Truth. Justice. Minesweeper.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Last excerpt:

I was crumpled in a little room off the lobby while the woman - whose name seemed to be Ingrid - searched my wallet and backpack. The guard was outside making sure I hadn't compromised their perimeter, or some damn thing. They had tried asking me a couple of questions but I figured overall that silence would be my best policy.

Ingrid pulled things out of my backpack one at a time, examined them, and set them aside. The last thing she found was the scrap of paper Greyghost had left in my mailbox; I had noted down the address of this place on it. She studied it, stood up, and called out the door. "Nick! Come look at this."

The guard joined Ingrid near the pile of my stuff. "You've got something," he said.

She showed him the note, and pointed. "That's his handwriting. Do you think this guy could be for real?"

"No way," Nick said. "We'd know about it if he was."

"Yeah," Ingrid said. "Maybe."

From out in the lobby, a voice was heard. "Nick? You around?"

"It's Cruickshank," Ingrid said, and called out, "In here!"

Cruickshank turned out to be a young bald guy in a suit. "I'm supposed to meet a guy named Relser at seven. Have you seen--" he caught a glimpse of me "--is that him? Hi, Ingrid."

"That's him," Nick said, disgusted. He pulled me up and reached for the handcuffs. "If you had a real appointment, why did you run," he accused me.

"Can't imagine," I said, rubbing my now-free wrists. "Mr. Cruickshank? Dennis Relser. Sorry if I kept you waiting." I was going to act cool in front of these guys if it killed me.

"No problem. You're going to be doing Carl's job? I'll get you set up. Follow me." Notice how he didn't even ask about why I was all scuffed up and handcuffed on the floor of some utility room. Where else would I be?

"Hey," Ingrid said, gesturing at my backpack and wallet. "Don't forget your stuff."

After all this I didn't feel like getting down on my knees and scrabbling around for my meager possessions in front of these three. "Just bring it all to my office, please, Ingrid," I said, not looking at her, and followed Cruickshank out to the elevators. And the horse you rode in on.

When we got to the elevators, Cruickshank pushed the down button. "What-" I said, but he silenced me with a gesture. Once the elevator came, he took a key out of his pocket, used it to turn a keyhole under the door-close button, and handed it to me.

"This is yours. Don't use it when anyone else is on the elevator. It's not really a high-traffic building, so it won't be that inconvenient for you. Once the key is turned, the doors won't open on any floors in between wherever you are and the basement. Don't just hit the button for the basement. You want the rear doors to open, and they'll only open if you use the key. You saw there are four elevators? Only three of them have these keyholes. The fourth is the one that the janitors can put on service. That's just the way they built them."

We stepped out into a large room lined with aquariums, plants, filing cabinets and cheap paneling. Not brightly lit, but not dingy like basements usually are. In the center of the room, three large desks were arranged in an open-ended square, so that anyone inside the square would be sitting at all three desks at once. "My desk, right?" I said.

"Right. You look around, I'll get the stuff we need to deal with," Cruickshank told me, opening a filing cabinet.

I checked out the desks first. There were two computers, one on the left-hand desk and one on the right. And a phone. The only thing on the center desk was a stack of books - a large grey binder, a medium-sized black itinerary and a small purple address book. They all looked well-thumbed. Around the room, hiding between plants, were four doors. I figured I'd check them later.

"So how does this work?" I asked. "Do I get paid under the table?"

"Nope," Cruickshank said. "In fact, that's one of the things we have to take care of." He put a sheaf of personnel forms in front of me. The company name at the top was 'James Property Holdings'.

"Who's James?"

"Got me," Cruickshank said.

"What does his company do?"

"Not a whole hell of a lot. Mostly they own this building, and a couple of other places around town. You're officially their office manager."


"Right. Fill those out." As I did, he took a small cardboard box out of a different filing cabinet. "This is your cellphone, your pager, and all the other stuff that goes with it. Learn to use it all as fast as possible. Every call made on the cellphone has to go through encryption; there should be a section in that binder--" he pointed to the desk "--that tells you how to do that." He plunked the box down beside me. "Also fill this out. This is a nondisclosure agreement. It says that you can't talk about your job to anybody. Read it and sign it, and I'll witness it."

I read it. It said what he said it said. I signed it. I signed everything.

Cruickshank checked it all, signed in a couple of places, and put the whole thing in a folder. "Good," he said. "Carl put together that grey binder. It should tell you how to do everything. Learn it all as fast as possible. Any questions?" He started for the elevator.

"Yeah, all kinds. Like what do I--"

"Look--is it Dennis?--Dennis. You don't get your hand held here. You get thrown off the dock. Greyghost hired you because he thinks you can do this job right tonight. So do it. Now do you have any questions?" He turned his key and hit the 'Up' button.

"How about, who are you?"

He grinned at me. "I'm Greyghost's lawyer and accountant. Get used to me because we're going to be seeing a lot of each other."

"Okay. Who do I work for, you or him?"

"Him. But you'll also get orders from me and from Ingrid."

In my mind was an image of a Superhero Org Chart. "What's Ingrid do?"

"Ingrid's authority here is, ah, unofficial." The doors opened and he stepped in.

Holy mackerel. "She's Greyghost's girlfriend."

"Frequent companion," Cruickshank said as the elevator closed on me.

The grey binder was three inches thick. No party tonight. I turned to page one.

Some pages later the elevator opened again and Ingrid walked out. She handed me back my wallet and backpack, and stuck out her hand. "Hi," she said. "We haven't met. My name's Ingrid."

Well, that was one way of handling the situation. Probably a good one, too. "Hi. I'm Dennis." We shook.

She noticed the binder. "Don't feel like you have to learn all that in five minutes," she said. "Greyghost is doing other stuff tonight. He'll probably show up here around twelve but I don't think he has anything going on that he'll need you for."

"Oh. Okay, thanks."

"So, you know, look around and get used to the place. If you finish the binder there's not much to do if you're bored. The computer has Minesweeper."

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