Mazur pulled out his badge and introduced them. “We’d like to see Lena Nelson.”
“She’s on the phone.”
“Tell her we want to talk to her about the murder of your boss. Now.”
The man hesitated, then moved back toward an office with glass walls and vertical blinds that had been drawn shut.
“They’ve all got to be wondering if they’re going to keep their jobs,” Kate said.
“After what you told me about their financials, they would have been worried regardless. All this is a house of cards.”
The click of heels had them both looking up to a tall, dark-haired Hispanic woman. She wore a red tailored suit that hugged her full curves, and polished black high heels.
She extended a manicured hand to Mazur. “I’m Lena Nelson.”
Each showed their badges, which she inspected before saying, “Please come into my office.” The trail of expensive perfume wafted around her as she led them to an office bearing the nameplate Gloria Sanchez. She motioned for them to have a seat at a small round table. She sat across from them. “As you can imagine, we’re all in a state of shock. I heard late yesterday when Mr. Sanchez called me. It really hit me this morning when I came into the office and she wasn’t here. She’s always here.”
“You are working in Mrs. Sanchez’s office?” Kate asked.
“I tried to work from my own but spent the morning running up and down the hallway to check her files. Finally, I gave up an hour ago and started working from here. We’ve been inundated with calls from clients, even the media.”
“Media?” Kate asked.
Ms. Nelson glanced down at a pink message slip. “Mr. North. I haven’t spoken to him yet.” She shook her head. “This is so tragic. And it’s happened at such a terrible time.”
North. It hadn’t taken him long to dig into this story. “Why is the timing bad?” Kate asked.
“Well, the timing would never have been great. Gloria was the heart and soul of the business. But she had just negotiated a bank loan and was supposed to sign the papers tomorrow. But the papers aren’t signed so now Martin is going to have to figure out what to do.”
“The dealership needed a loan?” Mazur asked.
They’d been partnered less than a day and a half, but Kate already had a sense of his interview style. He was your good buddy and confidant. He had an easygoing style that masked a laser focus. She could alter her interview style based on the circumstance, but easygoing was not natural. Mazur had it in spades.
“It’s more of a cash-flow issue,” Lena said. “We have to pay out quite a bit to keep the dealership open. We have a steady stream of good clients, but there’s often a lag time between purchase and payment. Sometimes the load is too much to carry until the cash starts flowing, so we need a little help from the bank. Gloria always saw to it that the loans were paid off within a year. She understood debt but didn’t like it.”
“What can you tell me about Gloria’s background?” Kate asked.
“Gloria met Mr. Sanchez when she was twenty and he was thirty-five. He and his first wife ran a small garage and a used-car dealership. The wife did the bookkeeping. But it wasn’t until he married Gloria that the business grew. They were a good match, they worked hard, and”—she held out her hands—“they have a lot to show for it.”
“What was she like to work for?” Kate asked.
“Driven and sometimes difficult to keep up with. She was the first in and the last out. But she was fair, and she rewarded the successful and the loyal. Loyalty was very important to her.”
“And for those who weren’t successful?” Mazur asked.
“She fired them. It wasn’t personal, but she needed her sales people productive. If they didn’t deliver, they were gone.”
“And if they were disloyal?” Kate asked.
“She went out of her way to ruin them.” She shook her head. “I don’t mean to speak poorly of the dead. I was twenty-six and a single mother when she took a chance on me. When I came in for the job interview, I thought I was dressed up, but now when I look back I could cringe. I didn’t have a clue. But she must have seen something, so she gave me a job in the back. I worked my way up to sales.”
“How long have you been here?” Mazur asked.
“Was there anyone who resented being fired?” Kate asked.