The Golden Boy, Rich had it all. Vice presidency assured, spacious brownstone in Georgetown secured, and the Jag was a gift in anticipation of the new account. When a mysterious bidder slipped in ahead of the bell, he watched in horror as the keys to the corner office were pulled out of reach. Sure, the board kept him on, but it was clear he’d never advance. At least he had the Jag free and clear. Cold comfort.
Michelle surprised him with a meal fit for a … well, a vice president. Her cheery acceptance of the sucker punch to his future elicited a few smiles from him. The bubble bath together in the cavernous bathtub after plastered one on. Loving after was a sweet intoxication. He sighed, wrapped in cool sheets and Michelle’s limbs. Maybe it wasn’t the end of his world.
“Mr. Brandt, you have a call.” Sybil’s shaky voice jarred him out of a fog. He shook it away. “It’s the police. Mr. Brandt, she says it’s an emergency at your home.”
“Mr. Brandt, I’m Sergeant McClean. I’m afraid there’s been a fire at your residence. It’s serious. Please meet me there.” Her clipped tones set off a strange ringing in his ears.
“Of course, sergeant. I’ll leave immediately.” He hung up as he rose from his chair. “Sybil, emergency at home. Reschedule meetings and all that.” He heard her call out something generic as he left the office suite.
Pulling up in the Jag, he felt his shoulders slump. Black smoke choked out the view of his precious townhouse, writing its fate in the sky above. “You’re insured,” he whispered. “Calm down. You’re insured.” He blew out a breath, closing his eyes against the sight of loss. Michelle! He pushed past some yahoo with a badge. “I live here!” A sturdy blonde with a badge on a chain around her neck stepped forward and waved off the yahoo.
“Mr. Brandt, you need to stay back of the barriers.” Her gaze was hard and held him fast.
“Okay, okay, I get it. What happened here? My girlfriend – was she in there? Do you know anything?” His words rode roughshod over her useless police talk. Calm down? How the hell did she expect him to calm down, damn it? Stumbling, he suddenly realized she was herding him toward an ambulance. “I don’t need…” he protested as he rounded the open rear of the vehicle. Michelle sat in it, a blanket wrapping her safely, soot smudging her pretty face behind the oxygen mask. When she tried to pull the mask away, reaching for him, the paramedic pressed her back, replacing it.
“Don’t worry,” she rasped before her voice was swallowed. Yeah, that was going to happen. He’d just stop with the worrying.
“Stay here,” he pointed at her. He told the paramedic to take care of her as if she were his own girl and walked back to Sergeant McClean. “What happened?” he demanded, snapping his fingers.
“We won’t know until the arson investigators finish their work, Mr. Brandt. They can’t get in until the fire’s completely dealt with and the structure is shored up. Can you think of anyone who might do this?” She raised an eyebrow at his fingers, which stopped snapping and fell numb to his side.
“I … who would do this? I… no, I don’t know who … what happened. It’s arson?” More ringing in his ears. The sergeant seemed to narrow her eyes for a moment before nodding.
“I’m sure we’ll find out what happened, Mr. Brandt. Of course, it’s a process. We’ll take your statement down at the station. The arson investigators will require your cooperation as well.”
“Of course, of course, whatever you need.” Rich bobbled his head as he babbled. “Anything I can do. Now? Does it have to be now?” He flung a hand in the direction of the shambles of his home and then toward the ambulance.
“I’ll get the preliminary questions out of the way here, but you can stay with your home. And with your girlfriend, of course.” She eyed him.
“Yes, good, yes. With Michelle.” He glanced at the ambulance and back. Rifling his fingers through his hair, he blinked several times. The ringing was quieting, his brain slowly unjumbling. “Okay. Okay. What can I do to help?”
After leading Rich toward a car as sturdy as she, she gestured to the back seat. He shook his head and leaned against the side panel. With a shrug, she began the “preliminary questions.” Expected guests, deliveries, who had access, who knew his schedule, ad nauseum. He thought she asked a few questions twice. The view of his now-soaked house made him queasy, but he couldn’t help watching.
“That’ll do for now, Mr. Brandt. I have your office number of course. Where can I contact you otherwise?”
“I’ll… I guess I’ll stay at the Avenue Suites.” He gave her his card with the cell number.
Helping Michelle into the Jag the next morning, he winced slightly at how pale her caramel complexion was. “I have everything set up at the hotel. There’s a nice boutique nearby.” He smirked at her as they pulled away from the hospital. “I’m sure you know where all the good shops are downtown anyway.” Her laugh was hoarse but her eyes sparkled. He’d done his own shopping, having two new suits tailored before delivery last night. He bristled at not having his custom made suits, but they would do. “You have my credit card, so get what you need. Hell, get whatever you want. I’m insured.”