Pierce stood there for a moment looking at the vial in his hand as Adrian Belle walked away. He examined the pink liquid with a haze coming off of it, the cork keeping it all inside the glass.

He put the vial in one of his suit jacket's inner pockets and walked up to the apartment complex and through the front door. There were elevators, but they all either had an "Out of Order" sign or looked like they should. He looked around and saw there were no security cameras. That was a plus in his book. He walked down the long hall to the stairwell. On his way, an old man came out of an apartment and glared at him as they walked past each other. I look out of place, he thought as he unconsciously adjusted his nice suit jacket, his suit being the only nice clothing he had. He wished he had worn something that stood out less, just in case he was actually pulling off a hit.

He began his long walk up the stairs to the seventeenth floor. As he was on the final climb between floors sixteen and seventeen, he heard talking in the hallway ahead. It was a conversation between two tenants about something, he couldn't make out what. He waited, his heart beating heavily in his chest. They continued talking. Then they talked some more. A door opened several floors below him, and he heard footsteps beginning to climb. They kept climbing. He realized they were probably coming to the top floor. He couldn't just stand there waiting for the conversation to end at this point; he had to make a move.

He walked with an air of confidence up the rest of the stairs and into the hallway. He nodded at the conversing couple as he walked by. The way they looked at each other, they were definitely in love. The man turned to Pierce with a smile as he passed and said, "Hi!"

Pierce walked to the other end of the hall, where he saw the vent. He turned briefly toward the man, "How's it going?"

"Fine. How are you?"

The man who had come up the stairs behind Pierce entered his apartment.

"Terrific..." Pierce said, feeling ironic.

The questioning man, now disengaged from the conversation with his girl, walked up behind Pierce as he was looking at the vent cover that he had to remove.

"So, uh, who are you?" the man asked.

"Mmm...Maintenance man."

"Why are you in a suit?"

Pierce sighed. Was this man going to pester him all the way through this job? "I didn't have time to change after my other job."

"Ah, okay." There was a brief awkward pause. "So what are you fixing?" Pierce hated this.

"The landlord says this vent needs a look."

"Oh." He really hoped this guy wasn't the landlord. "Do you have a work order?"

Why is this guy so curious? "I do, but I didn't have time to pick it up from my place on the way over."

"Tools?"

"Same deal. Landlord said there is a tool bag somewhere?"

"Oh yeah, but that's in the supply room off the main lobby." Pierce let out a sigh and wiped the nervous sweat from his brow.

The man looked him over with a questioning look on his face. Suddenly he said, "Your last job must have you beat. Here, I'll go down and get it for you."

Pierce couldn't believe it. "Thanks," he said, and meant it. The man walked to the stairwell and began his decent. His girl followed him out.

Pierce breathed a sigh of relief. This might work. He took out his multi-tool pocket knife and opened up the screwdriver. He unscrewed the four screws holding the grille in place as quickly as he could, then set the grille to the side. He put his head inside the vent, the cool air from the system hitting the side and back of his head as he looked for the vent that led to 17A. It was a lot higher than he had hoped, though not higher than he had expected. He knew that there was no way he could nicely set the bottle down up there. If the vent opening were big enough for him to get through and stand on the ledge with his whole body inside the vent, that would be a different story. He stood there nervously, wondering what to do. He considered whether or not he could use his shoelaces to tie his wrist and the bottle together and make a toss, and if the vial didn't make it he could try again. But he decided he would look highly suspicious if he got caught with his shoelaces off, and he had no idea how much time he had: someone could come up the stairwell or out of an apartment at any minute. Eventually he decided to just go for it.

He took out his handkerchief and secured it around the glass bottle. He weighed the bottle in his hand to get a feel for it, then uncorked it, putting his thumb over the top. He reached his whole arm into the vent, and lobbed the bottle in an arc that would give it enough horizontal momentum so that it would make a minimal amount of noise. There was a soft metallic thud as the open bottle made it into the shaft leading to 17A. Pierce breathed a brief sigh of relief and quickly began putting the grille back. As he was finishing with the last screw, he heard quick steps in the stairwell.

The man was back with the tool bag. He handed it to Pierce. "You went up and down the stairs pretty fast," Pierce said, everything in its proper place.

"Yeah, well, I like to keep in shape," the man smiled. His girl came out of the stairwell with a glass of water and handed it to Pierce. He accepted and took a drink. These people may be annoying, but I guess they've made up for it, he thought.

He handed the empty glass to the woman and put the bag on the ground and pulled out a screwdriver. He began unscrewing the grille again. "There was supposed to be an odd sound coming from in here when the system is blowing, but I haven't heard a thing." He set the grille aside once more and stuck his head through the opening, looking around. He then withdrew, and began screwing the grille back on. "There's nothing I can see that would be causing it, and I haven't heard anything strange."

"I guess there's nothing you can do then?" the man asked him.

"Yup." He put the screwdriver in the bag. "Thanks for your help, you two."

"Absolutely," the man said, and Pierce shook their hands.

"Take care," the man said as Pierce entered the stairwell.

************

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Pierce walked out of the building and sighed, happy that such a crazy scenario ended well. He looked around for Adrian, but did not see her. He walked a little ways and saw her in an alley between two old buildings picking up what looked like a dead rat and putting it in her purse. Pierce shook his head in disgust. As she turned around, she saw him and waved to him with a smile. She walked over to him and asked, "So, how did it go?"

"It's done," he said. Then he walked her home.


Next: Missing Person

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