I Was: Chapter 4.2 Would you like a cocktail.
By Wayne Hills
The guard led me to a custom trailer built to serve as the band’s mobile security center of operations. The single metal entry door opened into a small vestibule with another door that led into the main section of the trailer. Commonly known as a ‘man trap,’ its purpose, as the name implies, is to give a person access into the space so they could be vetted before being allowed passage through the inner doorway leading into the protected space. They work by only allowing one of the two doors to be opened at a time. The man trap operates the same way in both directions, someone would have to be granted entry into, or egress from, the trailer by either a valid access pass or manually by the trailer’s guard. Getting though one in either direction didn’t really help somebody trying to covertly enter or leave the trailer.
Through the small sliding window in the wall between the two doors I saw a console desk built in one side of the trailer with several small video screens mounted into its angled upper face. The opposite wall was covered floor to ceiling by a sheet screen. The video wall was split into multiple camera views of various areas around the Arts Center. It didn’t occur odd at the time, but the views were much different than those I saw on Inspector Byck’s monitors. They showed views of the parking areas, common hallways and many angles of the auditorium’s interior. The band’s cameras however, were aimed at bathroom doorways, the trailer I was presently standing in and the eerily empty hallway leading from the trailer’s door to the stage.
I announced myself to the uniformed guard through the window but since the overweight, crew cut police ‘wannabee’ sitting less than a few feet away from me hadn’t bothered to look up, never mind open the window, I had to announce myself several times before I got his attention. In fact it wasn’t until I tapped the glass with my REA badge that he acknowledged me at all with a single pointer finger in the air giving me the universal, ‘yeah, one sec pal’ salute
After several uncomfortable minutes, and a few unsuccessful tries at opening the inner door on my own, a well-dressed middle aged man came out of a mahogany door at the far end of the trailer. I saw the disinterested guard reach under his small desk and heard the inner door click and buzz; he gave me a halfhearted nod signaling me to proceed. I opened the door and walked in towards the person I assumed was the band’s head of security.
“Mr. Loddi?” I said holding out my right hand.
“Who the hell are you? He replied gruffly, not returning my welcoming gesture.
“I’m Reagent Detective August O’Neill of the REA,” I said trying my best to not match his combative tone. “Inspector Byck was supposed to call down here and let you know I’d be coming in to chat.”
“She did.” He replied curtly, “doesn’t mean I have to care. The REA has no jurisdiction here, we don’t employ Priors and all our people are human. I don’t trust those undead fucks. I’m busy setting up for a show, so what do you want?”
I’m not generally a level headed guy, be a dick to me and I’ll be a dick back. Must be my Jersey upbringing, or the fact that I just don’t like bullies. Having an older brother that pushed me around my whole childhood probably is to blame for that. But I had a job to do; punching him out wouldn’t get me any answers not to mention the very real possibility of a short suspension.
“Mr. Loddi…” I began slowly…
“Colonel Loddi to you boy.” He cut me off.
‘Man he wasn’t going to make this easy.’ My temples started to throb.
“Colonel Loddi…” I said slightly bowing my head trying to give the impression of submissiveness. “I was sent by the mayor’s office to ask a few questions about some irregularities on the previous stops on your tour and to make sure they don’t re-occur here.” I lied about the mayor; as long as he got the tax revenue he could care less about the people who attended these shows. Plus since I popped his grandmother we weren’t really on the best of terms.
“Yeah I figured as much. Assholes like you come and harass us in every city.” He turned and started walking back towards the wooden door he had come from. I followed assuming that was his intention. He kept talking as we walked so I guessed I was right.
“We run a tight ship here.” He waved at the screens as we walked past them. “We monitor our people in and out, there’s no reason for us to watch the perimeter, that’s the building’s problem. We do our show, collect our money and go.”
I stopped in the center of the room and pointed to one of the bathroom views. “Then why the restrooms?” I asked hoping to catch him in a lie. He turned, glared at the guard sitting at the console who promptly swapped those camera shots for several of the trailer’s exterior and some of a second somewhat larger trailer with the band’s logo, “MUSCLE”, written in letters shaped like not very disguised penises.
“Those views are for the protection of our traveling stagehands, the roadies are known to get a little…” He paused for effect, “Well I don’t want offend you so for your delicate sensibilities let’s call it, FUCKED up.” His laugh came out in a sound I would never consider a reaction to something funny, it sounded almost guttural. “They wander into the public areas and we have to go drag them back. We don’t like our people mixing with the locals”
‘Plausible,’ I think, ‘unlikely but reasonable enough for someone less skeptical to believe.’ I decide to try another tactic. I’ll kiss his ass.
