Paranoia (161 of 170)

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161
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Paranoia
by Joseph Finder
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Part Eight: 87 (Cont'd)

When the motion detectors were on, they triggered the cameras, shifted them in the direction of any moving object.

But the motion detectors were off. That meant the cameras were fixed, couldn't move.

It's funny, Meacham and his guy had trained me to beat security systems that were more sophisticated than this. Maybe Meacham was right—forget about the movies, in reality corporate security always tends to be sort of primitive.

Now I could enter the little lobby area without being seen by the cameras, which were pointed at the door that opened directly into Secure Facility C. I took a few tentative steps into the room, flattening my back against the wall. I sidled slowly over to one of the cameras from behind. I was in the camera's blind spot, I knew. It couldn't see me.

And then the Talkabout bleeped to life.

"Get the hell out!" Seth's voice screeched. "Everyone's been ordered to the fifth floor, I just heard it!"

"I—I can't, I'm almost there!" I shouted back.

"Move it! Jesus, get the hell out of there!"

"No—I can't! Not yet!"

"Cassidy—"

"Seth, listen to me. You've got to get the hell out of here—stairs, freight elevator, whatever. Wait for me in the truck outside."

"Cassidy—"

"Go!" I shouted, and I clicked off.

A blast of sound jolted me—a throaty mechanical hoo-ah blaring from an alarm horn somewhere very close.

Now what? I couldn't stop here, just feet from the entrance to the AURORA Project! Not this close!

I had to keep going.

The alarm went on, hoo-ah, hoo-ah, deafeningly loud, like an air-raid siren.

I pulled the spray can out of my overalls—a can of Pam spray, that aerosol cooking oil—then leaped up at the camera and sprayed the lens. I could see an oil slick on the glass eyeball. Done.

The siren blared.

Now the camera was blind, its optics defeated—but not in a way that would necessarily attract attention. Anyone watching the monitor would see the image suddenly go blurry. Maybe they'd blame the network wiring upgrade they'd been warned about. The blurred-out image probably wouldn't draw much attention in a bank of TV monitors. That was the idea, anyway.

But now that careful planning seemed almost pointless, because they were coming, I could hear them. The same guards I'd just bamboozled? Different ones? I had no idea, of course, but they were coming.

There were footsteps, shouts, but they sounded far away, just background chatter against the ear-splitting siren.

Maybe I could still make it.

If I hurried. Once I was inside the AURORA laboratory, they probably couldn't come after me, or at least not easily. Not unless they had some kind of override, which seemed unlikely.

They might not even know I was in there.

That is, if I could get in.

Now I circled the room, keeping out of camera range until I reached the other camera. Standing in its blind spot, I leaped up, sprayed the oil, hit the lens dead on.

Now Security couldn't see me through the monitors, couldn't see what I was about to try.

I was almost in. Another few seconds—I hoped—and I'd be inside AURORA.

Getting out was another matter. I knew there was a freight elevator there, which couldn't be accessed from outside. Would Alana's badge activate it? I sure hoped so. It was my only shot.

Damn, I could barely think straight, with that siren blasting, and the voices getting louder, the footsteps closer. My mind raced crazily. Would the security guards even know of the existence of AURORA? How closely held was the secret? If they didn't know about AURORA, they might not be able to figure out where I was headed. Maybe they were just running through the corridors of each floor in some wild, uncoordinated search for the second intruder.

Mounted on the wall to the immediate left of a shiny steel door was a small beige box: an Identix fingerprint scanner.

From the front pocket of my overalls I pulled the clear plastic case. Then, with trembling fingers, I removed the strip of tape with Alana's thumbprint on it, its whorls captured in traces of graphite powder.

I pressed the tape gently on the scanner, right where you'd normally put your thumb, and waited for the LED to change from red to green.

And nothing happened.

No, please, God, I thought desperately, my brain scrambled by terror, and by the unbearably loud hoo-ah of the alarm. Make it work. Please, God.

The light stayed red, stubbornly red.

Nothing was happening.

