Paranoia (156 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.


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 fa├žade 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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