A MESSAGE TO DIE FOR - J.R. LINDERMUTH
A girl walked down the street. All who saw her pass would later remark how resolute she appeared, marching along, looking neither right or left, certain of her destination and not about to be deterred. She was an attractive young woman, well-dressed, decorous, the type who would be noticed and remembered by those who saw her that day.
She continued along until she reached the building housing the offices of Klinger & Englehart. There she paused just long enough to check her reflection in the window of the restaurant downstairs before entering and climbing the stairs to the office.
“Is Mr. Klinger in?” she asked in a pleasant tone.
Carrie Seiler looked up from her desk and scanned the girl standing before her. “Do you have an appointment?”
“No. Just tell him I'm here to collect what I’m owed.”
Carrie scowled. She’s been secretary to the firm for better than 30 years. Little flusters her and few get past her formidable presence to disturb her employers without her say so. “I don’t know what you want, but...”
“You don’t remember me, do you, Carrie?”
The remark didn't so much fluster Carrie as raise her suspicion this was some devious means of circumventing her vigilance. “Should I?” There were alot of people in and out of the office on a daily basis, the majority of them seeking the attention of poor Mr. Klinger after what had happened with Mr. Englehart. Carrie had to ask the question just to be certain she wasn’t blocking someone who had a legitimate reason to see her boss. Besides, the girl did look innocent enough.
The girl smiled. “It doesn’t matter. Just be a good secretary and give Mr. Klinger my message. She said it with such assurance Carrie momentarily let her guard slip. Maybe she should let Mr. Klinger decide if he wanted to see this person.
“Did she give her name?” Klinger asked, annoyance clear in the tone of his voice.
Carrie nibbled her bottom lip. “No, sir," she muttered. “But I think...”
“Oh, never mind.” Klinger got up, came around the desk and stood by her. The man was barely through the portal when she heard him gasp. “Oh, my God! Carrie. Call 911."
Carrie started for the doorway, thought better of it, crossed the room, banging her shin and tearing a stocking on the edge of his desk. Muttering to herself, she grabbed the phone and dialed.
After making the call, she hurried out to the reception area where she found Klinger bent over the form of the girl who was sprawled on the floor in front of Carrie's desk. “Oh, my, Mr. Klinger. What happened? She was fine when I went for you.”
Carrie was still a bundle of nerves later that afternoon when the detective showed up. She darted a sharp look at him. The same one who’d been here before. What did he want now?
“Your boss in?” he asked before she had a chance to say anything.
“He is, but I don’t think you should disturb him now. We had a tragedy here earlier and...”
He nodded. “I know all about it. That’s why I’m here.”
They had to send him? Carrie asked herself. Was he the only detective they had? She despised the man. Short, slovenly, cupping one of those dark evil Italian cigars in his hand just as he had the first time he’d been here. At least he had sense enough not to light the foul thing. Carrie rose and reluctantly moved to Klinger’s door. She knocked softly.
“Yes?” came the response.
“Detective Unger is here, sir.”
She heard Klinger grunt. “Send him in, Carrie.”
Carrie pushed the door ajar and jerked her head for Unger to come forward. She closed the door behind him but didn’t immediately return to her seat. The girl had poisoned herself. What did that have to do with Mr. Klinger?
“You know she died?” Unger asked, taking a seat without waiting for one to be offered.
“She did? The poor thing.” Klinger picked up a pen from the desktop and twirled it round in his hand. He looked over at Unger. “I guess it was just too much for her to go on. You know, what with her father and...”
“What was she doing here?”
“I don’t know. It was strange. She told my secretary she was here to collect. I have no idea what she meant. I hadn’t seen the girl since the funeral.”
The funeral. Carrie gave a little start. That’s who she was. Jennifer. Mr. Englehart’s daughter. Oh, the poor thing. And I didn’t even recognize her.
Unger raised his eyebrows. “You sure about that?”
“Yes. Why wouldn’t I?”
Unger leaned forward, pointing the cigar at Klinger like a weapon. “We found a note in her pocketbook. That’s why I’m here. Not because she croaked in your office.”
“A note? I don’t understand. What about this note?”
“She says you raped her.”
“What?” Klinger dropped the pen and pushed himself back. His chair rolled away from the desk. His face went white.
Carrie went weak in her knees. She brought a hand to her lips to stifle the gasp seeking escape. This was unbelievable. Mr. Klinger was an honorable man. A married man. He wouldn’t.
“Are you here to arrest me? Do I need a lawyer?”
“They’re doing an autopsy,” Unger was saying. “If there’s evidence to support the allegation, you’ll be in deep shit, my friend. I don’t have a warrant now. I’m just here to let you know what’s going on. If you did this, it’d be better for you to admit it now. You got anything to say for yourself?”
Klinger poured another drink. He wasn’t usually a heavy drinker, but this wasn’t an ordinary circumstance. He knew he hadn’t raped Jennifer Englehart, but circumstantial evidence had sent more than one man to prison. His stomach twisted in turmoil and his hands shook. He didn’t know when the rape was supposed to have occurred. He didn’t know what an autopsy might reveal to confirm her accusation of rape. Klinger did know he shouldn’t have met with her that day. Appearances. That was what might convict him.
He’d lied to the detective. He had seen Jennifer since the funeral. She’d called and asked him to meet with her. Klinger knew now he shouldn’t have gone. At least not there. He should have had the sense to have her come to the office. Instead, he’d gone to the hotel where she was staying. People had seen him there, damn it.
“It was you,” she’d screamed at him that afternoon. “My father committed suicide. But it wasn’t him embezzled that money. It was you. You planted the evidence and he was falsely accused. You’re responsible for his death.”
Of course he’d denied it. The girl had no proof. He’d been clever about it; all the evidence implicated his partner. The man was too weak. He’d laughed at Jennifer and her accusation.
The girl had flown at him like a tigress, clawing at his face, screaming and pummeling him like a deranged creature. Klinger had fled, running down the hall and across the lobby with her in pursuit. Dozens of people must have seen them. Unger would find out. He would believe that was when the rape occurred. It wouldn’t matter appearances were deceiving.
Someone was at the door. The knob was turning. Klinger had locked himself in his study, not wanting to be disturbed.
“Peter? Are you in there?” His wife. Oh, the shame of it. What would she think? Rape was worse than the embezzlement he actually was guilty of.
“It’s all right, Lois. I just need to finish up something.”
“You’re sure you're all right?”
“Yes, dear. I just need a little privacy. I’ll be done shortly.”
The assurance satisfied her. He heard Lois move away and go down the hall. He was a little surprised she didn’t protest more. It wasn't usual for him to lock himself in his study. He refilled his tumbler and downed another drink.
Klinger opened the desk drawer. It lay there before him. He shuddered. If there was another way. But, no. They’d believe her. He sighed and started to reach in the drawer, then hesitated. Maybe another drink.
Unger shook his head. With his hands on his hips he surveyed the scene and shook his head again. What the hell makes a man do such a thing? Unger never failed to be amazed by the stupidity of people. Englehart hung himself before the investigation found conclusive evidence of embezzlement. His daughter took poison and left behind an accusation her father’s partner had raped her. And now Klinger kills himself.
That was the hardest to understand. The girl was obviously out of her head with grief over her father. Why she made the accusation against Klinger was anybody’s guess. What had prompted Klinger to do this, though? He hadn’t raped the girl. Hell, no one had. The autopsy revealed she was a virgin.
BIO: J.R. Lindermuth is the author of seven novels, including three in the Sticks Hetrick mystery series. He has published short stories and articles in a variety of magazines, both print and online. Check out Jack’s Place for reviews and sample chapters.