We reached the ballroom and waited in line to show our engraved invitation to the black clad worker guarding the door.
“Who’s bash is this again?” I leaned in to whisper to Corrine. She smelled wonderful, as usual.
“Professor Reginald Almstedt,” she whispered back over her shoulder without looking at me.
“Who? Never mind, he’s probably one of your academics.”
She nodded, and pointed into the room, grabbing my other arm. “Look, there he is.”
She said that just as the doorman asked for our invitation. A wave of dizziness hit me followed by a sharp pain in the back of my head. I grunted.
Corrine turned to me quickly, making her dangling diamond earrings swing. “Are you okay?”
The doorman let us in, and she moved us out of the flow of people.
My eyes were watering up and my stomach clenching, I had a very bizarre deja vu. We’d been here before, and Charles – Corrine’s boss – had hit on Corrine and some guy in a red velvet tux gave me a note for the academic whose party this was. And then we met that academic and he turned out to be a nutbar who wanted to stop time to rob people’s purses and ouch. “Oh my god.”
“Oh honey, I’m sorry.”
“Do you have any sunglasses, Corrine? The lights are killing me.”
“Sure,” she fished out a pair of cheap plastic glasses from her clutch. I put them on and felt a modicum of safety.
My wife grabbed my hand and lead us over to some of her fellow researchers, and someone – thankfully – pressed a champagne glass in my hand. I sucked it down immediately.
“Here’s to a new year,” Charles proposed, “May we have the time of our lives.” Everyone laughed and I didn’t.
“Pssst, hey buddy,” a voice said from behind me. I turned and found the man in a red velvet tuxedo. I walked toward him and he handed me a note. “Make sure Almstedt gets that.”
“Wait. What’s this all about?”
He disappeared off into the crowd. I quickly made my excuses to my wife, who offered to come with me.
“I’ll be right back, I promise.”
She really did look concerned for me, which was gratifying in a small way. Not that I was mad at her, I reasoned as I made my way outside, trying to spot the man in the red velvet, but, one should tell one’s spouse that one had discovered the way to stop time. I rubbed the back of my aching head. One should not spring it upon him.
A flash of red at the bottom of the stairs caught my eye. The man in the red velvet dodged around a group of men dressed in gold lame and black velvet – the troop Professor Almstedt had called them – and went out the lobby door.
I tried to follow but was stopped by a wooden faced trooper at the door. Up close, the trooper’s skin was an unhealthy gray color, and his eyes were filmy, like a dead fish’s. I tapped my glasses and he nodded and let me go.
I moved through the doors and kept going at a steady but unhurried pace. I really did want to hurry though. That man was dead and still upright.
I spotted my target off to the left, turning into the alley beside the hotel.
“Wait,” I called after him, but he started to run toward a late 70s conversion van with a wild sunset/space mural painted on the side. He got in the drivers seat and started the van up, pulling away just as I reached for the passenger door’s handle.
“Oh come on,” I yelled at the back of the van as it drove away. The license plate read “C0NV3RG3.”
I ran my hands through my hair, and started back to the hotel. Maybe I could disrupt one of the field generator thingies.
As I walked up the stairs to the lobby, a very loud explosion shook the windows. A plume of smoke and debris rose up a few blocks away, toward the financial district. Sirens started wailing and I could hear gun fire. People on the street started running, and a large aircraft of some sort came through the cloud of smoke. And then everything froze.