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