At first, all he was aware of was his stomach being pulled up into his throat and the sickening, nauseating squeeze and roll it was doing. His heart was pounding to beat out of his chest, pounding so hard he could hear it in his ears even over the air rushing by. His ears and nose immediately froze and became numb. He was squeezing his eyes shut so hard he could see silent green fireworks blooming over and over and over. The panic and fear inside had become so absolute and so pure it had replaced every single rational thought with nothing but loud television static.
They were halfway down the next sleeper car but his brain was still in Joey’s room, turning the thought over and over.
Joey pulled Vinnie into his sleeper car and slammed the door. “Come on, kid, we’ve got seconds to make this work.”
Around him, the party was still going strong. Vinnie realized he had lost the concept of what time it was. Probably around ten, if he had to guess. No one seemed to be ready to pack it in. If anything, the party was getting rowdier. People were getting a little bit tipsier, talking louder, pushing into each other as the train wobbled and laughing about it. Despite it being distracting, it was also a relief. The busier the party cars were, the better chance he had to lose the guard behind him.
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.
Vinnie took another sip of his ginger ale and prayed to the train god that the ride would smooth out. “How do we get them back there?” he asked, his lips still on his glass. It was a murmur, so quiet without the tin ears Verna never would have heard even as she stood half a foot away.
The earpiece fit so snugly into Vinnie’s ear canal you couldn’t see it. At least, he hadn’t been able to see it no matter how he moved his head around in front of the mirror. Of course, there was still something jammed in his ear. It was like he had a particularly big piece of wax stuck and it was making his hearing lopsided.
Could this lovely old factory, so full of character and charm, really be the same squat, ugly thing Vinnie had walked into for the first time only weeks before? Back then it had loomed above him, like it might fall over and eat him. Today, covered in sunshine and floating in summer heat, it had become a welcoming gentle place, advertising good things. Gentle clouds drifted by above, and birds swooped around the roof. Yes, they were scrawing seagulls instead of chirping blue birds. Yes, one of them almost shit on him. But Vinnie still took them as a good omen.
The quiet, and the dark. It was what he needed. He felt his way up the stairs of the abandoned factory, back into the room where he had met everyone only hours ago. Leaving the light off, he made his way to the table using only the lights coming in through the dirty window. He sank into his chair, his head still swimming and his feet like lead. The watch on his wrist said it was ten thirty, and he stared at it trying to figure out how a wrist watch was lying to him.
Vinnie had expected the elevator doors to open to quiet, and potentially darkness. The party was downstairs, in the Grand Ballroom, and the rest of the building was just a sleepy hotel. He thought the top floor would be the most expensive rooms connected by an empty hall and he’d be able to find the men’s room in peace.