Chapter no 24 – NATALIE

The Coworker

AS SOON AS Detective Santoro leaves, I scour the internet for information about Dawn.

It’s breaking news. Only a couple of stories have popped up, and those have minimal information. She was discovered in a patch of woods in Cohasset—another town about a twenty-minute drive down the South Shore

—partially buried in the dirt. There’s little other information available, although I bet more will surface as the day goes on.

I consider calling out sick from work, but I finally decide it’s better to go in. After all, people at work might have more information than I do. And the truth is, I want some answers.

How could that detective think I was bullying Dawn? How could anyone think that? I’m not that kind of person. I was nice to her. I even tried to be her friend, for what it was worth.

But obviously, I must’ve done something to make people think I was bullying her. Multiple people told him that. And Dawn herself wrote about it in a bunch of emails to a friend. Which has made me a suspect in her murder.

I can’t believe she thought that about me. And I’d really like to know who else said that about me. And who was this friend? I’m shocked to

discover Dawn had a friend she felt close enough with to be telling them her intimate secrets.

Apparently though, I wasn’t the worst of her problems. Someone else hated her. Someone else hated her enough to beat her to death with a blunt object.

What if it was the alleged friend? The one she was emailing about me. God knows, Dawn had a tendency to get on people’s nerves. Maybe her friend couldn’t take it anymore and decided to…

God, I can’t stop thinking about what someone did to her.

When I get to the office, I head straight to my cubicle. I need to stop thinking about this and lose myself in my work. What happened to Dawn is horrible, but it isn’t my fault. And thanks to my wonderful boyfriend, who from now on I will be completely exclusive with, I have an alibi. So Detective Santoro can think whatever he wants—I’m untouchable.

Except when I get to my cubicle, I stop short.

Two days ago, I came to work and there was a turtle figurine on my desk. Yesterday, I threw it in the garbage. I remember doing it. I didn’t want to look at that thing ever again.

Yet now it’s somehow back on my desk.

I am as terrified as anyone could possibly be of a turtle figurine that’s three inches long. I threw that damn thing in the garbage, and yet somehow, against all reason, it’s back. I can’t stop staring at it, with its black glassy eyes and shiny green shell.

What. The. Hell.

Okay, I need to calm down. Maybe the janitors did it. Maybe they saw the turtle in my garbage when they were emptying it and assumed it had fallen in there by mistake. And they thought they were saving it for me.

It’s possible.

Anyway, I am getting rid of this thing once and for all. There aren’t going to be any janitor mishaps this time.

I snatch the turtle from my desk. I clutch it in my right hand as the little arms and legs dig into my palm. And I march over to the break room, where I toss it directly in the communal trash. And by “toss,” I mean that I hurl it in there with all my might, so that it makes a loud thump as it hits the bottom of the trash barrel. By lunchtime, that turtle will be buried in garbage.

I’ll never see it again.

I’m nearly back to my cubicle when the phone on my desk starts ringing. Usually, I screen calls. But I’m off my game right now, so I snatch up the phone without thinking. A deep voice booms in my ear: “Is this Natalie Farrell?”

“Yes…” I hate being on the phone without knowing who I’m speaking to when I start the call. The caller ID shows a blocked number. My heart sinks—not again. “Who is this?”

“It’s Dave Fulton. From the Vitamin Hut.”

“Oh, right.” I let out a sigh of relief. I made a sale to Fulton about a month ago. He was a little reluctant to sample our products in his small store, but after we had a nice long lunch together, I managed to change his mind and he purchased five boxes’ worth. “How can I help you, Mr. Fulton?”

“Look, Natalie.” His voice has a rough edge. Like the detective, his Boston accent is heavy. “Nobody is buying Collahealth. Nobody wants it. And the few sales I made, they returned it. They said it doesn’t work. Except for one woman, who said it gave her some weird side effects like her feet started tingling.”

“Yes, but it takes two to three months to see a response,” I explain. “Did you tell them that?”

“You said two to three weeks.”

“No, two to three months. That’s how long it takes to build up the collagen levels.”

“Whatever,” he grumbles. “The point is, I can’t move this crap. And I can’t deal with people coming in complaining about side effects.”

“There are no side effects. Studies have shown that Collahealth is perfectly safe.”

“That’s not the point. I want a refund. I’ve got three boxes I haven’t even opened yet.”

“I’m so sorry, Mr. Fulton. Vixed does not allow refunds.”

There’s a long silence on the other line. “What the hell are you talking about, Natalie? You told me I could get a refund if the product didn’t sell.”

“You must have misunderstood,” I say in my most apologetic voice. “Vixed Products have a limited shelf life, and we couldn’t possibly allow refunds.”

“Are you serious? This shit is expensive. You’re saying I’m stuck with two boxes of your crap that I can’t sell?”

Fulton’s voice is getting louder. I imagine the veins bulging out on his thick neck, his eyes popping in their sockets.

“I’m so sorry,” I say. God, it’s too early for this. “It’s just that this is the company policy. I don’t make the rules. They do. If it were up to me, I would give you a refund.”

“But you told me I could get a refund! That’s the whole reason I bought them!”

“I… I don’t know what to say…. I’m very sorry.”

Fulton is breathing hard on the other line. Now I imagine smoke coming out of his hairy ears. “I want to talk to your manager.”

“Of course,” I say. “Just hold on one moment.”

I press the hold button and put down the phone. I look down at my nails

—there’s an uneven edge on my left index finger. I dig around in my purse until I locate my nail file. I file down the uneven edge. I blow off the dust from my fingernail. Fixing my nails always makes me feel better.

I push my newly filed nail against the hold button and pick up the phone. “Mr. Fulton?”


“I’m so sorry.” I sigh. “I just checked with my manager, and he’s on another call, but he told me to let you know that we can’t make any exceptions to our policy. I’m afraid we can’t offer you a refund.”

Again, there’s silence on the other line. “You lied to me.” “Excuse me?”

“You lied to me,” he spits out. “You told me I could get a refund on your crappy product, and that’s the only reason I bought it. And also because you stuck your tits in my face.”

“Mr. Fulton—”

“You’re a lying bitch,” he hisses. “And I hope your piece of shit company goes out of business.”

With those words, there’s a loud click on the other line. Dave Fulton has hung up on me.

I stare at the dead line in my hand, slightly shaken by the whole encounter. But seriously, this is a business. And you don’t get to be the company’s top salesperson by handing out refunds.

Ordinarily, I would’ve shrugged off a call like this. Most people like our products, but there are always going to be some people who don’t. And it’s

not like I care about some dinky little store tucked away in Cambridge. He’ll go out of business before we do.

But today, his words leave me shaken.

You’re a lying bitch.

That is not true. I told him our refund policy. It’s not my fault that he was too distracted by my breasts to listen carefully. I’m not a lying bitch. I’m doing what I have to do to sell our product. I’m doing my job.

It’s not my fault.

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