Chapter 10: Another Day at the Office
“I’m Detective Thomas, this is Detective Griffin.”
“Have a seat.”
The detectives didn’t arrive until after lunch. They took two chairs on one side of the table, placed a digital recorder in plain sight right in the middle of the table and with that, the break room was transformed into a makeshift interview room.
The floor manager, Teresa, had given the detectives a list of all the employees’ names, and one by one, Detective Griffin read back through the list, sending Teresa quietly, with all eyes upon her, to make her rounds through the list from one cubicle to the next, saying, “The detectives would like to speak with you now.”
Her’s was only the third name called, but Susan felt a strange sense of exhilaration in the moment, a sense of exhilaration in the relief that she was being called into the interview as nothing more than one of thirty-something interviews the detectives had to slog through for the day, and that there was no more suspicion on her than any of her other co-workers in the building.
“How well did you know James?” Detective Thomas asked.
“Not too well.”
“When you think of James, give me a sense of what kind of guy he was – what’s the first thing that pops into mind?”
“Well . . . it was kind of hard to get to know the guy because he wasn’t really into getting to know anyone else. He seemed like a nice enough guy, but . . . ”
“The strangest thing about all of this is that I actually got a phone call from him, last night, the first time I’d ever talked to him outside of work and he called me, totally unexpected, and he was like, completely . . . psycho.”
Both detectives drew themselves up a bit more alert and rigid in their seats. She’d never been fishing, but she imagined this is what it felt like to have that first tug on the line. Now just don’t blow it, easy does it, she thought to herself.
“Go on,” Detective Thomas said.
“I couldn’t believe it when they told us that James had died this morning, because last night he called me and now looking back on it, I guess it was a cry for help, but I just couldn’t imagine . . . ” she paused, half of her truly distraught, half of her milking it for dramatic effect.
“Tell us about the phone call. Tell us every word you remember being spoken.”
“He was like, completely out of his mind. I didn’t recognize the incoming number, but the first thing he said was, ‘Susan, this is Jimmy,’ and I’m like, ‘Jimmy who?’ and he told me it was Jimmy from work and I remember him saying, ‘They’re on to me.’”
“They’re on to me?”
“Yeah, and he started going off on the craziest shit . . . sorry,” she apologized sincerely, as if she had just been called into the principal’s office instead of being interviewed by two hard-nosed detectives from the Costa Mesa PD. “He started going off on the craziest stuff about how the government was on to him, how they had these satellites and they were using laser beams and mind control and . . . ”
The watchful eyes of the detectives became more intense. If she had to be honest, she would have admitted it was kind of a rush, spinning this tale and reeling them in, the detectives now hanging on every word of it.
” . . . and he was just completely nuts. It just sounded so crazy that I was actually feeling sorry for him. I just wish I could have known! If only I could have realized that maybe it was a cry for help, I would have asked if he wanted me to come over and see him instead of hanging up on him.”
“So you ended up hanging up on him?” Detective Griffin asked more matter-of-fact than in an accusatory tone.
This wasn’t exactly the way she had crafted it in her head, the last part she had just blurted out without thinking, but she had to stick with it. “I know, I feel horrible about it, there’s just no way I could have known.” This is where Susan made her play for the Oscar for best performance, she had worked up her emotions almost but not quite all the way to the point of tears, sobbing, but her eyes stayed dry.
The remainder of the interviews were pretty routine for the detectives. After Susan White’s revelation of the paranoid and psychotic phone call, Detective Griffin worked into each interview a single question of whether the interviewee had ever suspected James of any drug use, the general consensus being he didn’t seem at all like the kind of guy to be doing drugs.
The only other two things of note were that the victim didn’t seem to have anyone at work who could be classified as a friend and that one other co-worker, a guy named John Scholnick, reported a phone call similar to the one Ms. White had reported.
As they were driving back to the station, Griffin said to Thomas, “If there’s one thing that gets my attention in an interview,” shifting his eyes from the road to his partner, “it’s someone crying with dry eyes.”
“You mean that Susan Resnick girl?”
“She seemed sincere. It doesn’t sound like the guy was really a good friend to anyone. Maybe she felt guilty that she should be feeling a little something more than she really felt.”