I parked three blocks away. The ground level entrance to Jacks’ office was a door to a steep stairway. At the top was a long hall. No one was in sight. Down the hall I could hear the hum of voices and light from an open doorway laid a yellow rectangle against the grimy opposite wall. Jacks’ office was behind the first door, with windows on the street. The door itself was charred but sturdy, and the frosted glass window had been nailed up with plywood. The next door down was also boarded. Presumably the fire had spread that far before the fire department had put it out. The only other door in the hallway was the open one down and on the opposite side. I moved quietly down to see what it was. There was a hand lettered cardboard sign in the window advertising acupuncture. Hot needles off a sleazy hallway sounded about as appetizing as a back alley abortion, but the poor have pain as well as the rich.
The padlock on Jacks’ door was impressive, and so was the hasp. But whoever put it up hadn’t turned the screw plate back under the arm of the hasp. The screws holding it to the door frame were exposed.
I walked down to the hardware store and bought a screwdriver and a roll of masking tape. Five minutes later I had unscrewed the hasp. It was still attached to the door with the lock in place. I stuck the masking tape to the back of the screw plate to hold it in place and stepped inside, closing the door behind me. To a casual passer-by the door would look undisturbed.
Jacks office had been completely destroyed. The fire department must have come quickly to save the building, but this space was reduced to charred stubs of wall studding. You could still tell that there had been two rooms. I was standing in a reception area and the far side of the burned out shell had been Jacks’ office, but the wall that had separated them was mostly gone. You could step through it any place.
Jacks had used a metal desk, the kind you buy as industrial surplus. It had survived the fire, barely. The ceiling was gone and the fire had cut through to daylight. There was a jagged, ten foot hole in the roof, which was fortunate since I hadn’t brought a flashlight and all the windows were boarded up.
I circled the room briefly, getting my bearings, then got down to business. I had to work quietly; beyond that, I was not worried about being disturbed. If my shadow enemy had an interest in this place, they would have searched it right after it burned. And if there had been anything worth finding, it was probably already gone.
On the floor behind the desk was a scattering of charred papers. I went through that first. The desk itself was empty, of course. I pulled the drawers and upended the carcass, looking for hideaways, and found nothing.
I was reasonably sure there was nothing to find, but I kept after it. Two hours later, I had turned over every spongy, black piece of debris twice, when I heard footsteps in the hallway. more tomorrow