Tail of the Dragon Excerpt

I followed the concrete tunnel in the dark, only my headlights illuminating the way.  I turned right, and after several more feet, came to a huge open door.  The tunnel was pitch black, but the door was outlined from the low level lighting inside the parking structure of 44 Montgomery.  A chain suspended from two short standing pillars blocked the opening.  I left the engine running, got out of the car and dragged one of the pillars to the side until there was enough room to squeeze my small car through.  I had entered the B-level parking area of the Montgomery Street building and had circumvented the security camera and the guards on A-level. 

I drove slowly around the perimeter of the building until I spotted the freight elevator, the only one that ran from the parking levels to all the upper floors.  It was a large undecorated utilitarian box with front and back doors for easy deliveries.  Best of all it was sitting right there with its doors open.  I parked my car in a nook between two concrete columns and stepped into it.  Hoping it didn’t make a lot of noise, I pressed the button for the 41st floor.  The doors closed and the elevator started a slow and jerking ascent.  A digital readout of the floors flashed above the buttons.  It didn’t stop at A-level.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  Would the guards’ console alert them that the elevator was moving?  It was just possible they might not notice.  And if they took no notice tonight, then surely they wouldn’t have batted an eye on Sunday afternoon, the day of Jack’s murder. 

The doors opened on the 41st floor, revealing a dark corridor.  Total silence.  No hum of computers, copying equipment or neon lights.  I stepped out into the darkness.  The elevator doors started to close and I had a moment of panic.  I stepped back inside and pulled the emergency stop button.  For good measure, I dropped my purse on the track of the doors to prevent them from closing. 

I tested the doorknob to the litigation section.  Locked.  I went back to the elevator, and slipped the key David had given me out of my purse.  I unlocked the door and once inside, the lights, keyed to movement, flickered on.  The yellow police tape still stretched across the door to Jack’s office.  I’d never have another opportunity like this and decided to make the best of it. 

I started with Nora’s office and quickly rummaged through each and every drawer.  The office was small, and on the whole, messy.  Books and papers were balanced precariously on top of the small bookcase.  The credenza held folders that looked like working files, labeled by hand.  The large desk drawer contained more files marked with typed labels.  I opened the two large drawers of the credenza.  They were filled with dark green hanging folders and seemed to be notes and drafts on various matters. 

I moved on to Harvey’s office next door.  It rivaled Nora’s for messiness.  Every surface overflowed with stacks of files and documents.  Boxes stood on every available floor surface, with only a narrow path to the chair.  How could this kind of chaos ever generate client confidence?  Harvey’s desk drawers contained nothing more interesting than an extra tie, a T-shirt, a very old apple, and two pairs of socks, one of which didn’t look particularly fresh. 

This snooping business was turning out to be pretty dull.  Karen’s desk was next.  It was so neat the metal paperclips were separated from plastic ones.  I like organization, but this was ridiculous.  A search of the bottom drawer netted only a pair of flats and a lime green cardigan.  Dani’s desk contained the usual assortment of pens, sticky pads, paperclips and other supplies.  One lower drawer was stuffed with sheet music and flyers, and under that was a stun gun.  She wasn’t taking any chances I guessed, but I wondered why she didn’t keep this in her car or her purse.  The odds of Dani being attacked in an office where she usually never worked late seemed slim.  Of course now that Jack had been killed here, maybe it was something I should consider. 

The overhead lights flickered off.  I moved away from the desk and waved my arms but the neon lighting didn’t respond.  That’s when I heard it.  A rustling sound.  I wasn’t alone. 

I stopped breathing.  Adrenaline coursed through my bloodstream.  This was the very last thing I expected.  I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to adjust to the dark, afraid to call out.  No one, including me, was supposed to be here.  I hadn’t heard any sound when I was rummaging in the various offices.  I did my best to quell my fear and tried to take a quiet breath.  Feeling the edge of the desk, I inched my way toward the door to the corridor in hopes of reaching the elevator.  I felt a rush of air and a painful blow hit my side.  I fell and felt the rough carpeting against my cheek.  I clambered to my knees.  I couldn’t see a thing, but whoever had hit me was still in the room.  I pressed my hands against the floor getting ready to sprint for the elevators.  I heard breathing but wasn’t sure it wasn’t my own ragged breath.  I moved quickly toward where I was sure the door was but I hit the wall.  Reaching out, I felt for the door jamb.  The door was shut.  I had left it open.  A piercing alarm began to sound.  A loud intermittent buzzing from the elevator.  Had one of the guards realized the freight elevator was no longer on a lower level?  I grasped the knob and pulled the door open.  My purse was still keeping the elevator doors from closing.  I lunged into the dark hallway, ran past the bank of three elevators to the freight elevator.  As the doors opened, I grabbed my purse and half fell inside.  I jammed my finger into the B-level button, praying the doors would close quickly and take me to safety.  I heard a low growl that made my blood run cold.  I braced myself for another onslaught in case my assailant leapt out of the dark.  It was only a few seconds, but felt more like minutes before the doors closed.  As the elevator picked up speed heading down, I wiped perspiration from my forehead.  The lighted buttons flashed through each floor . . . 39 – 31 – 28 – 21 and finally A . . . the elevator stopped on A level where the guards were waiting for me.