by Morris J. Marshall
Chapter 2: Initial Inquiries
Detective Tran arrived on the scene at two in the afternoon as the fire trucks were hosing down the street. He was glad he hadn’t seen anything. He’d just eaten lunch and was sure it would have spewed onto the pavement at the sight he would have encountered half an hour earlier.
He usually worked white-collar crimes and had been delayed to this scene by a fraud case. He wore a blue suit and brown dress shoes to work each day and wasn’t used to seeing bodies. But several homicide cops were out with the flu and today’s investigation had fallen on him.
According to the cops he’d talked to, this crime scene had been bad. A jumper. On contact with the pavement, the victim’s head had exploded in a colourful spray of blood and brain matter. It had spread around a fair-sized radius. The coroner had already taken what remained of the body to the morgue. Thankfully, fire hoses had washed the blood down the sewer.
Tran’s personal name was “Hai-Yuan,” but ever since primary school his classmates had called him “Tran.” The name followed him into high school, college and the police force. He considered it more of an annoyance than actual bullying, but he grew tired of correcting people. Eventually “Tran” stuck.
When he’d tell people he was a cop, they’d look at him strangely as if to say, “You? Mr. five-foot-five? Aren’t you a little short?” Then he’d tell them he was in corporate crimes and they’d nod, which Tran interpreted as Oh, yeah, that makes sense.
A constable approached Tran and said something, but the detective missed it. “I’m sorry?”
“Mr. McLeod’s employer is ready to see you now, sir.”
“I’ll be right there,” Tran said. He craned his neck and stared up at the roof of the building, trying to imagine how desperate or insane someone would have to be to jump from way up there.
Several minutes later, he entered the building that housed DBC Financial. A large water fountain in the lobby erupted every five minutes, spraying a stream of water ten meters into the air. It was surrounded by a small grocery store, a Thai restaurant, and a coffee shop. Located on the thirtieth floor, DBC Financial specialized in wealth management for both businesses and individual investors.
“I had such a good weekend,” Tran said to the constables accompanying him. “What a way to begin the week.”
They nodded politely. One of the cops pressed the “up” button.
The elevator was made of clear glass, including the floor and, as it rose, Tran held his breath. He glanced down, fighting the temptation to close his eyes or hold onto the railing or another officer. The guys on the force knew about his acrophobia and sometimes ribbed him. He imagined hearty laughter resonating through the lunchroom tomorrow as one of his officers said, “Get this. The boss was holding onto me. What a ‘scaredy-cat.’ I thought he was going to pee his pants!”
The elevator stopped on the thirtieth floor. Entering the hallway, Tran exhaled and rested his hand against his chest as if that would stop his heart from hammering. DBC was on his right, as indicated by a blue sign on the wall just inside a pair of glass doors. He showed his badge to the receptionist. Apparently she’d been waiting for him, as she barely glanced at it.
A middle-aged brunette woman in a blue pantsuit and black heels came out to the lobby. She shook hands with Tran. “I’m Carla Travini, Assistant to the Chief Financial Officer. I was Gavin McLeod’s manager. We can talk in my office. Can I get you something to drink? Coffee or tea?”
“I’m fine, thanks.”
The two accompanying police officers sat in the waiting area while Tran followed Carla to her office.
“I still can’t believe what happened to Gavin,” she said, closing her office door.
Tran sat down in the black leather chair facing her desk and removed a red leather-bound journal from his briefcase. Most Millennial cops used computer tablets to record their interrogations, but Tran still preferred a pen and paper. Physically writing down the words helped him remember details later and made the case more intimate. He hated when people played with their phones and tablets in his presence.
“How long had Gavin been working here?” he asked Carla.
“Five years,” she replied. “He started out on the phones, moved up to financial advisor and, late last year, he was promoted to Junior Financial Manager.” She sighed. “He was a rising star.”
After he had finished writing, Tran looked up. “Did you notice anything different or unusual about Gavin lately?”
“Things like unexplained absences,” Tran prompted.
“None I can think of.”
“Any illnesses or changes in mood?”
“Now that you mention it, Gavin did seem a little down during the last month. He looked as though he’d lost his enthusiasm for his work.”
Tran wrote down notes. “Had anything about his work changed?”
