This is what woke me from my slumber: The smell of cookies baking. I heard a knock at my door and sat up with a jolt. I shook my head and then looked across the room at my clock. It was midnight. Who the hell would be at my door at midnight and why did I smell cookies?
I got up and walked over to my door to look out the peephole. Rolling my eyes, I unlocked the door and opened it.
“Can I help you?” I said crossly.
“Hey, babe,” it was my friend, Trey. Well, to be exact, he was my ex-boyfriend from a while back.
“Trey, what are you doing here at this hour?” I asked, “Don’t you know that normal people sleep at night?” I had a lot of nerve putting myself in the same category as normal people.
He must have thought the same thing. “Who’s normal?” he said, “I hadn’t talked to you and I wanted to see what you were up to.”
“You’ve heard of the phone?” I asked.
“Aw, now, let me in,” he said, moving past me and walking into my kitchen.
“Come on in,” I said.
“I’m not interrupting anything, am I?” he said, looking around my apartment.
“You’re just weird, you know that?” I said.
“You never know,” he said. Then he grabbed me and planted a kiss on my cheek.
Instead of letting go of me, he attempted to pull me in closer for a real kiss but I put a hand up to stop him.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“What?” he said, “I can’t get a kiss from my favorite girl?”
“Oh, now I’m your favorite,” I said, “What happened to your girlfriend from the other day, what was her name, Tina?”
“Oh, that,” he said, “That’s over.”
I marveled at how quickly Trey jumped in and out of relationships. I had to admit, it almost made me jealous. I fancied myself somewhat of a contender in the area of romantic conquests, but he made me look like an amateur. The sad thing was that if I hadn’t been so preoccupied with the thought of cookies, I might have kissed him back.
“What happened there?” I asked.
He shrugged, “Nothing, really, she just wasn’t you.” He grinned and I had to smile at him, the big dummy. He was so damned good-looking.
“Hey, do you smell cookies?” I asked him.
“Well, yeah, I thought, and I don’t know why, but I thought you might have been making them,” he said.
“What would ever make you think that?” I asked. “I was just having a really weird dream about cookies and then you knocked at the door.”
“Was it a kinky cookie dream?” he said, still grinning.
For this, I slapped the top of his head. “No, ass,” I said. “I was actually dreaming that I was watching someone make a bunch of cookies. It was really stupid.”
“You probably just dreamed that because someone on this floor is making cookies somewhere,” he said, “too bad you’re not friends with your neighbors or you could get in on the cookie action.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I said, “Whatever.”
We both sat down on the couch and Trey flipped through my channels. He stopped at an episode of the Rockford Files and we watched for a while without saying much. I only had to slap his hand away from my knee three times while we sat there together. After that, I got up to go to bed.
“Need some company?” he asked.
“Nope, need a blanket?” I replied.
“Yep,” he said.
It was difficult to leave him on the couch, but I knew that we couldn’t keep having these little interludes if I was ever going to move on. We could be friends, but that was going to have to be it. Besides, I wasn’t going to make things that easy for him.
When I woke up the next morning, Trey had folded his blanket and left a note on my kitchen table. “Missed you out here last night, see you tonight.” Evidently, I’d see him later. I took a shower, got dressed and then grabbed the stuff from my desk that I’d put together for my fake presentation to Santac. I found a manila folder in my desk drawer and stuffed all of it inside to keep it from getting wrinkled. When I had finished my morning routine, I grabbed my purse and the folder and headed to the car. I was off to Santac for my meeting with Mrs. Clos.
When I got to the address that she had given me, I felt a sense of déjà vu. Instead of a manufacturing plant, as I had expected it to be, I drove up to a large house that was situated in the middle of a large lot. The building was surrounded on all sides by parking lots, but there wasn’t a car in sight. I checked my watch to make sure I hadn’t arrived too early. It was about 10:15 a.m., yet no one appeared to be here. I drove around to the back of the house and there, I saw a large, red Suburban parked at the rear of the house. There was also a row of what appeared to be large dog kennels lining one side of a fenced area along the back. This was just creepy. It was almost exactly the same as what I had seen in my dream last night. Except for the fact that there was no snow and that I hadn’t actually seen any animals.
I parked the Jeep and got out to look around. I quietly walked across the parking lot and took a peek inside one of the windows of the house. Another feeling of weirdness crept over me as I looked inside. There were about fifteen people inside, standing around a table and they appeared to be decorating cookies. “Wow!” I heard myself say. “What is up with all of the cookies?”
I heard a door open and I quickly jumped away from the window so that I looked less like I was spying and more like I was trying to find a way inside.
“Can I help you, Miss?” a woman asked. She was about four feet tall and she was wearing a bright, red velvet dress that was trimmed with fake white fur. This was suspicious.
