From Umberto Eco’s novel, Foucault’s Pendulum: “People walk by and they don’t know the truth… That the house is a fake. It’s a facade, an enclosure with no room, no interior. It is really a chimney, a ventilation flue that serves to release the vapors of the regional Metro. And once you know this you feel you are standing at the mouth of the underworld…”
It was just another spring day in the city, until the drunk came by. He was a bearded urban-outdoors-man type stumbling down the sidewalk. He was pretty typical. Inebriated, filthy in body and with a filthy mouth which opened a little too often. It was nearly summer and the weather was warming up and it was obvious that he was impacted by the heat. I got a quick whiff of his horrible body odor on the breeze as he staggered by. It was a safe bet that he had no interest in water either for drinking or washing.
The drunk’s teeth were yellowed and broken, and he slurred parts of a melancholy song as he limped along with alcohol showing in his gait.
“She doesn’t give you time for questions as she locks up your arm in hers,” he crooned in a scratchy baritone.
I couldn’t quite think of the name of the song and it didn’t help that he was slightly out of tune.
He continued with an unpleasant quaver in his voice, “And you follow ’til your sense of which direction completely disappears. By the blue-tiled walls near the market stalls there’s a hidden door she leads you to.”
The passersby veered to the edge of the street to give him as wide a berth as possible. He staggered and stopped to lean on a bicycle rack diagonally in front of where I was standing.
I was across the street from the door of a non-nondescript, three-story building which happened to be the tallest building on this part of Steinway. There was a closed pet shop next door and the other side boasted a Mosque and a couple of sickly trees.
The Mosque was obvious to any casual observer. It was decorated garishly with gold columns on either side of the front entrance and windows with filigreed cutouts. The view of the building was one reason I was standing by a shoe store entrance. I’d also picked this location because it was shaded by another dejected oak. The poor tree was making the best of its ill fortune to be planted by the street. I felt sorry for it, but was glad of the shade.
The drunk started on the next line of the song, “These days, she says, I feel my life just like a river running through …”
His voice trailed off. Then he abruptly leaned over and voided the contents of his stomach, managing to splash some on the feet of a swiftly-walking pedestrian. There was a considerable amount of cursing, but the drunk seemed oblivious. The violated woman, stomped her feet, shook her fist at him and then continued down towards a corner restaurant. Uncaring, the drunk staggered across the street, moving away from me and towards the Mosque.
I looked both ways down the sidewalk, keeping tabs on the pedestrians in case someone was on to me. Mentally, though, I was still trying to place the drunk’s tune when suddenly there was a screech of brakes on the street as someone swerved to miss him and cut-off another car. The screech was followed by horns and some more shouted curses. Typical big-city behavior; lots of noise and swearing but no actual physical contact.
I glanced at the narrowly avoided collision and when I turned back again, the drunk wasn’t on the far sidewalk. He wasn’t up the street or down the street either. He hadn’t gone into the closed pet shop; the hand-written sign on the front notified any interested parties that it was “Close for Vacates.”
The sign’s message had me mystified. I couldn’t decide if the owners had closed permanently and were vacating the property or had simply gone off on vacation.
He certainly wasn’t the type who would go into a Mosque. He was too obviously drunk. So, I thought, he must have gone into the three-story building. The only problem was that it was entirely too nice looking a building for him to have any business inside or to find anyone there who would be willing to give him any sort of sanctuary or anything but a push towards the exit.
I wasn’t busy at the moment. In fact, I was waiting for the man I’d been following to come out of the Mosque. I do that sometimes. My consulting business is very discrete and quite expensive and often involves locating some pretty unsavory characters, sometimes in unsavory locations. Anyway, I wasn’t busy, so I watched for the drunk to come back out as well as for my target.
You must understand that I’m not normally interested in drunks. I am, however, interested in people doing unusual or unexpected things, because my experience has taught me that this can be important. Anyway, I remained on watch, but I walked over and relaxed in the front seat of my car. It was parked nearby, under the unhappy tree in the darkest patch of shade that I could find. The wind was cool, but the sun was hot, so the shade was definitely appreciated.
The street was heavy with the usual traffic; a mix of private vehicles and some cabs along with delivery trucks and the occasional bus. The atmosphere was thick with exhaust fumes; both from the automobiles and the numerous restaurants in the area. The exhaust fans from the restaurants exhaled a thick, cloying smell of burnt grease, intermixed with some more appetizing odors of various types of food. The sidewalk was covered with black spots where chewing gum had been discarded, indicating with a high degree of accuracy the type of thinking (or lack, thereof) that was predominant among the local residents.
