I shouldn’t have stormed off alone, I knew that now. It hadn’t hit me back then but I realized now that the place was more huge than what my mind could comprehend.
There were two escalators in the parking lot and I took the one closest to me without much thought. The room I arrived in was huge, completed with two wide hallways on either side of me and a floor-to-ceiling tinted window panning out on the entire opposite wall. Artificial potted plants stood at two corners of the room. There was nothing else to interest the few people standing in groups so I assumed it was a waiting room. Mentally, I cursed myself. I didn’t even know which room to go to. Should I ask for ‘Boss’ room’? Did these people even call him Boss?
A beautiful redhead had stepped in front of me and was eyeing me dubiously. I felt self-conscious looking at her. Her hair was braided back and green eyes were outlined darkly . Her clothes were more than casual but that didn’t stop her from looking bold and professional. I sneaked a look at my outfit and pursed my lips.
“What, you can’t speak?”
I was about to reply when a blonde guy cut in with a lazy smile.
“Oh Carly, cut the gorgeous girl some slack. You forget you look terrifying”, he told the redhead as he slung an arm around her shoulders before throwing the same question at me again but with more charm. She shrugged him off immediately.
“Well?”, she prompted, looking back at me.
The second time I opened my mouth Hayden’s voice came from behind me.
“Don’t go running off, you idiot. You’re going to get me into trouble.”
I gave him a sarcastic smile. “If that’s the outcome, I’d keep doing the same over and over again”, I retorted.
“You’re kidding me”, the redhead, Carly, scoffed, looking up and down my body. “She is the new recruit?”
It angered me when Hayden replied with ‘I’m afraid so’.
“Boss is hiring anyone these days”, Carly muttered, angering me further.
“Oh you’re in for a surprise then”, I spoke to her for the first time, meeting her fierce stare. My inner self was actually cowering down in fear.
She raised her eyebrow in surprise then smirked at me. “Well, this I’ve got to watch”, she replied and walked off into the left hallway when the person behind the center desk called her name.
The blonde guy whistled low. “Feisty”, he commented as he smirked at me. He took my hand and kissed the back of it. “The name’s Xavier.”
“Okay, lover boy, get back”, Hayden pushed him away and clutched my arm to lead me into the right hallway. “I have to get her somewhere soon or my current record of punctuality will be flushed down in the drain.”
I gave the guy a smile before he got out of sight. Hayden pulled me into another room from the hallway. The room pretty much empty aside from a futuristic version of a manhole cover and multiple potted plants. The people here seem to like potted plants a lot.
He gestured for me to follow him and kneeled down in front of the manhole cover. I took a better look at it and raised my eyebrow when I saw a passcode lock on it. He typed the code quickly, sneaking a look back at me then blocking my line of sight when I tried to peer over his shoulder. He then pressed a button that caused it to open up, revealing a deep dimly lit hole.
“Get in”, he ordered.
I froze. Why were we going one floor below? Is that where they are hiding the dead bodies of enemies?
“Get in”, he repeated impatiently and I shook my head in reply. He furrowed his brows. “Why not? You’re wasting my time. You do remember that we have an appointment to attend in time, right?”
“How do I know you’re not going to close this cover on me? Or worse, taking me someplace else to kill me?”, I questioned, lifting my chin at him slightly.
“I’m torn between being satisfied by your new found cautiousness and being annoyed at how much you’re wasting my time”, he muttered before stepping down on the small steps at the side of the hole. “I’ll go first. Now, follow me.”
“Stop barking out orders at me”, I mumbled grumpily before following him down. I debated on whether to close the cover after me or not but decided not to. It could be my means of escape if I need one, I thought as I narrowed my eyes at the dimly lit head below me.
It seemed like hours had passed when I finally heard Hayden landing on solid concrete. I had now understood how Alice felt when she fell down the hole. I leapt off the steps and landed next to him immediately after. When I stood up after brushing myself off, I saw him looking at me with a raised eyebrow.
“You can jump”, he commented with a surprised voice.
“Well, it’s time you start to believe that I can do much more”, I replied, trying to feign nonchalance when there was a sense of pride and accomplishment surging inside me.
We landed in another hallway. Initially, I’d been impressed by all the tech stuff that replaced the everyday objects that I’ve always seen in offices, but now my eyes itches to see a pop of colour. To my right was a dead end and to my left was the rest of the hallway, which was white and bare except for some monitors attached to the walls with a distance of one foot or so between them.
“When do we get there?”, I asked, frowning at the perpetual sight of the hallway as we walked through it.
He smirked. “Why? Tired?”
I scoffed at him. “Tired? I’d win a race against you any day.”
I probably wouldn’t but I’d say whatever I can to get him off my back because he’s spent the whole day commenting on my physique and behaviour and trying to find my weaknesses.
