Graham crossed the cafeteria and went into a quiet storage room. He flipped the switch by the door and florescent lights hummed to life overhead. He walked through racks of supplies to a huge walk-in refrigerator.
Every time Graham opened the enormous, vault-like door, he thought about what it would be like to be locked in the fridge. The door could be opened from the inside as well as from the outside, but what if the mechanism malfunctioned? What if someone blocked the door? The walls were thick; no one would hear his pleas for help. He imagined clawing at the door till his fingernails broke, and then the bloody pounding and screaming. Then he envisioned the next few hours, the shock, the resignation, the shivering, and, eventually, the dying – alone, caged, suffocated, and bitterly cold.
Instead of closing the door behind him, or even leaving it slightly ajar, Graham, as was his habit, took a large box of lettuce and propped the door wide open with it. He knew it was unnecessary, but sometimes little precautions can preserve a person’s sanity.
He went to the back shelves of the walk-in and grabbed a six-pack of beer. It was a luxury that most did not have. But his superiors weren’t stupid; they knew that sending Graham a few case of beer every couple of months (and letting him operate his corn whiskey still in the basement) was a small price to pay to keep him at his post. At this point, he would be impossible to replace. Plus, he thought, they must understand.
Should he grab two sixers? No. He knew not to trust journalists. They had taught him that much in media training. Peggy Lee might be trying to lull him into a false sense of security. Better to take just one out there for now. If he wanted to, he could always come and get another.
So he signed out a single six-pack and went to rejoin his guests.
“There you are,” Peggy Lee said, as Graham approached. “I hope you don’t mind that we started without you. It smelled so good.” Ian glanced up from his giant mound of pasta, but then quickly returned to slurping up mouthfuls of saucy spaghetti and grated parmesan.
Graham set down the six-pack, picked up the church key that hung on a string attached to the side of the table, and cracked open three beers. Ian glugged down about a third of his before turning back to his spaghetti. The guy had one hell of an appetite . . . and few manners.
During dinner, Graham explained some of the technological aspects of the facilities to Peggy Lee and Ian. Ian returned to the chow line for seconds, and then they each had another beer. When Ian had finally finished, he excused himself for the night. Graham called over a soldier to escort him to his room.
“Ian may be tired,” Peggy Lee said, “but I’m just getting my second wind. Graham, do you want to stay up with me for a little longer? I promise to let you go at a reasonable hour.”
“Sure.” Graham could not think of anything he would like better. “But I think we will need more fuel. I’ll grab us a few more beers.” He started walking towards the storage room before Peggy Lee called him back to the table.
“Would you mind, Colonel Snow, if I came along. I love to see the back rooms and the unpolished underbellies of big operations like this. Plus, I don’t want to be left behind to sit here all alone.”
There it was again, that “Colonel Snow.” Was she mocking him? Flirting? It had been too long since Graham had any type of intimate conversation with a woman. He felt totally lost. Was she being sweet to him so that he would let her look behind closed doors? Was she looking for wasteful practices or evidence of ineptitude so that she could write a scathing hit piece about the operations? Or was it possible that she could be interested in him? Or at least interested in what he had to say about all this? He had no idea.
“How inconsiderate of me not to invite you in the first place,” Graham replied. “Please come along. I guarantee that we won’t find anything too thrilling – after all, it’s just a storage room – but I’d love the company.”