“Colonel,” I stand upright, almost at attention, addressing him as if I was back at boot camp and he was my instructor. “Sir, I understand you’re retired MP, I’m a Marine myself. Served two tours in Nam2.”
I’ve always found that if I can find common ground with someone being uncooperative, a witness, a suspect, a cute woman I might randomly be chatting up out in the world, finding something we both have experience with opens them up.
“A Jarhead huh?” His comment seemed less gruff. “What’s that saying you guys use, ‘once a Marine, always a Marine?” He smiled.
‘It’s working’ I thought.
“Well fuck that, I’m retired Army and thank God I’m out of that shit outfit.” Gruff Colonel was back as he turned and waved me along to follow him into his office. I didn’t count on him not being fond of his time in the service. He still used his rank as his title, I took that as a sign he still had respect for the military. It was worth a shot.
The door to his office was closed; he reached for the knob with his left hand and placed his right thumb on a small quarter sized oblong pad mounted on the wall., small LEDs on either side of the finger scanner flashed green, then red in time with the sound.
“Dammit,” I heard him mumble. He raised his hand to his mouth, huffed on the his thumb as one would to fog glasses to clean them, wiped it twice on his pant leg and tried again.
accompanied by two green blinks and the lock clicked allowing us to enter his inner office.
Following him through the thick wooden door, I am surprised at how large the room is. Walking with Inspector Byck’s guard, I had noticed the mobile trailer was the sort that had extendable sides that could be deployed when parked, but I hadn’t realized just how much extra space this really added. As he closed the deep brown door behind us with a solid , I noticed immediately that all the sound from the main office’s chattering and radio noise was cut off. The room was deathly silent. I saw the interior design of the Colonel’s inner sanctum carried on the theme of the dark toned entry. A large solid looking desk appearing to be made of the same thick wood sat in the center of the room, an oversized heavily cushioned chair sat behind it. Two smaller but equally well padded low backed armchairs were between us and the desk. The paneled walls were stained a lighter shade than the desk, but still had the rich appearance of expensive millwork not just slapped on plywood paneling. An ornate, almost tapestry like carpet covered the floor. If I didn’t already know I was in a box that was driven around the country I would have thought I was in an upscale boardroom somewhere in a skyscraper, well that and the lack of windows. The extended wall to my left was occupied by a wet bar; shelves of multi-colored bottles were arranged in front of a mirrored backsplash. This sat on a travertine limestone countertop with a small sink built into its surface. Under the counter, opposite the sink, were small stainless steel doors to what were probably a small refrigerator and dishwasher. Against the wall on the opposite side of the room sat a thick leather couch; the deep red leather matched the chair behind the desk and the pair side by side facing the desk.
In the far right corner of the room I notice a thin closet door with what, from my vantage point, appeared to be a finger pad reader, the same type that was outside Loddi’s office. It was a small door, more the size of the hall lockers I stuffed freshman nerds into when I was in High school.
‘Now what could the good Colonel be hiding in there?’ I thought. He gestured for me to sit as he walked over to the bar.
“You want anything?” He asked, “It’s not even ten AM and I already need a shot. Going to be a glorious day.” Again he chuckled in that guttural laugh that sounded like a pig rooting around in a trough; I’ll freely admit it skeeved me out a little.
“Yes sir,” I replied to his query, “whatever you’re having is fine.” My now having to continue to kiss his ass was going to wear thin quickly. He picked a couple of tumblers out of the dishwasher and placed them on the countertop.
“What should we have for breakfast,” he said rhetorically as he stroked his thick stubbled chin. Although it could have been his neck, the fat seemed to rise out of his shoulders directly up to his ears.
“Bourbon, I think.” He said after some consideration and fumbling with the bottles, “it’s black like coffee and I like it black.” I had a feeling he went through this little dialogue with himself every day, it wasn’t just for my benefit. He poured two fingers in one of the small glasses and the other up to the brim. Picking them up, he turned and began sipping the fuller drink as he walked towards me.
“Loch-hiem.” He paused, “or not loch-hiem depending on if you’re a Prior I guess.” Another hog in heat grunt before he downed the contents in one shot.
I took the glass from his hand and nodded as I tipped the deep black liquid towards him to acknowledge the toast, and slammed it back. I must have grimaced when it hit my throat because he made that piggy sound again in amusement. It wasn’t a smooth whiskey; it wasn’t a smooth paint thinner. It was as rough as the stuff we used to make in the stills we built back in the jungle during the war.
