Marcus straightened his tie and brushed his hair to the right side with his hand. One of his roommates was playing Tupac and wildly throwing gang symbols at his desk. He could see him in the mirror. It was growing dark outside. The room smelled of a little more aftershave than necessary. His two roommates used to pester him about these Saturday nights. “Where are you going all dressed up?” they’d ask, and he’d say, “Mass,” and that would shut them up. He slipped his wallet into his back pocket and began down the stairs. Saturday night mass? Were they stupid?
It was dreadfully cold outside of the dormitory, and Marcus flipped the collar of his overcoat up. He’d seen Humphrey Bogart do it in a film. Or maybe it was Harrison Ford. He wished he had the driver here, so that he wouldn’t have to walk alone down these snowy sidewalks, the wind chafing his cheeks. It was worth it, he told himself. It was this or drinking lukewarm Milwaukee’s Best in a room party somewhere, music on too loud, and maybe sloppily hooking up with some blonde mannequin from the sororities. He was too classy for that.
As he walked uptown, the streets quickly changed character. The streets surrounding the campus gave way to dilapidated apartment projects, a multi-colored myriad of trash and cigarette butts jutting from the snowdrifts. Marcus rounded a corner, turning onto a non-descript side-street. A single orange lamp threw an otherworldly haze over the grey concrete. The street did not draw a second glance from any passer-by. Close inspection, however, would have revealed things that ought not to have been on this inner city block. The windows in the buildings were all dark, and the walks were clear of the common stream of litter. A black Rolls-Royce was parked casually next to a hydrant, and next to it an Italian sports car. A wooden handrail extended from a basement staircase, oddly juxtaposed with the surrounding scene. He placed his left hand upon it, gingerly stepping into the darkness below.
The heavy door open at the bottom of the stair opened into a dim and tiny room, where a huge Samoan man in a dark suit stood. The massive man wordlessly extended an open palm. Marcus fumbled with his wallet, pulling out the glass card. The Samoan held it in two fingers, raised it to eye level. He nodded. The man turned to the heavy industrial door behind him, opening it with a single wrenching pull. Marcus stepped through, glancing over his shoulder to say, “Thanks, Ralph.” Ralph returned a subtle, but angry glare.
Marcus was greeted with a rush of warmth and a friendly woman in a short red dress. She sported a bulky brass collar. She took his coat. A gentle wash of voices came from the floor below, along with a mixed scent of liquor, oak, and tobacco. He stepped down from the balcony, taking the spiral staircase to the ground floor confidently. Here was his place, away from the plebeians, away from their petty college-age worries. If they only knew. The club was alive tonight. The tables were bustling with poker games, and groups of well-dressed men and women were talking in groups. Strange, solitary figures nursed cocktails at the long mahogany bar, and the old grays sat in armchairs by the fire, brandishing cigars and conversing grandiloquently. An enormous black piano in the corner was softly twinkling Ellington’s “Little Brown Book.” There was no player. Occasionally, people would walk over and slip bills into the empty highball glass sitting on the bench.
Marcus walked over to the fireplace, close to the aged men. He sat in one of the leather chairs, his socks awkwardly visible at his ankles as he lifted his legs up onto an ottoman. Leafing through a copy of the Times, he pretended to read but instead listened intently. They fascinated him, these back-of-the-room men. They were captains of industry, politicians, royalty; bespectacled and tweed, criminals all. These great leaky galleons seemed not to care about his proximity, or notice at all, and continued conversing in gruff and frank tones. Marcus looked up from the paper, making eye contact with one of the women in the red dresses.
She walked over gracefully, gorgeous. Angry red splotches were visible around the edges of her collar, barely noticeable under the makeup. She must be new, Marcus thought. After a few words, the woman went to the bar, and then returned with his drink. Three fingers of scotch, two ice-cubes. It went down hard, but his father drank it. Sipping from the glass, he attempted to hide the sharp exhale that escaped from his mouth, fearing unreasonably that the old men would notice and take offense. Marcus was always concerned with how the other members saw him. He was easily the youngest there, and the others didn’t tend to speak to him.
A rotund and gray engine stood on the table nearby, chugging slowly and periodically giving off a bluish soporific steam. It had been a long week. Marcus began thinking about his father – his father, the senator. He felt his eyelids growing heavy, his arms slopping off the edges of the chair.
It was his eighteenth birthday, and he had just gotten into college. He had begged his father, begged and begged. And finally, there it was, driving up the pebble driveway to the family mansion. The black, non-descript car pulled up at the front door. Marcus watched through the kitchen window, childlike with anticipation. A tall, slender man, with close-cropped hair and a pinstripe suit stepped out of the passenger seat. The senator went out and shook hands with him. He said something, laughing heartily. The man from the car did not react. They met at the door. The representative was British, humorless, and carried nothing. He had a voice like shaved ice.
