Chapter Eight

68 10 2
                                    

             I came back from the ladies room ready to tell the whole story. Now the temperature felt a little too toasty for me. My backside barely touched the metal chair before I launched into what happened next.

Becky went upstairs when our office manager summoned her. A tolerable enough dame most days, Harriet got vexed only when the head broker, Mr. E. F. "Barney" Dunbarton, got vexed. Unfortunately, I pieced together what happened only afterward from the bits and pieces Becky enunciated between sobs.

Karlson got up from the table, nodded to me, and leaned against the nearest wall. Greenberg took over the empty chair across from me.

"According to Becky, Harriet was unhappy with Becky's performance, but when Becky asked what she'd done, Harriet was sketchy," I said. "She jabbered on about the telephones and not responding promptly when Barney called. He's the boss."

Greenberg wrote something on his legal pad. "Go on," he said.

We all knew what could set Harriet off because she'd explained the situation clearly the day we were hired. And, since Barney was usually in by eleven a.m. and out by three p.m. with a long lunch in-between, none of us had the slightest problem with the rules.

After a tirade about immediate dismissal, Harriet came to the point. Becky had not answered the telephone when Barney called. Forget the fact that Barney's office was five feet away from Becky's desk. When his door was closed, Mr. Dunbarton preferred to telephone. Becky hadn't been there to receive the call. Someone else had.

"Hold on," Greenberg said. He tapped his pen against his yellow pad. "The Office Manager was angry about a telephone call? What time was this?"

I thought about it. "Early afternoon, I think. I didn't look at the clock."

I continued my story. The third time Becky repeated her story to me, I recognized that I was missing two important facts. Fact one: if Becky missed the call, why hadn't it rung down to me since I was her back up? Unlike Harriet, I had a duplicate of the receptionist's phone set, so I saw at a glance who in the office was on the telephone and who wasn't. If Barney had called and Becky hadn't answered, the call would have immediately bounced to me. Fact two: if there had been a call from Barney, did Harriet actually talk to him? All we had was Harriet's word for it or whoever told Harriet that Barney called.

So someone said there had been a call from Barney—the question was who? Becky told me she thought Harriet made up the story herself, but I knew better. Jimmy may have guessed, too, but he only listened and watched without uttering a syllable. That's how I knew he was upset.

"Just a second." Greenberg looked at me to make sure that I was going to stop, and then he scribbled furiously on his pad.

Karlson pushed himself off the wall but stood motionless, staring at his partner's bald spot. He looked at me over Greenberg's head. "The Princess?"

"Had to be," I said. "Harriet always has her door shut. So does Barney. And there's only one other office upstairs."

Greenberg stopped writing. "So you're saying Ms. Alston figured out your trick?"

I shrugged. "The office isn't soundproofed. I can hear Harriet on the phone if I really listen. My guess is that the Princess heard us laughing. I don't remember, but Becky could have said 'Deborah' instead of our nickname for her. For all I know, she'd heard me complaining to Becky about her for months."

Death and the MotherlodeWhere stories live. Discover now