Chapter XXVIII:

The Belly

Never having been here before, Leon had no way of knowing how busy or abandoned the White House usually was, but he was willing to wager good money that there was supposed to be at least one person at work or play here. But Leon did not see a single one. No Quixotes and no people. The place was totally empty of life, and all the corridors, elegantly done up in blue carpets and columned portals, were quiet as a church at prayer. The only companion Leon had was that which he had brought with him, carried in his hand, and walked beside him as he stalked the empty halls.

“Why did you bring me here?” he asked.

You came here yourself.

“I had no choice.”

Yes you did.

Leon took a left at random. He hadn’t seen a window to the outside world in some time, meaning he was in the belly of the presidential palace. This was the only telling marker he had deduced. Aside from that he was following pure impulse, and the Quixote did not dissuade him from this tactic.

“I wanted to find Heather.”

You’re going to.

“That’s why I came here, but it was your idea.”

The nexus is here. It’s why they brought her here, to get you to follow her.

“I don’t know. There’s something wrong. Something I’m missing.”

You don’t trust me.

“I don’t know anything about you. I only know what I saw with my own eyes.”

What did you see?

“I saw people going crazy. And I saw you. I saw you everywhere.”

People are dying as we speak. All across the country.

“What do you have to do with that?”

Nothing at all.

“I don’t believe you.”

I’m the fix, Leon. That’s all.

“Simple as that.”

Simple as that.

“All you taught me was how to make more of you. I’m not sure that that’s the fix.”

It’s as good a one as you’ll ever find.

“Maybe, maybe not. Maybe that’s why I’m here. Maybe I’ll find something you hadn’t thought of.”

Anything’s possible.

There were offices and conference rooms. Solid doorways with names affixed to them. Stairways and elevators and soft yellow lighting. Nowhere, however, was there another person.

Leon turned into one of the offices, which, according to the plaque on the door, serviced the Deputy Secretary of DefenseRobert Work, a name Leon had heard before but whose function in the apparatus of government was totally mysterious to him. There were desktop computers on two desks fixed to opposite walls, and a plethora of filing cabinets behind and about them. The miscellanea on the desks included paperwork hastily folded, staplers, paper clips, highlighters, pens and pencils. It looked like someone had come into work today, and left for a short break.

“Where is everyone?” Leon asked, picking up some of the paperwork and leafing through it.

I don’t know.

“They aren’t turned, are they? The people that work here.”

They have to live in the world too.

“Yes but how do they? They must be crazy, just like at Stigel, Lewis.”

I don’t know. This is the first I’ve seen of this place.

“You’re right,” Leon said, putting the paperwork back on the desk. “I don’t trust you.”

He walked to the door at the far end of the office, which had the Deputy’s name affixed to it in a gold plaque with black carved lettering. It was locked.

See? Not everyone’s following your timetable.

Leon took a step back from the door, then kicked it as hard as he could at the door knob, the force of it traveling back up his leg and clicking his teeth together. The door rattled in its frame but did not give. Leon kicked it again. Still nothing.

Why are you doing this? It’s just a waste of time.

“Fuck you.”

He kicked the door again. He thought he spied the woodwork of the frame beginning to splinter. He kicked again. And again. And again. Again, and finally the space around the latch of the doorknob gave way, the deadbolt broke through the wood and the door swung lazily inward.

You haven’t accomplished anything.

Leon entered into the office. Another thick oak desk, complete with desktop Apple computer, empty of human life. Unlike those outside, however, this desk was clean. There were two chairs facing the desk and a loveseat on the wall, surrounded by bookshelves, walls cluttered with plaques, certificates and photos. There was one of Barack Obama, and one of Bill Clinton in positions of prominence behind the desk.

“Is he here?”

Who?

“You know who.”

Is anybody else here?

“No.”

Then what would make you think that he is?

“Because it’s his responsibility. He has to have some plan for dealing with this.”

It was his fault to begin with.

“What’s that?”

Never mind. Forget I said anything.

Leon sat down on the loveseat and faced the thing, which stood a head shorter than he did. He tossed it from hand to hand while he sat, it so very warm from its constant contact with his flesh and the sparks of life shooting out from it.

“I don’t care how it started. Right now I just want it to end.”

It’s not going to.

“Why not?”

Because the genie won’t go back in the bottle.

The thing sat astride its donkey imperiously, its golden halo producing a nauseating effect in Leon.

“Tell me how to find Heather.”

You were doing fine until you came to this office.

“I might as well have been going in circles.”

You were closing in on the nexus.

“And what do I do when I find it?”

You fight.

“How do I do that?”

I don’t know. We’ll find out.

“So how do you know it has to be done?”

Because I just do. Do you disagree with me?

Leon sighed. He leaned back on the loveseat and put his feet up on the coffee table in front of it.

“I wonder how many governmental feet have put themselves exactly where mine are now?”

The Quixote did not answer. It stood there staring at him, ostensibly, though Leon of course could not see its eyes. The thing was quite inscrutable.

“How will I know when I’m getting close to the nexus?” Leon asked.

I will tell you.

“Am I close now?”

No.

“Where do I go next?”

Getting back on your feet would be a start.

Leon continued to toss the Quixote from hand to hand.

“I’m of half a mind to throw this thing into the next garbage disposal I see.”

That would not solve anything.

“Tell me where Heather is.”

She’s at the nexus.

“Really now?”

Really.

Leon got to his feet.

“Then lead on.”

No. You lead on. I’ll tell you when you’re getting warm.

Holding the thing in his right hand Leon left the offices of the Deputy Secretary of Defense and started down the hall the way he had come. He knew he was retracing his steps, but the Quixote did not stop him. He took a few more lefts and rights seemingly at random, yet following an internal compass. Every turn he made the creature followed silently, the sounds of its hooves striking only in a parallel universe, if at all.

You’re getting warmer, Leon, the thing whispered into his mind.

Every hall came to look the same. He was walking faster now, finding that it helped to incorporate a sense of urgency into his thoughts, people dying on the lawn outside, innocent Quixotes being gunned down, and this place, the supposed beating heart of a government that might protect them, was absolutely abandoned.

“It’s almost like they don’t care,” Leon said.

You’re very wrong about that.

There was no counting how many turns he took, how many passages he traversed or empty rooms he walked through, the place a labyrinth of empty offices and living quarters. He wondered where Sasha and Malia spent most of their time. At one point he passed what might have been a day care center, baby’s multi-colored toys and balls strewn across a floor divided from the rest of the White House by a playful plastic fence. He realized he had never seen a baby Quixote. What could be the significance of such a fact? Babies, perhaps, innocent of the strength of social mores and proper public conduct, were by default endowed with an impermeable layer of defense. He wondered how he could think about such a mundane consideration at a time like this: perhaps because it still seemed less than real. He couldn’t believe what he was doing here. He couldn’t believe his charge, his mission. But he had to believe it. He had no choice. Heather was in here somewhere.

Eventually he noticed a change, though he couldn’t say exactly what it was. Maybe just the carpet? No longer midnight blue, it had become black as the darkest night. The columns, once ever-present, gave way to blockier, squarish load-bearing beams. Soon there were no more offices with desktops. Suddenly, Leon’s mind snapping free from his doubt to the present, he found himself in a place that seemed more a dungeon than a presidential palace. The doors were all closed, and when Leon tried them he found they were locked. The Quixote didn’t need to tell him that he was making progress.

He wondered if anyone could see him, in the overhead cameras that he was sure were marking his every move.

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