Ito, I Don't Think We're In Florida Anymore
By Patrick H.
By Patrick H.
|The morning started in a not uncommon manner. "Where the hell am I?" Max Murdock mumbled with the ease of a man used to not knowing where the hell he was. One of Max's best attributes when he was on assignment was his skill at causing disorientation. When he wasn't using it on other people, he frequently exercised it on himself. The self-induced confusion was good practice, and cheaper than drugs.|
He had recently read about fractals, and was now seeing if he could determine the whole of his environment from studying a small portion of it. He glared at the dark ceiling. It was actually very well lit, but as always Max had his sunglasses on. The ceiling was old cement -- cracked, slightly mildewed, and very, very thick. That, he decided, was definitely a jail ceiling. It was a pretty safe bet that his environment consisted of iron bars, stainless-steel bathroom facilities, and remarkably bad drawings of naked women.
"Damn. I hate being detained without due process."
"I know where you can get a good lawyer."
"Ow!" Max brought a hand up to massage his freshly pulled neck muscle. "Ito!? What the…? What are you…?"
Ito Masello, Max's neighbor, sat inexplicably on the opposite cot. Her lemon-yellow jogging sweats looked as filthy and battered as Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s pit crew's shop rags, and her black, curly hair was as lethargic and dull as Dale Jr.'s fan base.
"Max? Do you know where we are?"
"How long have you been up?"
"Where are we?"
"Anybody been by here?"
"Where are we!?"
Max turned to sit on the edge of his cot and rubbed his hand over his recently shaved head. He missed his hair sometimes, but at least he didn't have anything there to inspire NASCAR similes. At times it was useful, like now he could tell he'd only been out for a few hours, six or eight, from the stubble growth. "I can't say where we are." Max gazed at his neighbor. "You're wearing the same thing you were when I left my apartment key with you. I assume you got picked up shortly after that."
"What do they want from us?"
Max scanned his recollections of the events before he was rounded up and tossed in the van in much the same way he often thought children should be put on school buses. He knew why he was here, but the reason for them to pick up Ito was murkier. It also bothered him that it was probably his fault.
"I think they want to know what we know."
"A place. This place."
"I said I can't tell you."
"Because it's classified or something?"
"No. I mean yes, it's classified, but that's not why I can't tell you." "Then why…?"
"Because this place doesn't have a name."
"Well, that certainly clears things up."
"I need to know what you told them when they picked you up." "I didn't tell them anything. I didn't know anything."
"Yes, but what did you say?" "Well, they asked where you went. I said, 'He didn't give me the name of the place.' Then they nodded to each other, grabbed me, and pulled me into a limousine. Who were those guys?"
"MIB? Men in black? Like that movie?"
"Yeah. Kinda. Listen, if you're going to get out of this you're going to have to know a few things. It's going to seem weird, but there's a very good explanation for that."
"Because it is weird." Max sat up on the edge of the bunk trying to shake the dizziness from his head. He'd often considered whether he preferred being pistol whipped or chloroformed. His opinion changed depending on which one he'd been subjected to most recently. This morning he was tasting the acrid smell still in the back of his throat and waxing nostalgic about getting the back of his skull belted with the butt of a Magnum. As his head cleared, he realized that that damned non-disclosure agreement was going to be a problem. He'd just have to deal with that later.
"Look, I'm here on assignment with The Comet. You know that stuff that they're supposed to have stashed at Area 51? Well, it's not there. It's here. We know it's here, and we've always known it's here. We just play along with the Area 51 story in the papers to help maintain the secrecy of the work being done here."
"And this place is…?"
"I told you. It doesn't have a name. No name, no number, nothing."
"That's ridiculous. Every place has a name."
"Not this one. It's difficult to spill the beans to the public about a place if you can't tell anyone what it's called."
"Correction: that's ridiculous."
"Maybe, but it's worked for over fifty years now. No name has ever been assigned to this place, and it's a court-martial offense with capital punishment guaranteed if one of the staff gives it one."
"How do they talk about it?"
"I believe the thinking is that if you have to be told what place you're talking about, you don't have clearance to know about it in the first place."
Ito blinked. "Well, I'm not in the military. What if I give it a name?"