“Th-a-a-a,, that was smooth.” I manage to croak out.
More pig laughter. “We make that ourselves, remind you of anything?” He said with the first genuine smile I’d seen him make since I met him. He was testing me, as an MP during the war he probably busted dozens of Grunt stills. If I served in Nam2, I’d have had jungle liquor.
“Yes sir.” As good as any I made myself from wild rice in the service. What did you add for color?” I tried to hide the fact that the liquor still stung my throat.
“Well as a Reagent I shouldn’t tell you, but as former military, I’m expecting you to keep it between us brothers-in-arms as it were.” He paused waiting for my reply.
“Of course, Semper Fi brother.” I was making myself sick being nice to this prick. That or the hooch was beginning to burn a hole through my stomach.
He continued talking while he poured himself another. “Just a splash of the R-juice at the end of the process. About a half cup of R per each gallon of the stuff mellows it out a bit” He took a big sip and didn’t react to the acidic liquid at all.
“Sir, I only have a few questions and I’ll be out of your hair.” I really was starting to feel queasy; I needed to get this done. He was hiding something, not just in the corner closet, that much was clear. What it was I still had to find out before I barfed all over his rug.
I decided to try another tack. “Back in Nam2, we had other ways to make an extra buck. You ever run into any fight clubs?”
He stopped smiling and looked at me, nodding slowly, his fat neck bulging beyond where a normal chin would be when his head bobbed downward.
“Maybe son, maybe not, what are you getting at?” His tone had changed, he was quieter.
I continued, “we would catch some of the enemy fighters and put them in our uniforms, let them loose in a ring and bet on the outcome. You ever bust any of them?” He had taken the hook, now I needed to set it.
“Of course I did, you know I was an MP, and you know that was illegal. What about it.” He sat on the edge of his desk; I could tell he was still sizing me up.
“There were times when the authorities would come, we’d share our profits with them and they’d leave us alone. This job I’ve got, it’s a thankless job and the pay is shit. I’ve got a family to support.” This was bullshit but he didn’t know that. “Anything I can do to make a few extra credits from you, I’d be willing to listen.” My stomach rumbled, my head started tingling, that R-juice shot was starting to affect my head.
“There just might be something, a favor or two from one soldier to another.” He motioned for me to sit in one of the chairs by the desk, nodding I accepted. I needed to sit down and was grateful he offered. He walked around and opened the desk’s top drawer. It opened with a thick sound, the slide was tight, the drawer heavy. Reaching in with both hands he removed his right hand and held up a chip, his left he slid into his pocket, I didn’t see what was in it. When he withdrew his hand it was empty. It was a move I’ve seen illusionists use, they call it misdirection. You hold one hand up to draw the audience’s gaze and with the other hand pull a rabbit out of your ass. The Colonel would have made a terrible magician.
“This credit is worth ten thousand, it’s for you leave now and say that there was nothing to see here, nothing to report. Think you can do that?” He smiled. It wasn’t an easy smile, like he wasn’t used to doing it. The skin on his bald head tightened and wrinkled from the effort.
‘That was easy; could he really be that trusting?’ I thought.
I returned his fake smile with one of my own, “sounds good but if you’re willing to part with ten K for me to do nothing, what’s it worth for me to do something?” I knew that offering me a bride to keep my mouth shut was incriminating, but not enough for me to have him busted. It’s not really a bribe if I don’t know what I’m covering up. He hesitated.
‘I pushed him too fast,’ I wasn’t thinking straight; I needed to get back on track.
“This is my town,” I said trying to let the line play back out a bit. “I know where to get things, whatever you need. Untraceable juice, other more conventional recreational chemicals. Maybe more importantly, where to lose things.”
“That’s true son, and that Intel may be useful.” I didn’t like the way his voice changed, he was being too agreeable. I fucked up. He kept talking as he walked around the desk, placed the chip worth a month’s pay on the desk in front of me and then moved back towards the bar. From my position in the left side chair he was now slightly behind me. ‘Was the chip meant to keep my attention forward?’ I wondered.
He said, “Let’s have another shot and see what we want and if we can agree on a price.”
I heard the small fridge open, then another small door and then the sound of ice hitting the bottom of the glass. I heard a bottle top pop off, the sound of liquid pouring into a glass, then another. I heard his heavy footsteps coming up behind me.
I looked at the matchbook sized credit stick in front of me. A thought suddenly popped into my head. ‘Bad Magician!’