Meacham had given me a long session on how to defeat biometric scanners, and I'd practiced countless times until I thought I'd gotten it down. Some fingerprint readers were harder to beat than others, depending on what technology they used. This was one of the most common types, with an optical sensor inside it. And what I'd just done was supposed to work ninety percent of the time. Ninety percent of the time this goddamned trick worked!




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    Paranoia (160 of 170)

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    160
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    Paranoia
    by Joseph Finder
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    All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.


    87

    Don't run.

    I had to keep reminding myself. Stay calm. I walked down the hall, trying to look blasé when my head was about to explode. Don't look at the cameras.

    I was halfway to the big open cubicle area when my walkie-talkie bleeped at me, two quick tones.

    "Yeah?"

    "Listen, man. It's asking me for an ID. The sign-on screen."

    "Oh, shit, right, of course."

    "Want me to sign on as you?"

    "Oh God no. Use ..." I whipped out the little spiral notebook. "Use CPierson." I spelled it out for him as I kept walking.

    "Password? Got a password?"

    "MJ twenty-three," I read off.

    "MJ ... ?"

    "I assume it's for Michael Jordan."

    "Oh, right. Twenty-three's Jordan's number. This guy some kind of amazing hoops player?"

    Why was Seth blathering on? He must have been scared out of his mind.

    "No," I said, distracted, as I entered the cubicle area. I took off the yellow hard hat and the safety glasses, since I no longer needed them, stowed them under a desk as I passed by. "Just arrogant, like Jordan. They both think they're the best. One of them's right."

    "All right, I'm in," he said. "The Security page, you said?"

    "Company security procedures. See what you can find out about the loading dock, whether we can get back down there using the freight elevator. That might be our best escape route. I gotta go."

    "Hurry it up," he said.

    Straight ahead of me was a gray-painted steel door with a small, diamond-shaped window reinforced with wire mesh. A sign on the door said AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY.

    I approached the door slowly, at an angle, and looked through the window. On the other side was a small, industrial-looking waiting room, a concrete floor. I counted two CCTV cameras mounted high on the wall near the ceiling, their red lights blinking. They were on. I could also see the little white pods in each corner of the room: the passive infrared motion detectors.

    No LED lights on the motion detectors, though. I couldn't be sure, but they seemed to be off. Maybe Security really had shut them down for a few hours.

    In one hand I was holding a clipboard, trying to look official, like I was obeying printed instructions. With my other hand I tried the doorknob. It was locked. Mounted on the wall to the left of the door frame was a little gray proximity sensor, just like you saw all over the building. Would Alana's badge open it? I took out my copy of her badge, waved it at the sensor, willing the red light to turn green.

    And I heard a voice.

    "Hey! You!"

    I turned slowly. A Trion security guard was running toward me, another guard lagging behind him.

    "Freeze!" the first man shouted.

    Oh, shit. My heart leaped in my chest.

    Caught.

    Now what, Adam?

    I stared at the guards, my expression changing from startled to arrogant. I took a breath. In a quiet voice, I said, "You find him yet?"

    "Huh?" said the first guard, slowing to a stop.

    "Your goddamned intruder!" I said, my voice louder. "The alarm went off five fucking minutes ago, and you guys are still running around like idiots, scratching your asses!" You can do this, I told myself. This is what you do.

    "Sir?" the second guard said. They both were frozen in place, looking at me, bewildered.

    "You morons have any idea where the point of entry was?" I was shouting at them like a drill sergeant, tearing them new assholes. "You think we could have made it any easier for you guys? For Christ's sake, you do an exterior perimeter check, that's the first thing you do. Page twenty-three of the goddamned manual! You do that, and you'd find a ventilation grille dislodged."

    "Ventilation grille?" said the first one.

    "Are we going to have to spray-paint the trail in fucking Day-Glo colors? Should we have given you guys engraved invitations to a Bendix surprise security audit? We've run this drill in three area buildings in the past week, and you guys are the worst bunch of amateurs I've seen." I took the clipboard and the attached pen and began writing. "Okay, I want names and I want badge numbers. You!" The two guards had begun to retreat, backing up slowly. "Get the fuck back here! You think Corporate Security's all about the Krispy Kremes? Heads are going to roll, I promise you that, when we file our report."

