I spend the rest of the day preparing for my meeting with Edgar. This may seem excessive, since ideally it will last for only a few minutes, but I have learned not to underestimate the universe’s ability to screw things up for me. And, to be perfectly honest, my ability to screw things up for myself. The universe and I make a pretty good team some days.
I practice modulating my voice, changing the pitch and cadence to minimize the chance of Edgar recognizing me. I mainly tried to stay out of his way while I was the night security guard at the museum, which should work in my favor here. On the other hand, I clearly left an impression, so I don’t want to take any chances. Certainly I’d still be able to pick his voice out at a party — although I can’t imagine any situation that would lead to Edgar and me being at the same party. For that matter, I can’t really imagine Edgar being at a party at all. If I had to guess at what he does after work, I’d say he probably goes home, sucks the blood out of a few innocent puppies for dinner, then gets a good night’s sleep in his coffin.
Yes, I know vampires are traditionally nocturnal. It’s not a perfect analogy.
I run through various scenarios in my head, from things going well:
“Hello, I’m Officer Peterson.”
“Please take these tapes and get out.”
To not so well:
“Hello, I’m Officer Peterson.”
“Really? Because you sound just like a horrible ex-employee of mine named Dan.”
“Smoke bomb!” Flee for nearest exit, doubly fast since I do not actually have smoke bombs.
To extremely poorly:
“Hello, I’m Officer Peterson.”
“Strange, since I called Officer Peterson a few hours ago, and he did not know about this morning’s call. Would you care to explain yourself to him? Police have already blocked all of the exits.”
I don’t actually have an escape plan for that last possibility. I was the night guard for several years, so I definitely know all of the entrances and exits better than anyone. But when I try to picture an escape under those circumstances, all I see is a Scooby-Doo-style chase with me, Edgar and the police running in and out of various doors in the museum. And everyone knows that Scooby Doo always ends with the guy in the rubber suit getting his mask pulled off, so that doesn’t turn out well for me.
If it comes down to that, I’ll just turn myself in and face the music. Peterson’s going to be ticked, but maybe I can explain it to him. At the very least, he’s probably not going to want to lock me up, since history suggests that if I’ve got powers, so does someone else, and they’ve got bad intentions. That’s not a thick thread to hang my hopes on, but it’s the best I’ve got if things go completely pear-shaped.
By noon, I’ve gotten all of the potential future problems pretty well sorted out. I’m faced with a fairly pressing current problem, though: I really need to use the bathroom. I thought I could tough it out, but there’s no way I’m making it two more hours, and that doesn’t even include travel time to get back home after the meeting.
“Don’t your pants have a fly?” asks Regina when I mention my issue to her.
“Yeah, but it doesn’t work!”
“It looks like it does, though. So just cut along where it should open anyway, and then it won’t look weird.”
This may sound like a perfectly simple and reasonable idea, but let me tell you: taking a razor blade to the fly of a pair of pants you are currently wearing is anything but simple or reasonable. Desperate times call for desperate measures, though, and after no small amount of sweat and lip-biting concentration, I successfully convert my non-working fly into a working one without injuring myself.
“But now it opens when I move,” I complain to Regina.
“Superglue it,” she says, and I do, adding another notch to the “things you don’t want to do to pants you are currently wearing” tally.
At 1:40, Regina and I get into her car and drive to the museum, and at 1:55 I’m striding up the front steps, trying to look bold and in charge. On the far side of the atrium, the door to Edgar’s office is open, so I knock on the doorframe to get his attention.
“Mr. Dobson? I’m Officer Peterson. We spoke on the phone.”
Edgar looks up from his paperwork and narrows his eyes at me. At first, I think he’s suspicious, but then I realize it’s accompanied by a thin smile. It’s not a good look for him.
“Yes, Officer Peterson. Come in, please. I have those security videos for you.”
Edgar steps around the desk to shake my hand, and now we’re face-to-face with each other and he doesn’t seem to spot anything out of place. I force myself to breathe normally and relax, but my heart is beating like I’ve just run up a flight of stairs, and my palms are getting disgustingly sweaty inside my skin suit. Outwardly, though, I remain calm.
