Triad Magazine

A Hillsborough Community College Student Publication since 1978.

If It Goes to Red, You’re Green

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


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


“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


“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


At this time of night, we are

the only people inside the Southeast

Data Center, a 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 UPS

uniforms 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 3

a.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


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


“Easy girl,” said Mulligan. “Just

take it slow, we’ll do what you say.”

We had 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 11

back with our arms folded. She kept

the IDs and chucked the rest into the


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 a

verse 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 flash bulb. 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 on line.

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.

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