I don't get into many wealthy people's homes, but the handful I've been to seem to have one thing in common. They like to keep it chilly. It's like they want to prove that they can afford to blast the air conditioning enough to keep their penthouse fresh, like a refrigerator for their expensive furniture. Maybe it's to give them an excuse to wear their fur coats indoors? For one thing, it makes it a lot harder to appreciate the finer details when you're trying to prevent yourself from shivering.
All this to say that this isn't the type of place I'd want to find myself on a Tuesday night. I'm not what you'd call upper crust, but when duty calls, I go where I'm needed. I'm rarely needed in places like this. It's usually a little more dangerous, a little more rough and tumble.
My good friend and local Fire Marshall, Jim Collins, called me here, to the top floor of a skyscraper that goes over the clouds, to look at something strange. I thought it might have just been to get a glimpse of how the other side lives. Some might see that as petty, Collins would probably see that as a perk of the job. I knew only a couple seconds into his call that this was not going to be a social visit. He sees a lot of things that would make your skin crawl, so suffice to say his threshold for strangeness is pretty high.
"That's Detective Rose to you and everyone else," I joke, but quickly see that Collins is very much in work mode. That concerns me further. Humour is the only thing that can get you through in a lot of cases. Not tonight. Tonight, he's all business.
"We have something weird here," Collins says, leaning in close to not alert the small audience in the ornately-decorated penthouse looking in our direction. "Something isn't adding up."
"Or worse. I don't know. We came based on the building's alert system, but by the time we got here, Delcor already had one of their people here to cut us off."
Conspiracy theories are not my thing. Finding an answer before you know the question is not good police work. That doesn't seem to be a guiding principle with most of the force, but I know better. Usually, the simplest answer is the correct one. People are too disorganized to successfully carry out a well thought-out plan without making a few mistakes along the way.
I make an exception for Delcor. Some of the brightest minds working in every scientific field imaginable, all under a shroud of secrecy backed up by the government who is desperate for their support when it comes to fighting disease or bolstering their technology. The world has given Delcor a free-pass to do some dirty shit and to cover it up under the guise of public good. If anyone was able to pull off something horrible without anyone noticing, or caring to notice, it would be them.
"What are we looking at here?"
"The call was for an electrical fire, right?" Collins walks me over to one of the few surfaces of drywall in the penthouse. Most of the place has floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the city. Twinkling lights from end to end, sometimes covered by streaks of cloud. It's an incredible view, now tarnished by scorch marks that run up the wall and have clouded a good portion of one window.
"Are there any wires running through this wall?"
"No. None that we've found. The thing about electrical fires is that they usually start from within the wall, not the other way around."
Collins nods his head over to a bouncy blonde with her hair tied up in a ponytail. A look of someone who was expecting to be seen tonight, rather than someone rushing out based on a surprise alarm.
"That's the Delcor rep I was telling you about. She claims to be a lab assistant."
I tell Collins that I'll talk to her and thank him for calling me in. I have no official business being here. At least not yet, but he carries the same suspicions as I do about Delcor. They're sealed up so tight. We have to take any opportunity we can to get in the door. Collins brought me in for a change to dig my nails into the small crack of light coming through.
"Hi, Miss..." I put my right hand out and show my badge with the other. The lab assistant shakes it as though she's practiced it a thousand times. Firm, but not too hard. Just enough to show me that she's a true professional.
"Gabby McCord. Nice to meet you."
"Detective Ellie Rose. Likewise. I hope you don't mind if I ask you a few questions about what's gone on here tonight?"
"Of course," Gabby flashes a smile that begs me to give her the benefit of the doubt. "Always happy to help."
"Are you the owner of this residence?"
"Oh gosh, no. I can only dream. It's a beautiful condo. Maybe one day. This is owned by Dr. Harold Winslow. He's one of the researchers at Delcor."
"And what is your relationship with Dr. Winslow?"
"I'm his lab assistant."
She doesn't come across as just a lab assistant, unless part of the training at Delcor Labs is also an undergraduate in Public Relations. She's really good. Bubbly enough to seem genuine while not giving me anything to go on. I have to keep reminding myself not to buy into it.
"Where is Dr. Winslow? Would he not be expecting you?"
"Dr. Winslow is away on assignment."
"Where would that be?"
"I'm not at liberty to say."
I let that sit for a moment, hoping she may add to it. She just smiles back at me, not even imagining saying another word until I prompt it.
"And what brings you here again?"
"I'm here to feed his pets. When I arrived, I had seen that an alarm had been triggered and I figured I would stay to answer any questions that may come up."
"And what did you see here?"
"I believe the alarm said it was an electrical fire."
"Is that what you saw? An electrical fire?"
"When I arrived, it already looked like you see now."
"You didn't fight the fire? Grab a fire extinguisher to put it out?"
"By the time I arrived, there was no fire," She nods her head towards the scene on the wall, hoping I'll look away. "Only what you see here."
"You don't find that strange?" I say, my stare unwavering.
"No. Not at all. Delcor helped build this building. You'd be amazed at some of the breakthroughs we've had over the past few years. This would just be another example. Fire-retardant drywall, it doesn't give anything for the fire to burn up. It basically puts itself out."
I look one more time at the scorch marks on the wall. Normally, a fire would tear through a place like this. Instead, it's nothing a coat of paint couldn't fix.
"I guess I'll have to look that up," I say, returning the smile. "Anything else you think I should know or be looking into?"
She shakes her head again. I look for a sense of relief in her face that she got away with her story. She gives me nothing. She's good at this. I'd recommend the chief hire her if we could afford her salary, which I assure you we can't.
"Any way I can contact you if I have any follow up?"
She holds out her wrist as an offer of a data exchange. I push her wrist away and pull out my notepad.
"I'd rather keep this old fashioned, if you don't mind."
This is the first time I throw her off. I'm used to being a luddite looking to use dead trees and ink to write down contact information. It's probably the first time she's encountered one of us in the wild, but I don't trust anything I can't hold in my hands.
After having to look it up, she's able to give me her contact number. Clearly she's never had to memorize a number in her life. A digital native wouldn't. I thank her and tell her we'll be in touch. She moves aside, but doesn't leave, keeping an eye on what we're doing.
Collins comes to check in after.
"Nada, but I still think we have an in. They have something to hide, I'm just not sure what yet." I give him a nod to let him know I got everything I can from being here. "Let me know if you find anything."
Collins nods. I make a show of my departure to see if I get anything out of Gabby. She gives me nothing.
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