Vinnie nodded to a short, thin man wearing thick diamond and gold rings on his slim fingers as he passed through the front of the party car to the next. There were two bathrooms in the hall, just before the connecting doors, and Vinnie glanced behind him to make sure no one noticed he took neither. There was no badge reader or guard here, and Vinnie was about to say something about the door being locked. But with a simple touch of the handle the door slid open easily. Vinnie was in the connecting pass-through, and then he was in the next car.
If he didn’t already know for a fact he wasn’t supposed to be here, the car itself would have told him. Gone was the wallpaper and the fancy carpet and the crown molding and the music. For that matter, gone were the colors. Everything in this narrow hallway was a muted gray. The floor. The walls. Even the lights above seemed to be putting out that same ugly color. After the party car it was a shock to the system, and Vinnie felt his heart rate jump up the same way it had done the times he had drank too much at the clubs. His brain thought he was dying. Fun.
“Okay, I’m in the utility car.”
“If I remember the schematics right, you want the first door on your right,” Hannah whispered through his tin ear.
He didn’t even need to ask about getting through a lock. The door was two feet away from him and he could see it was a plain door handle, not even a little hole for one of those cheap locks you could pop with a paperclip.
“I really thought they would have more security for something like…oh.”
Duane snorted. “Just had to open your mouth.”
Hannah had remembered correctly. Snug in the room, he was facing a long row of what looked like fuse boxes. The electrical systems for the train. Between him and them was chicken wire fencing, running from ceiling to floor and wall to wall. The middle pieces swung open on hinges. Or would, anyway, once you punched in the correct code into the lock in the middle.
“What is it?” Hannah asked.
“Shitfire. I’m coming up.”
“No,” Vinnie said quickly. “Give me a minute.”
He’d only just gotten his gorge to go back down and his brain to stop feeling like mush. But if they couldn’t get past this punch box, they weren’t getting off the train with the prize. He hoped Hannah would argue, tell him she was already on her way up. But she stayed silent. Waiting to see if he could do it.
Taking long, steadying breaths, Vinnie took off his left glove and stuck it in his pocket. Just one more time tonight. All Vinnie had to do was touch this one last thing, and then he was done. Smooth sailing from there.
“Smooth sailing,” Vinnie said to himself.
He reached out and-
Two technicians in gray jumpsuits are standing where Vinnie is standing. One is wearing a cap and one is bald. They are talking as the bald one puts the numbers into the punch box.
“So, what are you going to tell her?”
“I ain’t. Not shit. She wanted this, she can have it. All of it. I’m just going to pack up my stuff and-”
Vinnie snapped his hand back like he was being burned. Touching things was a lot easier than touching people. Things weren’t alive, so they weren’t broadcasting. They were just holding onto the scenes that had happened around them. Reruns. Easier to tell what was going on. But the pieces they held were shorter. More focused. And it was harder to get things to ‘think’ about something else.
Deep breath in, deep breath out.
Two technicians in gray jumpsuits are standing where Vinnie is standing. The one in the cap has the name Ossie embroidered on his breast pocket. The bald one has Ted. They are talking as Ted puts the numbers into the punch box.
“So, what are you going to tell her?” Ossie asks. His voice is scratched from decades of cigarettes.
“I ain’t,” Ted says. He has a faint drawl. “Not shit. She wanted this, she can have it. All of it. I’m just going to pack up my stuff and-”
More, he needed more, damn it. He needed the numbers, he needed to see what they were seeing. Not even sure if it mattered, he took off his other glove.
Ossie and Ted are standing where Vinnie is standing. Ossie thought he was having a bad day because the toaster burnt his toast and he forgot he needed gas until he got in the car. Then Ted showed up looking like he’d been dragged through the woods by a bear. It hadn’t been long until Ted had told him. Denise has been having an affair. For years. Somehow Ted missed it all, but now that he knows, it all makes sense, he can see it all so clearly, all the late nights and work retreats.
