As much as I hated to admit it, seeing Rice bloom before me as an apparition (whether from whatever’s beyond this world or from my subconscious) was making me lose my nerve. Maybe he (or I) knew something about this case I didn’t. I took the picture of the bull crane from my pocket and looked it over. Seeing that strange thing again reminded me of the girl in the tartan comforter, who gave me the Regent lead in the first place.
I got up from the curb outside 7-Eleven and crossed the street. There was no way I could stop now. What sort of world would it be if we let ghosts talk us out of things? Even if the heaventree was lovely?
Getting into the Regent Apartments wasn’t very difficult. The lobby was mostly empty; likely, it was bereft of residents because there were parties to be had elsewhere. I didn’t have to worry about anyone spotting me. I’d been feeling more and more wary, since I was jumped by existentialists and almost roughed up by some plaid goons.
The only challenge forthcoming was to figure out how to get into “Das Schloss” or “The Castle.” Supposedly, at those two words, someone would lead me up to the woman Karenina Montgomery.
Like a tail following a dog, I followed my first hunch and went to the reception desk. The attendant was clearly bored, wearing a polo shirt and sporting a bowl cut. Somehow, he made the cut look ironic. “Can I help you?” he mumbled.
“What?” He was looking more intently now.
“Das Schloss… punk.”
We stared each other down for a few seconds. Then he hopped over the desk holding something metal in his hand. I thought it might have been a knife, though he didn’t look like the kind of kid who’s up for a rumble. Link Wray strummed guitar briefly in my mind. But it turns out he was just holding a key. He beckoned me to follow him.
We walked all over the lobby. I don’t know whether the circuitous path was meant to shake any followers or not, but even if we were being tailed, it wouldn’t have worked. We kept crossing and recrossing the same thresholds. Finally, we ended up at a door right next to his desk. He unlocked it and pointed inside. It was almost pitch black, but I could see what looked like another door. Or… a crack in the wall?
I entered, whereupon he slammed the door and locked it behind me.
Was I mad? Only in retrospect. I don’t take too kindly to the dark. At the time I was ready to curl up in the fetal position. So, I did. Lying on the floor, though, made me realize the fullness of the situation. There was a space between the door and a few lined grooves and another space on the other side. I held my hand above the space by the door and felt air pushing against my outstretched palm. I was in an elevator.
Suddenly, the room opened. A light flickered on and I hastily got to my feet. A decrepit man, dressed in full ascenseur regalia stepped in. I saw now there were buttons on the wall. Otherwise the space was bare. Briefly, I peered over the old man to see what was behind him, but the light was blindingly bright.
For lack of a better term, I gathered my wits about me and said to the old man, “I’m off to Das Schloss.”
He pressed a button and we began our slow ascent. Whether to cut down on noise—Who wouldn’t be suspicious of hearing a secret elevator running in the walls?—or just for kicks and giggles, it took a few minutes for us to reach the top. While we ascended, I tried talking to the old man.
“So… busy night?”
“Looking forward to clockin’ out?”
“… Bougainvillea ocelot?”
So I stood in silence. Curiously though, as we rose, I began to distinguish a sound above me. It increased in volume as we rose. I realized it was a song I knew: “Cobra Bora” by 808 State.
When we finally stopped, the music was almost intolerably loud. The wall in front of me opened again to reveal a standalone door with a small patch of carpet in front of it. “808” was carved into the wood. I didn’t have to ask its significance.
I did not have to knock. It seemed the tenant knew I was coming. She was dressed in a black cloak that obscured every part of her except the lower half of her face. The music boomed behind us.
Her mouth moved to speak, but I cut her off. “You’ve got good taste. And a flair for the esoteric. I would’ve pegged you for a Tchaikovsky fan… Karenina Montgomery.”
At that, she smiled.
Check back in two weeks for the final installment in the adventures of Terry Olivier.