In a glowing city of neon-lit skyscrapers, covered in glittery advertisements and all attempting to out-tower each other, Natalie Winsome had discovered the way to stand out. The W Tower was a central beacon of darkness, a hole in the world of light. It wasn’t the tallest building, but it was where the eye went first. The W covering the upper windows on all sides could be seen during the day, but where other CEOs would have made them shine all night, Natalie let them stay dark. She didn’t need attention to thrive. Only success.
Or, she hadn’t needed the attention, Detective Margot Lewis thought as she rode the elevator up to the penthouse office. She hadn’t seen the body yet, but generally when someone called in the dead body of a CEO they weren’t playing around. Maybe if she’d had a bit more attention she wouldn’t have ended up dead in her office.
The elevator slowed, a chime went off, and the doors smoothly disappeared into the wall. The office wasn’t exactly how Margot imagined. These ‘pioneers of industry’ types usually had the same tastes in decorations. Sterile. Gold studded leather. Glass joined with stainless steel. A bookcase or two, filled with books with stiff spines and the same dozen or so tchotchkes: vintage globe, model of a racing car, old school pen and ink well, you get the picture. She’d seen the pictures as each CEO was featured in Lyncis Monthly on rotation.
Ms. Winsome’s office wasn’t quite so different, but the subtleties were there. The couches surrounding the coffee table were a soft velvet, the coffee table itself a dark wood. The tile of the floor was covered with plush rugs. The books on the shelves had visible lines in the spines, and there were no large tchotchkes taking up space. Her desk, by the windows of course, didn’t look like some set piece set up to impart the impression of working. Papers and folders were spread out in front of the monitor in the sort of haphazard way that only occurs naturally. Too bad they were all covered with blood.
Natalie Winsome was sat in her desk chair, her top half collapsed on her desk. One arm across the papers and keyboard, the other dangling at her side. She looked a lot like her press pictures. Even in death her hair was up in a tight bun at the crown of her head and her makeup was impeccable.
Margot looked up at one of the uniformed officers, standing only a few feet from the desk. He was looking out the window at the city and hadn’t seemed to notice she was there yet.
The officer jumped, whatever spell he had been under broken. He looked at her sheepishly.
“What do you got?” Margot asked.
Murkowski pulled his notebook and squinted at what he’d written.
“Cleaning service found her at about ten. They said she goes home to work around seven so they knew something was wrong as soon as they realized she was here. They swear they haven’t touched anything.”
“They still here?”
“Yeah, down in the security office. Officer Aglis is down there with them, checking security footage.”
Margot glanced up at the cameras, one for each corner. They weren’t hidden. In fact, they stood out. Ugly, obvious things that ruined the flow of the office.
“Why these cameras?” she asked. “She could afford cameras we’d never find without help.”
She turned her attention back to the body. The way she was slung over the desk didn’t look natural. Almost as if she had been posed.
There was basically nothing wrong with the body. Margot bent down next to the dead CEO expecting to see a stab wound in the belly or the chest, a nearly hidden entry wound, a twisted neck. Anything.
Nothing. No holes in her clothes. Nothing obviously bent in the wrong direction. If it wasn’t for the small pool of blood that had dripped from her mouth and nose, it wouldn’t even be obvious the woman was dead.
“Poison?” she asked.
“Hmm?” Murkowski asked, turning away from the window. “There wasn’t any food or drink near her when they found her.”
“Could have been something that took a while to work,” Margot mused. “Guess that’s the medical examiner’s job.”
Margot stood back and looked again. There was something…off…about the way she had died and she couldn’t get it out of her head. Almost as if she had been posed. Almost, but not quite. Margot tried to imagine sitting in the chair, the desk in front of her. Something starts killing her. Kills her quick, and she flops down on the top of the desk. Face on the desk. Arms to her sides…
She fixated on the arm on the desk. It didn’t make sense. Why would her arm be like that, up and over her head. Had she been reaching for something? There wasn’t anything to reach for. And her hand. Fingers and thumb curled in except for the first fingers. Straight out.
Like she was pointing at something.
Margot walked around the desk and knelt until she was eye level with Ms. Winsome’s hand dangling over the desk. She was pointing forward, into the rest of the office. Not quite directly across at the elevators. A little to the left. At a small shelf.
This is ridiculous. A murdered CEO managing to point at something significant as she died? What was this, some Agatha Christie novel? Margot wasn’t Poirot. She was a city homicide detective with too much overtime and a frozen mac n cheese and a bottle of red wine waiting for her when she got home. Natalie Winsome was a powerful woman who had no doubt made enemies. There probably was a gunshot wound she just hadn’t found yet.
Still, Margot walked across the office. The shelf was a simple round table, barely bigger than a dinner plate, and holding nothing more than a bronze statue of some sort of cat. It looked undisturbed, sitting directly in the middle of the shelf.
Face pointing directly at Ms. Winsome.
With a sigh, indicating to the universe how silly she felt, she picked up the cat statue.
See? It’s a coincidence, not a clue.
Relieved, Margot looked under the bottom of the cat without thinking. A habit.
The bottom of the cat was carved out.
Something was sitting in the cavity.
Eyes wide, Margot pulled out a small leather bag, tied at the top with a thin bit of rope. There was a collection of odd shapes inside, and the whole thing had a smell to it. Almost patchouli, almost incense, not quite either.
“The fuck. Hey, Murkowski, come look at this. Murkowski?”
The officer was still standing at the window, staring at the view. With an eyeroll Margot put the cat statue down and crossed the office. Trying to shake the feeling of someone staring at her the whole time.
“Gah!” He jumped at the sound of her voice only inches away. Red creeped into his cheeks, and he smoothed the front of his uniform. “Sorry, I didn’t see you there.”
“What’s got you glued to this window?” she asked, peering out.
He swallowed. “I don’t know, exactly. I guess…well, every other high rise I’ve been in is covered with lights and ads, right? This one isn’t.”
Margot looked out the window for the first time and realized he was right.
“You can see everything.”
To be continued.