Dibs barely made it to the Tower on time, only to find the street before it mobbed with protesters. He had to flash his ID several times before the cops paid him any attention, and by then he had drawn the ire of the sign-wielding chanters near him. Seeing NSA on his badge, they turned on him. He braced himself, expecting jeers and even raised fists. Instead they smiled and starting chanting a single word:
“Leak! Leak! Leak! Leak!”
This was more terrifying than threats. The worst thing to be in any administration was a whistleblower. Presidents do not forgive leaks, even in the public interest. And this nascent administration, not yet even half-staffed, was bedeviled by leaks of all shapes and sizes. There were so many, it was almost a concerted effort to stymie the President in all he did. Dibs did not want to be considered a risk for such behavior. Keeping his head down, he pressed through the throng, past the police line, and was immediately stopped by the Secret Service.
“I have an appointment with Jay Trevor,” said Dibs, almost apologetically.
The agent took Dibs ID with his left hand. The right hand was hanging by his side, though in reality it wasn’t his right hand, it was a mannequin hand. The real hand was under the suit coat, holding a pistol. It was an old trick. It wasn’t until this moment that Dibs noticed how small the fake hand protruding from the sleeve was. He wondered if that was new.
The agent studied his ID badge, then checked his list and radioed for instructions. “Okay, you’re cleared. Go in. Wait by the fountain by the escalator.”
Dibs did as he was bid, standing with his hands in his pockets. He wished he smoked, because it would be an excuse to go outside again, and maybe delay this meeting. He had deliberately not brought his briefcase or any of his equipment – external drives and whatnot – hoping to stall the work until someone rescinded his mission. The last thing he wanted was to actually be forced to uncover anything.
He was staring around at the massive lobby, with the Tiffany store and the Gucci store, and wondered what a nightmare security must be here. Had there ever been shoppers in the same residence as a president before now? So many bags, so many people. Good lord, the cost of it had to be staggering! And then the famous residents of the Tower, with their own personal security. Dibs couldn’t imagine the Secret Service enjoying the antler-scraping that was surely causing. Like everything else with this President, this was beyond normal. And would cost a fortune…
Dibs wheeled around, his heart literally stopping for a moment. He was faced with a man in a very nice suit – too nice for the Secret Service. The man’s smile was extraordinarily wide, like Ray Wise as a shark on Joker venom.
“Yes,” said Dibs warily.
The grinner held out a hand. “Gavin Felcher, hi. I’m afraid Special Agent Trevor isn’t able to meet with you just now. I don’t know if you’ve heard the news…”
Dibs had. On his way from DC, he’d read that several more members of the President’s campaign staff had been linked to Russian spies. It had ratcheted up Dibs fear of this whole enterprise. Still, he was eager to limit his exposure. “I saw a headline.”
“Yes, well, one of the people who remained unnamed in the story works here – oops, I probably shouldn’t have told you that, should I? Anyway, J-Trevs has to do a pro-forma exculpation of her – whoops, I probably shouldn’t have said it was a ‘her’, should I? Well anyway, he asked me to get you situated and find out what you need. So – what do you need?”
That was too abrupt a question for Dibs, who thought this whole thing was moving way too fast. He dodged with a question. “I’m sorry, what do you do here?”
Impossibly, the smile widened. “I’m the concierge.”
“Oh. Okay. So – I’m sorry, I’m not sure what I should be asking for.”
“Well, we could start with a tour,” suggested Felcher.
Not having any better ideas, Dibs agreed. At once Felcher launched into a rehearsed ramble about the construction of the Tower, the famous architect who started it, was fired, rehired, and then disavowed the work when it was finished. He spoke elegantly of the pink marble with the white veins that set off the gold so splendidly.
Suddenly Felcher asked, “You ever been to Russia?”
Staring up at the slanted skylight and wondering if the glass was now bullet-proof, and how much that had cost, Dibs was caught short by the question. “Excuse me?”
“Russia. Ever been?”
Was this a test? A trick? A set-up? By the concierge? Was he really a concierge?
Dibs’ mind raced as he wondered what to do. Anyone with access to his file would be able to learn the truth in a matter of moments. And maybe a link to Russia would get him thrown off the case before he even started. “Uh – yeah, for a week in college.”
“Did you make it to the Peterhof?”
“Oh man, that’s a shame. This place is like the modern Peterhof. An excess of excess. It’s like Peter the Great looked at Versailles and said, ‘I like it, but put it on steroid and make everything gold.’ It’s the same here. I think the President has a lot in common with Peter the Great. You know, a man with an eye on expanding his domains, always interested in new things.”
“I don’t know much about Peter the Great, I’m afraid,” said Dibs.
“Oh, you should have been here last summer! One of our residents, a bigwig in the campaign, was manager for like a week, well, he had some Russians in to visit and they would regale us with the history of the rulers of Russia, how they worked, how they fought – it was amazing! I wish they’d taught us all that in school. All I ever got was the boring Jefferson and Madison stuff.”
“I know what you mean,” said Dibs agreeably. “The Founding Fathers. Such a bore.”
“Right? I mean, don’t get me wrong, America is terrific and all. But it’s not exciting! No one ever wants to shake things up! Not until now.”
“‘May you live in interesting times,’” said Dibs.
Dibs bitterly regretted having said it. Brusquely he explained, “An old Chinese saying.”
Felcher frowned, then gave a conspiratorial whisper. “You better not let anyone hear you mention the Chinese here. They’re very suspicious of China.”
“I’ll remember that,” said Dibs, nodding. “Thanks.”