An Excerpt from Interview with a Dead Editor

I swallowed the lump in my throat. It wasn’t my first time at a murder scene, but I’d always been there as an observer, not as a participant. Not that I had actually participated in this murder, but I had found the body, which gave me a role in this little drama. And the victim was someone I’d talked to, even if I didn’t know him well. All that made this very different from any other murder I’d covered.

Murder was definitely not what I’d expected from this pleasant little town. I supposed it proved my point that there was likely something ugly behind these beautifully restored facades. No real town could be as perfect as those in the TV movies.

A few minutes later, another police vehicle arrived, and a woman wearing a jacket with “SMPD” printed on it got out, carrying a case. Did a town this size have a crime scene team?

After the woman went inside, the first cop came out and approached me. The name plate on his chest said “W. Mosby,” and he wore a lieutenant’s bar on his collar. He was at least an inch over six feet and loomed over me, but he had a lanky build, so he wasn’t quite as intimidating as someone that tall could have been. He was more of a string bean than a brick wall. His hair was a dark auburn that I imagined had been bright red when he was younger, and that, along with a scattering of freckles on his nose, also took away from the intimidation factor. He fished a notebook out of his breast pocket and clicked his pen, staring at me all the while. I stared back at him, looking him directly in the eyes. That turned out to be disconcerting because I couldn’t quite tell what color his eyes were. They were dark, so it was hard to see the color, but they definitely weren’t brown or black. For a moment, I thought they were blue, but then he turned his head slightly and they looked more green. He frowned and stared harder at me. With contact lenses that dried out easily, I was bound to lose any staring contest because I’d have to blink soon, but I didn’t want to give up until I absolutely had to.

When he glanced down at his notebook and jotted something, I gratefully blinked rapidly a few times. I couldn’t help but notice that there was no wedding ring on his left hand. It seemed there was at least one hunky single guy in town—or a married man who didn’t wear a ring, I reminded myself to keep my imagination from going into overdrive. “Okay, miss, I’ll need to get some information from you,” he said. “Name?”

“Alexa Lincoln. But I go by Lexie.” With a nervous laugh, I added, “Though I’m known in newsrooms as Lucky Lexie.” A split second after the words left my mouth, I regretted it. I was babbling. I never babbled. I sometimes blurted, but that was different. That was me saying what I was thinking at an inappropriate time. But this was coming out without me thinking about it. And now I was even babbling inside my head.

He arched an eyebrow. “Lucky?”

“This sort of thing happens to me all the time. Stumbling upon a crime scene, I mean. If it was a crime. I guess it could have been an accident.”

“That’s lucky?”

Oh, shut up, shut up, shut up, I told myself. But I’d already started, so now I had to explain. “For the victims, not so much. But I’m a reporter, so getting to the crime scene first means I get the scoop. Not now, though. I’m not here to cover this. Don’t worry, I’m not working on a story.”

He gave me some serious side-eye before asking for my contact info. I gave him my phone number and address, then he said, “Now, please tell me what happened this morning.”

“I had a ten-thirty interview with Paul Ogden for the job of reporter and assistant editor at the Gazette. Which I guess isn’t going to happen if that was Mr. Ogden. Was it Mr. Ogden?”

“We’re not releasing the victim’s identity until we can notify next of kin.”

“I’m not asking as a reporter. I didn’t have the interview, so I don’t have a reporting job. I’m asking as the person who doesn’t know if I’m going to have a job interview because I don’t know if the person who’s supposed to interview me is dead or if he’s somewhere wondering why I’m late.”

“You were telling me what happened,” he prompted, pointedly not answering my question.

“Yeah. Well, I showed up for my job interview and went inside the office. The bells rang when the door opened, but nobody responded. I called out and got no answer, then tried the door at the back. It was locked. I tried calling him, and the phone rang in the room—a cell phone, not the landline on the desk. So I went around the desk to look and that’s when I saw him.”

“Was he alive at that time?”

“I don’t know. I saw all the blood and knew it was bad, so I went outside and called for help.”

“Why did you go outside?”

That gave me pause. I really didn’t know. “Instinct, I guess? You step away to make a phone call. And I didn’t want to contaminate the crime scene any further. If it was a crime scene.”

“So you didn’t check to see if he was alive?”

“No. I thought it was best to call for help right away, and you were already here before I even got off the phone, so I didn’t get a chance to go back in and start first aid. I’ve taken a CPR class, and step one is always to call nine-one-one.”

He nodded. “Right.”

“He was dead, wasn’t he?”

Instead of answering, he said, “You didn’t notice the body right away?”

“It was maybe thirty seconds, so it’s not like I ate lunch in there without figuring it out. He was lying behind the desk, and I couldn’t see him from that angle until I moved forward.”

“You didn’t smell anything?”

“The blood was still wet. He hadn’t had time to decay.”

“There are other smells, like the blood.”

I pointed to my nose. “Sorry, mountain cedar and whatever else is blowing in. I might have noticed a week-old corpse, but not anything more subtle than that.”

“How well did you know Paul Ogden?”

I thought that confirmed the dead man’s identity, but wisely refrained from saying so. “I spoke to him once on the phone. He called to arrange the job interview. That was it.”

“He contacted you?”

“Yes, out of the blue. I’d never even heard of this town. But it was good timing because I just got laid off, along with half the newsroom.”

“How did he know about you?”

“I have no idea. Maybe he read some of my work. I’ve been writing for a major daily, and some of my pieces have been picked up by syndicates. The newspaper grapevine is pretty good. Every journalist in the state probably knew there was a big bloodletting yesterday. A metaphorical one, I mean. No one was actually murdered. Well, other than maybe here, and that was this morning.” I shook my head, trying to clear it. “Sorry, I’m babbling. I guess I’m a little shaken up.”

“I thought you said you stumbled upon crime scenes all the time.”

“I do, but I’m usually there as a reporter, so that gives me some detachment. With this one, I feel more like I’m involved. Not that I had anything to do with it. I just found the body and reported it. But it feels really different reporting it to the cops than it does when I’m writing an article.”