Here’s a thing I don’t get.
People who worry about living in a big city because of the crime don’t seem to realize that crime happens everywhere. Even in a small town in Pennsylvania like ours.
Sure, maybe the actual quantity of crimes is higher somewhere like New York, but try telling that to the victims of the Scranton Strangler. He had the unfortunate M.O. of breaking into innocent folks’ houses and choking the life out of them… well, not really. Truthfully, he didn’t even kill them, he just left them passed out on the floor.
You see what I mean? Our only real claim to fame in the true crime department isn’t even technically a murderer.
I’m not trying to scare anyone off, I promise. And it’s not that I want another Scranton Strangler around. It’s just… as awful as that whole ordeal was, there’s a tiny morbid part of me (of everyone, I’d imagine) that’s a little fascinated by it, and maybe wouldn’t mind having something going on around here more exciting than the Pierogi Festival. And that isn’t even actually in Scranton.
It’s not bad here, really. I grew up here. And my job is okay, I guess. It’s a little boring being a paper salesman, but what isn’t boring around here? It’s a nice place to raise a family, too, which is something I hope to do someday. Just haven’t met the right girl yet, you know.
I can’t help but notice, though: every once in a while, even here in Scranton, you get hit by something you never saw coming.
She was cute as hell. That was the first thing Jim Halpert noticed when the woman in the pink coat boarded the elevator and pushed number five.
He saw her face for only a brief moment before she spun around and faced the doors. For the first time in his life he cursed this very specific instinctive human behavior, wishing the back of the elevator was somehow more interesting than the front so that she’d turn around and he could see her face again. All he could do was gaze helplessly at her golden brown ponytail as it bounced and swayed from side to side a bit when she tilted her head to look down at her phone.
Fifth floor, fifth floor, Jim tried to remember. She must work on the fifth floor. His nerves had his meatball sub from lunch at Cugino’s rumbling around in his stomach as he stared at the back of her coat.
The doors almost closed when a hand popped between them, and in bounded the last person he wanted as a third wheel right now.
“Jimbo!” Michael Scott greeted him. His boss was carrying an enormous cardboard box, and neither Jim nor the woman made an effort to help him as he awkwardly pushed the (already illuminated) number six button.
“Cold out there, huh?” he asked, a hopeful grin on his face. Jim nodded politely and sighed inwardly, thinking it was just his luck that Michael was the one who’d decided to engage him in conversation rather than the pretty girl. She was busy staring at her phone anyway and not really giving anyone the time of day. The elevator doors closed and they were all plunged into silence once more.
It occurred to him that there were only a few more seconds until she would exit the elevator and he might never see her again. He tried desperately to think of something to say that might get her to turn around, but he was completely tongue-tied.
“Is it five-thirty yet?” Michael suddenly asked no one in particular. Jim looked at his watch.
“No,” he said, and at the exact same time, the woman twisted her neck around and said “no” too.
Michael grumbled, struggling with the cumbersome box, but the woman caught Jim’s eye and smiled: not a huge smile, but enough for him to know she’d noticed him. He found himself unable to tear his gaze away. He was riveted. He was mesmerized.
He was in trouble.
She turned back around again, and the elevator stopped on floor two. The doors opened and a very, very tiny blond woman stepped aboard. She held a fluffy white cat in her arms, which was weird (this being an office building and all) but weirder still, the cat had a tiny handkerchief tied around its head, making it look like a feline version of Audrey Hepburn. Its owner gave each of them a stern look for no apparent reason, then spun around to press three.
“Oh my god, it’s so cute,” Michael said, attempting to pet the cat, which was a difficult task considering the enormous box he was holding.
“She’s a she, and don’t touch her, please,” the blond lady snapped, holding the cat back from his reach. “She doesn’t like strange men.” She backed away from Michael a bit, which sent the woman in the pink coat stepping further back into the elevator until she was right next to Jim, their sides just barely touching. She smelled incredible.
“Sorry, she is so cute,” Michael replied as the doors shut once again and the elevator began to ascend again. “She looks like Brigitte Bardot. Brigitte Purr-dot,” he grinned, very pleased with himself. The blond lady did not look pleased.
Jim felt as though he and the woman in pink were outliers by silent default, and turned to look at her with a “what’s up with these two?” expression. She grinned, shrugging in response, and his body turned warm all over. It was at this very moment Jim was convinced his day could not get any better.
The elevator reached three and the cat lady stepped off. Then before he knew it, they’d reached five, and the woman in pink was gone as well. Jim couldn’t help but feel a twinge of disappointment that she hadn’t looked back at him, and for the first time in his few months working in the building he thought their ponderously slow elevator was far too speedy. The doors closed and he was alone once again with Michael Scott.
“I didn’t know you could have pets in the building,” Michael said after several silent seconds.
The doors opened again on six and Michael stepped off, tripping a bit on the threshold and almost dropping the box. Jim followed his boss into the Dunder Mifflin office feeling a bit dazed. He practically sleepwalked to his desk, his thoughts still on the pretty stranger. What seemed like hours passed, and he couldn’t seem to get his mind off of her and back onto his work, so he gave up on both and pulled out his iPhone instead to listen to Serial, the true crime podcast he’d been addicted to since it began a few weeks ago. He’d barely gotten through one episode when the shrill sound of the building’s fire alarm tore through the office.
Ahh… Scranton, PA. What is it about you?
I’ve always loved living here. I had a happy childhood, you know. Well, it was sort of happy. Actually it wasn’t all that great now that I think about it. (I’m looking at you, Jeff.) I didn’t have many friends but I did have this city. It’s the Electric City, you know. Which… I don’t really know what that means, but it sounds pretty awesome.
Where was I? Oh yeah, Scranton. It’s a nice place to live. Pretty safe, I guess. Except that whole Scranton Strangler business. That was crazy. I followed that case obsessively, you know. Every news story, every tweet, every snapgab. I’m still convinced they caught the wrong guy, which makes going about your day to day routine a little more exciting.