Sixty-two minutes later, my target came out of the Mosque. He walked quickly out of the door, paused and glanced both directions, then headed toward a black Mercedes 600 S Class that he’d thoughtfully parked right in front of a fire hydrant. I’d been sort of hoping for the fire department or parking patrol to come by, but they hadn’t shown up in the time that I’d been there. My hope on that score was simply a form of amusement based on my imagination of the expression on the guy’s face when he saw his car had been booted.
He walked down the street, stopped and looked both ways again. If he was trying to act nonchalantly, he was failing miserably. Without another pause, he then walked swiftly around to the street side and unlocked the car door and got in. He pulled out into traffic without even a sideways glance, causing a considerable amount of honking and cursing. I guess you get used to the commotion, but it still kept me on edge. I’d previously placed a GPS tracker on the frame of the vehicle, so I didn’t worry about following.
Instead, I went into a doughnut shop and got a cup of iced mocha and then stood around under the tree outside for another ten minutes while I sipped my drink. Still no drunk. Crossing the street gave me a closer view of the door where I guessed that he had entered. It was a brass door with two windows which gave me a view into the lobby. There was nothing inside but a small lobby with a pot holding a dusty, artificial palm and a plain-looking, metal elevator door at the rear.
I was about to quit looking through the glass door, but there was something that looked like a second elevator on one of the side walls. It hadn’t been there a moment ago. It somehow sort of appeared. The appearance kind of made me doubt myself, but I’m good at observing details, so it was only a flicker of doubt. That door had definitely popped into existence. It was located in an unusual place, near the corner of the room and its edge was almost touching the edge of the frame around the original elevator door on the back wall.
As I watched, the newly-arrived door flicked open far more quickly than any normal elevator. A slightly deformed hand on a skinny arm reached out and pressed the adjacent call button for the elevator at the back. I couldn’t see who or what the hand was attached to. When the rear wall elevator opened, a man-shaped figure with unusual taste in haberdashery shot out of the side elevator and into the back one. The doors both closed and the back elevator light lit for a moment. It didn’t go up or down, just lit and then faded out slowly.
I was left wondering what I’d seen. An ordinary walker probably wouldn’t have noticed anything because the entire action occurred in only a second or two. Most people don’t really look anyhow. I was reminded of this fact when I suddenly realized that the side-wall elevator door had disappeared again and I’d missed its disappearance. That was weird enough to keep me looking through the glass, just in case something else happened.
The being…creature, whatever it was, that had changed elevators was, or appeared to be, only superficially human. I’d gotten the impression of a smooth skin with rippling muscles, but the angularity of the shape was definitely not within the normal human spectrum. And, the clothing! The clothes would probably be a hit in any number of edgy clubs in the Village, but most people wouldn’t be wearing something that odd looking even if they were that odd looking.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen some pretty strange people, and not only in New York. However, what I’d seen definitely did not look human.
Now may be a good time for me to start my story from the beginning. Let me explain: I work in many cities and under many names as a rather highly paid and respected, if I do say it myself, counter-terrorism expert. I’m not above active intervention, if the situation requires it, but I prefer to simply observe and report developing situations to whomever hired me or to the local authorities at the appropriate time.
My background is, well, not something that I speak about, but in addition to being a moderately attractive, brown-haired guy of above average height and being muscular without looking steroidal, I’m expert at both armed and unarmed combat and a highly trained investigator.
I’d been assigned by a multinational corporation to watch a particular group of Middle-Easterners who seemed to be loosely associated with another group which had taken their jihad a little too enthusiastically and had, in the process, previously blown up one of the corporation’s local headquarters in the Middle-East.
The current group was trying to act professional, but it was apparent that they’d been poorly trained or even not trained at all. The real key of the matter was that I was slowly moving in on their source of funds. They seemed to be well paid. Mercedes, and the like, and better than the average religious fanatic’s clothing. They also seemed to be tied in, somehow with a lot of illegal drugs that had recently been coming into the country.
My working hypothesis was that a competitor of the corporation had an “in” with some Imam who had recruited the cell I was watching under the guise of a religious fatwa. The cell members seemed to sincerely believe they were working under the command of Allah and were apparently dedicated to bringing down the infidel as represented by my client.
The financial issue was complex. Funding moved through the Cayman Islands and possibly Mexico, but it seemed to come from multiple accounts in Switzerland. I hadn’t yet worked out the location where the Swiss accounts funds were sourced.
