Day 66. 161 pages, 58,131 words.
“Okay,” I said, trying for what seemed like the eighth time to get us back on track, “I suppose there’s no harm in giving the X-ray specs a try, but if we can’t solve our, ah, original problem using dodgy antique store X-ray specs – which, yes, that would be shocking – we need to go to the hospital and grab one of their gizmos.”
“Now you’re talking sense,” Creepy said.
“Apart from ‘gizmos’.”
“Devices, then,” I said. To be honest, I was rather hoping the X-ray specs would pan out, because I didn’t like to think how difficult it was going to be to get access to a hospital X-ray machine. Not to mention how heavy they were. Creepy was right – they really weren’t gizmos by any stretch of the imagination.
Creepy nodded. “Amendment approved.”
“And either way, then we go back to the antique dealer on the corner of Collins Square,” I stressed, “with the X-ray specs, and we try to get a refund for that trumpet or at least find out where he has it or who he’s sold it on to, and we get this salt lake and mass-convict-grave back into the history books where they belong.”
“So,” I said, “do you have the X-ray specs?”
Creepy looked mournfully set-upon. “What do you take me for, Hatboy?”
“So that’s a no. Who did you give the X-ray specs to?”
He scowled. “Amendment ‑ ”
“It wasn’t my fault! I jumped in the elevator to come up here, with Miss … sorry, I didn’t catch your name ‑ ”
“Trainee,” Trainee said through clenched teeth.
“This poor person who has come to identify herself entirely by her position in the corporate experience food chain,” Creepy went on, “and it was all so fraught with misunderstanding and the potential for ‑ ”
“This big janitor guy, I’m sure he was part troll, he came in with this wheely bin thing and I – well, I accidentally – you have to understand, Hatboy, I ‑ ”
“You looked at him with the X-ray specs on, and you saw through his clothes, and then you screamed at the existential or possibly nonexistential horror of it all and flung the X-ray specs off your face and they fell into the janitor’s wheely bin and then he got off on the next floor and now you don’t know where he is and you figured you’d just pretend the whole thing hadn’t happened but failed to take into account the fact that if it hadn’t happened, you’d still have the X-ray specs,” I guessed.
“Yes,” Creepy said, then frowned. “Except I object to your tone, especially throughout that last bit which is a complete fabrication.”
“I notice you don’t have any X-ray specs,” Creepy regrouped.
“That’s true,” I said. “The plan I’d thought we had agreed on didn’t involve X-ray specs. If there was a way into the Prism from underneath, there wouldn’t be any need to see through its surface using X-rays, but if it turned out we needed to, there was always the hospital. That was why we were in the sub-sewer and … ” I paused. “Now you’re going to tell me that you were there looking for some sort of relic you could swap for X-ray specs,” I accused.
Creepy examined his fingernails. “I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t been at the back of my mind,” he said, “but I wasn’t expecting to find half of Barnsley Yard buried down there. That was pure luck. But obviously, when serendipity knocks ‑ ”
“Fine,” I said. “Now the problem is getting the X-ray specs back,” I turned to Trainee. “The janitor who got onto your elevator,” I said.
Trainee, who to her credit was evidently keeping up with the conversation and ignoring the bits that made absolutely no sense, like Barnsley Yard and Prism, while simultaneously not losing sight of her own professional priorities, said, “Anton. He doesn’t speak a lot of English. He’s not actually GDP&N’s janitor, he works for the top floor … but he comes down here to empty his bins. Now, if there’s nothing else, you really should leave ‑ ”
“Looks like we’ll need to split up,” Creepy said, rubbing his hands together gleefully.
“Anton will either be returning to the top floor, or emptying his bins,” Creepy explained.
“And let me guess,” I said. “You think you should take the top floor, while I go and sift through the rubbish pile.”
“Excellent idea, Hatboy,” Creepy approved. “You’ll go far,” he paused. “Or I will, assuming that the top floor is further away from us than the rubbish pile is.”
“Right,” I growled. “Well, have fun trying to get into the upper levels. I’m sure their assistants aren’t as helpful as Trainee,” I gave the harried-looking receptionist a nod. “If you’ll just let me know where Anton usually empties his bins, I’ll retrieve our lost property and get out of your hair.”
Trainee considered this. “That makes you Cleaning and Maintenance’s problem,” she admitted, “so please just take … ” she looked past me. “Oh.”
The sixth thing you notice about the Myconet is that she never seems to appear or disappear, or grow and shrink. Wherever she is, that’s where she is – until she’s not there anymore. Now, she was no longer in Conference Room 4. Whether she had left moments ago, or back when Creepy had started arguing the point about dog years, it’s impossible to say.
I turned back to Trainee, who was looking wary.
“I’ll throw my mushroom into the rubbish pile when I get there,” I said, patting my jacket vaguely. “That’ll be Cleaning and Maintenance’s problem too, right?”
Trainee looked relieved.