I started running, skipping two and three steps at a time. And when I got to the first landing I found no door at all, just a blank wall. This unnerved me. Why was there no door? No floor to exit onto? But then when I recalled the height of the catwalk above, and the array of oil tanks below, I realized the catwalk was far too high for there to be any doors at all this soon in the progression of stairs. It would easily be a full three or even four stories yet before I’d hit the level of that catwalk. So I just kept climbing.
Level after level I climbed, blind landing after blind landing, and there were still no exit doors, just a blank concrete wall. By the third landing I was exhausted. No longer skipping stairs I plodded onward, my lungs heaving for breath. By the fifth level I found a door. It was marked “SB-4-A.”
I grabbed the doorknob and prayed it wasn’t locked.
It opened and I stepped out onto the catwalk beside the elevator doors she and I first emerged from earlier. Breathlessly I staggered toward the pipe railing, ignoring the spectacle of the tank array, and then I ran to my left along the railing and into the darkened control room with its sleeping computer monitors.
I hit the lights and looked around. All of the work stations sat vacant and unattended, their monitors softly glowing with screensavers, their keyboard trays all tucked under the counters, their rolling office chairs all pushed in … all except for one. The chair of that one rogue work station waited loosely to one side, the keyboard tray hung all the way out, and her purse sat beside the monitor with her Blackberry next to it.
I ran to the Blackberry and snatched it up. I started to dial 911 but then I stopped. She had insisted no ambulance crew was to come down and see this facility. After contemplating her preference for barely three seconds, I rolled my eyes and muttered: “Screw that! She needs an ambulance, dammit!” Then I finished dialing 911.
I held the phone to my ear and waited to hear the first ring. But instead it beeped out a disagreeable and discordant tone. I pulled the phone away from my ear and beheld the screen displaying the dreaded words: “No signal.”
I slammed the phone down to the counter again.
Next I sat at the computer and jiggled the mouse to disengage the screensaver. But all I found was a pop up widow prompting for a password. Through gritted teeth I tried to bypass the password requirement, but to no avail: it unbudgingly demanded a password.
I tried the other computers, and they all demanded passwords.
I looked around the room and spotted a neat and orderly row of a half-dozen old-fashioned wall-mounted telephones with long spiraling phone cords. I ran to them and picked up the first phone: no dial tone. I hit some buttons, and even tried hitting “9” to get an outside line, but still got no dial tone. I slammed that phone back onto its hook again and moved on to the next phone. It was dead as well. I went down the line of phones, trying them all. But all were lifeless.
I went back to her purse again and started searching through it. I unzipped and emptied every last internal compartment. I found makeup, a wallet, a paper address book, tampons, pens, and a set of keys with a round flat leather key fob shaped like a disk. I searched the many keys of her key ring, looking for a possible duplicate to the elevator key, but all I found were a few house keys, a Mercedes car key, and other smaller keys, none of which bore the distinctive shape of that round-barreled elevator key. I was about to put the keys back into the purse again when I changed my mind and decided to keep them in case they came in handy with any doors I might encounter. I held them up to give them one last look before pocketing them, but then I froze.
The thick round flat leather key fob caught my attention.
The fob had an easily peeled-back flap which covered over an inner-pocket where a round and shiny treasure lay tucked inside. That inner pocket was designed as a semi-circle of leather which half-way covered a large silver-looking coin that was perfectly fitted to the dimensions of the leather fob --or perhaps it was the leather fob that was perfectly fitted to dimensions of the coin. Even though I could only see half the coin while it sat in the pocket, I still recognized it.
I slipped the coin from that inner pocket and held it up … yes … it was exactly what I knew it to be. It read “Operation Desert Shield -- Iraq -- 1990 -- The Desert Rat Squad.” I flipped it over and beheld the cartoon image of a grinning rat wearing flight shades, a flack jacket, an army helmet, and sporting a machine gun over his shoulder.
After being sufficiently stunned by this, I went back into her purse and found her wallet. I bypassed the cash and the platinum cards and went straight for her Pennsylvania drivers license: she was 39 years old and her name was Catherine Warren.
-------------------End of Chapter 9-a--------------------