"43rd floor?" Mariam Imrie stared at the construction site with incredulity. "Seriously? It's a skyscraper. The elevators aren't even in yet!" The coroner tucked one of a dozen curls of black hair that had escaped her scrunchie behind her ear, in the process dislodging one that was already there.
"That's what Pete - the welder - said." Erin Rae answered, meandering through stacked cement bags and 10 foot high stacks of particle boards with sure footing and uncharacteristic certainty of direction. "The provisional elevator cages are round back, better not let the foreman wait!" the slight, black-haired woman squinted with almond eyes at her colleagues through her bangs, her smirk almost mirthful.
Her three colleagues turned towards their boss. Joanne Syme nodded her head forward and everyone followed suit.
"They have visitors' helmets here." Erin threw Evelyn Cheyne a hard hat, which the tall weapons specialist easily caught. "There's a knob at the back you can twist to adjust the headband." Erin added. "And Cedric?"
The 7-foot native American raised an eyebrow and lowered his gaze.
"Watch your head. There'll be wires hanging from the ceilings. And double t-beams!" She pointed one out to him that he barely avoided as they proceeded into the elevator cage.
"So, Agent Rae, you think this foreman will help us?" Syme called over the rattling of the moving elevator, adjusting the hard hat so it didn't tug on a graying streak of hair. Erin nodded to the dark-skinned woman.
"Sure? Because the way you corrected his welding work, I wouldn't be surprised if the building had only 40 floors. Payback's a bitch." Cheyne prodded some more, impatiently drumming her fingers against the cage while her eyes flitted across the city outside, not failing to notice how the building became more and more of a scaffold than a solid concrete building.
"He would've had to redo that welding line if he'd run out of thread. He was happy I warned him in time." Erin explained casually. Expertly, she pulled the lever just as they reached the 43rd floor, the cabin almost level with the 12 or so square feet of floor that had been built in front of the elevator exit.
Without as much as a look around, Erin slipped out of the cabin as Cedric Blackburn pulled open the gate, sure-footedly zipping along a bare double-t-beam towards a juncture where a tall man wearing a white hard hat was working.
"Hey Mackerel!" she called to the burly man.
"His name is Mack. Is it a good idea to antagonize him ?" Blackburn mumbled as the man turned to look at the new arrival irritatedly.
"What do you think you are doing here, miss!" He replied sternly. "We're 500 feet above--" she hadn't stopped, and was now standing on the thin plank right in front of him, giving him her best doe-eyed look. He lowered his head to eye level, blinked, then suddenly wrapped her in a bear-hug and lifted her right off her feet. Mariam gasped, and Blackburn took an instinctive step towards the two, stopping right at the beginning of the thin beam.
"I'll be damned! Little Erin!" Joseph Mack called out, a big grin plastered on his face as he squeezed the woman to his breast. He gently but quickly set her down on the t-beam after another hug. "All grown up! What brings you back here? I thought you worked at the Mayor's office now?" He beamed at her.
"Actually, that's Rachael. I went to the FBI." The edges of her mouth curled almost imperceptibly.
"Right, you wanted to catch the scary people, I remember now. So, am I in trouble? It's always so hard to tell with you, you've always been the somber one." He gestured and they both went back towards the little patch of floor at the elevator platform where her colleagues were waiting.
"Not you, Mackerel. But maybe one of your guys. That's why we need your help." Erin turned and caught his eye. "We know what kind of a person we're looking for, but we don't have a name or description."
Joseph Mack nodded. "This is about the fires on the other sites." It wasn't a question, he'd already guessed the answer. He began to chew on the bottom of his mustache.
"Yours is the only larger one he hasn't hit yet. Either he's planning to do it soon, or he's avoiding his workplace." She placed her left hand comfortingly on his right lower arm. "Anyway, he's already here. You've probably seen him." She paused, giving him time to come to the conclusion that protecting his workers' lives was more important than the break in trust disclosing their information in the case of their innocence represented.
"Help us?" she asked with almost inaudibly soft voice.
"All right." he sighed heavily as he guided them back into the elevator cabin. "What do you know about him?"
THANKS TO: Judy Chen, Kathleen Brown