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Day Fifty-nine: Conspiracy

The elevator shuddered to a halt, the light went off and a dim, reddish emergency bulb in the ceiling blinked on.

The tall man in the stocking cap and stained coveralls – the only other person besides Andrew – looked up at the ceiling and said, “Huh. Elevator’s stopped.”

Andrew looked up too, as though there was something to see. The tall man was too laconic, too matter-of-fact about it. Andrew thought about the movie he saw the other night, with the crazy computer that started killing everyone in an office building – he could feel his heartbeat speed up and his throat close. “Yeah,” he croaked.

“Might be here a while,” the man said, still looking up.

Andrew took a deep breath. “Yeah.”

The stood there in silence for a few minutes, Andrew silently begging God to start the elevator again. The tall man, who had “Nino” stitched on his coveralls, was staring at the door, not moving, not doing anything. Andrew could feel sweat running down the small of his back and his mouth felt dry. He wasn’t a claustrophobe, at least he hadn’t been up until now, and he really didn’t feel like finding out that he was.

They wouldn’t be there forever, of course. Someone had to notice a stopped elevator. Someone would do something, right? Any minute now there’d be somebody coming for help, some firemen perhaps, and they’d both get out and have a good laugh about it.

“Sorry you had to get caught up in this,” Nino said, breaking Andrew’s train of thought.

“What?” Andrew asked.

“I said, I’m sorry,” Nino said again. “Looks like they’ve finally found me, and you just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Andrew stared at him for a minute and then loosened his tie. He tried to back away, but there was only room in the elevator for one step, and that wasn’t nearly far away enough for him. He bumped up against the wall and wondered how Nino was going to kill him. Maybe there’d be a shootout – he was probably some kind of escaped fugitive, running from the police and they finally manage to track him down. Any second now the bright flame of a cutting torch would burn through the ceiling and a bunch of guys in black body armor would drop through, guns a-blazing, and all that would be left of Andrew Sickels would be a bunch of paperwork and an awkward phone call to his parents.

“I knew I should’ve had the toast,” he spat out. He slapped his hands over his mouth, but it was too late. Nino turned to him and raised his eyebrows.

“Huh?”

“Nothing!” Andrew squeaked.

Nino took the step towards him, and he loomed. The closer he got, the taller he seemed to be, and Andrew found it impossible not to look at him. The stains on his coveralls were dark and greasy. Maybe grease. In the dim light they looked like blood, but all Andrew knew about bloodstains was what he saw on cop dramas on TV. Nino smelled, too. It wasn’t an altogether unpleasant smell – something like those potpourri mixes his mother used to make, only when they were days past their best. There was something old and musty about Nino, even though Andrew couldn’t pin an age on him.

“Toast,” Andrew whispered.

“Toast.”

Andrew nodded. “I, um – I meant to have toast this morning, right, but I was a little late, so… So I decided not to, but then I got hungry and wanted something to eat and the food truck is right outside, so…”

Nino stared at him, and then rested one heavy, dirty hand on Andrew’s shoulder. “Wrong place. Wrong time.” He patted Andrew once and took the step back. Andrew slid down the wall of the elevator and sat on the floor. He wondered idly if he had anything to write with. Or on. Something to leave in a pocket or somewhere when they eventually found his body. After the police shot them up or Nino ate him or whatever.

He tried not to look at his watch as he sat there, but it felt like forever. He tried not to think about what it would be like to starve to death or die of dehydration, but every time he shoved the thoughts down they popped back up with a vengeance. Nino was just standing there, not moving, not sitting, not doing anything, and it was starting to make Andrew twitch. Didn’t the guy even need to pee or something? Andrew shut down that thought, but, like the others, it popped right back up and he groaned. One more thing to worry about.

“The U.S. Government is using cats to secretly track the movements of citizens.”

It took Andrew a moment to realize that Nino had spoken, and then another moment to process what he’d said. He raised his head his arms, gave Nino a blurry look and said, “What?”

“I’m telling you,” Nino said, “so that when they take me, someone will still know the truth. Someone will be able to pass it on.”

Andrew blinked and shook his head. “I don’t understand. Cats? What?”

“A cat army,” Nino said slowly, turning to look at him. The intensity in the man’s gaze was cold, and shut down all the wild voices of Andrew’s thoughts. “There’s about a hundred million of ’em in the country. That’s three people per cat, and their numbers are only growing. Soon they’ll reach parity and…”

The pause hung in the air. After a moment, Andrew sighed. “Fine. And what?”

Nino leaned towards him, his eyes wide and mad. “And then they’ll use the cats as control devices. They already run the houses they’re in, you notice that?”

“N-no,” Andrew said. “I don’t have a cat.”

A slow grin spread across Nino’s face. “Yet,” he said.

He stood up straight. “Soon they’ll reach critical cat parity and then the ratios will reverse. Every human will eventually be minded by a cat. A cat with a government-installed control chip in its brain.” Andrew used the wall of the elevator to stand up. Nino was getting louder, and his voice was echoing in the tiny room. “Once they have their army of slaves, the leaders of the free world will unmask themselves as the cat/human crossbreeds the Nazis started growing in ’48!” He raised his hands to the ceiling, and a look of ecstatic horror spread across his face. “They will play cat and mouse with the nations of the world. They will hunt us down one by one for their inhuman entertainment. They will lord over us from the high places and the world will shake under their rule!”

They stood there like that for a good minute. Nino with his arms up, Andrew with his back pressed to the wall.

The light flickered on. The elevator started going down again. Nino slowly lowered his arms and turned to Andrew. “Now you know,” he said. “Now they’ll come for you too.”

There was a bright ding, and the doors slid open. Without hesitation, Andrew dashed past Nino, out into the hallway and ran as fast as he could.

Nino looked out of the elevator until Andrew was out of sight. He exchanged glances with one of the women waiting to get on, smiled, and took a little stuffed mouse from his pocket. “Some people are a little strange,” he said.

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