You never know when someone’s gonna reach out and… well, strangle you.
Anyway, as I was saying.
Scranton is basically the Paris of Pennsylvania. Except instead of the Louvre, we have the Anthracite Museum. And instead of sidewalk cafes, we have like… entire trucks full of food. You should see the trucks, they’re amazing. And you can get the same stuff here as in Paris. Even better because one time I had this bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos that was covered in nacho cheese. Wow, that was incredible. And I don’t think you can even get that in Paris.
Anyway, where was I?
Michael Scott trudged down the stairs to the shrill sounds of the fire alarm, wondering how long this would take. He had no sales appointments for the rest of the day and was eager to get back to his pirated DVDs of The Sopranos. He wasn’t really following the plot, but it was giving him ample opportunity to work on his Italian mobster imitation, which he’d damn near perfected. And lugging them all the way upstairs from the trunk of his car hadn’t been an easy task.
After the obligatory fire drill procedures were completed, however, there seemed to be no sign of movement back towards the office. Hank, the security guard, hung around the front door and glared at anyone who so much as went near it. It was all rather mysterious. So people from the Scranton business park began making their way down the street towards Poor Richard’s to wait it out.
He decided to follow. A drink sounded nice. Maybe Todd Packer would be there and they could be each other’s wingmen, pick up some ladies.
Well, Packer would pick up some ladies.
Actually, maybe they could just play darts or something.
When he entered the bar, he scanned the room for someone he knew. He didn’t see anyone, but there was an empty booth, and he knew it wouldn’t stay that way for long. He slid inside and waited for a waitress to come by.
The tables around him started filling up as more and more tenants made their way inside, and after a few minutes he finally saw a familiar face enter the bar.
“Jim!” he called out as one of his best salesmen turned to look at him. “Come on over, sit with me!”
Jim hesitated, and for a moment Michael thought he might completely ignore him. He began waving his hands a bit more aggressively. The urge to share his booth with another human was powerful. Ultimately, Jim made his way over.
“Hey,” he said, pulling his earbuds out of his ears and tapping a button on his phone.
“Have a seat,” Michael greeted cheerfully. “Better than working, right?”
Jim put his earbuds into his pocket and slid into the booth across from Michael, setting his phone on the table. His eyes darted around the bar as if he was searching it. “Yeah, I guess so.”
“Are you looking for someone?” Michael asked. “Andy, maybe? Or Stanley?”
Jim finally looked at Michael directly and blinked. “Stanley?”
“Never mind. You want a drink?” He spun around, gesturing for the waitress. “Looks like we might be here for a while.”
“Why not,” Jim shrugged. They both ordered beers and the waitress headed back to the bar to retrieve them.
They sat across from each other silently, neither really knowing what to say. Upstairs, Michael was in his element, and could easily capture anyone’s undivided attention, but in a social setting he wasn’t always quite sure what to do.
“Any idea what’s going on at the building?” Jim finally asked. “I didn’t see any smoke or anything.”
“Nope. Maybe there was an accident?” Michael looked intrigued. “Or a murder!”
Jim scoffed. “Yeah, right.”
“You never know. Remember the Scranton Strangler?”
“I do,” Jim said. “That was nuts.”
Michael sipped his beer and Jim continued scanning the room. “So what were you listening to?” Michael asked.
“On your earphones. Your air buds.”
Jim just stared at him.
“Not air buds, that’s a dog movie,” Michael corrected himself.
“I was listening to a podcast,” Jim answered. “It’s called Serial.”
Michael’s eyes lit up. “No way! That’s my favorite podcast!”
Jim raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
“Yeah! What the hell is up with Jay?”
Something had finally gotten through, and Jim cracked a smile. “What the hell is up with Jay? There’s something really off about that guy!”
“...But I don’t think he did it,” Michael added.
Michael shook his head. “I have this whole theory.”
Before he could elaborate, Jim’s eyes lifted once again towards the door and brightened. Michael spun around in his seat to look over at the entrance, where he saw another somewhat familiar face; actually, the same one who’d shared an elevator with them just that afternoon. She was wearing a heavy pink coat and her eye line landed on their table.
“She works in our building!” Michael said excitedly. Jim didn’t respond, and actually seemed like he was transfixed by the strange woman. “Do you know her, Jim?”
“No,” Jim replied. “I’ve never seen her before today.”
“Uh huh,” Jim replied distractedly. He appeared to be in some kind of daze.
Michael looked at him, then at the woman, and knew exactly what was going on. Luckily for Jim, one of the things Michael was great at was being a wingman. He turned back around and his hand shot straight into the air, waving her over. “Hey! Yeah, you! Come over here!”
“What are you doing?” Jim hissed. “Do you know her?”
“No,” Michael shrugged. “But she’s gotta sit somewhere.”
The woman glanced from side to side and, after what appeared to be a lengthy deliberation, began to make her way over to their booth. She had earbuds in both ears, which she removed and stuffed into her pocket.
“Hey,” she said. “You guys work over at the business park, right?”
“I’m Michael,” Michael said, nodding and extending his hand. “I sell paper.”
“Pam,” she said. The woman shook his hand, then looked at Jim, who turned a slight shade of pink.
“Uh, I’m Jim. We work together,” he continued a bit nervously, gesturing towards Michael.
“At Dunder Mifflin,” Michael added. “Sit with us. Who knows how long the fire drill will last. Drinks are on me.”
Pam slid into the booth on Jim’s side, which irked Michael slightly, but Jim seemed absolutely thrilled about it. He scooted over, sliding his phone out of her way.
“So are we thinking it’s a fire drill?” Pam asked. The waitress set down Jim and Michael’s beers, and she silently indicated she’d like one as well. “I didn’t see any flames or smoke or anything.”
