4 October, 2016 — Ann Arbor, Michigan
Geisler is just getting his jacket on in the room that serves as an office and break area for security staff, when the door opens and Shawn comes back in, looking glum.
“What’s going on?” Bill asks him. “You forget something?” Shawn should be taking his place at the front desk right now. The front lobby should never be without a visible security presence this late in the morning.
Shawn frowns, apparently unsure how to explain. In spite of his decent, if minimal, working relationship with Shawn, Bill Geisler has never mistaken his coworker for any kind of a genius.
“What is it, man?” Geisler prompts again. “Is something wrong?”
Shawn grimaces and shrugs. “There’s some guys,” he says. “They says they’re security guys from the building owner. They says we gotta go.”
Geisler raises his eyebrows. “Gotta, huh? Well, that’s interesting.” He takes his long coat back off and hangs it up.
“Let’s go have a chat.”
Pushing through the door into the building’s lobby, Geisler’s first impression is that there’s some kind of convention going on: lots of men in suits. In less than the time it takes for his eyes to fully scan the room, understanding comes into focus.
The suits in the lobby are all men, all apparently aged 25 to 35 years, all fit looking, all alert. They’re spending more time looking at the entrances and the lobby’s glass walls than chatting with each other. This isn’t a convention; this is a lobby full of security goons. That’s weird enough in itself but, in addition, Geisler’s immediate impression is that these guys are all of exceptional quality. Maybe it is a convention after all, but it’s a convention of Secret Service agents.
As he stops to look around, Geisler sees that the security men are now beginning to fall into two lines along the east and west walls of the lobby, so that whoever comes through the main entrance will proceed between the two widely-separated ranks and be shielded by them. It’s an amazing display of coordination for such a large group.
He frowns, watching. Now that he thinks of it, this strange gathering is even more unusual simply as a display of wealth. Geisler has a very good idea of what men like this cost, and there must be forty of the bastards.
As Shawn stops beside him, one of the security men notices. The man leaves his place to approach them, his expression tightening.
“Do we have a problem here, friend?” Geisler preempts him as the man stops a pace away.
“You may both go for the day,” the man says. “We are a security team for this building’s owner. He is about to arrive. You are not needed here.”
The man does not speak with an accent, exactly, but there is something odd about the cadence of his words. Not quite American. The man spares a glance for Shawn, then focuses on Geisler again, judging, correctly, who’s in charge. “I believe I have explained this earlier.”
Geisler nods. “That’s great,” he smiles. “But we work for the building’s management, and they didn’t say anything about taking the day off. So I guess we’ll be staying.”
The man’s jaw begins to tighten, but a sound distracts him: two of his colleagues have swung apart the wide lobby doors and latched them open. The guest of honor is about to arrive.
The security man turns back to Geisler with a sour expression. “Very well,” he says quickly, “then join this line at the end.” He indicates the nearer of the two ranks. “Stand at parade rest, and do not make noise.” As the man turns away, Geisler looks out on the wide paved area between the front of the building and Huron Street and frowns.
“Hey, Bill?” Shawn practically whispers. “What’s parade rest?” Geisler takes a moment to show him before settling himself into the line and turning his attention again to the bizarre phenomenon of two-score top quality security men suddenly gathering in the humble little CoMerica Building’s lobby.
What the hell is actually going on here? Not only is there a king’s ransom of security people suddenly materializing in a modest office/residential building in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but—Geisler scowls, trying to understand what else is bothering him about this. As he stares at the opposite line of men, he gets it.
All of these guys are obviously for show. Lining the lobby with men has almost no actual security utility. What this looks like is more along the lines of somebody trying to impress some kind of visiting dignitary. But on this scale it’s the kind of thing you might expect from some local official trying to impress some visiting head of state. It’s not the kind of thing you expect in Ann Arbor.
As he stares out through the opened lobby doors, Geisler becomes aware of a sound that he had been hearing only subliminally earlier. It’s one that he is very familiar with: the faint staccato chatter of a helicopter high overhead. The sound is so unexpected that he stops breathing for a few seconds to listen more carefully. It’s really there, and to his ear distinctly military. Whoever that eggbeater may belong to, it ain’t NewsCenter Six. He peers at the tops of the high lobby windows and is shortly rewarded by the tiny silhouette of the helicopter, flying way up at five or six thousand feet, just becoming visible at the very top edge of the window as it proceeds southward and begins a slow turn east.
