“We shouldn’t be here, Shawn.”
Our friendship is so strong, extending back over so many years to our schoolboy days, that I don’t need to hear it in his voice — I can feel Gus’ anxiety. Sense it. But, as no doubt he expects, I dismiss it. Gus is always nervous. Yet, he’s always right there beside me, disapproving, not wanting to be left behind. Crouched within shadow, I shrug his hand off my shoulder in exaggerated fashion, continue creeping down the hall.
The building is incomplete, still in the early stages of framing. A collection of vertical steel ribs and two-by-fours. Pale plywood floors, seams meeting in red and green edges. A descent of stairs ahead. Here and there, a few sheetrock walls define half-finished rooms. Plaster smears over nail heads. Saw dust everywhere — sifted over floors and wooden beams, swirling in half light. It’s enough to make one sneeze, and Gus obliges.
At the hallway’s end, at the top of the landing, a door has been framed out and fitted with a makeshift panel. Thrust to fill the doorway’s mouth, the panel is wrapped, top to bottom, in bright red plastic sheeting. A sign taped at its center reads “Danger — No Entry — Noxious Gases.” Ridiculous. There’s no real seal here, any gas within would easily leak past the panel’s edges. Highly suspicious. A crude, but obvious, attempt to keep people out. Worthy of investigation. Running my fingers over the panel’s rim, I begin to slowly work it open while Gus, predictably, attempts to hamper my efforts.
“The sign says no entry, Shawn.”
As I suspected, the room is clean — no fumes, no gas, noxious or otherwise. It is, however, a peculiar space. Measuring about ten-feet square, this room is sheet rocked from the outside, studs visible within. Packed between the studs is some sort of soft padding. A secret “padded room”? Strange.
Replacing the plastic-wrapped panel snug within its frame, I lead the way down the open staircase to the ground floor. Nervous Gus sticks close to my heels. The floor below is an open plan. A handful of men in hard hats work to erect support beams. The whir of drills biting wood, the concussive thud of hammers. We are mid-way down the stairs when the foreman looks up, fixes me with a glare.
“I thought I told you to get out of here!”
He’s a big guy, shaved head, full beard and mustache. Work clothes coated in plaster and sawdust, creased architectural plans in gloved hands. I smile and agree, hands raised, and begin a steady stream of fast-talking nonsense, excuses, rationalizations of our presence. Beside me, Gus nods emphatically, frantically. I know I’m not fooling this guy, I’m just buying us time. We back toward our exit — a glass door set in a wall of plate glass windows looking out onto the street.
The foreman picks up a long, wide, heavy cloth strap, fits a brick at its center, and begins swinging it over his head in a wide arc. Pushing Gus before me, I turn and run for the door as the foreman lets fly the brick, then another, and another. A volley of bricks hurtling at us, shattering door and windows. Crystals and shards of glass collect in my hair, on my clothes, as we spill out into the street otherwise unharmed.