This wasn’t my first soiree into the seedy underworld of international terrorism. I thought I’d seen it all – black market explosive devices in Ghana, perverted so-called “holy men” laundering money for priceless treasures, warlords bartering human flesh and trampling on the rights of their fellow man, and New Haven, Connecticut – but the simple act of my curious observation of a homeless man that day involved me in weirdness that I could never have imagined.
What had started as an act of simple curiosity had now become far more interesting. I figured I owed it to myself to investigate a little farther. Tracking amateur terrorists through New York sometimes gets a little boring. I was ready for some additional intellectual complexity, so I opened the door and entered the lobby.
The second elevator door on the side wall was still missing. New York is a strange city and Astoria even stranger, but it wasn’t usual to have elevators appear and disappear. I spent some time feeling the wainscoting, but nothing out of the ordinary appeared. As far as my inspection went, it was a perfectly ordinary wall; it was true that it was painted an ugly shade of institutional green, but there was definitely no sign of a second elevator door.
I turned to the back wall, half expecting to see the original elevator missing, but it was still there. It was enough to make me pause a moment, the thought of pushing the elevator button, but I went ahead and pushed it. The door opened immediately.
At first glance, the inside of the elevator looked pretty normal. It had pale blue walls and I entered to look at the control panel, which, I thought should have three floors on it. I was holding the door with one hand, but when I saw the panel, I dropped my hand in astonishment. There were two buttons there, arranged side-by-side rather than in an up and down pattern. It was going to be hard to get upstairs with that button arrangement. Neither of the buttons had any recognizable numbers. There were some odd symbols, but nothing I could read. There was also a much smaller, blue button located over the top of the other two. It might or might not be necessary to activate the elevator, but the other two looked slightly worn as if they were the most important ones.
Suddenly, the hairs on the back of my neck started to quiver. This is my version of a premonition of danger and it has saved me more than once. It was accurate in this situation also. I must have somehow sensed a change in state of the system, because the door snapped shut automatically before I could react.
The light in the elevator kind of flickered. In response, I pulled my carry piece – a Sig Saur P220 – reflexively. It’s a little large for a concealed weapon, but I’m pretty big-boned and I really like the knock-down power of a forty-five.
Before the door opened again, the thought came to me that I wasn’t really in an elevator, but some form of matter transmitter. I’ve watched science fiction movies and figured I had an idea about how that was supposed to work. This was a lot less dramatic than the things that Hollywood seemed to favor, but there was an effect that I sensed physically. It seemed to be a little like going down fast on a roller coaster. The physical sensations of movement were so bewildering and so disorienting that I might as well have been unconscious for all the details I could give – then or later – about what happens during such a journey.
For a brief moment the walls shimmered around me and gravity seemed to let go abruptly inside my body, so that I felt like my attention had wandered for a moment. Then, without any perceptible spatial change at all, the walls suddenly steadied and were not pale blue any more, but hard dull steel, with the rivets showing where plates overlapped and here and there a streak of rust. The inside of the elevator seemed somewhat smaller than before and the lighting was much dimmer and redder. Then the door snapped open and I was somewhere else. The potted palm had disappeared.
Rather than seeing an Scottish engineer or a humanoid with pointy ears desperately trying to beam me in, my first view was of a lovely face. She was probably the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. Her hair was about shoulder length and blond and she had an unusually well proportioned face with high cheek bones and, yet, she didn’t look at all like some magazine model. She had a wholesome, girl-next-door appeal. Her face was perfectly proportioned and her body was incredible.
Her hands were handcuffed behind her back and she was being escorted by what I initially thought was a really ugly man. I supposed that he’d summoned the elevator. Mr. Ugly looked surprised at seeing me for a moment and then quickly went for the weapon that was strapped to his belt. Not fast enough. I shot him high and off center with the idea of asking some questions. The woman’s mouth fell open in shock, but she didn’t make any sound.
Ugly went down and then came back up quickly and his gun was somehow in his other hand and starting to level on me when I let go with a standard double tap and followed with a round to the head. He dropped and didn’t get up this time.
“Oh, oh, I knew that I wasn’t going to make it out of this alive! Are you going to kill me too?” Her blue eyes were so dark that they were almost purple and they were really big in her face.
I smiled at her, still in awe of her looks, gathered my courage and said, “Probably not. I’m Declan and you might be..?”
I realized after I’d said it that I probably sounded like an idiot, considering the circumstances, but she was so beautiful that it seemed to shut down my brain.
She answered with a brief hesitation, “Elizabeth, but you can call me ‘Betty’ or what I really prefer, ‘Liz’, but I’m babbling and we really need to get out of here. Fast!”