Squinting, Geisler can just make out the fighting-wasp profile of an Apache attack chopper. His frown deepens. Whatever this organization is, it can also put an Apache in the air. So do they have snipers on the roofs, too? Why not? They certainly have everything else!
He looks at the top of the Washtenaw County building across Main Street and almost immediately detects motion. Two men, dark-clothed, walking in the shadows. He can’t make out whether they are carrying rifles, but at this point he would certainly expect it.
William Geisler feels as though the floor is tipping beneath his feet. Who the hell is coming here, the king of Saudi Arabia? But then if it truly is something that big, how can they possibly have kept it so quiet?
A beam of sunlight reflects across the lobby’s ceiling and Geisler sees five black limousines pull up in front of the lobby. Their doors open simultaneously, and another bunch of SS guys emerge, instantly deploying. Five of them walk to the front doors and spread out as they come inside. In the middle of that group is the man who is clearly the guest of honor.
He is not a physically remarkable man, aside from the fact that he is wearing a suit that, even to Geisler’s not especially well trained eye, is of exceptional quality. Of medium build and no more than five-eight in height, the only aspect of the man’s appearance that is even slightly remarkable is his skin-tone, which is a kind of dusky bronze-olive. The planes of his face seem more Middle Eastern than African, in fact with something almost more oriental about the eyes. Geisler realizes that if he had to file a police report about this man, he would not quite know what to say for “race”.
But it’s not the question of the man’s race that sends a chill down Bill Geisler’s spine—it’s the way he walks.
Most people wouldn’t notice it. Most people have not spent their whole lives as a soldier, a police detective, and a security guard. In fact, it has been Geisler’s work as a lowly security guard that has taught him the most about watching people and gauging them by the unconscious signals that are continually broadcast by their bodies in motion or repose.
The problem with the man at the center of this small army is that there is nothing whatsoever unconscious about his body, neither in motion nor repose. There is no automatism about him. Which is impossible.
Every human being has ingrained physical habits which they allow to run their bodies while they attend to more important matters. It’s a way of saving processing power. If a person leaves too much of their physical motions in the control of these labor-saving habits then they will appear awkward or unintelligent.
But to see a man who leaves no aspect of his motion to unconscious habits—the effect is as though you took a really good dancer who happened to be a Martian or something, and told him to pretend to be human. The problem is not in how the man walks—the problem is that he is completely aware of it. As though every inch of his body were conscious.
Even with his long training in observing people, William Geisler would probably not be able to recognize this unusual property, except that he has seen it once before, long ago, in a being whose movements made trained men look like children. Seeing that same quality in an otherwise normal man sends a chill through William Geisler’s soul.
Several men emerge from the office behind the front desk and walk in a triangle, one in front. In the few seconds it takes them to approach him, the guest of honor turns his head as though to look around at the lobby. But his eyes fall directly on William Geisler. His eyes are as dark as midnight, but for one terrible instant William Geisler imagines them as glowing yellow, and his heart stutters.
“Hey, Bill, you OK, man?” Shawn risks a whisper as the group of VIPs moves to a conference room behind the front desk.
Geisler starts a little, having forgotten entirely about Shawn. “Yeah,” he glances at his coworker. “Just—surprised, I guess.”
“No shit, man, these rich dudes really do it up, don’t they?” Shawn grins.
The two lines of suited security men are dissolving now, not into chaos but into orderly groups of two or three at a time all walking away as though they know what is expected of them. All except for the one man who spoke to him and Shawn earlier.
That one approaches now with two others flanking him, his face set. He noticed the guest of honor’s glance toward Geisler, and he is not the least bit happy about it. As the men approach, Bill Geisler reflects that any one of these guys look like they could throw him out the front doors and halfway across Huron Street.
“You will have to leave now,” the security man says, looking into Geisler’s eyes. “Immediately, please.”
“Hey, man—” Shawn starts to make a protest, but Bill shuts him down with a glance.
There’s a breath in the air that Bill Geisler recognizes from long ago. It’s a trace of something that he’s been waiting and watching for, and very much fearing to find, since a night that is now almost thirty years in the past. He never expected to catch even a whiff of it while standing in the lobby of the CoMerica Building at ten o’clock on a sunny morning.
The last time he caught a trace of this feeling, and followed that trace where it led, the end result was, among other things, not very good for his day-job. Will this time be just as hard on his night-job?
He takes a slow breath.
“It’s all right,” Geisler tells the younger man. “I oughta be going anyway.”
He turns back to the break room to get his coat.