Minutes felt like weeks as we finally neared the end of the stairwell. A sense of urgency piggybacked the stringent odor of chlorine and our pace quickened. I reached the platform at the end of the thirty-sixth floor, half leaping, half running, as I descended the remaining two flights. Ryland vaulted the railing on the same floor, his slim build clearing the narrow space between flights, before he nailed a perfect landing on the concrete below.
Without question, he possessed impressive speed, but I was no tortoise to his hare. I managed to pass through the glass doors as they continued to swing open, in time to spot Ryland wrench open a similar door further down the corridor.
Bright halogen lights, white walls and tiled floors, replaced the dishwater gray of the stairwell. Straight lines and panoramic windows that stretched from ceiling to floor enhanced my sense of wrongness. Nothing marred the pristine passageway, save the black mirrored balls partially sunken into the ceiling at each end of the corridor. A dreadful thought turned over in my mind and my stomach immediately followed.
My heels clicked across the high glossed tiles like a locomotive at full steam. I needed to address my concerns with Ryland. I also didn’t want to remain in the corridor alone. I grasped the handle of a door labeled “Aquatic and Fitness Center” before it completely closed. Only then did I again scan the area in hopes that my suspicions were wrong.
Too preoccupied with my own thoughts, I’d rushed through the door and stopped short of rear-ending Ryland and one of the security staff. Both men stationed themselves on either end of the body. The body. What a clinically correct and callous term. Less than an hour ago, he’d been a person, with a future and potential. Robbed of his life’s spark and individuality, society no longer allowed him to retain the title of person. It was cold blooded, but it was also a necessity.
“My apologies gentlemen, I was in too much of a rush.”
“Don’t think about it Ma’am. I’m Scotch Jefferson, Chief of Security here at TMI.”
“Dr. Mykael Xanders,” I said and offered my hand. “I’m very sorry for your loss, Scot. Did you know the deceased well?”
“It’s Scotch, Ma’am, like the candy,” he replied after a strong brief shake. “And, yeah, we knew Prentice. Better than some would like.”
“Oh.” It never occurred to me that Ryland might know the deceased personally. It would also explain the bite in Scotch’s remark, and the fine layer of tension in the room. As a para-forensic psychologist, I understood that grief sometimes manifested itself through anger and blame. With what little I knew of Ryland, I could be certain several staff members would attempt to scapegoat him. Just as I was, certain he’d only tolerate it for so long.
“Mr. Hynes, my sincerest sympathies. It never occurred to me that you had a personal relationship with the deceased.”
“Personal about sums it up,” Scotch remarked.
Ryland surfaced from whatever memory had enveloped him. A slight tick above his ear began to tap out Morse code, as his entire being went deathly still.
“You know, Scotch, I’m trying real hard to be patient with you. I know Eric was your road dawg, so I’m trying to cut you some slack. Don’t abuse it, brother.”
“Don’t let the scent of new meat get you twisted, brother. We can always step off property and knuckle-up.”
Scotch respectfully stepped around his friend’s remains and came within jabbing distance of Ryland. Instinctively I placed myself between the two men, who each towered at least twelve-inches over my five-foot two-inch frame. I knew that sometimes grief expressed itself as anger. I just hoped it didn’t express its way into a back alley beat down.
To be continued…..