While she was talking, I took a quick look up and down the hall. Lucky for us, it was empty in both directions. The only thing unusual was a door at one end that had a red light beside it. It looked as if the hall turned to the right beside that door. The other end of the hall was only a few feet away and revealed nothing but a surprisingly ordinary Colonial-styled chest of drawers with a vase holding a silk plant on top.
She continued talking at a high rate of adrenaline-induced speed and eventually told me she had been captured in what I thought sounded like somewhere in Greece, along with some other stuff about aliens and invasions that I didn’t quite get. It was apparent to me that her accent wasn’t Greek, but rather more mid-western American. I put the problem of her place of origin in the back of my mind until later, while I admired her looks.
While she spoke, I figured I had a few seconds at most to learn what I could about “Mr. Ugly” before someone else showed up. The first thing I did was to insert a fresh clip into my Sig.
The second thing was to check Ugly’s body for any wallet, keys, and other items of interest. He had a wallet, which I opened. There was nothing in it except for several crisp and new hundred dollar bills along with a discount coupon for tire service. I took the money and left the coupon. I wasn’t in the market for new tires at the moment, but the hundreds might come in handy. He wasn’t going to need them in his current state.
He also had a door key with no key chain. I took it, but there was no way of knowing what, if anything, it unlocked. Then I took some pictures with my phone before I picked up his pistol – and here my jaw dropped. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before.
It looked similar to a cheap automatic pistol, but the caliber was tiny, it was smaller than a BB gun, perhaps about a millimeter. I moved the plastic bolt carrier mechanism back and was rewarded with a view of some kind of needle-like projectile which looked like glass with a small amount of yellowish fluid inside the tip. The source of the projectile seemed to be a more or less conventionally styled magazine. I pushed the release button and the magazine dropped out in my hand. None of the needles had any fluid in their tips, but there was another tubular knob on the bottom of the grip that I thought could be its source.
I stuck the weapon into my belt holster for later investigation and was pleased to see that it fit reasonably well. As I finished stowing it away, I was rather rudely reminded that I’d been ignoring my rescuee. She abruptly stopped talking and stomped firmly on my foot and then turned, holding out her cuffed hands. I guess I hadn’t been paying close enough attention to her, so it was my fault, in a way.
Fortunately, I carry some lock picking equipment which also includes a standard handcuff key. She really unloaded with that stomp and I wondered if I’d be able to walk normally as I worked on the cuffs. When they came off, I tossed them onto Mr. Ugly, figuring I had no more use for them than he did, and then looked around the room again. There was nowhere to conceal the body, except in the elevator, so I dragged it in there and let the door go shut.
We moved down the short hall; she walked quickly as I limped along, trying to keep up. When I stopped to look at the door with the red light, she said quickly, “You don’t want to go in there! There’s likely to be a lot more of them in that area.”
Shrugging, I turned to the right and we went around a the corner and there was a door leading outside. I knew it must go outside, because it had a conventional “Exit” sign lit up overhead. Through the door and out and I stopped for a moment in astonishment while she kept walking down the street. We were somewhere on the Upper West Side. Central Park was directly in front of us.
I was still assimilating this change when I realized that she was getting away from me. Despite the pain in my foot, I took off after her and caught up about half-way down the block. We headed south as quickly as possible. In my experience, it doesn’t do to hang around a recently deceased body, especially when you are the one responsible for the state of the corpse.
We hadn’t gone more than another block when she started up the steps of a small, rather dilapidated brownstone. I said, “Whoa! Where are you headed?”
“There’s another transporter in here and we can use it to get away from this area.”
“You know about these things?”
“I’ve been through several, yes. The one here isn’t used often and it can place us in Durban, South Africa and then we can move from there to, I think, Florida. They don’t all connect,” she said, anticipating my next question as she pulled on the solid front door with both hands.
It seemed to be unlocked, to my surprise, but then I realized that she’d pulled the door handle down while lifting the thumb-tab upwards.
“The locks are coded for an unusual opening action,” she explained, noticing my interest.
We went through the door and found ourselves in a small, box-like, empty room, obviously another elevator or whatever you called the things. The only feature in the room was another two buttons on a metal panel in the standard side-by-side pattern. Looking over her shoulder at me with an unreadable expression, she pressed one.
I led Declan out onto the street and headed south towards the Museum of Natural History. I wasn’t sure, but thought that was the direction we needed to go. As we walked, I briefly reviewed my past six months with special emphasis on the last ten days.
