By C. S. Challinor

The elevator furthest from the lobby's revolving doors was reserved for Anders & Stein personnel who didn't want to stop on the intervening thirteen floors on their way to the top. After a brief exchange of greetings among the small group as it filed in, nobody looked at each other, and no one spoke in spite of their proximity in the steel tomb. Gazing at the floor, they braced for the day, wrapped in their thoughts, their outward demeanor one of polite indifference. Franco spoke into his cell phone. A high-flyer, he had just made partner, and was celebrating in a new suit and expensive sandalwood aftershave, sharp and subtle in the confined, air-conditioned space.

The law graduate from Yale, much too early for his eight o'clock interview, fingered his tie. His stomach growled, resonating. The receptionist, a petite brunette, favored him with a flirty smile, a summer dress fluttering beneath the soft woolen cardigan, the long scarf in turquoise silk matching her eyes to perfection. Everyone at the firm knew she was dating one of the married attorneys, but she'd be fair game in Yale's book. The young man, probably viewing her as an added perk, smiled back at her. Anders & Stein provided excellent benefits for its employees, including the divorced recovering alcoholic, commonly known as "A-A" Richards, who stood clasping his briefcase in a corner. The third lawyer at the firm, dressed in a severe skirt-suit, sipped at the plastic cap of her bistro-brewed mocha. Franco had been at the firm less time than Wanda Martinez, but had been on the fast track since day one. The firm regarded married female attorneys as less committed than their male colleagues, even though Wanda billed at least as many hours as the most productive of them.

Dolores, a paralegal returning that week from maternity leave and still suffering from postpartum depression, looked anxious and tired. She should have stayed home. Rounding off the unlucky seven, the free-lance IT worker, in a spinach green polo shirt and pressed jeans, would be wondering about the bugs in the new software program that enabled law professionals to access files and documents faster. He resembled a bug himself, his bald head and thick glasses begging to be squashed. The system had crashed over the weekend and he had been called in to fix it. Not that any work would get done today.

* * *

Breaking news reported seven corpses in a downtown elevator. Upon receiving an anonymous call at seven-thirty that morning, security guard Ernie Pollock had ridden up to the offices of GoldTrust on sixth to investigate a break-in, and had found no evidence of a crime. Pollock had been unable to tell police whether the caller's muffled voice had been male or female. The purpose of the tip evidently had been to get him out of the lobby. He had not performed a baggage check that morning. He only did that on suspicious-looking characters. Most of the people he knew by sight.

As he'd left his desk to respond to the bogus call, people had started drifting toward the far left elevator: Wanda Martinez, a container of coffee in her hand; the new partner yakking on his cell; and "cute li'l Ellie" who worked the phones for the law firm and was always late. The people at Anders & Stein typically put in longer hours than the other companies in the building, Pollock told a reporter.

While on the sixth floor he'd heard seven shots fired in the shaft and had started running, gun drawn. The communal elevator, waiting and empty, was later requisitioned by the cops and EMS. The Anders elevator, which he summoned on its way down from the fourteenth floor, proved the gateway to hell, the carnage inside greater than anything he'd witnessed as a uniformed cop.

He surmised the bullet wounds had been inflicted at close range, most to the chest. Impossible to say in what order the victims were killed before the perp turned the revolver on himself. Anders employed twenty or so lawyers and twice that in support staff. Perhaps the employee had an ax to grind and went postal? No doubt the detectives would look through Anthony Richards' personnel file and speak to the head of human resources who knew all the folks at the law firm. These were civil lawyers, not criminal. There were no high profile cases, nothing contentious, that he was aware of. The motive must have been personal, and Richards had a history of, well, it wouldn't be right for him, an ex-cop, to disclose that fact...

* * *

The turquoise scarf draped among the slumped bodies in the elevator car lent an almost artistic touch. Thick glasses knocked askew, the technician's buggish eyes stared out from his bald head bathing in a pool of coffee. Uncomprehending shock had followed the systematic shooting as, one by one, the seven bodies fell. The wall, a patina of molten bronze, cast back the burnished reflection of a faded redhead clutching a 7-shot cylinder Taurus stolen from her husband of twenty-five years, before he'd cleared out his belongings and moved in with a woman half his age.

Uma got by on her salary as Human Resources Director, but it was nothing compared to the paychecks and bonuses the lawyers received. She would get compassionate leave along with the other staff, on full pay, perhaps even disability for the trauma of losing so many co-workers when her nerves were already strained. She'd been at Anders & Stein a long time, and was sick of the place — its grueling hours, its seething tensions, and office intrigues. She felt too old to start over.

Her gloved hands pressed the gun into the fist of the last victim just as, emitting a loud ping, the steel doors parted on the fourteenth floor. She reversed the blood-spattered raincoat around her gaunt frame to display the beige plaid option and, finding the reception area clear, fled down the fire escape, ready to report for work as if nothing had happened.

C. S. CHALLINOR is the author of the Rex Graves Mystery series (#5, MURDER OF THE BRIDE is just out in ebook and trade paperback), featuring a Scottish barrister-sleuth. The debut novel, CHRISTMAS IS MURDER (Midnight Ink Books, Thorndike Reviewer's Choice), garnered a starred review from Booklist. Challinor's short stories in the mystery and romantic suspense genres have been published in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Two other short stories, "Alibi for Murder" and "Catch Me If You Can" were previously published online with omdb!.

Copyright 2012 C. S. Challinor. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

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