    "McNamara," the second guard said reluctantly.

    "Valenti," said the first.

    I jotted down their names. "Badge numbers? Aw, Christ, look—one of you get this goddamned door open, and then both of you, get the hell out of here."

    The first one approached the card reader, waved his badge at it. There was a click and the light turned green.

    I shook my head in disgust as I pulled the door open. The two guards turned and began loping back down the hall. I heard the first one say to the other sullenly, "I'm going to check with Dispatch right now. I don't like this."

    My heart was hammering so loud it had to be audible. I'd bullshitted my way out of that, but I knew all I'd done was to buy a couple of minutes. The guards would radio in to their dispatch and find out the truth immediately—there was no "surprise security audit" going on. Then they'd be back with a vengeance.

    I watched the motion detector, mounted high on the wall in this small lobby area, waiting to see whether a light would flash on, but it didn't.




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    Paranoia (159 of 170)

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    159
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    Paranoia
    by Joseph Finder
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    Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder.
    All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.


    Part Eight: 86 (Cont'd)

    The walk back took forever. An office door swung open just ahead, and a middle-aged guy came out. He was wearing brown double-knit polyester slacks and a short-sleeved yellow shirt, and he looked like an old-line mechanical engineer. Getting an extra-early start on the day, or maybe he'd been up all night. The guy glanced at me, then looked down at the carpet without saying anything.

    I was a cleaning guy. I was invisible.

    A couple dozen surveillance cameras had captured my image, but I wasn't going to attract anyone's attention. I was a cleaning guy, a maintenance guy. I was supposed to be here. No one would look twice.

    Finally I reached the mechanical room. I stopped in front of the door, listening for voices, prepared to run if I had to, if someone was in there with Seth, even though I didn't want to leave him there. I could hear the faint squawk of the police scanner, that was all.

    I pulled the door open. Seth was standing just on the other side of the door, the radio near his ear.

    He looked panicked.

    "We gotta get out of here," he whispered.

    "What's—"

    "The guy on the roof. On the seventh floor, I mean. The security guy who took us to the roof."

    "What about him?"

    "Must have come back out to the roof. Curious, whatever. Looked down, didn't see us. Saw the ropes and the harnesses, and no window cleaners, and he freaked. I don't know, maybe he got scared something happened to us, who knows?"

    "What?"

    "Listen!"

    There was squawking over the police scanner, a babble of voices. I heard a snatch: "Floor by floor, over!"

    Then: "Bravo unit, come in."

    "Bravo, over."

    "Bravo, suspected illegal entry, D David wing. Looks like window cleaners—abandoned equipment on the roof, no sign of the workers. I want a floor-by-floor search of the whole building. This is a Code Two. Bravo, your men cover the first floor, over."

    "Roger that."

    I stared at Seth. "I think Code Two means urgent."

    "They're searching the building," Seth whispered, his voice barely audible over the roar of the machinery. "We have to get the fuck out of here."

    "How?" I hissed back. "We can't drop the ropes, even if they're still in place! And we sure as hell can't get out through the mantrap on this floor!"

    "What the hell are we going to do?"

    I inhaled deeply, exhaled, tried to think clearly. I wanted a cigarette. "All right. Find a computer, any computer. Log on to the Trion Web site. Look for the company security procedures page, see where the emergency points of egress are. I'm talking freight elevators, fire stairs, whatever. Any way we can get out, even if we have to jump."

    "Me? So what are you going to do?"

    "I'm going back out there."

    "What? You're fucking kidding me. This building is crawling with security guards, you moron!"

    "They don't know where we are. All they know is we're somewhere in this wing—and there's seven floors."

    "Jesus, Adam!"

    "I'll never get this chance again," I said, running toward the door. I waved my Motorola Talkabout at him. "Tell me when you find a way out. I'm going into Secure Facility C. I'm going to get what we came for."




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    Paranoia (158 of 170)

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    158
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    Paranoia
    by Joseph Finder
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    Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder.
    All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.


