“Hey, guys!” shouted Robbie trying to pull out his wallet, “We have our–”
But it was too late. They had hoods over their heads and were being muscled into the van.
“What did we do?” Melchior shouted over the van engine, but there was no answer.
“Goddamn it, Mel,” said Robbie, “I knew some shit like this was going to happen.”
But there was nothing to be done but wait as the van knocked them into each other. After 10 minutes or so the van stopped abruptly and the door was sliding open with a lurch.
“Ok, this is your stop, guys,” said a man’s voice. “Do you have your cards?”
They pulled out their cards. He took them and heard a buzzing and a beep. “You won’t need a sponsor next time. These will work at any Bank of Greater America ATM. Just swipe and wait for the receipt. It will tell you where and when to meet for your next excursion.” He handed them back.
“This is what’s going to happen,” the man said, ”We will take you in. You’ll have a great time, then we’ll come and get you at midnight. This van will return you to your cars. Your cards have night time privileges now, so no one will hassle you when you drive home, and no one will be the wiser. Got it?”
“Ummm…” began Robbie, then Melchior elbowed him and said, “Got it.”
“Oh, one more thing. If this place gets busted, you’re out of the UTN for life. Got it?”
“Right. Remind me,” said Melchior, remembering the name of the files ending in “.utn”. “What does UTN stand for?”
“Underground Tourist Network.”
“And that would make you?”
“Your tour guide,” he said.
Quickly and blindly, they were led onto a sidewalk and down a flight of stairs. They heard an electronic bleep and were led into a room with a lot of people talking and music playing. They could smell Chinese food. Their masks were removed.
What they saw was a low-lit nightclub, with a jazz band on stage fronted by a gorgeous dark-skinned woman in a sequined gown. An Asian man in a maitre ‘d tux greeted us. Neither of us had not seen any people of color in months.
“Welcome to Chuck Wo’s! Your cards please?”
Melchior turned around to ask the men who had brought them in what was happening but they were gone; then he turned to Robbie. He was also bewildered, perhaps more. They pulled out our cards and examined them, then examined Melchior and Robbie comparing their faces to the faces on the card.
Melchior and Robbie looked at each other nervously. Perhaps this is when their folly would end.
“Yes, Misters Johnson and Terrell.”
“Um…” Melchior began.
“Come this way,” said the maitre ‘d. He led them through a crowd of men and woman having more fun than they had had or seen anyone have in months. The people drank champagne and Manhattans and beers. A woman in a red dress smoked a cigarette with casual, coolness. Two men stood by the stage bobbing their heads and ogling the singer.
The maitre ‘d led them to a small table for two, gestured for them to sit and said, “Are these seats suitable for you?”
Seeing that Robbie was still dumbfounded, Melchior said, “Yes, sir. These will do fine.”
“And can I bring the gentlemen a drink?” he said.
“Make it two old-fashioneds; rye whiskey, please,” said Melchior with growing confidence.
“Very good, sir. And will you be needing a menu?”
“Sure!” said Melchior, “We are starving,” He nodded at Robbie; encouraging him to nod with him. He nodded, dazedly looking at the band.
“Very good, sirs,” he said, and he swept away meandering deftly through the crowd, avoiding servers with large trays and one man stumbling back to his table with two cocktails in his hands.
Then Robbie spoke. “What the fuck is happening?” he whispered harshly.
Melchior shook his head, “Well, I’m thinking we took somebody’s reservation.”
“Yes, but what is this?” he said, pointing around the room.
“This is obviously some sort of underground club we were lucky enough to find.”
“May I remind you that tourism is restricted to those with approved tourism visas?”
“Yes, I’m just as delighted as you are. I’ve needed a night out. Look at this place,” said Melchior, looking around, “This place is fuckin’ hot!”
“We could be detained indefinitely for this!” said Robbie, as the singer finished her number and the audience began to clap and whistle.
“Look at these people,” said Melchior. “Do they look worried? Something about this place is obviously very secure. They fucking hacked the central system for the Bank of fucking Greater America! Let’s just enjoy ourselves!”
“Have nothing to do, but enjoy ourselves, Robbie. We have no idea where we are, and no way to get home until 12.”