“We don’t know,” Jim said.
“I think it was a murder,” Michael tried again.
Jim shook his head. “Why are you so hung up on that, man?”
Michael shrugged. “I don’t know. But it would be pretty exciting, right?”
An alert came up on Jim’s phone, and Pam reflexively glanced down at it.
“You listen to Serial?” she asked him excitedly.
Jim looked down at his phone, then back up at her. “Yeah?”
“Oh my god!” she squealed, her eyes wide. “What the hell is up with Jay?!”
Jim looked over at Michael, then back to Pam with a huge grin. Pam took her own phone out of her coat pocket, holding it up to show him. “I’m listening to episode four again. It’s like my third time. I’m totally obsessed.”
“Me too! You should see the chart I have at work,” Jim said. “It looks like A Beautiful Mind.”
“I totally think Adnan did it,” Pam said, looking at Jim. She looked very convinced.
“So do I, actually.” he replied. “I mean, who else had the motive?”
“I don’t know,” Michael piped up, not appreciating being a third wheel. “His alibi checked out, remember? Asia saw him at the library on the afternoon of the murder.”
“But do we even know for sure where the murder happened?” Pam pointed out. “Or when? What if he killed her at the library, and that’s why his lawyer never followed up on that alibi in the first place?”
Michael began to interject, but closed his mouth. He stared at her. “You’re good.”
Pam smiled smugly.
“Wait… say that again?” Jim asked, very impressed.
Pam pulled out her phone and swiped a few times, shuttling through one of the episodes to find something. She handed Jim one of her earbuds and he took it gingerly, unsure. He held it as Pam placed the other one in her ear, then noticed he wasn’t doing the same.
“Listen,” she said, taking the bud out of his hand and putting it directly into his ear. They sat together in the booth side by side, the cord dangling between them. Pam didn’t seem to notice that Jim was practically gaping at her like a dead fish.
“Hel-lo,” Michael said, annoyed. “What am I over here, chopped liver?”
Pam mouthed sorry, gesturing at the earbuds as if to explain there were only two. There was really nothing more Michael could do, so Pam and Jim sat across from him for the next couple minutes, listening to Serial together. Pam sipped her beer occasionally, and Jim appeared torn between focusing on the podcast and gazing at Pam in such an obvious way Michael had to physically stop himself from rolling his eyes. It was obvious Jim had a crush on her, and Michael would find it cute if he weren’t feeling incredibly left out.
He sipped his own beer, waiting for a sign that they could all return to the office.
Scranton is okay, I guess.
I went to art school in New York for a couple years and loved it there. The fast pace of it, the people, and – yes – even the grit.
But quite frankly, New York can be a lot.
I was mugged once on the subway. Well, almost. Some guy tried to take my purse, and I’m not really sure what came over me but I held on tight. It popped out of his grasp
and I hit him with it, hard. Maybe he was just so shocked anyone would have fought back, or maybe it was the dozens of people taking notice, but he bailed. And ever since then I’ve felt sort of powerful with the knowledge I can take care of myself.
Maybe that’s why I’ve become kind of addicted to true crime; it’s probably this deep-rooted primal instinct to be as prepared as possible not to get murdered.
Anyway, I eventually left the city to move back home. When I first started working in my building, l heard some creep on his phone in the parking lot talking about me. He didn’t think I could hear him, but when someone eyes you and you hear the words “Scranton 7” and “New York 6” come out of their mouth, it’s pretty easy to draw conclusions. I’m not exactly sure what came over me, but after he brushed past me to get on the elevator, I let the air out of his tires.
It’s not really something I’d usually do. But I suppose when I came back to Scranton, a little bit of New York City came home with me.
She wasn’t sure why she did it, exactly. Sharing earbuds was a pretty intimate thing and she’d known this guy for all of three minutes. But as they sat shoulder to shoulder listening to those familiar piano chords of the Serial intro, she felt more at home than she had in months.
Moving back here hadn’t been the plan. She’d hoped to be working somewhere in New York by now, some graphics house or design firm. Even painting along the edge of Central Park barely scraping by would be preferable to giving up and coming home. But things didn’t always work out the way she wanted them to; at least, that was what Pam had told herself as she’d moved the last of her boxes into her Scranton apartment.
It had been pretty lonely for the past several weeks. She missed her friends from New York, and most of the ones she had in Scranton had moved on by now. She’d made exactly zero new ones. So sitting in a booth with the cute guy from her building didn’t seem like such a bad idea.
She wasn’t too sure about the other guy – he was a little odd – but he seemed friendly enough. Drinks turned into an early dinner, since no one from the office park seemed to be heading back to work yet, and the three of them spent the better part of an hour talking about true crime documentaries. It wasn’t until the sun began to set that they decided to close their tab and wander back down the street to see if the building was open again.
The older guy, Michael, took a call on his cell phone and moved a few feet away from them, so the younger guy fell into step with her as they walked back.
“So, it was Jim, right?” she asked in a friendly tone.
“Yep. And you’re Pam.”
“What’s the deal with your boss, exactly?”
Jim sighed; a long, beleaguered sigh. “He’s… beyond description, really.”
She chuckled. “He’s a little strange, but he seems harmless.”
“Harmless? Well, I suppose it depends on your pain tolerance,” he grinned. She looked at her feet as they continued along, falling into a silence that he eventually broke.
“So… where are you working?” Jim asked. “I mean, in the building.”
“Bratton Graphics,” she answered.
“Oh, cool, so you’re like an artist? Designer?”
She blushed, a little embarrassed. “Well, I’d like to be. Just answering the phones right now.”
“Ah, well that’s cool,” he said quickly. “At least you’re in the right place.”
“Yeah, it’s not very exciting, but I hope maybe someday my work will be noticed. I’m trying to put together a portfolio but in the meantime it pays the bills, I guess.”
