Ash whirled on the wind. Forrest breathed it in but he smelled more than smoke. Gas. Rubber. Sweat. And some kind of accelerant. The closer he got to the source, the surer Forrest was that the wildfire was arson.
Slow, with his hands in his pockets, he scanned the lot between warehouses. And it wasn’t as barren as he would have liked.
He appreciated that the media had been corralled so far off, but that wasn’t enough to satisfy Forrest. There were still cast and crew looking on.
His eyes swerved up to the firefighter who marked him. Henry Murphy was something of a balloon animal now, but Forrest imagined it was all muscle long ago. Perhaps even dignity once upon a time. His feet sounded heavy stomping in his boots, and his paws looked giant as he straightened his hat. And when he repeated the question, his whiskers crawled over his upper lip.
“Yes. Detective Carr,” he answered, giving the fireman’s hand a shake. “What do you go by?”
“I go by my name. Which is Hank. Hank Murphy.”
Forrest rolled his eyes, but smiled, “Of course. So, I hear you’ve found the cause of the fire? Arson?”
“That’s what I’d put my money on.”
“Alright then. Show me around?”
“Sure. I’ll give you the dime tour.”
What was left of the trailer were its charred, warped bones. What could once have been called walls and a roof. Either half crumbled or half melted. Inside was scorched as well, but it definitely looked worse for wear. Mangled light fixtures dangled down as obstacles. If there was cabinetry or furniture or things to fill either, they had probably all burned up and become the cinders. Crunching underfoot.
“Without any ado, here it is,” said the firefighter. He spread out his arms as if to present something more impressive. Though in a way it was. For there was still a roof over the two of them; letting smoke to linger.
“Jesus. Somebody survived this?”
“Who? The Mother of Dragons?”
“Well I didn’t pull them out, so fuck if I know. They’ve gone to the hospital now to be treated for first- or second-degree burns and smoke inhalation.”
“Could they be the arsonist?”
“It’s possible, but they majorly fucked up if they are. But what do I know? You’re the detective. You figure it out.”
Forrest gave a fake laugh. “Okay, what can you tell me?”
“Well, the fire started outside of this circle you see here. Around where the survivor was found.”
Forrest looked for himself and saw the ring Henry pointed out. It was still burnt within, but not as much as without. He could still see the grain of hardwood under the singeing when he knelt down close.
“The cause,” Henry went on,“was most likely a turpentine of some kind. However, I haven’t run any tests yet to be sure. You’ll notice the smell?”
“Yeah. I couldn’t place it at first—”
“That’s why I said turpentine of some kind. Anyway, that’s all I have for you right now.”
“Gee, thanks Murphy,” Forrest replied sarcastically.
“No problem. It was my pleasure. Oh wait, Detective?”
“Were you always such an asshole?”
Forrest scoffed and smirked, giving Henry the most incredulous look, “Me? Yeah. Always.”
Watching Hank slowly trundle off reminded the detective of an old rumour. That the old fire investigator was not just inept as Forrest surmised, but corrupt as well. That as detestable as Murphy seemed, he was actually much worse. He wondered if he could trust Murphy to do his job, or he’d have to worry about him being paid off as part of some insurance scheme.
Peering out what was left of a window, Forrest groaned. Disappointed to see troupes of actors and a crew of crews still onlooking.
He emerged from the crispy husk and sauntered out, taking notes.
Kate was in the middle of texting when she was disturbed by what sounded like a man clearing his throat. It was how Mr. Khagan-Smith usually began his rambling monologues; reluctantly prompting Kate to face the man. She groaned but to her surprise and good fortune, it was not the abominable head writer.
Standing before her was another man. Though lean, he looked tougher than most men. Though of average height, he held himself above the rest. With unwavering confidence and authority to his stance. Although wearing jeans and a simple white shirt, he was obviously a man that demanded respect.
Though not exceptionally handsome, there was something about him that made Kate bat her eyes. His ruffled locks curled in the wind, yet were ginger and beginning to recede. His dimpled chin was rife with shadow, however tapered at the end. His sly, cocksure smile was never-ending but full of crooked teeth. Perhaps what made Kate giggle and blush were his stern thick brows, one of which rose up high. Or his sharp and stabbing eyes. Silvery blues which could put people on edge, even though they sometimes wandered aimlessly.
“Excuse me, Miss,” said Forrest. “I’m looking for the person in charge.”
Without question, Kate directed the detective to Ms. Anderson with an unsteady hand. “She’s right over there.”
