61 Going Upstairs Empty-Handed

Earnest quickly moved on to the next agenda item.

“As you know, on Monday, unrelated to the events inside our building, there was significant erosion on the adjacent bluff. The initial cause is attributed to the recent, heavy rains. The board has been advised that while there appears to be no immediate damage or threats to the integrity of our building, the city will conduct an engineering survey on the bluff, independent to any offered by the developer of the proposed construction on that site. We await that report with cautious optimism. The public is advised to keep away. We have an excellent view of that portion of the bluff from our solarium, should you wish to monitor the activity. As I see that our guests have arrived, please address any concerns you may have about this to me, after the meeting.”Chapter 61 Going Upstairs

Martin and Martinelli were in plainclothes, minus any timeworn detective regalia but with a plan. Aware that any resident could be in the common areas of the building, including the lobby, exercise room, pool, and meeting room, and that any evidence found in those areas didn’t necessarily implicate any of them, they intended to assure everyone that they weren’t there to point fingers. Quite the reverse. They meant to provide an opportunity for anyone to give them additional information. Earnest introduced them and straightforwardly asked for a status report on the investigation.

“Thanks for the chance to talk to you folks tonight,” Martinelli said. “We’re here to take your questions but first let me make a brief statement. We’re in an investigation, so some things we can’t discuss. We are sure that the victim drowned. Why, we’re still not sure. We don’t know why he was in the building or the pool. It’s possible it was an accident but questions remain.”

The group began to murmur.

“That’s why your co-operation is so important. If any of you know anything, even what might seem to be the smallest thing, please bring it to our attention. We’ll stay on for awhile after the meeting, if anyone wants to talk to us. If you don’t want to approach us in a meeting like this, we’ll be leaving a number you can call to speak directly to one of us. The important thing is that you share what you know. You don’t even have to know why it might be important. Anything you can remember about what you saw or heard last Sunday, or if you have any recollection about seeing the deceased in the building at any time, especially. So, to your questions.”

“Are you asking us to spy on each other?”

“Not in that sense, no. Living in a condo building may raise questions among neighbors, especially where there are shared areas. Our interest is more focused than that. We’re interested in details relating to someone who didn’t live here and any connection he might have had to anyone who does.”

“We heard there was weird stuff found in the pool.”

“There was evidence collected at the scene. I’m unable to give you any more detail.”

“You said you didn’t know why he was here. How did he get in? We pay so it’s supposed to be secure around here.”

“When we’re dealing with unusual circumstances, we don’t comment further. Your association may reconsider your security arrangements. We encourage people to take their security very seriously and be willing to improve it.”

“Not all of us use the pool. Are we suspects too?”

Locked entry and locked interior lobby doors add another level of security.

Locked entry and locked interior lobby doors add another level of security.

“At this point, we have detained no suspects and made no arrests. The investigation is wide open.”

“Can we get sued ’cause someone died in our pool?”

“Well, that’s not a question the police can answer. That’s more in the legal line, isn’t that correct, Mr. Arbuthnot?” Earnest nodded.

“Is there a reward for more information?”

“Generally speaking, when there is a reward offered, and this is usually done with the victim’s family, it’s for information leading to a charge plus a conviction. These can be large rewards even for a small observation. At this point, let me remind you, we have not established that there has been a crime, so a reward would be premature. We are simply asking for information from you to help us clarify what occurred.” Sensing that he was beginning to repeat himself, Martinelli turned to Earnest. “We can take up individual questions, now.”

“Yes, very good,” Earnest agreed. “There are refreshments at the back. Please do join us, and thank you for your time.” Earnest quickly adjourned, closing with, “As we’ve just heard, please help us all out, and co-operate.”

Martin and Martinelli, torn between hoping that people would approach them freely and hoping to get out of there before being cornered by some insistent geezer with an agenda of his own – annoying in and of itself but also counterproductive, as it would lessen the likelihood that any other person would speak to them – took up positions in different corners of the room. Mrs. James, under the guise of offering coffee, came up to Martinelli and invited him to join her at a table, pointing to the spread of treats at one end.

“Authority figures seem more human when they’re eating a cookie.” Martinelli laughed and perched on a chair. He recognized an overture when he saw one. Doctoring a cup of coffee and, after careful scrutiny of a plateful of options – to avoid those duplicitous, raisin varieties – he selected an oatmeal chocolate chip. Mrs. James sat next to him and made a show of sorting through the meeting minutes, laying out several handwritten pages before her. As he chewed, she looked up and held his attention. “Sometimes people bake to overcome turmoil, don’t you find?”

“Tell you one thing I do know. My partner over there is very skilled at detecting when I get a treat, and he doesn’t.”

“Excuse me. I’ll offer him something, too.” She returned to the table, a lighter plate in hand. “I suppose you must become more observant all of the time, not just when working?”

“An occupational hazard? I suppose that’s true.”

“And do you recognize red herrings when you see them?” She busied herself with her notes. He imagined that the residents were very accustomed to see her doing this after meetings. “You asked me what I saw but not what I didn’t see.” She re-shuffled the papers. “When I realized, I spoke to Gervase. That’s got him thinking again, too. He encouraged me to mention it to you but you must understand I’ve no wish to meddle.” She clipped several pages together, then took a sip from her coffee cup, and regarded him.

“I understand that.”

“Simply then, there was no towel anywhere. Normally, there would be one.”

Martinelli had noted this missing towel, wondered why she found its absence telling, and he thanked her. “We’ll certainly take this into consideration, Mrs. James, and may follow up with you.”

Afterwards, as she went up to her unit, Mrs. James reflected that despite the proffered revelation and the questions it raised for her, she felt just as empty headed as before about what it meant. Professional detection added it all up quite differently.