When her shift ended, Madison keyed Mr. Black’s address into her phone’s map app and followed the instructions. The entire drive she tried different cover stories in her head. None felt quite right, and she was a little concerned that showing up on his doorstep simply knowing who he was might land her in trouble. As it happened, she never had the chance.
As Madison made the last turn onto the six hundred block of Lakeside, she spotted Mr. Black’s car heading the other way. She quickly turned around and started pursuit. She followed him through the city and out into the countryside. After about 15 minutes, she saw a large warehouse, surrounded by a tall wire fence. She pulled to the side of the road and watched as Mr. Black stopped at a gatehouse. As far as Madison could tell, it was the only opening in the perimeter.
The gate opened, and Mr. Black proceeded onto the facility grounds. A large tractor-trailer passed her car and turned in to the same driveway. Madison watched as the truck went through the gate. She could see more trucks approaching in the distance from both directions on the rural highway where she had stopped. She pulled her car further off and stepped out to survey the area.
The sun was low in the sky, but bright. She thought she might be able to use that to her advantage. The gatehouse didn’t have a back window, so she felt safe creeping along the fence behind it. She stopped a few hundred feet from the gatehouse and waited for another semi to pull up. The sun was hitting the gatehouse window directly, and she used the glare as cover to run around behind the truck. She found a place to stand where she couldn’t see the driver in his side-view mirror, remembering all those “If you can’t see me, I can’t see you” stickers she’d seen on the backs of these kinds of trucks.
The gate opened and she jogged next to the truck until it was through. Then she dove into tall grass next to the parking lot and crept forward on her hands and knees. The warehouse seemed to be a large rectangle from her vantage point. There were loading docks along one side with trucks at most of them. She saw no windows, but there were a couple doors on the side nearest her. Neither had a doorknob, so she figured there must be a different way into the building. She dropped to her belly as one of the doors opened and she watched two men come outside for a smoke break, propping the door open behind them with a cement block.
Minutes passed while the men talked and laughed. When they finished and went back inside, Madison sprinted across the open parking lot and caught the door with her foot before it closed completely. She slipped inside, let it close, and leaned against the doorjamb for cover. There was nobody in sight.
Madison slipped her phone out of her back pocket and opened the camera app. She tapped the zoom button to get the wide angle, which she hoped could convey the enormity of the space she was in. The building was well lit and she saw row after row of tall shelving filled with canned goods. It was like a wholesale club store, except the shelves were taller, and the space was larger. She snuck around taking more pictures. The canned food gave way to dry goods and then medical supplies. She approached the end of the building and saw that an entire wall was covered with the largest refrigerators she had ever seen.
She doubled back, afraid to leave the wall she had started on and eventually stumbled across the safe she had heard Mr. Green describe at IHOP. She was in the midst of taking a picture when a loud noise startled her. She lost her balance and fell against a fence that surrounded the giant safe. An alarm sounded when she hit the fence, and Madison scrambled to her feet and put her phone back into her pocket.
She started jogging back toward the door she entered but saw men approaching that exit carrying large guns. She ran down one of the aisles between shelves that had not yet been stocked. She reached the end and saw that she was now being pursued from two directions. She made a hard left and ran as fast as she could down the corridor. Most of the shelves in this section were empty. People were shouting and the echoing alarm was deafening. She could see the loading docks in the distance and decided that was how she would get out.
She turned right and headed down another aisle, escaping the exposed feeling of the corridor, and then left at the next corridor. She continued this right, left, right, left pattern with the promise of escape through the loading docks ahead of her. She made another right and slammed directly into a large man holding a pistol. She fell back to the ground, and her phone skittered out of her pocket and under one of the shelving units. She turned toward it, but it was too far underneath to recover.
The man helped her to her feet and she looked him in the eye. He looked surprised and confused. There was something familiar about his face. Madison tried to place him, taking a long mental break from the chaos around her. Maybe he was one of the smokers? She couldn’t be sure. But he definitely looked familiar.
“Go!” he whispered, pointing toward an exit door at the end of the aisle.
Madison looked at him, and then at the exit door.
“Go! I’ll distract them,” he said.
As she ran toward the door, she could hear him shouting to the other men, sending them in a different direction. The shelves on this aisle were full, providing her with solid cover to the exterior wall. She thought about going back for her phone. Her entire life was in that phone. But she couldn’t. She tamped down the feeling of loss and charged ahead to the door.
Outside the sun had set and it was twilight. The temperature was dropping rapidly. Madison ran as hard and fast as she could across the parking lot and collapsed into the tall grass on the other side. She rolled onto her back and looked at the sky while she caught her breath.