The basement was a repeat of the main floor, with fewer people. They were sprawled out everywhere on the floor and couches.
One couple in the far corner were even mostly naked. When Pargo loomed over them and ordered them out, they dressed and fled.
“This place is balling, Mack,” Hondo said. “Well, it was once.”
“It reminds me of the seventies. Too much drugs, alcohol and women,” Pargo said.
“That a bad thing, OG?” Hondo asked with a laugh.
“It is when you can’t remember very much of it, sobrino. Let’s get this done. Your house is disgusting, Mack.”
“Yeah, I know.”
We’d cleared out the entire basement except for Smokey’s room. His door was firmly closed. I pounded on it.
“Smokey, it’s Mack. Open up and let’s talk.”
There was no answer. After a few repetitions I thought he must just be passed out like the last time and reached out to open the door. Pargo grabbed my hand to stop me.
“No,” he whispered. “Junkies are not predictable. We must do this cautiously.”
Pargo unholstered a small, silver automatic from his right ankle and moved to the side of the doorway. Hondo and I drew as well, me with my Glock and him with his chunky revolver. We took the other side of the door.
When Pargo tried the knob it wouldn’t turn.
He turned to us and whispered. “I will kick it in, cover me.”
“Hold on, Pargo,” I said. “This is all a bit much, isn’t it? We’re not cops. He’s probably just passed out in there.”
“Maybe he is. Or he heard us clearing out the party and he’s waiting on the other side with a gun. I told you, they are unpredictable.”
“If you kick open the door and he’s got a gun he’s going to shoot you, Homes,” Hondo pointed out.
“No, you two will cover me. If he’s there you shoot him first.”
I had a lot of respect for Pargo, but it was clear he wasn’t an expert in everything. Hondo was right, this was a dumb plan. I had a little trouble believing that Smokey was on the other side of that door with a gun, but if he was it’d be really bad. Pargo would be silhouetted in the doorway and Smokey would be hidden in the blackness of his bedroom. He could easily pop Pargo.
“He’s right, Pargo. We need another plan.”
Pargo seemed annoyed that we’d shot down his idea, but backed off. “What then? I didn’t bring any tools with me. No explosives, either.”
“Damn, OG. Don’t blow up Mack’s new house,” Hondo whispered.
“I told you I didn’t bring any!” he hissed back in irritation.
The options raced through my mind. I’d never done this kind of thing in anything but a table top game. It was a common problem in dungeons. Did you enter quiet, or loud? Did you scout the room first, or try for a surprise round? Since the door was closed and locked it seemed the element of surprise was gone. As far as I knew there were no windows in his room, and no other entrances. It was down to this door or something radical like going through a wall or the ceiling.
“Let me take a look,” I said, and laid down on the floor at the base of the door.
The shag carpet was incredibly annoying. Thick, black and very dirty. Because of it, however, the gap under the door was very large. Once I’d pushed the carpet dreadlocks out of the way I could see into the room. It was much the same as I had seen it last. Dim light emanating from under the round bed, stereo on the wall shelving lit up and faintly playing music. I couldn’t see anyone in the room. The bed was empty. The wall to the right had the bathroom, but I couldn’t see into it from where I was.
“I don’t see anyone,” I whispered.
“Maybe he’s out and just locked up his room?” Hondo said.
It seemed pretty unlikely. What kind of host leaves his house full of passed out party-goers? Maybe a junkie did, if he needed to get more heroin. I made the call.
“Alright, Pargo, kick it in. We’ll cover you.”
The older man nodded with satisfaction. Hondo and I took up shooting positions to either side of Pargo as he squared up with the door, aiming our pistols.
With a bang the door flew open, flimsy wood exploding into splinters as Pargo’s powerful kick landed with all of his weight behind it just beside the door handle. The shag kept the door from rebounding, exposing the empty room to our guns. A heartbeat later, the shooting still hadn’t started and I exhaled.
