I pitched through the lobby door and then, as I caught my breath, stood looking back at the storm. It was bad out there. The city had been reduced to dim outlines and floating lights; snow moved down Nineteenth Street in waves. I beat it from my hat and coat, knocked my boots together. Under those high ceilings, each sound reverberated. Only the emergency lights were on, there was no one at the front desk, all the elevators in the bank sat open and waiting. And in a fit of hope, I thought there might not be, in all the building, even one other soul.
Though I hadn’t hit that button, the elevator stopped on nine: silence, nothing but cubicles in the faint light of an alarm panel. When the doors slid open again on fourteen I saw Manny Mintauro, our security guard, like a stone slab behind his podium. Half his face was in shadow. My heart fell at the sight of him.
“Sup, bro,” he said, deep and grave.
The elevator doors closed behind me. “Hey, Manny.” Snow dropped from my jeans onto the carpet. “Thought it might just be me today.”
Manny’s head was pristinely shaved, and his gray scalp, textured with follicles and curled across the bottom with fat, gave the impression of a thing horribly exposed. It called to mind a dream I’ve had: Pulling fistfuls of hair from my head, I discover that what’s beneath is the yellow-white pith of an orange. In a rising panic, I claw at it.
“Well,” I said, “I guess it’ll be pretty dead, anyhow.”
“Definitely. Weather’s crazy.” He gave weather two hard syllables.
It was hard to know when you were done talking with Manny. I was still getting used to having him around, watching all our comings and goings. Since the mass shooting at Rantr the previous spring, it had become common for tenants of downtown buildings to staff in-house security. Manny had served in the Marines during the Gulf War. I often wondered if, there at the podium, he was armed, or how exactly he was authorized to use force in a security situation. That was management’s phrase: security situation. During the monthly lockdown drills they’d instituted, Manny paced the emptied corridors, testing the handles on the conference room doors, unblinking, while we crouched inside.
I said, “Power’s out at my place, so I’d rather be here. All things considered.”
“I’m obligated to be here,” Manny said. “Hey, just so you know. There’s another TruthFlex email. Came in just now. Delete that shit.” He covered his mouth with his hand. “Pardon my language.”
“Ah. Damn. Another one. Sorry—sorry to hear about that.”
“You don’t got to say sorry to me, bro. You know what I mean?”
I didn’t. And anyway, that was enough, the encounter was sufficient. I drew a breath, pulled up my shoulders. “Well—have a good one, Manny.” Hoping he’d yield, I moved toward his left flank.
Instead, his head reared back. “Real quick, before you go—I’ve been meaning to say to you.” His tiny eyes held fast to mine. “When, the other day, I told you about the most important moment in history, in my opinion? I realized, I didn’t ask what you thought was the most important moment in history. To you.”
The week prior, Manny had cornered me in the men’s room and talked at length about the Balfour Declaration. I hadn’t understood his point, but he’d leaned against the door and I’d felt trapped.
“Huh,” I said. “I’m not sure, Manny.”
“To me, the Balfour Treaty is the most important. Did you look it up?”
“Not yet. I’ve been pretty swamped.”
“It had a big impact on global history.”
“I do think I learned about it in school.”
“Nah,” he said, “you can’t learn nothing about it in school. You know what I mean?”
“It’s one of those things you know you’ve heard of.”
“You have to do your own research. Look into the Rothschilds. Follow the money.”
“Okay. I will.”
“Nice.” He appraised me carefully. “Let me know. I’m curious how you think, is all.” Then he dropped his left foot and angled away, opening a channel where I might pass. He extended his right hand, leaving the pinky and ring fingers curled tightly into his palm, and grinned down at me as I took it.