A sleek, coldly reflective tower, pointing like an accusation into the evening sky. This was the home and central headquarters of Orson Jimson; a testament to the pathology of over compensation peculiar to powerful men. I’d sauntered through the revolving door, nursing serious gastric distress – the result of last night’s over-indulgence in crepes filled with shredded aquatic fauna – and introduced myself to an officious uniform at the security desk. The uniform had called up to invite one of its friends down to show me to the penthouse.
“It’s not really very polite you know.”
“What’s not polite? Traveling in elevators; were we supposed to use the stairs?”
“No, talking out loud in ‘sardonic first person voice’. Especially when someone can hear you. That ‘officious uniform’ does actually happen to be a friend of mine, and he’s a really lovely man. You know he only took this job because his wife got sick. He used to be a professor of literature, but working security pays more money, and Helen’s medications aren’t cheap. Helen, that’s his wife – whom is also lovely.”
“Ah, I see the mistake you made. What was actually happening there was…” Joe rustled around in his coat pocket and pulled out his list of excuses, “…that I was dictating case notes. I was in no way being disparaging of your friend, or his wife – whom is both sickly and lovely.”
“That seems unlikely.”
“Yes. For a start this is an elevator, and not normally a place where people dictate case notes. In addition to this,” Joe’s escort looked down on him in a manner that reminded him of his high school’s Principal, “you have no apparent recording device to capture such dictations.”
“You do make a good point.” Joe fell silent, the wheels of his mind turning in a vain attempt to produce forward motion. The security guard was just congratulating himself on another powerful display of rhetoric, when Joe asked: “Tell me, what would seem more likely, then?”
“Well, and since you asked, I suppose if you had said that you were testing a wireless microphone that was transmitting to one of your confederates – secreted in a surveillance van around the corner – I might have found that more likely.”
“Oh, that is good.” Joe started to add that to his list, using the elevator wall as the closest table-like surface.
“Of course…” the security guard began again, “…if you had said that, I would have been forced to perform a brutal and demeaning search of your person to relieve you of said microphone; it’s company policy.”
Joe scratched out the list’s recent addition, stuffed the paper back in his coat pocket, and kept his mouth shut for the rest of the ride.
At its apogee, the elevator’s doors dinged open to reveal a spacious lobby, populated with exotic plants, and decorated with tastefully framed, brightly colored smears.
The kind of smears reminiscent of night terrors that required the right kind of education to correctly interpret.
“Did he just say something rude about the artwork?” The question had come from another uniformed security guard, almost as heavy-set as the fortress door she was standing sentry at.
“Probably,” replied Joe’s elevator escort. “My guess is he’s really interested in participating in a hidden microphone search.”
The heavy-set sentry developed a coldly gleeful look: “That’s great news. Best news I’ve heard all day.” The cold glee focused itself in Joe’s direction, probing for all his soft bits. “Remember Tim, it’s my turn to conduct the search. Perhaps I might put that Master’s in Art History I have to use while I’m at it; I can explain the inherent genius displayed by all the artworks collected in this room. Maybe I’ll even give some hints as to how they can be correctly interpreted. If he’s really lucky, I may provide these hints with the use of an electric cattle prod.” The cold glee turned into a look, while still gleeful, that also contained something like hope and quiet longing.
“Easy there, Lily,” said Tim, “the boss is expecting him. Normally, I’d be happy to let you administer educational shock therapy, but Mr. Jimson is in a dark mood, and might not appreciate much of a delay.”
“I’ll be quick,” Lily protested, “won’t even use the prod on his head, so he’d still be mostly coherent.”
Tim seemed to give this some consideration. Rather more consideration than Joe was entirely comfortable with. Finally, with the kind of sigh that signals the disappointment that accompanies a thwarted life goal, Tim said: “Best not Lily, Mr. Jimson has been forcing redundancy on a lot of our security team lately, I’d prefer not to push my luck. I’ll tell you what, though, I’ll ask him if he wouldn’t mind if you conducted a re-education search after their conference.” Tim threw a malicious stare at Joe’s face, “How does that sound Lily, you think that might suit?”
“Oh, would you Tim? I’d be really greatful.” Joe’s face caught a second malicious stare right between the eyes.
“It would be my pleasure.” The first stare sprouted a set of the most perfect teeth Joe had ever seen. “If you’ll follow me, please, Mr. Smote.”
The fortress door opened onto a long hallway. At its far end, in front of another door – smaller than the fortress, and made of polished steel – Joe thought he could make out two more security guards: tall darkly dangerous looking figures that appeared to be smiling at each other grotesquely. He followed Tim towards the new doorway, their footsteps tapping out loneliness on the hardwood floor.
In recesses, set at regular intervals along each side of the passageway, were what Joe could only think of as ‘curiosities’ – the kind explorers would bring home with them, in addition to whatever diseases they’d contracted in service of their profession. The effect was not only eerie, it was subtly terrifying. In one recess, protected by a glass case, was a mummified human head. But that was not nearly so unsettling as when, upon reaching the door, Joe realized that the figures he’d taken to be two more of Jimson’s security, turned out to be life-sized bronze statues of men in security uniforms. About the only thing Joe had observed correctly, is that they were smiling at each other in grotesque, almost carnivalesque, fashion.