Pargo reached in, finding the light switches just inside the door and flipping everything on. The black hole of a room suddenly became visible, and I could see why Smokey preferred it dark. Black showed stains and dirt pretty well, and the room was filthy. The walls were actually black velvet, but I had no desire to pet them.
We made our way in, carefully checking the corners. The room, the walk-in closet and the bathroom—all empty. Smokey wasn’t here.
“The junkie is gone. I will change the locks and when he returns you can help him to leave, Mack.”
“Thanks, Pargo,” I said as I picked my way through the room.
The mysterious piles I’d seen on the floor the first time I’d been in the room were dirty laundry. More heroin detritus was on the bedside tables, a mix of empty plastic packets, syringes and other paraphernalia.
“Fucking junkies,” Pargo said with contempt as he looked it over.
The stereo installed in the wall was a real museum piece. Every component was silver, with big inviting dials and gauges. Backlit, analog VU meters bounced as the music softly played. More prog-rock. I hadn’t liked it back in my world and it wasn’t doing it for me in this world, either.
I loved the stereo, though. The niche it had been installed in had obviously been built just for it. The speakers were hidden in the walls and ceiling. I was trying to work out how difficult it would be to uninstall it and move it upstairs when I noticed something. The amplifier was off center on its shelf, pushed to the left more than it should be. That annoyed some part of me and I had just started to push it back when a glint in the back of the shelf caught my eye. The green lights of the amplifier were spilling out of the cooling vents on the back and lighting something up. Something made of metal and plastic. Something out of place. A keypad.
Without thinking I reached out to touch it and then stopped myself. I stepped back.
“Guys, come check this out.”
The two men looked up at me and walked over. When they were close enough I pointed to the keypad. Pargo frowned and Hondo let out a low whistle.
I still had no idea what I was looking at, but Pargo seemed to have some idea. He pushed me out of the way and reached to the back of the amplifier, pulling connections free by the handful.
“Whoa,” I started to protest, but Hondo drew me back.
“Let the man work,” he said.
Pargo worked fast, and the amplifier was disconnected and set aside in less than a minute. The rest of the components followed and were set on the stack. Wires disappeared into the back of the shelf, and the keypad was fully exposed. After a thorough inspection of each shelf and the wall it was mounted in he stepped back to where we were standing.
“No firing slots that I have found,” he reported in a low voice.
“Firing slots? What are you talking about?” I whispered back.
“Behind the shelf is a hidden, secure room. Some call it a panic room. I think we know where the junkie is, now,” Pargo replied, still keeping his voice down.
A panic room. I’d never seen one in real life, but in plenty of movies. The armored closet you hid in when bad guys broke into your house. The ones in movies always had a phone and screens to monitor security cameras inside the house. The phone wasn’t an issue, but the cameras.
“Can he see the rest of the house?” I asked.
“No cameras, Homes,” Hondo said.
That was right, if there had been cameras they would be big and bulky. Obvious. Smokey, if he was in there, was blind. Maybe not deaf, though. It was possible he could hear us out here.
Pargo inspected the shelf and wall again. Hondo and I watched. Even having been assured there was a room behind the shelf, I couldn’t see it. How was he so sure? If it was a door, how would it open? The shelves were inset into a notch above the ground. Would the whole wall swing out?
I didn’t know what Pargo was looking for, but after a minute he stopped and pointed up at where the black velvet wall joined the black ceiling just above the shelves. It took a moment to see it, but then I did. The glint of reflected light on a tiny bit of glass. A lens. Not a camera, but something else.
“Periscopio,” Pargo muttered.
If Smokey was in there, then he could see and maybe hear us. He would have seen us kick down his door and come in with guns drawn. The chances of him coming out if we asked him nicely seemed just about nil. I was suddenly glad he’d let the telephone get disconnected. If he hadn’t, I was certain the cops would have already been here.
“I can go get some tools from the shop. My cutting torch, one of my big angle grinders. We’ll cut the door open and drag his ass out,” Hondo said, no longer bothering to lower his voice.
