(Vi Lee, high powered HR manager for Hi-Tech Industries has disappeared. Her grieving mother and grandmother have hired Sam Reynolds, PI, to find her. Sam and Ariel Jones, Art Museum administrator have been to see the two women.)
Ariel nodded. “I would say so too.”
“Also, a few weird items from the grandmother I’m not sure I even want to discuss right now.” He shut his mouth and leaned back against the seat and closed his eyes.
Ariel grimaced with impatience but had to be content with that for now.
Sam stayed the night in his hotel paid for by the grandmother. He took a shower and watched some football. Before going to bed, he reviewed his notes.
“Hum,” he said to the room. “Curious. More tomorrow, Sam Reynolds. You better get some sleep.”
His first stop was to San Francisco Police Department where he spoke to the detective in charge of the case.
“I can give you a copy of the incident report. I might let you look at the file but, since you ain’t no regular cop, can’t let you have copies.”
“Okay, fair. What was your impression?”
Detective Smyth looked at Sam. “You recording this?”
Sam held up both hands, “Clean as a whistle.”
“Okay, but you didn’t hear it from me. Bitch on wheels. Typical uppity ladder climber, making it to the top. Kill the competition on the way up.”
Sam registered surprise at this candid appraisal of the victim.
“Hey, don’t get me wrong. Classy dame, brainey, good at her job, degree from a top-notch school. But truthfully, think the folks over at Hi-Tech are relieved she’s gone.”
“Yeah, got the distinct impression she had stepped on a few toes on her way up.”
“Enough to make this happen?”
“Naw, those corporate clowns are too uppity to do any dirty work. We were all over the boyfriend for a while but he’s a pretty boy model type. Plus, he was on a photo shoot out in the desert when she disappeared. He’d have some real trouble getting back from the Mojave during the time frame she disappeared.”
“So, nobody you can think of for it?”
“Well, we never give up on these things. Maybe one of those preppy types does have more balls than I’m thinking right now. And, if you come up with anything, you’ll tell us, right?”
Sam nodded agreement and the two men exchanged business cards.
“Okay, Detective, got to mosey down the road. Will be in touch.”
The detective nodded, picked up his file and walked Sam out to the front.
“So, the grandmother paying you?”
“Ah, too bad about those two. Personally, I don’t think the gal is worth the money. But, then again, you got to make a living, right?” He grinned at Sam.
Sam had made an appointment with Dan Cole, CEO at Hi-Tech and drove over and parked in the underground garage. The receptionist ushered him politely into Mr. Cole’s office. The man lept up from his desk and came over.
“Mr. Reynolds, nice to meet you.” Cole was effusive and gave Sam an overly hearty handshake. Sam plastered a smile on his face.
The two men sat, Cole behind his desk and Sam in front.
“Tragedy about Ms. Lee. A complete tragedy.” Dan Cole said sadly. “But I don’t know what I can tell you. You’ve been to the police?”
“Was just there,” Sam replied. “Spoke to the detective assigned to the case.”
“So,” Cole spread his hands wide, “what else is there?”
Distracted for a moment, Sam noticed the man’s white hair almost glinted in the office light. Hairspray he decided. Collecting himself, he pulled out his little notebook and pencil.
“Just wanted to get a little background from you. What kind of person was Ms. Lee, as a person, employee? That sort of thing.” He smiled genially at Cole.
The man took a moment to respond then steepled his fingertips together and adopted a concerned expression.
“Well, hard worker, team player, great asset to the corporation. Smart, very driven, Vi had made a name for herself in the time she was at Hi-Tech.”
Sam noticed the man’s eyes kept flicking toward a picture on his desk. Should be a wife, whose else’s photo would he put there? He asked himself. He also noticed Cole had the same kind of coffee set-up on the side board like Ariel Jones’ office.
He put his pencil down a moment. “Oh, I see you have a coffee maker. Could I get a cup?”
“Oh sure, sure.” Cole seemed happy the conversation was on anything except Vivian Lee.
He was about to get up.
“No, no. Let me. I love playing with these new gadgets,” Sam was on his feet and over to the coffee carrel in a moment. “Trying to get my girlfriend to buy me one for Christmas.” He chuckled. “You want one?”
“No, I’m fine.” Cole was shifting papers about on his desk, looked eager to get back to work.
Sam took his time getting back to his chair and veered over a little to glance at the picture on Cole’s desk. A pretty blonde woman. Wife for sure. He sat back down and actually took a couple of sips of some bad coffee.
“So, no ideas about what could have happened to Ms. Lee? Was she unhappy at all, talking about leaving Hi-Tech, anything . . .?”
