The corpse lay sprawled on the floor of the supply room of the We’re It Advertising Agency, his legs splayed out between a pile of FedEx envelopes and packages of toner. A limp, pale arm draped over the fax machine. His co-workers crowded in the doorway in freaked-out silence.
Lieutenant Bill Sawyer knelt beside the body and peered into the dead man’s face. Sawyer, late 30s, dark blond hair, looked like Clint Eastwood with dimples. His partner, Tony Purcell, tall and wiry, guarded the door. The dead man, Rory Corbett, was young – late 20s – and rather bland-looking, as if his features had been molded from a Ken doll from 1955, albeit one with bulging eyes and blue lips.
Sawyer bent close to get a look at Rory’s mouth. “Who found him?” he asked.
Rory’s co-workers looked at each other. A pretty Latina woman said loudly, “I did.” Everyone turned to look at her.
Suddenly a deep, throaty sound emerged from the dead man’s mouth. “Rrrriiidddiiit.”
Sawyer jumped, and his audience gasped in stereo.
What the hell? Sawyer felt for a pulse, pried open the man’s eyelids, noted the blue-tinged lips. He was definitely dead, all right. A corpse doing frog impersonations? Sawyer pulled the man’s jaw down and pressed his protruding tongue against his bottom teeth with a wooden stick.
“Rrrriiidddiiiit.” Something leaped out of the dead man’s throat and landed on the Lieutenant’s face.
“Aaaaaaaarrrggghhhhhh!” Sawyer sputtered, his hands wildly flailing at the croaking object, which flew across the room, hit the wall behind him with a “splat” and dropped onto a pile of post-its. Two of the women and three of the men huddled in the doorway shrieked.
It was a toad, all right. A tree toad, bright green and scaly, with a post-it stuck to one 4-toed foot. “Rrriiiddddiiiit.” The frog hopped around the room distractedly, apparently in shock. Sawyer tried to grab it, but it eluded him. Purcell joined him in pursuit. The Latina woman attempted to grab the creature as it leaped past her.
“No, it’s evidence! Don’t touch it without gloves!” Sawyer shouted at her. She burst into tears. “Sorry,” Sawyer said as he finally managed to capture it, though it nearly slid out of his hand. “Anyone have a paper bag?” he asked.
The woman was still sobbing. “I can’t believe he’s dead,” she sniffed. Sawyer and Purcell both turned to look at her, then at each other.
Someone produced a bag that smelled vaguely of tartar sauce, and Sawyer tossed the creature inside. “Rrriiidddiiit.”
“Where are you taking it?” the sobbing woman asked.
“To the lab to dust it for fingerprints,” Sawyer said.
“You never know,” he said.
The coroner’s office arrived and carted away the body, taped the dead man’s silhouette to the rug and slapped police tape on the door. Purcell took everyone’s basic information, and then Sawyer said, “Everyone needs to stay until we’ve talked with you all in more detail.”
He turned to Purcell and motioned to a nearby conference room.
“You can all wait in there with Detective Purcell.” Sawyer looked at a slightly-built man with graying hair. “Why don’t you come with me,” he said. He still carried the paper bag in his hand. “Who are you?”
“La Beef,” the man said in a soft voice. Purcell herded the rest of them to the conference room and shut the door.
Sawyer led the man to a nearby office and motioned him to sit. He settled behind the spacious wooden desk, and tossed the toad-bag onto it. It moved slightly. “Have a seat, Mr. La Beef.”
The man sat, his back unusually straight.
“Mr. La Beef, where were you when Rory was found?”
“I was out of the building. I’d just come back from a sales meeting, and I was in the parking lot when I heard Carmelita scream.”
“Was anyone else in the parking lot?”
“I didn’t see anyone,” La Beef said.
“Any reason you know that anyone would want to kill Rory?”
“None whatsoever, Lieutenant. He was a great guy.” He cleared his throat. “Unless it was Mike.”
“Mike Washington. He was just passed up for promotion; Rory got it instead.”
“Did he seem angry about that?”
“Anything else you can tell me, Mr. La Beef?”
“Don’t think so,” La Beef said.
“All right. You can go for now. And please send in Mr. Washington, if you would.”
A sturdily-built man in his early forties appeared.
“Mr. Washington, come in. Have a seat,” Sawyer said.
Washington sat. He appeared ill-at-ease.
“Nervous, Mr. Washington?” Sawyer said serenely.
Washington wiped his sweaty hands on the arms of the chair. “No, why do you say that?”
Sawyer looked at Washington’s hands, then back up at his face.
Washington jumped in the chair. He looked away for a moment, then back at Sawyer. “Look man, I know you’ll probably think I had a reason to be pissed off at him because he got the promotion I was up for, so let me just say right now that I didn’t kill him. I mean, do I think I should have gotten that promotion? Yeah, I do. Especially when he was banging Carmelita in the supply room on company time. But I wouldn’t kill someone for that.”
