Murder Comes Gift-Wrapped

There was something nice about old skyscrapers, he thought, especially during the holiday season. Detective Dan Tolinger paused in the lobby of the Prell Building to admire the huge wreaths. Sergeant Pulaski wouldn’t mind waiting a few extra seconds. Neither would the two patrolmen. Neither would the corpse.

Tolinger stepped out on the 27th floor to face the reception area of the Gotham Toy Company. He was also facing Sergeant Pulaski and a tallish man in his late thirties.

The tallish man was Jeremy Reade who introduced himself as one of the company’s two vice presidents. No, Reade corrected himself. The only vice president, now that Della Rigby had been bludgeoned to death by a “Sure-Hit” baseball bat.

“There were two recent burglaries on this floor,” Sergeant Pulaski said. “Laptop computer and two cameras. We were called in on both occasions and got no results. It looks like another robbery was in progress this morning. Ms. Rigby had the bad luck to walk in on the thief.”

Della Rigby was a smallish woman, barely covering the area rug in her private office. She was dressed in festive green and red, with a red halo of blood completing the ensemble.

“Della and I met at a jewelry store this morning to pick up an engraved Rolex for Mr. Gotham, the CEO. A Christmas present.”

“Expensive,” Tolinger muttered.

Reade smiled. “Della and I were both jockeying for the same promotion. We decided on a joint gift for Mr. Gotham. It’s better than competing with each other. Della dropped the jewelry box on her desk. Then we went into a conference room to discuss the Silly Sally shortage in the Midwest.”

“I take it that’s a doll.”

“Our best seller. Fifteen minutes after we started, Della went back to her office to retrieve some papers. That was the last I saw her alive.”

“Who discovered the body?”

“Lynn Grollier, her assistant.”

Lynn Grollier was in her cubicle, staring daggers at a patrolman who was searching every inch of her space. “You think she caught me stealing a dumb Christmas present and I killed her?”

“We think the killer took the watch,” Tolinger explained. “Did you happen to see the gift box on her desk?”

“Uh, yes,” Lynn admitted. “When I got here this morning, Jeremy and Della were already in the small conference room. I didn’t go into Della’s office, but I could see a small gift box on her desk, wrapped with a ribbon. I went into the big conference room to get things ready for the party.”

“Party?”

“Our company Christmas party. It’s this afternoon. I came back to my cubicle to get the napkins. That’s when I looked into Della’s office and saw her.” Lynn shuddered at the recollection.

“And the box was gone?”

“To be honest, I didn’t notice.”

“But the box is gone now. Did you see or hear anything?”

“Not really. I had the conference room door closed while I was setting up.”

“How did the other thefts happen?”

Lynn thought for a second. “The laptop was Mr. Gotham’s.  He left it in his office with the door unlocked and made quite a stink when it disappeared. They tightened building security. A week later, two Nikons went missing from a storage room.”

Detective Tolinger glanced beyond the cubicle to the hall and noticed a young man with stringy blond hair slipping a pile of yellow envelopes into the mail chute. Behind him stood the second patrolman. “Are we giving every employee a private guard?” asked Tolinger.

“I guess we are,” said Pulaski. “There were only three people up here at the time, not counting the deceased. Mr. Reade, Ms. Grollier and that guy, Ted Binghamton.”

“Today’s our last day before the holidays,” explained Lynn. “The others will get here around noon. By one, they’ll be drunk.” She pursed her lips and frowned. “We probably should cancel, don’t you think?”

“Well, you’re not going to hold it here. If you’ll excuse me, Ms. Grollier, I need to talk to this Binghamton fellow.”

Ted Binghamton was straight out of college, with sallow skin and a personality hovering between conscientious and nervous. “Why were you working today?” Tolinger asked.

“I had to get some mailings out. I got here about the same time as Ms. Rigby and Mr. Reade. I went straight to the storage room, then to the mail center on the other side of the floor.”

“Did you hear anything?”

“N-no, sir.” Ted pointed to the headphones dangling from his neck. “The Grateful Dead Christmas Album. But I did hear Lynn scream. I stopped packing the envelopes and came running. That’s all I know.”

Tolinger deposited Lynn and Ted in an office to write out their statements, then found Sergeant Pulaski back in Jeremy Reade’s office.

“No luck finding the watch,” the sergeant informed him. “My men have been with the suspects ever since we arrived. They searched Ms. Grollier’s cubicle and Binghamton’s. Now they’re starting to search the whole floor.”

“We need to find that watch,” Tolinger said. He turned to face Reade. “What do you know about the previous robberies?”

“I was on vacation when they happened.  We assumed it was an entry-level employee, someone new, perhaps.”

Tolinger nodded, then walked Pulaski to the office doorway. “I have an idea how the killer got rid of the watch.” He nodded in the direction of the old-fashioned mail chute beside the elevators.

“Tossing it down the chute?”

“Why not? He or she might not be able to recover it, but it beats facing a murder rap. And if we ever did find it, the postal carrier and who-knows-who-else would have already handled it. Speaking of postal carriers…”

Tolinger and Pulaski arrived in the lobby just in time to find a U.S. mailman in front of the chute door, about to unlock a brass plate decorated with an engraved eagle. They identified themselves, then stood by as the plate swung open.

There it was, right on top, perched on a field of yellow envelopes. A blue box wrapped with a gold ribbon.

“Good going, sir,” Pulaski said. “This will help.”

Tolinger smiled. “It does more than help. It solves the case.”

WHO KILLED ELLA RIGBY?

WHAT EVIDENCE POINTS TO THE KILLER?

Jeremy Reade killed Ella Rigby.

And it was the the position of the gift box on top of the envelopes that gave him away.

 

Jeremy Reade killed his only competition for the big promotion. Knowing about the previous robberies, he removed the gift box from the murder scene, hoping to throw suspicion on the unknown thief.

Reade had been in his office, within earshot, when Tolinger and Pulaski spoke. He learned that the entire floor was being searched. And he learned that Tolinger was about to go downstairs to open the mail chute. Neither of the other suspects could have overheard this since they were both giving statements in another room.

While the detectives went down in the elevator, Reade wiped his prints from the gift box and threw it in the chute. This served two purposes, getting the box out of his possession and strengthening the thief-killer theory.

When Detective Tolinger saw the gift box on top of the envelopes, not underneath, he knew Reade had to be the one who tossed it.

Reade eventually confessed. The Silly Sally shortage had been his fault, a mistake that Della Rigby was about to point out to the CEO. With Della out of the way, Reade could blame it on her and get that coveted promotion.