He nodded. “I hear that. Sometimes I wonder if ‘paying the bills’ is all I’ll really ever be doing myself.”
“You don’t like your job?” she asked, craning her neck to look up at him.
“No, it’s fine. I don’t hate it or anything. The pay is pretty good, and I have health insurance. So there’s that. It’s just not very…” he trailed off.
“…Exciting?” she completed his thought.
They grinned at each other. He really was cute. She was trying to discern the precise color of his eyes in the fading sunlight when she noticed red flashes reflecting on the planes of his face. When she turned to find their source, she saw a police car situated at the entrance of their business park parking lot, its lightbar blinking red. A crowd of office park tenants had gathered in the lot, looking confused and intrigued in equal measure.
Michael joined them, having hung up his phone call. “Whoa. What the hell happened?”
“I don’t know,” Jim replied, “but it’s definitely not a fire.”
“Why don’t you go and find out, Michael,” Pam suggested, pointing over at the lone police officer, who stood stoically in front of the building with his arms crossed over his burly chest.
Michael, who seemed eager to do anything Pam asked of him, glanced at the cop. “I’ll go check it out,” he said very seriously. He walked off in the direction of the officer, and Pam and Jim stood side by side, watching.
“Does that guy even look like a real cop to you?” Jim asked. And his question was valid: the guy was tall with wire-rimmed glasses, and while he was indeed wearing what appeared to be a police uniform, he also had on boots and a ridiculous brimmed hat.
“Not really,” Pam agreed, shaking her head. “He looks a little more like a park ranger than a police officer.”
They stood silently while Michael and the cop conversed briefly, then he ran back over, somehow breathless after only a few steps of running.
“You guys!” he shouted, his dark gray trench coat whipping in the wind. “You’re never going to believe this, but… I was right! There’s been a murder in the building!”
Jim’s jaw dropped. Pam gasped.
“Is it someone any of us know?” she asked.
Michael’s eyes were as wide as saucers. “You know that lady who rode up the elevator with us?”
Pam gasped again, bringing her hand to her mouth. “Oh my god! She’s… dead?”
Michael shook his head. “No,” he said gravely. “But her cat is.”
Chapter Two: The Alibis
I’ll admit, a cat murder sounds pretty lame. But it’s still a mystery.
And a mystery is a mystery, right?
Jim looked at Michael with a single eyebrow raised, and Michael looked right back at him with his arms crossed. A gust of chilly wind blew through the parking lot.
“That’s what I said.”
“They shut down this entire place because of a cat?”
“Apparently it was a rather grisly murder,” Michael said. “Hank is being stingy on the details, but he said whoever did this is – and I quote – one sick fuck.”
Jim looked up at the building, going over this in his mind. Something didn’t add up. The place had been shut down completely for at least a couple of hours, and there appeared to be only one officer guarding the entrance. He assumed there must be more inside, but… all for a cat?
“This is absurd,” he said, heading over to talk to the officer himself. Michael and Pam followed. “Excuse me, sir…” he said, and the man looked up.
“Officer Dwight Schrute,” he replied in a clipped voice, pointing to his name tag.
“When can we go back upstairs? I have some work papers I need to get.”
Officer Schrute’s eyes darkened. “This is a very serious matter, sir. And we’ll let you back in as soon as we’ve secured the crime scene.”
“I heard something about a cat, is that… the serious matter?”
“You heard correctly,” the officer replied.
Jim eyed Pam, wondering if she too found all of this extremely odd.
“Can you tell us what happened, officer?” asked Pam politely, trying a different tack.
“A murder has occurred,” he said bluntly. “That’s all you need to know.”
“You mean, like… besides the cat?” Pam urged. “Like a real murder?”
Officer Schrute narrowed his eyes, his distaste for Pam now apparent. “This was a real murder.”
“Who called this in?” Jim asked.
The cop huffed with displeasure. “If you must know, the victim belonged to my girlfriend. She was staying at the cat café on level three.”
Jim, if possible, was now even more confused. “What’s a cat café?” He glanced at Michael, who shrugged.
“It’s a place where you go to pet cats and drink tea,” Pam explained quickly, rolling her eyes. She turned back to Officer Schrute while Jim processed this. “The owner, your girlfriend. Is she okay?”
Officer Schrute’s expression turned wistful, and he looked over Pam’s shoulder. “Angela will be fine. One day.”
“So, like… there weren’t any actual murders?” Jim pressed.
Schrute whipped towards Jim and glared. “Are you associated with the deceased?”
Jim was slightly taken aback. “The deceased? You mean… the cat?”
“Identify yourself!” the officer snapped.
“Uh… I’m Jim? I work in the building?”
“Well, Jim,” Officer Schrute said, getting up in his face. “Maybe this isn’t a big deal for you, but for some people, it might be. Maybe for some people, their entire world just got turned upside down. Maybe—”
“Okay, okay,” Pam said, stepping between the two men. “He is very sorry for not taking this more seriously.” She eyed Jim meaningfully, then glanced back over his shoulder. Jim turned around to see what she was looking at and saw the woman from the elevator – Angela, apparently – very clearly distressed, crying. A younger woman with reddish hair was wrapping a blanket around her shoulders and comforting her.
“Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to attend to this upstairs.” The officer shot one last lethal glare at Jim, then turned on his heel and crossed the crime scene tape, entering the lobby.
“I had no idea there was like… some kind of cat hotel in this building,” Michael said, looking at Jim. “Did you?”
Jim shook his head, then looked to Pam. “Did you?”
“I’ve been up there a few times,” she explained. “They hired me to paint a mural on my off time.”
Michael turned to the others excitedly. “We should go investigate the crime scene!” he exclaimed. “Maybe we can even check out the victim if we hurry!”
Jim just stared at him. “Crime scene? Victim? Do you hear yourself?”
