It must have taken us less than a minute to get back to the warehouse. I skidded to a halt at the door, sides heaving from the exertion. Ned caught up a moment later. This time the door gaped open, and lights shone inside.
“Did you leave the lights on?” I asked Ned.
“Crap.” I pulled my phase pistol out of its holster. “Someone else has been here.”
“I’ve got your back,” said Ned, and I heard the sound of his weapon sliding out of its holster.
I paused, surprised to see he actually had a weapon—forensic accounting was about as far as he could get from any actual danger.
Looking him in the eye, I asked, “when’s the last time you were at the range?” I didn’t want to get shot in the back.
“I practice weekly with our precinct’s sharp shooting team.” He cocked his head. “You?”
“Hmpf.” I turned back to the door. Holding my pistol in both hands, I advanced through.
The warehouse was empty, all the fancy equipment gone. Not even a whiff of elephant dung hung in the air. I continued inside.
“This place is empty!” Ned holstered his gun, before spinning around. “How’d she clean it out so fast? We were here just a couple of minutes ago.”
“Susan, did you observe any activity around the warehouses while we were away?” I asked. A knot formed in my gut at the thought of explaining this to my boss.
“Let me check,” replied the AI in a flat tone.
I looked at Ned and he raised an eyebrow. “Did we imagine the equipment and elephants?” It wasn’t impossible for hallucinogenic fungi spores to be released from one of the mycelium factories.
“It was definitely real.” Ned tapped the camera hanging on his chest. “And I have video to prove it.”
I raised an eyebrow as I stared at his vintage device.
“I have checked the station footage,” cut in Susan. “The video feed in this area cut out while you were investigating Mrs. Long’s home.”
“Crap,” I said and bit my lip. “Chief Thumbold is going to think I’m losing my mind.”
“Naw, he won’t,” said Ned. “I’ll back you up. Besides, I have footage of the elephants.”
“So, the little old lady moved out a lab worth of stuff and was gone before you could apprehend her?” Chief Thumbold leaned back in his chair and wagged an eyebrow in my direction.
“She must have had help.” I kept my posture rigidly straight as I stood on the other side of the desk. The way the Chief described it made it sound like I’d made a rookie mistake and missed something obvious.
“I have more questions about your report,” said the Chief as he scrolled through it.
“Okay.” I glanced through the glass of his office wall. On the other side, Ned lounged, eating yet another spicy cricket taco.
“These ‘mini elephants’ you reported seeing.” He put his finger on the spot in my report. “They stampeded and escaped?”
“That’s what happened,” I said, knowing it sounded nuts. “Ned recorded the whole thing on his body cam.”
“One of our forensic accountants has a body cam?” Chief Thumbold’s right eyebrow arched upward. “Susan, bring up Detective Diamond’s footage.”
“The footage is not yet loaded in our system,” said the AI.
“The camera is an older model.” I hated that I was now vouching for Ned. “I’m sure he’ll have it loaded up shortly.”
“You know I can’t accept a personal feed,” Thumbold said. “Once Mrs. Long is lawyered up, they’ll just claim it was doctored. After the incident on Running Horse, no judge is going to accept video of evidence as being real.”
A knot clenched my gut, that incident was still fresh in my mind. A survivor of the settler ship Running Horse used video to prove the ship’s captain had murdered the settlers—it turned out that isn’t what happened at all. I sighed.
“We have eye-witness accounts.”
“We can’t fine Mrs. Long for having unauthorized mammals based on that alone,” Thumbold said.
“I know.” My posture slumped.
“Did you record any evidence at all that proves the existence of these ‘elephants?’”
“Affirmative, there was this.” Susan projected a hologram of the elephant tusk onto the Chief's desk.
“Detective Ruben, where is this artifact now?” He looked me in the eye.
“It was gone when we returned,” I said.
“Right.” The Chief ran a hand through his thinning hair. “Flo, you’ve got nothing.”
“I know sir, but this isn’t a major crime.” I hated how my tone sounded whiny.
He shook his head. “Your record is solid, and your report matches Detective Diamond’s. I’ll overlook this screw up for now.”
Holding up a hand he cut me off. “Don’t thank me yet. Detective Diamond has requested a transfer out of Forensic Accounting.”
I glanced at the short man through the glass just as he shoved the last of his taco into his mouth. My heart sank as I realized where the Chief was going.
“As of now, Detective Diamond is assigned as your new partner.”
“Great.” I forced a smile. Working with Ned full time was going to drive me nuts.
Chief Thumbold’s communicator dinged—the elephants had been spotted again.
Will Flo and Ned finally get their elephants? Click here for the conclusion.