COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
He blinked, kept staring. Had he seen me install the device? And then I was suddenly seized by another, equally sickening thought: had he noticed Nora's name on the door? Wouldn't he wonder why a man was in a woman's office, thumbing through her files?
I glanced over at the name plaque on the open door, right behind the guard. It said N. SOMMERS. N. SOMMERS could be anyone, male or female. Then again, for all I knew he'd been patrolling the halls forever, and he and Nora went way back.
The guard was still standing in the doorway, blocking the exit. What the hell was I supposed to do now? I could try to bolt, but I'd first have to get by the man, which meant I'd have to take a dive at him, tackle him to the ground, get him out of the way. He was big, but old, probably not fast; it might work. So what were we talking about here, assault and battery? On an old guy? Christ.
I thought quickly. Should I say I was new? I ran through a series of explanations in my head: I was Nora Sommers's new assistant. I was her direct report—well, I was—working late at her behest. What the hell did this guy know? He was a goddamned security guy.
He took a few steps into the office, shook his head. "Man, I thought I'd seen everything."
"Look, we've got a huge project due tomorrow morning—" I started to say, indignantly.
"You got a Bullitt there. That's a genuine Bullitt."
Then I saw what he was staring at, moving toward. It was a large color photograph in a silver frame hanging on the wall. A picture of a beautifully restored, vintage muscle car. He was moving toward it in a daze, as if he were approaching the Ark of the Covenant. "Shit, man, that's a genuine 1968 Mustang GT three-ninety," he breathed like he'd just seen the face of God.
The adrenaline kicked in and the relief seeped out of my pores. Jesus.
"Yep," I said proudly. "Very good."
"Man, look at that 'Stang. That pony a factory GT?"
What the hell did I know? I couldn't tell a Mustang from a Dodge Dart. For all I knew that could have been a picture of an AMC Gremlin. "Sure," I said.
"Lotta fakes out there, you know. You ever check under the rear seat, see if it got those extra metal plates, those reinforcements for the dual exhaust?"
"Oh yeah," I said airily. I stood up, extended my hand. "Nick Sommers."
His handshake was dry, his hand large, engulfing mine. "Luther Stafford," he said. "I haven't seen you 'round here before."
"Yeah, I'm never here at night. This damned project—it's always, 'We need it at nine A.M., big rush,' hurry up and wait." I tried to sound casual. "Glad to see I'm not the only one working late."
But he wouldn't drop the car. "Man, I don't think I've ever seen a fastback pony in Highland Green. Outside the movies, I mean. That looks like the exact same one Steve McQueen used to chase the evil black Dodge Charger off the road and into the gas station. Hubcaps flying all over the place." He gave a low, mellow, cigarette-and-whiskey chuckle. "Bullitt. My favorite movie. I must've seen it a thousand times."
"Yep," I said. "Same one."
He moved in closer. Suddenly I realized that there was a huge gold statuette on the shelf right next to the silver-framed photo. Engraved on the statuette's base, in huge black letters, was WOMAN OF THE YEAR, 1999. PRESENTED TO NORA SOMMERS. Quickly I walked over behind the desk, blocking the security guard's view of the award with my body, as if I too were inspecting the photograph closely.
"Got the rear spoiler and everything," he went on. "Dual exhaust tips, right?"
"With the rolled edges and everything?"
He shook his head again. "Man. You restore it yourself?"
"Nah, I wish I had the time."
He laughed again, a low, rumbling laugh. "I know what you mean."
"Got it from a guy who'd been keeping it in his barn."
"Three-twenty horsepower on that pony?"
"Right," I said, like I knew.
"Look at the turn-signal hood on that baby. I once had a 'sixty-eight hardtop but I had to get rid of it. My wife made me, after we had the first kid. I've been lusting after it ever since. But I won't even look at that new GT Bullitt Mustang, no sir."
I shook my head. "No way." I didn't know what the hell he was talking about. Was everyone in this company obsessed with cars?
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but it looks like you got GR-seventy–size tires on fifteen-by-seven American Torque Thrust rims, that right?"
Jesus, could we move off this topic? "Truth is, Luther, I don't know shit about Mustangs. I don't even deserve to own one. My wife just got it for me for my birthday. 'Course, it's going to be me paying off the loan for the next seventy-five years."
He chuckled a little more. "I hear you. I've been there." I noticed him looking down at the desk, and then I realized what he was looking at.