As soon as Pat entered the stall, he pulled out his cell phone. A voice mail from Jim. â€śChristine and Marcy missing. Have you heard from them?â€ť
Missing? He scanned his messages and found a text from Christine sent earlier that morning. â€śDenver Center in the...â€ť The message stopped. Denver Center? Why were they there? Were they being held captive?
He had to look for them. He sent Jim a quick message and made his way back to his work station. â€śI have a family emergency,â€ť he told Gamal. â€śI need to leave.â€ť
Gamal nodded. â€śI will call in another worker, but you must stay and work until he arrives.â€ť
â€śThank you, sir.â€ť He returned to his desk. It was almost forty minutes before another worker came.
He slid his ID card at the door. Would Gamal watch to see where he went? He didn't care. The Denver Center was a huge place. He entered the Agriculture Hall and eased his way through the crowd of people checking out the crops and seeds, then stopped and searched the throng. They wouldn't be in the middle of the room in plain sight, he told himself.
Doors lined one side of the room. Closets! They were probably in a closet. Maybe they were tied up in one of the closets. He made his way to the first door and opened it. The closet was a tiny space filled with bags of seeds, so he moved to the next closet and the next. Each proved to be a small storage space holding agricultural supplies.
â€śMay I help you, young man?â€ť A W.E. Agriculture Manager wearing green pants and cape approached him.
â€śI work here.â€ť Pat's eyes met the manager's.
â€śI see that.â€ť He eyed Pat's badge. â€śBut you don't work here. You should be working for Gamal.â€ť
â€śBut I need...â€ť
â€śYou need to leave, or I will call Gamal.â€ť
Pat left. Out of the corner of his eye he could see the manager glaring after him and watching to make sure he went. Pat had checked all the closets but one. Maybe he could sneak back later.
Two WE officers patrolled the hallway. Visitors and workers scurried through different doorways. Pat stopped a moment and thought. Where might someone go when he didn't want to be seen? Where would there be fewer people?
Perhaps the library. He walked as nonchalantly as possible to the library door and swiped his badge. As soon as he entered, a library clerk wearing a tan uniform approached him.
â€śMay I help you find a book or a video?â€ť she asked.
â€śNo, thanks,â€ť Pat replied. â€śI'm looking for my friends. Have you seen two young women?â€ť He described them to the best of his ability.
The clerk laughed. â€śThat could be so many people, but I haven't seen anyone like that. At least not this morning.â€ť
Pat thanked her and said, â€śI think I'll just look around a bit.â€ť He made his way through the aisles of books and video displays. A few people were sitting at the tables or were in cubicles viewing videos. Two smaller rooms adjoined the main library. Their doors stood open, and Pat stopped and checked them out, but except for equipment and supplies, they were empty.
The clerk met him as he rounded an aisle. â€śAre you sure I can't help you?â€ť Her eyes held a hint of suspicion.
â€śThanks for all your help. Guess I'd better go.â€ť Pat exited the library. He passed the clinic and looked through the windows. Dozens of people sat in the waiting room. Too open, he thought. They wouldn't be in there.
He couldn't give up. He'd search every inch of the building if he had to. Twice he barely escaped being caught by a WE officer as he opened doors marked Private and investigated rooms with unmarked doors.
Exhausted, he sank into a chair in an empty office. He hadn't felt his phone vibrate, but he checked it just in case. No messages from Jim or the girls. It was two-thirty, and he had been hunting for over three hours. The growling of his stomach reminded him that he had skipped lunch.
Where haven't I looked? Then he remembered. The Religious Studies Hall. He had started on that end of the Center, but instead of going there first, he had turned the other direction. Wearily he pulled himself to his feet, but quickened his pace as he neared the hallway leading into the chapel.
He hardly noticed the beautiful scenery or beckoning lights as he hurried down the path. Reaching the door, he slid his badge in the slot and walked in. He longed to sit down and wrap himself in the ambiance. The soft lights and music lured him, but he fought off their spell and focused his eyes on the dimly lit seating. It was between sessions, and the pews were empty. He straightened his broad shoulders and started around the aisle between the seats and the wall.
A soft thud. He paused and looked around. A muffled noise directed his attention to a barely visible outline in the wall. It must be a door, but it was so cleverly concealed that it could be seen only by someone who was near it and knew it was there.
Pat whistled in surprise. He reached out and ran his hand along the shimmering panel. Halfway down he felt a warm spot. He rested his hand on it and pressed gently, and the door swung open.