Charles Asciugimento, Head of Building Security, stared at the plaque on his desk. He didn't know where it had come from, but was certain that the hidden CCTV cameras in his office would have recorded the visitor and the time that they delivered it. He would check it later, for now he was amusing himself by trying to decide who would have left it there for him to find. He'd discarded a lot of the security force on the grounds that they would have no way of gaining entry to his office when he wasn't there unless someone else let them in, in which case he considered the person letting them in to be more guilty that the deliverer of the plaque. Because disloyalty was something he absolutely would not tolerate in his staff.
The plaque was polished mahogany, rectangular, about the same size as a typical letterbox. A small gold-ish plate had been mounted in the middle of it, and engraved on the plate were the words No Blame. Charles allowed himself a small smile as he read it again. Someone had clearly done something they feared being found out to be suggesting that he pay attention to such trite words.
Someone knocked on his door, so he pressed a button on the left-hand side of his desk. The flat-screen monitor, recessed into the top and back of the desk so that people stood in front of him couldn't see it, changed its display to show the outside of his office. Anita, a third-level staff sergeant stood, arms folded yet looking alert outside the door. He pressed another button and the door buzzed. Anita unfolded her arms and pushed it open.
"Staff Sergeant," said Charles, not getting up. He waited while she walked across the large expanse of smooth, tiled floor to his desk, and came to attention in front of him. Then he stood up and saluted, and checked the rapidity of her return salute, and the angle her hand made as she raised it. He nodded approvingly and sat back down again.
"Staff Sergeant?" he said again, this time letting her know that she could speak.
"We turned the hoses on the mariachi band on the ground floor, Sir," she said, reporting on recent events. "Two shoppers attempted to stop us, so we hosed them down too."
"And... and when they were unconscious from the water-blast we took them into custody, Sir." Anita's face was wooden. "They are waiting to be released from the cells now, Sir."
"How are their clothes?"
"We stripped them and put their clothes into ice water, as per standard procedure, Sir."
"Then return their clothes to them, ban from the mall for two months and have some plainclothes guards delay them all the way out of the building," said Charles. "Security is, as ever, a priority, and those people who would challenge it without thought must be re-educated."
"One of them claims to be related to one of the mariachi singers," said Anita. Even her voice was perfectly neutral, concealing whatever her private feelings might be.
"Then they were as much a risk as the mariachi band," said Charles. "Who vetted that band initially?"
"Sergeant Clare," said Anita. There was a fractional pause before she gave the name, as she wrestled with not wanting to betray a colleague and knowing that Charles probably already knew and was testing her own loyalty to him.
"Ah yes," said Charles. He tapped a thin, white finger against his lips. "This was her first time, as I recall. I shall impress upon her the importance of knowing everything about the family of such bands before they are allowed into the mall. Desperate times breed desperate people and we must be ever-vigilant. No-one shall die in here because we did not attend to security."
"No blame," said Anita.
"The plaque on your desk, Sir, says No Blame. And you're telling me that if anything were to go wrong here, it would not be security's fault. No blame could attach to us because we've done everything we can to prevent it."
"Yes," said Charles, feeling that Anita sounded rather glib. "Although I think this is a reminder to us all of the I Ching."
"The what, Sir?"
"The I Ching. It is a means of foretelling the future, and it regularly ends its little predictions with the phrase No Blame. I think it's trying to excuse itself in advance."
"Does it work, Sir?"
"Of course not, Staff Sergeant. If we could predict the future then security would be a very different job."
"Very good, Sir."
"Indeed. What has happened with the band?"
Anita swallowed hard, and managed to keep staring dead ahead, her eyes unfocused. "Unfortunately, Sir," she managed, "they attempted to escape after being hosed down and broke through a door inappropriately secured by the contractors on the first basement level."
"They fled down an escalator?" Charles sounded unhappy.
"Not exactly, Sir. When we were subduing the members of the publ–"
"Vigilantes," corrected Charles.
"–vigilantes, Sir, the mariachis made a run for the stairs. We turned the hoses back on them, and they... they used the pressure of the water to speed their descent, Sir."
We hosed them into a twenty-foot fall, is what she thought while she described things using Charles's approved terminology. Then we chased them to a door we knew the contracting firm wouldn't have locked, even though they're supposed to. And we knew that there was a bloody big hole behind the door, and that they'd not see it before they were falling.
"I see," said Charles. "Well, I shall certainly review our understanding with the contractors. What happened when they were through the door?"
"They fell down a pit, Sir," said Anita. "They mostly broke their arms, trying to break their fall."
"Ah, so no more mariachi?"
"Ah well," said Charles. He picked the plaque up, and turned it to face her momentarily.
"You may go now, Staff Sergeant."