“Are you sure you know where this is?” Todd asked his buddy from the backseat where he sat with his girlfriend, Jody, snuggled against him. She had her face pressed up against the screen of her smartphone as she texted and giggled to a friend. Todd leaned his head back against the seat and stared at the ceiling of Larry’s car where the fabric had begun to pull from the padding under it.
“I told you that I did.” Larry slowed the car down and took the next right down a street where most of the streetlights were out. He kept glancing down at the directions his GPS gave him on his own phone.
“How much further?” Ellen whispered from where she sat in the passenger seat, biting her nails in order to keep from letting her nerves get control of her.
“Says we are almost there, but we have to park a few blocks away.” He looks at the dark buildings he passes. Larry couldn’t tell what the buildings were used for. He just knew he had to drive past them and park along the residential section of the street.
Larry pulled the car to the curb and put it in park. He didn’t cut the engine for several moments as he took in a deep breath. A small trickle of sweat ran down his neck. They were actually about to do it. Never had he broken the law before. Now he was about to do this act that could land him behind bars. That wasn’t what most seventeen year olds did, at least not in this day and age.
Todd pushed himself up and rested his chin on the back of Larry’s seat. “What are we waiting for? We going or what?”
Sweat rolled down Larry’s neck. “Yeah. Yeah. Let’s go.”
All four young people climbed out of the car, but they did so with a silence that was nearly eerie in quality. There was no normal slamming youth did when exiting a car. The doors creaked open and were closed with a small click.
Jody moved around the car quietly, her sneakers not making a sound on the asphalt. She pressed herself against Todd’s side as she looked around the darkened street.
Ellen followed suit with Larry after she crawled out of the backseat behind him. “Why are there no streetlights?” she asked in a whisper.
“They are broken.” Todd pointed up at the one above their heads. “Probably so no one can see what is going on here on this part of the street.”
Several moments passed as they stood in the street, silence covering them. No one moved. A siren in the distance faded as it moved toward its destination.
“Well, I guess we should go to the door,” Todd suggested quietly.
The other nodded but didn’t move. Todd looked down at Jody and squeezed her to him. She gave a small smile and followed as he took the first step.
Their steps were soft thuds on the asphalt. They paused only once when a car turned down the street and then into a side driveway that wound between two houses.
Reaching the other side of the street, they stepped up onto the sidewalk. Four large warehouses from a once prosperous era stood vigil before them. All were shrouded in darkness and appeared to be completely abandoned.
Todd pointed at the far building, the first one they passed when they turned onto the dark street. “One. Two. Three.” The third building was right in front of them. “This is the one.”
“You sure?” Ellen asked with raised eyebrows.
“That’s what the directions said. Third warehouse. It would be dark. We are to walk up to the door and knock with a special code. Three quick knocks and pause before another knock.”
Jody shook her head. “What if it is a trap? I heard of a group who were set up by the police. They got arrested and lost their scholarships.”
Todd gave her a reassuring smile. “We’ll be okay. The cops haven’t found this place yet.”
With a snort, Larry said, “They probably come here too.”
The others laughed nervously but stayed where they were. One sudden sound would have sent them all scrambling back in the car.
“Uh, maybe we should decide if we are really going to do this or not.” Ellen glanced around at each of them. “I’m really getting hungry.”
“Me too,” Jody added.
Todd took in a deep breath. “It’s now or never,” he said as he led the small group to the darkened doorway a few yards in front of them.
The sidewalk that led to the door was narrow and overgrown with weeds. On closer inspection, it could be seen that it wasn’t an unused sidewalk, just one that was neglected.
The building was three stories tall with windows that had been boarded up. The sign above the door was faded, but even in the dark they could read that it was once a machine shop.
The entrance to the building was a double steel door that was faded green. Rust spread out from the hinges.
Once they were all on the square stoop, Todd put his hand up to the door but didn’t knock. He whispered to himself the instructions he had been given for the twentieth time. He was afraid of messing up and getting them into more trouble than they had bargained for.
