The bright light loomed off-center, to my right, behind the table where the computer-typing man sat. It kept me from seeing much of anything, especially faces. I turned my head away from its glare and heat. Squinting, I barely discerned that the table where the Computer Man sat, just a few feet in front of me, was made of wood. Off to my left I saw a tiny red light hanging in the air. I squinted hard at the red light, trying to get a better glimpse. I finally figured out the red light came from the front of an actively recording video camera, mounted atop a tripod.
*** *** *** ***
Mrs. Jones and I entered the limo and it pulled away. I’d been in limos before, but this was the first time the occasion wasn’t a prom, wedding, or funeral. I felt out of place in my blue work clothes, wishing I’d kept the jeans and leather jacket and brought the work clothes in a bag.
A frosted glass partition separated the driver from us, therefore I could see nothing beyond the partition, especially the road ahead. And the black tinting on the passenger windows was just a little too black, therefore (aside from blurring headlights) I could see nothing beyond the windows, especially the passing terrain. All this ultimately meant I couldn’t see where we were driving. As I processed this, the no-cell-phone thing made sense: no camera phones and no GPS. Thus it dawned on me I was being taken to a destination whose location would remain secret from me, even after I was (hopefully) returned to my van.
She opened a beverage bar and offered me my choice. My first thought was that any food or drink might be drugged. But the odd setup of the bar eased that suspicion. First, I saw no alcohol among the drink selections in spite of the presence of bar tending tools and stemware. I next saw a gaping gulf of empty space between the juice bottles and spring waters, suggesting many bottles of “something else” had only just gone AWOL. So I surmised she’d removed the alcohol bottles before picking me up, yet left all the bar tools and glasses in place. The lack of alcohol didn’t dismay or insult me since even if there had been booze, I would never take a drink right before a job. Instead, this kid-friendly selection reassured me she wasn’t out to drug me, only that she likewise preferred I not drink before the job. All this was just more evidence of the contract being real.
But still on my guard, I opted for a bottled spring water. “Mind if I help myself?” I asked. And without awaiting an answer I reached out and took a bottle on my own instead of letting my hostess do it. I popped the cap –- it was still factory sealed, assuring that nothing foreign had been put into it. Perhaps I was being silly, but at least I was safe. She smiled, completely overlooking my (deliberate) faux pas, and helped herself to her own bottled water.
It was quite a treat to have two bottled waters in one day. California was the first state to ban bottled water after the Ten Year Drought. That catastrophe of Mother Nature culminated in 2015 with the incineration of over 800,000 houses in three of their wealthiest counties --all in that one year. The angry push to get a handle on the state’s water supply came not just from wealthy homeowners but also from the powerful US insurance industry which threatened to cease insuring anymore houses throughout more than 18 of California’s most fire-prone counties. [Never mind the fact that the drought gutted their agricultural industry (California’s true money-maker, not Hollywood).] But then the equally-powerful US bottled water industry fought back, threatening class action lawsuits in the billions of dollars. California compromised by only banning the sale of water in bottles smaller than two liters, known as “personal sized” bottles. But then a year later in 2016, the governor of California went even further by seizing all aquifers, reservoirs, and river systems in the state, taking them out of the jurisdictions of local water commissions, and out of the hands of private companies (such as water bottling plants). The bottled water industry again mustered their lawyers. But because corn and soybean crops has been impacted, that ultimately meant ethanol contracts were threatened. And that’s when the federal government stepped in and upheld California’s actions. Over 38 other US states followed California’s example of both banning personal sized bottles of water, and also seizing ground water supplies. Thus the majority of states now had fierce water restrictions. Being in possession of a bottled water wasn’t illegal in Pennsylvania, merely the buying of it. So “gifts” of bottled water were still perfectly fine.
Over our drinks we resumed chatting. But as we bantered I covertly did my best to memorize the motion of the car. I was certain we were still on the same road as the diner. And I was also certain the limo had turned left when exiting the diner’s parking lot. I checked my watch and gauged the mileage, trying to estimate the distance so far.
The car slowed and we turned right. We now cruised atop a gravel surface at barely 15 miles per hour. The gravel road stayed fairly straight for the next five minutes. The windows were a solid black with not one glint of light.
Then the car jolted at a sudden upward bump in the road, but not a speed bump. Instead it felt like we’d abruptly tackled the brief ascent up a short ferry gangway. That bump marked the end of the crunching gravel and the start of a pristine smoothness. I also heard the car’s exterior sounds change in pitch to a high-pitched moan: we were traveling in a tunnel.
And then we stopped.
The engine went off. The electric door locks all popped up.
“We’re here now,” she smiled.
She opened her door and exited, beckoning me to do the same.
I emerged from my door onto the concrete floor of a large, windowless, warehouse-looking room -- like a subterranean parking garage minus the cars. The only light came from florescent industrial pendant lamps dangling overhead. The extreme height of the ceiling made it feel downright cavernous, and also made me reconsider the parking garage theory since parking garages have notoriously low ceilings.
There was nothing there but the limo, us, and two rows of thick rectangular support pillars for the roof, each row of pillars running along either side of the limo like two rows of trees flanking either side of a country lane.
The headlights of the limo shone forward upon a distant wall sporting a few random and unmarked utilitarian fire doors. The tail of the limo pointed back to the far off (and now closed) garage door we’d just driven through. Near our parking spot, to the left of the car and just beyond the left-side row of pillars, lay a pair of people-sized elevator doors. One elevator car sat open, empty, and waiting -- lit by its interior lights. To either side of the two elevators stood several more unmarked fire doors. As for the wall itself, that left-facing wall in which the two elevators were embedded continued forward past the nose of the limo for a few car lengths until it turned sharply to the left, so this massive warehouse was actually an L-shaped room. I could not see what lay around the bend of the left-turning arm of this giant letter “L,” but the markings on the floor told me vehicular traffic was part of the room’s design, and such traffic surely turned to the left on its way to … I couldn’t guess.
Out of curiosity, I stepped forward, past the nose of the limo, trying to get more of a view of what lay around that corner. I felt very bold in my unauthorized exploration, convinced at any moment she’d shout an angry command to stop snooping. But she didn’t. I sensed she was watching, yet I pressed onward, getting closer to the corner, taking in an ever-expanding view of the leftward bend and of the opposite grey wall where the headlights still shone.
After advancing far enough, I finally spotted something of interest. That opposite wall of the letter “L” which lay a staggering distance away had its own sole elevator mounted into it: a hulking freight elevator whose giant steel doors stood as tall as any highway underpass. The doors formed a near-perfect square, nestled into a titan-sized square doorframe bearing the diagonal black and yellow stripes typical of a heavy industrial facility. I stopped walking and beheld the doors in awe. Where the FUCK am I?
-------------------End of Chapter 5-a--------------------