A Hillsborough Community College Student Publication since 1978.
By Edwin M. Kelley
Charlie was one of these posers who would start a story about a top-secret Army mission and leave it unfinished, saying if he told you the rest he’d have to kill you. All liars use that phrase when their imagination runs low. As guards, we don’t mind because our job is self-selective and you get used to being lied to in the guard business, a racket that draws all the kooks. Plus we worked the overnight shift and were long gone before Charlie came in at nine. That’s the main benefit of working overnights, no supervisors around. One morning at four, he popped in for a post inspection. No big deal, we were always squared away, three old guys who were never late, never sick and didn’t play with computers. Taking a seat, he begins quizzing us on the five levels of security. “Well, red is high,” says Mulligan, acting smug for being quick on the uptake. “No, orange is high,” corrects Charlie. “That’s what corporate just moved us up to, level orange. Let’s start at the bottom. Anybody know the lowest one?” “Is it green?” asks Leon. “Right,” says Charlie, “and what does green mean?” “Go!” We all three say it as a joke and fake a move toward the door, but we just want to get the deal in gear, plus we know Charlie has the answers on the next page anyway. Likely, he wants to get it in gear too, not used to being up at this hour and wanting to get back to his warm bed and wife. We never met her but the word is she’s a knockout, a babe he met in Panama when he was stationed there as Army military police. “Green – low; blue – guarded; yellow – elevated; orange – high; red– severe. Not that they expect you to remember any of that since it’s on the wall behind the base desk.” We turn around and sure enough there it is, a varnished five-color plaque with the seal of DHS, Department of Homeland Security. At this time of night, we are the only people inside the Southeast Data Center, steel and mirror-glass behemoth located in an otherwise undeveloped part of Hillsborough County. The front entrance leads into a soaring atrium with a fountain and a curved glass roof, under which we are sitting now. Word is they are planning to take it dark, which means no people, just computers. It’s electronic state of the art, and there’s only one other in the world like it, in Santiago, Chile.“Okay, here’s the deal,” says Charlie, “over the last three weeks somebody bought $25,000 worth of UPSuniforms over the internet. Homeland Security thinks a terrorist might use ‘em to dress up like a UPS man and bring a bomb inside the building. Since this place is a high priority target, the government told corporate and corporate told us.” “That’s mighty considerate of them,” says Three Checks, “since we’re the ones who sign for packages.” Three Checks had retired from the Air Force, then from the post office, then started drawing social security, but those three checks were not enough to pay for his toys and his sexy-grandpa social life, so he works a job too.“Well, corporate thinks it’s for real. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have sent me on this buggy ride, telling all three shifts about it. Anybody remember the guideline for shooting?” “Target, threat, and backstop,” I tell him straight away, remembering from guard school. “Right!” says Charlie, looking at me surprised. “Give the man an A-plus.” “So we’re cleared to shoot?” asks Three Checks. “Not at orange, but if it goes to red, you’re green.” “How do we know if it goes to red?” asks Mulligan. “Fax from corporate. Any more questions?” Charlie asks peevishly, looking at his watch. He starts packing up his stuff and asks us, “So if anybody asks whether your supervisor went over the National Threat Advisory, what you gonna’ tell ‘em?” We stand and salute and say “yes sir,” except Mulligan, being ex-Navy, who says “aye, aye.” The UPS man came a week later. Only it was a girl, a sexy dark-skinned babe. Mulligan buzzed her in at about 3a.m. Her uniform was tailored to fit her behind and scooped real low in front. I had the UPS clipboard at the base desk so I walked up front to sign her in, but really I wanted a closer look after she showed up on my view screen, courtesy of Three Checks, who was in the monitor room working the overhead camera. Her cart was full of boxes and she made a show of looking for her scanner, like she couldn’t find it, teasing us all the while, knowing perfectly well we could see down her shirt. Mulligan told her we were at level orange and would have to check her packages. She nodded, opened the top one, whipped out a pistol grip pump, stepped back and told us to put our guns, phones and photo IDs on the counter. “Easy girl,” said Mulligan. “Just take it slow, we’ll do what you say. ”We had a target, threat, and backstop but you had to look at both sides of the equation, including the likelihood of spending time in jail. They give you five days to write a report explaining why you fired your gun on duty, so you might need a lawyer for that. And even if the state lets you keep your license, the target’s family could sue you, and take everything you have. That’s why they have the guards’ unwritten rule: Don’t draw your gun unless you’re dead. So like good boys we piled our stuff on top of the counter and stepped back with our arms folded. She kept the IDs and chucked the rest into the fountain. We got comfortable and sat and listened to Three Checks yak, asking her if she had a boyfriend, telling her how great her outfit would look with high heels instead of tennis shoes. Every time he took a breath Mulligan would chime in with a love song or averse of poetry he had memorized. A few minutes later, a man showed up wearing a ski mask. She let him in the front door and started speaking Spanish, giving him a photo ID. That was smart – the guard IDs have a chip that will unlock any door in the place. She handed him a shotgun, waved goodbye to us and walked toward the monitor room while the ski-mask guy herded us the other way. When we reached the base desk, he went behind to buzz open the back gate and let in a gray van. As the van pulled in, he pointed through the plate glass to the pedestrian gate and told us in fairly good English to run as far as we could in the next six minutes because the place was going to blow. I tell you, they knew their stuff because I timed it. At our age, running was out of the question, but we quickstepped until we were out of range of the parking lot lights, the three of us ducking into the woods and watching. At five minutes they came out and the van drove away. A minute later a white light went off inside the data center like a giant flashbulb. Then it really did go dark, and quiet too. The bright flash of light was a timer that went off with a microwave burst from a shock pulse generator. It fried everything. We never knew how noisy that place was until it stopped. Santiago went the same way. Then came the cops—federal, state, and county. They quizzed us for a while, but seemed to be more interested in Charlie, how well did we know him and so forth. No one could figure out why they did it unless it was some kind of finance deal, because corporate stock sank the next day, pulling the Dow Jones down with it. Corporate was out of business for three days, waiting for the backup to come online. Worldwide transferred us the next week to a new post and we all got to stay together. Nobody knows what happened to Charlie; they never saw him again, or his wife.