It was about six months ago that my boss stuck his head out of his office and called, “Elizabeth, come in here.”
His wire framed spectacles were down at the end of his nose and he had his head tilted forward in order to look over them at me. Between that look and his wrinkled, cheap suit, he looked like my idealized version of a clueless accountant. I knew him too well, though, and his use of my full name indicated that he wasn’t interested in any delay. I jumped to my feet and followed close on his heels as he turned back and shuffled around his desk, dropping into his saggy chair.
I paused momentarily and then, when he was settled, I picked out one of the two chairs facing the desk and sat down, ready for either a new assignment or what he called a helpful critique of my previous mission. His idea of constructive criticism was usually unjustified and was always more in the line of an acrimonious attack on both the target’s intelligence and their maturity, so I took a deep breath and prepared myself.
He sighed and pushed a slim, brown folder over to me. It was marked “Top Secret” though why it should have that level of security was questionable. It was a simple briefing on some high-quality counterfeit bills that were beginning to come into circulation in several of the major cities including New York.
“Elizabeth, I’d prefer to send someone else to check this out, but you’re the only one of my personnel who isn’t currently assigned. The other people are all committed to more important tasks, so I’m afraid that you’re my only option.”
In addition to holding the opinion that women weren’t really able to investigate anything but recipes, he also automatically held my looks against me. I’d heard him tell one of the other men, when he thought I was too far away to hear, that I was too good-looking to be serious about law-enforcement work. It didn’t help that I was also the rookie in the group. I had over a year’s worth of experience in another division, but had just transferred to this one and I’d taken a lot of kidding over my ‘new’ status.
I closed the folder and answered, “I’ll get right on it, boss.”
As I stood up and turned to go out, he added, unnecessarily, “I hope I don’t regret trusting you with this.”
I turned back and gave him my sweetest smile and said, “Don’t worry, it can’t be harder than baking a cake.” Then I pushed open the door, inwardly snickering at the look on his face.
Using the information in the folder (which was scanty at best), my various connections and the internet, I was able to trace the flow of the counterfeits from Mexico back to New York. I had a lead that indicated the origin of the bills was in D.C. The bills themselves used the same paper that the U.S. Mint used and the various experts I’d consulted thought that the plates used to print the fakes were such high quality that they might have been stolen from the Mint. The only way to tell they were fake was that the serial numbers overlapped some already existing, older bills. If you memorized the sequence, you could easily identify them. None of the legitimate bills were in newly-minted, uncirculated condition.
Based on that information, I went to D.C. I got lucky and was able to locate some rental trucks that were being used to transport the bills to Mexico and other locations as well. I’m making this sound easy, but it wasn’t. It took a lot of grinding-hard street-work and months of labor to get this far. I wasn’t able to locate exactly where the bills were being printed, but it seemed like they were coming from somewhere in D.C.
By this time, I was getting desperate. I figured that my boss was going to pull me off the case due to lack of real progress. However, I finally got a break. I accidentally located one of the rental trucks parked at an all-night diner. I waited until the driver came out and followed the truck to see where he was headed.
I reasoned that, if I couldn’t figure out where they came from, it would be the next best thing to see where they were going. I trailed the guy all the way from D.C. to New York, but then lost him in the traffic.
The next day, I checked in with the boss. He was not too pleased with my lack of progress, but after begging for him not to take me off the case, he said that he’d give me a couple of more days.
Not wanting to waste any time, I checked out of the office and hit the streets. I had one really good source that I wanted to check with immediately. He was a pawn-shop owner and he always had his ear to the ground. I’d used him carefully and sparingly, because I didn’t want him to get a reputation of passing info on to the cops. I suppose that it was a little bit unfair that he was my uncle’s brother-in-law, but the family connection meant that he was always happy to see me, even if he didn’t have anything useful to say.
I walked into his store and pretended to be interested in some jewelry while he dealt with an enormous woman dressed in a gaudy kaftan who was shouting at him with a Jamaican accent about getting her TV out of pawn. When he’d finished with her and she was on her way with the flat-screen tucked against her ample bosom, he turned to me.
“Hi, Liz. What’s up with you? Not some more information, is it?” he smiled.
“Yeah, Uncle Frank. It’s easy, though. Have you heard anything about some new paper that’s coming in from somewhere?”
It was obvious that he knew exactly what I was talking about. He frowned, “I got burned for a couple of hundred and I didn’t even know it until I went to the bank.” He prided himself on his ability to catch counterfeits and he was pretty pissed about taking a couple of bills without realizing it.
