Chapter 3 - Underground
"What should I do?" Ben questions himself, following the nibble of his lower lip.
Intrigued by the meeting with the boss? Oh, yes, he is! It eats away at him all day while seated at his cubicle, trying to finish up the last few projects of the day. He also attempts not to get into further trouble with leadership, which would result in his immediate dismissal. Any hope at the resume building this completed internship at Noble International offers will be crushed like his dreams of rising the corporate ladder. If Ben concludes his time in the trenches with no more fuck-ups, he is all but guaranteed phenomenal success in any area of the business world.
"Is there any doubt that I have a choice?"
Ben licks his thin lips constantly. Concentration on work seems impossible. Van’s badgering questions don't help either. He wants the juice from the source on the substance of Ben's meeting with Dom. The intern ignores him. Instead, Ben stares at the black business card Dom gives him when he's sure no one is looking. He turns it over in his hand as he does the same in his head.
“What did you mean by the opportunity of a lifetime?” he murmurs at the card as if it holds all his answers.
Why can’t Ben tell anyone about it? He wants to so badly to his frat bro, Pete he could spit! However, Dom says she will know, and Ben believes her. The boss suffers no fools. He’s seen it too many times to count how she destroys perceived enemies the way the company does, opposing multifaceted companies. To be on the receiving end of Dom's wrath, Ben has no desire whatsoever. In a way, he already stumbles into her sights with that portfolio debacle, and it petrifies him.
Ben wills the day to speed by. Thankfully, it does once the other witch managers fly off on their brooms. A few of them demand work already completed by Van and him to be overhauled for their amusement before their meetings tomorrow. Ben hates them all. They are so damn nitpicky about the minor changes they want to their work.
Geez, Ben’s skin has grown so thick that he no longer takes corrections to his work personally. The witches break him of that habit because of its frequency. He’s great about letting it roll off his back, but he knows they do it to irritate him and Van. All of them love to be a thorn in their asses reminiscent of what the frat does.
Ben's brothers claim such hazing tendencies build character. He understands that better now, having to work at Noble. Like at the frat, he simply refuses to get riled up over nothing, playing into the hands of his enemies. Their pettiness gave them satisfaction. Ben will not participate, thus deflating any illusion of power.
Fuck them witches!
For the rest of the day, the boss lady remains strangely silent. No further calls from her are received. Dom stays in her office as far as anyone knows. The corporate people left today, so all breathe easier. Maybe things return to normal or as close to what that looks like at Noble. The intensity experienced surrounding their visit weighs heavily on most being a stressful place to work anyway.
Five o’clock arrives finally! His body hums with enthusiasm. Ben barely stands it. He picks up the office phone receiver a few times when realizing he is alone. The last time he does not return the receiver to the cradle. He decides to dial the number on the back of the black business card. The phone line rings once, and someone picks up.
“Have you accepted the invitation, Mr. Nettles?” the soft female voice questions him without greeting as if she knows him.
Ben frowns, not recognizing her voice although finding it pleasant. How does the strange woman even know his name? She sounds around his age, and he thinks he hears a slight accent. Maybe French? Canadian? He’s not sure. Living in Washington, D.C., Ben is used to hearing all kinds of accents all his life. America's capital city is a consummate melting pot of cultures and nationalities; this town holds so many Embassies of the world.
Ben frowns as he looks around at the empty office, relieved that he sits alone. He swallows then answers, “Yes.”
“Excellent,” she says with good cheer, “The game has begun.”
“The game? What g-game? Wh-what’re you talking about?” What the hell has he accepted?
“Appear in the lobby of your office building in fifteen minutes starting--now! Don’t be late. If you are, you forfeit the game. There are no do-overs. Is that understood?”
“Um, I guess so.”
“Excellent,” she says in the same friendly tone, which strangely puts him at ease even though he's still nervous about the unknown. “A black limousine has been dispatched and will take you to your destination.”
Ben lifts an eyebrow in curiosity. “Which is?”
“The Underground, of course.”
“What is that? Some club?” he questions while staring at the black business card.
The woman on the line giggles at him, and for some reason, he finds it an adorable sound. He relaxes further. “Patience, Mr. Nettles. More instructions will follow once you are underway.”
“But wha--?” he cuts himself off, hearing the line disconnect.
Ben pushes out a sigh yet calls the number back. A busy signal greets him. Figures. He tries the number several times with the same result. Ben glares at the card. Why no voicemail? What the hell is this?
His breathing rushes. Anticipation runs high through Ben, along with the suspense and fear frankly of the game at the Underground, whatever that is. Looking up at the clock, he swallows. Ten minutes fly by. Quickly, he stands, slings his courier sack across him, and grabs his mobile phone from the charger on the way out.