The senator led Marcus and the representative into his study, where they sat opposite each other, silently. Melinda brought in a tray with a water pitcher and two glasses. The glass sat untouched before the representative for the five minutes of the interview. Afterward Marcus’ father came in, and they shut him out.
Crouching and watching through the crack between the doors, Marcus could only hear muffled voices. His father was talking and gesticulating. The man in the suit was speaking quietly and sharply, shaking his head slightly. His father was growing louder, red in the face like he got during his campaign speeches. The man in the suit kept shaking his head. And then the senator had his checkbook out and was writing on it. The two men shook hands, and three weeks later Marcus had his glass card.
Marcus awoke, startled. Several hours had passed. The old men had left, presumably to their respective rooms. Some of the women in the short red dresses were wiping down tables and emptying ash trays. One of them was passing between the remaining groups of members, offering a little silver tray in her right hand. The tray had several evenly placed rows of white pills on it. He took one, unquestioning, and swallowed it.
The floor was still populated, but quiet now. Young men and women sat on the furniture in small groups, laughing softly. Several of them were gathered around the gray engine, examining it and inhaling the blue steam. The jazz piano had been replaced by a low and electronic basso thrumming. Every once and a while, an odd noise would float up from the basement staircase in the rear of the room. Three African men in tan military uniforms were standing at the bar drinking cognac and vermouth. He watched their lips contort and shift with each syllable, and they seemed to slow. The constant flicker of the fire beside him became sluggish, too. In his ears, the intimate voices of the young and privileged around him grew deeper and deeper, until they were gross and comedic parodies. Marcus watched the pendulum on the great brown grandfather clock by the fire swing slower, its clicks decreasing in frequency. And then it stopped altogether. Soon – he did not know how long after – he could not move a muscle. He was stuck, sunken into the leather armchair. His eyes tracked his field of vision, scrutinizing the people stuck in mid-gesture; drops of liquid suspended centimeters above tongues, the feet frozen impossibly in mid-air. A great sweep of relaxation washed between the hemispheres of his brain.
He snapped to, and it was as if someone had pressed fast-forward in his mind. There were gunshots. The lights were flickering, and members were running every which way, screaming. Armed men in strange black jumpsuits were flooding the balcony above. Several of the guards had upturned one of the heavy oak tables at the front of the room and were crouching behind it, trading gunfire with the men above. Marcus panicked and jumped down from his chair, crawling across the floor. Broken glass cut into his knees.
One of the guards hurried passed him, and Marcus clung to his calves, tripping him up awkwardly.
“Get the fuck off!” the man shouted.
“Help me,” Marcus begged piteously.
“Get off. You’re a gold member; don’t have security privileges,” he said through gritted teeth. “Let go of me now or you’ll get us both killed.” The guard shook his leg vigorously.
“Please help me!” Marcus pleaded, a string of spittle streaming ungracefully from his mouth to the guard’s pant-leg. The guard kneed him sharply in the jaw, discarding him to the carpet.
It seemed like an instant later that the floor was alive with the black-suited soldiers. Gazing around, his eyes were blurry with tears. Three security guards lay in puddles of blood. It seemed like all the older members were gone. In fact, all the help were gone too; the bartenders and the women in the red dresses. The only people left on the floor were the young members and the three African men. Operatives were holding them all at gunpoint, zipping riot-cuffs onto their wrists. Marcus stumbled to his feet, lunging for the basement staircase. A rifle butt came across his skull, and his head was filled with sparks.
Waking up, he had a splitting headache, and there was dried blood on his face. The room was bright white, and it made him squint. He tried to lift his hand to shade his eyes, but they were strapped to the chair he was sitting in. Across the table in front of him sat a figure in a white laboratory coat. He couldn’t make out her face due to the angle of the lights.
“Awake, are you?” said the figure.
“What…what the hell?” ventured Marcus.
“Please state your name,” said the figure, poising a pen over a clipboard.
“Where am I?” Marcus asked, terror mounting.
“Please state your name,” the figure repeated.
“You can’t do this! I’m an American citizen! My father is a senator! My father..!” Marcus shouted, struggling aimlessly with his bonds. The figure across the table sighed and put down the pen. She made a beckoning motion with her hand, looking over Marcus’ left shoulder. Marcus saw the man approach in his peripheral vision, a lone syringe borne on a bare stainless-steel medical tray. He screamed.