Fiction Series: Chuckle - Part 9
“I think that’s a ‘you’ problem,” I mutter right back. The plane thuds, landing and gradually coming to a stop on the tarmac. I pause. “You think she’s it?”
“No,” Charlie says. “I just don’t care for her. She’s annoying.” I stand up and walk towards the front of the plane to gather my things.
“Hey boss,” Bailey says. “Think you wanna put on some pants now?”
“Yeah, about that,” Andrea says. I look down at my basketball shorts.
“Not really,” I say. “But at least when I arrive, I’ll be wrinkle-free.” I grab the tuxedo from the hook and walk off towards the bathroom to change.
“Does he always do that?” I hear Bailey ask, heavily muffled by the thick door.
“Final weapons check!” I shout while pulling on my trousers.
* * *
The limo sped down the empty street. “Will we meet anyone there?” Bailey asks.
“Make friends,” I say. “I’m not expecting to see any familiar faces. Which wouldn’t be so bad, after the champagne thing at the last event.” Andrea buries her face in both palms.
“How many times do I have to apologize?” Andrea asks.
“A mountain of Ace of Spades,” I say. “Crashing down.”
“Ace of Spades isn’t that good,” Charlie says. She laughs.
“Not the point,” I say, fiddling with my bowtie.
“Stop Dev,” Charlie says, reaching out and adjusting it. “It’s fine. Was it really a mountain?”
“Who stacks crystal flutes like that?” Andrea exclaims. “Who?”
“They were flutes?” Charlie asks. “Ew. That’s tacky.”
“What do you expect from Montreal?” Andrea asks.
“Hey,” Bailey says, offended. I shrug. The limo slows down for a bit before coming to a full stop. The driver steps out and opens the door. I step out.
“Thanks,” I say, nodding. We group for a moment before breaking up. Charlie and I head towards the grand entrance, while Andrea and Bailey step back and check their phones. We paste on fake subtle smiles, handing the guy at the door our invitation and stepping through the entrance into the foyer of the large ballroom.
“I wasn’t expecting to match the décor,” Charlie says. I notice her cocktail dress goes with the rich deep colors that accent the space.
“Ha,” I say. “Well done.”
“I thought there was a checkpoint,” Charlie says quietly.
“We just passed it,” I say.
“That was anticlimactic,” she says.
“We’ve come a long way from metal detectors and those stupid wands.” A man walks by with glasses of champagne on a platter. Charlie and I select two from the middle and sip. “Hoo.” I cough.
“My kind of party.” Charlie downs the glass and gestures for another. I look around the room, taking the event in. Much like the entrance, it was grand. Large, open, warm, tasteful. I shift to coded language.
“How many people here do you think read the newspaper?”
“We’re definitely not the only ones.” Charlie looks around the room. “A lot of people like that online shit, but there’s some authenticity here. A lot of it.”
“I would say daily. Some folks really like to sit and read before they do anything. Get a good feel for what’s going on in the world each day.”
“Mmm. So maybe you can steal a paper from one of them instead of taking mine.”
“I won’t need to. I’ll just read after you. Starting with the tech section.” I groan.
“You always gotta take my shit. Come on.”
“Oh, stop being such a baby. I won’t rush you this time. You can have it all to yourself. Until I get up.” I roll my eyes as we find our seats at a table yet to fill up. I subtly activate the comm device tucked away in my left ear. The device cuts in and I start to hear Andrea and Bailey in the midst of a discussion about prawns.
“You guys are on comms,” I mutter, obscuring my mouth with a place card.
“I just don’t think that highly of prawns,” Bailey says to both of us.
“Anyway,” Andrea mutters, “I have eyes.”
“As do I,” Charlie says.
“I have an idea,” I say. “Follow my lead.” I get up and Charlie joins me as we walk towards the center of the room, near the back wall. We approach Andrea and Bailey.
“Hey,” Charlie says.
“So what’s the-“ Bailey starts to speak, but is interrupted by Charlie.
“Andrea,” Charlie says. “I saw this place setting that was crazy over there.” Charlie and Andrea look in the direction of the man carrying the device as I sip my drink and survey the space with Bailey.
“Yeah,” Andrea says, “I definitely want to take a look at that.” They saunter off and both of them bump into the man, spilling his drink.
“They’re good,” Bailey says.
“Shh,” I say.
“Right,” Bailey says, looking around. “Hey, is that Keller? At about 2 o’clock.” I blink a few times, trying to moisten a dry contact lens. That’s him, making small talk with someone else.
“What the hell is he doing here?” I ask quietly.
“You think the director would send backup?” Bailey asks. Andrea and Charlie carry on in my earpiece.
“No,” I say flatly. I look up at the ceiling, which at second glance, contains a ton of balloons and varied small trinkets caged in. “He knows better.”
“Maybe it’s a side gig,” Bailey says. “You’re not the only contractor at our office.”
“Hm,” I say. The ladies return.
“Done,” Andrea says.
“And done,” Charlie says. I reach into my pocket for my phone and check the status of the devices in place. All’s well.
“This thing takes forever,” I say. “I guess we eat and drink in the meantime. I think there’s prime rib.”
“Garlic potatoes,” Charlie says. We head back to our respective seats. I finish another glass of champagne and check my phone again.
“What the…” I say. I show the phone to Charlie.
“It stopped?” Charlie asks.
“It’s being interfered with. I think I know who, too.” Charlie looks around.
“Your 1 o’clock. Remember him from the meeting?” Charlie catches a glimpse as the lights suddenly go out.
“Oh yay.” I get up as security and event people begin talking with guests and gesturing for people to remain calm. Keller slips through the people and heads up the stairs across from the entrance to the ballroom. I creep through the crowd as an event person stops me.
“Sir, please return to your seat,” they say.
“Uh, bathroom?” I ask.
“Um, at this time-“ they try to speak.
“I’m four glasses of champagne in and my nerves are acting up,” I say.
“Right up those stairs,” they say. Charlie comes up to me as I start to head for the stairs.
“I’m with him,” she says. Andrea and Bailey attempt to join us as we start up the staircase, but are stopped by security. We reach the top of the stairs, out of eyesight from everyone downstairs.
“Room by room?” I ask Charlie.
“I’ll take the left, you take the right,” she says. We nod and split up. She pulls a pistol from her dress and walks off. I start with the room closest to me. I peer in. Nothing. I walk up to the next room and enter, keeping my hand in my jacket. I pull my pistol and creep around the room. I can feel someone’s in here. Keller pops out from behind the desk.
“Hey Dev,” he says.
“Keller,” I say. “What brings you here?”
“Oh, networking,” he says. “Figured I’d sneak away for a bit and tour the place.”
“I see,” I say. “It’s a pretty big place, huh.” I keep the pistol in my left hand, ready to raise it. We stand in thickening silence. The door behind the desk opens. I raise my pistol. A woman steps in, with a silenced .380 in hand.
“We should go,” she says, taking aim at me. I take aim at her and click the safety off.
“Maybe you should stay in the office,” I say. “Sit. Chat. Admire this… hideous statue.” I place my index finger inside of the trigger guard. Keller pulls a Glock.
“I think we will be going,” he says. “Without you, though. You should throw me your gun.”
“Yeah, no,” I say. I try to decide who I should target first. Keller’s phone buzzes and he lowers his weapon for a second. The woman aims at me, center mass, and prepares to squeeze the trigger. No time for Charlie to get here and defuse this. I quickly swing on her and fire twice, killing her instantly. Keller raises his Glock and fires twice, hitting me in the chest. I can’t breathe. I fire at him three times, nicking him once as he runs out through the door behind the desk. I fight for air, slinking to the ground.