| Saturday, December 16, 2006
|It was after eleven, but my girlfriend Heather was still awake. She sat on the sofa, papers on her lap, her expression glum as the snow kept piling up outside the window. The TV news flickered in the background, jabbering on about some crime I'd already heard about at the station house. Sometimes she would reach up to the coffee table and grab up the pint of ice cream there. Gingerbread flavored, straight from the carton. I stood in the doorway, watching her.
Women. I never know what to do when Heather gets like this.
She shifted and turned the volume up on the TV. The nice-looking girl on the news looked like she was reporting from a party someplace expensive. She wore a red blazer in honor of the season.
"…A Christmas tragedy was averted here tonight," the reporter said into her microphone. "Viktor Gottberg, a partner at Gottberg and Stuebing, was rescued tonight by his secretary Kathy Prince." The camera showed an older man with blonde hair sitting on a stretcher outside an ambulance talking to some of the guys from the rescue squad. "Our sources are telling us that Mr. Gottberg has what was almost a fatal peanut allergy. Tonight at Gottberg and Stuebing's Christmas Party, he apparently ate a few bites of Thai chicken salad containing peanut oil and lapsed into shock. With a foot of snow on the ground, the ambulance was delayed. Miss Prince remembered that the previous attorney she had worked for at the firm was allergic to bee stings and he always kept an epinephrine pen in his office." The camera angle shifted to an exterior shot of a building that was on my beat. Hell, I'd been in Jerry's Coffee on the first floor just that day. "While the ambulances were fighting the snow, Kathy Prince was racing down three flights of stairs and back up with the pen so she didn't have to wait for the elevator. She administered the antidote and saved Gottberg's life."
The image on the screen shifted to a dishwater blonde woman with large glasses. Her cheeks were bright with embarrassment and maybe a little too much eggnog.
"Oh, I'd do anything for Mr. Gottberg," Kathy said. The camera cut away from her.
Heather wearily clicked off the TV. "I bet that Kathy woman's getting a really good review this year," Heather moaned. I hadn't even known that Heather knew I was standing there. She's sharp like that, my girl.
"Annual performance reviews?" I asked. "Is that what this funk is about?"
The two things Heather hates about working in a law firm at Christmas time: too much candy around and annual performance reviews.
"You know it, Jamey," Heather said wearily. "I hate these things." She had her self-evaluation paperwork spread out in front of her. I felt for her. God knows I'd been there. Some boss who thinks he understands how hard your life is comes in and rates your year of busting your ass on a scale of one to five, telling you numerically and scientifically why you don't deserve a promotion.
"Oh, Heather, everybody in the world hates these things. You know that."
She sighed. "It's all due in the morning and I don't know how to even start."
I reached up and stroked her hair. "You make too much of this stuff, Babe. My first year on the force, my partner told me his trick for those forms." She looked up at me, her attention suddenly fixed. Nobody can pay attention like a legal secretary. "Ok, how many different ways can they rate you in each category?"
"Four," Heather said. "Below expectations, meets expectations, exceeds expectations and outstanding."
"Ok, what are they asking about that you're best at?"
Heather thought for a minute. "I'd say my dealings with clients. They have a whole separate category for that. I'm really good with the clients. Mr. Bergstrom from Allied Computing says he always asks for me by name because he knows I know what I'm doing and can figure out a way to get his work done and in front of an attorney, even if it's at the last minute."
"OK, and what are they asking about that you're worst at?"
Heather giggled. "Attendance and punctuality." She reached up and stroked my cheek. We both knew I like to make her late in the mornings.
"Yeah, that's a good one. So give yourself an 'outstanding' in client relations and quote Mr. Bergstrom. Give yourself a 'meets expectations' in attendance and say your goal for the year is to do better. Then give yourself an "exceeds expectations" in everything else and come to bed. Because you ain't rewarded your boy in blue for his service to the community yet tonight."
Heather giggled. "Does talking about your best thing and your worst thing and saying you're just fine at everything else really work?"
"I've done it every year since I was a rookie and it ain't done me any harm."
Heather laughed for the first time all night. She scribbled some things on her paper, then followed me back to the bedroom, where we got an early start on making her late for work in the morning.
It was a good night, but women are still women and she was still all pouty and worried for the rest of the week. She cooked dinner and we watched TV, but we did our romancing together at night seeing as how there was no way she was letting me make her late anymore when she'd just said she was gonna try and be better about that. Friday night, I was sitting in Jerry's Coffee on a break four hours into my shift when Heather called me up on my cell phone.
"James, you're a genius!" She said, her voice all giggly like a happy girl's. She only called me James when the news was really good, or really bad. "They agreed with me that I was outstanding in client relations and they thought I was honest for admitting I'm late a lot. I got a raise AND a bonus!"