I smiled, appreciating Hondo’s strategy. We wouldn’t have to open the door ourselves if we could convince Smokey to open it for us. That was assuming he was even in there, of course. If he was, he was staying quiet. Still, I didn’t want to destroy the panic room trying to pry Smokey out of it.
“That’s an option. Pargo, you seem to know your way around this stuff. Can you open the door? Hack the keypad or something?” I asked for our theoretical audience.
“Hack? What is hack?”
Right, no computers, and the word hack had never entered the mainstream. Too bad, since it was originally about opening locks and not computers.
“I mean can you compromise it somehow, get it to open by itself?”
He thought about it. “Maybe yes. I will need my tools and some time. I will retrieve them.”
Pargo moved to leave, but I had a moment of inspiration and stopped him. I pulled him close and whispered in his ear. He nodded his understanding.
“I’ve got a better idea,” I said out loud, for Smokey’s benefit. “We don’t need to deal with this now. Can you disable the door from out here? Make it so that it won’t open any more, even from the inside?”
“Yes, I can disable the locking mechanism,” he replied at full volume.
“Great, do that. We’ll come back in a week and open it. Our problem will have solved itself in that time. There’s no way he’s got much food or water in there, and there’s no phone service.”
“Or heroin!” Hondo said with a laugh.
“Okay,” Pargo said and produced a leatherman from his belt. He unfolded it and approached the keypad.
He’d made a couple of scraping noises with his tool when Smokey finally broke his silence.
“Wait! Stop! We’ll come out,” Smokey said, his voice coming out of a hidden speaker above the hidden door.
Hondo grinned and slapped me on the shoulder. Pargo put his tool away and drew his pistol again. I followed suit with the Glock.
“Alright, Smokey,” I said. “We’re not going to hurt you, we just need you to get out of there. Open the door and toss any guns you have out.”
Pargo stepped to the side of the shelving, holding his gun low. Hondo and I followed suit.
With a loud click, the entire wall surrounding the stereo shifted and hinged open slightly. Bright light spilled out. With a thump a black, pistol-grip shotgun hit the floor. Pargo snatched it up, ejected the chambered shell and tossed it farther away.
“Is that it?” I yelled. “That’s all your guns? We don’t want to shoot you, but if you come out and there’s a gun in your hands we will, Smokey.”
“That’s it, I promise!” he yelled back.
“Okay, then come out slowly with your hands in plain sight.”
Hondo and I were pointing our guns at the slice of doorway as it widened, exposing the safe room behind it and the disheveled forms of Smokey and Gloria. Smokey had his hands in the air, a terrified look on his face. Gloria’s hands were behind her head, tangled in her hair. Tears had left mascara tracks on her face and her eyes were red. She was wearing the same skimpy outfit as that time in the kitchen, but she’d lost every ounce of appeal she’d once had.
Pargo grabbed Smokey’s elbow and pushed him out of the doorway, toward Hondo and I. He stumbled, as he looked down the barrels of our guns, his eyes wide.
Gloria took the opportunity to make her move as Pargo was distracted. Her right hand dropped from her hair, and with a mechanical click a blade appeared out of her clenched fist as if from nowhere. She lunged for Pargo’s exposed stomach in what seemed like slow motion. That same slowness prevented me from bringing my pistol to bear in time. The Glock moved as if immersed in molasses. I shouldn’t have worried.
Pargo batted the knife aside with his right hand—still holding his pistol—and stepped around the lunge. His left hand cupped the back of her head and he effortlessly pivoted to smash her face first into the wall beside the open vault door. There was a crunch as small bones broke and Gloria crumpled to the ground, unconscious.
“Puta,” he pronounced as he pulled the knife out of her limp hand and stepped back to glare at Smokey.
Smokey squeaked in distress, but didn’t move to assist his woman. No one did.
“She’ll be fine,” I said. “Now, it’s time to pack your shit, Smokey. You’re moving out today. Right now, in fact.”