    86

    Fifty feet up ahead, a security camera was mounted high on the wall, next to the ceiling, its tiny red light winking.

    Wyatt said I was a good actor, and now I'd really need to be. I had to look casual, a little bored, busy, and most of all not nervous. That'd take some acting.

    Keep watching the Weather Channel or whatever the hell is on now, I mentally willed whoever was in the command center. Drink your coffee, eat your donuts. Talk basketball or football. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

    My work boots squeaked softly as I walked down the carpeted hall, wheeling the cleaning bucket.

    No one else around. That was a relief.

    No, I thought, it's actually better if there're other people walking by. Takes the focus off of you.

    Yeah, maybe. Take what you get. Just hope no one asks where I'm going.

    I turned the corner into a large open cubicle-farm area. Except for a few emergency lights, it was dark.

    Pushing the bucket through an aisle down the middle of the room, I could see even more security cameras. The signs in the cubicles, the weird unfunny posters, all indicated that engineers worked here. On a shelf above one of the cubicles was a Love Me Lucille doll, staring malevolently at me.

    Just doin' my job, I reminded myself.

    On the other side of this open area, I knew from the map, was a short corridor leading directly to the sealed-off half of the floor. A sign on the wall (SECURE FACILITY C—ADMITTANCE ONLY TO CLEARED PERSONNEL, and an arrow) confirmed it for me. I was almost there.

    This was all going a lot more smoothly than I'd expected. Of course, there were motion detectors and cameras all around the entrance to the secure facility.

    But if the call I'd made to Security the day before had worked, they'd have shut off the motion detectors.

    Of course, I couldn't be sure of that. I'd know in a few seconds, when I got closer.

    The cameras would almost certainly be on, but I had a plan for that.

    Suddenly a loud noise jolted me, a high-pitched trill from my Talkabout.

    "Jesus," I muttered, heart racing.

    "Adam," came Seth's voice, flat and breathy.

    I pressed the button on its side. "Yeah."

    "We got a problem."

    "What do you mean?"

    "Get back here."

    "Why?"

    "Just get the fuck back here."

    Oh, shit.

    I spun around, left the cleaning bucket, started to run until I remembered I was being watched. I forced myself to slow down to a stroll. What the hell could have happened? Did the ropes give us away? Did the ventilation grate drop? Or did someone open the door to the mechanical room, find Seth?




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    Paranoia (157 of 170)

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    157
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    Paranoia
    by Joseph Finder
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    Part Eight: 85 (Cont'd)

    It opened. I knew that the doors to mechanical rooms were required to be unlocked from the inside, to make sure no one got trapped, but it was still a relief to know we could get out of here.

    In the meantime, Seth took out a pair of Motorola Talkabout walkie-talkies, handed me one, and then pulled out from his holster a compact black shortwave radio, a three-hundred-channel police scanner.

    "You remember the security frequency? Something in the four hundreds UHF, wasn't it?"

    I took a little spiral-bound notebook from my shirt pocket, read off the frequency number. He began to key it in, and I unfolded the floor map and studied my route.

    I was even more nervous now than when I was climbing down the side of the building. We had a pretty solid plan, but too many things could go wrong.

    For one, there might be people around, even this early. AURORA was Trion's top-priority program, with a big deadline a mere two days off. Engineers worked weird hours. Five in the morning, there probably wouldn't be anyone around, but you never knew. Better to stay in the window-washer uniform, carrying a bucket and a squeegee—cleaning people were all but invisible. Unlikely anyone would stop to ask what I was doing here.

    But there was a gruesome possibility that I might run into someone who recognized me. Trion had tens of thousands of employees, and I'd met, I don't know, fifty of them, so the odds were in my favor I wouldn't see someone who knew me. Not at five in the morning. Still ... So I'd brought along a yellow hard hat, even though window washers never actually wear them, jammed it down on my head, then put on a pair of safety glasses.

    Once I was out of this dark little room, I'd have to walk several hundred feet of hallway with security cameras trained on me all the way. Sure, there were a couple of security guys in the command center in the basement, but they had to look at dozens of monitors, and they were probably also watching TV and drinking coffee and shooting the shit. I didn't think anyone would pay me much attention.