Made me laugh. I just sat there on the phone with her and we laughed together, we was so relieved. My girl was going to be in a good mood again. She was going to her office Christmas party tonight and she was going to have a few drinks and take a cab home and then we'd do a little celebrating of our own.
My partner Mickey was looking at me like he couldn't quite stand to watch me. He's just a kid, and he's a little too proud of how tough he is to understand a guy feeling for a girl what I feel for Heather. Then his radio crackled and he picked it up to talk into it. When he put it down again, his expression was serious.
"Break's over, Leonardo diCaprio." He said. "We got a dead body right upstairs from us."
We paid our check and headed up the elevator to the offices of Gottberg and Stuebing, rich bastard attorneys at law. When the door opened to the top floor, there was a gray-haired fat woman waiting for us. Between her and that Kathy woman from TV, I was not impressed. Was I schtupping the only nice-looking woman in the whole legal profession?
"Mr…err… the body is this way," the woman said. "I'm Evelyn Thorn, the office manager." She strode across the room, faster than I would've thought she could, and headed down a hall. Mickey and I had to hurry to keep up.
"Any idea what happened?" Mickey asked. I would never ask a witness a question so open-ended, but Mickey's a rookie and he doesn’t know his stuff.
"It looks like someone hit Mr. Gottberg over the head with a large paperweight he kept on his desk. His blood looks quite dry, so he might have been there for awhile. I hadn't seen him since yesterday morning." I nodded, impressed that she'd noticed the detail of the blood being dry. Of course, that CSI show has everybody looking for that stuff these days.
"Who else was around?" I asked. I shoved a notebook into Mickey's hands to remind him who did what on this team.
"No one," Miss Thorn said. "This entire floor got an email from Mr. Gottberg last night giving them today off. It's the Friday before Christmas, so it wouldn't be unusual for most bosses to do such a thing."
"You said most bosses wouldn't do it. Was Mr. Gottberg not like most bosses?" I asked. You gotta be quick on the uptake with secretaries and assistants. Those chicks always know more than they want to say.
Miss Thorn's steps slowed only slightly, but noticeably. "He was," she said, waiting for a moment to continue as if she was looking for the right word, "Exacting. A very hard worker himself. It would have been unusual for him to do such a thing, it normally wouldn't have even occurred to him."
I nodded, peeking over at Mickey to make sure he was getting all of this down.
"Where's Kathy?" I asked.
"Who?" Mickey asked me.
"Don't you watch the news?" I asked. "Mr. Gottberg here just got his life saved by his secretary Kathy. It was all over the papers."
"Oh," Mickey said. "this is that guy."
"Yes," Miss Thorn said, her voice impatient. "One of the top Mergers and Acquisitions lawyers in the city was indeed 'that guy.' And no, I haven't seen Kathy. I assumed she took the day off like everyone else who got that email." She pointed to an oak-paneled door. "The body is in there."
Gottberg was a very dead man in a very expensive suit. I wondered if he had been that pale in life. Maybe so. He lay on his back, blood caked in his blonde hair and beneath the wound on his head. Yep, somebody had killed him. I figured it had to be someone meeting with him or the guy wouldn't have gotten past Kathy. Just then I heard voices in the hall. It was our backup, some guys from homicide and the forensics guys and all that. My old buddy Lenny from the Academy was a detective now and he led the way.
"Yep, he's dead. Looks like it's been a day or so. An email went out to his employees giving them the day off, so it took awhile for the body to be discovered."
Lenny nodded. "Hey Jamey, listen," He said. "We can take it from here, but we're gonna need reports from you guys, too. Could you and Mickey wait outside with the witness and talk to her? We'll call you if we need you."
And like that, we were out the door. So much for old friends cutting you a piece of the action. I turned to Miss Thorn.
"Do you think the killer gave everybody the day off from Mr. Gottberg's computer?" I asked.
"I think it's highly likely," Miss Thorn said. We were now walking through Kathy's office. You could tell it was Kathy's because there were a bunch of plaques with her name on them on the walls. Employee of the month, Employee of the year at various firms around the city.
"Kathy's a hard worker." I said, stopping in front of an award that said Kathy got it for catching a mistake that would've cost her last firm a lot of money.
"One of the best employees we have. Her last attorney was sad to see her transferred, but Mr. Gottberg simply had to have the best."
"He's exacting," I said.
"He have a hard time keeping staff around?"
Miss Thorn's eyes lowered. "I believe that's confidential information."
I sat down at Kathy's desk, being careful not to touch anything. Everything was lined up just so. You could have filmed a commercial for office supplies right at this desk. The usual papers were in neat piled in the trays on it. Legal forms, memos, even a pink employee performance review sheet where Kathy had given her assistant three outstandings and two exceeds expectations and recommended her for a bonus. Kathy's handwriting was neat and careful and her comments had sounded thoughtful.
