[Original Novel] The Beautiful Ones, Part 5

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Previous parts: 1 2 3 4

There was so much wrong with it that untangling the mess seemed Sisyphean to Andrew. So he just quietly nodded, then asked what words he was meant to say. Something about how he was born guilty due to ancestral transgressions, but could be redeemed by acknowledging his fallen state. Aspects of it felt eerily familiar.

But as their numbers were few and every pair of hands was sorely needed, he went along with it in the interest of securing Melissa’s cooperation. In the process, he realized he should’ve done the same with Mark earlier. Avoiding his “trigger”, as Melissa put it. The ordeal proved educational at least, leaving Andrew with fresh ideas for how to achieve a bloodless resolution.

Sarah and Jeffrey arrived as the lookout posts were just being completed. Andrew and Melissa met them at ground level. Sarah produced a ring of keys. It seems to have damn near everything else, Andrew thought.

He asked Jeffrey to go looking for the office with him, but was rebuffed. . Andrew raised his eyebrows. Normality was not a familiar accusation for him.

Hugh was eager to help and hadn’t found the chance yet, so Andrew brought him. He was loathe to place any burden on the old man but also saw that he was desperate to be useful. So he had Hugh drive the cart while he piled lamps into it. Questions about what they were meant for met with no response.

Finally they arrived at a utilitarian looking stairwell bearing a sign above the doorway which read “Employees only”. High above, a row of one-way mirrored windows punctuated the wall at two foot intervals.

After a short climb they found themselves before a locked door and set about working the rusty key carefully into the lock. Andrew muttered, before wondering who “they” were in the first place.

The door swung open with a metallic creak, dust blown up from the floor now swirling about. The only light came from the windows. Flipping the switch by the door was no help, the bulbs were apparently burnt out. Rummaging around, he found only paperwork. All of it exactly as you’d expect from a bulk food store. Almost didn’t seem worth it to check the filing cabinets.

When he did, it took several readings to convince himself of what he’d found. Nothing about invoices, stocking schedules or employee benefits. Nothing remotely related to business. Instead, research records of some sort. Hidden in plain sight! What could it mean? He carried an armload of the manilla folders into the stairwell with him where there was more light to read by.

Andrew flipped through the rest of the pages, but there was nothing more revealing. Just detailed accounts of individual behavior, descriptions of the process for resupplying the “habitat” with “provisions” and so on. He stared at the pages, mind racing, trying to make sense of it all. Who would do this to people?

The other group should know about it. Soon after that realization struck him, he heard Hugh cry out. Andrew descended the stairs in a flash, finding only the mobility scooter loaded up with lamps. No. No, no no no. FUCK! Had to be Mark. Who else? Rather than go alone, he first returned to the shelters to alert the others.

Sarah’s impassioned directive was met with agreement from Andrew, but caution and anxiety from the rest.

After an informal vote, it was decided they’d go as a group after all. Mark’s group had already turned away Fran, everyone agreed Andrew would only piss off Mark if he went alone, and nobody else wanted to go unaccompanied. When they arrived, only Mark looked happy about it. Hugh sat before him bound and gagged.

Sarah advanced on him resolutely. He blocked her way, brandishing a spear he’d fashioned by sharpening a mop handle. The second group cowered behind him, looking unsure of what to do. Andrew’s thoughts about all of this, having percolated until now, finally coalesced into a plan.

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