“I think what Jim is trying to say,” Pam told Michael as gently as possible, “is that it’s possible this isn’t so much a murder as a simple instance of someone overreacting to the untimely death of their pet.” She looked at Jim. “Right, Jim?”
He nodded at her. “Yeah.”
Michael shrugged. “Suit yourselves, but I’m gonna go see what’s going on.” He turned, slowly walking towards the tall hedges that ran along the perimeter of the parking lot, then disappeared behind one. Pam leaned in close to Jim, placing her hand on his forearm. His entire body went rigid.
“I actually think he’s onto something, though,” she whispered. “There’s got to be more to this.”
“Yeah,” she affirmed, with a skeptical eyebrow raised. “You really believe we’re getting the whole story?”
Jim shrugged and eyed Officer Schrute, who was just inside the lobby and appeared to be dusting the elevator buttons for fingerprints. “I don’t know, he seems like the kind of guy who would shut down an entire business park for a cat murder.”
“Well, I’m curious. Aren’t you?”
He wasn’t curious about the cat murder, not really, but if it meant getting to spend more time with Pam leaning in close and whispering into his ear, he’d entertain just about anything. “A little, I guess.”
“Then let’s go check it out,” she suggested. She turned, and with a quick glance at Hank, who was looking the other direction, sneaked towards the east side of the building.
They walked quietly around the corner, hugging the edge of the wall unnoticed. Pam reached the door leading to the warehouse first, ducking underneath the yellow crime scene tape that stretched across it and pushed the door open. She slipped inside, but Jim hesitated.
“You coming?” she said, poking her head outside.
“Um. In there?” he asked. “It’s pretty dark.”
“Coward,” she grinned. “I know where we can find some flashlights. Come on.”
Jim was actually more concerned about getting caught interfering in some kind of police investigation – as ridiculous as it was – than coming face to face with the alleged cat murderer, but he didn’t want Pam thinking he was a coward. So he followed her into the dark.
“This way,” he heard from right next to him. Suddenly her hand was around his wrist, and she was leading him blindly through what he could only assume were shelves full of god knows what.
“Why is it so dark in here?” Jim muttered curiously.
“That is strange,” she said. “I bet when the fire alarm went off, the guys just shut the lights off and went home. The third shift ends around three anyway, so they probably all just cut and run for the day.”
He wondered why she knew so much about the inner workings of the warehouse, but didn’t press. His eyes were adjusting slowly as he continued to follow her and after a few more seconds, she stopped. They were now in some kind of office area, and he could see her faint silhouette as she reached into a desk drawer, pulling out two flashlights. She clicked the first one on and held it beneath her chin, illuminating her face. It reminded him of his old Boy Scout campmates sitting around the campfire telling ghost stories, only he’d never been attracted to any of them.
“Scared, Jim?” she asked, then giggled.
“Gimme that,” he said, taking the flashlight. She clicked the other one on. In the dim light he could make out the initials R.A. on the handle of the one she was holding written in Sharpie on a piece of masking tape. His own had the initials D.P. He hoped whoever R.A. and D.P. were, they wouldn’t miss their flashlights any time soon.
Pam led the way rather expertly through the warehouse until she found a set of stairs leading up, which deposited them into the hallway of the second floor, avoiding the lobby. They reached the elevator and Jim pressed the up button. They waited for it in silence, their twin flashlight beams pointed at the doors in the shape of an X. Jim vaguely remembered the second floor was some kind of accounting firm, but he was relatively new here and rarely interacted with the others, so he wasn’t entirely sure. All of the hallways looked pretty much the same in their office building. It was, however, admittedly eerie at night with the lights off.
The doors opened and they stepped inside. Jim reached for the button for three, but Pam stopped him.
“Wait,” she said. “There could be more cops on three, maybe even posted at the elevator. We should take the stairs instead.”
He grinned and pulled his hand back, gesturing after you. She was good.
They stepped off and headed down the hallway instead, towards the stairwell. As they made their way upstairs, they were greeted by an unsettling chorus of cats meowing in the distance, a muffled symphony of high-pitched whining. Jim had never been on the third floor before, and hadn’t even realized there was such a thing as a “cat café” in the building, but now that he knew, it made a strange sort of sense why he sometimes thought he heard weird singing while in the bathroom at work.
“How long have all these cats been here?” he asked Pam, since she seemed to know more about the place than he did.
“It just opened a few weeks ago,” she said. Then, “shh!” She pulled him back by his wrist until they were hidden around a corner, the entrance to the cat café in sight. Officer Schrute was walking into view about twenty feet down the hallway, carrying a small bundle wrapped in a sheet.
As silly as this all felt, Jim wasn’t made of stone. He felt a tiny pang for Angela. It wasn’t easy losing a pet.
“Shoot,” Pam said quietly. “Now we definitely won't be able to see any of the evidence.”
“Oh well.” Jim didn’t really care what they did as long as he got to spend time with her. He was about to take the opportunity to ask her to go back to Poor Richard’s for another drink when Pam squeezed his arm again.
“Look!” She pointed down the hallway, where another door was opening, presumably a back entrance to the café. Unfortunately, they were standing in a place where no matter what they did, they would be seen. Jim grimaced, but to his surprise and great relief, as the figure closed the door quietly and made his way over to them, he recognized the bounce in his step.
It was Michael.
It hadn’t been easy getting into that cat café undetected.
Michael had seen it done before in all sorts of movies and television crime shows, but actually sneaking up to the roof and down the fire escape was trickier than advertised. He even ripped his pants on the ladder when coming down, and they were his favorites, the ones he found in the bargain bin at Ross’s Dress For Less sale. Ugh.
In any event, when he finally made it down to the stairwell between two and three, he heard people talking in the hallway. When he peered around the corner and looked at the lobby of the cat café, he saw Officer Schrute, followed by another police officer who seemed to be reprimanding him.
