“What the hell does this mean?” Rich stabbed a finger toward the letter his lawyer held.
“They won’t pay the insurance claim until the investigations conclude. You must be cleared of implication in the fire. Of course it won’t come to that.” Molly peered over her reading glasses and inquired blandly, “Will it, Rich?”
“Of course not!”
“Good. It’s an annoying delay, but unavoidable. If it becomes protracted beyond a reasonable period, we’ll take action.”
Shifting slightly, Rich responded, “How long is reasonable?”
Molly closed the folder. “That depends upon the arson and insurance investigations. Charging someone requires deciding the fire was caused deliberately. You said there’s no possibility of arson, so it shouldn’t take long.” She touched a keypad. As her secretary entered, Molly shook Rich’s hand. “My door is always open to you.”
Some kid in a suit was in his secretary’s office when he got to work. “Hank Paulson with Premiere Royal.” The kid handed him a business card. Rich read it and frowned. His insurance company had some child playing investigator?
“I understand a friend was in the unit when the fire began?” the boy asked as he set up his laptop in Rich’s office.
“My girlfriend, Michelle Napier. She lives with me.”
“Oh? I’m sure you were going to call us with that update.” Hank’s voice dropped to a confiding stage whisper. “I’ll just correct that on the policy.”
“Look, let me save you some time. I gave out four keys.” Rich ticked off his fingers. “My girlfriend, my secretary, my housekeeper, and my maintenance company.” He dropped his hand to the desk. “I’m good at brokering mergers. That makes people angry sometimes, but our security says there are no credible threats against me. My secretary prepared a memory stick with all the information.” He handed it over.
“Were you expecting any deliveries?” The keys on the kid’s keyboard stopped clicking as he looked over the documents. “Wait, I see it here. All deliveries are routed through your assistant, Ms. Sybil Dunmar. Did Ms. Napier do the same?”
“I don’t know if she had any,” Rich responded with a shrug.
“That’s fine, I’ll contact her today.” Rich fiddled with Hank’s card as the kid typed. Hank glanced up and fixed him with an intent look. “Is there anything I should be made aware of? Something not directly asked as yet?”
As yet? Rich shook his head.
“That’s all I need. You’re off the hook for now!” Hank’s laugh made Rich want to punch him. “I’ll contact you directly as needed. Just easier that way.” With a shiny smile, Hank waved as he left.
Just easier that way. Nothing about this was easy. The email from his accountant did little to put him at ease. So much of his money tied up in the house, now a pile of rubble. More invested in futures and underperforming. No, not easy at all.
He tried to focus as he typed an email to his project managers. Time to demand a meeting for an update. After the fiasco with the last account, he wasn’t taking any chances with the Stemple project.
Over dinner, Michelle told him she met with the insurance kid. “Nothing I didn’t expect,” she added between bites of her prime rib. “A few questions, a couple signatures.”
Rich’s brows lowered. “What did he make you sign?”
“A waiver and a copy of my statement.” Michelle lifted a shoulder slightly. “Why?”
“I just want to stay on top of it all.” Putting his fork down, Rich realized he’d been on edge since that annoying kid’s visit. “What would you like to do after dinner?” When she gave him that delicious smile, his mind fogged and he forgot to be upset.
After the meeting with his project managers the next morning, Rich checked his voicemail. The arson investigator, Kitterick, wanted to ask some questions. He said it would be best if they got together at the police station with Sergeant McClean. Sounds simple enough, Rich told himself a few times. Keep everyone in the loop this way. That’s all.
When McClean and Kitterick finally stopped tag-teaming him, the sergeant sneered, “Don’t leave the city.” Too wiped out and jittery from coffee to bite her head off, he lurched down the hallway to the restroom. Hours had passed in that close room, hours of coffee and “let’s take it from the top,” not allowing him basic relief. After washing his hands, Rich dampened a paper towel and wiped down his face.
“You know,” he heard a familiar voice growl, “we’re going to find the asshole who set the fire, Brandt. When we do, heaven help him.” Halfway to the door, the arson investigator paused. “You smoke, Brandt?”
Rich shook his head. “No. Quit last year.”
Kitterick barked a short laugh. “Go figure.” The door slammed behind him. Rich leaned against the sink and tried to settle his thoughts. The first clear one to emerge was his need to get out of the building to the safety of his office.
“Oh, Mr. Brandt, here you are,” Sybil’s voice quavered. “Mr. Barbrooke’s assistant called. Mr. Barbrooke wants to see you immediately. I know it’s late, but his assistant said he would be waiting.” The white showed in Sybil’s eyes as she gripped a tissue. Rich checked his watch. What the hell was a VP doing here at 8:15 on a Friday?
“Thank you, Sybil. You can go home.” He handed her his briefcase and straightened his tie.
On the way back down in the executive elevator, Rich was oddly calm despite the ringing in his ears. Disjointed thoughts flit through his mind. His last time riding this elevator. Sybil would pack up his office. Would the Stemple account survive this? He didn’t care right now. He wondered if he’d care later. Perhaps when he woke up from the drunk he planned to pull on tonight.