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THE TALK around the security desk all morning at the Imperiatum at Fifth Avenue and Sixty-eighth Street was of the astounding return, way late last night, of the mythical Preston Fareweather. He'd showed up after four in the morning with some other guy and enough luggage for a 747, all of which the staff, including security(!), had had to wrestle up to the penthouse, using the public elevator in front and not his private elevator in the back. In fact, nobody had used the private elevator at all.

So now, Big Jos'e and Little Jos'e, all ears, at last learned the story of that elevator they'd seen at the back of Fareweather's penthouse. It didn't go to some other apartment in the building for hot sex after all, but all the way down to a garage at street level.

So whadaya thinka that? In addition to everything else he's got, Preston Fareweather's got his own elevator to his own garage, in which he keeps a really cool BMW.

Well, it was nice to know the truth about the elevator, though it was a shame to lose the fantasies about that hot TV news anchor. On the other hand, this return of the prodigal Preston Fareweather meant some distinct changes in the work lives of the Jos'es. As Little Jos'e pointed out, "You don't get to coop up there in his living room no more, man."

"I loved that eight-foot sofa," Big Jos'e said, because he did have trouble finding comfortable places in the world where he could stretch out his long frame.

Another change was that, with the owner's return, it would no longer be necessary to do the twice-a-month security sweep of the penthouse. But that was okay. At first, going through that place had been kind of exciting, with its great views and all the art and the furniture, but of course every time they went up there, it was the same views and art and furniture, so after a while, no matter how great it was, it did get a little boring. They could remember the place pretty well by now; they didn't need to go on seeing it every two weeks.

Besides which, the other boring, repetitive parts of the job were still active, so not that much had changed. For instance, at noon they had to go out and walk around to the two doctors' offices with separate entrances on Sixty-eighth Street and pick up whatever hazmat the doctors had assembled since yesterday. All of this material, radioactive or disease-ridden or whatever, heavily wrapped in protective plastics, the two Jos'es would, as usual, carry around to the special safe in the back room behind the security desk, from where it would be picked up in the afternoon by the people from the special company that had the legal permits and the facilities to dispose of the crap. Until some new hires came along, this would continue to be a part of the Jos'es' daily duty, and they couldn't help but think, why not drop the hazmat and keep the penthouse tour?

But no. At noon today, the two Jos'es left the Imperiatum, out onto Fifth Avenue, and walked around the corner onto Sixty-eighth Street, toward the doctors' offices. They were almost to the first entrance when they heard a sudden rasping sound they didn't recognize, out ahead of them, and then saw that the garage door in the next building was lifting.

It hit them both at the same time. That wasn't their building, it was the next building, but that had to be Preston Fareweather's garage! So, the first day home, he was taking his BMW out for a spin.

Poised at the doctor's threshold, they waited, watching as the garage door very slowly lifted, waiting to see both the BMW and the fabled owner of that penthouse.

But what came out first was obviously neither. Three guys emerged, ducking under the rising garage door, and walked briskly away down Sixty-eighth Street. All three of them were guys, the Jos'es knew, who would never get past security in the front of the building, so what were they doing coming out of the back of the building, and coming out through territory that belonged to the richest guy in the building?

The garage door opened to the top, and there now backed out, springs sluggish as though it were very full, a white Ford truck, a pretty big one with what must be a sixteen-foot box, so it must have crammed that garage from end to end. In the cab of the truck were two guys wearing yellow hard hats, which didn't make any sense, because for once there was absolutely no construction going on in this neighborhood.

The truck backed into the street in a half-turn as the garage door began to lower. The truck headed off down Sixty-eighth Street, and Little Jos'e said, "Take a look at that license plate."

So Big Jos'e did: pf won.

"That's no commercial plate," Little Jos'e said. "That truck's gotta have a commercial plate. Jos'e, there's something wrong."

Big Jos'e already had the cell phone in his hand. The local precinct was on his speed-dial, and when the bored voice answered, he said, "This is Jos'e Carreras, security at the Imperiatum."

"How can I help you?"

"There's a white Ford truck just left this building with a New York license plate PF space WON. I think that license plate is supposed to be on a BMW instead, and there's something funny going on."

"You want me to run the plate? Hold on."

The NYPD's hold music was the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," which didn't seem right somehow, but it was more pleasant than listening to perky female voices keep you up to date on local parking regulations. Besides which, it wasn't that long before the original cop came back:

"You're right, that tag is assigned to a four-year-old BMW Series One."

"Owned," Big Jos'e said, "by Preston Fareweather."

"That's right."

"The truck just turned off Sixty-eighth onto Madison," Big Jos'e said, "and Preston Fareweather just came home to his penthouse in the Imperiatum last night after a long absence. I think you might want to stop that truck and send some people over here."

"They're on their way."

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