A Short Mystery
by Elena Santangelo

One minute I was weaving my Harley in and out of rush hour traffic, the next I was floating up around the high tension wires, looking down on what was left of my health club physique. All that power-lifting for nothing.
    I don't know what the guy with the backhoe was so upset about. My bike took the worst of the damage. The backpack I used to tote my office clothes was totaled, with a big, ragged hole next to the zipper. My power tie had been blown clear across the median, to settle as a shroud over a day-old dead squirrel in the eastbound lanes.
    I vaguely recalled the explosion–not the noise, but the force of it, which shoved me forward into my handlebars as I was about to swerve around road construction on my exit ramp. And, all of a sudden, that's when I realized–someone had planted a bomb in my pack. Someone murdered me.
    Helen was a possibility. She'd been pretty p.o.'d earlier in the day when I told her she couldn't use any more work hours to take her kid to the doctor. I mean, whose fault was it her kid's got diabetes? Mine? Whose fault was it she left her husband to be a single mom? Helen just couldn't get it into her head that all her unpaid overtime doesn't make up for it. If I let her waltz in at nine-thirty once a week, Dale and Leon would want to do the same.
    Leon probably still had a bug up his butt over the Luau Cola Project. I'd added a few words to the bottom margin: "Submitted by Process Improvement, Team Leader: Chuck Slade." You've got to put something like that or top management doesn't know who to get back to. Leon accused me of stealing credit for his work. He's been all bent out of shape since they hired me instead of promoting him. Could I help it if the veep wanted someone with a management degree–and Sixers season tickets?
    Dale's the one person I knew couldn't have done it. She worshiped the ground I walked on. I could tell day one when I introduced myself and she said, "Nice to meet you"--the double meaning rang out loud and clear. She played it careful, though, always coyly averting her eyes in team meetings, always hiding her best assets under those frumpy business suits. She even acted shocked every time I snuck up behind her at the copier. But you should have seen her eyes widen when I scheduled her for an early meeting the next morning, before the rest of the team was due in. Poor kid. I pictured her coming in, full of anticipation, only to find out I'm dead. I could hear her little heart breaking right in two.
    I'm not sure how this death thing works exactly, but just as I was thinking it, suddenly I was there, in my office. And like my thoughts, it was the next morning. Dale was sitting in one of my visitor's chairs, all right, with Helen in the other and Leon, of course, behind my desk. A policeman leaned his derriere against my credenza as he scribbled Helen's confession in his notebook.
    "It's all my fault," she stammered. Tears, the whole bit. "Yesterday was Chuck's birthday. I drove out to the Baskin-Robbins at lunchtime to get an ice cream cake. There was some left over and he wanted to take it home..."
    Just like Helen to make it sound like her idea. The last thing she'd wanted was to give up her lunch hour. She suggested that I pick up my own cake, or at least settle for the standard dry cake with gag-me-sweet icing sold at the supermarket across the road. Can you imagine?
    Leon didn't let her finish. "No, I'm definitely to blame. I told him where in the carbonation room to get the dry ice. I never even questioned what he wanted it for."
    Again, my idea. The day had turned hot and I live more than an hour away. The leftover cake wouldn't have made it out of the parking lot without ice. Regular ice would have melted before I was halfway home. The company uses dry ice to carbonate its soft drinks so I figured I'd borrow a little chunk. It's not like they'd miss it.
    Dale was, understandably, in shock. "Chuck asked if he could borrow my two Tupperware lunch containers. He wanted to put ice cream cake in one and ice in the other. I didn't realize he meant dry ice. I guess I--killed him."
    She probably thought I was so distracted by her generosity that I drove off the road.
    The policeman looked puzzled. "Let me get this straight. You're all in charge of refining your company's processes, one of which uses dry ice. Yet your team leader didn't know that putting it in a sealed container, then exposing it to heat, could make it explode?"
    "Chuck didn't do the actual work. He was a manager, not an engineer." Leon made it sound like I had leprosy.
    The cop snapped his notebook shut. "We'll call it a freak accident."
    So they got away with it, making it look like I'd killed myself when it was clearly Helen's and Leon's and even Dale's fault, for not anticipating the problem in the first place.
    You say I'll fit right in with your organization? I hope so, sir. But is it always this warm?

The End

Copyright 1999, Elena Santangelo

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