As he walked up the street toward the hotel, Dick Slashballs saw the flashing lights of police cars and an ambulance (still there?) ahead, and glanced up at the building that was his perch less than an hour ago. Far as he could tell, there was nothing of interest in that direction, thankfully. But the ambulance had him puzzled.
Nearing the hotel, he played the gawking game, rubbernecking around like a curious tourist. The limousine was still parked out front. Amazingly, he saw what looked like the chauffeur being tended to, sitting on a stretcher at the back of the ambulance. Fucker’s lucky to be alive, Dick thought to himself as he gawked his way as close as he could. The man appeared fine, if a bit shaken and chilled.
“Sir! Over here! Are you checking in?” A guy who looked like a hotel maintenance employee was trying to get his attention.
“Yeah, I am. What, uh, what happened here?”
“Craziest thing, Sir! Earlier, our temp doorman shot that limo driver with some sort of paintball gun and ran away with one of our guests! Threw her right in a van and drove away!”
“Is it safe?” Dick looked around as if worried that kidnappers might jump out and take him, as the employee led him through the maze of police tape into the lobby.
“Oh, yes, Sir! It’s safe! Just crazy, man! Those temp agency guys are pretty fucked up sometimes.”
The manager at the front desk frowned, giving the employee a bit of a stink-eye as he scuttled away outside to watch the goings-on some more. “Mr. …?” he said, turning to Slashballs.
“Should be a reservation under Orbis, Wallace.”
“Ah, yes, I have you here, Mr. Orbis. I apologize for the mess; we had a bit of excitement earlier, but it’s all calmed down now.”
“Yes, your doorman seemed pretty worked up.”
A raised eyebrow. “Indeed. Well, our regular doorman’s had a bit of…trouble, but we do with the staff we have.”
“Trouble?” Dick looked back toward the scene outside.
“Spot of flu, I think. Here’s your room key, Mr. Orbis—seventh floor. The elevators are down the hall to the left. Will you be needing help with your luggage?”
“No, thanks, I had a bit of a mix-up and my luggage is still somewhere in Canada, probably. Good thing I keep the essentials here.” Dick patted the shoulder strap of the backpack.
“Very well, Sir. If you’ll excuse me, I have some things to attend to. If we can do anything to make your stay more pleasant, please don’t hesitate to ask.”
“Any place to get a drink here before I turn in?”
“Bar’s over there” — He waved toward the side of the lobby, where Dick saw a darkened set of glass doors — ”and we have a fine restaurant on the twentieth level, but it closed at ten.”
“Thanks.” This guy’s tighter with information than yoga pants on an opera singer.
Dick watched the manager walk back toward the office, and strolled back to the entrance. He paused to check his hair in a mirror, slipping a small earpiece in place, then continued. Suddenly, the amplified sounds around him popped into crystal clarity. He couldn’t make out everything from outside, but there was some excited chatter in the bar.
Dick stepped outside and lit a cigarette. He had quit many years ago, but occasionally in this line of work, the old habit had some utility. One of the paramedics was talking to a detective-looking guy, and gestured toward the shaken chauffeur, still sitting on the gurney.
The detective nodded, walking toward the chauffeur. “Mr. Morrison, sir? Are you feeling OK? I’d like to ask you some questions.”
The driver looked up. “Still pretty sore, but I’d like to get home. The EMTs say I’ll be good to go soon, but they want to observe me for a few more minutes, so ask away. I have to wait for my dispatch to send another driver, anyway.”
“Tell me about what happened, if you would. Anything you remember.”
“Well, I pulled up to pick up my passenger, walked around the car to let her in, and heard this screech of tires and an engine, and then all hell broke loose. While I’m opening the door, I see the doorman jump out and tackle the lady. Then he gets up and shoots me with that paintball gun he had, but it sounded like a real gun, and man, it hurts! What was that, anyway?”
Dick let his gaze settle on the chauffeur. The man was wrapped up in a blanket, clearly in a bit of pain, and rattled, but otherwise healthy.
“From what I saw, sir, it looks like a type of practice ammunition. Sometimes we use it for training. Leaves a paint mark so the trainers know you’ve been hit. Without protection and too close, it hurts like hell. I guess you know that.”
“Well, I sure know I got hit. Training or not, that shit is painful. Enough to knock me out of the picture.”
Simunition, thought Dick. Non-lethal, so the kidnappers weren’t interested in killing any bystanders, only keeping them out of a potential fight. That meant the real doorman was probably alive, but possibly hurt, somewhere. Find that guy, and I might get a description of the fake doorman.
“Mr. Morrison, did you get a good look at the doorman, or anyone in the van?”
“Not really. Just looked like a doorman, with the uniform and all. He was pretty tall, but I don’t remember much more about him. I did see the van come around the corner, but then everything started happening really fast. It was white, and had some sort of red spray paint on it. Real cruddy looking. I’m sorry, but I just don’t remember much.”
“Did you hear or see anything odd at all, other than the kidnapping?”
“Not that I can think of.”
“Did you know the passenger’s name, and where were you supposed to drive her?”
“They don’t tell me the passenger’s names, usually. I’m sorry, but I’m not supposed to talk about destinations. Our agency serves some very private clients. But I can give you our dispatch number and they might be able to help your investigation. ”
“Mr. Morrison, this is obviously a criminal investigation, and I really need your cooperation.”
“I know, Detective, and I’m sure we’ll cooperate, but it’s not up to me. Please call the dispatch number and I’m sure they’ll be able to tell you what you need. I’m sorry, but I could get in trouble at work if I give out private information without authorization.”
“I understand. Well, sir, thank you for speaking with me. This is my card. Please call me if you can remember anything more after you get home. Call any time, someone will answer and get the message to me. I hope you feel better soon.”
“Okay, uh, Detective, uh, Morgan,” the man said, looking at the card.
Dead end here, thought Slashballs. He hadn’t expected the chauffeur to remember much, at least if he wasn’t involved in the plot, in which case he wouldn’t say much anyway, but the way the guy talked, he was just a legitimate bystander, wrong place, wrong time, wrong passenger. Slashballs snuffed out his smoke, dropping the butt into the receptacle by the door, and headed for the bar. At least the driver hadn’t heard the bullet hit. Probably no one knows there was a third party involved.
Dick pushed the smoked glass door to the bar open and winced, reaching for his earpiece. Fuck! It was far too loud in here for that, now. Multiple conversations hammered his eardrums as he swiped the volume control down to a reasonable level. He glanced around quickly. Beautiful wooden bar, mirror backed, bottles lit from below. A small knot of people were gathered near the center of the bar, chattering about the evening’s excitement. The bartender was finishing a pour for one of them. Her take’s going to be pretty good tonight–this has got the customers worked up pretty good. Should give me something too. There were several other groups around, and everyone looked and sounded as if they had already had a few. Dick walked around the bar, looking out through the windows at the scene outside. Sure enough, the group at the center of the bar was standing at the best vantage point to see the scene of the crime. Slashballs put on his best Wally Orbis grin and caught the bartender’s eye.
“The Macallan Eighteen, please, neat.” Might as well play the part of the successful salesman on an expense account.
The bartender nodded, turning to get the bottle. Slashballs glanced down as she walked away. The bar wasn’t the only visual appeal in here, he noted.