Strangely, Tim seemed to know these statues socially. As he swiped his keycard, he greeted them as if they were real, and made a polite inquiry. “Evening boys,” he had said, “work treating you well?” No response, but Tim obviously hadn’t expected one, and nervously chuckled as he led Joe through the newly opened entrance-way.
The other side of the polished-steel portal revealed a large and inviting open plan room, thickly carpeted in a rich burgundy color. The walls were painted a hard white to offset yet more artwork. No abstracts this time, more classical in tone, treating with various subjects – some religious, some cute, others violent, still others cutely religious and violent. Joe supposed that the paintings might be ordered according to some arcane principle of aesthetics; but having only the kind of education a man who grew up on the wrong side of the bus station can get – the kind he teaches himself, or the world teaches him with use of punches and kicks – he couldn’t be sure.
They moved from the entrance, and crossed the room towards a teal-colored leather lounge suite that rested, like a brood of weirdly-plumed-plumeless-chickens, on a level half a step down from the main floor. On one of the chickens, dressed in a black satin evening dress, and bejeweled at the throat, was Miss Amy Gridlock. She’d been silently watching their progress. Tim stood to attention.
“You look nice Amy,” Joe said, “doesn’t she look nice Tim?” Tim looked uncomfortable, which made Joe feel pretty good.
“Why thankyou Joe. I’m accompanying Mr. Jimson to a benefit dinner later; a woman must do her best to look nice for such things. Actually, I was starting to feel some concern that you might be late, which would throw the whole night’s schedule out. Fortunately, you are right on time.”
Joe wondered about this, he couldn’t remember organizing any time more specific than ‘Sunday evening’ when he’d accepted the commission at their first meeting. He also wondered if he should perhaps wonder about this in a little more depth, but all said was: “Professionalism through punctuality, that’s the Smote family motto.”
“Is it?” Amy didn’t look too convinced, “how odd. Well, Mr. Jimson is out on the terrace, I’ll take you to him now.”
Tim developed a nervous sort of look, as though he was unsure whether or not he should really get into that shark cage with all that meat around his neck; a look that Amy clearly noticed.”
“Yes, Timothy? Was there something else?”
“Ahem… well …ummm?”
“Out with it Timothy, as I just indicated to Mr. Smote, we have a fairly tight schedule.”
Yep, thought Joe, that meat necklace was a really bad idea.
“I do apologize, Miss Gridlock, only I had hopes that I might be able to have a quick word with Mr. Jimson before you got started. Would that be possible?”
Amy’s countenance suggested that she was not impressed, that this was not going to be in anyway possible, and that the shark cage was a hologram, and would afford no protection to the idiot with the meat near his face. But all she said was: “I don’t think so, unless you have a good reason. Do you have a good reason?”
“Er… it’s a security matter?”
“Well, in that case, you can discuss it with me. I suppose you have forgotten that I’m in charge of matters pertaining to security?”
“It’s of a rather sensitive nature Miss, not something that can be discussed in front of… ahem …guests.”
“Well, then I suggest you discuss it with me quietly, in that corner.”
The two of them moved into ‘that’ corner; it was just beyond the weird-chicken lounge arrangement – presumably so that the chickens didn’t become privy to sensitive information. A low burbling sound commenced as Tim discussed his security issue. Joe could tell it wasn’t going well. He could tell this, because the discussion was more of a monologue on Tim’s part. When it finished, the sphinx that had been Miss Amy Gridlock said: “No.” Then she said, “I think you should ask Lily to start giving consideration to the sort of bronze redundancy statue she might like.”
Tim’s face became a mask of horror, “but Miss, she was provoked.”
“She’s security,” Amy responded cooly, “it’s her job to be provoked. Which reminds me, Timothy, what kind of bronze redundancy statue might you like?”
“No? No ideas at all? Perhaps you and Lily should talk it over together – over coffee, for instance? I hear the cafe next to the casting room makes an excellent latte.”
To Joe’s trained investigative eye, Tim had the appearance of a man gripped by a deep terror…
The kind of terror a man gets when he realizes that the sharks are not his worst problem.
“See! He’s doing it again, that’s exactly what I was talking about.” Tim was making a desperate attempt to transform his terror to an outrage based on empirical evidence.
“Yes, I’ve noticed he does that. I expect he’s just writing up case notes. Isn’t that right Joe?”
“Dictating, Amy; I was dictating case notes.” It was Joe’s turn to flash toothy malevolence.
“Well, there you have it. Now, I suggest you run along and have that coffee. I’ll call for you when it’s time to show our guest out.” The chastised Tim moved away, stalking out as though he was being chased by an approaching storm front. In a way, there was a storm coming for him. It radiated outwards from Amy, who then turned to Joe: “Shall we get started then?”
“Sounds like a plan.”
“Good, if you’ll just follow me.”
She glided through a set of open doors out to the terrace. I pursued, but not in a way that seemed creepy, or can get you arrested. The evening air filled with the murmurs of the city below; the sounds bleeding upwards to spill themselves against the sky. It was as if the city was crying the strange and mournful lament of a primitive people at a funeral.
END OF CHAPTER 2