Cole looked surprised. “No, nothing like that at all. In fact, she was right in the middle of a big project to consolidate all our HR records for this last year. We were in the plus side of the ledger for once, and we were to do a presentation to the stock holders. She had been very instrumental in getting operating costs down to a manageable level.” The man adjusted the silver cuff links on his starched white shirt.
“Hum. Operating costs. Manageable level. So, was she was in charge of layoffs, Mr. Cole?”
Cole looked flustered. “Well, more like early retirement programs. We always did the best we could with our older employees. You know, the golden handshake thing.”
Sam nodded. “Exactly,” he replied sincerely. “Could I get the names of close co-workers Mr. Cole. I’ll just take a few minutes.”
Reluctantly, Cole gave Sam the names of Robin Wells and Jeremy Bright. Sam assured him again he’d be brief. Sweaty but relieved, Cole handed Sam off to his secretary to walk downstairs.
“Oh, one last thing Mr. Cole.” Sam turned back. “Since Ms. Lee has not been officially declared dead, what happens to her job if she comes back?”
Cole gaped for a minute. “Well, she has been replaced. You realize of course, we couldn’t let her desk go unattended. Now, if she came back, as the valued employee that she was, we would have to find something.” His voice trailed away uncertainly.
Sam thanked him again and went out the door with the secretary.
After Sam was gone, Dan Cole flopped in his chair and stared at the picture of his wife. I should have never gotten involved with that woman, never. It was a huge mistake. Maybe we should plan a vacation, Hawaii or something for our twentieth-fifth. Might be a good idea. That in mind, a serious Dan Cole flicked some lint off his thousand dollar suit and got back to work.
As Sam traveled down the elevator, his mind was busy. There was definitely something going on there with the boss. The man was too friendly and too nervous. Spent too much time looking at the picture of his wife. I’d put him down for the job except he seems too much of a weiny to do it. Hired job? Not completely out of the range of possibilities even in a place as sophisticated as the windy city.
The secretary led him to the desk of Robin Wells. She explained Jeremy Bright was out on a call with clients.
Sam thanked her and introduced himself to Robin, a plumpish, thirties something young lady. She was pert in her navy-blue business suit, fashionable haircut and huge cat-eye red glasses.
Robin had him sit down in her office and went to close the door.
“So, you’re the guy the grandmother hired to look into the Vi thing.” More of a statement than a question.
Sam handed her one of his business cards. “Yes, I’m the guy. I’m looking to see if you can give me a little background on Ms. Lee. I understand you took her place.”
“Yes, I did. I was her admin assistant for a year and since I have Masters in HR too, they decided to promote me up.”
Sam thought he detected a little defensiveness in her tone.
“I see. So, you worked for her a year. You must have known her pretty well. What . . . ?”
“She was a bitch, Mr. Reynolds. Grade A, to the core, Class 1 bitch. Is that what you’re looking for?” Robin pushed out the harsh words with a pout.
Sam must have looked surprised.
“Hey, I’m sorry for the mother and the grandmother, right? She was their kid. I get it. But you have no idea what she was like to work for. She had a major attitude and treated everyone, especially me, like crap. If you think for one-minute people are sorry she’s gone, think again.”
“If she was so horrible, how did she ever get promoted?”
Robin rolled her eyes theatrically. “Well, I am sure there is more to that story than will ever be told. However, she used to kiss everyone’s ass bigtime until the day she got promoted. Then, wamo, watch out. Personality change.”
“I see,” Sam tapped his pencil on his little pad. “So, is there anyone in particular..?”
“I heard they were all over the boyfriend because they had a big blow out at a restaurant. She was overheard threatening him. That’s what I heard, but it’s all I know.”
Sam looked at her without saying anything.
“Personally, I know she took the break-up real hard. Then, she was drinking more than ever. Maybe she just couldn’t take it anymore and killed herself.” Robin shrugged.
“And, how did you know about the drinking?”
“Her breath and the trash cans,” the young woman replied.
“Ah,” Sam replied. “And Mr. Bright, he is . . .?”
“Jeremy is out on business calls. I’m not sure what else he can add. You want me to have him call you?”
“That would be very helpful, Ms. Wells. Thanks for your time.” Sam got up to leave.
“Oh, and, in the event she is found and comes back. What are the chances of her getting her old job back, or any job with the company for that matter?”
“Not a snowball’s chance in Hell, Mr. Reynolds. Not a snowball’s chance.” Robin smiled thinly and led Sam to the door.
Continued in IX
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