"Can wait," he supplied. His voice was deep. As I twisted to look at him, I noticed that there was a vacant space above his head, and I realized he was a Time Watcher, too.
"Who are you?" I demanded.
"My name is Dimitri Pyre," he grunted, "And I've been sent to collect you."
"Collect me?" I asked, my voice panicked. "Sent by who? Where are we going?"
But Dimitri didn't reply, he just continued up the stairs, pulling me along. We broke into the sunlight and it was nearly blinding - especially after my nearly blind walk through the tunnels of the New York transit lines. My ankle, too, was making it hard to pay attention to what was going on, blinding me with the pain that kept throbbing and shooting up my leg.
The street was full of curious on lookers, gazing down into the train's tunnel as people poured out, yelling about the accident. I saw the elderly gentleman and the woman with their class, huddled together a few feet away from the entrance. Dimitri pulled me through the crowd though, to a sleek black car, which sat waiting for us on the curb.
"In here," he directed me, motioning to the door as he pulled it opened for me.
I winced as I lowered myself into the car and pushed across the seat. Dimitri followed me into the car and slammed the door. I heard the locks click and the vehicle pulled away from the curb.
I pulled my pant leg up a little bit to look at my ankle. It was bruising darkly already, and swelled twice its usual size. I poked it, and an agonizing pain shot up my leg again. I've broken it, I thought.
Dimitri turned to me. "You will be able to tend to your injury once the Elders have had an opportunity to speak with you," he assured me. "This is urgent business that they must take up with you. That is why they have sent me to collect you."
"The Elders?" I asked, "As in... you're from the ministry?"
"Yes," he answered, rearing importantly. "I am."
"What on earth do they want from me?" I asked, my heart pounding in my chest so loudly I as sure that Dimitri could hear it. The pain of my ankle subsided beneath my whirling brain as I realized that I was being summonsed.
"I am not at liberty to discuss it with you," Dimitri answered coolly.
My cell phone vibed three times as the sleek car moved through the City streets. All three times it was Brian. I'd gone to answer it the first time, but Dimitri had stilled my hand. "He can wait," he'd rumbled, and I'd stuffed the phone back in my pocket. Dimitri frowned the second time the phone vibed, though, and encouraged me to at least text Brian back when it went off a third time.
M OK, I texted him, Go back 2 hotel. C U soon.
After what seemed like forever, the car glided to a smooth stop in front of a tall building with a simple granite sign that boasted only the title "Administrative Offices".
"Here we are," Dimitri said, sliding across the seat to the door as the car halted fully. He pushed open the door and waited at the curb for me to follow. I struggled out of the car and winced once more as I put weight on my ankle. Again, Dimitri's firm grasp on my arm kept me upright, and I used his grip like a crutch as we walked to the doors of the building.
At the door, Dimitri pulled a lanyard that had been concealed under his secret-service looking suit shirt, and used a card with his name and photo on it to swipe through a strip reader. The door hummed and a heavy bolt clicked and he opened the door wide, motioning for me to go inside the ominous feeling building.
As I hobbled through the door, Dimitri stepped around me and walked swiftly forward across the dark black, shiny tiles that reflected the vaulted ceiling. Around the perimeter of the room stood potted ficus trees in three foot intervals. The ceiling looked gold-painted. Dimitri, however, seemed to look at none of this, but sped directly to a desk that was built into the wall at the far side of the spacious room. A young blonde Time Watcher stood behind the desk, smiling benignly in our direction.
"Mr. Pyre," she said, "What can I do for you today?"
"I need a guest pass for our unregistered friend here," he answered waving toward me in a grand gesture. "We're here upon the Elder's request," he added.
"So this is Nick Carter?" she asked, nodding and smiling in my direction as I finally reached the desk. How the hell does she know my name? I wondered stupidly. Oh. Duh, Nick. Pretty much everyone who was breathing in the 90's does, you idiot.
"Yes it is," Dimitri answered flatly.
The girl's fingers flew over a keyboard that was inlaid to the fancy wooden desk. "Full name?" she asked me mechanically.
"Um..Nickolas Gene Carter," I said, "The Nickolas is with a K..."
She pointed up at a small black square in the wall behind her before I'd even finished talking. "Look there," she said.
I looked, and a bright flash of light indicated I'd had my picture taken.
A few more clicks and a large, odd looking printer on the counter behind her hummed to life and started printing and cutting something. She pulled opened a drawer and removed a scarlet red lanyard. A small rectangle spilled out of the machine and she turned and picked it up, strung the lanyard through a hole in the top, and held it out to me. "Wear this the entire time you're in the ministry," she commanded. She turned to Dimitri, "They're in the waiting room on level 32."
"Thank you, Miss. Peters," Dimitri replied smoothly. Then, he took hold of my arm once more and pulled me in the direction of a bay of elevators to our right as I yanked the lanyard on over my head. I glanced at it. It bore a startled-looking photo of me, my name, and the words Unregistered Time Watcher, Guest below that.
When the elevator door had closed, sealing Dimiri and I into the cubical alone, I turned to him, supporting myself with the handles that framed the elevator car. "What do the Elders want?" I asked.
"Let's just say that you're being very... conspicuous," he answered, "And they need that stopped."
"Conspicuous?" I asked, confused. "What?"
"I'm not at liberty to talk about it," he intoned blandly.
"Oh," I said, defeated.
Silence fell over us as Dimitri stood, bulky and silent, arms cross across his chest, and I realized he reminded me of a straight-laced bodyguard from the Backstreet Boy tour we'd just completed.
When the elevator door opened to reveal a corridor, we stepped out and I thrust my hand out to balance against the wall as my ankle cried out for me to stop using it so much. Dimitri acted as though he did not notice this motion, and simply began walking down the hall to the right of the elevator.
I limped along behind him until he stopped at the second-to-last door on the left and waited. "Go ahead," he said when I caught up. He motioned at the door. "Do not keep the Elders waiting."
"Aren't you coming with me?" I asked him. As strange and straight as he'd been, he still exuded a comforting feeling now that I'd seen a bit of our bodyguard in his personality. He was, additionally, the only one I'd seen before. I was afraid of what was on the other side of the door.
"No," he answered, "I am not permitted. You must go alone. I will be here to escort you to your hotel room following your time with the Elders, if all goes well."
If all goes well? That sounds promising.
I took a deep breath, though, and turned to face the door. "Ready?" Dimitri asked.
No. "Yes." I answered.
He pushed opened the door, and I hobbled inside, afraid of what I was about to learn.