The two men in the front seat were arguing over which music to play. One wanted Dean Martin, the other Johnny Cash. Patty didn't want to hear either, but they did not give her a vote. Other than that, the ride lasted about an hour as near as Patty could estimate. Patty hated being blindfolded, and made worse was the fact she was in a moving car. To control her panic, she tried to use her other senses as best as possible to figure out her destination and ultimate fate.
Twice they made brief stops, but neither of the men in the front seat got out of the vehicle; they simply stopped for a few minutes then moved on. They had to be riding in a Hummer, thought Patty. She was in the back seat which was nothing more than a single bench and they failed to put a seat belt on her. A few times she rolled around like a loose package as they went around corners too fast. She felt car sick.
During the ride, she went through the possibilities in her mind. They were going to "detain" her in some sort of camp. They were going to shoot her. They were going to drive her all the way back to east Texas or Lousiana. The last option bothered her the most and if it happened, she would beg them to put a bullet in her head rather than make her start her journey all over again.
In the end, none of the above would be the correct answer.
Patty had no idea what time it was. She had fallen asleep earlier that day in the back of the minivan around noon and probably slept for a few hours by her reckoning. The sun appeared to be in the west she seemed to recall before they put the hood over her head. That meant it could be late afternoon, but probably early evening.
Regardless, they were taking her somewhere and if they did not kill her on the road, they probably had longer term plans for her. She could not rationalize any use they would have for her other than accusations over how she came into possession of the carbine and the radio.
Shortly afterward, the truck slowed and came to a halt as the driver rolled down his window and said something to somebody outside. Maybe a gate guard or a check point. A few seconds later, they started forward again, made a few quick turns, rolled down a ramp in the road and came to a halt.
Patty was taken from the vehicle and escorted by both men across a concrete surface. She smelled old exhaust and could hear the sounds of other vehicles nearby. In the distance, she could her the chopping sound of a helicopter. The temperature was cooler than it had been earlier which she took to mean that it was later in the day rather than the morning and the place she was inside of was out of the direct sun. Maybe even underground.
A door opened and she was directed roughly through. The blast of cold air hit her first. Air conditioning. She had not felt it in weeks and she might as well have landed in Anarctica as goose bumps immediately formed on her sweat soaked skin.
"It get's 'em every time." she heard the voice on the right way. The other voice laughed gruffly to her left.
They led her down a hallway, she could hear it in their steps and could almost feel the walls on either side. The turned twice before entering an elevator. As the doors closed, Patty's stomach sank and she stifled the urge to scream.
The elevator went up, not down and stopped seconds later. "I am in a building, more than two stories tall with an attached parking garage" she thought. "They are not going to kill me yet or they would have done so back on the highway. They want to question me, probably about the rifle. I must come up with a plausible story and stall them as long as possible. Most likely, they will want to hold me for some time, but unless I escape, they are probably going to kill me in the near future. I must be ready for any sort of escape available."
They stepped out of the elevator, went left ("must remember the way we took, in case I can get away"), then into another door.
"All yours." said the voice on the right.
"Sign here." said a harsh female voice.
"Uh-huh, see ya later."
The door opened behind her and closed again. The hood was pulled off of Patty's head and once her eyes adjusted, she was shocked. She was at the airport in the security line.
That was the first thought that popped in her head. Standing in front of her were two people, a woman, big shouldered with short hair and a thin man with slicked back hair and bags under his eyes. They were both wearing TSA uniforms, blue shirts, black pants and complete with latex gloves exactly like the security people wore at the airline terminal. Only both of these guards had gunbelts with large semi-auto handguns. "Forties, I bet. Isn't that what Feds carry these days?" thought Patty to herself automatically.
They were standing in what appeared to be an examining room complete with a privacy screen against one wall and a metal table holding a stack of plastic bins and a metal detector wand.
"We are going pat you down and I need to know if you have any special injuries or areas sensitive to physical contact, ma'am." said the woman.
Patty started to laugh at the absurdity of the question, but quickly turned it into a cough and cleared her throat.
"Sorry, not used to the air conditioner. Um, no, I don't have any injuries or anything." she said.
The man stepped forward and removed the zip tie from Patty's hands, raised both of her arms over her head and held them in place. The woman stepped forward and started patting Patty down while the man stood behind her.
"I have one tube of lip balm, front pocket."
"Sum of cash, U.S. currency, in front pocket. Assorted loose coins, also U.S. currency."
"Two standard door keys in front pocket."
"I have two hair ties, elastic, front pocket."
Everything was put into a plastic bin the man held out for the woman as it was taken from Patty. The woman then carefully went over Patty patting her down from head to toe. While she was not certain, it felt like the woman took her time around Patty's chest and rear, but it might have been her imagination.
"Recuffing the subject" said the man out loud as he brought down Patty's arms and put on a new zip tie. For a moment, Patty thought he was going to call her a passenger and ask for her boarding pass. Everything was entirely surreal.
"Come with us, please." said the woman and Patty was led through another door in the rear of the examining room.
They went further into the office past empty cubicles and silent desks. On the other side of the room, they went through a pair of double doors into a hallway with chairs lined along the wall. There were guards dressed in the same black uniform as the contractors and the men who captured her earlier in the day.