The producer saw her assistant point and then watched the man make his way over. Swagger in his step. Helena gave a puzzled look, but Kate seemed incapable of replying with anything more than an uninformed smirk.
Not necessarily giving her any notice, Forrest’s eyes glanced all about the set. Somehow, he didn’t crash into anyone or change course despite not paying attention. A prickly cactus alone in the desert, or the vastly dangerous Amazonian jungle could scarcely have forced as many people to walk around it as Forrest.
Discreetly, Forrest removed a notepad from his pocket. Then before even looking up at Helena he began, “You’re in charge?”
“I am. Does that surprise you?”
“No, I’m just making sure. I’m…” Tilting his head up from the pad, he finally, truly, focused on Helena. His gaze narrowed for once, as he took in her countenance. And though she glared impatiently, Forrest was mesmerised. She hadn’t tried to, but she had caught the detective completely off-guard.
There was a long silence, excepting the commotion around them. Realising he had made things between the two incredibly awkward incredibly fast, Forrest gave a light chuckle.
“Ahem. Sorry. I... I’m Detective Carr,” he said, remembering his badge, “I’ll be looking into the fire.”
“Looking into it? Does that mean it was arson?”
“I can’t say.”
“I realise it’s against regulations, but shouldn’t I be kept in the loop, Detective? Besides, I’d like to know if Aaron’s alright? and I’d like to know when we can all get back to work—”
“As much as I appreciate your determination, Miss…”
Quickly, Forrest jotted something down; presumably her name, but it wasn’t entirely legible.
“...Ms. Anderson. It’s not up to me to decide when or even if you can resume work here. As for the cause of the fire, my investigation has just begun—”
“Begun? So then there is something to—”
“Insinuate if you will, Ms. Anderson. But presently, I’m not obligated or inclined to tell you anything regarding—”
“Oh I know. Believe me I know. A bell couldn’t be more clear. Essentially what you’re saying is, you came over here to be a thorn in my side. Prevent me from—”
“I came over here to have you and your crew clear out of here,” Forrest said firm. His glare as piercing as the saying goes. Up until then, Forrest had spoken softly and been calm. Then he paused and so did Ms. Anderson.
She glared back but there was no further argument to be made. The detective tread with the weight of the law, and he had put down his foot. Both physically and metaphorically, as Helena looked down. There she noticed how closely the two were standing. That he had gotten quite near.
Forrest noticed as well and took a step back. And using other words he apologised. “Although, I never meant to be quite so blunt about it... Um, call it a day. Or a wrap if that’s the proper terminology.”
Helena sighed, “Will that be all, Detective?”
“Yes. Actually, no!” said Forrest changing his mind, and producing Helena with roots, who had been about to turn and leave. “If you wouldn’t mind, I still have a few questions.”
“Go on then.”
Showing off his ivories, Forrest began a line of questioning. “I spoke with the first responders a few moments ago, and for whatever reason, the survivor simply wasn’t wearing any clothes, or they were burnt off his back, and so they haven’t been able to help me identify him. You wouldn’t happen to know who he is? Aaron something?”
“Yeah, um, Aaron Schaffer.”
Another scribble went into Forrest’s notes.
“How well do you know him?”
“Not that well.”
“You work together do you not?”
“I keep my professional and personal lives separate.”
“I see. So you wouldn’t know if Mr. Schaffer has any friends. Or enemies?
“None that I’m aware of. Although he and Ms. Greene have become close.”
Forrest nodded. “Hmph. Okay then. I think that’s everything. If you have a number where I can contact you…?”
“Of course.” Helena obliged and relinquished a phone number.
Again the two were about to part. Helena rendezvous with Kate, and Forrest return to the ashes. When suddenly he urged the woman halt.
“Just one last thing, Ms. Anderson. Would you…” The detective stopped short. He considered how he would put forward his next words and if he indeed would ask them at all. He hadn’t exactly been very charming towards the producer. Nor she toward him. Yet the hazy orange light was flattering on her face. A complement to her tri-coloured eyes.
Politely, Helena exchanged the gaze. The gunmetal in his eyes had saturated and became a boldened blue. An eager smile spread wry across his face. His expression reminded her somewhat of a look that Alex would give.
His confidence renewed, Forrest, standing like a proud and mighty oak, asked, “Would you like to go out for coffee some time?”
The remainder of the day was unexceptional. Forrest skipped out on any chance of an evening meal. Or rather, the circumstances of his occupation meant that fasting was his only option. It was one of the reasons he was so lean. Eventually, the red skies burned black into night. And Forrest went to bed hungry.