Something was wrong.
I could feel it just under the skin, a nauseating prickle of excitement that threatened to overload my nerves and slam me down on all fours. I tried to center myself, concentrate on my breathing. It proved difficult. A sequestered but insistent part of me was aroused by the prospect of danger. Another more dominant and saner side simply wanted to know where all the exits were.
I knew this to be an opportunity, no matter how dreadful, to demonstrate my abilities. I’d trained for just this type of situation, it’s the reason I applied for a position at Tepes Memorial Institute; known within the community as No Mercy General. I reminded myself of this as I tried to gather my thoughts. I needed to focus on the crisis in front of me. I raced toward the basement. In spite of every save-your-own-ass synapse that lit my brain, I managed to keep my composure and not do a header down the concrete stairs.
The stairwell was windowless, but there should have been more light. Shadows huddled at strange angles along the dishwater gray walls in anticipation of the next alert to whistle. Which resounded not as a lilting tweet but an authoritative clang that reverberated through my body down to the marrow of my bones? It was all the confirmation that I needed. Iron shields slammed home across every window and door.
No way out. It spooked the hell out of me. I relied on my training, and desperately tried to get out of my head and detach from my emotions. Later, assuming there’d be one, I would treat myself to an old-fashioned-babbling breakdown.
Until then I couldn’t afford to worry that I was barely halfway down with nineteen floors to go, or that the emergency lights hadn’t come on causing my sight to switch to night vision green. Nor would I worry that the alarm didn’t sound, or security hadn’t flooded the stairwell. Just as I wouldn’t worry that, an irate administrator brushed against my heels in an attempt to get to the basement ahead of me.
“Is there anything I haven’t been told,” I asked. “Any news about his condition, the circumstances regarding the incident? Were there any other personnel at the scene?”
“I can sense your panic, Ms. Xanders. It sorta smells like lunch”, he said. “You really don’t belong here.”
“It’s Mykael, Mr. Hynes. And don’t let the boobs fool you; I can handle myself as well as you can.”
“TMI will eat you alive kitten, if I don’t first,” he snarked, then took the stairs four at a time.
I couldn’t tell if Ryland Hynes was being an ass because of the current situation, a genuine lack of faith in my skills, or simply a defect of birth. Either way he was determined to see me fail and run off with my tail tucked between my legs. As far as I was concerned, he could kiss my freckled round behind. I’ve stood my ground against other dominant males, and made every one of them regret it.
“I realize juvenile remarks are your feeble way of coping,” I said. “Maybe you’d feel better back in the Chief’s office, while a professional attends to this matter.”
“Tepes Memorial means more to me than a paycheck, Ms. Xanders. You’d do well to remember that.”
“No Mr. Hynes, you’d do well to remember it. Start by focusing on what’s really important,” I said, as I caught up to him a half pace behind.
“I know only what was reported during your interview,” he said. “I had security split up to secure admissions and the aquatic treatment center. I expect to find out the rest the same time you do.”
He was lying of course. Flames could engulf TMI and Ryland Hynes wouldn’t bother to ask if I was warm. He was as pink and fuzzy several minutes ago, when I reported to the office of Dr. Merryl Lynn, Chief of Psychology to endure the inquisition that substituted for an interview.
My nerves had become as frayed as my patience, which by that point was non-existent. I silently repeated the yoga mantra for calm “wooosaaa” for several minutes. Seconds before I was about to hurl my breakfast all over the nice man’s shoes, I realized I didn’t attend yoga classes.
Mr. Hynes, undaunted as ever, had just completed the methodical removal of my fingernails and moved toward my feet when the chief’s staff assistant exploded into the office with the news. Security reported that one of the orderlies was dead and, the body was found in the spa treatment room.
To be continued…