She was put into one of the chairs and the two TSA guards stood nearby silently. A few moments later, another woman walked in wearing a white uniform similar to a naval officer. She too had the ubiquitous gunbelt and .40 caliber handgun like everyone else in the facility.
She went to the two TSA guard and without looking up from her clipboard spoke to the two.
"Do you have the subject, Patricia Valdez?" she asked.
"Affirmative. She is here." said the female guard.
"Very good, escort her to room 14, please." the woman in white replied.
Once again, Patty was stood and taken, a hand on each arm, down the hallway to another room.
She was seated, hands still cuffed, while the woman in white took a seat in a chair with rollers on the legs. She put on a pair of reading glasses, sat upright and consulted her clipboard.
"This will be much easier when we get our tablets working again." she said to nobody in particular.
"I am Ms. Suarez with the U.S. Surgeon General's Office. Please answer the following questions.
"Are you Patricia Valdez?"
"Um, yes. Say, what's all this about.."
"Just answer the questions.. Have you or any one you have been in contact with been exposed to tuberculosis?"
"Do you have acquired immune deficiency sickness?"
"Have you recently traveled to any of the following cities: St.Louis,Missouri, Rockford, Illinois, Oakland, California, or Schenectady, New York?"
"Have you had any cold like symptoms recently which failed to lessen their intensity in spite of over the counter or prescription remedies?"
"No, and this is stupid."
"Please answer the .."
"No, I won't. I haven't done anything wrong nor have I been told why I am here, wherever here is or why I am being held. I was taken by force from a public road by agents of the United States Government which I paid for with my taxes.."
"Shut it!" barked the big female.
She crossed the room, leaned down and put her face inches from Patty's.
"You will answer the questions given to you and you will not interrupt, get smart, sarcastic or protest! Do I make myself clear!"
"If you are asking me if I hear you, yes. It's not hard considering the proximity of your big ugly -"
Patty's head went to the side like a rag doll. Smack. And now, in the other direction.
"Next time, we get serious. Are we clear?"
The woman stood upright and resumed her position by the door. Suarez adjusted her glasses and looked back down at her clipboard.
"Now, where were we. Ah yes, do you have any allergies or allergic reactions to the following medications.... "
And so it went for the next half hour. Questions about drugs, medical history, sexual activity, visits to physicians, dentists, history of mental illness and so on. Patty gave up on protest and answered all questions as perfunctory as possible and kept her opinions to herself.
At the end of the questioning, Suarez stood up and placed a pair of latex gloves on her hands. She went over to Patty and examined her scalp for a few moments and then pulled off the gloves with a loud pop.
"She's clear. Go ahead and return her or take in her for processing." said Suarez.
The two TSA people each took one of Patty's arms and pulled her to her feet, this time more forcibly than before.
"I got under your skin, didn't I?" thought Patty as the went down the hall looking over at the female TSA agent. "Something I said really pissed you off?"
"Keep moving, please." said the man this time, but Patty could feel the big woman's fingers tighter on her arm since they left. Patty shelved it away for later, but something was coming together in her mind.
Patty was taken down another hall and deposited into a small room the size of which was somewhere between a closet and a phone booth. She was seated on the cold floor against the wall and her feet ziptied together. The agents shut the door, but before they did, the lights were turned off.
Patty took the time off her feet to consider her situation. Clearly, they were not going to execute her anytime soon, that is unless they had a penchant for wasting incredible amounts of time for bureacracy before the act was done and considering it was the government, it was not too far fetched of an idea.
She had no idea why they asked about those four specific cites in the interrogation, but assumed there was some sort of illness which was spread from or originated there. She also noted the extremes in behavior from Suarez's obliviousness to the situation of the outside world to the TSA agents short tempers.
Patty replayed in her mind all the exchanges she had with the DHS, FEMA and other agencies over the past week looking for a common thread DHS handing out supplies in exchange for guns and local leaders. Security contractors. Government issued weapons. The man in the light blue shirt on the roof of the card store. There were three initials on the back of his shirt, but only one, the letter E was visible. TSA. Surgeon General's Office.
At the same time, their activies seemed uncoordinated or even amateur what with the conversation between the dispatcher at the Addison Airport and his underlings. As if they had bitten off more than they could chew. Further, the reports of looting and outright theft of local resources by DHS agents.
Multiple federal agencies working together, similarly armed, mysterious circumstances. Something was sticking in her mind from a few months ago. Something in the news about strange purchases by federal agencies which came to light around the same time as that GSA scandal. Some federal agency purchasing mind boggling quantities of ammunitition. A story about an armed EPA agent visiting a power plant. She could not remember the details as when the stories appeared, she had more important things to consider, like her job, Elena, and so forth.
Her head was spinning. Patty closed her eyes for a few moments and tried to relax, but it was useless. She pushed her back against the wall and leveraged herself off the wall into a standing position. She stood there, balanced on her feet, drawn together and tied at the ankles. If only she could get her hands around in front, she might be able to get free. She did not hear them lock the door afterall.
There was nothing in the room which might have a sharp surface or edge that she could use for a tool to cut the ties. Frustrated, she slid back down the wall and put her legs out in front of her as straight as possible to increase circulation. At that moment, she heard footsteps coming down the hall and seconds later, the door knob turned and light flooded the dark space.
"C'mon," said a man wearing black, DHS clearly stenciled across his chest rig. "You're going to see Merrick."
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