“Stivins. Jeff Stivins. I’m supervisor for this section.” Then, to his co-worker as they walked toward the door, “Don’t worry, Kay, we’ll get you to a safer, more pleasant place.
That was a weird thing to say, Wall thought.
Now all alone with the dead man hanging slack above him, Wall looked around. In the tank below the body was a pool of silver liquid, with dark red — almost black — swirled in it like some futuristic soft-serve ice cream. Blood. There wasn’t much of it at the bottom of those stairs. How much did he bleed here?
Until the other units arrived, he was the only cop on the scene, so it was up to him to make sure nobody was still in the plant. After seeing no stray drops of blood on the floor, no bloody footprints, and nothing but the body to indicate a crime had been committed, he started his search. It was a big place with lots of hiding places, so he was sure he would not get very far before his backup got there. He hoped.
“Excuse, me, are you the detective?” a voice called from the entrance.
“Yes, over here.”
It was a contractor security guard. “A detective Wilson is here to see you.”
“Bring him here.”
“Hey, Chief,” Wilson said. “We’re covering the outside, and I brought some guys in with me. They’re securing all exits and starting a search with another security guard.”
Wall was Chief Detective, but did not like being called “chief.”
“Great, fan them out, and then have this guard show you the other scene. Try to make some sense out of that while I go talk to a couple of potential witnesses,” Wall said.
Wall left through the swinging doors and checked the vinyl floor in the corridor. The pattern in the dark industrial tiles made it tough to detect anything as small as a drop of blood. He found an office door labeled “Supervisor,” and stepped inside to find Stivins and his damsel in distress, along with about 10 other uniformed employees and one man wearing a shirt and tie.
“I just walked in to check that the racks were okay, and…” she put her face down and sobbed into her hands. The supervisor, Stivins, comforted her.
The tiny office nearest the body’s final resting place was getting crowded, and Wall had trouble getting just one person to answer his questions.
“Did this Frank Shaeffer have any enemies here at the plant?” he asked.
“No,” several of them answered. “Not one. Everybody loved Frank.”
“No problems with management or anything like that?”
The man wearing a tie answered, “Well, he was Union, like all the toolmakers. There’s always some kind of talks going on, but Frank wouldn’t have had a direct part in that.”
“And you are?” Wall asked.
“Andy Ruston, HR manager for the plant.”
The workers told Wall that the plant was Timex’s last manufacturing facility in the United States. Cheap land near bad neighborhoods, and low taxes in Arkansas were the only reasons it had stayed open that long. The rumors gave it five years more, at the most.
He had arrived that day expecting to question people as the other cops rolled out yellow crime scene tape to keep the area pristine. Others would trace an outline around the body, take its picture, check it for evidence, and then zip it up and haul it off for examination. They did all that, but not until after they moved down the hall.
The whole moving the body thing he could have done without. That opened up the case to complex motives that would have to be hashed out in numerous interviews. He knew Wendy would not react well when he showed up late.
He was right; she had not liked it at all, and now he had to try to push that out of his mind and pay attention to what this manager was saying.
“It’s a relative of platinum, you know,” the manager said.
Wall tuned back in. “What’s that?”
“Ruthenium. It’s an element in the platinum group metals. Takes plating very well. We use it in many of our watch bezels.”
He listened carefully after that because anything, no matter how boring it seemed to him, could be a clue.
“So, some of your people told me the plant might be closing within five years,” he said. “Seems like that might upset the Union a little bit.”
“I haven’t heard about a plant closing,” she said. “May I ask the nature of your visit today, Detective Davies? You and your partner, Detective Wilson, conducted numerous interviews the day you were here, and we have cooperated fully with your department’s efforts.”
“And we appreciate that. I just wanted to get a better lay of the land. Maybe try to figure out how the killer could have escaped. What was your name again?”
Greengrass? You gotta be kidding me.
(continue to Part 6)