"No way," he decides. "No way I'll be late."
Ben stands in the lobby when a car arrives. The black driver wearing a suit gets out and comes around to open the back passenger door of what appears to be a Mercedes. Even as Ben leaves the building tentatively, he thinks of a stretch limo coming for him, not a car. He’s uncertain if he really wants to do this. The driver, though, looks at him with a nod and an inviting smile of encouragement.
The driver greets, “Good evening, Mr. Nettles. My name is Sam, and I will be your driver tonight.”
“Hi, Sam,” Ben responds with a hesitant smile. “Can you tell me where we’re going?”
The driver hands him a buzzing smartphone. Ben frowns at him, looking from the phone to the black man. “I already have a phone. Thanks.”
“No, sir; this call is for you.”
Ben frowns and takes the smartphone that still buzzes in his hand. However, the display merely indicates that an unknown number calls. He sighs. Of course, it does. Nothing about this situation can be straightforward.
“Please answer it, sir,” Sam prompts while still holding the passenger side door open for him.
The phone continues to buzz in his hand, but Ben eventually answers. He puts it to his ear and hears, “Please enter the vehicle, Mr. Nettles.” It’s the same female voice he speaks to when he calls the number on the black business card back at his desk!
“Where am I going?” Ben asks with a frown.
“First, you must enter the vehicle,” the voice on the phone replies with familiar friendliness.
Ben glances around yet abides by the wish of the bright female voice. Sam shuts the car door and then settles into the driver’s seat. Ben’s never ridden in a Mercedes and is surprised by the amount of legroom he has. The soft leather seats impress, too. The car must have been modified somehow from the standard, maximizing the comfort of the passenger. Ben could get used to this kind of luxury. It truly blows him away, just like the glass of champagne Sam hands him with a smile.
“What’s this?” he asks while glancing at the fine crystal flute filled with a golden liquid.
Sam pulls into traffic smoothly but says nothing.
The voice on the phone (it’s still at his ear) answers, “Compliments of your sponsor, Mr. Nettles.”
“My--my sponsor? I don’t understand.” Ben tries his best to grasp all this, but he’s having a hard time. Nothing like this stuff happens to him, ever.
“On this phone, you have been forwarded a contract, which you will need to review and submit for consent.”
A scowl knits his eyebrows. “Consent to what? What is this game you keep talking about?”
“Nondisclosure of the events that have taken place and all that is to follow. It outlines everything that you will need to know before you proceed. Without your signature and compliance, the game is forfeit, and you will be returned to your point of origin.”
He clenches his jaw. “And if I do sign?”
“Once you sign and return the document to the sender, then you will be brought to the Underground for the completion of the game.”
Ben sits back in his spot. The leather hugs him in lavish softness. “I will need time to consider and at least read this document.”
“Of course. You have one hour.” The friendly voice disconnects again when he wants to ask his next question.
Ben stares at the phone. A grimace turns down his mouth. He attempts to call her back, but it’s an unknown number. Ben doesn’t bother trying to call the number from the black business card. She tells him what he needs to do, which is review the contract.
The intern finds the download and begins to read. "Very bored already."
Ben skims and scrolls through the very long document. Legal mumble jumbo makes him sleepy. He sips more bubbly and smiles. It’s sweet and light. Ben likes it a lot and so drinks the full contents of the glass.
“Where are we going? What game?” he asks Sam, who glances at him in the rearview mirror.
The black man shrugs his shoulders. “I won’t know until you complete the contract. Then I will be texted the place to take you. Until then, I’ll drive you around town unless texted other instructions.”
Ben gazes out the passenger window knowing there is no way he’s backing out as Sam turns onto Connecticut Avenue. This may be the turning point of his life or at least the most exciting. If he doesn’t go for it, he’ll regret it for the rest of his life.
The opportunity of a lifetime, Dom says? Hell, how could he pass that up? The way Ben figures it, nothing could be worst than what he already endures at Noble. So far, what he experiences is great with the limo and bubbly. He’s curious to know what more is in store for him.
Ben consents wholeheartedly by signing his name with his finger and sending the document as that friendly voice instructs. Afterward, he leans back and tries to relax. A huge weight lifts off his shoulders. Only a bit of nervousness remains in the questions that roam around his brain. What is this Underground? What game will he play?
“That’s right, Mr. Nettles,” he thinks he hears that friendly woman’s voice over a speakerphone but does not open his eyes. He can’t open them for some reason. The phone he has is beside him, but for some reason, the flute is too heavy. It drops from his hand and rolls away from his feet. Ben doesn’t move. In alarm, he’s relaxed, and he’s drifting.
The last thing he hears is the friendly female voice speaking around him, “Relax and enjoy the ride. We will see you soon.”