An Unreliable Sauce
Pedrosa was cutting it pretty fine.
18:30, he'd said. That was 6:30, in the P.M., for civilians.
Wallace twitched his lip. Approximation to a smile.
It was almost funny. The way Pedrosa had set up this rendezvous, in military time. Laid out the terms and conditions of his "testimony", as if he were negotiating an armistice.
Pedrosa - if that was even his real moniker; the guy was an illegal, like so many others at Blue Mountain - was to be credited as "an anonymous source."
No recording equipment.
Wallace was to get Pedrosa's story, word for word. On paper.
Nuts, to that. Wallace's secretarial skills were right up there, with his great-grandmother's - who'd been a professional seamstress. Non-existent, in other words.
He'd called in some favors at Metro P.D., and gotten himself wired, like an undercover Narc.
Brought a notebook and pen, for show. He'd do his own version of shorthand.
Between that, Senor "Manuel Pedrosa's" halting English, Wallace's own high-school Spanish (He'd flunked, spectacularly), and the tape, he'd have what he wanted.
Pedrosa, spilling the beans on what was really going on with Blue Mountain's Everyman range.
Crouched beside the chain-link fence surrounding the canning plant, Wallace reflected that something out of the ordinary must be going on, here.
To justify the watch towers at every corner; machine gun emplacements at the top. The CCTV cameras, patrolling guards, and sniffer dogs. The crackling high voltage, coursing through the mesh of the fence.
They had to be protecting more than just a secret recipe for the millions-selling All-Purpose Ragouts, the company was peddling.
Well, Pedrosa should be here soon, to shed some light.
But Pedrosa was...
Wallace checked his wristwatch.
He was going to be 15 minutes late. In another 5 minutes.
A sudden movement, to his right. Wallace flicked his eyes, in that direction. Tensed, ready to run or fight.
A stinging pain, beneath his right ear. Instinctively, Wallace clapped a hand to the spot. Slapping the tranquilizer needle even deeper, into the skin.
He pitched forward, to the dirt. Unconscious, in seconds.
Wallace awoke to the glare of fluorescent lights, overhead. A large space, like a warehouse or factory floor.
Flat on his back. And naked, as the day he was born.
He couldn't make out what kind of surface he was lying on. Or feel his legs. Arms. Anything else, for that matter.
He could hear, though. And see - even if his eyes could only stare straight ahead.
What peripheral vision he had put him in a wide channel of some sort, with knee-high walls of steel mesh. At a table nearby, workers in the spotless overalls of the Blue Mountain Foods conglomerate pored over Wallace's clothing, with a fine-tooth comb.
That's how he deduced that he was naked.
Peering down at him was a face he recognized from all the news reports and business dailies.
Montague Kane. CEO, Blue Mountain Foods.
Kane held in one hand the mike and recording device which had been taped to Wallace's body, an expression of distaste on his patrician features. Like everyone else, the man was wearing surgical gloves.
One of the technicians from the table approached Kane. His tone was deeply respectful, as he confirmed that "We've done a sweep of the area, sir. No surveillance vans, or back-up units. Mr. Wallace is alone."
Kane nodded. He handed the wire to the tech, holding it in his thumb and forefinger, like a dead rat. His face didn't change, as he returned his attention to Wallace.
"Mr. Wallace is alone..."
The words seemed to echo through the room. They were all that Wallace could focus on, even as Kane loomed above him. But the man's lips were moving. He was talking. Saying words that might - might - hold the key to Wallace's survival.
Because, make no mistake; Wallace knew that his life was in the balance, here.
He bore down, struggling to make out the words.
"Mr. Wallace is alone..."
Not quite, though.
Kane's monologue on the merits of Everyman...
"Ranch House, Negrito. Our Everyman sauces are the favorite choice of households across the country. Nutritious, naturally tasty, and affordable..."
...Was interrupted, as a trio of workers passed behind him, lugging a wrapped plastic bundle. They hoisted it over the channel wall.
The limp and naked body of Manuel Pedrosa landed with a thud, at Wallace's feet.
If Wallace's eyes could have widened in horror, they would have. As it was, they could merely stare, as Kane continued speaking.
"Why, you may have used them, yourself. Very popular. We've had our trials, of course. Who hasn't? Civil suits. That unfortunate business with the gender rights lobby. EveryWoman, EveryPerson, my ass. And I'm sure you've heard the rumors, in the press. Else, you wouldn't be here."
Kane chuckled. More like a death's head grin, in that lean face.
"About our stringent work practices. Our unconventional employment policy. Migrants, transients, runaways. We hire them, where no one else will. I admit that. There's no shame in it. And yes, I run a tight ship. But, by taking these people off the streets - by giving them a purpose - we are doing a public service."
He leaned forward earnestly, now. Huckstering, like a cheap politician.
"You know, we ship over a million tonnes of our products every year, to starving families in Africa and Asia? At no charge. Public service. And, if we ask that our workers give something back, at the end of their shift, that's not unreasonable, is it?"
Kane paused, nodding to one of the technicians at the table.
As the tech guy flipped a switch, Kane resumed his discourse. Eyes gleaming with fervor. A sheen of sweat, on his upper lip.
Speaking with the absolute conviction of the obscenely wealthy, and utterly insane.
"The work force, now. They're our life's blood. Our strength. Our special ingredient. The secret, to our sauce. You'll see."
Kane stepped back, out of Wallace's line of sight.
At the far end of the hall, a mesh of sharpened steel blades whirred into life.
If Wallace could have thrashed and kicked, he'd be out of there, right now. But...
"Mr. Wallace is alone..."
And the steel conveyor belt holding the bodies of Manuel Pedrosa and Mr. Wallace chugged inexorably toward their special place in the making of Blue Mountain Everyman.
Wallace wondered which variety he'd end up in.
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