Paranoia (060 of 170)

—of —
by Joseph Finder
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Macmillan: Paranoia

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


Any second Security would be here. Maybe the only reason they hadn't shown up yet was that it was a weekend and there were fewer of them around.

I raced to the door, slammed my side against the crash bar, and the door didn't move. The impact hurt like hell.

I tried again; the door was bolted shut. Oh, Jesus. I tried another door, and that too was locked from inside.

Now I realized what that funny metallic thunking sound had been a minute or two earlier—by opening the file drawer I must have set off some kind of mechanism that auto-locked all the exit doors in the area. I ran to the other side of the floor, where there was another set of exit doors, but they wouldn't open either. Even the emergency fire-escape door to a small back stairwell was locked, and that had to be against code.

I was trapped like a rat in a maze. Security would be here any second now, and they'd search the place.

My mind raced. Could I try to pull something over on them? Stan, the security guard, had let me in—maybe I could convince him I'd just accidentally stepped into the wrong area, pulled open the wrong drawer. He seemed to like me, that might work. But then, what if he actually did his job right, asked to look at my badge, saw that I didn't belong anywhere remotely near here?

No, I couldn't chance it. I had no choice, I had to hide.

I was stuck inside here.

"Stuck inside these four walls," Wings wailed sickeningly at me. Christ!

The xenon strobe was pulsing, blindingly bright, and the alarm was going hoo-ah, hoo-ah, as if this were a nuclear reactor during a core melt.

But where could I hide? I figured the first thing I should do was create some sort of a diversion, some plausible, innocent explanation for why the alarm had gone off. Shit, there was no time!

If I was caught here, it was over. Everything. I wouldn't just lose my job at Trion. Far worse. It was a disaster, a total nightmare.

I grabbed the nearest metal trash can. It was empty, so I grabbed a piece of paper off a nearby desk, crumpled it up, took my lighter and lit it. Running back toward the classified-records alcove, I set it against the wall. Then I took out a cigarette from my pack and tossed it into the can too. The paper burned, flamed out, sending up a big cloud of smoke. Maybe, if part of the cigarette were found, they'd blame the old smoldering butt. Maybe.

I heard loud footsteps, voices that seemed to be coming from the back stairwell.

No, please, God. It's all over. It's all over.

I saw what looked like a closet door. It was unlocked. Behind was a supply closet, not very wide, but maybe twelve feet deep, crowded with tall rows of shelves stacked with reams of paper and the like.

I didn't dare put the light on, so it was hard to see, but I could make out a space between two shelves in the rear where I might be able to squeeze myself in.

Just as I pulled the door shut behind me I heard another door open, and then muffled shouts.

I froze. The alarm kept whooping. People were running back and forth, shouting louder, closer.

"Over here!" someone bellowed.

My heart was thundering. I held my breath. When I moved even slightly, the shelf in back of me squeaked. I shifted, and my shoulder brushed against a box, making a rustling sound. I doubted anyone passing by could hear the small noises I was making, not with all that racket out there, the shouting and the sirens and all. But I forced myself to remain totally still.

"—fucking cigarette!" I heard, to my relief.

"—extinguisher!—" someone replied.

For a long, long time—it could have been ten minutes, it could have been half an hour, I had no idea, I couldn't move my arm to check my wristwatch—I stood there squirming uncomfortably, hot and sweaty, in a state of suspended animation, my feet going numb because of the funny position I was in.

I waited for the closet door to swing open, the light to cascade in, the jig to be up.

I didn't know what the hell I could say then. Nothing, really. I would be caught, and I had no idea how I could possibly explain my way out of it. I'd be lucky just to be fired. I'd likely face legal action at Trion—there was simply no good explanation for my being here. I didn't want to think about what Wyatt would do to me.

And for all my trouble, what had I turned up here? Nothing. All the AURORA records were gone anyway.

I could hear some kind of hosing, squirting sound, obviously a fire extinguisher going off, and by now the shouts had diminished. I wondered whether Security had called in-house firefighters, or the local fire department. And whether the wastebasket fire had explained away the alarm. Or would they keep searching the place?

So I stood there, my feet turning into tingling blocks of ice while sweat ran down my face, and my shoulders and back seized up with cramps.

And I waited.

Once in a while I heard voices, but they seemed calmer, more matter-of-fact. Footsteps, but no longer frantic.

After an endless stretch of time, everything went quiet. I tried to raise my left arm to check the time, but my arm had fallen asleep. I wriggled it, moved my right arm around to pinch at the dead left one until I was able to move it up toward my face and check the illuminated dial. It was a few minutes after ten, though I'd been in there so long I was sure it was after midnight.

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