Brian Ennis paid for his lunch with a credit card and thanked the cashier. He picked up the plastic tray with the food in one hand and the disposable cup of tap water with the other. He walked across the busy restaurant and found an empty table in the corner by a window.
He sat and observed dozens of pedestrians passing by outside. All dressed up and rushing about to accomplish something before their allotted lunch breaks were over. A homeless man was standing near the corner holding a cardboard sign that said “THE END IS NIGH” in sloppy block letters written with a permanent marker. A low bank of dark clouds had overtaken the sky and the local meteorologists were calling for rain by late afternoon.
Brain removed the plastic lid from his salad and was just beginning to squirt ranch dressing across it when a nondescript man in a suit walked up to his table. Brian recognized his face, had seen him around the office. It was no coincidence that someone from work would just suddenly pop up– Since he had applied with the company he had learned that he was never truly alone.
“Brian Ennis, right?” The man said. He unbuttoned his suit jacket and sat down across from Brian.
“Yes. I’ve seen you around work…”
“Peter Fultz.” The man said. He extended an open hand over the table.
Brain briefly shook hands with him. “Nice to meet you, Peter. Fancy running into you here.”
“No kidding. I already had lunch. Was just passing by and noticed you through the window.”
An obvious lie. Brian thought. He had been looking out of the window and had not seen Peter, but he decided to let it go.
“How did the meeting with the old man go today?” Peter said.
“You mean Mr. Reynolds?
Peter chuckled. “Yeah, we all call him ‘the old man.’ He’s a great guy, just don’t get on his bad side.”
Brian sighed. “It went well, I think.”
“That’s good. By the way, I’m sorry. Just doing my job.”
“I– I don’t understand.”
“I was the one who alerted the old man to the phone conversation you had with your brother.” Peter said.
“You know, you might want to warn your bro. Keeps going off like that and he’ll probably end up on one of the labor camps, maybe worse.”
Brian didn’t respond. He picked up the black plastic fork and took a bite of the salad.
“Yeah, you have to be careful with those cell phones. Best invention ever, as far as our line of work goes, but you have to be careful.”
Brain chewed another bite of lettuce before saying: “Feel free to elaborate.”
“Well, you’ll learn more after you’ve been with the company for a while…” Peter paused to glance back over his shoulder, making sure that no one was within earshot. He leaned forward toward Brian and lowered the volume of his voice. “See, the cell is the ultimate spy device. It’s not just that every call and text is recorded, but they have live microphones and cameras that people freely carry around with them all day long.”
“Yes, I’m aware of that.” Brain said. “Of course, one can always turn the phone off.”
Peter laughed. “Not really. All of the features are still accessible when off– Unless the battery is removed. But on most of the newer models you cannot remove the battery!” He laughed again.
“The times we live in, I guess.” Brain said.
“Indeed. It’s getting a bit out of control, though. There are computer programs now where anyone can tap into a phone and see what’s going on– Whether you’re talking on it or it’s just sitting on your coffee table. Could be your wife, your best friend, a neighbor or even your worst enemy.”
Brian shrugged. He continued to eat his lunch and thirty seconds of silence followed as Peter sat and quietly observed him.
“Anyway,” Peter said. “Remind me one of these days to show you this footage I saved off one of our surveillance cameras. I think you’ll get a real kick out of it.”
“What is it?”
“Oh, this hippy chick we’ve been following. Runs a health store downtown. She was becoming a bit too persuasive about some of the additives in the food, some other stuff. Had a team swoop in and black bag her last week. Only took them two minutes from the time of entry to bag her and get her into the van, pretty impressive. But you should hear her screaming and carrying on!”
“Where is she now?”
Shrugged. “Beats me. Probably in a torture camp somewhere on the other side of the world. Not my business.” Peter said.
Brain took another bite of salad and made a conscious effort to keep his face expressionless.
“Well, I had better get back to work. Nice chatting with you, Brain.” Peter stood up and smiled down at him.
“You too, Peter. Have a great day.” He watched as the man walked across the restaurant and exited through the side door.
[Original writing & photography by J. E. Lattimer]
© 2012, 2013 J. E. Lattimer all rights reserved