“C’mon Reynauld, you’re already in frying water. Where are you going?”
Veering around his bodyguard, Ryan dodged a faded-silver old-style Lincoln doing a bad job of parallel parking, and jogged across the street. Daws would stay on his heels no matter how late he was, and Mac could wait. He would still get paid for his time.
In the middle of the sidewalk, he stopped to peer up at the steel and glass skyscraper and cringed at the height of the monstrous thing. It wasn’t even one of Manhattan’s tallest buildings. At eighteen stories, it was tall enough.
“What is up with you today?” Daws stopped at his side. “You’re edgy as hell and you’ve seen this building a thousand times. What is so fascinating?”
“Not sure. Maybe nothing.” He strode a wide angle around a couple of girls heading his way as they eyed him, pushed through the glass doors, and slid between a crowd of business suits and briefcases filling the lobby. It reminded him of a mud-covered pig rooting through tight-assed penguins. Not that he was muddy, but his old tee was likely wrinkled and he always wore them loose. His jeans often had a hole in at least one knee, although he couldn’t remember at the moment if the pair he’d shoved into when Daws pulled him out of bed and pushed coffee at him were a better pair or not. Either way, he liked the metaphor and decided to hold it in his mind to use later. For a video, maybe. Penguins and pigs... Or a song.
“The paycheck is that way.” His guard stepped in front of him.
“What are you going to do? Throw me over your shoulder and make me go? Lighten up. I’ll only be a minute.” Ryan feigned anger at the body blockade. “Either get out of my way or come with me. There’s something I gotta do.”
“Something you can’t do across the street?”
“Not unless you can pick this building up and move it over there. Might get kinda messy, though.” With an eye on where the girls he’d avoided were descending on him and joining forces with a few more, he shifted out of their vision as much as possible, easy enough to do with the boulder who acted like he was in charge in between. Fred Dawson, Ryan’s personal bodyguard since before he actually needed a guard, was twice his size. Width-wise. Not twice his height, but plenty enough taller to be a good wall, and half again Ryan’s age, or nearly.
Daws crossed his arms in front of his chest. “I’m not one of your flattering fans who thinks you’re hysterical. You’re holding everyone up, and no matter how full of yourself you are, their time matters…”
Ignoring the rant, Ryan ducked around to sprint toward the elevator. He called for someone to hold it when it started to close. Stares answered and relief showed on a suit’s face just before the door clenched tight. “Great. Guess we do the stairs.”
A strong hand grasped his arm. “Let it go, Reynauld. I promise if you’re good and play nice, I’ll bring you back after work.”
“Funny. We’re getting a crowd, you know. The more we delay, the more there’ll be and I’m not giving in.” Ryan noted the glower but ignored that as easily and near-sprinted toward the stairwell. He took the first couple of flights two steps at a time as he called to Daws he’d be back down shortly, and slowed part way up the third. What was he doing? Why did he have to check it out when he was already late? Then again, why not? He was almost sure he’d seen movement in a window of the ninth floor a couple of days before, late at night when he was hanging out at the studio. Daws said it was fatigue or a cleaning crew, but it was the ninth floor. He’d counted five different times to be sure. Why would a cleaning crew have the lights off after ten p.m., using only the dim security lights to see? Didn’t make sense. He’d tried to stay again the night before to watch the window, but Daws dragged him out to go home and get some sleep. Instead, he’d stayed up partying with his crew and some strangers. And then he’d stayed awake half the rest of the morning thinking about it. Movement in the window. After ten p.m. There was no sense letting it nag him instead of walking up and looking.
Reaching the ninth floor with his heart pounding from being too out of shape and half running up nine flights of stairs, he pushed aside the yellow no trespassing tape and turned the door handle. It worked. If it was closed off, why was the door unlocked? The hallway he crept into looked like any other hallway, except no one was there. A deserted office building floor during work hours was strange, but no stranger than the building owner marking the floor off with no explanation. It had gone unused for months. No code violations. No events Ryan ever heard about. It was simply closed. His writer’s brain couldn’t accept there wasn’t a reason. No one else seemed to care, remarking only that the owner was eccentric and did such things from time to time. Not good enough. There was a reason.
As he walked down the hall, he peered through open doors. There was nothing in the offices except a few scattered desks and chairs. A good place to write. Quiet. Non-distracting. Maybe that was why he’d been drawn to it. He could find the owner, or have someone find the owner for him, and ask about using it. Not using it exactly, but not using it, since the guy wanted it not used. Writing music, sitting by himself, wasn’t using it, only occupying a bit of its space. There was plenty.
Nearly at the end of the hallway, he turned at a door slam.
“Are you happy yet, moron?” Daws gestured with his phone. “Enrico says there’s not only a couple or three girls down there, but a whole damn army of them descending. Can we escape out of here before I have to call in the crew?”
“So we’ll wait ’em out.” He ran his fingers along the white wall trim. No dust. And no dusty smell. The silvery blue carpet looked new but without the new carpet scent.
“Wait them out? You should have slept last night, Reynauld. Maybe you’d know how little sense you’re making today.”
“Yeah, okay.” With the thought that Daws would’ve been more occupied if Ryan had arranged an actual army of girls, he headed back.
And he stopped.
“This way. Let’s go.”
Taking three steps back, Ryan looked into the empty office he’d just passed. Nothing. He thought he’d seen something, but there was nothing. At his guard’s taunt, he continued forward. But the window was open. Why? At the next open door, he peered inside. The window was closed. So was the next one.
“Hang on a second.” He returned to the room. The window was open. There were no bars, nothing. And no one there.
“What are you doing now?”
“Something’s out there.” Ryan drifted closer. The ninth floor. He could see shadows floating around in the building across the road where he was supposed to be.
“Reynauld, if you saw something out that window, it damn well better have been a bird or I’m calling the nuthouse like I should have umpteen times before.”
“Maybe it was a bird.” Of course. He was a moron. What else would he have seen? Too many shots. It was nothing but way too many damn shots the night before. Still, he wasn’t sure. And he couldn’t look. “Do something for me. Look out the window.” He frowned when Daws crossed his arms in front of his chest. “I’ll go: no hassle, no stalling. Just look out the window for me.”
“Not interested. I’ve seen pigeons and I’m not a big fan of the dirty creatures.”
Ryan gave up. Nine floors were too much to look out over. His stomach twinged already from standing halfway across the room from the open window.
Giving in to his guard and to his fear, he got as far as the door, and then he paused. He had to know.
With a knot in his throat, he rushed over to the window before Daws could stop him and before he lost his nerve, and touched the frame. A cool breeze slapped at his face. Spring air. Normally he loved it, but this time it made him shiver. Or it was nerves. Daws muttered in the background about leaving his ass there. Ryan knew he wouldn’t, not for long. He would be back.
Gritting his teeth, he stepped closer, prepared for the flapping of pigeons. There were no birds. But there were shoes. To his right, on the narrow window ledge, a pair of old tennis shoes was perched, their heels against the window and toes pointed forward … out. His stomach turned while his eyes followed the old shoes up to baggy jeans, a faded sweatshirt covering most of the fingers underneath, and a diminutive face. Long, straight, dirty blonde hair swayed with the wind. Startled eyes caught his: narrow greenish-brown eyes, rounded in fear.
A girl. Young, emaciated. Afraid.
What did he do now? Yell for Daws to get the police? It would scare her more and that was probably the last thing that would help. If anything would help. Maybe nothing would. Maybe this would be the life-changing event his brother told him would eventually happen to make him be an adult. Maybe he was destined to live forever with watching a young girl end her life. But not if he could stop it. No amount of venting through songs would ever help him deal with that.
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