    Until I reached Secure Facility C, where the security definitely got harsh.

    "Got it," Seth said, staring at the police scanner's digital readout. "I just heard 'Trion Security' and something else Trion."

    "Okay," I said. "Keep listening, and alert me if there's anything I should know."

    "How long you gonna take, you think?"

    I held my breath. "Could be ten minutes. Could be half an hour. Depends on how things go."

    "Be careful, Cas."

    I nodded.

    "Wait, here you go." He'd spotted a big yellow wheeled cleaning bucket in the corner, rolled it over to me. "Take this."

    "Good idea." I looked at my old buddy for a moment, wanting to say something like "Wish me luck," but then I decided that sounded too nervous and mushy. Instead, I gave him the thumbs-up, like I was cool about all this. "See you back here," I said.

    "Hey, don't forget to turn your thingy on," he said, pointing to my Talkabout.

    I shook my head at my own forgetfulness and smiled.

    Opening the door slowly, I looked out, saw no one coming, stepped into the hall, and closed the door behind me.




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    Paranoia (156 of 170)

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    156
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    Paranoia
    by Joseph Finder
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    85

    We only had to rappel down two stories, but it wasn't easy. We were both out of practice, we were lugging some heavy tools, and we had to be extremely careful not to swing too far to either side.

    Mounted on the building's façade were closed-circuit TV surveillance cameras. I knew from the schematics exactly where they were mounted. I also knew the specs on the cameras, the size of the lenses, their focal range and all that.

    In other words, I knew where the blind spots were.

    And we were climbing down through one of them. I wasn't concerned about Building Security seeing us rappelling down the side of the building, since they were expecting window cleaners early in the morning. What I was concerned about was that, if anyone looked, they'd realize we weren't actually cleaning any windows. They'd see us lowering ourselves, slowly and steadily, to the fifth floor. They'd see that we weren't even positioning ourselves in front of a window, either.

    We were dangling in front of a steel ventilation grate.

    As long as we didn't swing too far to one side or the other, we'd be out of camera range. That was important.

    Bracing our feet against a ledge, we got out our power tools and set to work on the hex bolts. They were securely fastened, through the steel and into concrete, and there were a lot of them. Seth and I labored in silence, the sweat pouring down our faces. It was possible that someone walking by, a security guard or whoever, might see us removing the bolts that held the vent grate in place and wonder what we were doing. Window cleaners worked with squeegees and buckets, not Milwaukee cordless impact wrenches.

    But this time of the morning, there weren't many people walking by. Anyone who happened to look up would probably figure we were doing routine building maintenance.

    Or so I hoped.

    It took us a good fifteen minutes to loosen and remove each bolt. A few of them were rusted tight and needed a hit of WD-40.

    Then, on a signal from me, Seth loosened the last bolt, and we both carefully lifted the grate away from the steel skin of the building. It was super heavy, a two-man job at least. We had to grip it by its sharp edges—luckily I'd brought gloves, a good pair for both of us—and angle it out so that it rested on the window ledge. Then Seth, grasping the grille for leverage, managed to swing his legs into the room. He dropped to the floor of the mechanical equipment room with a grunt.

    "Your turn," he said. "Careful."

    I grabbed an edge of the grate and swung my legs into the airshaft and dropped to the floor, looking around quickly.

    The mechanical room was crowded with immense, roaring equipment, mostly dark, lit only by the distant spill from the floodlights mounted on the roof. There was all kinds of HVAC stuff in here—heat pumps, centrifugal fans, huge chillers and compressors, and other air filtration and air-conditioning equipment.

    We stood there in our harnesses, still hooked up to the double ropes, which dangled through the ventilation shaft. Then we unsnapped the harness belts and let go.

    Now the harnesses hung in midair. Obviously we couldn't just leave them out there, but we'd rigged them up to the electric winch up on the roof. Seth pulled out a little black remote-control garage-door opener and pressed the button. You could hear this whirring, grinding noise far off, and the harnesses and ropes began to rise slowly in the air, pulled by the electric winch.

