VII “The Leading Tone”
Alec Riley’s Most Recent Hotel Room. Location Undisclosed
The maid slid her entry card into its corresponding slot on the door handle, just as she’d done a dozen times so far today, just as she’d done hundreds of times so far this month, and opened the door. She pushed her cart into the room before her and it stopped. Like it was stuck on something. A speed bump. A dead body. A pile of laundry. Whatever it was didn’t really matter, what mattered was that it was in her way. When it stopped it tilted forward a little bit, enough for a spray bottle of window cleaner to roll off and fall onto the obstruction. It made a muted thumping sound, indicating that it had hit something soft.
She shoved the cart forward twice, emitting annoyed grunts which slid into exasperated sighs each time, just as she had done once or twice today and at least a dozen or so times this month. The cart refused to move. Just like it always did. She pushed her way past the stuck cart, moving towards the source of the obstruction, assuming she’d run into a pile of wet towels or forgotten clothing, muttering curses under her breath as she squeezed herself between the cart and the wall. What she saw on the other side of the cart was something she hadn’t see yet today. Or this week. Or this month. Or, in fact, ever at all. At least not in person. She had beheld the scene before her dozens, if not hundreds of times while watching television shows and movies. She’d also pictured it thousands of times while readings books. She was an avid reader, in addition to being a maid. She was a few other things too, depending on who you asked, but none of them applied at the moment.
Alec Riley was laying on the floor being gazed upon with horror by the maid. Blood trickled from a hole in the side of his head. There was no exit wound. A small caliber pistol with a suppresser rested in his palm. He wasn’t quite holding onto it anymore, nor was he exactly letting go of it as the situation currently stood. The gun was just there, not bothering anyone at the moment.
The maid’s eyes began to fill with tears, she put one hand to her mouth and the other one behind her as she stumbled backward, towards the wall. Once her hand made contact with the wall, she slumped down towards the ground, just like the people from the books and shows did when they found themselves in the same situation.
It took a few minutes for her to get it together enough to scream but only seconds for someone to hear her once she started. Even though it seemed to her that it took most of the available time left in the world for someone to hear her and come to her aid, it was in reality, closer to twenty eight seconds before someone decided to see what all the screaming and wailing was about and to set a course towards the source of the disturbance. Within minutes the authorities were contacted, a brief time later the body of Alec Riely was placed in an ambulance and driven away. The lights were on, but there were no sirens. sirens are for the living. There’s no need to rush a corpse anywhere.
The maid was given the rest of the day and all of the next one off. She was also given a fifty dollar gift card to the hotel bar and a suite for the rest of the week in exchange for her silence on the matter.
Mu’s Hotel Room, Location Unknown
Mu had finished rolling his socks and began to fold his t-shirts. He felt, in his meditation, Riely’s essence fade from this realm. He also had a pretty good idea of how far out in left field Harris had gone. Not because of any sort of mystical ability, he simply knew his student too well and knew it was about time for another episode. Unlike Harris’ superiors, Mu wasn’t the least bit concerned about Harris’s shitty attitude. Mu’s relationship with Harris was different. Harris respected him for one. He also feared him, and with good reason. Harris, capable and dangerous as he was, wasn’t a master yet. His skills were well past the infant stage but a good ways off from the puberty stage. While he could operate with near god-like abilities among normal people, he was but a clumsy child to Mu.
He’d deal with the child in a few days after his book signings were over with. Regarding Riely, there was nothing he could do about it except remind the British Crown that they still owed him a considerable amount of money in nonrefundable fees. It’s not like Mu had to make ends meet, he couldn’t see the sense in giving away his services.
He had plenty of money. Truck-fulls of it. The training assassins for governments racket was working out pretty well. Just like it had for most of the previous masters of the nameless art. It’s just that one can only spend so much much time training people before it becomes unbearably soul-crushing. He’d long ago grown board of both teaching and fieldwork and needed something else to occupy his time. He eventually settled on inspirational speaker and self-help author.
He spoke and published under the name “Harold Homesthen” and wrote ebooks with titles like “Stop Hitting Yourself: An Introduction To How To Stop Hitting Yourself” and “You Aren’t Paying Attention”, which somehow sold millions of copies in spite of their titles.
He did this only because it amused him, there was no other reason. He didn’t need to do it at all. He didn’t care about the money. He donated most of it to charity when he didn’t forget to cash the checks. Everyone needed a hobby, he reasoned. This charade also provided him with the perfect cover identity. No one in the world would suspect the self-help coach/ best selling (ebook) author was, in reality, someone who made his living training living weapons for any country who could afford the luxury.
Mu finished folding his t-shirts and placed them in his duffel bag, next to his socks. He then folded his other pair of pants and fit them into his bag. Next, he fetched his toothbrush and other toiletries and packed those away. He left his entry card on the table and left the hotel. When he reached his car he entered it, started it, and pointed it East towards Troy New York. He needed to have a talk with Harris.
Agent 34’s Office, Location Classified
“I need you to tell me again,” Harris said to 34 in a previously unused tone of voice. Quiet, equal parts anger and disgust. Devoid of all joy to the point of bordering on preemptive remorse. It was the voice of someone who knew they were about to break apart and were devoting all their energy to keeping themselves (and everything in a ten-foot radius) in one piece for as long as it took to diffuse both this level of anger and the source of it.
“Then I need you to wait five minutes and tell me again,” he continued.
She nodded in obedience, inhaled deeply and began, “Uber is one of our projects. It’s just a sham to get the public acclimated to driverless vehicles.”
“I see,” Harris interrupted, “surely there was no other way to accomplish this. It defiantly necessitated the creation of the most dangerously irresponsible employment model in the history of employment. I’m sorry I interrupted, continue.”
34 cleared her throat, “As I was saying…”
Harris interrupted, “Just skip to the part about the space demons or whatever.”
Agent 34 wished she wore glasses so she could take them off, rub her eyes, sigh, and put them back on. It always looked mildly invigorating to her when people did it on television. She didn’t wear glass though, so she shook her head and exhaled sharply. It did the trick, but she still wanted a pair of glasses.
“Intel is sketchy at best, but, and it’s a big but..”