He stopped so abruptly that I almost crashed into his back. I stepped back and looked up to see him raising an eyebrow at me. “Get ready then”, he said before counting down, “3… 2…1-”
“What? Wait wait wait! I don’t even know the way! This will be unfair!”
“Jeez, excuses. What do you want then?”, he asked with a flat look.
I thought about it for a while before answering, “A head start!” and pushing him behind as I ran forward.
There was only one way to go with a turn, which hopefully didn’t lead to a diverged path, at the end. The entire hallway was void of any decorations and, at that point, I was probably running to escape the dullness there more than anything else.
I considered myself pretty good at running and took pride in that, so needless to say, I was boundlessly annoyed when I heard Hayden catching up to me. It wasn’t long before he was running alongside me.
No! This can’t happen! I’ll have to suffer through the endless gloating he’s bound to do if he wins.
We were getting close now. Just a few feet more. My lungs were burning for air as I ran like I was being chased by a group of cannibals.
I was close, but Hayden was closer. I glanced at him from the corner of my eye and could see that I was going to lose. I panicked.
My foot shot out in front of him at the last moment and he tripped over it, falling down. I turned the corner and he didn’t. I cheered for myself.
“You cheater!”, he barked.
“I’m not!”, I protested even though I full well knew I was.
“That was a low move, Porter. You knew I was going to win so you cheated. Shows how little of a match you are for this place.”
“Quiet!”, a voice boomed across the room we’d arrived in. I looked over to see Boss strolling towards us. He shook his head at us disapprovingly. “You both seem to not have reached the appropriate level of maturity.”
I closed my mouth that I had opened to retort back. I had been surprised by his voice as I’d thought there was no one else in the room.
I looked around me and saw that we were in an ordinary office. There was no other way to describe it. It had a mahogany desk, a black spinning chair, a clipboard and everything else that are seen in an everyday office, including a fake potted plant in the corner of the room. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t expecting anything more.
“Have a seat, Megan”, Boss invited and we both moved to sit down when he stopped Hayden. Hayden furrowed his brows and looked at the two empty chairs in front of us. “Carly is coming as well.”
“Stupid chivalry”, he muttered under his breath before clearing his throat. “She’s going to join us?”
Boss had turned to his computer and was typing something diligently. I noticed that it had a lot of storage devices attached to it. Maybe he stored the details of all the cases there.
“Yes. No. Maybe”, he replied and finished typing something before continuing, “She’s not equally responsible for this job as you two but she’ll be of great use if you need help so she can listen in now and have help ready for you two.”
“I’ve never needed help”, Hayden reminded him, his lips in a straight line.
“I know, but Megan is new here. Things can go wrong.”
I bit my lip to avoid saying something I’d regret. Even though he didn’t trust me yet, at least he gave me a chance. That’s enough for now. I’ll just have to show him how fit I am for this.
I was startled by her sudden voice but no one else blinked an eye. I had to be more observant. Carly sat on the chair beside me when Boss offered. She even gave me a nod of acknowledgement, surprising me for a moment but I soon realized that she was acting prim and proper to get on his good side and stay there.
Carly hesitated before asking, “What… will Xavier be required to do now that he’s not working with Hayden, Boss? If I may ask…”
Boss just waved his hand, as if in dismissal. “Oh he’s ready to handle cases on his own now. As for your case, I’ll e-mail you all the details – Megan, leave your contact details with Hayden- Now a quick run over for you, the man here is suspected to be involved in money laundering for almost a decade but we haven’t been able to find a single speck of dirt on them. The family is from a high class society and, from what I’ve heard, very speculative, calculative and manipulative. We need young and fresh eyes on this. Now remember, we’re sending you two just as undercover. You will not, under any circumstances, attempt to take actions on your own because this guy? This guy knows how to keep us away at all times. I know you’ve handled cases on your own before, Hade, but this one’s not the same and I’m trusting you to not think with your own head, understand?”
“But I’m not made for undercover stuff, Boss”, Hayden weakly protested.
“You should be able to handle all kinds of jobs”, Boss replied in a stern not-taking-no-for-an-answer tone. He then looked at me, raising an eyebrow, and I realized that he was waiting for me to say something.
I stumbled over my words at the sudden pressure. “Uh, um, so what’s up with my initiation?”, I asked then visibly winced. I definitely did not know how to ask the important questions.
Boss chuckled. “Well, I forgot an important thing, didn’t I? I’ve decided that your initiation won’t be as the others had. This job that you’re going to be doing will show your personal abilities, adaptability, determination and teamwork skills. If you fail this job, you will not only be a disappointment to me and my hopes, but you will also fail the initiation. No need to feel pressured though.”
I stared at him with wide eyes as he flashed a bright smile at me.
Don’t be pressured? Hell, I’d be lucky if I didn’t bite my nails to their ends in frustration.