Friday Flash Fiction: An Unlikely Suspect

Again, this week’s Friday Flash Fiction entry is a continuation of last week’s story. And it’s getting to the stage where I’ll probably have to pause and figure out where it’s going before I continue. This is a common occurrence in my writing process: I write for a while with no particular idea of where a given story is going. Then, once I find it maintains my interest, I pause and map it out.

Anyway, here’s this week’s photo prompt:

Photo of a shirtless, bearded man sitting at a chest press machine in a dark gym.

Yowza.

An Unlikely Suspect

“Bradford Anders?”

Three things struck Andrews about the man sitting at the incline chest press machine: the first was that he wasn’t wearing a shirt, which had to be against the gym’s hygiene rules. The second was that the machine, sleek, black and angular, reminded him of the yellow contraption Ripley climbed into in Aliens to rescue Newt. The third was that Andrews forgot what the third thing was; the man’s brown eyes transfixed him as he pushed out two more reps.

Andrews had kept up with his regular running routine, but he hadn’t been inside a gym in months. Maybe he needed to do something about that.

The man—who somewhat matched the file photo of Bradford Anders, although his haircut seemed more unfortunate now and of course he was wearing a shirt in the file photo—gently returned the machine’s arms to their start position and hooked his elbows over the handles.

“That’s me. Can I help you?”

Andrews flashed his badge. “Jake Andrews, SLPD. I needed to ask you a few questions about Alexa Grayson.”

Bradford Anders frowned. “I’m sorry, I’m not familiar with the name.”

“How about Gamal Hamdan?”

“Gamal?” Bradford’s frown remained, but its character changed to concern. He grabbed the towel at his feet and wiped off his face. “I haven’t heard from him in a week. Has something happened?”

“Unfortunately, he died yesterday.”

Bradford’s face went blank with shock. He let the towel trail down his chest. Andrews tried not to be distracted by that. He should have made Doyle come do this interview, but instead she was in Paris working with local authorities on the inquest. And probably strolling the Champs Elysees in her spare time, damn it.

Still, the view here…

He shook his head.

“Jesus,” Bradford said. “What happened? I assume it can’t be good.”

“We’re investigating it, but we think it may have been a homicide.”

Bradford climbed out of the weight machine and grabbed the t-shirt draped over one of the arms. He used it to wipe off his face but, and Andrews was glad about this, didn’t put it on. “Do you have any idea why someone would want to kill him?” Bradford asked.

If I knew the answer to that, would I be here talking to you? Andrews resisted the urge to shake his head. People, even if they were devastating to look at, asked dumb questions sometimes.

“We were hoping you could help us with that. He was building and running sims in the Upload for your company.”

“Yeah, but who’d want to kill the kid? Gamal could be annoying sometimes, but he was a sweet kid.” Bradford moved over to another machine and began doing tricep cable pulls. Andrews tried not to stare at the back of the man’s arms. “Too smart for his own good, maybe,” Bradford added, “but he wouldn’t even hurt a bot.”

“Had he experienced difficulties with any previous customers of yours?”

“Nothing out of the ordinary.”

Bradford switched between the tricep exercise and pull-ups. This time Andrews found himself face to face with Bradford’s abs as he drew himself up and down, up and down.

I really hope you’re enjoying Paris, asshole, Andrews thought.

“Co-workers?”

“I don’t know about other jobs he might have been doing, but he only dealt directly with me and my CTO.”

“I’ll need your CTO’s contact information.”

“Of course.” Bradford hopped down from the pull-up bar and went back to the tricep cable. “Could it have just been a random thing? What makes you think it had anything to do with his work for me?”

He doesn’t know. “Alexa Grayson was a customer of yours. Her upload was found dead in your sim that Gamal programmed, shortly before her body was found in her apartment in New York. Twenty-four hours later, Gamal was also dead.”

“Shit.”

“Gamal didn’t mention it?”

“No. Why would he keep that from me?” Before Andrews could answer, Bradford asked another question. “What was Gamal involved in that ties him to this murdered woman? Who else do they have in common? And were their deaths coincidental, or were they using the Upload as a cover for something?”

Maybe Bradford wasn’t so dumb after all. Andrews would have to revise his estimation of him. “All good questions,” he said. “Are you normally this suspicious?”

Bradford smiled, and as far as Andrews could tell, it was genuine. “When you’re the head of the company, it pays to think at least three steps ahead.”

He grabbed the t-shirt again and wiped the sweat off his face, then drew it down the center of his torso. “I don’t know if you have any other questions for me, but I have a meeting in an hour, so I really need to hit the shower. Maybe we can continue this later?”

Bradford turned and headed toward the locker room, then paused. Turning back, he added, “Although I suppose we could continue this conversation in the locker room.”

“Excuse me?” Andrews looked around. They were the only two people in the gym—it was a small facility with an exclusive clientele (which translated as more per month than Andrews’ rent)—but given the way that Bradford bit the corner of his mouth as he let his own gaze travel up and down Andrews without even hiding what was clearly going through his mind…

Andrews coughed. “Actually, I need to go see about… another case.”

“Maybe lunch then,” Bradford said.

“I’d like to continue this today.”

Bradford smiled again. “Oh, so would I.”