He pulled out his phone, angling it carefully so that Nick couldn’t see what he was doing. He minimised the camera app tapped on maps, typing in ‘yellowstone offices level 19’ into the search bar. There was a lag as they passed through a tunnel between two buildings, but then the map loaded with a small blue dot. Oliver zoomed in with thumb and forefinger, until he could see the little square with the office name.
“You know you can’t publish this,” said Nick.
“Uh huh,” said Oliver distractedly, squinting at his phone.
He moved the map a little to the right, so that the grey stripe that was the road ran perpendicular to his thumbnail.
They found some shit outside, Nick had said.
Oliver paused. There, opposite the road to the Yellowstone office building square was another stout rectangle with squares attached. Those shapes only had lot numbers, but when Oliver zoomed out a little bit, the tiny text came into view across the rectangle closest to the road:
Oliver switched from maps to his photo album, thumbing through until he was looking at a close up of Timothy Hersch’s profile — and the Arden Pharmaceutical logo on his uniform.
“This is now an active investigation. You can’t publish those photos.”
“I don’t know why we bother going through this song and dance every time,” said Oliver, absently, “I can and I’m gonna. With discretion, but. Eh.”
He pulled up the web browser on his phone, the hunch shrieking between his ears. Oliver typed in the name of the chain-store and the words ‘owned by’, and hit search. He was ninety percent sure, but…
Oliver read the search results and then caught sight of his own reflection in the side mirror.
“What the hell are you so happy about,” said Nick, grumpily.
He looked nervous, eyes scanning the sky and mirrors as they made their curving way above the road traffic below, pulled along the newly embedded electromagnetic rails like a metal pill capsule through the esophagus of London. It meant they were somewhere in Level Seventeen now.
“Just thinking,” said Oliver, making a show of looking at the yawn of space below them, “so did they find a break in at Brights?”
Nick’s expression didn’t change, but his hands tightened on the steering wheel.
“What are you on about,” he said, clearly shooting for deadpan.
“The pharmacy opposite Yellowstone,” said Oliver cheerfully, pressing the volume button to make sure that the sound was still recording. Yep.
“They found something outside the offices, yeah? I’m assuming our friend downstairs stole all those vials from the Arden storage facility attached to Brights. Though how did he manage to set off a fire alarm in a totally different building?”
This time Nick did react, shooting Oliver an incredulous look. His mouth worked hard for a moment, like he wasn’t sure whether to confirm or deny, which was confirmation enough.
“You’re making some pretty wild guesses,” said Nick eventually.
“Mate,” Oliver said, leaning forwards in his seat, “come on. That guy was wearing a uniform. Brights is owned by Arden Pharmaceuticals. They’re using that ugly square building as storage and offices or whatever. For retail. Because it’s attached to a retail pharmacy. These vials we’ve got? Retail dosages. And you just said there was a break in at —”
“I didn’t say there was a break-in anywhere,” said Nick, voice a little strained.
Oliver made a show of turning in his seat to look from the four duffle bags in the rear seat, to Nick, and then back again.
“Uh,” he said, tapping his lip, “yeah. There’s definitely been a break-in. Or a break out, I guess.”
“Can you stop talking? You’re giving me a migraine.”
“Let’s stop at Brights on the Nineteenth and get you some painkillers,” suggested Oliver, smiling with all his teeth, “you can drop me off, I can get my coffee, talk to a few people. You can ask if they’re missing oh, several giant cases of CM15.”
Nick stared straight ahead through the windscreen.
“…or nah?” said Oliver.
“Very much nah.”
“I understand you’re feeling grumpy without breakfast. We could do that first. Look, we’re almost at the turn off for this Level.”
“We aren’t stopping at the pharmacy. We’re going straight to the station: you, me and the evidence.”
“How about one teensy, weensy little statement,” said Oliver, “can you confirm that there has been an incident involving stolen inventory from Brights pharmacy and or adjacent storage facilities…sometime in the past three hours?”
“No comment,” said Nick.
“I said no comment.”
“How about five and a half —”
“I swear to god, Ollie!”
Oliver leaned back in his seat, shrugging. Nick was muttering something about preferring to babysit a corpse instead of a journalist. Well, that wasn’t very nice, given they had been school chums and all.
“I suppose it could be some other Arden facility,” said Oliver, “these two might not be connected. You should check the GPS records in that autocab, see what its last route was. Ten quid says it was outside Yellowstone. I told Claudia already but —”
“Yes,” interrupted Nick testily, “I was there.”