“I’ve got one right here,” he said as he opened his cash register and pulled out a new-looking one hundred dollar bill and handed it to me.
“How do you know?” I asked, examining the bill and then holding it up to the light to peer through.
“The bill is high quality, but the serial numbers are in a sequence that overlap some real bills that were printed last year, so you have to remember the numbers,” he answered.
That squared with my information and I was happy to hear from him that the counterfeits weren’t so secret after all.
“I’m supposed to find out where it’s coming from,” I sighed.
He shrugged, “It’s anyone’s guess, but if I were you, I’d go talk to Mustapha Varkey. He mostly has an in with anything of that nature.”
“OK. Where can I find him?”
“He’s probably over around the convenience store on Sixth Avenue run by that Paki, what’s his name? Oh, yeah. Mamoud Al Waziri.”
I said, “Thanks, Uncle Frank!”
As I turned to leave, he added with a cautionary tone, “Watch yourself over there. Those guys are pretty hard-core and they don’t like liberated women very much.”
“I will and thanks again!” I waved at him and left.
My next stop was along Sixth avenue and it turned out to be easier than I thought. I didn’t see Varkey, but as I drove up, Al Waziri was standing by a vacant parking space in front of the aforesaid convenience store. I pulled in and got his attention by rolling down the passenger window. I think he thought I was soliciting, because he bent down and looked in with a lecherous grin.
His grin faded as I held the bill out to him, “What? You want to pay me? Normally, I’m the one who pays, but if that’s what you want, I’m ready!”
I shook my head, “Don’t go off half-cocked! I’m not that sort of girl.”
“What sort are you?” The grin was back.
“I’m looking for more of this stuff,” I waved the bill at him.
His attitude changed immediately, “Law enforcement?”
“No.” I smiled at him and answered, “I’m just a working girl, but my fiance asked me to find out how to get some of this.”
“And who is your fiance?” he asked, starting to back away.
“Roberto d’Angelico,” I answered, naming one of the most well-known and reputedly dangerous mob members in town.
“I know nothing,” he answered moving towards the middle of the sidewalk.
“Do you want Roberto to come and ask you? He’s within about five minutes of here right now and I can call him to come over. He’ll be sure to bring some help with him and I’m not sure they’re in a very good mood, since they think this paper is infringing on their territory.”
He stepped back towards the car with a fearful look in his eyes, “No. It’s not needed to have them come by. My family owns the store and they are very poor. They don’t need trouble.” He was ignoring the fact that he was usually the source of the trouble in the neighborhood. He continued, “I know nothing, but I happened to hear that some new paper would be coming in to a warehouse on the west river about three am.”
He gave me the address quickly. He knew a lot for someone who knew nothing. I was determined to be there when the stuff came in. I left after threatening to tell Roberto whom to blame, if the information wasn’t accurate. As I pulled out, he trotted heavily inside.
I realized that he’d undoubtedly make a phone call to alert someone and perhaps the shipment would be delayed or, considering Roberto’s reputation, the delivery would turn into a set-up. The Middle-Easterners were intent on moving in and there was already bad-blood between the two groups. In either event, I decided to get there plenty early in order to check out the situation.
Along about one am, I arrived and carefully looked the warehouse over. It didn’t seem like there was anything going on that would indicate a trap, so I settled down to wait. I didn’t have to wait long, because about fifteen minutes later, a delivery truck pulled up. It was the same type as the delivery trucks that I’d been following. When it pulled up, the warehouse doors opened. It looked like they’d decided to speed up the exchange to avoid the mob.
I waited until the truck left and everything was quiet. I thought that I’d check the place out surreptitiously to make sure the counterfeits were in there. It was dark and no one was around, so I got out of my car and sneaked around to the back. There was a door there which opened easily with my lock-pick. In I went and that’s when everything went weird.
Once inside, I realized that the place was empty. That didn’t square with the load that I thought had come out of the truck. It had been squatted down on its axles when it arrived and looked empty when it left. Puzzled, I looked around. There was an elevator on one wall. It was a one-story warehouse and that didn’t compute at all. Nevertheless, I tried the elevator, since the only place the fakes could have gone was through it.
It seems like I’ve lost track of exactly how long it was, but I think that elevator ride was about ten days ago.
There were only a couple of buttons, so I pressed one, thinking that I had a fifty-fifty chance of finding the money. When I came out of the thing, I was flabbergasted. I was in some kind of glass dome and it looked like I was on another planet. Through the glass, stars were brightly shining and not flickering. The lack of flickering indicated to me that there was no atmosphere outside the dome.
