The next morning, I drove to the police station to meet Mark Symonds. After my call with him the following evening, I rang Pete Larson, my manager, to let him know I would be late for work. He had clearly expected this possibility.
“Not a problem, Nat,” he’d answered. “The police are trying to get to the bottom of this horrific situation, and they need as much information as they can get.”
“Thanks, Pete,” I’d replied. “Not that I expect I can give them much, but happy to help.”
“Take your time, it was a nasty shock for you. For all of us, but well, we weren’t there to see it. See you when you come in.” He then hung up. Despite his words, I knew he was shielding me from significant pressure to get the project completed.
I was pensive about meeting with Symonds and I wasn’t sure why. I couldn’t shake the feeling there was more to it. He and the paramedics had arrived minutes after I found the body, there was little else I could tell him about it he didn’t already know.
I arrived at the station and signed in with the desk sergeant. A few minutes later, Detective Symonds appeared and ushered me into one of the interview rooms and closed the door. He motioned for me to sit down opposite him, facing a large mirror.
I’d watched enough police shows to know there was almost certainly someone sitting behind the one-way mirror watching the interview.
“Good morning, Ms. Shaw,” Symonds said. “Thanks for coming in.” He opened a thin folder on the desk in front of him. He started flicking through the pages inside.
“Of course,” I replied. From the opposite side of the table, I could see my name on the top of the pages he was reading. “How can I help, Detective?”
He was silent for several seconds as he examined the contents of the folder. With a flourish, he closed it and looked me straight in the eye.
“I just wanted to go through the sequence of events that led you to be in the basement the other day.”
“There’s not much I can add to what I told you the other day, but I’m happy to go through it again.” I explained how Jack Myers, the project’s chief engineer, and I had gone to the basement carpark to investigate the water seeping through the wall.
“When I took my phone from my handbag to photograph the wall, my purse must have fallen out on to the ground.”
“Can Jack corroborate your story?”
I looked at him, unimpressed. “If he’d seen my purse on the ground, I’m fairly sure he would have said.”
“Just establishing the facts, Ms. Shaw. So what you are saying is that nobody else can confirm that your purse was actually left in the basement, resulting in your returning later to retrieve it, correct?”
“You mean apart from Elliot Walthers?”
“Walthers?!” Symonds exclaimed. “I thought you told me that he was dead when you got there.”
“He was, but he must have found my purse because he left this in it.” I reached into my pocket, withdrew the note and held it out for Symonds to see.
Hastily, he pulled an evidence bag from his jacket and held it out. “I’ll take that, please.” I dropped the note into the bag, which he sealed and placed on the desk in front of him.
“GEO. What does that mean?” he asked.
“We think it’s short for geological survey. W..”
“Who’s “we”?” Symonds interrupted.
“Dave Forrester, my partner and me,” I answered.
“Ah, the ex-cop turned private detective who was looking for Walthers. Apparently.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
He pasted a smile on his face. “Nothing at all, Ms. Shaw. Again, merely stating the facts of the case.”
“Look, Detective, if I’m being accused of something…”
“Let’s get back to the note. You said it was something about geological surveys.”
I looked at him sharply for a moment, then continued. “We think that Walthers uncovered something about the geological surveys on Samuel Olsen’s construction site. We believe that Olsen found out and had him killed.”
Symonds sat back in his chair. “Wow, that is an interesting theory, Ms. Shaw,” he said. “Let me tell you my theory. Walthers uncovered something. I think that you arranged to meet with him and came back to the site. I don’t know if you planned to kill him or if it just happened.”
My heart thumped in horror as he continued, “I believe you concocted the story about losing your purse to explain why you returned to the basement. I think if I check this note, we’ll find only your fingerprints and maybe your boyfriend’s on it.”
I finally found my voice, “But I didn’t even know Walthers!”
“Your boyfriend did. Maybe he found himself in the right place at the right time when Walthers’ wife hired him to track him down. Maybe he did, and set up your meeting with Walthers.”
“But that doesn’t make any sense. Why would I kill someone I don’t know?” I exclaimed.
Symonds grinned in triumph. “Oh, that’s easy. Who was responsible for the plans of the building? Who collated the geological surveys? The chief architect, right?”
He opened the file in front of him again. “And I can see here that you are the chief architect for this project.”
“This is crazy. What would I have to gain? I examined the geo surveys and there were no issues. Check them for yourself!”
“Oh, I intend to. But they can be changed easily enough, especially if you have ready access to them and need to cover up a mistake.”
“But I didn’t do anything!” I said desperately. “It was Olsen who killed Walthers, I’ve told you why I was on site.”
“And I’m sure if I check, the crumbs you left us to find will line up.” He tapped the folder on the desk. “I’ve read your file, Ms. Shaw. You’re not above bending the rules when it suits you. You got away with it last time because we made arrests.”
He leaned forward in his chair. “I don’t have enough evidence to arrest you. Yet. But I’ll find it, Ms. Shaw.”
“You’ve got this ass-backward, Detective. You’re chasing down the wrong suspect. It’s Samuel Olsen.” I couldn’t believe what was happening.
“I’ll be checking him out too, you can count on that. But I think I have the right person.” He stood up, walked to the door and opened it. “You may go, for now, Ms. Shaw. Don’t leave town. Your boyfriend either.”
I stood up and gave him a hard look. “You’re making a terrible mistake, Detective. I haven’t done anything.”
Symonds shrugged. “We will talk again soon, Ms. Shaw.”
I walked out. In the space of two days, I had gone from being a witness to the prime suspect in a murder investigation.
I cursed my bad luck at dropping my purse and being thrust in the middle of all of this. A moment later, I realized that it may not have mattered. The dots that Symonds had connected did link to the construction project but led to me instead of Olsen.
Symonds’ determination to accuse me was not illogical if you looked at the facts in isolation. If there was a problem with the geological surveys, then I was the person in the middle. If I didn’t know I was innocent, then I may well suspect me too.
With the police determined to pin it on me, I knew one thing: I needed to find out who the hell really did this and fast before I ended up going to prison for a very long time, convicted of both fraud and murder, neither of which I had committed.