She seemed a little off her nut to me, but she was probably a nice lady.
In Mr. Gottberg's office, the guys had started to take photographs of the crime scene. I looked up at Miss Thorne curiously. "Don't guys like Gottberg have corporate credit cards?"
Miss Thorne looked pleased to be able to help. "Yes, of course, I'll go get on the computer in my office to see if Mr. Gottberg's has been used."
"Why don't you escort the lady, Mickey," I said.
Having Miss Thorne escorted was standard procedure, though she didn't like it one bit. She gave me the bitchface but wearily let him follow her out of the room. Legal employees can fight you, but in the end they are used to following pointless orders. I peeked in to Gottberg's office, but Lenny shooed me out again. Fine. So I wandered around the room for a bit, then sat back down at Kathy's desk.
After awhile, curiosity got the better of me and I pulled some latex gloves out of my pocket so I could put them on and open the drawer. Kathy's desk had all the usual stuff, pens, a tampon, a little box of tissues. Probably Heather's desk looks about the same, except that Kathy was now keeping an epinephrine pen of her own in her desk in case Gottberg ate any more peanuts.
I love Heather to pieces, but I gotta admit that right then I wished she was half as good a girlfriend as Kathy was a secretary. Then I looked around at the office again. No pictures of family or art or nothing. Just plaques about how great a secretary Kathy was. I thought of my Heather and the beautiful babies we're going to have some day and I knew I wouldn't swap for a minute.
The guys from the morgue walked through with the stretcher. Gottberg was going back to the lab so some guys with degrees who make twice my salary could determine what killed the guy with the big head wound.
I poked around a bit and saw a red leather book in the back of a drawer. I pulled it out and had a look.
It was a journal of some type, with only five entries, each written in the same neat handwriting.
February 17th Gave Bergen forms to Viktor at 4:30 yesterday. He didn't look at them until today and said the date was wrong. Make multiple copies of all future forms with dates for several future days so I don't have to ask him for his signature twice.
May 5th Mispelled Mr. Radkowski's name. Put "Radkowski" into my computer's
dictionary so that spellcheck will catch any future errors.
July 30th Trusted Carla's numbers on the Lenmore acquisition. They were wrong. Will independently look up all future poison pill numbers for potential acquisitions.
I quit reading then. Kathy was officially starting to freak me out. Who the hell only makes five mistakes in a year and works so hard not to make them again?
Miss Thorn and Mickey came back through the door. Mickey had his arm around her. "It's gone!" Miss Thorne said. "She took the credit card, client money, everything!"
"Kathy went through and cleaned out all of Mr. Gottberg's client accounts up to the cash withdrawal limits. Everything he could access without an extra signature got hit. Miss Thorn thinks the total was about three hundred thousand dollars. And that corporate credit card bought a plane ticket to Australia in Kathy's name. I called the airline from Miss Thorn's office. It looks like she took off early this morning, but missed her connection in Fiji."
"I'm guessing she's never going to reschedule?" Mickey asked. We both ignored him.
"Wow." I said. Sure, she was always a suspect, but I honestly wouldn't have thought a woman like Kathy would have had it in her.
"She must've been planning this for a long time," Mickey said.
"Not necessarily," I replied. "Someone who really knew how this place worked could have made this happen in a couple hours. I'd say if she had planned it carefully, you know, learned to fake a few more signatures, she woulda got a lot more money out of it. I bet some of those accounts had millions of dollars in them."
Miss Thorn sat down and started to cry. Hard to swallow, your best employee being a murderer. Mickey and I went into Gottberg's office with the news.
The guys had just put Gottberg on a stretcher, but everyone stopped what they were doing when I told them what Miss Thorn had told me.
Lenny was the first to speak. "That doesn't make any sense!" He said. "If her plan was to steal from the firm and run off, why didn't she just let the bastard die at the party? She could've taken everything that night in the confusion and if she'd have gotten caught, she would've been a thief, not a murderer."
Lenny had a point. Why hadn't she taken the easy route to stealing the money if that was all she wanted? And if the money was just an afterthought, why the hell had she gone and killed her boss?
And then I knew.
Still wearing my gloves, I calmly walked over to the trashcan and fished out the only pink piece of paper there.
And there it was, right in front of my face.
Annual Employee Performance Review
Name: Kathy Prince
Title: Senior Legal Secretary
Date: December 15
Supervisor: Viktor Gottberg
Period Reviewed: January 1 to December 31
Job Knowledge: Meets Expectations
Work Quality: Meets Expectations
Client Relations: Meets Expectations
Attendance: Meets Expectations
Dependability: Meets Expectations
Overall: Meets Expectations
Labels: mystery noir
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