Board Stiff: A 9 to 5 Mystery
By Rebecca Benston
Thornton Westmiller was a prominent executive. He had a corner office, a company car and other perks too numerous to detail. He was also a member of several boards around town. His favorite post was that of Treasurer for a local shelter. One evening, Westmiller received a call at his home from an angry citizen. There were accusations of impropriety and misallocation of funds for the shelter. Annoyed, Westmiller hung up and proceeded to go about his evening ritual of dinner, a few moments of conversation with his lovely wife, Regina, and his usual late night glass of bourbon. He checked over the financial records for the shelter before he went to bed. He had been waiting for funds from a bequest to be transferred into the shelter’s account and they hadn’t shown up yet. He had figured out a way to “redirect” some of the funds if he could catch the deposit before anyone else noticed it was there. He had been checking it almost hourly for the past couple of days and was starting to get frustrated. He’d give it another day and then he would call his contact to make sure things were going as planned.
The following day, Westmiller received a note at his office along with a nicely wrapped package. Happy to be the receipient of a gift, he anxiously opened the package. But instead of finding a new pair of golf shoes as he had anticipated, he recoiled from the sight of a dead snake with a bright, red ribbon around its broken neck. This gift obviously wasn’t from his wife. He opened the note that had come with the package and it said, “The only good snake is a dead snake!” The handwriting was carefully printed in block lettering, no doubt, in order to preserve the sender’s anonymity.
He slammed the lid back onto the box and frantically called for his secretary, Judy. She hurried in, her dainty heels clicking across the tile floor.
“What is it, Mr. Westmiller?” she asked. She had only been with the company a short time and wasn’t yet familiar with her boss’s moods. She assumed he was upset with her for forgetting to make coffee.
“I need you to dispose of this box immediately,” he said.
“Dispose, but it’s such a beautiful gift,” she said, stepping closer to have a look. She lifted the lid and shrieked as she caught sight of its contents. She dropped the lid, stumbled backward and nearly fell right into Westmiller’s lap. Thankfully, she caught herself before making contact. She hadn’t had any problems with her boss, but he sometimes looked at her in a way that made her a little uncomfortable. She was a beautiful young lady and had left other jobs because her boss’s couldn’t keep their hands to themselves. She had hoped that Westmiller would be different.
“Just get rid of it,” he said.
She scurried away from the desk and called downstairs to the security guard to get some help. Later that day after the box had been removed, Westmiller grudgingly picked up the phone to call the local police. The security guard had suggested that he file a report in case any other crazy packages came for him. “You can never be too careful,” he had said.
Since this was a non-emergency call, he was on hold for what seemed like an eternity. As the minutes passed, he decided he could handle this later and hung up the phone. At exactly 5:30 p.m., he packed up his briefcase and headed out of the office. His secretary had already gone, her shift usually ended at 5 p.m. and there was really no reason for her to stay late. He walked past her desk and out of the office, locking the door behind him.
As he made his way through the parking garage, he couldn’t stop looking over his shoulder. He was paranoid, and for good reason, who gets a gift-wrapped snake?
He reached his car and looked around the garage one last time before getting into the sleek, new BMW. He started the engine and backed out of the space, then drove off toward downtown. He was on his way to yet another board meeting.
When he reached the parking lot of the Mayfield Family Shelter, he parked close to the building. He was uncharacteristically late for the meeting which had started at 5:30. He walked quickly up the walkway to shelter entrance, stepping carefully over a homeless man who had decided to sit with his legs sprawling out across the narrow path. The man looked like a heap of dirty laundry and smelled just as pleasant. Westmiller looked back, taking in the sight and shaking his head.
He pulled on the door to the shelter and found it locked. He had never been late for a meeting before and hadn’t realized that they locked the doors to the shelter at 5:30 sharp. There was a small doorbell situated near the door and he reached out to ring it. After a few moments, he stepped closer to the door and peered inside. He couldn’t see anything but an empty reception desk. He pulled his cell phone from his pocket and dialed the number for the office. At the same time, he heard the phone on the desk inside begin to ring.
“Damn it!” he said, flipping his phone shut. He turned to walk back to his car and noticed that the homeless man had disappeared. “Good riddance,” he murmured to himself as he walked back down the pathway. It was starting to get dark and he wanted to get out of here. There was no sign of anyone hanging around, but he knew that if something happened out here, no one would know until the board meeting ended. The board met in the basement of the building and there was no way they could see or hear what went on outside from where they were. He looked over his shoulder again as he pulled his car keys from his pocket. When he looked back around, he was face to face with Mr. Chandler, the shelter director.
“Whoa, there,” he said, “You scared the life out of me.”
“Sorry about that,” Mr. Chandler said, “I had to run out for a minute. I’m guessing you’re here for the meeting?”
“Yes, actually, I was running late and couldn’t get in,” he said.
