Raven's parts fall at a range of speeds, shards of propeller blades fluttering, smoking innards knifing straight down. Heat licks my face and I pull back from the glass. Raven's greatest hits flash through my mind: her inaugural self-nav flight through a hula hoop maze at Google, the pilfering of a Confederate flag off my caveman-neighbor's pickup truck, this morning's water cooler knockout ...
I hear pattering and think for one zany instant it's applause. People are cheering Raven, remembering these same triumphs.
It's not applause.
The stairwell door is on the far side of the floor from me—a blessing. I hear two or possibly three sets of boots. Harsh voices. I grab Hedgehog Eleanor Roosevelt and bolt. First I run left, three strides toward the elevators. Then back right when the voices seem louder.
Finally I stop in my tracks. The boot-claps are coming from everywhere, through the walls and floor and air.
I dash to the copy nook. My eyes zip along baseboards and between counters and up a center beam to the ceiling.
A vent! HVAC runs straight over the top. I start patting my pockets for that letter opener before realizing that even if I have it—which I do not appear to—these pounding boots are too close. No way can I dislodge four screws, boost myself into the duct, and push the vent cover passably back into place before they arrive.
My eyes zip on. In a corner of the room is a shred cabinet: an opaque panel with a wide mouth for dropping documents through. These panels generally hide bins that catch the documents, but this one hasn't been operational for months. Four square feet of empty, gloriously hidden space. I open the panel and dive inside.
Darkness envelops me as, squatting, I pull the panel closed. The smell is stale and musty, a stamp collector's attic. My sandals crunch a loose pile of documents; I push them to one corner and hug myself small.
"I have the open spaces!" calls a voice.
"Every cubicle—every one," another says. "I have the offices!"
I hear them hunting my side of the floor, doors whipped open, drawers rammed shut. Through the wide mouth of my cabinet, I can observe a sliver of the hall—that stretch where Raven and I tried our SOS. A man in Elite yellow stops to peer through the hole in the window.
He inches closer to the spidered glass. His hair is buzzed, razor burn on his neck. His polo shirt bulges over muscle-corded shoulder blades. He looks down as though contemplating whether I followed Raven in some Romeo and Juliet nosedive.
I keep still, looking out. My eyes begin to water.
The panel! My panel is opening—I must've let go as I was concentrating and now it's drifting open. I pull it closed, but too late. The man at the window whirls and cries out to his partner.
Up the hall, running. They're coming. They know I'm somewhere in the interior. I hear them search the adjacent room, barking to each other in urgent tones.
Still hugging my knees, I rock myself to the back of my cabinet. I will myself smaller. I'm so compacted my heartbeat seems everywhere at once, pulsing in my shins and elbows.
Fedor is the first one into the nook—I glimpse those ears of his through the cabinet's mouth. I catch a flash of black too, at his shoulder and between his knuckles. A gun? I guess they're dropping all pretense now.
Fedor stalks the room's perimeter, a deliberate right-to-left sweep, pushing aside papers and manila folders.
He's going to check my cabinet. I know he is. The cabinet has a locking mechanism, but of course I don't have a key and couldn't risk reaching outside to lock it anyway.
YOU ARE READING
Blackquest 40Mystery / Thriller
** WATTYS 2018 WINNER ** Deb Bollinger has no time for corporate training. Her company's top engineer at just twenty-seven, Deb has blocked off her day for the one project she truly cares about: the launch of Carebnb, an app that finds spare beds fo...