Today's Reading

The woman's red eyes and the wadded-up tissue in her left hand made it clear that she had been crying. She confirmed her name and said that she was Weldon Van Damm's executive secretary. "Actually, they call us legal assistants now, instead of secretaries," she added. She was nicely attired in a gray suit with a white blouse underneath. Other than earrings, she wore no jewelry. No wedding or engagement rings, and she appeared to be in her forties.

I started the discussion. "We understand that you called 911 this morning. Can you tell us what led up to that call?"

"Sure. I work directly for Mr. Van Damm. He's the managing partner here at the firm. He usually gets in around seven thirty in the morning, so I try to get here between seven and seven fifteen. I park in our reserved section of the underground parking garage."

"What time did you get here today?"

"About ten after seven. After parking downstairs, I took the elevator up to 12 and headed for our offices. My office is the cubicle right beside Mr. Van Damm's door."

"Was the law firm already open?"

"There's no door, as such. The elevator that serves our two floors is locked once the last person leaves at night, which is usually the cleaning crew. As usual, the lights were on in the lobby, meaning someone else had already come in. No one was at the reception desk. Never is at that hour. Reception usually staffs up around eight."

I needed to connect some dots. "So, there was somebody in the office before you?"

"I don't know about the 11th floor offices. I usually don't go down there much. The reception lobby lights come on automatically when someone steps off the elevator. The timer is set to stay on all day. So, somebody had come in before me, but I don't know who. That's not unusual. Particularly the associates come in to get an early jump on things."

"Sorry to break your train of thought," I interrupted. "So, you came in and headed toward your office?"

"Yes. I put my purse in the bottom drawer of my desk and retrieved my key to Mr. Van Damm's office to unlock it. He always locked the door when he left at night."

"Was that key locked inside your desk?"

"Yes. I have a key to my desk on my key chain. I unlocked Mr. Van Damm's door and reached in to flick on the lights, as usual. I almost fainted when I saw Weldon asleep at his desk. He never does that. I went over and shook his shoulder a little, but he didn't move. I almost screamed."

I gave her my understanding facial expression and signaled for her to continue.

"I thought he might have had a heart attack. He felt cold when I touched him. I spoke to him a couple more times. I just had a feeling that he had died. I wasn't sure what to do, so I called 911."

"What did you tell the 911 operator?"

"I just told her that I think my boss is dead in his office and could they send someone. She asked me a couple questions and said they would send someone over."

"How soon did the police arrive?"

"About five to ten minutes later, two police officers showed up. Before they got here, I had told our office manager and a couple of the partners that Mr. Van Damm appeared to be dead in his office. They looked inside, but I don't think they went in his office." Shaw asked for their names and noted the three of them in his notebook for a follow-up interview.

When we had finished with our questions, we asked Susanna Wales to stay away from her cubicle, other than to retrieve her purse. Then I asked her to meet us at MPD headquarters so that we could talk to her further. "We won't know until later what the cause of death was, but we need to cover all the bases." She agreed to meet us at two that afternoon. We gave her our cards. We also told her the crime scene techs would want to get her fingerprints for purposes of elimination.

* * *

After advising Susanna Wales to notify the office manager that she would be with us during the afternoon, we headed back to Van Damm's office. I stopped at the doorway, saw no body, and assumed that it had already been transported to the Medical Examiner's morgue.

I asked Brady Pollard if the scene was completed enough for us to enter. "Just don't touch anything yet. We've got a ton of prints still to cover. Otherwise, it's clear."

"His admin is in the office next door," Oliver said. "We asked her to stay put so that you can get her prints for elimination."

Brady asked one of his techs to get her prints and contact information.

Then we entered the corner office for our first good look around. All of the furnishings looked tasteful and expensive. Unlike most lawyers, Van Damm did not have a wall of fame displaying his degrees and other certificates.

I looked closely at the scrimshaw hanging next to his door. It looked to be of excellent quality. "Isn't this stuff illegal these days?"

"I think it's whale bone and not ivory," Brady said. "Probably not illegal to own it."

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