    "Hope we can get 'em back when we need 'em," Seth said, but I could barely hear him over the thundering white noise in the room.

    I couldn't help thinking that this whole thing was little more than a game to Seth. If he was caught, no big deal. He'd be okay. I was the one who was in deep doodoo.

    Now we pulled the grate in tight so that, from the outside, it looked like it was in place. Then I took an extra length of the kernmantle, ran it through the grips, then around a vertical pipe to tie the thing down.

    The room had gone dark again, so I took out my Mag-Lite, switched it on. I walked over to the heavy-looking steel door and tried the lever.




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    Paranoia (155 of 170)

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    Paranoia
    by Joseph Finder
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    Part Eight: 84 (Cont'd)

    Oscar was a little too interested in how we rigged up our gear. He hung around, watching us fasten the locking steel carabiners. These were attached to half-inch orange-and-white kernmantle climbing rope and connected to the safety anchors.

    "Neat," he said. "You guys probably climb mountains in your spare time, huh?"

    Seth looked at me, then said, "You a security guard in your spare time?"

    "Nah," he said, then he laughed. "I just mean you got to like climbing off tall places and stuff. That would scare the shit out of me."

    "You get used to it," I said.

    Each of us had two separate lines, one to climb down on, the other a back-up safety line with a rope grab, in case the first one broke. I wanted to do it right, and not just for appearance's sake. Neither one of us felt like getting killed by dropping off the Trion building. During those unpleasant couple of summers when we worked for the window cleaning company, we kept hearing about how there was an industry average of ten fatalities a year, but they never told us if that was ten in the world or ten in the state or what, and we never asked.

    I knew that what we were doing was dangerous. I just didn't know where the danger was going to come.

    After another five minutes or so, Oscar finally got bored, mostly because we stopped talking to him, and he went back to his station.

    The kernmantle rope attaches to a thing called a Sky Genie, a kind of long sheet-metal tube in which you wind the rope around a forged aluminum shank. The Sky Genie—gotta love the name—is a descent-control device that works by friction and pays out the rope slowly. These Sky Genies were scratched and looked like they'd been used. I held it up and said, "You couldn't buy us new ones?"

    "Hey, they came with the truck, whaddaya want? What are you worried about? These babies'll support five thousand pounds. Then again, you look like you've put on a couple pounds the last few months."

    "Fuck you."

    "You have dinner? I hope not."

    "This isn't funny. You ever look at the warning label on this?"

    "I know, improper use can cause serious injury or even death. Don't pay attention to that. You're probably scared to remove mattress tags too."

    "I like the slogan—'Sky Genie—Gets You Down.' "

    Seth didn't laugh. "Eight stories is nothing, guy. You remember the time when we were doing the Civic—"

    "Don't remind me," I interrupted. I didn't want to be a big pussy, but I wasn't into his black humor, not standing up there on the roof of the Trion building.

    The Sky Genie got hooked up to a nylon safety harness attached to a waist belt and padded seat board. Everything in the window-cleaning business had names with the words "safety" or "fall-protection" in them, which just reminds you that if anything goes even slightly wrong, you're fucked.

    The only thing we'd set up that was slightly out of the ordinary was a pair of Jumar Ascenders, which would enable us to climb back up the ropes. Most of the time when you're cleaning the windows on a high-rise, you have no reason to go back up—you just work your way down until you're on the ground.

    But this would be our means of escape.

    Meanwhile, Seth mounted the electric winch to one of the roof anchors with a D-ring, then plugged it in. This was a hundred-and-fifteen-volt model with a pulley capable of lifting a thousand pounds. He connected it to each of our lines, making sure that there was enough play that it wouldn't stop us from climbing down.

    I tugged on the rope, hard, to check that everything was locked in place, and we both walked over to the edge of the building and looked down. Then we looked at each other, and Seth smiled a what-the-fuck-are-we-doing smile.

    "Are we having fun yet?" he said.

    "Oh, yeah."

    "You ready, buddy?"

    "Yeah," I said. "Ready as Elliot Krause in the Portosan."

    Neither one of us laughed. We climbed onto the guardrail slowly and then went over the side.




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