“So, what are you going to tell her?” Ossie asks. He’s thinking about a cigarette, and also what he’s going to do to make Ted feel better. He’s thinking drinking probably isn’t a good idea, but he’s hovering around the idea of going to the gun range and putting Denise’s face on a target.
“I ain’t,” Ted says. He’s not mad at Denise. Not really. Not right now. He’s just sad and tired and hurt and if he had had any sick days he would have stayed at home in his boxers watching soaps and eating ice cream. “Not shit. She wanted this, she can have it. All of it. I’m just going to pack up my stuff and-”
Vinnie let go of the box and bent over, dry heaving. Very careful not to touch anything. There was a reason he hardly ever performed this fun little trick, working through something to get to the people. His stomach settled, but the ice on the back of his neck and under his hair told him he was sweating, and his heart was racing again. He could do it again. Once. After that he’d need Hannah, or the job was a bust. He didn’t want to call Hannah up. It was dangerous, could put everything in jeopardy. More than that, he wanted to prove himself. Really prove himself. And maybe – just maybe – if he pulled off something like this, Joey would have to let him tell the others how he did it.
He took three deep breaths. Fast this time, like he was going underwater, and-
Ted is standing where Vinnie is standing. He’s heartbroken, but he has to be here to do his job. It’s a job he’s been doing for twenty years, it isn’t something he really has to think about anymore. But even if it’s not at the front of his mind, he is thinking about it. Somewhere. He’s thinking about his parents’ divorce. He’s thinking about his own kids. Abby’s going to high school next year and Delly’s finally making friends. He doesn’t want them to hate Denise. The way he already does. It’s mixed with love but hate is there, too, because she’s ruined everything
Not that, not that, don’t follow that, deeper, it will be deeper
Ted smells the cigarette smoke on Ossie’s uniform. The light from above is pale and always makes his eyes hurt. His feet ache. He’s been crying. His hand is on the box in front of him, he’s not really paying attention because at this point his muscles know what to do, his hand can hit the numbers all by themselves without him, the numbers, numbers, 8-6-0-9-1-2.
Vinnie rushed to put his gloves back on, reciting the numbers to himself under his breath.
“Eight, six, oh, nine, one, two,” he said as he clicked each number.
The light on the top of the punch box flipped from red to green, and the doors unlocked with a click.
“I got it,” Vinnie said between gasps. “It’s open.”
“Good job, Face,” Hannah said.
She walked him through finding the right switch to flip. Once they were sure they were talking about the right thing, Vinnie flipped it to ‘off.’
“And…bingo,” Hannah said. “Doors open, we’re in. Moving on to the next step.”
“Excellent,” Joey said. “Face, go back and mingle some more. Make sure no one noticed you were gone.”
Vinnie closed the door on the fuse box and then closed the fence. Something warm tickled at his top lip, and he ran his finger over it.
Blood was sitting in beads on his glove.
That’s not good.
The suit Joey had given him had a little handkerchief stuck in the breast pocket, and he pulled it out to wipe at his nose. When he looked at it, spreading across the white cloth, he felt the room close in, and the lights darken. If not for a particularly large jolt that nearly threw him into the wall, Vinnie was sure he had been about to pass out.
There was no one in the hall as he came out of the utility room. No one walking between the trains. No one coming in or out of the bathrooms of the party car. This little excursion had been unplanned, yes, but seemed to have corrected itself nicely with no-
Where was he where was that guy did he go past me did he go he did go past me when did he go past past me ten minutes ago ten at least he wasn’t in the bathroom not in the bathroom where was he
The short man with the diamonds. He’d brushed up against him, the inch of skin between his glove and his sleeve touching the man’s shoulder as he brought his hand up to tuck the handkerchief back in the pocket.
A security guard he hadn’t clocked before. Vinnie managed not to freeze, to keep walking, to not look behind.
“Guys,” he said, his voice tight as a wire. “I think I’ve been made.”