Marco realized his connection to Priyanka was lost less than a minute after she did, but there was nothing he could do about it. There was no appreciable change in the noise or motion of his ride, so he didn’t imagine it was part of a deliberate attempt to shake Priyanka. He could only hope that she maintained visual contact or had found some other means by which to track his movements.
Less than a half hour after Marco lost connection, Zhou parked and resumed carrying the valise as she walked. She stopped once to talk to someone briefly, but Marco couldn’t make out Zhou’s muffled words, let alone those of her interlocutor.
Another five-minute stroll and the valise came to a vertiginous and abrupt rest. When Marco hadn’t heard anything for two minutes, he started on getting the zipper open from the inside. When he had created an opening large enough for him and his gear, he emerged into a partially lit room.
The valise was resting on an upper shelf of a business desk unit in what Marco guessed was Zhou’s office. He could detect no one else in the room. It wouldn’t be too difficult to use his gear to descend the shelves to the floor, but he would be pretty conspicuous to anyone who entered the room.
Then Marco noticed an air vent about 10 subjective feet from the edge of the shelf. The gratings were wide enough for Marco to slip through and pull his pack after him. He didn’t know precisely what he was looking for or how long it would take him to find it, and moving out of sight and with an elevated perspective seemed very attractive.
He swung his grappling hook and line and easily caught the grating. He pulled himself up and through the grating, then pulled the line and pack up.
It was difficult for Marco to navigate through the ducts; twice he thought he had come to a new room only to determine that he was looking at the previous room from a second vent. He didn’t find any connection to upper or lower floors, so he assumed he was in a single-storey building.
After surveying two more non-descript offices and a supply room, all unoccupied, Marco looked out of a vent into a sumptuously decorated lounge. Rich wood paneling with baroque finishing surrounded an antique table, a four-poster bed, and two leather-upholstered high-backed chairs. In one of these last reclined a middle-aged man that somehow seemed familiar to Marco, although he couldn’t immediately place him. The man was having a drink, apparently alone.
Marco tried to crane his head out of the vent to get a better look at the man’s face, but the grating was loose and Marco tumbled out. His fall was halted by a wall fixture about a foot beneath the vent. The fixture was concave at the tip and hollow, and now it contained Marco, concealing him from view.
Marco held still, checking himself for injuries and praying his descent hadn’t been noticed. After a minute, he decided to stand and peek at the man, who remained oblivious to Marco. The wall fixture seemed to be some sort of rococo sconce, purely ornamental but which afforded Marco a wide perspective on the room. Neither of his escape options were very inviting. Climbing a line either back up to the vent or down to the floor would expose him for a dauntingly long time.
Marco looked again at the man holding the drink. He was sharply dressed, and he kept looking at the door. Marco knew this guy was some kind of celebrity, but he still hadn’t identified him when the door opened.