help is hard to find.  So, we just paid her extremely well and she always made herself available.”
    We had ordered lunch just after I arrived, and now as we were finishing it, I felt I had found out about all I could.  I would have to look this Susan Prescott up after lunch.
    “Well, I want to thank you for your assistance today.  One more thing.  What will you do for work?”
    “We’ve all had offers before to move to different firms.  Now, we’ll just have to take those offers.”
    “Isn’t that a little sudden?” I asked.
    “As you said, we’ve got bills to pay also.  We must be practical about things.”
    “You’re right, I suppose.  I hope you get what you want.”
    “And I hope, sincerely,” said Harlan speaking for the three of them, “that you find out who killed George Lawrence.  He was a truly good man.”
    “Are you sure about that?”  I threw the remark out casually to see if anyone would bite on it.
    “What do you mean?  Of course we’re sure.”
    “No hint of anything in the least bit scandalous?”
    “If you’re referring to his business ethics,” and Walter was practically shouting, “his were above reproach.  He never dealt off the bottom of the deck.”
    “Maybe in his business.  But, what about his pleasure?”
    “As far as I know, he was a quiet kind of guy.  Sure, he went to his club once in a while, but most of the time he spent his private hours at home with his wife.”  And as he said this, David looked for agreement from the other two.  They nodded right along with him.
    “Now, his wife mentioned to me that he felt the business going to be robbed.  He spent several nights, she said, coming down and watching the place himself.  Did you know anything about it?”
    “Robbed?  No, he never mentioned anything about it to me.  What about you, David?  You were his closest friend.”
    “No, he never said anything to me.  And I think he would have if it was something like that worrying him.  But, no, he never said a thing.  Did he say anything to you, Walter?”
    “Not to me he didn’t.  This is the first I’ve heard of it.”
    “Do you think it was like him to not say anything to you guys?”
    “I’d have to say no,” replied Harlan.  “If he was troubled about something as big as that, he wouldn’t have kept it to himself.”
    “What do you make of it, then?  That’s what his wife tells me.”
    “I don’t know.  I’m sure she wouldn’t lie about it.  Why would George not say anything?”
    “Perhaps to cover something else up?”
    “I wouldn’t see what.... you surely couldn’t mean what I think you mean, do you?”
    “And what do I think?”
    “If you’re insinuating he had some woman on the side, it goes against every principle he stood for.”
    “What if I can produce one?”
    “I find it highly unlikely that you could, because I don’t think one exists.  But, if you find one, I’ll eat my hat.”
    “I’d have to agree with Harlan.”
    “What about you, David?”
    “I don’t see him having one.  But, if you can prove us wrong without a shadow of a doubt, I guess it’s possible then.”
    “If all three of you feel this way, it may not be so.  It’s just that his wife asked me to look into it without saying so many words.  I suspect her feelings might be best.  She lived with the man.  She ought to know him best.”
    “You’ve got a point there.”
    “I just have to keep looking, though.  At least I have somewhere more to look.  This Susan Prescott.”
    “Well, it wasn’t her, that’s for sure,” commanded Walter.
    “And how can you be so sure of it?” I asked.
    “Well, I, uh....”
    “Walter, you old dog,” quipped David, “I always suspected it.”
    I looked between the three.
    “You and Susan?”
    “Well, why not?  I’m not so old as to not be able to turn a head here or there.  And financially, I’m doing pretty well.  Maybe, just maybe, she was attracted to my money, but you’ll never hear me complain about it.”
    “No, I suppose not.  But, I still need to talk with her.  Fellows, I guess I need to go.”
    I paid my ticket and got out of there.  The meal had been good, but the atmosphere had been kind of stuffy for me.  I liked it out here on the streets much better.
    I got in my car and took off.  Next stop – the Westbury Placements office.

    I did have to make one stop before I got there.  I needed the address so I could find out how to get there.  I was fairly close to start with, so I stopped at a phonebooth to get it and in no time, I was walking in the door.
    The outside of the building had been all modern square and glass in amongst the old houses that remained along the area.  The inside was no different.  Once in, a tunnel effect drew me directly to the front desk where a receptionist waited, seemingly for me alone.
    Another thing which made her into a veritable beacon, was her flaming red hair. One only had to assume that the fire department would arrive shortly, it was that brilliant.  It sat marvelously coiffed upon her well-shaped head.  Her face was symmetrical and quite pleasant to look at.  Her nose was small and rounded and her lips were overexaggerated to good effect.  She was slim, but built like Quaker furniture – made to withstand any use or misuse. I reached the edge of her desk and she removed some large, black-framed glasses and devoted her attention to me.
    “Yes, may I help you?” she asked me impatiently.
    “I’d like to speak with whoever’s in charge.”
    “That would be Miss Springer.”
