I hated to beg the temporary agency for an assignment every day. I would've much preferred for them to call me when they had something, but that was their policy; call in or don't work.|
"This is Trace Walker. Got anything?" My gravelly voice offered nothing in the way of warmth.
Silence indicated the placement coordinator was quietly bringing up my profile and running a check against her daily listings. While classified general labor, I had unique skills that sometimes earned me better paying gigs.
"Got one," the disinterested agent replied. "Reconstruction work."
"Like after a fire or flood?"
"Yes. Need someone competent. Last one we sent in stepped through a floorboard and wrecked his knee."
The pay was decent and I had nothing else going on.
The address provided was that of an insurance company RE/Life, the refurbisher. The firm made the news a couple weeks back because of the body burnt like a spent sparkler found afterwards. The fire investigator, working with local PD, determined the stiff to be a disgruntled agent-cum-arsonist. Seems his reduction-in-force number came up, and they believe he wanted the firm to burn with him.
Re/Life's training consisted of putting on a contamination suit. The rest was simple enough. Haul containers up, fill them with ashen detritus, and then drag them back down to the disposal truck. The air was thick with particles of debris and smelled like charcoaled plastic.
Into my second hour, I approached a row of files. I called to my supervisor.
"What's the deal on the cabinets?"
Milton, a black man wearing a yellow suit similar to mine, explained, "Everything paper went up with the fire. Most was backed up. Big wigs went through and pulled anything left that had socials. If you come across anything with personal information, shred it. We don't want liability issues."
Cabinets emptied, I moved around to the desks.
An outline could be seen where the deceased had been charred into the carpet. There was something odd about the position. It looked as if he was reaching under the desk.
I'd been a private dick years ago, until I fucked up and lost my license, taking with it all hope of redemption. But instincts don't go away just because you're not on the job anymore.
I knelt and groped around the desk's underbelly. Nothing. I worked each drawer out in turn. When I got to middle one, something metal dropped to the floor: a blood-stained lighter. I tried to flip it open.
No, not a lighter. A thumb drive made to look like a lighter.
Arsonists don't hide things they hope won't burn, but patsies do. The real murderer probably figured whatever the drive contained would go up in flames with his victim. Only, the patsy's finale had been to secure it somewhere it wouldn't melt.
I didn't have friends anymore, but I had an adversary who'd explode if I found evidence he'd overlooked. I dialed my cell.
"Homicide? Put me through to Detective Lopez. I'm going to ruin his day."
Within a week, an executive was arrested for insurance fraud. My name hadn't even made the papers. All I got for my trouble was grief from Re/Life for not following their instructions and a sour look from Lopez for my stubborn intent to keep existing.
And then it was back to the game.
"This is Trace Walker. Got anything?"