“...waste of time and taxpayer money,” the other cop was saying, angry. “Now get this mess cleaned up and these people back into their offices before I have your badge!”
“Yes, Sergeant Wallace,” Officer Schrute said, his previous authoritative demeanor completely gone. “My apologies.”
“You’re a good guy, Dwight,” Wallace then said with a heavy sigh. “I know you meant well. Just… take care of it, okay?”
The sergeant disappeared, and Schrute went back into the cat café. After a few moments he walked out again, carrying what appeared to be the dead cat. Michael couldn’t see much from this angle, as it was wrapped in a sheet, but did see a fluffy white tail sticking out.
After he was sure the officer was out of sight, Michael tiptoed into the lobby, looking around for anything that could be considered evidence. All he found was a single tiny handkerchief on the floor. He picked it up, inspecting it. It was small, smaller than a normal handkerchief, and tie-dyed in pastel greens and pinks and yellows. Two tiny holes were cut into it, which Michael deduced were meant to go over cat ears.
He slipped the handkerchief into his pocket and wandered back into the cafe, looking around. He’d never been in one of these places before and immediately decided he wanted to come back as a patron.
There were tables and chairs, a couple of couches, and dozens of cat toys. And obviously, there were cats. Lots and lots of cats. He counted nine, but it was tough with them moving all around the way they were. One white cat wandered up to him, yowling, and he petted it on its head.
“Hey, little guy,” he said, and the cat meowed in response. Michael enjoyed that. Maybe he could get onboard with this pet thing. People didn’t always listen, but animals had a way of making you feel noticed.
Reluctant to leave (but not wanting to press his luck) he decided to get out of there. He waved goodbye to the cat and turned, finding a door near the back, which he slipped out of. As he walked down the hallway back towards the lobby, he saw Jim and Pam watching him.
“Guys!” he hissed, holding up the kerchief. “I found evidence!”
“...Of what?” Jim asked.
Pam looked intrigued. “What is it?”
Michael held out the handkerchief. “It must have belonged to the victim,” he said very seriously. “I’m pretty sure Angela’s cat was wearing it in the elevator today.”
“Oh, man, that’s the cat that died? Brigitte Purrdot?” Jim asked, then closed his eyes. “I can’t believe I just said that.”
“I think so,” Michael nodded.
Pam took the handkerchief and turned it over in her hands. “Brigitte Purrdot wasn’t wearing this color,” she said. “I’m pretty sure of it. Her hankie was solid pink.”
“Well, I got a glimpse of the cat’s tail when that cop was taking it out, and it was definitely white.”
“It could be another cat,” Jim said.
“I was just in there,” Michael said as he gestured with his thumb. “I saw only one white cat and it wasn’t Brigitte.”
“You went in there? With the cats?” Pam asked.
“Yeah, I had to cross through from the lobby after I came down from the roof. Speaking of which, someone’s growing a whole bunch of weed up there,” he added, pointing at the ceiling. “It smells like an Alicia Keys concert.”
Jim blinked at this revelation, but blew right past it. “It could still be another cat,” he said. “You can’t be absolutely sure, maybe it was hiding or something?”
“Okay, but what are the odds?” Michael said. “We know it’s Angela’s cat, the cat is white, bada-bing! Huh?” He shot double finger guns and looked from Jim to Pam, rather impressed he was able to unleash his Italian mobster impression so soon. They stared at him blankly. Not polished, not ready, he supposed.
“We won’t know for sure which cat was killed unless we ask Angela,” Pam said.
“You’re right!” Michael said, excitement bubbling up inside him. “We should ask her! In fact, we should do our own podcast!”
Jim raised an eyebrow. “A podcast?”
“Yeah! I mean… how many true crime podcasters are lucky enough to be on the case right from the start? Actually, I should be recording this right now.” Michael pulled his phone out of his pocket, found his sound recording app, and pressed record. His voice took on an affected melodramatic tone. “The room was dark, and smelled of cat urine and terror. It was the perfect place to commit an atrocity.” He stopped the recording and looked up at Jim excitedly. “What do you think?”
“Where do you get this stuff?” Jim said, shaking his head.
“That sounds kind of fun, actually,” Pam said with a smile. “But I really don’t think we have much to go on, here.”
“Come on! Don’t you want to know who is killing cats in our building?” Michael pleaded. “Or at least, you know, who’s growing that weed garden.”
“Oh my god, one ridiculous petty crime at a time, please!” Jim said in exasperation, throwing his hands up. Pam and Michael both shushed him, but not before another flashlight beam was suddenly pointed directly into their eyes.
“What are you doing up here?” barked the now familiar voice of Officer Schrute.
Michael, Pam and Jim all shielded their eyes from the vibrant light in their faces.
“Oh! Um… We thought we could come back to work,” Pam said innocently. “Was that… not right?”
“I put up crime scene tape!” Schrute said, indignant.
Michael leaned in. “You know, you can just walk right under that stuff.”
Officer Schrute narrowed his eyes. “Were you involved in this crime?”
Michael put his hands up. “No way. We evacuated during the fire drill and were all at Poor Richard’s until you saw us come back to the parking lot.”
“Truly, sir,” Pam said. “We wouldn’t do something like this. I swear.”
“Can someone vouch for these alibis?” Schrute asked. “Anyone who can verify you were at the bar?”
Michael nodded. “Sure, that waitress could. She was really hot, too. Maybe we could all just walk back over there, and—”
“Are we really under suspicion?” Jim asked the officer. Schrute looked thoughtful, as if he were processing the information he’d been given.
“If your alibis check out, then no,” he affirmed. “The time of death has been established after everyone left the building.”
“So was there a fire? Or was it a false alarm?” Michael asked curiously, holding up his phone as covertly as possible to catch anything interesting the officer might say. Schrute looked at the phone, then back at Michael just as curiously.
