Her vision was blurred and voices echoed as if far away, yet there they were. Her tormenters stood right beside her. She was barely conscious but still managed to recognize the familiar stab & sting of another hypodermic needle sinking into her arm. It was the third time today. Or was it the fourth?
Nothing to do now but give up. There was no fight left in her. Blurred vision and disorientation quickly became complete loss of consciousness. Her body appeared lifeless. With ankles and wrists cuffed to the gurney, they rolled her down the corridor, back to the procedure room…
One week earlier, Mary Golden answered an online ad to participate in a focus research group for a new beauty product: Shea Mystique Miracle Moisturizing Creme. The pay was $50 and the work was easy: sample the product, take a look at three different variations of potential product packaging, watch a few commercials in beta, and provide honest feedback from the viewpoint of a consumer.
The focus group attendees included a stay-at-home mom, a bank teller, an unemployed pole dancer and Mary, of course. On the intake sheet she listed her place of employment as Chicken Wang’s Palace. All wings, all the time. That was their motto.
After attending the 2-hour session, Mary received her pay in cash and signed out of the building with front desk security:
Time out: 3:47pm
Signature: Angela Jones
Her signature was whispy and elegant. Mary never used her real name for these things. Today her name was Angela.
“Excuse me, Angela. Miss Jones!” Bob Fresco, the administrator of the Shea Mystique focus group, yelled to Mary across the parking lot as he caught up with her before she boarded the local bus.
“I know this is sudden, but can we interest you in another opportunity right now? It’ll only take about 15 minutes. We can pay you $20.”
Mary (aka, Angela) chatted with Bob Fresco for less than a minute, then followed him back into the building. They took a hard right into a corridor after going through the main entrance. Mary didn’t notice this corridor before, but she shrugged it off.
Rick was the contracted guard at the security desk. He was a brawny man. Six-foot-four with slicked back hair and the smell of cigarettes on his breath. The patch on the sleeve of his shirt displayed the LayzeeTech Security emblem. Real official stuff. Rick glanced up as Mary and Bob walked past his desk, but he didn’t have Mary sign back in. He was too busy watching cat videos on his phone. LayzeeTech trains their people well.
As they arrived at a door with a key pad entry system, Bob entered a 7-digit code and invited Mary to enter ahead of him.
“Ladies first, please.” Bob’s voice was a cross between used car salesman and game show host — perky and hyperactive with complete overkill.
Unlike the Shea Mystique gathering with its mahogany meeting table, trays of fancy finger foods and a beautiful view overlooking the city, this keypad-secured room was very much institutional in look and feel. No windows either.
The floors were tile. There was a sink with cabinets overhead. A long counter was lined up with miscellaneous medical items like cotton swabs and tongue depressors. An examination table was in the middle of the room with its back in the upright position, as if ready to seat a patient. There was a red biohazard trash can in the corner.
And how odd that five, plush swivel seats were in this same room. These chairs looked liked they belonged in the Shea Moisture meeting room. Completely out of place.
“Is… is this some kind of lab?” There was confusion in Mary’s voice. Four people donning white coats entered from a side door. One of them was Rick from LayzeeTech, yet his clothes were different now. Rick traded his security uniform and badge for a white medical coat over business attire. Mary stared at him in a “what the hell” moment as she sat down in one of the plush seats.
“No, Mary. Your seat is on the table.” Bob’s voice changed quickly. It was direct, authoritative and downright bossy. “Now undress and put on this robe.”
“What? My name is Angela.”
“Cut the the bullshit, Mary. Undress NOW!” Bob’s anger was so quickly at maximum velocity, as if he was already infuriated before entering the room, but just now allowing this fury to unleash and boil over. He reached into his pocket and flung a hard, rectangular piece of plastic at her face with a quick, underhand flick of the wrist. Sort of like skipping rocks. The plastic clipped the side of Mary’s face and cut her high on the cheekbone, barely missing her eye.
As she picked up the plastic to see what exactly what had hit her, Bob spoke two words: “Mary Golden”.
The piece of plastic was Mary’s driver’s license. But how did Bob get it? Maybe during her bathroom break. She left her purse on the meeting table. Her license was altered with precision: trimmed with scissors to create razor sharp jagged edges around its entire perimeter.
The edges of the license cut her fingers. She dropped it and bolted toward the door, but Rick caught up fast, pinning her to the wall with his forearm against her throat. Mary stood still, frozen with fear. Rick bent down slowly in a low squat position, grabbed her by the ankle and violently threw her off balance. It turns out cat videos aren’t his thing after all.
Mary’s head hit the door knob as she fell to the floor. Rick slashed both her ankles with his pen knife then dragged her across the room by one leg. Her left shoe fell off. He lifted her effortlessly and threw her onto the examination table. The manhandling of Mary was so extreme that the back of the exam table broke and fell flat from its upright position when she hit it.
The unnamed three in lab coats spectated from their plush seats. They looked down periodically to jot down notes onto their clipboards. Bob wheeled a small cart in Mary’s direction. The cart held a metal tray with 6 needles.
“Polypsuedomin and Hydroxilchlorine,” announced Bob. “I will now commence with the injections”.
This went on for days. Mary bled from her eyes. Her skin was full of boils and there was vomit on the front of her clothes. They never allowed her to change. These were among the minor effects of the injections. Between procedures, when her vision was not blurry and at times when she was coherent, Mary was forced to recite a short statement from an index card:
“My name is Mary Golden. My father is the CEO of the Federated Drugstore Administration. Through my father’s company I have assisted in the development and distribution of dangerous pharmaceuticals and beauty products that we know cause harm, sometimes fatal, to children and adults, including senior citizens. I have done this for profit. I am now being held accountable for my crimes. I will be injected with pure forms, and in extremely high doses, of the same toxic ingredients I have purposely allowed to be contained in products marketed to the innocent. I will continue to be injected with these toxins until the time of my death, which will most likely occur only days from now.”
This was the truth about Mary. The things she had done for profit at the expense of innocent people was reprehensible. After reciting the statement from the gurney she now lay on, she dropped the index card to the floor. It seemed to fall in slow motion. Mary thought back with regret to her unauthorized, independent secret mission to spy out a competitor’s product, Shea Moisture. If only Angela Jones were a real person — if only Mary could be her right now and live a quiet, modest life.
And with that thought, bloody teardrops began to stream down the bruised, pale skin of her face. With her feet already in shackles, Mary’s limp wrists were re-chained to the gurney and she was wheeled back to the procedure room. It was time for another round of injections. THE END