Max's eyebrows jumped up over the top edge of his shades. "Good god! Whatever you do, don't do that!"
"You want to go home, don't you?"
"Well, let's just say they are very serious about not giving this place a name. If they think you might, they'll have to stop you."
Ito leaned against the wall, pouting. "So I guess we're somewhere near Roswell, New Mexico."
"Spanger Heights, Wisconsin."
"You're right. This is weird."
A rusty hinge down the hallway creaked loudly as the door to the cellblock opened and banged against the cinderblock wall. Max grinned slightly. Lugosi Pre-Corroded Hardware was one of the Comet's biggest sponsors. They'd been providing institutions and castles with appropriately noisy hinges, locks, and latches since the 16th century. The hinges on this door sounded like the "Screecher Mark VIII," perfectly tuned to vibrate the molars and finger joints of anyone listening.
A trio of severe women strode down the hall toward their cell.
Ito strained to get a look. "They're dressed like the guys that picked us up," she whispered.
"Yeah. LIB. Ladies in black."
"Nope. Used to be the MIBWA: Men In Black Women's Auxiliary. They changed their name in the 70s. You think that's odd? Remind me to tell you about the Men In Ladies' Footwear sometime."
"Men In - MILF?" *snerk*
"Shh! No laughing. They'll think you're laughing at…"
One of the LIB turned toward their cell. "So. Zis is zeh famous Max Murdock, eh?"
Ito started shaking as she clamped her hand over her mouth to hide the huge smile that erupted onto her face. In spite of himself, Max felt a giggle starting to form in his throat, too, and started chewing on his tongue to keep it in place.
"Vhat?! Vhat are you shmiling at!?"
"…nothing…," Max managed in a high, weak voice.
The LIB produced a riding crop, which she slapped against the cell wall. "Shtop that! Shtop that at vunce!"
Ito snapped to attention. "Jawohl Herr Kommandant!"
Max and Ito woke up massaging the matching lumps on the backs of their heads in a neat and military office. Ito grimaced and spoke.
"Let me guess what you'd been about to say -- they'll think I'm laughing at their bad German accents. Right?"
"Yeah. They're a little touchy about that."
"Just a little. So what are they wanting to know from us?"
Max shook his head. "I was wrong. I don't think they want to know anything. If they did, they would have given us some potato salad by now."
"Potato salad. They use it to interrogate prisoners."
"Now my head is really beginning to hurt. Why potato salad? Is it that bad?"
"Actually I'm told it's pretty good. Incredibly good. Apparently they make the best potato salad in the known world."
"And they use it as torture?"
"No. They give you some, and then they withhold it as torture."
"Wow. I wonder if they'd give me the recipe. You've never had it?"
"Well, yes, I have had it. It just doesn't work on me."
"What, you've built up some kind of resistance to it?"
"No, it's just that I can't stand potato salad."
"Of course." Ito stood up and regretted it. It felt as if the drum beat of Huey Lewis' "Heart of Rock and Roll" was on a loop inside her skull, with the bass turned up to Richter scale levels. "So if they're not looking for information, what are we here for?"
"I'm here because they want to stop me from getting any important information. You're here because they think you're working with me."
"What information are you after?"
"You don't want to know."
"I'm already in it. You don't have to protect me."
"Well, it's not that. Not just that. What I need isn't really all that important. Old news, actually. It's all a little embarrassing."
Ito blinked as she tried to take that in. "Embarrassing? I've been chloroformed, kidnapped to… to…"
"Somewhere near Spanger Heights, Wisconsin."
"…to somewhere near Spanger Heights, Wisconsin, pistol-whipped, and told things that make Alice in Wonderland sound like a boring travelogue, and we're here over something embarrassing?"
"Maxwell Murdock, you are definitely off my Christmas card list."
The office door banged open before Max could tell Ito how much he hated being called "Maxwell," and a tall, blocky Army colonel strode into the room. Unlike standard Army uniforms, the colonel's uniform was solid black -- even the shirt under the jacket. The buttons were black. The belt buckle was black. The impressive array of medals and commendations on his chest -- all black.
"Mr. Murdock. Good to see you again." He chuckled. "Of course, you don't remember me, do you?"
