Chapter 26 – Something Strange is Afoot (Part II)

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“You think the message from Mercer is legit?” Toller asked Warren as she eased the car into the parking space—the wheels crunched over a carelessly discarded soft drink there. The side of the ASU Bookstore loomed large in front of them, the sun had already fallen far from its zenith in the sky and now hung much closer to the horizon—the red first rays of sunset cast the two agents in a blood-red hue as they exited the car.

Warren spent a moment checking his coat and hair in the side mirror while Toller stabbed at her smartphone.

“It seems that she’s onto my little trick,” he said. “Of course, it was an obvious scheme to bring everyone together in one place and I get the sense she’s quick on her toes.”

The campus felt a little bit busy for a Saturday. Here and there students filtered in and out of buildings in small groups wearing disheveled clothing and sleep-deprived looks. A young man wearing a T-shirt with shorts paused a moment while locking a door to stare at the pair as they walked past. His keys forgotten in his hand for a moment, he caught himself, turned the lock swiftly, shoved hands into his pants and rushed around a corner without looking back.

Warren felt somewhat out of place. Perhaps it was the highly conservative attire that FBI agents found themselves wearing on a regular basis—the suit and tie with brilliant contrasting colors that seemed to follow him from position to position—or it might have just been that he’d attended a college on the East coast best known for its lawyers and doctors. In comparison to the East, ASU campus felt like a dusty island, filled with underdressed savages with cellphones and backpacks.

As they passed, clusters of students engaged in lively conversation hushed themselves and moved.

Almost like a forest full of spooked animals, the students saw Kathy and himself in their well-tailored suits and expensive shoes and assumed something must be amiss. (Either that or the more astute just noticed the guns holstered at their sides, barely concealed beneath suit jackets.)

“The message sounded rather urgent,” Warren said.

“Let’s get this over with,” Toller said. “The sooner we wrap all this up in a nice, neat bow with Mercer and Harwood together in one place the sooner we can get back to HQ and I can rest my feet.”

“You just want to finish that book you’ve been reading.”

“Silence you,” she hissed.

All of the lights in the Engineering building were off when Warren and Toller approached the door—in fact, there was absolutely no indication that anyone was currently keeping office hours. A chill wind had picked up as the sky darkened and dimmed and the buzz of a nearby streetlight added the only sound aside from their own footfalls to what felt like a sudden, eerie silence.

“That’s odd,” Toller said.

Warren shrugged and reached for one of the glass doors. It wasn’t locked and swung open without complaint. He gestured deeply for Toller to enter first; she smiled and swept into the darkened offices with a wary movement.

“Perhaps there’s a light switch,” Warren said as he stepped inside. The place smelled like carpet cleaner and paper, mixed ever-so-slightly with the odd tang of lemon wood polish. As the door closed behind them, only the rustle of an A/C fan and the sound of someone rolling something across the floor above reached them.

“I’ve got a flashlight on my phone,” Toller said.

“No wait, here’s the switch—”

That’s when a voice from behind the two agents spooked them so much that Toller nearly dropped her smartphone.

“Please don’t approach the light switch, lady and gentleman,” Elaine said. “And if you’ll stay where you’re at for the moment and keep your voices down. That would also be good.”

Warren cleared his throat and turned slowly to look behind him—only to be met by the glimmering lenses of Elaine’s goggles, framed strangely by her hair. It took him a moment to realize that she was upside-down and hanging from the ceiling.

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