The sky was grey, and it was graveyard cold that dreadful day. Sitting by the ice rink at Rockefeller Center had an equally chilling effect on me psychologically. I wasn’t really excited to be waiting for an as yet unknown contact to set me on the path to certain infamy – and probable death. I didn’t even know the specifics of the operation the terrorists had in mind, and to be honest I didn’t want to. If I had my way I would be listening to ‘Mountain Sprout’ or ‘The Black Crowes’ up in the high Sierra country. So much for that. I hadn’t even smoked any pot in the week since I had been abducted, and my anxiety was through the roof. I’m surprised I didn’t get stopped-and-frisked by the NYPD simply on account of my nervous and shaky appearance. Alas, I’m a Caucasian. No such bad luck.
Pigeons gathered around my feet. I wonder if they also got a kick out of the attire my abductors told me to wear to identify me to my New York contact. The orange Crocs in November, if nothing else, painted a picture of ridiculous fashion tragedy. I couldn’t help but curse myself for wearing socks with them, but it was terribly chilly. My mind was spinning triple overtime trying to figure out a way out of all of this. The more I thought, the less I knew. I was sure I was being followed at every turn. Newly familiar faces kept popping up around every corner. As a mental exercise I tried to make notes of who might be among my captors based on repeat encounters on the street, but then I realized that there was a good chance that I was also already marked and being watched by government agents who knew of my political activities. The world is watching, right Owen?
The upcoming banking conference had drawn a thousand or so protesters from the movement. I could see some of them hanging out and drawing up their signs with magic markers on scrap cardboard. The obvious became even more apparent. They would use me and my association to discredit the peaceful resistance movement. I was definitely linked in. My name was probably pretty high on the database in California due to organizing some recent port shutdowns with the labor unions, and I’d already had plenty of run-ins with the feds and their affiliates more than once back on the West Coast. Did they know me here? I glanced at the security camera mounted on the traffic light post with a white computer box flashing beneath it at regular intervals, probably doing the yeoman’s work of facial recognition. The two men on the park bench across the plaza with terminally square haircuts wearing beige trench coats, suits and shades didn’t even bother to hide their attention to me and the other protesters, rapidly taking notes on their smartphones and snapping pictures of everyone in sight. Of course they knew me here. Privacy died on 9/11.
I was on the verge of screaming out my plight to the world when a homeless guy walked up. I figured he was going to hit me up for some spare change, or worse yet want to use my phone ‘for just a minute.’ A chance to give charity one last time before dying, Lord? He had the standard issue homeless parka with burn holes down the front and obligatory mystery stains on his ragged trousers. A pair of mismatched boots completed the ensemble. Snot was crusted in his beard and he seemed insane, drunk, or more likely both. The shambling denizen swayed up the sidewalk toward me. His request was anything other than what I expected.
“You be Owen Reynolds, right,” he rasped, reeking of cheap whiskey and stale cigarettes, “The nice man give me twenty bucks, he say bring you with me. So you goin-ah come with me now, k cuz?” A drunken Cajun in Yankee land? Surely. My moment of mirth dissipated when he lifted his parka high enough for me to see a pistol tucked into his waistband.
“What the…ok then,” I sighed. The situation got weirder and more desperate with each passing minute.
I followed “random homeless guy” for a few blocks until we reached that infamous lineup of sex shows and adult novelty shops that the discerning American consumer can only find in the largest metropolises. Halfway up the block we approached the one called ‘Sheer Desire’ and my escort left me at the door to enter alone. The place was stocked with the usual array of sex toys and lingerie. A faded sign proclaimed, “‘Largest Selection of Vibrators In Manhattan.” (Do people really ‘comparison shop’ these joints? I doubt it.) As soon as I made my way to the counter I heard a lock pop on the front door, likely electronic, and the front of the store went incredibly dim. Approaching the counter in the half-light I didn’t even notice that the clerk was actually a heavily pierced mannequin. The thing was remarkably life-like. Perhaps a new top of the line sex doll. The frozen expression of “O” in the mouth sealed the deal.
“You’ll find everything you need in the box under my feet.”
The voice came from the mannequin. It didn’t have the rough or scratchy affect of most computer generated vox programs. It was pleasant. Nearly human. Techno wonders never cease, do they?
I pushed through the swinging door at the end of the counter and saw that the mannequin’s feet were indeed resting crossed upon a large black footlocker. There were notes attached to the side and back of the box. The one on the side simply said, “Pull.” These people left nothing to chance, and maybe that was a large part of their psychosis. Unable to accept the stark reality of the world, they were prepared to implement their will through massacre, using me (an avowed pacifist) as an instrument of death. The level of dysfunction that would drive people to such desperate lengths escapes me. I’m pretty easy-going, after all.
I pulled on the appropriate handle and the box slid from under the plastic feet smoothly toward me until I was able to read the note on what turned out to actually be the front of the footlocker. The note on this side said in similar simple instructions, “Open.” Somewhere in their dossier they must have found my college transcripts and mistakenly assumed I was a simpleton. It’s whatever.
I opened the footlocker gingerly, expecting to be vaporized by a bomb or shocked to death by a jack-in-the-box. Maybe this was still all just the world’s biggest practical joke, on me. No such luck. Still alive but wishing I wasn’t, I peered inside. The contents appeared fairly innocuous. A suit and a briefcase. Ok. The note on the briefcase was just as informative as the first two on the footlocker, yet chillingly different.
“DO NOT OPEN.”