In a quiet corner of the library loaded with Atlases and world maps, Leon continued his quest alone, poring over worn and well thumbed pages with a magnifying glass, zeroing in where he could on the tiniest of villages in the jungles of Yucatán Mexico, whose letter constructions seemed to hold something in common with the word “Tuehltipec”. If it were indeed an Aztec artifact, then there was a chance that it was cursed. That might explain Leon’s predicament.
And yet to stay in the library too long, smelly and cavernous, struck Leon as anathema to his purpose, as if he were wasting his time. There were a group of high school age kids roughhousing around the corner of the stacks, and their Spanglish talk had a distinctly threatening undertone to it. Leon hoped they would not discover him. He wondered if the teenagers could sense the Quixote’s power, resting in the pocket of his jacket. Then he wondered what they were doing in a library, imponderably at home in a place of learning. Shouldn’t there be someone to keep the civilian patrons safe?
And then it hit him. Of course! The security desk of his office building! If anyone had been to his office, to his floor, if it hadn’t been an employee of the company, then their name would be in the ledger at the front desk, where two to four stately Middle Eastern security guards idled their time away. That was where he should be looking!
Leon snapped the Atlas shut and re-shelved it. Then he struck off around the corner and nearly collided with the teenagers, who sneered and leered as they cleared a path:
“Sorry essay, didn’t see you dashing there.”
“It’s okay,” muttered Leon distractedly, these three young punks with earrings who would have looked more at home on a street corner in the Mission 10 years ago, or a street corner in the Fruitvale today. One of them sucked his teeth loudly at Leon’s back as he rushed past.
The thing with the Quixote was that it had to be respected. More than that the situation showed irreconcilable signs of spinning out of control. And while Leon was driving downtown to the financial district, he saw it again, the Quixote waiting at a traffic light that turned red at exactly the wrong time. In fact he saw a whole school of them, Quixotes in motorcycle helmets, riding donkeys, crossing the street sedately in the crosswalk. The other pedestrians simply stood aside to let them pass, idiotic smiles on their faces like the Quixotes exuded laughing gas.
Yes the situation was serious indeed.
The attendant at the parking garage across the street from his office building was absent, a machine ticket-maker was doing his job for him. Even the light from the white florescent lamps in this gasoline palace looked different, looked sinister, as if they were concealing doorways to an alternate dimension.
The thing burned a hole in his jacket pocket as he slammed his car door and clicked the lock shut from the safety of his electric keychain.
Should he destroy it? he wondered as he vaulted the stairs two at a time down to the ground floor, sweating ferociously. He even wondered manically if the thing would allow him. If it did, what would Stuart and the rest of them say? Even if Leon lied, told them all that he’d lost it, they wouldn’t believe him. Stuart wanted the Quixote for himself, Leon could read him like a book, but Leon would bring himself to hell before he allowed a defeat of such magnitude. These thoughts and many like them spun in Leon’s mind as he sweated and ran; and the glass towers vaulted to the heavens all around him in this place of wealth and power, encroaching twilight; it bewildered him as it never had before, how many daily struggles, triumphs and defeats must happen all around him. In this light, everything looked different.
He opened the glass doors with the Middle Eastern security guards milling curiously on the air conditioned other side.
“Mr. Leon, hello,” said one of them. How did he know my name?
“It’s after hours, Mr. Leon, are you lost?”
Leon shook his head.
“I have a question,” said Leon.
“We are at your service.”
“Where did this come from?” and Leon produced the Quixote, realizing that he had lost, perhaps for good, his all important sense of humor.
Leon blinked hard to reorient himself; rubbed his forehead quickly with the heel of his free hand.
“It’s a serious question,” he moaned.
“But how are we to answer it?”
“I came into my office one day, in the morning, and it was sitting on my desk.”
“Have you asked your co-workers?”
“Of course I have!” he said as if it actually needed saying.
The guards looked at each other, all eyes at the problem before them.
Slowly slowly, Leon, you must speak more slowly.
“Look, it’s a breach of security,” he explained. “No one is allowed in the building, on our floor after hours, right? How did someone get into my office?”
The guards again looked from one to the other.
“Someone with the key. Someone who came after I left, and I left when everyone left, I always leave when everyone leaves.”
“Sir, we believe you.”
“Then stop looking at me like I’m joking. Believe me, I’m not joking.”
“When did it happen?”
“Three weeks ago. Tuesday.”
“Tuesday,” the other guard nodded seriously.
“Sir, wait here. We will look in our book.”
“I want you to look on your cameras.”
“It is a closed circuit, sir, we keep no recordings. Just wait here a moment and let us do our job.”
“Don’t worry, Mr. Leon,” said the other. “We’ll get to the bottom of this.”
The guard smiled. Despite himself Leon was charmed; how they all, everyone, managed to get the better of him.
“Just wait here, sir,” said the other guard while his partner returned to their desk.
“Fine,” answered Leon, sweating.
The guard was flipping pages in their ledger book now, and Leon waited, gripping the Quixote hotly, warm paranormal metal, and again he felt that terrible, overriding affection for it well up within him, and somehow he knew, just knew, that all of this was not its fault. It was someone else — a phantom enemy just past the point of materiality.
And he also came to know, the thing told him through the palm of his hand, that neither the guard at the ledger nor his smiling partner would be able to help him.
The guard finished with his ledger, raised head now, black piglet eyes, told him so, told him his search was incomplete, in fact might well be just beginning; that the Quixote was not done with him at all, and that no answer to so strange a problem would be found in the ledger of some blocky rent-a-cop.
“I’m sorry, sir,” said the guard, with, no doubt now, the derisive look of the Quixote in his eyes.
Yet, even despite it all, at least he’d sounded like he meant it.
Leon fled the office building and retreated back to the parking garage. Just after he left the light at the service elevator dinged and Consuela trundled out, pushing her cleaning cart. She was starting her shift. Leon, meanwhile, plunged onward into his personal abyss.