“No, but when he came into the office last Friday, everything seemed back to normal. He was his regular smiling self. What happened this morning just doesn’t make sense.”
“One last thing, Ms. Travini. I was under the impression that the door to the roof of this building is always locked. How did Gavin get up there?”
The financial manager paused. “There are two entrances to the roof, and the custodians are supposed to keep them locked. Maybe they forgot. I don’t know what happened in Gavin’s case. Only a few people have keys.”
“Joe Girardi, the head janitor and Chris Kays, the property manager. There’s also Pat Simms, the superintendent. The security guards downstairs also have keys.”
After he finished writing, Tran slipped his notebook back into his briefcase and stood up. “Thank you for your time, Ms. Travini. I’ll be in touch. I’ll see myself out.”
Once in the hallway, he stood by the window near the elevator and forced himself to peer through the glass at the ground thirty stories below. As he stared at the street and the people walking along the sidewalks, he wondered what had gone through Gavin’s mind during those few seconds in which he plunged to his death.
* * *
Sitting on the subway that evening on his way home from work, Tran couldn’t stop thinking about Carla Travini’s comments. He was good at compartmentalizing work and leisure, and he rarely thought about cases outside work. But several things didn’t seem right.
Gavin’s optimistic mood had returned just three days before he killed himself. Still, it wasn’t unusual for someone planning a suicide to be upbeat before doing the deed. The thought of dying often gave comfort to a depressed person, according to psychiatrists.
The locked door was more difficult to explain. Simple error or purposely opened by “one of the few people with keys”? The autopsy might not be in for a week.
Tran’s supervisor had assumed Gavin’s death was a suicide, but the detective wasn’t so sure. He couldn’t explain his feelings. He’d been a cop for ten years, half of them as a detective. He’d attended a few suicide scenes and had never felt the way he did about this one. And even if the young banker had committed suicide, what had prompted it?
Tran entered his small downtown apartment, shut the door and slid the chain lock back in place. He removed his winter coat and threw it on the couch. He went to the kitchen, opened the fridge and peeked inside. A package of spinach and a pair of lonely-looking apples stared back at him. Tran removed a Tupperware container, opened it and inhaled. He put the top back on and returned it to the fridge. After searching the cupboard for something to eat, he decided on a box of crackers and sat down on the couch.
A picture of his late wife, Theresa, stood on the mantle above the TV. Even after two years, he couldn’t bring himself to put it away. Their wedding day. They both bore bright optimistic smiles. He pictured his wife tut-tutting him, saying, “What happened to all those cooking lessons I gave you, hon? Look at you now. Eating crackers with no nutritional value! Why don’t you move on with your life?”
In that vein, Tran had thought of selling their two-bedroom condo and moving to a one bedroom in a nicer part of the city away from the memories. But with the Toronto housing market in a bubble, even if you got a good price on a sale, you couldn’t afford to buy anything.
Tran put the box of crackers back in the cupboard and returned to the couch. The last two days had been non-stop, go-go-go, which suited him fine; he liked being busy. There’d been several fraud cases, the most recent of which involved the burning down of an auto body shop by the owner. Run-of-the-mill stuff.
Tran picked up the remote and turned on the TV. He channel surfed, searching for something to pass the time. The Classics channel featured Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. He’d seen it as a kid and, although he’d enjoyed it then, it now seemed woefully dated. An infomercial on another channel featured a dating service that offered a money back guarantee: The perfect match in three days or you don’t pay.
Tran found a “Lethal Weapon” movie — he couldn’t remember which one — and put the remote beside him on the couch. Resting his feet on the coffee table, his eyes drifted to the picture of his late wife. He put his feet back on the floor.
While watching Mel Gibson standing on a roof and threatening to jump, Tran’s mind returned to Gavin McLeod. Maybe this was the case of a disgruntled young man unable to handle the pressures of banking. And there were a lot of pressures. People weren’t investing as much in this high-debt economy and the competition for sales was brutal. Maybe Gavin was facing termination because he wasn’t performing. That was a good reason to end it.
Stop it, Tran chided himself. There’s not going to be an investigation. Just get it out of your thick skull. As he stared blankly at the fight scene on TV, one question kept flashing through his mind: Why would a successful young financial planner kill himself?
Copyright © 2017 by Morris J. Marshall