Dead End Job: A Louisa Hallstrom Novel(62)

By: Ingrid Reinke

I took a deep breath and stood up. Everything was going to be fine, it was just Martin, I repeated again in my head, but the plastic covering of the access pass was clammy in my hands as I slid it slowly up to the sensor. I knew that the loud chime of the door and clicking off of the locks would give me away to anyone in the area, but I couldn’t see any other way to enter. I slowly moved the key card up and up and up until it was almost touching the sensor. At the last moment I involuntarily closed my eyes and scrunched my face up until I heard the piercing “beep” and click that felt even louder in the dark of the hallway. I reached out and grabbed the door handle, quickly pulling it open an inch before the lock clicked back on and I would have to repeat the entire exercise all over again.

I froze, expecting to hear the footsteps of the killer running towards me, but I heard nothing. Steadying myself, I slowly pulled the door open another six inches then scooted my body around the corner of the door. I wedged my face into the crack, straining to hear or see anything in the dark. After a couple of seconds of silence, I pulled the door open just a few more inches and slowly stepped across the threshold, then eased the door as slowly as I could back to its closed state. I snuck by the microwave and copy machine and the leaky coffee pot, putting off its musty, old-coffee smell as I walked past. My heart was beating so hard that I felt each thump reverberate down to my fingers and toes. Finally, I reached the back of the kitchen and took stock of Ari, Jenny and Michael’s offices. Everything seemed quiet as I rounded the corner to the mess of cubicles and interior offices of the legal department. When I reached the edge of Jenny’s office I took one more step into the main area and an overhead light started to flicker on above, startling me. I drew a breath sharply, fighting the adrenaline coursing through my body, telling me to “run the hell away.” Even though I couldn’t see into the darkness, anybody who was on this floor could now see me.

“Martin?” I called out in a whisper.

I squinted into the darkness, awaiting some kind of response. Nothing.

I walked into the middle of the office, pausing and staring into the first block of cubes. Everything was how I’d left it. My desk was in its usual state of clutter. Martin’s cube was empty, all of his Lady Gaga posters staring out onto the beige walls and carpets. All of the laptops were powered off and the phones were dark. Relief washed over me. I didn’t hear anything besides the clicking and humming of the machinery, and I didn’t see any sign of a struggle.

At the second block of cubes I saw more of the same. I walked over to Maya’s cube, passing the piles of file folders, and stared out of the big windows at the Seattle skyline. The rest of the buildings were as dark as the Rainier Tower, only the odd window lit up by someone working late or cleaning the offices floor by floor.

Was Martin playing some kind of joke on me? I would be sure to let him know exactly how not funny I found it when I saw him the next morning. Or maybe something horrible had happened to him. Maybe he had been kidnapped? Forced out of the building at gunpoint? Anything was possible. I decided that regardless of what he told me, the situation was bizarre enough that I’d have to get over my embarrassment, buck-up, call the police and report it. I couldn’t be out on my own on this one.

I took my phone out of my back pocket and headed back towards the kitchen. As I approached my desk and the last line of cubes, my eyes tracked upwards just in time to see an unfamiliar but tiny blue light glinting out of the darkness of Jenny’s office. That’s weird, I thought.

I was still staring when I heard a loud cracking noise and felt a sharp stinging sensation coming from the left side of my stomach. The sting turned into a burning, intense blast of searing heat that quickly spread down my legs and arms. I felt my body start to jerk violently, and for a second I watched with disbelief as my limbs moved and swayed uncontrollably. I felt my eyes roll back in my head and my mouth drop open as I fell backwards, collapsing in a pile on the cheap industrial carpet.

I didn’t know exactly how much time had passed when I slowly came to. I fuzzily realized that I was on the other side of the building in Elaine’s office with my hands tied behind my back, secured firmly to the leg of her desk. Turning my head to the right and looking out the window, I could see the glow of the moon shining on Puget Sound. I tried to pull at my hands, but whatever had been tied around them was not moving, and the more I struggled the more I felt a cutting and tearing sensation on the already hot skin of my wrists.

“Oh, Hons, don’t do that—that’s duct tape,” said Martin’s voice.