Excerpt of Chemical Love, a novella in Heartened by Crime
Dressed in linnen dress trousers and a white silk blouse, Ine Arai strode down Harada Conglomerate’s marble tiled foyer.
She flashed her pass at the desk. A sleepy-eyed security guard looked up from his tablet, raked his gaze over her where it settled for three seconds on her chest, then offered her a slanted smile. He rose, holding his hand out palm up to receive it. She handed it over, and the guard swiped it, then looked up her credentials on the screen.
Static crackled on the lobby speakers. A ring of neon blue halogen lights ran along the ceiling line, bathing the foyer in dim light. She glanced around the high arched, glass-ceiling lobby. Four palm trees reached for the night sky. Black marble pillars crowned by neon blue lights lined the entrance.
“The work isn’t scheduled until tomorrow.” His eyes were dead, but his voice held a note of curiosity.
“They reported new problems and wanted the matter resolved tonight.” Ine added weight to her voice, that of a subcontractor with an outrageous hourly rate. “I can wake the vice president and have her explain why I’m needed.”
The security guard straightened, his black eyes darting from her badge to his screen, back to her badge. “You’re free to go.”
She suppressed the urge to smile. It was her turn to hold her palm out and demand the pass. The guard raked his gaze over her a second time, ran the tip of his tongue along her lower lip, and made a ‘hmm’ noise.
Ine suppressed the urge to gag. “My pass.”
The guard’s gaze slid up her body and settled on her face. Without a word, he dropped her pass into her hand.
Shoulders thrown back, chin up, she strolled past as if she owned both the building and the conglomeration it housed. She ignored the dampness of her shirt around her underarms and the small of her back and focused on keeping her knees from knocking together.
She pushed the button for the elevator, it lit up bright blue, and she waited.
With a ding, the doors of the elevator parted, and she stepped in and pushed the number for the executive level. High-beat techno music played on low volume. The elevator doors slid closed, and the box ascended. The air quality shifted half-way up the sixty-storey ride—from heavy and scratchy to light and fresh. She hauled in a long breath of air, one that didn’t sting her lungs, one that was reserved for the upper crust of society capable of living above the chemical rain clouds.
She curled then flexed, then curled her toes inside her expensive shoes again. How long was this elevator ride going to take? A breath lodged in her throat. One that was only released when the elevator pinged, and its doors opened onto the senior vice president level.
She stepped out and turned left, noting the two security cameras staring down at her, each with a flashing red light. She fished neoprene gloves from her pocket, slipped them on, then passed a series of doors, some leading to conference rooms, others leading to vice-presidential officers. At the last door, she stopped, swiped her stolen keycard, and entered. She all but laughed in a mixture of relief and joy of reaching this room. Ine stepped into the half-lit room. A blast of cold slapped her in the face. She slowed her pace, adjusting to the temperature difference. Floor to ceiling servers lined the walls, their red and blue lights flickering as the computers communicated with one another.