“Can you tell us what happened, please?” Pam interjected. “We just want to know how that poor cat died.”
The officer closed his eyes, then bowed his head, removing his hat. “From the condition of the corpse, my analysis is as follows: it appears to have been shot. Badly, actually, because it was hit in the leg. But it didn’t die. It was then shot again, this time in the shoulder. The perpetrator obviously had terrible aim, so rather than shoot again, they must have snapped its neck to finish the job.”
Michael, Pam and Jim all grimaced.
“Jeez,” Jim said quietly. “That seems… excessive.”
Michael shook his head stoically. “Some people are cat people, and some people are dog people, I suppose,” he said. Everyone looked at him oddly.
“Angela was very distraught,” Schrute continued. He was beginning to look upset, as if recounting her trauma was physically painful for him. “She called me and told me what happened, and something didn’t seem right. So I did everything I could for her. But it wasn’t enough. And now they’ve closed the investigation. I could lose my badge.”
“The investigation is closed?” Pam asked.
“Did you hear what I said? I could lose my badge, miss.”
“But you haven’t interviewed any other witnesses, secured alibis from everyone in the building,” Michael sputtered. “Someone should talk to Angela. You haven’t even run anyone’s DNA!”
Officer Schrute stared at him, then looked at Pam, then Jim. “I see what’s going on here. You don’t care about the victim. You’re just a trio of armchair detectives trying to get in my way.”
“Of course we care,” Michael said. “We care about justice!”
Schrute got up in Michael’s face. “Stay out of this,” he said. “Let Angela grieve in peace.”
His expression was bordering on menacing, and for a brief moment Michael thought perhaps he killed the cat. But maybe he was just getting desperate because his dreams of podcasting fame were flying out the window.
The officer walked away, leaving them standing there alone. Michael put his phone back into his pocket.
“So that’s it? We’re done? No podcast?” He was genuinely sad.
“Back to Serial, I guess,” Pam sighed.
They all filed back to the elevator and took it down. Tenants from the building were making their way back up, and slowly but surely everything was returning to business as usual.
Michael parted ways with Jim and Pam in the darkened parking lot, but as he drove home, he practiced his podcaster voice anyway.
Pam didn’t think too much about the dead cat for the rest of the evening, and not really much the next morning, either. But she did find herself thinking about Jim.
She liked him, she knew that much. How much, she wasn’t exactly sure yet. But as silly as the whole cat-murder aspect of their budding friendship was, it felt inextricably linked. And she couldn’t help it; as she sat answering phones at reception, she found herself manufacturing all kinds of excuses to take the elevator up one floor just to see him again.
None of those excuses seemed good enough, so she hadn’t yet summoned up the courage. But that afternoon, while she was touching up her makeup in the empty bathroom of Bratton Graphics, the answer presented itself.
There were noises coming from the vent in the floor below the sink. Voices, actually. And they sounded angry.
“…not going to use building resources for that, it’s ridiculous,” came the first voice. A woman’s voice. The kind of voice that sounded sweet but had a bit of a bite to it.
“So my pain is ridiculous to you?” answered a second voice, also female.
“That’s not what I said, Angela.”
Pam instantly went from mild curiosity to riveted. Angela? As in the cat lady? She knelt down to get closer to the vent.
Angela scoffed. “You didn’t care so much about resources back when we were on the PPC,” she countered. “You didn’t blink an eye when Michael wanted a funeral for that stupid bird.”
PPC? Pam wondered, confused. But more interestingly, Michael? Could she mean Michael, the same guy from yesterday?
“He was our boss,” the other woman said. “Did I really have a choice?”
“And now you do have a choice, and you’re choosing to completely disrespect Sprinkles.”
The other woman sighed. “If you want to have an event at the cat café, that’s fine. I’ll talk to Bob and see if he can allocate any funds. But that’s the best I can do.”
There was an extended silence, and for some reason Pam was picturing a sort of stare-off. These women had a history – maybe even with Michael? – and she really wanted to know what it was.
“Fine,” Angela said, sounding not at all fine. Pam heard footsteps exiting the bathroom, leaving the other woman alone, and expected that was the end of it. But then, ever so quietly, she heard the other woman say something under her breath after Angela was gone.
“I don’t like you,” Pam heard, through very obviously gritted teeth.
And just like that, a new suspect emerged.
Who was this woman? What was the PPC?
And what did all of this have to do with Michael?
Pam raced out of the bathroom, set the phones to voicemail, and rushed to the elevator. She had to find out, and she had to talk to Jim and Michael to do so. She finally had a good reason to go upstairs.
When she opened the front door to Dunder Mifflin, it looked awfully familiar. Bratton Graphics used pretty much the exact same layout. It was quiet, just the sounds of the copy machine and a phone ringing, and some desks arranged in clusters.
She looked around, but didn’t see Jim. She did see someone she recognized, however.
“Hi there,” a young guy said from the reception desk. “What can I do for you?”
It was the same guy she’d seen before down in the parking lot, the one who had made derogatory comments about her right in front of her.
The one whose tires she’d let the air out of.
“Um, hi,” she said, approaching a bit apprehensively, her hands stuffed in her pockets. “I’m looking for someone who works here.”
“Well, you found someone,” he said in a very flirty tone. He stood up and extended his hand. “I’m Ryan.”
Pam stared at his hand, but kept hers where they were. “Yeah, I’m actually looking for someone specific, named Jim?”
Ryan’s smile faded and he dropped his hand to his side. “Jim sits over there,” he said, pointing to the nearest desk to reception. He sat back in his seat and went back to what Pam could see was a game of Tetris.
She stepped away from Ryan and walked over to the desk he’d been pointing to. It felt a little intrusive, but she was here, and she figured she could wait for a few minutes.
