Crime scene investigators had determined this was no accident, but sabotage.

Sheryl’s Daily Prompt

Crime scene investigators had determined this was no accident, but sabotage.  Now the hunt was on for who why and when.  Connie Winston was the lead detective on the case.  A five-foot red-headed dynamo who wouldn’t stop until she got her man or woman. 

Death insulted her, violent death infuriated her, and murder enraged her.  There was never an excuse for any of it.  Walk away from marriage if you wanted out.  In business, there was always help if you felt you were being unfairly treated.  If the situation warranted it, go to the police.  The problem with people was, they let situations and emotions fester until they spilled over and exploded into violence.  That or they wanted something that wasn’t theirs, they hadn’t earned.  Any murder was unthinkable and inexcusable, and she hoped that through her hard work and that of all the other detectives and forensic units, they’d obtain justice for the victim(s).  Although the ultimate insult was to the victim, the rippling effect included so many more and was far-reaching.      

An employee of Art IN Life, Weston Humphrey, was hanging on by a thread.  The young man had arrived early, found the building engulfed in flames and had rushed inside in a misguided attempt at saving as much of the artwork as possible and as a result, suffered severe smoke inhalation.  It wasn’t looking good. 

The question was who stood to gain from the destruction of the Art IN Life Gallery?  Surely if you were an art lover, you wouldn’t destroy the very thing you loved most in life.  The fire chief’s examination indicated the fire was set in the back room where supplies were kept, some of which were highly flammable.  The back door had been jimmied and the alarm hadn’t triggered.  Three-quarters of the building was essentially destroyed and would have to be torn down.  The artwork that survived was caked with soot and wasn’t looking much better.  She wasn’t an expert in that area, but she doubted any of them were salvageable.

Gray Barber was the owner of Art IN Life and a well-renowned painter himself.  His work sold for hundreds of thousands and his work, well sought after.  He was meeting her in a few minutes.  She’d never had an opportunity to meet him but she knew what he looked like as he supported a variety of local organizations including police and fire benefits.  As he strode toward her, she saw strength, determination and even anger in every movement.  He was tall, good looking, and athletic.  Cliché as they may be, a painter wasn’t the first thought to come to mind when you set eyes on him.    

Connie waited until he was a couple of feet from her before proffering her hand.  “Detective Winston, thank you for meeting me.”

“Where else would I be?”

“Right!”  She paused then began her questions.  “Do you have any enemies anyone you can think of that might be angry enough to set your gallery on fire?”

“Not really, no.  Sometimes it can be a volatile world, with ego’s and the like, but I can’t imagine anyone that would be angry enough to do this!“

“Any reason the alarm would have been shut down?”

“None, it’s a priority, my staff in each location is well aware of that fact.”  He stopped and stared directly at her, “You’re saying the alarm was off?”

“Neither the fire or police departments received an alarm indicating there was an issue with the store.  So, I have to ask, who had access to the alarm, who would have set it last?”

“Unfortunately, the young man in the hospital would have been the last one in the gallery.  He called me a half-hour before locking up.  I had a meeting with a client that ran late so I asked Jason if he’d lock up as I decided on heading out to eat instead of checking in.  Damn it!”

“Either it was a slow-burning fire that took time to catch or it was started sometime before dawn.  We’ll know more after a thorough examination.  Either way, you’re not responsible for what happened here.”

She requested the name of the patron he’d been with, along with a phone number and address so she could verify his whereabouts last night, then asked, “Can anyone verify what and where you were this morning?”

“No.  I was alone.  I got up ate, dressed and was heading here when I received your phone call.  So no, I don’t have an alibi.”

Although he realized the questions were necessary, it irked him all the same to think that anyone would suggest he would burn down his own gallery or injure Jason. 

“Ok.  That’s all, for now, Mr. Barber.  I’ll be in touch.  Please stay available in case we need more information.”

“Certainly, Detective, now if you don’t mind, I’d like to get inside the gallery, see if anything is salvageable.”
“Good luck.”

He nodded, “Thanks,” and hurried away. 

He was insulted and angry at what had happened not only to his gallery but to the young man and he was taking it personally.  Interesting, she thought.  Not many would, more would be concerned about their own losses than that of a young life.  She looked forward to finding out more about him; she found him completely intriguing. 

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