“I’m here to meet with Mrs. Clos,” I said, digging in the manila folder to retrieve a card.
As I handed her the card, she looked at it carefully. “Do you have an appointment, Miss Herman?”
“Yes, she’s expecting me,” I said, crossing my fingers behind me.
“Right this way,” she said, leading me into the house.
Christmas music was playing softly from somewhere. The same music I’d heard in my dream last night. I wanted to turn around and run back to the Jeep to get the hell out of this place, but I remained calm. Maybe I was just extremely intuitive, though that wasn’t something I’d been plagued by in the past. The woman disappeared into another room and when she came back, Mrs. Clos appeared behind her. She smiled at me and then walked over and extended her hand.
“Nice to meet you, Ms. Herman,” she said, “We can talk in here.” She pointed to a room off of the kitchen in the opposite direction of where she had just been. She didn’t say anything else until we were both sitting at the table together. She looked over at me and asked, “Would you like some hot chocolate, dear?”
“You do remember talking to me yesterday, right?” I asked.
“Oh, of course,” she said, “Will you need to look at our inventory today?” She winked.
I tried to think of why I would need to do that. I guessed that it might be helpful to get an idea of what kinds of products we would be pretending to promote. “Sure,” I said, “I guess that’s a good place to start.”
We didn’t get any hot chocolate. Instead, she led me out to another room in the house where I could see about a hundred different stations had been set up in a large open space. There were about ten tables set up and behind each of them were stackable crates full of parts and pieces that I guessed were used to make whatever it was that Santac manufactured. Mrs. Clos showed me the first station and indicated that this one was where dolls were made. She pointed to the other side of the room where a large conveyor belt had been set up. “One of our stockers comes around and collects the things that have been made at each station and puts them on the belt so that they can be sent down to be packaged,” she explained.
I nodded. “Okay,” I said, “What is your most popular product?” I was hoping she knew that I was asking about the product that had been coming up missing.
She walked a couple of stations down to a larger station that had a variety of parts stacked along the wall behind it. The parts included all kinds of cogs and wheels and other things that I didn’t quite recognize. “What is this?” I asked.
“This is our most popular product, the Move ‘N Shaker,” she said proudly.
“What’s a Move ‘N Shaker?” I asked. I admit, I have little to no knowledge of what kids are into these days.
“It’s a video game that kids can play by using special virtual controllers,” she said, “it’s like they’re in the game.”
“Oh, really,” I said, still trying to figure out why this would be so great.
“Come with me,” she said. We walked out of the room and she took me into a smaller room where a large screen television had been set up. In front of it, there was a console that had all kinds of wires hooked to it. She flipped the television set on and then reached for a headset that was lying on top of the console. She put the headset on and then hit the switch on the console. The screen lit up and the television showed what appeared to be a large field covered with snow. This just kept getting more and more strange. She pulled another item from below the console and I could see that she now had a set of handlebars in front of her. They were tethered to the console and there were all kinds of different buttons on them.
“Watch,” she said. I watched as the front end of a vehicle appeared on the screen.
It was a snowmobile, but I was looking at it as though I was sitting on the thing. Mrs. Clos pushed some buttons on the handlebars and the snowmobile started moving across the screen. It was pretty cool actually. She “rode” the snowmobile around for a while and pointed out the changes in scenery. This was the Move ‘N Shaker. It was a virtual reality game console and evidently, it was the hot ticket this year.
She started putting things away and we headed out of the room and back towards where we had started out. When she had closed the door, I waited until we had gotten settled back in at the table to ask her any questions about the game. “So, about how many of these things can you make in a day?” I asked.
“We are supposed to produce at least three hundred each day here at this location,” she said, “but our inventory has been coming in at about two hundred and sixty every day.”
“Are you sure that three hundred are being made each day? I noticed that you don’t have any cameras up or at least none that I can see,” I said.
“Oh, we’re sure,” she said, “There are enough parts for three hundred consoles given to that workstation every day. Each shift is to make one hundred consoles during their eight hours here.”
“Is anybody lagging behind or are all three shifts pretty much doing the same number?” I asked.
“First and third are doing fine, it’s the second shift that seems to be having trouble,” she said. “But I hate to think that she’s doing anything wrong, she’s been with us for years.” She went on to explain that the assemblers work in tandem with the stockers to move the merchandise from the assembly line to the warehouse.
“I’m going to need the names of all of the workers associated with that station, can you get me that?” I asked.
She nodded and took a pad and pencil from her apron. That was odd; I hadn’t noticed she was wearing an apron before. In any case, she wrote down five names and beside those, she wrote down which shift they worked. She handed me the slip of paper and said, “There are only two stockers who work twelve hours a day. Like I said, I don’t think it’s either of the two ladies who are working assembly. It’s the other three I’m suspicious of.”
Come back later today for another chapter of this story…
Until next time…
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