It was 1:10pm as I ran down the main hallway of our building's eleventh floor, fleeing from the accounting firm where I work at. Two police detectives chased after me, most likely trying to recover the two gold medals everyone thought I stole from Derek. Derek still hadn't shown for work yet.
I could hear the two cops sprinting behind me: the female Detective Vuotto who resembled a skinny giant, and the male Detective Mallory who resembled a squat tomato. I turned a corner, yanked a ventilation grate off the wall and hopped inside the duct, quickly positioning the grate back into place. Crouched down on all fours in the low space, I spied through the grate's slats and saw the detectives race past, ignorant of where I had just disappeared to.
I had to get out of this building. They would have it surrounded any minute now. Maybe I could find a way out through an unseen ventilation duct. I crawled forward in the silver duct tunnel. Suddenly, I smelled smoke. Were they trying to smoke me out? I turned a corner and was surprised to come across Charisse, an accountant from my office, sitting and hauling on a cigarette beside a grate.
CHARISSE: Eric... What are you doing in here?
ME: I'm on the run from the cops. But better yet, what are you doing here?
CHARISSE: That's my cubicle down there.
Charisse pointed at the grate beside her.
CHARISSE: I just come up here for my smoke break since we can't smoke inside or anywhere near the building anymore.
ME: That's crazy.
Charisse pointed ahead, down the tunnel. I saw grizzled, grumpy Howard by another grate, Don by another, and Dot by yet another, and all were smoking. They all waved at me. I waved back, coughing.
ME: Damn, no wonder it's always smoky around my cubicle. It's like a bingo hall some mornings.
CHARISSE: All the smokers come up here. Even Sheila.
ME: But she's our boss. And this ventilation shaft is supposed to provide us with fresh air. Not give us lung cancer!
Charisse nonchalantly pulled another drag from her cigarette. I have to admit: she never looked cooler.
CHARISSE: Sue me.
ME: Well, I don't have time. The cops are all after me. Get out of my way, please. They want to take my gold medals away.
I clutched the two gold medals around my neck.
ME: And I'll give up my own freedom and basic human rights before I let that happen.
CHARISSE: The cops aren't after you because of the medals. They think you did something to Derek.
I stopped and turned back to her.
ME: I may want him to be really sad and all alone for the rest of his life, or abducted, or pay someone to...
I made quotation marks with my fingers here.
ME: "get rid of him for good"
I winked at Charisse twice, very quickly, so she'd catch my drift.
ME: for no better reason than I don't like how everyone likes him and he's perfect, but that doesn't make me a bad person.
CHARISSE: I didn't say you were a bad person.
ME: You just make it sound like I'm jealous of him or something.
CHARISSE: You didn't do something to him, did you?
ME: Where would I find the time? I'm too busy thinking about him all the time.
CHARISSE: Really? You didn't hurt him?
ME: Why are you so worried? Who cares?
CHARISSE: Everyone does. That's why I needed a cigarette. I don't know what I'd do if anything happened to Derek.
ME: I hate Derek. I despise him from the bottom of my very being.
CHARISSE: What does that mean?
ME: Means I wish he was dead. But I'm not going to jail for something I didn't do. Nor am I giving up my medals. I'm going to find out what really happened to Derek and clear my name, and save my medals.
I crawled away, through the thick smoke, coughing a few more times. Past Howard, Don and Dot, more people climbed into the duct from other offices, lighting their cigarettes.
ME: Can you guys stop puffing for a minute? Jeeze, I can barely see where I'm going.
The duct started to wobble, as even more people climbed aboard.
ME: Guys, I think there's too many people up in here.
SOME ANGRY SMOKER: This is what we all have to live with now, so shut your mouth!
ANOTHER SMOKER: Yeah, shut it!
I couldn't see anymore. All I saw was smoke. Then I couldn't breathe.
HOWARD: This is paradise, ain't it guys? Like the staff lounge back in the seventies.
ME: Everybody, please, put your cigarettes out! I'm think I'm dying!
Everyone laughed at me.
And that's when the ventilation duct collapsed, and everyone screamed at the top of their lungs.
My head bounced on something hard on my way down. I think it was a toilet, because I heard someone screaming below me a split second before, and then flushing.
I looked up as the debris and dust settled. I was in the women's washroom. There was now a huge hole in the ceiling, and a woman unconscious under me. I jumped up and ran out, as smokers everywhere dusted themselves off.
HOWARD (angry): Great, now I guess it's back to the patch!