As I hope you're all aware by now, preparation is the number one most important issue when you're a Fire Safety Officer. So if you think I let the strange man get away, then you do not belong here in this lecture hall and should probably leave. Moreover, if you think I followed him—"tailed him", as they are so fond of saying in police procedural television shows, than you obviously haven't been listening.
I smiled curtly at the strange man, before calmly walking away, leaving him to gather himself into an inelegant bundle and hustle off back past the reception desk and into the hotel's elevator number two. How did I know this? Well, after disappearing from the man's line of vision, I swerved 90 degrees to my left and sprinted behind the lobby bar, where a small stack of black and white televisions on a desk served as the Royale's security centre. It was, as always, unoccupied, and I had no trouble at all finding the right screen. I followed the strange man's awkward gait all the way from the lobby to the lift. I flicked a switch on the small control panel, and an image of the inside of elevator two crackled into view. Just as it did, I saw the man pressing the button for floor eleven. The top floor.
Thanks to a complete self-imposed training programme I undertook in my first month on the job, I was proud to admit to myself that I knew as much about the running of the hotel as anyone else there. I knew that the morning traffic patterns off by heart: it was a Monday, which meant high numbers of people coming down from high floors to check out, and thanks to the variable nature and frequency of the Royale's elevator system (anyone staying more than a night at the Royale quickly learnt that it was best to just jump in the first one that would have you, whether it was going up or down), the man was going to have a very slow trip to the top floor.
I also knew that the service elevators were far more efficient. I arrived on floor eleven, I knew, far before the strange man. The service elevator came out into a storage room that looked, from the outside, just like another hotel room. I opened the door and peeked out down the corridor. The normal elevators were just opposite. When I heard the ping of an arriving lift car, I pulled my head back inside the door, so that I could only see through a tiny crack. Sure enough, the strange man got out of the elevator, alone. He disappeared around the corner and I quickly went after him.
With my back flattened against the wall, I inched closer to the corner. I heard the man knocking on a hotel room door. Only, something was awry. It wasn't the hollow wood of a hotel door. It was tinny, glassy. My spine tightened. I risked a peek around the corner of the wall. As I stretched my eyes vainly, all I saw was the man disappearing into the mysterious room. I came carefully around the corner. It was then I realised this was as bad as I'd feared. The strange man had not disappeared into a hotel room. He had gone straight out a fire exit.
What had been moments ago just a slightly suspicious situation being surveilled by a conscientious staff member suddenly fell under the utter purview of a Fire Safety Officer. I slowly made my way to the fire exit. I had checked the integrity of this very exit not three days before. It was always the last stop on my regular weekly check. It was only when I saw the sign that my jaw actually dropped. On the frosted glass, straight over my decal that said FIRE EXIT - EMERGENCY ONLY, someone had blu-tacked a printed sign that read, MAXIMILLIAN ADAMS, DETECTIVE AT-LARGE.
Now, as I look out at all your expectant faces here this evening, I know what you are thinking. This is indeed the very incident I referred to at the start of this lecture. I had found someone who had deliberately and perhaps maliciously exploit fire exits and fire exiting strategies for their own selfish needs.
And what did I do? Well, you should all have guesses by now. I rolled up my sleeves and opened the door, not fearing for my own safety, not fearing for whatever or whichever dangers lay behind that frosted glass. It was my duty, as a Fire Safety Officer. Someone had breached the rules, and I had to make sure they came to regret it.
And, I can thoroughly assure you, I did.