“I hope these help you, Officer,” says Edgar, handing me a thumb drive. I take it and slip it into a pocket — or try to. Unfortunately, my pockets are no more real than anything else on this suit, which means they go in for just deep enough to preserve the illusion, and then terminate in a solid wall. The thumb drive skids off of this, slips out of my fingers and falls to the floor.
I drop into a crouch to pick it up. As I do, I hear a slight rubber tearing noise, and I freeze. Edgar’s standing right over me, so I can’t check, but I’m pretty sure that that sound was the cut I made in my fly tearing further. I have no idea how far it goes now. Is it minor? Or have I split my suit halfway open? I’ve got to get out of here before he notices.
“If you don’t mind me asking, what do you hope to find on these?” Edgar asks as I stand up.
I had an answer prepared, but it’s all flown out of my mind, so I give the standard police-drama response: “I’m sorry, but I’m not allowed to comment on ongoing investigations.”
“Of course, I understand,” says Edgar. “Can I offer you some coffee or anything while you’re here?”
“Thank you, but no. I’m afraid I need to get going.”
“Ah, trouble waits for no man. I imagine your partner is waiting in the car?”
“My wife, actually.” Then I realize that he probably meant police partner, not person-you-live-with-but-aren’t-married-to, and scramble to cover. “I’m not actually on duty right now, but I stopped by here on the way out with the wife.”
“A day out! Glad to hear they’re not working you too hard. What’s her name?”
I say the first name that comes into my head. “Samantha.”
Edgar’s brow furrows. “And your name is Sam, yes?”
I am the world’s biggest idiot. “Ha ha, yes! We’ve been hearing those jokes for years. And answering the phone at home! ‘Can I speak to Sam?’ ‘Which one?’ I mean, that’s how it would go if we still had a landline. We use cellphones, of course. Also, mostly people calling for me ask for Peterson, so that clears it up. Though obviously it’s her last name, too.”
So much for modulating the speed of my voice. Edgar, fortunately, just looks vaguely embarrassed for me, not suspicious.
“Yes, well,” he says. “I won’t keep you if you have places to be. I hope this helps you.”
“I’m certain it will.”
“Do you have a card?” asks Edgar, and I automatically reach for my pocket, where my fingers once again bounce off the bottom hidden just inside.
“No, sorry, I’ve left them at the station,” I say. “If I need anything else, though, I’ll be sure to call you. You’ve been very helpful.”
“Just doing my duty to help the law, Officer,” Edgar says smarmily. I resist the urge to punch him.
The whole way across the atrium and back down the steps, I’m convinced that I can feel the bottom half of my suit flapping back and forth as I walk. I can feel people staring, and can practically see them taking out their cell phones to take pictures of the policeman with the leg of his pants tearing free, showing his boxers. This is not the subtle exit I wanted to make.
I keep my head up and my gaze forward, though, and make it back to the car without anyone stopping me. I collapse exhaustedly into the passenger’s seat, dropping the thumb drive into the cupholder.
“How did it go?” asks Regina, starting the car.
“Oh man. Nerve-wracking,” I say, finally looking down to see how bad the damage is. There is in fact a rip at the bottom of the fly, which stretches less than an inch and doesn’t appear to go entirely through the suit for most of its length. I’ve spent the whole walk back panicking over nothing.
“Yeah? Did he give you a hard time?”
“No — honestly, I think he wanted to be friends. I was just too afraid of blowing my cover. And man, the next time I do this, I’m growing a suit with functioning pockets.”
“Yeah, welcome to women’s fashion. Get a purse.”
“Oh yeah, that’d go real well with my police uniform. Badge, gun, handcuffs, handbag. Fully accessorized!”
Regina snorts in an undignified fashion, and I let out a shaky laugh myself.
“Man, I can’t wait to get home,” I say. “I think I’m starting to prune up from all of the sweat in this suit.”
“Boy, you sure know how to charm the ladies, Dan.”
“Hey, I bet if I tore the end off of a pinky, I could pour some of the sweat onto you.”
“Try it and you’ll be walking home.”