Her Work Was Everything

her work was everything

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drop-cap-zachary had heard about the death of Lauren Barclay in the news before he was contacted by Barbara Lee. It seemed like such a tragic waste. A promising young investment banker, she had been tragically killed in a slip-and-fall accident in her home. It wasn’t particularly newsworthy, except for the fact that she had been an attractive, brilliant young woman, and that played well in the press on a slow news day. There were a lot of quotes from family and friends about how awful it was and what a wonderful person she had been. There would be a lot of mourners at her funeral.

But he hadn’t really given it anything more than a passing thought. He had that little twinge of regret that he got when he read about a tragic death, but since he hadn’t known her and there didn’t seem to be anything unusual about her death, he had just given himself a second to feel bad for her and her family, and then moved on with his day.

Barbara Lee had told him that she wanted to meet about the death of a friend, but it wasn’t until they sat down together for coffee that Zachary found out the friend was Lauren Barclay.

“I just can’t believe it.” Barbara sniffled and wiped at the corner of her eye. “She was so brilliant, so full of life, I can’t believe she’s gone. It just isn’t fair. She was so young!”

Zachary nodded. “I read a little bit about it… there wasn’t any hint in the news that there was foul play, though. They said it was an accident. She slipped in the tub?”

“I can’t believe that. You don’t think that’s really what happened, do you?”

He looked into her bloodshot eyes. She was probably an attractive woman when she wasn’t a complete mess. Her eyes were red, her face was blotchy; it looked like her hair had been put up into a partial bun at some point, but she had wisps of hair going in every direction and she might have slept on it once or twice since she had put it up. She smelled of sweat.

“I don’t know anything about it, so I wouldn’t venture a guess,” he said. “Why don’t you tell me what you know about it? Why don’t you think she slipped?”

Barbara rummaged in her handbag for a tissue and wiped her red nose. “I didn’t even know she was home. She worked all hours, she was always at the office. I hadn’t seen her for days. Then I got home… it was the middle of the day, and I could tell that she’d been there. I called out to her, but she didn’t answer. I figured she probably came home to change and then had left again. Or maybe she’d fallen into bed and was catching a few winks before she had to go back. But she wasn’t usually home during the day, so I didn’t expect… to find her…”

Zachary thought he should touch her arm or make some other comforting gesture, but he wouldn’t want it to be taken the wrong way. She might not think he was professional and decide not to hire him.

“I’m so sorry… you were the one who found her?”

Barbara nodded, giving another sob. A bubble of snot blew out her nose and she wiped it away. If she had been the one to find her friend’s body, it was no wonder she was such a mess. He couldn’t imagine what that would have been like for her.

“Take your time,” he told her. “You don’t need to rush into this.”

“I just want… to get it all out. Everybody wants to know, but nobody wants to hear about it. They all think that they want to hear the details, but… it isn’t like watching a murder mystery on TV. It’s something that… it’s so unreal. I didn’t know what to do. It was such a shock finding her, I felt like she was a mannequin or it was a prank, I just didn’t want to believe it. I couldn’t touch her. I called 9-1-1. And then… the police came, and the paramedics, and they all wanted me to tell them about finding her. I had to keep repeating it over and over again.”

She stopped talking to wipe and blow again. Her nose was red and raw.

“But they didn’t think there was any foul play?” Zachary prompted.

“No. But they didn’t ask if there was anyone who wanted her dead or if she had a boyfriend that was violent or she had just broken up with, or anything like that. Not like on a cop show or in a mystery book. They just asked about… when I’d been home last, what time I had found her, when she would have gotten home. The paramedics asked if she had a history of epilepsy or fainting spells. Just… like it was an accident.”

Zachary nodded. He sipped his coffee, which was still a bit too hot, but he wanted to give her time to think and to calm down a little. He would get more out of her if she were relaxed and composed than if she got all wound up and couldn’t think straight.

“So what was the timing? You said she wasn’t usually home during the day?”

“No. She worked really long hours. They were supposed to be at the office before their boss got in, so like six-thirty or seven at the latest. And she would work past dark. She would come home late, sleep for a few hours, and then be back at the office before I even had breakfast. Her hours were crazy.”

“How long could she keep up like that? She must have had to take breaks on the weekend at least. Did she get a day off? Sunday?”

“She worked every day. It wasn’t a rule that they had to work on weekends, but everybody did. It was so competitive. If the other interns were there on the weekend, then Lauren had to be there on the weekend. Otherwise, people would think that she wasn’t as dedicated, and when her internship was up, they would just say goodbye and she’d have to find something else. No other investment banking firm was going to take her if she failed her internship there. She’d be… damaged goods. She’d have to find a job in something else, and she really wanted to be in finance. She really did.”

“Why was it so cutthroat? Is that normal?”

“For investment banking, I guess it is. They’re all like that. And Chase Gold is just a small firm, so if she couldn’t make it there, there’s no way that some Wall Street or Japanese company would look at her. She had to get a permanent position with Chase and work there for three years before she could go on to look for something else. No one would look at her otherwise.”

Zachary shook his head. “Why would anyone want to work like that?”

Barbara pushed tendrils of hair away from her face, making a half-hearted attempt to push them back into the bun. “Lots of professions are like that, not just finance. Look at doctors and nurses. They’re the same way. Long-distance trucking. Cab drivers.”

“They all have rules now about not being able to work more than a certain number of hours in a row to prevent people from falling asleep at the wheel or cutting off the wrong leg.”

“I guess. But this isn’t that kind of place. I don’t think there are any rules about not being able to work that long. She always worked for hours and hours. She slept at the office on the floor sometimes. Or didn’t sleep at all for two or three days. You can’t even imagine how bad it was.”

Zachary thought about that. He pulled out his notepad and jotted down a few notes to himself. Avenues to pursue. Things not to forget. Barbara’s eyes tracked his pencil as he scratched out the lines.

“You look like you’ve never held a pen before,” she commented.

Zachary’s cheeks heated. He looked down at his awkward grip on his pencil. Many teachers had tried to correct it during school. He’d moved among a lot of different schools, classrooms, and institutions, and the first thing they always tried to do was correct his grip.

“I have dysgraphia,” he said. “That’s the only way I can write. I know it looks bad to you, but it’s the only thing that feels right to me. It’s the only way I can see what I’m doing and form the letters.”

She shook her head and didn’t make any comment on his chicken scratch. He could write neatly. He did when he was filling out forms or writing something down for someone else. But it took two or three times as long if he wanted to make it tidy. When he was writing for himself, he could scrawl it however he wanted to. He could still read it. Usually. Sometimes. He could normally figure out what he had meant, even if he couldn’t read every word.

“Lauren had beautiful handwriting,” Barbara said, tears starting to make their way down her cheeks. “She should have been a schoolteacher, it looked like something out of a handwriting textbook. But…” she sniffled, “of course, teachers don’t make anything, and Lauren wanted to make a lot of money. A lot of money.”

I hope you enjoyed this sample of

He Was Not There

By P.D. Workman

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