As I watched, standing there with my mouth open, Jupiter rose over the horizon. It moved quickly and I was awestruck by the size of the thing looming over me. I could see the great red spot, so I was reasonably sure that I was looking at Jupiter. That meant that I was on one of its moons.
I knew from somewhere that Jupiter has about fifty moons, but you try identifying one that you’re standing on with no references. There wasn’t a convenient sign post nearby. I settled on the name ‘Io’ as a moon that I remembered and decided that I’d call it that.
Well, after my shock, I decided to explore a little bit. I hadn’t gone five feet before I was grabbed from behind by two unusually strong individuals. I tried to fight, but nothing doing. They handled me easily and dragged me around a corner into a brighter light.
That was when I got a good look at the guys who had me and they didn’t look so good. They almost looked as if they weren’t human. I went limp with surprise as they removed my gun and phone. Then they hustled me across the lighted space and up to a group of similar individuals that were standing there. They looked me over and made some hissing noises, seemingly directing my captors as to what to do with me.
We went into an office and there was another elevator door.
“Where now?” I thought to myself as we entered.
They pushed the button and the elevator got kind of woozy and wavered and we exited into a large room that didn’t look as if it were part of the same dome, since it had rock walls and was very cold. The other thing that gave it away was a huge window with a view that showed Jupiter from another direction. We’d either moved a long distance across the moon or to another moon entirely, because the great red spot was a quarter of the way from the left-hand side of the disk and it had been on the right-hand side when I first saw it.
I started to shake and then made an effort to get control of myself. It helped when I observed a large number of pallets holding what I presumed were the counterfeit bills I’d been following. They were stored in neat rows across the floor.
There was a group of humans working listlessly on arranging more of the pallets under the supervision of two of the ugly aliens. The men were dragging loads into line by hand and it was a laborious task. The things were pretty heavy.
One of the men quit working and leaned on one of the stacks of bills to recover. The closest supervisor had an awful, spider-like thing perched on his shoulder. The alien hissed something and the spider jumped off and ran over, climbed up the stack of bills and bit the recovering man on the arm.
He screamed as the bite instantly swelled up like a balloon. It burst and green fluid sprayed out over the screaming man’s face. The fluid turned his skin black and it started to dissolve. He thrashed around for a few seconds and then quit with a few final spasms of his legs.
The supervisor turned to the other humans who had stopped in horror and hissed, “Work! Now!”
My two escorts didn’t seem to care about the killing. They dragged me across the space and down a hall. They didn’t talk at all and finally left me by myself in a dimly-lighted cell with a bucket and a twenty pack of bottled water. I was thankful for the water, but it seemed to indicate that I might be there for quite a while.
Time passed and I tried to rest and conserve the water. It was quite a long period and I was alone for the entire time. Finally, after twenty of the bottles were empty and the bucket nearly full, the door opened.
This time, there was a single, ugly guy who had a strange pistol pointed at me. He handcuffed me and pushed me through the door, down a hall and around a corner. We stopped in front of a bank of elevators. He called one and we entered.
This time I observed something that I’d hadn’t thought about before: The buttons were arranged in a horizontal pattern and there were only a couple of them. He pressed one and we came out of a door next to a boulangerie in Paris.
I could hear people speaking French in the near distance, but saw no one. We walked several yards and then he approached what I recognized as Berthier’s door, an art project that was simply a fake door on a building side. As I recalled, it led nowhere, but I was wrong.
He looked around, somewhat nervously, and then opened the door and hustled me into a small enclosure behind it. It made me feel claustrophobic, it was so small. It was another of the transport boxes and he hit one of the buttons immediately and we went somewhere, I don’t know where. I never saw anything that gave me a clue as to where I was at this location.
All I knew was that it was inside an office-like building with lots of closed doors facing long, vacant halls. It didn’t seem like it was occupied. We went down a hall for a long ways and then into a room to face an inquisition panel of three of the odd-looking creatures. They looked mostly human, but there was a strangeness about them that let me know they were alien.
They asked me some questions about where I’d come from and what I was doing. Their voices were full of sibilants and it sounded like they were hissing at me. Their English was understandable, though. What I found out as they interrogated me was shocking.
They told me they were members of a superior race from another planet. They’d chosen to call themselves by a name we would recognize: “Pugs.” They told me that they were superior to us physically due to the fact that their bodies had a silicon matrix that made them much more difficult to kill than pure carbon-based life-forms. They wanted me to understand that had no chance at resisting their invasion of our planet. They were going to take over.
