Oliver gulped. Then he stepped out from behind the cubicle wall. He raised both arms in an exaggerated shrug of ‘what can you do?’
“Detective Inspector! Nick was gone for ages,” he said, determinedly cheerful despite their incredulous stares, “I got bored. Came to look for you.”
James gaped at him, outraged.
“How long have you been hiding behind there?”
“Wasn’t hiding,” Oliver explained, “you just didn’t see me. Because of your huge bangs.”
“I cannot fucking believe you,” said Nick, voice rising in volume, “I told you to stay put!”
“I was hungry, and thirsty,” said Oliver, then backpedalled as Claudia came towards him, “y…wait, wait Claudia you can’t arrest me I was looking for sustenance —”
“Come with me,” said Garner, and stomped towards the reception doors, “both of you.”
After a split second hesitation, Oliver followed, skirting around Amanda, James and Claudia and letting Nick tow him out of the bull-pen by the elbow.
“Are you shitting me right now Ollie,” Nick hissed in his ear, “how did you even get in there —”
“Tailgated,” said Oliver smugly, “anyway I told you, Ian likes me. It’ll be fine.”
“Get in,” said Ian Garner, and Nick shoved Oliver into the interview room.
“Sit,” said Ian.
“Uh,” Oliver stalled, leaning against the edge of the desk, “I want to call my lawyers. As in the paper’s lawyers. We have heaps of them —”
“Be quiet,” said Ian.
There was a long, viscous pause. Oliver looked from Nick to Ian and winced again. He regretted not texting that emoji to Violet.
“Now, son,” said Ian, “I know you have a job to do. But so do we.”
“You know you’re always the starring protagonist in my articles, Mr Gar—”
“So I want you to promise that you will keep this under wraps at least until the autopsy results come back.”
Oliver raised both eyebrows.
“…a guy is found with a syringe and a car full of drugs, and you don’t think it was an OD?” he asked.
“We aren’t making any assumptions until toxicology reports in,” Ian repeated solidly, “and neither should you.”
“Riiight…” said Oliver, “because you think he shot someone outside Yellowstone on the Nineteenth. That’s why Clauds was searching for a gun, yeah?”
“Oh my god,” Nick moaned, slapping a hand over his eyes.
“This isn’t a press interview,” Ian sighed, “and we’re investigating Yellowstone as a standard workplace safety incident.”
“No you’re not,” said Oliver.
“Listen here you little twerp,” said Ian, palms down on the desk, “things are more delicate than you think, you haven’t got the full picture, so do everyone a favour: wait for the autopsy and our official statement, or I take you downstairs and keep you for a few hours.”
“Section 54A,” sang Oliver, “I wasn’t recording I just wandered into the wrong room, nothing illegal —”
“Bloody hell, I don’t have time for this,” said Ian, “media speculation right now would only hurt the investigation, so how about you be a good citizen for once and—”
“Who was it that got shot outside Brights?” asked Oliver, “was it an employee? That part of town is pretty empty that late at night right? Probably not a passerby…”
“Was there any sign of a break in at Brights? Or the attached building? They wouldn’t keep all those vials in a convenience pharmacy, no way. Not in that quantity.”
“Do you want me to charge you?”
“But think of the optics, sir,” said Oliver, “c’mon, just one statement. One teensy weensy —”
Oliver bolted for the door.
There was only one hospital on Level Nineteen.
Outside the precinct, the morning blared and coughed with the smoke of those who had ventured out of their apartments, the weak sunlight finally starting to warm the air. Oliver caught a whiff of strong coffee as someone passed by balancing a ginormous tray of six. His stomach growled in response.
Oliver started down the street at a brisk walk.
It was faster to take the closest pedestrian lift down a level than it was to wait for a light-rail: with luck he would avoid the morning rush. He scanned his phone as he walked, chewing his lip in concentration. He ignored the text messages from Florence and a missed call from Violet.
He pulled up his web browser instead, nail clicking against the side of the phone as he considered the information he had so far. A firestarter: possibly the victim, possibly someone else. They weren’t exactly lining the streets, but it wasn’t like there was a mandatory registry of them. They were probably a staff member of Brights or Arden Pharmaceuticals, to be there that late at night.
A search for ‘firestarter brights arden pharma* london’ merely crowded the top search results with links featuring Corinna Arden, alongside glossy editorial photos and social-event shots. Dammit. Oliver half heartedly tried the same search string on a handful of employee networking and recruitment sites, but there were too many hits and unknown variables.
“Ugh, c’mon, Ollie. Think.”
The firestarter was probably working for a security company but that didn’t help with pinning down a name right now. By the time he or Violet figured out which private contractor it was and shortlisted the employee names, the police would have made it to the hospital and it would be much harder to sweet talk the receptionist.
Oliver half ran up a short flight of stairs leading to the pedestrian lifts, swiping his transport card impatiently.
He glanced at the digital clock above the lift doors, joining the three others who were already in line. Below their platform, the howl of the wind caused by rushing traffic generated a constant fine haze of dust. It tinted the air with a warm blush, and coated the inside of one’s throat like cheap coffee.
Oliver’s thumb hovered over the contact name in his phone: a V accompanied by five hearts in place of a surname. There was a good chance her shift schedule had not changed too much which meant that (a) she would have been at the hospital last night and (b) she would be extremely pissed to get woken up at eight in the morning after a night shift. Oliver groaned to himself, heel scuffing the tiles with indecision.
It was bad etiquette to talk in the lifts, but there was nothing for it. Oliver pressed ‘call’, and waited. It rang for a full six rings before:
“….Ollie? What the fuck.”
“Baby, don’t hang up,” Oliver said immediately, “this is important!”
“My sleep is important…are you okay? Are you dying?”