“No problem, let’s get in there,” Chandler said smiling.
The meeting went on for what seemed like hours, though it was really only about forty-five minutes. They discussed budget and when it came time for the treasurer’s report, Westmiller gave them the information he had put together and answered questions from the various members. He had gotten so good at fielding their questions; he didn’t even have to think about his responses anymore. Towards the end of the meeting, someone piped up and asked, “Whatever happened with that bequest from Mr. Thompson’s estate, the doctor who just passed away.”
Westmiller shifted in his seat, this was the money he had been putting aside for his “special project.” He shuffled through his reports and pretended to be looking for the deposit information, though he knew it wasn’t there.
“Well, there’s been some kind of glitch with the funds and the estate is claiming that Mr. Thompson only had us down to receive $100,000 and not the $250,000 we were expecting. The old man at the end of the table, Mr. Swanson stood up abruptly and smacked his hand down on the table. “That’s ridiculous! We have been counting on that money and he had said for years that he would make sure that we received $250,000!”
Taken aback by the man’s attitude, Westmiller cleared his throat and said, “Well, I’m not sure what happened, but it appears that the estate wasn’t as large as what Thompson had originally thought.”
“But he had the funds set aside for us for years,” Mrs. Terhune, the local librarian said. “I believe his wife said that it was actually written into his will this way.”
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Westmiller said, “I spoke with the attorney for the estate the other day and he said that there were more expenses than expected with Thompson’s medical bills and that he was splitting the remaining monies with three charities here in town.”
“That’s preposterous!” said Swanson. “I don’t believe it! How are we supposed to keep operations going if we don’t get the funds we’re promised?”
“I understand you’re upset, but this is really beyond our control,” Westmiller replied, “We’ll simply have to make do with what we have. We’re lucky to receive anything, you know.”
The group grew silent at this and then started nodding their heads in agreement. They were lucky to get any funds from private citizens and they all knew this. The meeting adjourned a few moments later and the group made their way outside. As the crowd dispersed, Westmiller got into his car and drove off toward his house. He received a call on his cell phone as he was pulling out of the shelter lot.
“Hello,” he said.
“Westmiller, you don’t know who you’re dealing with,” a voice said. It was low and gravelly, but he couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman.
“Who is this?” he demanded.
“Someone who knows what’s going on,” the voice said. “You’d better make things right or you’ll be sorry.”
“Who is this?” he demanded again. It was too late, the person had hung up and all he was left with was a dial tone.
“This is ridiculous,” he said to himself. He flipped the phone closed and slipped it back into his coat pocket. He drove the rest of the way home, thinking about the call. He was a little worried, but figured it was just some crank trying to throw him off balance. He thought for a moment and then called his friend, Estate Attorney, Art Coughley. The phone rang a couple of times and then Art picked up.
“Art,” he said, “Thorn, here. Hey, you wouldn’t have made that transfer yet, would you?”
“Hey, Thorn, how’s it going?” he said, “No, actually, there’s a bit of a problem with it. We should get together and talk.”
He checked his watch and said, “Well, I’m not quite home yet, I could swing by if you’re not busy.”
“Yeah, sure, go ahead, I was just working on some papers,” he said, “I could use a break.”
They hung up and Westmiller headed toward Coughley’s house. He stopped at a drive-thru on the way to pick up a sandwich. He hadn’t eaten since lunch and was starving. About twenty-five minutes later, he was pulling through a set of wrought-iron gates and up to the beautiful two-story house where Coughley lived alone. He walked up and knocked on the door, expecting to hear footsteps on the marble tiled floors. He heard nothing. He tried the door and found it unlocked. As he walked inside, he turned to go into the den where Art was normally working.
“Art,” he called. “Are you here?”
He walked into the den and when the desk came into view, he saw that there was blood all over the place. “Art!” he called. Then he realized that Art was not going to answer. Art was lying on the floor, behind the desk with a knife sticking out of his chest. Westmiller gasped and started to reach for the telephone on the desk. He stopped himself as he caught sight of the computer screen. The account for Mr. Thompson was up and it was open to the transfers screen. Not knowing much about the way this particular software worked, Westmiller thought for a moment. It couldn’t hurt to make a couple of adjustments.
Within seconds, he had transferred the money into his accounts and wiped the keyboard and mouse clean of his fingerprints. He stood up and reached for the phone to call the police. As he dialed 9-1-1, he heard footsteps in the hallway. He turned just in time to see the gun as it fired three shots into him. His lifeless body fell in a heap, landing on top of Coughley. The two men lay in a bleeding heap behind the desk as the phone receiver dangled uselessly over them.
What happened? Who pulled the trigger? Who killed Art? Why? Can you guess? I’ll post the rest of the story on Friday, January 18th at 6 p.m. EST! Make sure to send in your guess for your chance to win a $10 gift card and be entered into the Grand Prize Drawing!