“Perhaps a later meeting would be best for all concerned,” Madi was on her feet, gesturing toward her office door. “Let’s see if we can slot you gentlemen in sometime next—”
“True, we should have contacted your office before dropping by unannounced,” Duffy interrupted, neither he nor Thompson budging an inch from their seats. “Before we leave, Mr. Quaice, will you answer a question for us? You said you’ve gone over all the relevant materials regarding the incident. Does anything leap out at you, aside from the shroud itself, anything gnaw at your gut?”
“Well,” I started and Madi handed over her computer tablet without my even asking. Was I really that predictable? I swiped my way through her notes, skimming information. “The New York subway systems have six hundred sixty-five miles of track, four hundred seventy-two stations, twenty-seven subway lines, so yes, two questions spring to mind: Why has this shroud only been spotted on the J line between the Alabama and Kosciusko stations and why hasn’t there been at least one report of a serious injury or death caused by whatever this is? With over six million riders a day, it seems highly unlikely someone hasn’t come in direct contact with it.”
Thompson slipped his hand into the same satchel from which he retrieved my book, this time producing two items: a folder marked with an official insignia I had never seen before and the bold, block text EYES ONLY stamped diagonally across, which he placed at the edge of the desk nearest him, and a metallic object that looked like a bizarre, ornate music box that he positioned in the center of the desktop.
Curiosity, always my master, I picked up the box half expecting one or both men to admonish me for touching the item before snatching it from my grasp. This did not happen. Upon closer inspection, the object hadn’t appeared like a music box at all but the moment I touched it I heard three unmodulated tones. Casting a glance around the room, it appeared that no one else heard the sound or they simply hadn’t reacted to it. I returned my attention to the box and as I slid my fingers along the intricate designs engraved on its surface, the sounds returned, discordant notes that seemed like a memory but one that was certainly not my own.
It was coming from the box, of that there was no doubt but it was playing in my head. Musical telepathy with an inanimate object? And was it truly music? The melody, if it could have been called that, was unfamiliar to me, somehow otherworldly, odd notes strung together that should have been disturbing but was instead unsettlingly beautiful. Strange that I thought of it as a box for I could find no seam on any of its sides in which to lift a lid. Was it a secret box, then? Something that could only be opened by solving a built-in series of discoveries?
They were all the rage during the Renaissance, complex brain teasers designed to entertain curious minds, with simpler versions containing only one trick sold as tourist souvenirs. The fascination with puzzle boxes naturally faded during the two world wars but returned to public notice during the 1980s and while I had seen many an interesting box, I never beheld anything as fascinating as this. The craftsmanship was astonishing. I turned it over and over in my hands just admiring the beauty of it but soon my touch became firmer as I searched the surfaces for pressure points.
At first, I was only using my index fingers but when I applied pressure with my right thumb, there came a soft click that I felt more than heard. A portion of the box slid out allowing one end of the octagonal object to be twisted like a Rubik’s cube. Then the room disappeared as I lost myself within solving the mystery of this box and its contents by locating hidden levers that cycled cylinders and for every puzzle I unlocked, a new, far more complex enigma took its place.
When a panel popped open revealing a compartment, I knew that I was victorious. Inside was a tiny device and when I went to retrieve it, Thompson promptly took it from my hands. I worked the box for what seemed like hours but when I glanced at the clock only a few minutes had passed.
“Impressive, Mr. Quaice,” Duffy said and grinned at me. “Most people never find the first locking piece, let alone successfully open the device.”
“Yes,” Thompson nodded, placing the box flat on the table. “It’s a verisimilituder, don’t ask, I didn’t come up with the name, but if you’re interested, I’ll show you how it works.”
Out the corner of my eye, Madi offered a slight shrug and I answered, “Sure.”
From the secret compartment, Thompson retrieved a small circular lens with a wire ring around the circumference that was attached to a four section rod that resembled a miniature blind folding cane when straightened to its full height.
“If you could place your right index finger here,” Thompson pointed to the small touch panel under the secret compartment’s lid. “And look directly into the lens, please.”
Following instructions, I pressed the panel and peered through the clear glass lens.
“We require your personal assurance that any information shared will be kept in strictest confidence,” Thompson said, pressing his fingertips on the EYES ONLY folder.
“And you have it,” I replied. “I will sign the nondisclosure agreement I’m sure accompanies whatever is revealed here.”
“There won’t documentation in any written form of this meeting or the information discussed within, nor any excerpts with facts and identities altered to be included in future articles, papers or novels. Do we have an understanding?” Duffy asked.
“On my word,” I said and a sudden bright light flashed in my eye that was nearest the lens. It temporarily stunned me so that I had not noticed Thompson slide the classified folder my way. “What was that?”
“Not to worry, it’s perfectly harmless, simply our version of an NDA,” Thompson said, fingers deftly returning the verisimilituder to its original state before returning it to his satchel. “The device registered whether you were being truthful when you agreed to our terms and recorded it for our files in the event of a breach of trust.”
In the event of a breach of trust, had the ring of a warning, a veiled threat, but I set it aside for later and invited Madi to move her chair closer so we could examine the information within the folder together. She had the remarkable ability of spotting the tiny important details I sometimes missed.
To be continued…
Well, it’s Week 5 of my personal 2018 writing challenge to turn my daily tweeting habit into something productive… and the bloom is definitely off the rose.
This story, an experiment to write a stream of consciousness book with no outline or plot in mind, just a year’s worth of whatever-pops-into-my-fragile-little-mind tweets without edits or the fancy flourishes that will come in the rewrite, has, as of this week, become a chore.
Although I have introduced a few characters, I still have absolutely no idea what their importance in the greater scheme of things are, or how many others there will be, what the story will ultimately be about or how it will end. Initially that terrified and thrilled me simultaneously, now, though it seems like a hinderence.
Still, I will persevere in my endeavor to either create something (hopefully coherent and good) from thin air or fall flat on my writerly face.
Don’t forget, if you can spare a moment, I invite you to either cheer me on or tell me what a colossal mistake I’m making. I’m good either way.
©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys