Truth. Justice. Minesweeper.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Fifth excerpt:

When I got back to the apartment Ron was watching TV. "Where've you been?"

"Job interview, believe it or not."

He eyed my T-shirt and jeans. "In that?"

"It was a weird job interview. I got the job, though."

It spun him completely around. "Congratulations! Was it the one in the green building?"

Good question. "No, it's Carl's old job, actually."

"Oh, they remembered you . . ."

"From the other night, yeah."

"Huh. So what is it? What do you do?"

"Umm . . ."

"Aw, come on. Is it that much of a secret?"

"I don't know," I told him. "Nobody told me not to tell anyone. But I'm pretty sure I shouldn't."

Ron looked disappointed. "But it's a good job?"

"It's . . . Um. It's potentially a good job. The pay's good."

"Well, congratulations. Oh, listen, I was going to head over to the party at about nine; is that okay with you?"

"Right, the party. Listen. I have to work tonight, so I don't know. I don't think it'll take that long, though; you want to tell me where it is and I'll meet you? I should be there . . . ten?" That sounded about right - two hours to get shown around, and another hour to make it from wherever I was to wherever the party was.

Ron raised his eyebrows. "Yeah, all right . . ." he said.


"No, it's okay. Here's the address-" scribble scribble "-be there when you can."

"Sorry about this."

He grinned. "Nothing to be sorry for. I just hope you can make it, that's all."

I shrugged. "I don't see why not."

"Right. Have a good time at work, anyway." I think Ron's trying to tell me something.

Before I left, that evening, I checked a city map to see just where Watersound Terrace was. It took me a while to find it. There's a weird little lobe of the city where Fourth Street goes under the Race River Parkway, just where the river does a big loop. This forces a residential neighborhood right up against a bunch of office towers, and Watersound Terrace is a little cul-de-sac in this fringe area.

The walk turned out shorter than I thought, due to some helpful walkways leading from Fourth to Orchard. So I had some time to check out Watersound Terrace itself. Near its intersection with Orchard it was all houses; some bungalows mixed with some old rich Victorian-types. Instead of ending in a little circle, though, it ended in a medium-sized parking lot.

The houses on Watersound all had numbers in the low fifties, so I checked out the parking lot. It was painted into separate lots for each of the five or six buildings on Fourth that backed onto it. By now, I had an idea of how Greyghost operated, I thought, and checked each one of them separately.

Sure enough, there was a modest little '771' on a modest little four-story red-brick office building near the chain-link fence on the far end of the parking lot. It was the kind of building that you expect your dentist to have his office in. Usually, though, buildings like this have signs outside to tell you the names of all the dentists and chiropractors within. No sign here.

I was still early, so I took my time crossing the parking lot. There seemed to be about six different ways out of here: most of them onto Fourth Street, but also one onto Watersound, one onto Orchard, and, if I wasn't mistaken, number 771 hid a break in the fence that allowed a loading dock access to some kind of service road alongside the Race River Parkway. I could see how this place would be useful to a superhero.

The front doors, tinted glass, were locked. Likewise the revolving door. I circled the building to the left, and found a fire door leading to a stairwell. It was open, so I went in and made my way to the lobby.

Usually there's a building directory in the lobby of buildings like this so you can tell who's where. Not this building, though; everything was blank. What they did have was a security guard who was eying me quite suspiciously. "Can I help you, sir," he stated, coming out from behind his desk with a lethal-looking clipboard in one hand.

Now what? I was absolutely not prepared to tell this guy I was working for Greyghost. I just couldn't hear myself saying it. Plus if it didn't work, I'd sound stupid and be giving away secrets at the same time. There was some middle ground, though. "Do you know Mr. Downing?"

"I don't know all of the tenants by name, sir."

"I was hired today to replace Mr. Downing. I haven't been to this building before; could you please tell me which office I want?"

The guard thought about it. "Just a moment, please. Could you drop your pack right where it is and sit down on that bench over there."

Oh, whatever. I put my backpack carefully on the floor and sat down where he pointed me. He picked up his phone, dialed a couple of numbers, and waited. Then he spoke quietly for a minute.

"What's your name," he told me.

"Dennis Relser?" I asked. Well, it felt like it, anyway.

He spoke into the phone some more. At one point he flicked a glance at me, and nodded. I've been flicked with glances before and I knew what this one meant. It meant that an ass-kicking was coming up. Possibly worse, considering the kind of league I seemed to be playing in here. I yawned, stood up, and drifted over to the front window. He didn't seem to be taking any notice of me. Should I try to grab my backpack? Nah, too risky, and there wasn't anything in there I couldn't afford to lose anyway.

When the guard hung up I started watching his reflection in the glass. He came around from behind the desk and started toward me. I let him get medium close before I took off running the way I came in. It caught him by surprise, he hesitated an extra instant, and I was away.

I could hear him shouting for someone as I ran down the hall toward the fire door I had used to get in. His footsteps sounded close. Dammit, where was the fire door? This place didn't look familiar. Crap. Did I take a wrong turn? Crap. Was that the elevator? The guard was gaining on me. The hallway I was in ended in a T-junction, and I knew that wasn't right, but there was nothing I could do about it now. I went left.

Left seemed to be wrong. It put me in a narrower corridor that started bending all over the place. I kept running, bouncing off the corners, my breath ragged. The guard, still right behind me, seemed to be in better shape; he wasn't panting like a St. Bernard.

I could see, up ahead, the hallway opened out into a wider space. I put on an extra burst of speed. Or tried to, anyway.

The wider space was the elevator bay--I had run in a circle and was now on the other side of the lobby. A dark-haired woman had just stepped out of an elevator and reacted with surprise when she saw me. Actually she clouted me on the side of the head.

I reeled, and forced my way past her into her elevator. The door closed behind me, and I scrabbled at the buttons as I lurched against the wall.

If I had thought about it I would have hit the 'basement' button, because there just might be a way out of the basement. Unfortunately I had hit '2' and '3', so they had me trapped in the building. Who was the woman? What had Greyghost landed me in here?

I got off on the second floor, but not before pressing all the buttons. Maybe that'd confuse them. If I could find that stairwell again, I might be able to get past them and get out. It was worth a shot. Let's see, if I came into the building on the west side, and the lobby faced south, then the elevator faced east and the stairwell should be . . . that way. I didn't feel much like running, but I did break into a jog.

The stairwell was there and I picked up speed as I clattered downstairs. I hit the door to freedom just as someone tackled me from behind and we both pitched out onto the concrete. The ground knocked the wind out of me. I tried to roll out from under whoever it was and only got far enough to see it was the woman. She shoved my head down against the pavement.

"I got him," she called, and the guard came out with a pair of handcuffs.

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