Jim’s desk was tidy, not very cluttered. There was a picture in a frame with Jim and another guy who looked a bit like him… a brother, maybe? He had a nameplate on his desk that read ‘Jim Halpert.’
Halpert. A last name. She picked it up for some reason and studied it. She had no idea why. She felt like a detective, and this didn’t even have anything to do with the case.
She looked up, and Jim was approaching her from what appeared to be the kitchen. She set down his nameplate and smiled. “Hey!”
“Hi,” he said. There was a huge grin on his face as he walked over. “What are you doing here?”
Pam eyed Ryan, then tilted her neck a couple times at Jim, over here, and he followed her out the front doors and into the entryway of Dunder Mifflin.
“So…” she began as the front door swung shut behind her, “I know that Officer Schrute said to drop this case last night, but I also know me, and I can’t stop thinking about it.”
“Me neither, actually,” he said.
“Yeah.” He reached behind his neck to scratch it. “Too many true crime podcasts, I guess. Anyway, what have you got?”
“Well, I think we need to talk to Michael first,” she said.
There was a flicker – ever so small, but she noticed – of disappointment on his face. Or maybe it was just confusion. “Michael?”
“Yeah, is he here? Can we go to his office?”
“Uh, I guess.” They walked back into the office and turned to the first door on the left. Jim knocked.
“Enter!” Michael’s voice came, loud and in some kind of accent Pam couldn’t place.
Pam and Jim entered Michael’s office, and Jim closed the door. Michael’s face brightened at the sight of them. “Oh my god,” he said, and let out an excited giggle. “Is this about the cat?”
“Maybe,” Pam said. Jim backed against the wall and crossed his arms.
“Did you find something?” Michael asked.
“That depends,” Pam said. She narrowed her eyes at Michael. “Does ‘the PPC’ mean anything to you?”
Michael’s face drained of color. “The PPC? Where did you hear that?”
“Do you know, or don’t you?” she asked again, even though the answer was all over his face.
“Yes, I know. It stands for Party Planning Committee. It’s how we used to plan birthday parties and events for the office, but it was dismantled over a year ago. Where did you hear about it?”
“From Angela,” Pam said. “I heard her arguing with some woman through the vent in the bathroom. They even mentioned you by name.”
Jim raised an eyebrow. “What’s going on, Michael?”
Michael looked nervous. Pam didn’t actually think Michael had anything to do with the cat murder, but there was definitely something he wasn’t telling them.
He sighed. “Angela used to work at Dunder Mifflin,” he said. “Before Jim started working here.”
Jim looked shocked. “Are you saying you knew the victim? And it didn’t cross your mind to tell us that?”
“The victim is a cat,” Michael clarified, “and I guess I just didn’t think it mattered. Besides, it’s not like I really know her or anything. She worked in accounting. All the way over there.” He pointed out his office window to a corner of the room that was no more than thirty feet away.
“Hmm, all the way over there, huh?” Jim mused skeptically. “By Kevin and Oscar?”
Pam glanced at what was presumably still accounting, where two men currently sat.
“Corporate was downsizing, and one of them had to go,” Michael explained. “Luckily Angela had already decided to move downstairs to the H&R Block anyway. Which was great because I didn’t have to fire anyone.”
Pam eyed him skeptically.
“Look, this doesn’t matter,” Michael insisted. “What matters is who Angela was talking to. You say they were arguing below you? About the PPC? It has to be Phyllis Vance, the wife of the building manager.”
“Do they have beef with each other?” Jim asked.
“Yeah, but it’s a long story. Involving strippers and blackmail…” he waved this off. “Look, all you need to know is that they hate each other.”
“Yeah, I got that vibe,” Pam agreed.
“But why would Phyllis want to kill Brigitte Purrdot?” Jim asked.
“It’s Sprinkles, by the way,” Pam said. “I overheard that too.”
They all looked at each other, stumped.
“Phyllis is definitely a person of interest,” Michael finally said, “but I have to be honest… she never struck me as a cat killer.”
“I just realized something,” Jim said. “That officer said the cat was killed while everyone was outside, right? What if it was all a diversion? And if someone went through the trouble to pull the fire alarm to get everyone out of the building just so they could kill Angela’s cat… maybe it’s more than that? Maybe it was some kind of threat." For the first time Jim appeared to be taking this seriously. "Angela could be in actual danger, you guys.”
Pam considered this. It seemed possible. “You’re right,” she said. “I think what we need to do is look into Angela, find out more about her. See if anyone else had a motive.” She turned to Michael. “There’s no, like... bad blood between you guys, is there?”
“No,” Michael said. He looked at her closely. “Wait, you don’t think I had something to do with this, do you?”
She smirked. “I’m just eliminating every possibility.”
“I was with you guys!” he protested. “Come on, you know it wasn’t me!”
Jim stepped between them. “Of course it wasn’t you,” he said, holding an arm up. “I think what Pam is trying to get at is… just tell us next time, okay? We shouldn’t be keeping secrets from each other that might help us solve the case.”
Michael leaned back into his chair and looked up at them. “We shouldn’t. You’re right. I’m sorry.”
“So… we’re doing it, then?” Pam asked, looking right at Jim. “Solving the case?”
Jim shrugged. “Yeah, I mean… I’ll admit, a cat murder sounds pretty lame. But it’s still a mystery. And a mystery is a mystery, right?” He grinned at Pam. "Right?"
“I’m onboard,” she said. They both looked at Michael, who was holding up his phone. He tapped a button.
“That was a great line,” he said. “Badly delivered though, can you do it again?”
Jim tightened his lips, looking unamused.
“Never mind, it was perfect,” Michael amended. “We can use it for the intro on our first episode!”
Michael’s smile was contagious, and Jim and Pam couldn’t help but give one in return.
Pam looked over at her two unlikely new cohorts. Maybe this could work. Maybe they could actually solve this.
And if nothing else, it could be a lot of fun.