“No, but —”
“Then I’m hanging up.”
“No, Vegas, wait — don’t hang up, don’t hang up, wait! I’m so sorry for waking you, but I promise this is important.”
There was no response.
“Were you on night shift last night…uh, earlier this morning?”
Better get straight to the point.
“Did anyone come into A&E with a gunshot wound?”
Oliver shuffled into the lift, avoiding the reproachful gaze being leveled at him and his phone. He made an apologetic face and lowered his voice as the lift doors beeped in warning. The doors are closing, said a calm disembodied voice, please stand back.
“Are you in a lift right now? Where are you?”
“Vegas! This is importa —”
“Oh please, all your stories are ‘important’. Plot twist: they’re not! I cannot believe you dare ring me up for this shit. After everything I said!”
Her voice was still hoarse from sleep, but it rose in volume and clarity with each word, like she was sitting up in bed.
Oliver could see her now, her hair at twice the volume from hours of static, the dip between her eyebrows as she frowned, and the soft light from heavy curtains would smudge the freckles on the slope of her neck…Oliver realised he had begun to smile and promptly smacked his metaphorical self in the face.
“I know, I know,” he said, voice a loud whisper in deference to the ten other people in the lift with him, “but please, I promise this is different. Did someone come in with that description last night? Possibly a female aptee, maybe a firestarter?”
There was a pause.
“How did you know that?”
Oliver did a silent fist pump.
“Been chatting to the police,” said Oliver vaguely, “can you give me a name?”
“No,” said Vegas flatly.
“Stop calling me that,” Vegas snapped, “we broke up! And I’m hanging up right now – ”
“Wait, Vegas,” interrupted Oliver, wincing at the reminder, “I’m sorry. Can you tell me anything else about this victim? Did anyone come in to get them?”
“Oh my fucking god.”
As the lift came to a halt on Level Nineteen, Oliver could hear the sound of Vegas moving, the soft thwump of duvet and sheets and then footsteps, followed by a door opening. Oliver himself followed the other passengers out onto the landing, swiping his card to leave the gate.
Oliver made his way down a tightly wound staircase, glancing at his watch. Almost fifteen minutes had passed since he left the station. Shit. He began to jog.
St Ophie’s hospital was a large, unmistakable building due to the carve-outs for the helicopters. It left a gap-tooth airspace between the soaring residential and office buildings around it that stood, pillar-like, barely fitting around the motorway.
There was the sound of a roller on a hinge, a second sliding door: then a muffled thwack, followed by a yelp that was much louder. He had been put on speaker; voices coming into focus.
“—than, Ethaaaan. Ethan, wake up.”
The sound of more shuffling as the phone was put down somewhere.
“Wh…urghh, what?” came another familiar voice, “wh’s going on?”
“Ollie wants to ask you stupid questions about the firestarter from last night,” came Vegas’ voice from a little further away.
“Hi Ethan,” said Oliver.
“Ollie?” Ethan was saying, still slightly muffled, “Vegas, why are you taking his calls?”
There was an indistinct noise, like someone moaning.
“Wow your new pillow is awesome. Can I borrow?”
“No, leave it alone. And you made me swear a pact; we had wine ice cream and everything. Did you unblock him? Vegas.”
“Don’t judge me. As if you blocked him.”
“Why are you saying that like it’s a hard thing to do?,” said Ethan, the rude little bastard, “I’ve had him blocked for, like, six months.”
“I’m right here you know,” said Oliver.
“…we only broke up three weeks ago,” said Vegas.
“He’s still blocked from the last time you broke up.”
Oliver stared at his phone. That would explain why none of his calls and texts were ever answered; he had just thought Ethan was particularly bad with communication. Oliver cleared his throat into the speaker, dodged a biker on the footpath and crossed the road towards the large ‘St Ophie’s Hospital — Accidents and Emergency’ sign overhanging a triple set of clear double doors.
“Can I ask my questions now?”
“Piss off,” came Ethan’s voice, this time closer to the phone, “I’m hanging up.”
“Wait!” exclaimed Oliver, but the dial tone was already droning in his ear.
“Fuck,” he muttered, and angrily pressed redial. It rang just once before being cut off. That little shit. Oliver switched to his work sim card and redialed Vegas’ number.
“You have reached the Kelsey-Faulkner household,” said Ethan on the first ring, “we’re unavailable to take your call, ever, so don’t bother leaving a message.”
“I just need to know the name of the firestarter who came into A&E last night,” said Oliver in rapid-fire, “or whoever that came in for a gunshot wound. I know someone came in.”
“Patient confidentiality. Bye.”
“Vegas said it was a female firestarter,” said Oliver.
“I did not,” came Vegas’ voice, then, “also gotta go pee. Then Imma go back to bed. Charge my phone once you’re done, Ethan.”
“I’m already done, charge it yourself.”
“Apparently she was shot outside a Brights,” said Oliver, throwing caution to the wind, “I was just talking to your dad at the station. It was pretty bad right?”
“Patient confidentiality,” Ethan repeated, deadpan.
“I mean, I know you’re good at your job but gunshot wounds are still pretty messy,” Oliver plowed on, “serious stuff, would’ve thought. Were there complications or something?”
“I know you’re not deaf,” said Ethan, “which only leads me to conclude that you must be dumb. Patient con-fi-den —”
“I’m only asking,” Oliver continued: afterall in for a penny, in for a pound, “because whoever it was, they got transferred to Highgate around three this morning.”
There was a deafening pause.
“WHAT?” Ethan shouted, “I’m going to kill him!”
“Kill who?” asked Oliver hopefully.
Ethan hung up.
Oliver shrugged, and pocketed his phone as he walked through the automatic doors into the A&E waiting room. It had been worth a try.
Time to do this the hard way.
© 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).