    “Okay, that’s who I need to see.”
    “You’ll have to wait a moment.  Right now she has someone in her office.”  And she pointed her eyes at a row of chairs to my left.  I got the idea and went and sat down to wait.
    It wasn’t more than three or four minutes, when two people emerged from a glass door just behind the Redhead.  One was an older woman, presumably Miss Springer, and the other, a man in his late forties.  They shook hands, said something I couldn’t hear and then he turned and left.  While the woman was still standing there, Red turned and told her about me.
    “Miss Springer, this gentleman would like to speak to you.”
    She looked at me but didn’t speak to me.  Instead, she turned back around to face the door she had just come out of and spoke, as if to it.
    “Send him in, Betty.”
    I stood up and followed the woman into her office.
    Once inside, Miss Springer closed the door behind me and went around behind a massive dark wooden desk and sat down.  Behind it, she looked like she would put up with no nonsense.  I got right to the point.
    “I’d like to talk to one of your girls, Susan Prescott.”
    “You wish to hire her?”
    “No.  She worked for a George Lawrence....”
    “You say that as if....”
    “As if what?” I asked.
    “As if he were dead.”
    “Perhaps you haven’t heard, then.  Mr. Lawrence, who employed Miss Prescott, was murdered this past weekend.”
    “My goodness.  Such dreadful news.”
    “That’s why I wanted to talk to Susan.”
    “Surely, you don’t think she had anything to do with it?”
    “No, I just wanted to ask her a few questions.”
    “Why you?”
    “I’ve been hired to look into his death.  My name’s Steve Randall.  I’m a private investigator.”
    “Who are you working for?  His business?”
    I didn’t want to reveal my client’s name to her.  “In a manner of speaking.”
    “I see.”
    Perhaps she did, I don’t know.  But, as she sat there thinking about something for an interval, I didn’t say
anything.  She evidently came to some conclusion.
    “And you think Susan might be able to help you in some way?”
    “I don’t know that for sure, but it might.”
    “Okay, you can speak with her right away.”
    “You have her address?”
    “She’s right here in the building.”
    “Oh.”  I hadn’t expected that.
    Miss Springer reached down and punched an intercom button.  She leaned forward and spoke into it.
    “Betty, have Susan come into my office right away.”
    The intercom crackled back at her.
    “Yes, Miss Springer.”
    There were no other seats in the room, so I remained standing.  Miss Springer sat back in her chair and watched the door; willing it to open, I guess.  Before very long, it did, and a young woman came in.  She was relatively short, say five three, but proportioned just right for her size.  I could see why Walter Able had been attracted to her.  Any man in his right mind would have been.  She had a pleasant face, nice taste in clothing, and medium-length blonde hair.  That kind didn’t usually go around murdering people, but sometimes, they can fool you.
    “Susan, this gentleman, Mr. Randall, would like to ask you a few questions.  Try to answer them as best as you can.”
    She looked from Miss Springer to me with a worried expression on her face.  I tried immediately to put her at ease.
    “What’s this about?” she asked me.
    “Do you know George Lawrence?”
    “He was found dead in his office on Saturday.”
    “That’s terrible.  But, I don’t know anything about it.  I certainly didn’t do it.”
    “I never said you did.  I’m just looking into it and talking to everyone that had contact with him.  I’ve already spoken with the three men he had employed.”
    She began to act less frightened, but she didn’t volunteer anything.
    “Now, I want you to think back.  Does any incident come to mind recently, that stands out as being noteworthy?  And I mean while you were working at his office.”
    She thought about it momentarily, then answered.
    “I was only there on Thursday’s and Friday’s.”
    “Yes, I know.”
    “Oh, okay.  No.  Nothing comes to mind.  It was a pleasure to work there because it was a smooth-running office.  They kept their clients happy and the clients kept coming back.  I’ve worked there for about a year.”  She caught herself.  “Did work there.”
    “Yes, well.... uh.... nothing out the ordinary happened there?”
    “No, not that I can ever remember.”
    “Well, if you do happen to remember something, be sure to let me know.”
    I took out my notebook, scribbled my name and number and ripped out the page.  Neither one of them reached for it, so I sat it down on the desktop between the two.
    “I will, Mr. Randall.”
    I picked my hat up off the desk, placed if firmly on my head and walked out of Miss Springer’s office.  Red wasn’t around, so I made my way out of the building.
    This case, for some reason, didn’t make sense.  Not that murder usually did.  There was, I felt, still something missing, something I needed to find yet to point me in the right direction.  On the face of it, an ordinary homicide.  Could that be all there was to it?  I’d have to keep searching until I knew one way or the other.  And I would do it at least until Mrs. Lawrence’s five hundred dollars was gone.
    Right now, I’d just run out of trails to follow.