“…I don’t think she thinks highly of me. Who did you say was on the phone? Detective Inspector Garner? Ian likes me, you know. I bet he would give me a statement. Do you want to have your name in the paper instead?”
Oliver opened his mouth to continue his strategy of annoying-Nick-until-he-cracked-and-said-something-interesting, but was interrupted by a notification on his phone. It was a text from Violet.
06:44 — bossman! Tim Hersch came up 2 x 64’er / Resolutists’ articles in the past year. + found a few blog posts of the UCL student soc, i’ll link u below. Going into office soon i’ll run photo check there? What’s happenin
Oliver pulled a face at his phone. He was lucky that Violet González was a morning person.
06:45 — thanks heaps V! Re 64ers, was he a member, or? Assume talking about March protests.
Three grey dots immediately appeared in the bottom corner of his screen. A moment later, Violet replied.
06:45 — yep quote grab about the price hike. Other article he was at a parliament sit-in. Is this a 64er thing? WHT HAPPENIN.
06:46 — pls tell me i get to have a field day today.
06:46 — r u at the office already?
06:46 — respond. i can see ur read receipts
06:46 — out chasing leads since 5am
06:47 — will meet u at office in 1-2 hrs.
Violet’s reply was instantaneous.
06:47 — they don’t pay u enough dude
06:48 — they def don’t pay me enough to be up at 5am. If i wanted to work shitty hours i would b a doctor haha.
Oliver scowled, even though the intern wasn’t there to receive it.
06:49 — if i send fire emoji, tell legal i’m at precinct on 20. But DO NOT TELL THEM YET. need to check some stuff first.
There was a long pause. Then Violet texted:
06:51 — have u been arrested.
“Who are you talking to?” asked Nick suspiciously.
“No comment,” said Oliver, and sent off another text in reply.
06:53 — i said YET. Lemme know if u find anything more on Hersch + also check who is covering the fire @ yellowstone building, L19. If it is Julian don’t say anything he will b nosy.
In response, Violet just sent through a block of hyperlinks to The Sentinel’s articles.
Oliver clicked through them idly, mind whirring as fast as the passing cityscape. The bits and pieces of this morning’s tip and Hersch’s dead body were sitting at odds with the stolen contraband behind them. Had the vials been en route to some kind of activist stash house instead of a glass lab? There had been reports of some Sixty-Fourther activists stockpiling the water purification drug in the face of price hikes, but this…something didn’t quite fit. Oliver had interviewed dozens of activists since the group came onto the scene years ago, and became not-so-fringe since the new water preservation amendment bill was introduced to Parliament last spring.
Stealing and stockpiling CM15, Armageddon style, did sound like the Sixty-Fourther’s modus operandi. And where CM15 went, so did the Glass trade. But why shoot up in a goddamn cab of all places? It didn’t make any sense.
There was a lot missing: starting with the fire opposite Brights and ending with the vials in the back seat.
It was almost half past seven in the morning by the time Oliver finished giving his statement.
Nick gave him a tablet and a keyboard and had watched, drinking a mug of coffee while Oliver typed it up.
“There,” said Oliver, slapping the tablet back down in front of Nick with extreme prejudice, “can I go now?”
“No, we need to see the tip you got.”
“I already quote it in the statement,” said Oliver, stretching out his legs under the table so they knocked against Nick’s chair legs.
They were sitting in one of the small witness interview rooms, the walls made of heavily fogged glass that let in the light from the rest of the station but smudged those inside into draft silhouettes. There was a suffocating quality to the room, the carpet soaking up each word and stained from years of listening.
“We need to examine your phone.”
Oliver folded his arms.
“No,” he said, wondering if he should have texted the emoji to Violet as soon as he had sat down, “don’t make me quote the statute.”
Nick pressed the side of his mug into his own face, as if it could absorb his frustration.
“Listen, Ollie. A man is dead. Your source could have something to do with it, for all we know.”
“Like every other big paper, The Sentinel has anonymous ways for people to send in tips…” said Oliver slowly, “so even if I were to give you my phone, you’ll get nothing more than what I’ve already told you. Which is everything.”
“Oh, I’m sure the techs can get more,” said Nick, rolling his eyes, “unless there’s something else you’re not telling me.”
“You seemed to come up with a case theory pretty fast in the car,” he said, leaning back in his chair. “Why’s that?”
