Twenty minutes later, Dave pulled up in his old Toyota outside Anderson’s & Anderson’s, where I stood on the curb waiting for him. His car was deliberately nondescript; it paid to not stand out in his line of work as a private investigator.
I opened the door and climbed into the passenger’s seat beside him. Closing the door behind me, I leaned over and gave him a quick kiss.
“Thank you for coming with me, Dave,” I said.
He checked his mirrors before pulling out into the traffic. “With everything that’s happened? Wild horses and all that.”
“I just hope we can get to the bottom of this and get my name cleared.” I sighed. “I worry what will happen after though, Olsen is by far our biggest client. I still might not have a job.”
“Don’t worry about that now,” Dave replied. “Anderson’s would be crazy to let you go if they have to downsize after the dust settles. Besides, with your skills and experience, you’d get another job in a heartbeat. Or you could start your own firm.”
“My own firm?” I asked, surprised. “I’m not crazy enough for that, the hours would be insane to get it off the ground.”
“You mean like the hours you work now?” He smiled. “At least you would be spending that time building something for yourself.”
“True,” I conceded. “But it’s a big risk, going out on my own. At least I have job security at Anderson’s.”
“I would have agreed with you a few days ago,” Dave said. “Now? It just shows that any business can be at risk under the wrong circumstances.”
“Yes,” I answered. “Let’s just see what happens first.”
The rest of the trip was in silence, preoccupied with our thoughts. Half an hour later, we drove through the open gate. The construction workers had left for the day and the site was deserted.
Dave pulled up a few meters away from the building and we both stepped out of the car.
I withdrew a torch from a satchel I had brought with me from the office, and I led the way to where the stairs descended into the darkness of the basement.
As we approached the staircase, Dave said, “Jeez, it’s as black as pitch in there!”
“There’s no electricity on the site yet, and while there’s unidentified water getting in, the electricians won’t connect the power or lights until it’s been resolved.
I switched on the torch as we started to descend, the bright beam piercing the blackness.
“What you do you hope to find down here, Nat?” Dave asked.
“If my assumptions are correct, the wall adjacent to the corner will also show traces of dampness.”
“If it were that obvious, wouldn’t someone have seen that already?”
“Yes, which is why I brought a moisture detector with me. It’s similar to what building inspectors use to detect termite activity in wood. It measures ambient moisture in the wall.”
“Ah, so it can tell us if the concrete has more water in it than it should, even if it looks and feels dry.”
“Exactly,” I replied. “We haven’t done it before because there was no reason to suspect a problem there until I saw the real geo report.”
“And nobody would have known anything about it at all, had Elliot Walthers not put that note into your purse.”
“Until the footings started to crack, which may well have been years later and could have been blamed on any number of other reasons.”
“I was just about ready to sign off the water seeping in that corner as rainwater getting inside the membrane seal.”
“As soon as you check the moisture levels in the wall with your device there, we’ll know for sure if it is more than that.”
We finally reached the bottom of the stairwell and turned to enter the basement. As we rounded the corner, there was a bright flash from across the carpark and a thunderous BANG. The wall next to us sparked with a ping as something ricocheted off it.
My brain froze in panic as it tried to process what it had just perceived. Dave, however, reacted instantly. “Nat! Gun! Get back!” He grabbed my arm and yanked me behind the concrete wall. “God damn it, I don’t have my service pistol anymore.”
Dave quickly peered around the corner. Another shot rang out and he dived back behind the wall. “We’re sitting ducks down here. We need to get back to the car before he closes in on us.” He grabbed my hand again and we started to run up the stairs.
“Turn off the light! Don’t give him a target!” he hissed. I fumbled for the switch and turned off the torch in my hand. Faint light filtered from outside into the stairwell; there was just enough light for us to see where to put our feet as we ran.
Another shot rang out behind us as we climbed to the top of the staircase. We ducked at the sound and ran out of the unfinished building into the darkening evening.
“Get into the car!” Dave yelled at me. “We’re sitting ducks out here with no weapons!”
We ran behind the car and crawled in, keeping as low as we could. The gun cracked again and I screamed as window glass shattered all over us. Dave hunched over me, whispering, “Stay down!” He shoved the key into the ignition and the engine fired.
He jammed the car into reverse gear and floored the accelerator. We lurched backward, bumping my head on the dashboard. Dave swung the wheel hard, spinning the car around before shoving the gearshift into forwards and drove toward the exit gate.
Dave strained to be heard as wind howled in through the broken windshield, “Call the cops, now!”
I fumbled in my bag and searched for my phone. With shaking hands, I dialed 911. Someone had been waiting for us in the basement and had tried to kill us!
An operator answered immediately, and I screamed into the phone, “There’s a man with a gun at the new Olsen construction site. He was waiting for us and fired several shots at us.”
The operator responded calmly, “Ok. Are you still in danger?”
I took a deep breath, trying to copy the operator’s cool, professional manner. “No. We’re driving out of the site now. Our windscreen has been shot out. Neither of us is injured.”
“I’ll dispatch several units now. Am I speaking with Natalie Shaw?”
I was confused for a moment as to how she knew my name before I realized I had called from my phone. “Yes, that’s right.”
“All right, Natalie, I want you to go straight to the nearest police station while the officers investigate.”
“Ok, we will.”
“Who is with you right now?”
“My partner, David Forrester. He’s an ex-cop.”
“Ok, Natalie. You will both need to go to the station and give your accounts of what happened.”
“Thank you. Could you also please inform Detective Mark Symonds?” I asked. “He’s the investigating officer in a case surrounding the Olsen construction site.”
“I will pass on that information,” the operator said. “An officer will look after you once you arrive at the police station. Is there anything else I can help with?”
“No,” I answered. “And thank you. We will head straight to the police station.” We both hung up.
I turned to Dave. “You got most of that?” I asked.
“Yep,” he replied. “Police station, Symonds, got it.” He looked at the mirror, then back at the road. “We’re damned lucky to be alive. Whoever was shooting at us was an amateur. We were a big bright, slow-moving target, caught completely unawares. A professional would have got us both in two shots, we would have been dead before we knew what hit us.”
“That makes it even more likely that it was Olsen,” I said.
“If it was, he’d be long gone before the cops turned up at the site,” he replied. “We had to run, I couldn’t put you in any more danger. Even amateurs can get lucky and the risk was too high.”
“I know,” I said. “At least this will clear any suspicions that Symonds has of my involvement.”
“It bloody well better,” Dave growled. “I think the time has come to give everything you have to him now. There’s enough to start putting a case together.”
“Yes. Once it’s safe down in the basement, we can do that moisture test on the wall. Then it’s a case of getting Olsen to admit it.”
“Leave that to the police. All we need to do is to show all the evidence we have.”
“I hope so,” I answered quietly. “I can’t spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder if he gets away with it.”
“Well, let’s go talk to Symonds, get the bastard arrested and make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Dave was probably right, but I was still worried.