3 May 2014
Previously on With Prejudice:
“We have a situation,” Takata announced.
That was nothing unusual. There was always some sort of situation.
“Anywhere in particular,” Akers wanted to know, “or is this just a blanket statement?”
Takata’s response was to snort. “It just is.”
“So, what’s the situation?”
Wednesday, 10 November, 2049
Not far from Jozo Baric’s residence
5: 32 am
He eyed the neighbourhood schematic on the global-positioning screen absently, noting the increased security, while grabbing a white bottle full of prescription anti-sleep stimulant tablets. Sitting back in the driver’s seat, he uncapped the bottle and tipped two pills out onto his palm. Akers stared at the bullet shaped stims, debating internally whether he should take them or not? The advantage would be that the hangover would go away, and he’d be alert. Yes, there were side effects, such as a big loss of energy after twelve hours, but it helped him function. The fact that the last argument with Baric was about his over-dependency wasn’t lost on Akers; Baric had threatened to go to Takata. And Akers was already on thin ice with Takata for turning up hungover too much.
He slapped the stims into his mouth, swallowed and breathed out slowly. As he waited for them to kick in, he eyed the scene before him. The intersection that led onto Mutungo Tank Road from Port Bell Road was blocked off by a pair of police cars and an armoured personnel carrier. Not far behind them Akers could make out a row of fire engines.
With the stims kicking in, Akers felt an adrenalin rush.
Satisfied, Akers got out of the car and strode towards the nearest of the police officers milling about near the APC.
“Morning officers,” Akers said as he showed the assembled officers the Interpol badge that hung around his neck.
One of the officers, sporting a couple of stripes on his epaulets, stepped in his way.
“Wasn’t aware we called your lot.”
“You didn’t,” replied Akers.
“Thank you for seeing me, Chief,” said Akers after being passed on to the Chief Fire Officer George Okella, a short fireplug of a man whose fire-fighting equipment looked as if it had been used regularly.
“Not a problem,” replied Okello, offering his hand. “So, what brings Interpol here?”
“Friend of mine, actually,” replied Akers, shaking hands with Okella.
“He got a name?”
“Lieutenant Jozo Baric,” said Akers, pulling out his communicator and selected a recent photo before handing it over. “He lives in one of the apartments down Mutungo Tank.”
Akers watched as the smaller man studied the image on the communicator intently, and then handed it back, gesturing that Akers follow.
He did so, easily keeping pace with Okella.
“What do you know?” the fire chief asked.
Truth was, he knew very little. Takata only became aware of the fire by virtue of having been told by one of the communications specialists, who had been monitoring the police scanner.
“Not much,” offered Akers with an accompanying shrug. “All I was told was that no one has heard from Jozo.”
“And you think he’s here?”
“Sensors don’t lie, Chief,” replied Akers.
Okella just rolled his shoulders in response as he led the way. Akers followed, and continued looking about. Fire trucks and command vehicles, distinct in their florescent yellow and red livery, stood in a row. Three more trucks were facing the burned out husk of a seven-storey building, with water cannons pouring a steady flow of fire-suppressant into the smouldering remains. Here and there, he could make out clusters of people being catered to by paramedics and fire-fighters alike.
“We’ve pretty much evacuated a large chunk of the street to a centre not far from here,” Okella went on. “This entire neighbourhood has a high concentration of foreigners, Europeans mostly, and a few other nationalities. So yes, we’ve started processing who’s here permanently and who is here short term.”
“Was my partner one of the evacuated?” asked Akers.
“Hard to say.”
Akers looked at him, and raised an eyebrow.
“We rescued several people who were too slow in getting out,” explained Okella. “Those in critical condition were ambulanced away.”
Akers turned his attention to the buildings, frowning as he did. The apartments were state of the art, built around the same time the European Space Agency secured the rights to building the Unity Space-Elevator in Uganda. The end result was a high migration of Europeans, many on short-term rotating assignments to do with the design and construction of the space-elevator. However, many came here permanently, resettling and taking advantage of the regional economic boom.
“But you’re saying he’s still here,” Okella reminded him.
“And your office can’t get in touch with him?”
Akers shook his head.
Akers eyed the smouldering buildings. If Baric was indeed somewhere within the affected area then he was as good as dead. Which raised the issue of Baric’s daughter. Was she with him when it happened, or elsewhere? He grimaced.
“At present we haven’t got a clue what caused the fire,” Okella continued, forcing Akers to catch up. “Neither do we know its point of origin.”
“So you don’t know if there are people still in there.”
Okella stopped and looked up at him. “If they are –”
“Yeah,” Akers already knew what the fire chief meant, “they’re probably dead.”
“A sad fact, but nonetheless.”
“Do you think it was deliberate?”
“The apartments had their fire safety inspection only a few months back,” countered Okella, “and the safety features are designed to kick in the moment smoke density and heat increases.”
“Can it be tampered with?” asked Akers, his expression grim as he watched another fire truck being brought in.
“Only if someone had access to the central processing system of whatever security firm had that installed in the first place,” offered Okella.
Akers grunted. There may be an opening for his involvement here, the case of Baric and his daughter notwithstanding. He would have to do a cross reference of which of the occupants worked on the Unity Space-Elevator, or for the European Embassy. Most importantly, he needed to find Baric’s daughter.
“How soon would you know if anyone else is still in those apartments?” Akers asked, tearing his eyes away.
“When the fire’s out,” replied Okella.
Well, obviously! Thought Akers sardonically, shaking his head. “Well, when you do, can you please let me know?” he asked while pulling out his wallet and slipping out a business card which he handed over.
Okella looked at the card and back at Akers. “Wouldn’t this be outside your jurisdiction, Sergeant?”
“Normally,” agreed Akers.
“A Lieutenant from the European Police Office is currently missing, presumed dead by your estimation,” replied Akers as he glanced down at the fire chief. “You tell me.”
Okella bobbed his head while pocketing the business card. “And in the mean time?”
Akers looked to the nearest paramedics.“I need to find his daughter,” he said, turning back to Okella.
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