by Michael Morgan
Copyright 2018 All Rights Reserved
“Lester called in sick again?” Bobby swiveled his chair to look at the room. “He’s never sick.”
“Just hope he keeps it to himself,” Abbey said over the rim of her coffee cup. “I don’t need my kids down with anything.”
“Did Amber say anything about him?” Bobby asked.
Abbey’s cup returned to its coaster, “Nah. They’re estranged and fighting over the kids. She wouldn’t be bothered to give a damn if he died.”
“Except for the money,” Sam added. “If the kids aren’t in the will, she’ll be fit to be tied.”
“Last I heard that was how she got him interested in the first place,” chortled Bobby.
“Jeez, Bobby!” Abbey was smiling. “Talk about a straight path to HR!”
Bobby grinned back, “Read it on the socials, so it must be true!”
“Excuse me nurse…”
Margie held up her index finger as she finished reading the chart in front of her. She looked up at the boyish face of the man standing next to the nurse’ station, “How can I help you?”
The white smile against the dark mahogany skin made her smile in return. “Is this the place where you have the paramedics from this morning’s hazmat incident?”
“You are…?” Margie asked.
A slim manicured hand pulled back the suit coat exposing a deep muscular chest beneath the starched shirt, and a gold shield clipped to the man’s belt, “Detective Jeremiah Pitts.”
Margie smiled and put her left hand in her pocket unsure why she felt a compelling urge to flirt, “Rooms one sixty-three and five.”
“Some kind of poison,” Demarcus read from the Medical Examiner’s report. “So far this shi…” Demarcus caught Jeremiah’s look and stopped himself. “STUFF is unidentified.” Demarcus closed the folder, “What’d you learn at the hospital?”
“Not much,” Jeremiah sighed. “Six uniforms, two paramedics, and four fire, all down within hours of leaving the scene. Hazmat turned up nothing useful, but the lab reports are not back yet.”
“What about our victim, Lester Ambrose?” Demarcus dropped the file on the desk.
“On life support pending notification of kin,” Jeremiah picked up his phone. “I sent a squad to pick up his estranged wife an hour ago. She was not answering her phone.”
“My soon-to-be ex-husband is dead. So what?” Amber leaned back in the chair and glared at Jeremiah. “I’m supposed to care after he kicked me and his kids out with nothing but the clothes on our backs?”
“I thought you might be a bit concerned, yes.” Jeremiah.
“You could have just sent me a text instead of having a police car pull up in front of my workplace and giving me a perp walk out in front of everybody.” Amber picked up her purse and started fishing.
“No smoking in the building,” Jeremiah opened the folder. “I needed to ask you some question in person.”
“I know.” Amber dropped the purse to the floor. “I watch Dateline for Christ’s sake.” She picked up the bag again. “The spouse done it. Or the Ex. Or the secret lover. Old news!” She pulled out a green wrapper, “Is gum OK?”
“Perfectly,” Jeremiah never looked up from the file.
“I mean, we work together. We had a drunken one-nighter after an office party, except it had an unanticipated complication. We tried to make it work. For three years, we put on the happy couple face in public, and fought the rest of the time.”
Jeremiah looked at her, “Did your fights ever get physical?”
“Only if you count the make-ups afterward,” Amber chewed gum with her mouth open.
“That would explain three kids together,” Jeremiah made some notes.
“No. The oldest was from my first marriage,” Amber looked around the room. “This gum is stale.”
Jeremiah reached into the corner and passed over the trashcan, “So where have you been for the past three days?”
Demarcus stepped between the strands of yellow tape crisscrossing the front door, “J! Hey J! Where you hidin’?”
“Back here in the office,” came the muffled reply. “Put a mask on before you come back!”
Demarcus found him standing in the middle of the home office wearing a complicated breathing mask. Just standing, and looking at the massive aquarium that took up and entire wall of the room. “Should I get you a fishing pole?”
Jeremiah glanced at his friend, “D, go outside and look in the trunk of my car and get the extra respirator. That little paper mask is garbage.”
“What are you worried about?” Demarcus backed out of the room. “Hazmat’s been all over this place, and found nothing.”
Jeremiah turned to look at Demarcus, “When I went through the Academy, half of the class were firefighters going for Fire Marshall. One of them told me that the best way to knew if you need a Hazmat suit is if a cop is standing in the road directing traffic. Ever heard of a Blue Canary? That’s us bro’.”
“I’ll be right back,” Demarcus hurried out.
“Zen-ee-ya ee-lon…” Jeremiah hesitated.
“Elongata,” Amber finished for him.
Jeremiah looked up from his notes, “You know what that is?”
“Sure. It’s a purple colored soft coral,” Amber leaned on the table. The scoop neck of her angora sweater proving the garment was not worn for warmth. “The common name is Blooming Xenia.”
“How do you know about it?” Jeremiah enjoyed the annoyed look on Amber’s face when he looked her steadily in the eyes.
Amber sat back, “Noobs get the saltwater kick, and usually kill off most of their fish and corals right away. Xenias are hard to kill, so a lot of people start off with them.”
Jeremiah looked back down at the file, “Is it common for the shops that sell them to warn the customers they are dangerous?”
“I dunno. I never bought one,” Amber crossed her arms, and looked bored. “Why the sudden interest?”
Jeremiah lifted a colored brochure with tropical fish, and a register receipt from the file.