After conversing briefly and then consenting to Miguel’s request, we departed the grim setting of our garage and shuffled into the more sanitized northwest stairwell. It was strange how some stairwells were so strikingly different than others; like the occupants of the building, the stairwells had distinct personalities as well. The southeast stairwell suffered from the constant problem of leaks, and consequently, it had become a petri dish of sorts: small white mold had begun to grow along its walls. Our property manager Raymond insisted that it was already tested and identified as harmless, but there was always the chance that he was trying to prevent any sense of panic. (At this point, I suspected that his constant smiling was just one way of hiding the forked tongue behind his pearly white teeth.) The southwest stairwell, which had a door exposed to the street, was used frequently as a way of exiting the building; with such a volume of pedestrians, it already had enough scratches and scuffs to resemble a fighting pit for bears. The northeast stairwell was the smoker’s paradise. The notable aspect of the northwest stairwell, though, was its pristine condition. Unlike the other ones, its appearance had hardly changed from the day of the building’s completion. I had used it only a scant few times, but walking with Miguel, I noticed something now that I had never been aware of: this stairwell went down further than the ground level.
“Woah, wait a second,” I requested, tapping Miguel on the shoulder. “We have a basement in this building?”
“Yes,” replied Miguel, as he proceeded down the stairs. “Don’t worry, the only devils down here are the little ones on four feet.”
Since gravity was doing most of the work, I decided to spend my breath on the luxury of satisfying my curiosity. “So, Miguel…I couldn’t help but wonder something. Pretend that you and me are just strangers at that bar down the street, and we were just having a chat. In that case, what do you think of the new types of people moving into Little Peru?”
Without missing a beat, Miguel gave me his unmitigated opinion. “I don’t think about it. Nor do most of the people here…and if you want it to stay that way, make sure not to talk about it. It only stays dead as long as you don’t pay it any mind.” He paused. “Oh, and I don’t drink…but if you buy me a cold avena, I’ll take you up on it.”
Oftentimes, I can get a certain sense of a person in the nuances of a small conversation. Miguel gave me the impression that he was a tough character who had crawled at times in his life and who had the scars on his belly to prove it. Even though I couldn’t explain how, he reminded me of those allegiant, colorful characters in older stories, the ones who were the lively friends of protagonists that appealed to the better half of all of us. He reminded me of the forever gentle Patroclus, Achilles’ comrade at Troy; of the sardonic Mercutio, who tried to counsel Romeo with jokes; and of Gurney Halleck, who would cajole Paul and his allies in the House Atreides of Dune. For inexplicable reasons, he reminded me of all of them. When we finally reached the bottom of the stairwell, we encountered a thick, heavy door that appeared to be made of iron. I was about to speak the Sindarin word for friend when I noticed the panel that proclaimed “Authorized Personnel Only”.
“So, this is the maintenance room, huh? Any secrets down here behind that closed door?” I inquired, as my eyes adjusted to the dimmer lighting of these subterranean depths.
“Yeah,” answered Miguel. “After we’re done, I’ll show you the porno stash and love dolls that I keep down here.”
“As long as you keep them clean,” I jested in reply.
Using one of the many keys on a chain, he opened the janitorial vault, and feeling like argonauts, I followed him into the maintenance room. It was much larger than I had expected, with oddly stained pieces of furniture scattered around its space. In one corner of the room, a large wash basin was situated in the ground, still containing a small pool of dirty water. Along the far wall, there were pieces of equipment resting against it, like brooms and mops. It could have been described as a starkly bare room if not for the corner near to the door and on our left. In that cranny of this suite, there was an elaborate setup of electronics that were stacked somewhat precariously on top of a rickety desk. Being a software developer and a general fan of hardware, I was inclined to walk towards it, but I couldn’t shake the suspicion that it would crush me at the first attempt of touching it.
I pointed at the behemoth of computer cases that was crowned with four monitors. “So…is that the CCTV control unit that you were talking about? The one that’s connected to the security cameras in our hallways?”
Miguel nodded, bravely approaching the dangerous game of Jenga. “Yep. Come over, and I’ll show you the footage.”
Since the console sat at a chest-level height, there was no use for a chair. Miguel stood before the console, and he pressed a few buttons in order to control one of the four monitors. With a few clicks, the monitor to the far left switched from a hallway to a view in our lobby. “Okay, Peter…as you can see, that’s the lobby. So, like I said before, you know about people complaining that they’re missing packages, right?”
“Yeah,” I replied, “I’ve already gotten a bunch of emails about it. I wish that we had the budget to hire a concierge, so they could take care of all this shit.”
“Well, your friend Miguel isn’t a concierge, but I think that I might have figured out your problem. These CCTV units record everything and store it on this DVR…” Miguel pointed at one of the cases in the pile. “And I’ve been able to watch some of the tape from a few days ago.”
Tape…man, I haven’t heard anyone use that phrase in a while now. The finger of Curiosity lifted one of my eyebrows. “Oh really? And what’s that?”
With a sly grin, Miguel proceeded to quickly rewind the lobby’s footage so that dozens of hours passed by in a matter of seconds, stopping precisely at 3:13 P.M. of the previous day. Keeping that mischievous smirk on his face, he looked at me as he hit the button to start playing the video. As I watched the events unfolding through the eye of the camera’s lens, my mouth dropped open in slight shock. A hearty chuckle began to percolate from my depths, and in response, Miguel’s smirk bloomed into a wide smile.
“Well, now,” I remarked, “You don’t see something like that everyday.”
Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.