Nothing should have gone wrong. The air was bright but cool, sunny but without heat. Joe had taken the girls to spend a weekend in Disneyland. And it was a perfect time to relax and do a few choice things for myself. That wasn’t to say that I didn’t want my husband and kids around. But, Joe, bless him, could see the dark circles under my eyes from a mile away. He suggested that he took the girls out that weekend, and knowing that he did it mainly for me, I obliged.
I had my whole weekend planned until the last minute. And of course, my day could never been without coffee. Yesterday, I bought my favourite coffee brand from a store downtown. I’d never been there before but after my visit, I decided that I would frequent the store. Sure, it was way too glossy for my tastes, but the staff were overly nice to customers. Too nice.
Tearing open the protective seal on the coffee packet, my eyes immediately see the tail of a paper peeping out. I draw it and gasp at the hastily writer words on the shabby paper.
Help me! I have been stuck in this factory for a decade!
What in the world??
My first instinct was to call Joe. He always knew what to do in confusing situations. But then I stopped myself at the last minute. If this was some sick joke, I’d hate to worry myself about it and imagine cutting short the girls’ trip for a prank. I’d never forgive myself. So I put down the receiver and thirty minutes later, I was on my way to the authorities.
“Do you have kids, ma’am?” The uninterested man looked at me from behind his spectacles.
“I’m sorry, Sir, but I fail to see what that has to do with anything?” I responded, seething.
He smiled at me. A patronising smile that said he dealt with delulus like me, every day. “It’s a simple question, Mrs. Hardin. Do. You. Have. Children?”
I bristled to the tips of my boots. “Yes, I do but-”
“Exactly! Your kids must have played a prank on you. This paper is a trick as old as the book. I remember in my days. Gave my pops-”
“I’m sorry Sir but my little girls could never be like you. May I have the paper back please?” He shrugged at me like he couldn’t be bothered and I snatched the paper from him.
A thought suddenly struck me as I stepped outside the station. The coffee packet was sealed. So that means whoever this person was worked in the factory that produced this coffee. Quickly, I took out the packet and dialled the number on it but it was unreachable. But, I wasn’t deterred although I knew where my final bus stop was. As much as I wanted to admit otherwise to myself, I could only pull off Nancy Drew for so long.
I walked up to one of the overly smiley salespeople at The Sun Mall and motioned her to the coffee aisle.
“May I know who supplies this coffee to you guys?”
If I hadn’t been watching her carefully, I would have missed the widening of her eyes by half a millimetre. Certainly not much because she schooled her features a nanosecond later, but I saw it. And I know what I saw.
“No ma’am, we just receive the deliveries. None of us would know.” She replied flightily and scurried away.
Now more than ever, I knew something was up. But what? I waited and watched the staff. The problem was, they were watching me too. But they would slip up soon enough. Instinctively, I pulled out my phone and video-called Joe to see how he and the girls were doing. I watched the staff from the corner of my eye and found a little door that they slipped into intermittently. It was so inconspicuous that an onlooker could mistake it for an ordinary wall.
I made more coo gestures at my phone and once I noticed that the staff had visibly relaxed, I dialled Dee, my friend from college who was currently working in a Detective Agency. After explaining what I needed, I hung up, shared my live location with her and went through the door. It was darkly lit. Cursing myself for my impulsiveness, and hoping Joe didn’t have my head for taking this risk, I followed through the narrow corridor till I got to an elevator at the end.
Stepping in, I found a single button and pressed it. And then I started screaming, 'cause I suddenly started going down. It lasted all of thirty seconds but I saw my life flash before my eyes in those seconds. The door opened to see hundreds of people working in what looked like a factory. Their heads were bent and there was an air about them. An air of hopelessness. And then they noticed me and gasped. Three seconds was all I waited before I heard the overhead sound from helicopters. It was a whole ruckus. People rushed about and then, Dee and her team burst in, ordering everyone down.
Two hours later, I had a steaming mug of coffee in my hand as the mystery of the underground factory was revealed. The workers were immigrants who were promised to be set free after a year of working. But they never let them go and for ten years had made them work without pay and without seeing the sun. Luckily, arrests had been made.
A scrawny man walked up to me and after asking if I was the one who got his note, hugged me, muttering thank you a thousand times. Wiping the tears from my eyes after the rescued people were carted to safety, I picked up my phone and dialled Joe.
“Babe, I hope you’re seated because you wouldn’t believe what I’m about to tell you.”