I faked my way through the questions, trying to be as consistent as I could and acting as if I were totally ignorant of everything. This seemed to throw them off. After a few minutes of this, they put their heads together and conferred in a hissing language. Then they spoke to my guard and he led me out of the room.
We went down a hall and stopped in front of another transporter. Once we went inside, he dithered a bit, finally selecting the left-hand button. We came out in a brownstone on the upper west side in New York.
He hustled me into a florist van that was parked right in front of the stairs and it pulled out into traffic. It wasn’t long before we passed the Museum of Natural History and I realized that we were going south. Then the driver turned across Central Park and we finally ended up in a parking garage off of Madison Avenue.
The ugly guy dragged me out of the van and into another transport unit that was in an odd location at the back of a service closet. This time we came out in a penthouse at the top of a high-rise that was in the North Beach area of Durban, South Africa. Fortunately, I’d been there before and recognized the view out over the ocean, so I was sure where I was.
We only stayed there long enough for me to critique the owner’s taste in art. It wasn’t good. There was a large, unattractive modern art painting across from the transporter exit.
Apparently, this was a transfer point, because we immediately entered another elevator and came out of the side of a warehouse from where I could see a large apartment complex with the name, “The Miami Stadium Apartments” on the front. I knew that these apartments were situated on the former site of the Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium which had been used as a summer home of the Baltimore Orioles until the Florida Marlins were established in 1993. The Marlins opted to use Joe Robbie Stadium and the old Miami Stadium was eventually razzed to make way for the apartments. You might wonder at this knowledge, but my grandfather was a rabid baseball fan and I spent many Sunday afternoons watching games with him when I was a girl.
This destination, too, wasn’t the end point, because we went on to the next warehouse, through a door that opened to reveal some more pallets of fake money and another transporter. He pushed me into this one and we transferred to the back room of a bookstore. At least there were stacks of books lying around in considerable disarray.
He paused when the door opened, seemed to think better of the idea and pressed the second button. The door shut and then opened to a cavern. It was empty and Mr. Ugly mad a hiss of, I thought, exasperation. Then he hit the return button and we were in the room with books again.
It was the back room of a bookstore that was near Times Square. He pushed me out and we walked through the books, brushing by the proprietor quickly as we went out of the front door. Then he took me across the street and up a flight of stairs to a janitor’s closet that held another transporter. This one took us to a room that frightened me out of my wits.
There were rows and rows of humanoid-looking aliens hanging in racks. My escort wasted no time in dragging me around the room and into another elevator-like door. He pushed the activation button and we came out in a short hall. There was nowhere to go but down the hall. We walked quickly down to the end and he shoved the door open and we exited into another hall. The door we had gone through had a red light beside it, but what it represented or warned against, I couldn’t understand, unless it was the rows of hanging aliens.
My unattractive escort dragged me down the longer part of the hall away from the red light and stopped in front of yet another transporter. He pushed the call button and, after a moment, the door popped open to reveal a rather large man holding a pistol pointed in my general direction.
The barrel appeared to be about a foot in diameter and I thought my number was up, but he quickly aimed and shot my escort once, then twice more when he didn’t go down. The man paused and then shot him one final time right between the eyes.
In the shock of the moment, I started babbling. I thought that he’d saved me, but I was so overwrought that I couldn’t seem to stop talking and none of what I was saying seemed to be making sense to him.
Even in my excitement, I realized that he was at least a couple of inches over six feet and very well built. He wasn’t movie-star handsome, but, for some reason, I found him very attractive – maybe it was due to being relieved at seeing a human who was apparently working against my captors. Anyway, he bent over and checked out the ugly guy. While he did, I took the opportunity to check out his backside. It looked lean and hard and his shoulders were wide enough to make me feel like a little girl. I figuratively put a check mark on the “he meets all of my physical qualifications” line under his description in my mind.
Then he had to spoil the good impression I had started to form by getting engrossed in the alien pistol he picked up. It kind of irritated me. I was used to men paying me more attention than he showed, so I unfortunately stamped on his foot. This got his attention and he took the handcuffs off. He didn’t show any resentment for my rude stamp and I was forced to give him additional credit for restraint.
One thing led to another and I shortly found myself trying to lead him through what I could recall of the maze of interlinking transporters. We finally reached the brownstone I remembered and I showed him how to activate the latch. As I was about to press the button for Durban, I looked at him and finally had the thought, “Just who is this guy, anyway, and can I trust him?”
(c) 2014 E. S. Martell
I hope you enjoyed these four chapters! You can read a larger sample of the book in the Kindle Store.
Here’s the video trailer.