“Step this way please, Mr. Quarry.”
I had always known this day would come. As soon as I had stepped through the stainless steel and plate glass portals I had a premonition of dark design: today I would be chosen. This clouded my thinking as I walked through the aisles.
They had been tracking me for the last thirty minutes on closed circuit TV. They don’t bother to hide the cameras anymore, everyone knows about them by now. Even though the remote monitoring had been going on for years a strange creepy feeling still filled the senses. Someone somewhere was watching.
The excursion itself, however, proved pleasant enough. Items were skillfully arrayed in a myriad of colors. This all served to make one momentarily forget about the guard dogs, armed security, cameras and microphones. I pushed my thoughts of impending doom to the back of my mind and for a while was at peace.
Peace was not long lasting however and my dark thoughts came crashing back as we queued up to leave at the check point center. After my selections were placed in a brightly colored plastic container I was approached by a young uniformed girl.
“May I see your identification please?” she cheerily inquired.
They’re trained to do that. To act cheerful. I reached into a pocket and retrieved my wallet. I withdrew the required paperwork and handed it to her. She studied it carefully for a moment, frowning, then she spoke.
“Step this way please, Mr. Quarry.”
Damn! I hate this! I follow her through a maze hallways and tunnels, my heart pounding wildly in my ears. Finally, we arrive at the interrogation center located deep within the recesses of the building.
It is a long narrow room with double doors at either end. Fluorescent tubes over head flood the room with rays of light that glance from white wall to white wall. From floor to ceiling, completely filling the room with dazzling brightness. The room is devoid of furniture or fixtures save five orange molded plastic chairs that lined the wall closest to where we entered.
“Remove your clothing please,” the girl commands in solemn tones.
I hesitate a moment, feeling a bit shaky, and not really believing this was happening to me, but this was my first time. I just stare blankly into her dull grey eyes.
“Remove your clothing please,” she repeats, a little more harshly now than before.
I begin disrobing slowly and she smiles her approval. She watches with seeming disinterest. Probably does this all day I think to myself as I step out of my trousers. I hand my clothes over to her in a bundle. She glances hurriedly over my naked body then she searches through my clothing. Apparently satisfied that I have nothing to conceal she returns my apparel and announces that I am to get dressed again.
“You can’t be too careful these days,” she says. “Please be seated. Someone will be with you in a minute.”
After I finish dressing I sit in one of the chairs against the wall. I am only sitting there a few minutes when the double doors at the other end of the room burst open. I am suddenly joined by a middle-aged professional looking man in a long white lab coat closely followed by a younger man in a similar coat pushing a two- tiered cart laden with various pieces of electronic apparatus. The two men had apparently been catapulted together down the long corridor preceding the double doors which even now are still swinging on their hinges.
“Good day, Mr. Quarry. I am afraid we are going to need some additional information.” This from the middle-aged man. “If you will be so kind as to bring one of those chairs over here to the center of the room, we can begin our session.”
I comply with his request as the younger man proceeds to engage his equipment. A pneumatic tube is wound tightly across my chest. Around my arm, just above the elbow, a heavy canvas band is wound tightly into place, constricting the flow of blood in my arm and measuring its pressure. To the tip of my middle finger a shiny silver electrode it taped. This to measure body temperature. I am now wired to the polygraph machine. The young technician finally plugs the electrical cord into the waiting outlet box in the floor and flips the switch, thereby breathing life into the machine. Needles become erect on their respective dials and a low barely audible hum indicates that the machine lives.
“Now Mr. Quarry, a few test questions to calibrate the machine to your particular bodily reactions.”
My interrogator stands behind me a little to one side. His presence is known to me only as a disembodied voice coming to me over my right shoulder. His questions are simple at first. What is your name? Did you ever steal money from your parents as child? And so on. The came the pertinent questions.
“Your place of employment?”
“River City Mutual.”
“Length of service?”
“Your wife’s name?”
“And your wife’s place of employment?”
“And your wife’s income?”
I let go with a little laugh after this, but there was no reaction from anyone else in the room, but the machine. Its arcing stylus bleeds red ink onto the moving graph paper.
So the questioning goes, probing into all areas of my life. A list of personal property is given. A list of friends and relatives is given. Finally, it is over. I had begun to hyperventilate. My left arm is numb. My body fairly floats in perspiration. The skin at the back of my skull crawls with anxiety. I stagger to my feet having come through the ordeal, much to my surprise, alive.
“Miss Jones will escort you back up front,” I am informed.
The interrogation unit disengages its equipment and disappears through the same double doors from whence it came. Simultaneously the same girl that had brought me here reappears at the opposite end of the room. She holds the door open and beckons me to follow.
“This way please, Mr. Quarry,” she says.
We pass through the same series of hallways and tunnels until we arrive once again at the check point center. We wait a few moments at the desk. A phone rings. Miss Jones answers. Stone face. She replaces the phone in its cradle then flashes a smile in my direction.
“Your check has been approved, Mr. Quarry. Here are your purchases. You may exit the store now and thank you for shopping at S and M.