Oliver squinted at him.
“Because he was wearing a uniform with the supplier’s name embroidered on the collar? Because I’m a journalist and I have to get shit done ‘pretty fast‘?” he said, “speaking of: I have deadlines to meet, so if we’re done…”
“You haven’t gotten any other related tips? Nothing at all?”
Oliver threw up his hands.
“Oh no!” he exclaimed, “you got me – I’ve been hiding confessions down my pants this whole t -! No, I haven’t gotten anything else.”
Nick rolled his eyes, and was about to reply when they were interrupted by a knock on the glass door. A man with close cropped hair and thick glasses poked his head around the door.
“Hey,” he said, looking at Nick, “Garner wants to talk to you. Right now. They just ID’d the vials you brought in – “
Nick made a cutting motion and glared at Oliver. Oliver raised both eyebrows.
“Mate, I was there.”
“Shut up,” said Nick.
“Well this isn’t very professional,” said Oliver, “I’m going to fill out a feedback form, Sergeant.”
“Nick, seriously. Garner is not happy to be in this early.”
“Okay, okay,” said Nick, scooping the tablet and draining his mug, which he thrust at Oliver, “stay right here. I mean it Ollie. I’ll be back.”
Oliver swung both feet onto Nick’s vacated chair.
“Fine,” he said, taking out his phone.
He had one missed call, and Oliver thumbed the icon as soon as the door swung shut behind Nick. Florence picked up on the third ring. Oliver could hear the familiar background noise of the newsroom, the voices that cut out to a dull murmur as Florence moved into a quiet room.
“I’m at the station,” Oliver said immediately, “an FYI.”
“Oh it’s nothing that sensitive,” said Florence. She didn’t beat around the bush, which was something Oliver liked about her, “Violet said you wanted to talk to me about a fire?”
“Why were you covering a fire alarm call out at four AM?” said Oliver, interest piqued.
“More like half past twelve,” said Florence, “I’ve been awake all fucking night. George, bless his heart, had alerts set for certain police call-outs given our state of, hmm, civil unrest. Gave me a heads up.”
“So not just a fire then,” said Oliver, leaning forwards in his chair, “what else?”
“Nuh uh,” his colleague interrupted, “this is my story. I’ve been up for more than twenty bloody hours. What did you want to talk about? This isn’t your usual beat.”
“Well it might just be,” said Oliver, “I got a tip this morning. Found a dead body. And a whole lotta drugs.”
There was a moment of silence. Florence’s voice, when it came, was silky and casual.
“And I care about this…why?”
“I’ll tell you everything when I’m back, but I need you to do me a favour – what happened with Yellowstone?”
“My name comes first on the byline,” said Florence immediately.
“Aww, c’mon!” Oliver protested, “the dead body is gonna lead!”
“Yeah?” said Florence, “mine or yours?”
Oliver almost dropped his phone in his excitement.
“What? They also found a —!“
“No,” Florence cut through, “no…okay, look we’ll hash it out back here. Wait — yes, Julian what do you…no, I’m…okay, fine I’ll be right there, gimme five — Jesus, I gotta go.”
“Do not say anything to Julian, that scab,” said Oliver, “remember, you owe me one! February tenth!”
“Ugh,” said Florence, “fine, fine, your name goes first. There was some kind of explosion that tripped the fire alarm in Yellowstone. George got pics of the broken window…and the ambulance that arrived because someone was dying in the middle of the pavement. Lots of blood, even with the rain.”
“‘Dying?’” asked Oliver, “from the fire? Did you see who – ”
“Don’t know, I wasn’t there yet. George couldn’t get a good pic, and I couldn’t get a word out of the officers at the scene, so if you can find something for me while you’re at the precinct…”
“Which side of the street was the victim on?” asked Oliver, drumming his fingers on the table and eyeing the glass door. He wasn’t sure when Nick would return, but he didn’t have much time.
“Side of…? Let me check.”
“Across the road,” said Florence.
“Outside Brights?” suggested Oliver.
“…yes,” said Florence, “how did you …?”
The excitement was like a gas fire behind his ribs, charring his lungs shallow with adrenaline. Had Hersch run into someone by accident on his way out with the contraband? Perhaps he was waylaid by security.
“I’ll call you right back,” said Oliver, and hung up.
