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51

IN THE CAREFUL chronology Perly had written for himself, he would return to his office on Sunday night at ten, to lock away many of his files and personal possessions and wait for the people from Continental Detective Agency to arrive with their equipment at eleven. But the tensions of the week had built up so much that by Sunday he couldn't stand it any more. Sunday evening was traditionally the one night of the week he could set aside for a quiet dinner at home in Westchester with his wife, but tonight he was just too much on edge. He wolfed his dinner, without his usual wine, and shortly before eight he said, "I'm sorry, Marcia, I'm too keyed up to just sit here. I've got to get down to the office."

"There's nothing to do there, Jacques," she pointed out. She was often the sensible one.

"Doesn't matter," he said. "I've got to be there."

And so it was that, an hour ahead of schedule, he and the Lamborghini were headed south on the Hutchinson River Parkway. Just to be in motion was an improvement.

Also, traffic was lighter on the Hutch inbound toward the city on Sunday night, so he made better than usual time. It was only ten minutes to nine when he turned onto Gansevoort Street and thumbed the opener clipped to his visor, and down the block his green garage door rattled upward.

The ceiling lights outside his office at the top of the ramp were kept on all the time, so by their light he drove up the steep ramp as the garage door lowered behind him, and parked in front of his door.

Unlocking that door, he stepped inside, switched on the lights there, and shrugged out of his coat. Fortunately, he didn't hang the coat up in the closet, because at the moment there was a very large and irritable person standing in there, muttering to himself about people who show up an hour early. He draped his coat instead over the chair at Delia's desk, and it's also fortunate he didn't happen to look under that desk, or he would surely have noticed a lithe young guy curled around the wastebasket under there.

The door between Delia's office and his own was normally kept unlocked, so he just opened it and entered and left it open as he switched on more lights in there. He then went over to sit at his own desk, under which there weren't any people. However, lying on his left side behind the sofa, squeezed between sofa and wall in a place Perly had never intentionally gazed upon, was a carrot-topped guy who looked almost as put out as the big fellow in the other room's closet.

Once at his desk, Perly switched on one more light, the gooseneck lamp there, which gave him concentrated illumination at the desk area but somehow made the rest of the room seem a little darker, though of course not as dark as the night outside his two large well-draped windows facing the rear of the apartment building on the next block. He often closed those maroon drapes at night, and briefly considered doing so again tonight, but then decided the security people would want to know what was out there, so he left the drapes open, which was just as well, because that way he didn't notice the sharp-nosed, keen-eyed guy standing behind the right-side drape of the right-hand window, farthest from his desk. That person had originally taken up a position facing the drape, but at the last instant had turned around, so that now he faced the window, in which he could examine at his leisure the reflection of most of the room, but in which his own dark presence against the dark drape could not be seen from any distance at all.

There had been a third person, another returnee from last night's reconnaissance mission, who had been in this room when the racket of the garage door lifting had alerted everybody to Perly's untimely arrival. This person had been near a closed interior door he'd already established as leading to a bathroom, so he'd popped open the door, popped into the bathroom, popped the door shut, popped it open again while he found the light switch and popped the light on, then popped the door shut again.

It was only when he heard Perly enter the office out there that it occurred to him that (a) Perly might want to utilize this bathroom at some point in the evening, and (b) there was nowhere to hide in the bathroom.

Well, was there? He looked around at a small simple utilitarian bathroom with white-painted walls and white tile floor, white toilet and small "white sink and a white-tiled shower the size of the former phone booth back in the O.J.

Could he make use of the shower? Perly wasn't going to take a shower here tonight, was he? The shower had a plastic curtain across the opening, but the curtain was a translucent gray; shapes could be seen through it.

He had to do something. He had to get this light turned off, soon, and he had to find some way to disappear. How?

Above the toilet were two shelves, with white hand towels and bath towels. Hurriedly, he grabbed a bath towel, switched off the light, and felt his way into the shower, where he lowered himself until he was seated, knees up to his chin, on the white shower pan in the rear corner away from the drain. As best he could, he covered himself with the bath towel and scrunched up to become as small as possible. White tile, white pan, white towel; with any luck, no foreign shapes would call attention to themselves through the curtain. Sighing, reflecting on how nobody could be trusted, not even people with handwriting as neat as Perly's, he settled down to see what happened next.

Meanwhile, in his office, Perly was opening desk drawers, deciding what he wanted to remove from here and store in the safe in the corner until his visitors should move back out. Absorbed, he didn't hear the small click of the closet door opening in the other room, nor the faint rustle of the lithe young guy unwrapping himself from the wastebasket under Delia's desk, nor even the tiny tick of the outer office door opening, but he did hear the quick snip of that door as it closed, and looked up from his desk, frowning.

Had security got here this early? Impossible. He rose, crossed to the doorway between the offices, and looked out at unchanged normality.

It must have been his imagination. Shaking his head, he crossed back to his desk, unaware that the fellow from behind the drape had sped silently across the room to stand behind the door while Perly frowned at his empty outer office, then looped silently around the door and through the doorway as Perly walked back to his desk.

Perly sat; the outer office door tocked shut.

Perly reared back and stared at the doorway. Wasn't that definitely the sound of the door? Was he hearing things?

Something's funny, he thought, and stood again, and this time walked both across his office and across Delia's office to open that outer door, lean out, and see nothing out there but his own Lamborghini.

He frowned at the ramp, listening hard, but heard and saw nothing, while the carrot-topped fellow who'd been on the floor behind the sofa squeezed out of there and scampered across both offices to tuck himself into the recently vacated closet.

Perly frowned, still in his doorway, facing his ramp. Nothing. Nobody there. Could temperature changes at night do it?

This time, on returning to his office, Perly resolved to pay no more attention to tiny anonymous noises. They meant nothing. Everything was fine. Nothing could go wrong.


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