As I stood wide-eyed, taking all this in, I heard her ask: "Do we still have a deal?"
Still fearful of being forever owned, I shrugged with a quiet laugh to hide my ill-ease. "I'm here. Let's do this."
She smiled with the tiniest hint of relief in her exhale. Then she reached into her car door and pulled out her purse and the jacket that matched the hat. While donning her jacket she strolled to the open elevator, nodding for me to follow. I fell in step behind her, and when she paused just outside the open elevator without entering, I also paused. I watched her reach out her hand to the call button panel, but she didn’t press any buttons. Instead she withdrew from the panel a small, round-barreled key which I only just realized had been hanging in the button panel’s keyhole, awaiting our arrival. With key in hand she entered the elevator and I followed. I noticed the interior of this elevator wasn’t the small size of a typical office building elevator with just one set of sliding doors. Instead it was an elongated hospital-designed elevator with doors both front and back, and an interior large enough to fit a gurney into.
We each assumed elevator stances before the open doors. I glanced out at the limo, its driver sitting motionless with a near-blank gaze. Mystery Lady inserted the same key into the elevator’s unlit interior button panel. In response all the numbered buttons blinked just once then went dark again. She chose one button, pressed it, and the doors slid shut. Then the elevator started moving … down.
The key still in the panel, I studied the menu of buttons. It indicated over a half-dozen levels, marked with cryptic abbreviations. We had just left an upper level labeled "LB," and as we headed down we passed "SB-1," then "SB-2," and I could see that our target floor was the second-from-the-bottom level marked "SB-4-A," (and the very last level read “SB-4-B”). While I wasn't sure what "LB" stood for, I surmised each instance of "SB" probably meant "sub-basement." She said the tank was in “the basement” ... but a sub-sub-sub-sub-basement? And this was a private house?
I also noticed on the button panel a small sliding door about the size of a clipboard: the obligatory sliding panel for the elevator’s emergency telephone.
“You might want to turn around,” she said while doing exactly that herself. “We’ll be exiting at the rear.” I obliged and did likewise right as we reached SB-4-A.
The elevator stopped. During the brief hush of silence as we waited for the doors to open, I noticed her reach up and close her jacket’s collar tightly against her throat.
The doors opened before us and revealed total blackness. A sudden inrushing of cold air hit my face and body as if we’d opened the door of a large commercial refrigerator. The lights in the elevator ceiling above shone downward and out through the now-open doors onto a grey concrete floor.
-------------------End of Chapter 5-b--------------------