AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 209
The hinges of the door into the toilet are well-oiled. No creaking. Aggie slides in through the narrow gap she creates, picks a cubicle, sits, pisses. She washes her hands, looks at herself in the mirror, the black hair and eyebrows and eyelashes still unfamiliar. She smiles, looks down at her enormous hands, breathes in and out slowly. She has no nerves, just the desire to finish whatever this part of the trial is. She slings her backpack over her shoulder, pulls the lanyard over her head, so it hangs from her, a child-made necklace of nothings. She opens the door slowly, looks down the short corridor. Still no-one else in view. Strange they keep the place open so late if it’s always so deserted. She turns left to where the back door should be. There. It’s not alarmed. She pushes it open, gently, quietly, doesn’t want to wake the underemployed Rochelle from her half slumber. Fresh air. The back yard is claustrophobic, the buildings rising into the night air, the blackness of the night where even the city lights don’t seem to reach. She covers the distance to the back of Blair House in two strides. A metal box by the door. She holds the pass up to the box. A quiet click. Understated. And she’s in.
The place is warm, thick carpet muffling the sound of any sound her feet might make, although she knows she is moving noiselessly. It reminds her of the home in Norwich, although she knows, from the plans Marion and Bill showed her earlier, that it’s a much grander place. She ignores what she knows to be state apartments upstairs, ignores what’s further along the corridor she’s standing in; kitchens, grand reception rooms, all empty, all deserted now that there’s a war on, now that the President isn’t receiving guests, ready to fly away at any moment to bring together his allies, to try to bring some western alliance together without having to depress that imagined button that will send the world headlong into its own destruction.
Aggie runs her hands along the seemingly seamless wooden panelling on the wall. Her fingers, hypersensitive, are looking for cracks, hidden pressure points, some lever, some mechanism. She takes her time, all the time alert, in her toe tips, ready to turn and fight and be fought, and to win bloodlessly, because that’s the only way she ever wants to win. An inaudible click, inaudible to anyone but her. She presses down harder on the spot it came from, and a narrow sliver of the wall moves out towards her. A musty scent released into the noble space she stands in, in the dark, her eyes wide open, her nostrils flaring. She disappears into the hollow, pulls the wing of wood closed behind her.
No carpet on the floor here now. Another few steps, and a flight of stairs leading down into the unknown. Another deep breath, the flexing of muscles in shoulders, abdomen, arms, thighs and calves. As ready as ever. She follows the stairs downwards, counting. A hundred. A hundred and fifty. Two hundred. Her ears feel the pressure rising, enclosing, growing. Two hundred and fifty. And she reaches even ground again. It’s cool down here. Cool and silent, and barren. Onwards. She won’t stop. There will be a row of lights in the ceiling, but she doesn’t need them. Her eyes see the way ahead. Her reckoning tells her it’s about two hundred yards to the White House. She expects a turn in the tunnel to take her southeast, to take her right to the centre of government here. She just doesn’t know what’s waiting for her there, nor what she’ll find to help her, Cassie, and the world.