Seconds after Frederick Himmler stepped through the doorway the room was his. Ordinarily that role would have fallen to Lt. Carl Callahan, chief investigator for Sheriff Oglethorpe, as it did now when Callahan entered the office of the high school's acting principal.
An imposing man in his own right, an impression struck at first by the starched white shirt with gold bars on the collar wings, the brown uniform trousers with wide black stripe down the seams of each leg, the rugged, fit build and strongly confident face, Callahan's entrance commanded everyone's immediate attention.
The man wearing a tan windbreaker, who entered slightly behind him, was nearly invisible until Callahan stepped to one side and introduced him. Frederick Himmler, he said, was an insurance adjuster assisting the Sheriff's Office in its investigation of the reenactment shooting and “anything that might be related to it, such as this break-in.”
Despite Callahan's having prepped Blow to the phenomenon of Frederick Himmler it was still the man's name alone that challenged his sensibility, sending a discordant jolt through his nervous system. A quick scan of the room told him it had affected the others similarly. Himmler took a step forward then, and it was if he'd moved into a subtle spotlight intended only for him. After a polite introduction he cut straight to the heart.
“As a Christian,” he started, his voice a relaxed or carefully controlled tenor, “I most sincerely hope this tragic occurrence, which brought about the death of your principal, Mr. Gunther, was an unfortunate accident. “However...” His head rotated slowly now, sharp blue eyes finding and resting momentarily on the eyes of each person in the room. “My employer wishes to be certain, beyond any reasonable doubt, of course, that Mr. Gunther's horrifying death was in fact truly accidental and not brought about by a deliberate act of malice that is identified in our laws, as we know, by that most unholy of words...” He paused and rotated his head until his eyes found their target, then drove them into Andrew Salzwedel's like nails in a coffin. “Murder.”
Blow watched his client's face and was impressed that Salzwedel gave no indication of being rattled by Himmler's obvious tactic. Startled, maybe, as anyone might, head jerking back slightly and eyes widening, but the teacher remained silent, breathing steadily, and his gaze never wavered from Himmler's. Doubts might have crept into Blow's head had Salzwedel shown no reaction at all.
Without changing his demeanor, Himmler went on to explain that his company had insured the reenactment organization in the wake of several shootings found to be accidental at events such as the one in Leicester County. The coverage was intended to provide damages to victims of such shootings, or their survivors in the case of fatalities, without the need for the parties to become involved in costly lawsuits. He repeated his emphasis on the accidental nature of any liability. Any injury found under the law to have been deliberate would not be covered.
“In other words, carelessness or even recklessness wouldn't let you off the hook?” Blow asked. Himmler turned to him. The composition of his face had not changed to indicate an understandable reaction to the question, and yet a sense of alert amusement seemed to emanate from the same features that had exuded danger a moment earlier. Blow wondered if it was something about the eyes, maybe a minute orchestration of the fine muscles around the sockets in concert with a slight tic at a corner of his compressed lips.
It could also be, he decided later after ruminating on the phenomenon while driving to Good Fortune to meet Mary Lloyd for lunch, that Himmler's long face was constructed naturally, with interesting features that included a sensitive mouth, prominent cheekbones and jaw, to reflect visually whatever reaction his words and tone conveyed to the listener. Like with some film actors.
“You make a good point, Counselor,” he said. Then, “Although I'm not sure 'Off the hook' is quite the appropriate characterization of our position here. The policy Mercer's Regiment has with us is quite specific in what it covers, and, of course, this is reflected in the premiums the regiment pays for the coverage. Colonial Liability does not even offer coverage for murder, and, as we are in no way a law enforcement agency, we have no jurisdiction in such matters. Any legal action we might bring would be strictly limited to civil litigation.”
Blow persisted, “And yet, here you are assisting a law enforcement agency and, if I understand you correctly, attempting to eliminate accident as the cause of death.”
“I'm not arguing with you, Mr. Stone. What you say is accurate, if it does seem somewhat suggestive of an ulterior motive on our part. I assure you, and everyone here, and everyone who reads Ms. Lloyd's report in the Leicester Messenger...” He nodded at Mary and smiled. “Our only interest in this matter is in arriving at the truth, whatever it might be. As I said before, as a Christian I truly hope what happened was in fact an accident. And I emphasize now what I'd hoped was implicit earlier, we want to find out precisely what happened even if it means Colonial Liability must ultimately make good on it policy and pay whatever we are obligated to pay to Mr. Gunther's bereaved family.”
He shifted then, his transition abrupt but somehow not abrasive. “If I might then, I would like to ask a couple of questions and then I shall not take any more of your valuable time, which I much appreciate your having given me.”
“Who all has keys to the building?” He directed his question to John Humphreys.
“All building staff, including teachers”
“Thank you, Mr. Humphreys. Was there any evidence of forced entry to the building?”
“No, sir. We've checked all the doors.”
“Hmmmmm...” Himmler looked down, stroking his chin, then back to Humphreys. “How about the rooms? Who has keys?”
“Each teacher has a key to his her or classroom. Some of the keys work in more than one door. The principal and three assistant principals and their secretaries are the only ones with keys to the principals' offices.”
“I see. Lt. Callahan, do you know if the doors—the one to Mr. Gunther's office and the one to Mr. Salzwedel's classroom—have been dusted for fingerprints?”
Callahan looked at Calvin West, the first investigator on the scene. Young man, crew cut, energetic, intelligent eyes. “No, sir, Lieutenant. My main concern was to secure the rooms until you got here.”
Callahan betrayed no discomfort with West's explanation. “Good,” he said. “The evidence crew is on its way.” To the room generally, “I'll ask you all not to touch the two doors until they've been dusted. Then we will check the rooms to see if we can learn why someone broke into them.”
He left the office, and Blow followed him out the main office area into the hallway. Callahan looked back a couple of times, apparently reluctant to leave Himmler alone with the others. Then he said, “West is in there. He knows one of us needs to be present whenever Himmler interviews anybody. He's a good man. Young, but smart. Good cop.”
“Evidence team's on the way, huh?” Blow said it straight-faced, but couldn't keep the grin down afterward.
Callahan sighed. “They will be.” He flipped his cellphone open and punched in a call.