Max had raised a hand for a handshake, and now had to maneuver it to a rather elaborate glance at his watch. He'd forgotten that he wasn't supposed to remember this guy. "Um. No, I can't say that I do." He quickly dropped his hand, hoping the colonel wouldn't notice the watch was actually on the other wrist.
The officer glanced at Ito. "Won't you introduce us?"
Ito frowned in confusion. "Who? Me? I don't know you either."
"No, I meant for him to… Never mind."
He sat down behind a huge, yet unimpressive desk. "Of course I already know who you two are. Mike. Ida." He nodded to each of them, and smirked superiorly.
Ito shook her head. "No. He's…"
"Michael!" Max interrupted. "I prefer Michael. And you are?"
"Colonel." He pointed to the bird insignia on his jacket, in black, to make his point. Max and Ito squinted to see them. He looked at one of them himself and fingered it delicately.
"Well, they are a little hard to see like this. Anyway, to business. What can we do for you two?" He attempted a menacing laugh, but he needed more practice. He sounded too much like Lex Luthor on "The Superfriends."
Max cleared his throat. "Well, really I'm just here on a follow up story on project P11 for The Comet." "P11? Wow. That goes back a bit." He got up and started rifling through a file cabinet behind his desk. "Is this really all you're after? You could have just asked."
"Well, the paper's budget is a little low and it's cheaper to get yourself abducted."
"Hey!" Ito glared impatiently. "What the hell is project P11?"
The colonel shrugged. "What can it hurt? P11 was one of the alien tech reverse engineering projects."
"Really? I mean… really? What is it for? Bombers? Tanks?"
She turned to Max. "Max…"
"Right. Mike, is he serious?"
"I'm afraid so. Check out the September 1951 issue of The Comet. That's when we did the original story."
Ito shook her head, hoping that jostling her brain would make this make more sense. "Cigarette lighters. We're talking Bic? Zippo?"
"No. Automotive cigarette lighters. The ones you push in, and they pop back out red hot."
"They had to reverse engineer those from UFOs?"
"Well, sure. They seem obvious now, but…"
"Okay! That is enough! I know I shouldn't do this until I got out of this mess, but I have had it!" She whirled on the colonel, leaning halfway over his desk. "I am going to sue the black off your buttons, bub! I'm going to sue you, this base, the LIB, the MIB, the government, and if I can work it in, Spanger-bleeding-Heights, Wisconsin! You think you're scary!? I'm a lawyer!"
The colonel looked puzzled. "Mike, you brought the paper's lawyer with you?"
"No, she's not with the paper. She's just my neighbor."
"Oh. That's a relief. I thought for a minute she might be dangerous."
"HEY!" Ito yelled with enough force to cause the specially painted black Ticonderoga pencils to dance in their holder.
"Um, yes. Well then. Here's the file. I'll have it copied and get all the sensitive stuff deleted out. Good enough?"
"Yeah, that'll be fine."
"Good." He fumbled for a cylidrical device inside his jacket. "Now, if the two of you will just look this way…"
Max often wondered how, with all the inaccuracies in the movie Men In Black, they got the mindwipe pens right. Probably the real MIB got the idea from the movie. For some reason, they never realized it doesn't work if the victim has his eyes closed. It didn't hurt that the MIB weren't very bright.
Ito said something from the airline seat next to his. "What was that?" Max asked.
"Moop," she said. Her glassy-eyed stare told Max that the mindwipe had hit her, and he was relieved that he wouldn't have to deal with the non-disclosure problems. The stare and the unfortunate tendency to say "moop" were the only side effects; they both would wear off in a few hours.
The copied file on project P11 was in Max's briefcase, and he desperately wanted to look them over. He hoped that there would be something, anything, that would make all this worthwhile. He had his doubts. But it had been a slow news week, so maybe there's something in there he could use to fill a couple columns.
Looking them over would have to wait. He was supposed to be sitting there, moop-ing about, and they were under surveillance. He glanced across the aisle, using his sunglasses to hide the fact that he was looking. Two men sat there, no doubt doing the same with their sunglasses. The only odd thing about them was the way they were dressed. Black pants and jacket. Black shirt and tie. Black sunglasses. Sky-blue open-toed pumps.
Ito said something, and Max nodded slightly in agreement. "Moop. Definitely moop."
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