Oliver almost knocked his chair over in this haste to get to the door. He drew a steadying breath. If Oliver was lucky, Nick would still be talking to Garner. Oliver took off his beanie, stuffing it into his back pocket before he walked out of the interview room. He rounded the corner of the hallway and followed an officer swiping through the double doors. Oliver paused to hold it out for the woman behind him.
“Thanks,” she said, distracted.
“No problem,” said Oliver.
From experience, if he walked with a long enough stride and a high enough chin, Oliver usually got away with it long enough to find something useful. Confidence was generally sufficient to gloss over mild doubts, and Oliver had the advantage of familiarity.
The station was half open plan, with low cubicles making up the middle of the bullpen and the perimeter lined with smaller rooms and offices. It was an odd, squat octagonal space, with a sunken half level for the bullpen and three sets of double-doors in three hour intervals: one leading out to the public reception area, the other upstairs to the rest of the station and the third to a series of operation rooms.
Oliver recognised Claudia’s voice a split second before she came into view, her back thankfully turned to him. Oliver swiftly ducked behind a convenient corner of cubical wall, eyes scanning the room for Nick.
“No, we searched the entire cab,” Claudia was saying, “there was no gun, or any other kind of weapon.”
Oliver’s ears perked up at the word ‘cab’. He risked a glance over the cubicle wall. Claudia was speaking to two other officers, one carrying a wide tablet.
“He could have tossed it before he got into that cab,” she suggested.
Inconveniently, Garner’s office was on the other side of the desks. There was no way Oliver could get to it without Claudia seeing him – and if Claudia saw him, the jig was up. Oliver puffed out his cheeks. If he stood here for much longer, someone was going to walk by and ask him what he was doing.
“And then stopped to get high twenty minutes later?” said Claudia, shaking her head, “makes no sense, Amanda.”
Oliver frowned. Florence hadn’t said anything about a gunshot, but stray bullets might have broken glass…
“The two things could be totally unconnected,” Amanda continued, “he could just be one of Langley’s runners…“
“Two things?,” said the third officer, who was half sitting on the corner of a desk, sporting the a haircut that Oliver thought should be banned from the force given how it must impair vision, “I think you meant three. The fire, the shooting and now Mr O.D..”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake James. She’s a firestarter; there was a fire: I’m counting that as one thing!”
Who was a firestarter? thought Oliver, mentally jotting down notes, the victim outside Brights? Or had they caught someone else? The arsonist at Yellowstone?
This was rapidly ballooning into something much bigger than an over-enthusiastic glass addict.
Then came Garner’s familiar voice, out of sight but deep enough to carry.
“…yeah I want to speak to him. Hey. Why are you all standing around gossiping?” he asked, “did someone chase up that 999 call?”
“I’ll go get Roskopf,” said Nick’s disembodied voice, and Oliver winced.
He had maybe twenty seconds left. Oliver contemplated jumping out from behind the cubicle wall and shouting surprise! and making a dash for the reception door while everyone was distracted. There was a moment of silence in the bullpen and through the reflection of a glass door, Oliver could see James handing Garner a tablet.
“We have a very close match with the possible time of the fire sir,” he said, “I called the hospital and asked why we hadn’t seen anything logged, but they just hadn’t had time to submit the standard incident report —”
“Sounds about right,” said Garner, “ID on the caller?”
“Not yet, but we’re on it,” said James.
“Good. In the meantime, you and Anker get down there and see if you can get a statement from—”
“About that sir,” James sounded nervous, “the nurse I spoke to informed me that the victim was transferred out to Highgate on twenty-eight, at around two-thirty this morning. Before this report was submitted. Um.”
“What?” shouted Garner, “goddamit. Who okay-ed that? I thought 999 said she was bleeding to death!”
“I haven’t been able to confirm anything with Highgate,” said James, speaking very fast as if he was trying to get all the bad news out as quickly as he could, “they weren’t being very helpful, but they’re a private aptee cli—”
“I know Highgate,” snapped Garner, “alright, well sp —”
There was the sound of a commotion and then Nick’s voice, slightly out of breath.
“Can’t find Ollie,” he said, “but reception didn’t see him leave.”
A moment of silence.
“Oliver,” said Garner, and it was the same voice he used when someone was thinking of taking the last bread roll at the dinner table.
“Roskopf, you have three seconds.”
© Frances Wren 2019, all rights reserved.
If you have time, any feedback is amazing! Leave a comment ▼ or message here | You can also subscribe for new chapter alerts! This update’s cover illustration is by the amazing Raphodraws (Raphaela Springer).