“Oh my God,” I muttered.
I then started flipping through her family photos and found a wallet-sized portrait of an older version of the man whom twenty years earlier I had called Captain Warren, only in this photo he was much grayer and wore the uniform of a colonel. I continued to flip through the photos and found a snapshot of Mystery Lady standing on a tropical beach with Captain Warren/Colonel Warren. They wore bathing suits, and as they smiled for the camera they leaned romantically against one another. Although her hair in the photo was longer, her image here as compared to her present appearance told me the photo was as recent as five years, maybe less. She also looked quite good in a one-piece bathing suit and I lamented she hadn’t opted for a two-piece. I noticed he looked pretty good himself with no shirt on, although certainly older than when I knew him.
You came highly recommended, she had said to me earlier.
A flood of questions overpowered my mind, and the one that pushed its way to the forefront was:
“Is he really dead now?” and I asked it right out loud.
I flipped through the remaining photos and found one more item that answered my question: it was a “memorial prayer card.” That’s a laminated photo of a deceased loved one inscribed with either a prayer or a scripture and often handed out by the surviving family not long after the funeral. The photo on this memorial card was the same wallet-sized portrait of Colonel Warren I had found a moment earlier. According to the years indicating “birth” and “death” on the card, he had only recently died in that very calendar year. The scripture was a brief quote from the twenty-third Psalm: “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.”
The quest of helping Mystery Lady -- or Catherine, as I now knew her real name to be -- became far more urgent now. His wife! She’s his wife! One of the best men that I over met had married one of the best women that I ever met. I felt a sudden obligation to do my damndest in helping her, especially so soon after his death. I now reasoned that if I could somehow find in this place a live transmission zone allowing a cellular connection I could call for help on her Blackberry.
I pocketed her keys, the Blackberry, and her drivers license, then left her purse sitting by the computer. I ran from the control room, racing for the break room, hoping for an alternate exit somewhere in that hallway. I found nothing but a janitor’s closet and an electrical room. While still in the break room I glanced at the Blackberry, but there was no signal there either. I resolved to return to the stairs and climb until I could achieve a cell phone signal.
Once in the stairwell, I again checked the Blackberry. Nothing. So I braced myself and resumed my upward climb. It was another six flights up those merciless stairs until I found another doorway. This one was marked “SB-3.”
Exhausted and gasping for air, I staggered over to this still-closed door and leaned against it. I held off on opening the door so I could glance at the Blackberry -- again no reception. I snorted and tried the doorknob. It opened. I entered into pitch blackness and dead silence. All I saw was the dagger of light from my opened door casting down upon a pale tiled floor similar to the tiles in the break room. As I pushed forward, I again triggered a motion sensor and the overhead lights came on. I found myself in a very long, vanilla-colored hallway. The width was massive enough for two cars side-by-side to comfortably drive down, and the ceiling rose about thirty feet above where pipes and vents lined it in complex paths and connections. I recognized the sizes, thicknesses, and materials used in all the pipes and vents, and I was pretty sure I correctly knew which was which as far as heating, air conditioning, water, sewer, and fire sprinklers. I next saw a large garage-style door almost directly in front of me, tall enough for a bus to drive through. Beside it sat a normal “people door.” A wall sign between them both read “Munitions Room.”
-------------------End of Chapter 9-b--------------------