Knock, knock, knock.
They held their breath as they waited. No sound came from the door. The seconds ticked by. All four jumped when the handle of the door turned. Surprisingly, it did so without a sound.
They stepped back as the door opened out toward them. Darkness loomed beyond the door aside from a disembodied arm and hand that held the door open for them.
“What are you waiting for? The second coming?” a voice whispered to them. “Get inside.”
The four didn’t need to be told twice. They pushed through the door that closed quietly behind them, leaving them in complete darkness. Only a few slivers of light managed to get through the boarded up windows.
The voice came to them once again. “Follow me.” A beam of light from a light pen was directed at the floor. It revealed dust and small pieces of debris.
The light moved. A shadow followed. Todd tugged at Jody’s arm who in turn tugged on Ellen’s. They followed the person who they still had not seen.
The warehouse appeared to be completely empty as they did not have to move around anything in their way. The path was straightforward. The light they followed did not waver aside from the rhythm of the person behind it and their walk.
They had traversed the width of the warehouse when the light paused. Another door swung open. This time a small ray of light reached out to them, but it was weak and distant.
The light from the open doorway and from the pen was momentarily blocked as the figure guiding them moved through the door. Soft steps could be heard as the man moved down a flight of steps. The paused for a moment as the man said, “Are you coming or not? For crying out loud.” The footsteps resumed and became faint.
“Come on,” Todd whispered as he led the way.
The stairway was dark but brightened as the figure before them moved away and unblocked the light. It was barely wide enough for them to move down the stairs without having to turn sideways. The stairs creaked under their quick movements as they entered the light of the basement.
It was then they found what they sought behind another door. Aromas of roasted meat, steamed vegetables, and heavy wine assaulted them. Laughter boomed out as people gathered tightly around tables. A dozen tables were full with people crammed close to each other. It was a gathering of friends enjoying a delicious meal. Something rare for the day.
“Over here,” the familiar voice directed them.
Now they could see the face that went with the voice. He was an ordinary man with a thin moustache and short, cropped hair. His eyes were hidden beneath thick eyebrows as he pointed at a table near the bar. An actual bar.
“We still follow the law in legal drinking age. Don’t need to compound the laws we break here. There is no menu. We bring out whatever we are cooking for the day. You can have all the non-alcoholic drinks you like as long as you are here.”
They took their seats at the table which looked like it had been smuggled out of a public bar that had once had quite a few visitors. Initials were carved all over the table for four.
They looked up to see a woman carrying a large tray with a pitcher and four plastic glasses that she sat before them. “Root beer is all I have on tap right now. Struggled getting even that by the police.”
“Is that hard to get supplies?” Larry asked as he poured everyone a drink.
The woman who looked to be around fifty laughed. She had short hair and wore an apron over a t-shirt and jeans. “Understatement of the year. They are getting smarter in how we smuggle in food and drink. What is this world coming to? Do you have the money? I need that before I can serve you.”
Todd fished into his jeans pocket while Larry did the same. They handed it to the woman who counted it and then flashed them a smile.
“Well then. I’ll have your food to you in a few.”
She walked off as another group entered the basement and took a nearby table. Larry picked up his glass.
The girls giggled. Ellen smiled. “To what?” she asked.
Todd raised his glass. “To a pandemic that can’t beat us.”
“Right!” Larry added. “To eating out with friends once again.”
Footsteps pounded down the stairs. Everyone turned to look at the man who ushered them in. His eyes were wide as he shouted, “Raid!”
The other patrons shot up from their seats and began running to the far side of the room where the waitress held a curtain back. It had hid a hole in the wall that the patrons were now flowing through.
“Come on!” Todd said as he pulled Jody behind him. “We’ve got to get out of here before the cops catch us.”
They had just gotten to the opening when a herd of elephants sounded as though they plummeted down the stairs. “COVID raid!” the police called out as they burst into the room. A room that was empty aside from tables filled with plates and partially eaten food. Not a soul was to be found. Nothing moved aside from the sway of a curtain against the wall.