“What was that about Carmelita?”
“It’s common knowledge,” Washington said.
Sawyer narrowed his eyes at him. “Of course, you’ll probably get the promotion, now that he’s dead,” he mused.
“Damn, I didn’t even think of that,” Washington said.
“Really. Anyway, it’s not the best way to get promoted, is it?”
“I wouldn’t say so,” Sawyer said.
“Can I go now?”
“Not yet. Where were you when he was found?”
“I was in the men’s room.”
“Was anyone in there with you?” Sawyer asked.
“I’m not in the habit of pissing in a pack,” Washington said.
“So you were alone in there?”
“All right,” Sawyer said.
Washington stood up and turned to leave.
Washington sighed. “I know, don’t leave town,” he said.
“I was going to ask you if you can think of anyone who might have wanted Rory dead.”
“Not offhand, no.” He moved toward the door, then stopped. “Unless it was La Beef.”
“He was doing a presentation to a client a couple of weeks ago, and he screwed it up when Rory made some kind of noise or something. He didn’t do it on purpose, but La Beef lost the client. He seemed pretty pissed off. He’s been really nice to Rory since then, though, and he’s generally a pretty easygoing guy.”
“Well, stick around, I may want to talk with you again. In the meantime, send in Carmelita, if you would.”
A few minutes later, Carmelita appeared.
“Hello, Carmelita,” Sawyer said. “Have a seat.”
“So, how well did you know Mr. Corbett?”
“Rrrriiidddiiit.” The bag leaped into the air and hopped around on the desk.
Carmelita burst into tears again. “I’m sorry,” she said. She calmed herself somewhat. “We were screwing. I mean, it was mostly sex, but I’m still sorry he’s dead.” She pulled some Kleenex out of her handbag. “It was really good sex,” she sniffed.
“Okay,” Sawyer said. “Uh, what were you doing before you found him?”
“I was eating,” she replied. Sawyer raised an eyebrow. “Lunch,” she said.
“Why were you going to the supply room?” he asked.
“I needed some paper clips,” she said. He looked at her silently. Carmelita turned and gazed out the window. “All right,” she said. “We sometimes did it in there. I was going to meet him.”
“Rrrriiiidddiiit.” The bag continued to hop around on the desk.
Sawyer ignored it. “Did anyone see you going in there?” he asked.
“I don’t think so,” she said. “We did our best to be discreet.”
“Yeah, not sure you did too well with that,” he said. “What about it, Carmelita? Did you stuff the frog down his throat? Was it a sex-asphyxiation thing?”
Carmelita’s eyes widened. “What??? No!!” she shouted. “No, no, no!”
“You know what I’m talking about, though, don’t you? Have you done something like that with him before? Maybe, trying to make things more exciting, go to the edge?”
“We did it in the supply room in the middle of the workday, when anyone could have come in to refill their tape dispenser. That was on the edge enough, don’t you think?”
“For some people,” he said.
“I didn’t kill Rory, Lieutenant,” she said decisively. “Maybe it was Mike Washington. He was just passed up for the promotion Rory got last week.”
“Rrriiidddiiit.” The bag leaped in front of her face. She blinked.
Sawyer sat and tried to stare her down. She stared back unflinchingly. Finally, he sighed.
“All right, you can go now,” he said. “But we may want to talk with you again, so don’t go anywhere.”
She rose and left the room, slamming the door behind her.
Sawyer talked with the rest of Rory’s co-workers, but no one had anything else particularly revealing to say. He walked down to the conference room and motioned to Purcell. They walked into the office and closed the door.
Sawyer briefed him on the interviews. “So, it could easily be one of those three,” Purcell said. “Unless it was someone else and we missed something. Or someone who came in off the street and did it, but that’s unlikely, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, the building’s pretty secure, and someone would have noticed a stranger in the office,” Sawyer said.
“So, Carmelita. She could have been pissed at him for something. Maybe he was cheating on her, or maybe like you said, it was a sex thing.”
“But a frog?”
Purcell shrugged. “People do some pretty weird shit, man,” he said.
“What about La Beef? He was pissed off at Rory for causing him to mess up, at least at the time. Made some kind of noise, was it? He said he wasn’t mad, but who knows.”
“I’m leaning toward Washington myself,” Purcell said. “Pretty clear motive, if you ask me. Passed up for promotion, then his competitor dies, he maybe gets his job. What do you think?”
Sawyer stared at him. “Oh, my God,” he said.
“Made some kind of noise. Rory. Messed up La Beef’s presentation because he made some kind of noise. What kind of noise? Cleared his throat, maybe? Coughed? Why do you clear your throat?”
“And what is another way of saying that?”
Purcell stared at him. The light dawned. “He had a frog in his throat,” they said in unison.
“I’m so smart I can’t stand myself sometimes,” Sawyer said.
The bag bounced over their heads. “Rrrriiiidddiiit.”