I stumbled back in shock. A dead man was lying on the ground in the basement. Blood was everywhere. I could see a hole in the back of his jacket; that was where the blood was coming from.
Perhaps he wasn’t dead. I approached him cautiously.
“How do you know if someone is dead or not?” I thought. I touched him. He was warm. If he was dead, then he must have died not long ago. I didn’t want to touch the body and I certainly wasn’t going to turn it over, but I checked the pulse in his wrist.
I was never any good at checking my own heart rate that way at the gym, so I looked if he was breathing. Also nothing.
That settled it. I grabbed my phone but in the concrete basement, I had no signal. I ran up the stairs to call the police. When I got outside, I dialed 911 and explained what I’d found. They dispatched a police car and an ambulance. While I waited for them to arrive, I wondered where the man had come from. He wasn’t there earlier when Jack and I were examining the wall.
Suddenly the open gate made sense; someone had no doubt cut the chain to gain entry. It either was the dead man inside or his killer. Or killers. I suddenly realized how lucky I was not to have arrived earlier. I may well have ended up a victim myself.
It was a very scary thought.
With the wound in his back, he probably never even saw his attacker. He may well have been killed right where his body now lay. The most pertinent question for me was, why was he there in the first place? Why here?
The sound of an approaching siren shook me from my thoughts. An ambulance drove through the open gate to the site, with a dark, nondescript sedan following it.
The paramedics jumped out of the ambulance, opened the doors and grabbed their equipment. The driver walked toward me and asked, “You called about the person, assumed dead, in the basement?”
“Yes,” I answered. “He’s on the lowest level. The stairs are there.” I pointed inside the entrance. “You’ll need lights, no electricity here yet.”
She nodded. “Yep, got torches. Thanks.” I started to follow her as she and her partner walked toward the stairs, but a voice behind me called out. I turned to face the man walking from the unmarked police car toward me.
“Natalie Shaw?” he inquired.
The man, lean with short, brown hair, looked to be in his early forties and wore a neat but cheap dark suit. His light blue eyes were piercing as he held out a hand. “Detective Mark Symonds, Metro Police. I understand you found the body?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“In the lower basement carpark, correct?”
Symonds took a small notebook and pencil from his suit pocket and started to write in it.
“A notebook and a pencil? I said. “I’m surprised you’re using something so low-tech!”
He smiled, his face becoming surprisingly warm. “Pencils don’t run out of batteries.” The smile disappeared. “Why were you here, Ms. Shaw? The site is closed for the day.” He looked me up and down. “And you don’t look much like a construction worker.”
It was my turn to smile. “That’s because I’m not. I’m the architect for the project, I work for Anderson’s and Anderson’s. I was here because I managed to lose my purse out of my handbag when I was doing an inspection in the basement this morning.”
“It sounds like there is a story right there,” he replied. “Speaking of the basement, shall we go take a look?” He gestured for me to go first. I realized that I still had the torch in my hand from when I had gone downstairs to retrieve my purse.
“Of course, Detective,” I said.
As we walked down the stairs, I related the story of my missing purse to Symonds. He scribbled some notes in his book by the dim light from my torch in the narrow stairwell. I finished just as we reached the basement.
We walked across the empty carpark. “So as far as you are aware, you and…” he checked his notebook, “Jack were the last people to be down here prior to your arrival this evening?”
“Yes. There’s no reason for anyone else to be in here at this stage.”
“What time does the site close?”
“4pm, The gate would normally be closed by around 4:30pm.”
“And the lock on the front gate was missing?”
“Yes. I assumed someone had forgotten to lock it again, but the chain is usually still hanging on the gate.”
“So it struck you as unusual?”
“It did, but it’s also not unheard of,” I answered. “I was going deal with the gate once I’d checked if my purse was down here.”
“Fair enough,” Symonds replied. He put his notebook and pencil back in his suit pocket.
In front of us, the paramedics were finalizing their inspection of the body. The woman I’d spoken to earlier saw us approach and stood up.
“I’m afraid he is definitely dead, Detective,” she said. “Time of death is no more than a couple of hours ago.”
“Thanks,” he replied. “That’s consistent with what we know so far from Ms. Shaw here.”
The paramedic nodded. “Apart from checking the body for vitals, we’ve left everything where it was, ready for the forensic team.”
“Appreciate it,” Symonds said.
He walked around the body, being careful not to step in the pool of blood. He bent down to take a look at the man’s face.
“Ah, shit,” he said. “Elliot Walthers.” Symonds looked up at me. “I know him. He’s a reporter. Pain in the ass, but a good kid.”
Something clicked in my head. I’d heard something about a reporter recently.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Why would he be here, though?”
“Who knows?” Symonds replied. “He is… was… always nosy. Mostly dug into organized crime. Once too often, it seems.”
“But that doesn’t really answer why he would be here.”
“Maybe he got dragged here by whoever killed him. Or he could have been looking for dirt on Samuel Olsen. This is one of his projects, right?”
“Yes. But Olsen just doesn’t seem to be the type.”
Symonds snorted. “You’d be surprised. He’s taking a run at politics, right? Maybe Walthers found something that he didn’t want found in his past.”
“I’ve known Olsen for years, I just find that hard to believe. He’s always been tough but fair.”
“Maybe you don’t know him as well as you think.” He stood up. “I’m going to call this into forensics. I may need to talk to you again, so don’t leave town.”
“Oh, and check your purse thoroughly, something still may have been stolen.”
“I will. Thanks, Detective.”
“Ok, then. Mark. And I’m just Nat.”
“Nat it is. Go home. You’ve had a very unpleasant afternoon.” We started walking back towards the stairs and outside.
“Appreciate your help.”
My phone buzzed just as I hopped into my car. I took it out of my handbag; there were two missed calls from Dave. I was late home and there had been no signal in the basement carpark. I called his number.
“Nat! Where are you?” He sounded worried.
“Hey, babe. I’m all right, don’t worry. There’s been an incident at the construction site. I’m on my way home now, but I need to call Pete straight away to let him know what’s happened.”
“I don’t understand. Why were you on site at this time anyway?”
“It’s a long story, I’ll tell you all about it when I get home.”
“All right, but be careful.” He still sounded worried but had relaxed a little.
“I will.” I paused. “What was the name of that guy you were looking for that went missing? The reporter?”
Dave was immediately concerned again. “Elliot Walthers. Why?”
“I know where he is. He was in the basement level here. Dave, he’s dead.”