A Day Late and a World Short #2

CHAPTER 0

what everybody was up to last week

#1: Utah Houston

The first thing Utah Houston notices, as he tries to stand nonchalantly in the elevator, is that his pants are a little tight. True, he hasn’t worn this suit in ages, but that is unlikely to be the cause of his current discomfort, as Utah Houston represents the pinnacle of human fitness.

No, it’s most likely the result of the handgun he has tucked in at the small of his back. It hides conveniently under his beige suit coat, ready to be used at a moment’s notice, though hopefully he won’t have to, because sometimes when you get into a firefight wearing a light suit you end up staining the damn thing. He ordinarily would have worn the black suit for a job like this, but wearing a black suit in Las Vegas in September makes one stick out a bit too much.

Fortunately for Utah Houston, he is on retainer, and there is more than enough in the account to cover any dry cleaning expenses he might incur.

And so he stands in the elevator, wondering about the cost of a mid-range suit these days what with the price of wool being what it is, and tries to act casual. It seems to be working, as the smartly-dressed and extremely tall woman in front of him has barely even noticed his existence, save for a curt nod when she entered. The more normal-sized man standing next to her is also barely being acknowledged, and appears to be wilting a bit from the heat, probably due largely to his wool suit. He must not be used to the desert. At any rate, nobody is paying attention to anybody.

The elevator speakers play what seems to be a smooth jazz version of a Norwegian dirge-metal song. This has been one of Utah Houston’s stranger trips to Vegas.

The glass elevator glides effortlessly up the side of the Heppinn Resort & Casino.

Utah Houston exits the elevator on the 63rd floor, seven floors above where the wilted man exited, and one floor below what the tall woman selected, which is also the top floor accessible by this particular elevator. He exits casually, with a forward flip of the wrist on the hand he is using to hold his briefcase. This is a universally recognized symbol of nonchalance, approximately two steps below casual whistling and nowhere near as suspicious.

The hallway that he enters into is sparse and well-lit with doors on either side approximately every fifteen feet. They are numbered like street addresses, with even numbers on one side and odd numbers on the other. Utah recalls his instructions and heads down towards room number forty-three. When he arrives, he presses against the wall and breathes deeply. He can hear the sounds of a meeting taking place. He does not recognize the language.

Noting the emergency exit a short way down the hall, he kneels down and rapidly retrieves two cylindrical objects from the briefcase, closing it almost as soon as it is opened. He runs his fingers along their perforated surfaces and tests their weight. He nods as though he has made a difficult decision and places one of them in his front-right pocket. After carefully ensuring the hallway is empty, he opens the briefcase and positions it to the right of the door. He jiggles the doorknob very lightly. It is unlocked.

After taking another deep breath with his eyes closed, Utah Houston pulls the pin from the stun grenade, counts to two, and opens the door. He quickly identifies the large conference table and lobs the grenade onto it, and then retreats to the hallway, pulls the door shut, and covers his ears. A blinding white light seeps through the crack below the door, accompanied by the sound of an explosion that would be deafening to somebody who had not wisely positioned themselves outside of the room and covered their ears. And then he throws open the door.

Utah Houston scans the room, searching through the haze of fluttering papers and disoriented humans, and finds his goal. He dashes in, springs off the shoulder of a large man who appears to be recovering rather faster than normal, and moves to the end of the table. He kneels over the laptop he has been tasked to retrieve—some black metal job with strange white markings—and has just closed it when somebody grabs his ankle and gives it a sharp tug, making him crash down to the tabletop on his chest.

He rolls over and looks up to see a man flashing his teeth in an expression bordering on amusement. His eyes are two different colors. Utah kicks this man in the face. Once freed from his grip, he grabs the laptop, checks that the exit is clear, activates and drops the second grenade, bolts out of the room, and closes the door. Once again he covers his ears and waits for the bang, then he quickly puts the laptop in the waiting briefcase and runs down the hallway to the emergency exit.

Upon his opening the door, an alarm sounds.

Utah exits the Heppinn in the standard manner, by hurrying down the stairs until he ends up in a stream of evacuees, and then ducking out before the security response can really get started. He greets the afternoon sun with apprehension—they really do keep those casinos dark, don’t they? He reaches into his inner jacket pocket only to find the shattered remains of a pair of aviators. One more item for the expense report.

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