“What do you want?” A man was coming across the lobby towards him, squaring his shoulders out and stamping his feet down. Michael recognised it immediately as territorial behaviour and stopped where he was, his hands held slightly down and out in front of him, his palms turned down. It was a gesture that suggested he could put his hands up and surrender straight-away if it was necessary, but that he was waiting to find out why it was necessary. He made sure that his face was wearing a neutral expression, and then adjusted that slightly to be worried as the man approached.
The man looked to be in his fifties, probably closer to sixty. He had white hair that had a few strands of grey left here and there and it didn’t look like it got washed often enough. He was wearing a uniform, security guard probably, but there was a dribble of something yellowish down the left lapel that Michael was willing to be was egg yolk, and the cuffs were shiny and frayed. Beneath the uniform jacket was a creased-looked white shirt that looked stretched across the chest and stomach, and the belt around his trousers appeared to be there more for appearance than for utility. His stomach was definitely large enough to keep the trousers up by themselves, but it was obvious that soon they’d have to sit beneath his paunch, and then the belt would be essential.
“Are you Larry?” asked Michael, remembering the name from the email. Larry was the guard who’d sent Rosa up in a lift only to have her fall half-out of it, dead, at the top.
“No. Larry’s off sick,” said the man. “Now what do you bloody well want? Speak up or sling yer ‘ook.”
“I wanted to speak to Larry, actually,” said Michael. He held a hand up to forestall the man repeating himself. “It’s related to a little… excitement that he had recently.” There was a pause, and Michael thought that this new guard wasn’t going to understand the understatement. Certainly he seemed to be thinking hard, and it looked like it was taking effort.
“You mean the dead girl,” said the guard at last, and Michael nodded. “That weren’t our fault,” said the guard. “She was fine when she got in the lift, they’ve checked the CCTV and everything. Nothing to do with us.”
“I understand that,” said Michael, seeing an opening. “That’s why I’m here, I’m investigating the scene to be sure that there was nothing more you could have done so that we can exclude you from further inquiries.” He thought he sounded rather smart.
“No-one’s said there’s going to be further hinquiries,” said the guard, frowning. “Why would there be? We didn’t do nothing wrong.”
“There won’t be,” said Michael, quickly. “I’m just making sure that all the paperwork’s done so that no-one makes a mistake and comes back and starts asking questions.”
“But we done nothing wrong,” said the guard. Michael wanted to sigh, but settled for a tight smile instead. “I know,” he said. “I’m with you one hundred percent. I just need to make sure that everyone else understands that. That no-one finds themselves stuck and looking for someone to point the finger at.”
“I don’t like the sound of this,” said the guard. He pointed at the couch. “You sit there and wait while I call up head office and check this out.”
Michael forced the smile to stay on his face while he sat slowly down on the couch, wondering what was going to happen when the guard got through to head office and found they hadn’t sent anybody. He would obviously say that he was with the police, but he didn’t want to risk the guard deciding to call them as well. Would it be easier just to scarper now and come back when a different one was on?
A buzzer buzzed, and the guard looked over at the automatic doors. Seeing a man in overalls stood outside, he walked back to the desk and pressed a button to open the doors, explaining why Michael had had to wait a second when he’d approached earlier. Michael’s spirit sank further; now he couldn’t even just nip out of the doors and do a runner.
“What do you want?” demanded the guard, giving Michael a sudden flash of déja vu.
“Elevator repairman,” said the newcomer with an easy smile. He nodded at Michael, who recognised him as Alex Miller immediately.