It was more than a mile down the crumbling road until we saw the gaping mouth of the abandoned turnpike tunnel up ahead. It loomed like a pagan idol demanding sacrifice, and the stillness was downright weird. The dead road entered the tunnel, but it was pitch black inside. We had visited before, just for kicks. Aside from some broken places in the roadbed, and some fallen pieces of concrete to stumble over, the tunnel was dry, straight, and safe as houses. The light from the entrance followed you a bit, then stopped; looking behind, the shrinking keyhole of light was clear. For a while. At the center, I remembered, there was one spot, maybe a hundred feet long, in which you could see neither entrance. It was absolutely dark there, so dark that even a torch seemed to have the darkness pressing on it, wanting to devour it. The tunnel was a creepy place, and I shuddered a bit. Elizabeth approached the mouth and stopped.
"I hate this place," she said.
"I'm right with you," I said. "Where's Markus supposed to be? I don't see a sign of anyone, except all of this graffiti." Elizabeth turned to look. I took her hand. "Don't look, dear. It's not fit for you to see."
"Jack, I've seen lots worst than..." her voice trailed off. Her eyes opened wide, and she quickly squeezed them shut. "That is disgusting."
"And impossible," I added.
"Hello! Hello!" We had called for more than an hour, answered only by an opressive silence that beat on the eardrums. We searched for any sign that Markus had been there and given up on us. The empty rooms on each end of the tunnel were indeed empty. The only evidence of human life were empty beer bottles, chip bags, and assorted other debris. One room contained a three foot wide fire ring made of stones the size of walnuts, apparently by young folks with brains of identical size. The graffiti was everywhere, and it never got any better.
After reaching the end of the tunnel again, Elizabeth stopped and put her hands on her hips. It almost looked like a pose in a magazine, and I had to restrain myself from taking her in my arms. After all, I was still lugging the squirrel's cage.
I stated the obvious. "This is pointless. He's not here."
Elizabeth looked around, her dark eyes sparkling in the dim light of the tunnel, as though she could will Markus to be where he had said he would be. If that's what she thought, it was one of the few times she failed. He did not appear. The tunnel was empty, dark, and getting creepier by the moment.
"Something's happened," she stated. "He would never do this, unless something happened to stop him. Jack, I'm afraid."
"You're afraid? That's a pretty bad sign, Elizabeth. You've been in this game since the beginning, and now you're afraid?"
"Stop it Jack. They lied to me. And to you. I'm the director, and nothing happened that I didn't know about, except, apparently, everything. So let me think!" She hunkered down, staring into the darkness of the tunnel stretching into blackness. I had the uneasy feeling that I was seeing a metaphor for the future of human life, and thought about mentioning it. I glanced at my wife. She looked back at me, rose, and dusted her hands off.
"Well, that's that." Elizabeth did not cry. She never did.
We brought the squirrel down from the tunnel. We certainly could not release it, and it didn't seem right to just leave it there in the cage to die: although I could have dealt with the guilt. The thing liked Elizabeth; I could tell. Even when we were working for the Org, and the squirrels were the cover story, the animals liked her, and hated me. This one was no different.
The car was where we had left it. I looked underneath; no strange wires peeked out at me. I opened the front door and sprang the hood. No bombs that I could see. The way things were going, I intended to be careful. Elizabeth slid into the passenger seat. I popped the trunk and put the squirrel inside.
"Did this thing ever pee?"
"How would I know?"
My experience with animals is that they consider being in a vehicle the perfect time to release their bladders. I noticed some old newspapers which had blown and caught on a bush. I gathered them up and spread them out in the trunk, then put the squirrel's cage on top of them. I slid into the driver's seat.
"Well, yes, I do. This car is costing a lot of money, you know. There's no sense in just letting it ruin the carpeting."
Elizabeth turned her head away, looking out the passenger window, not at anything in particular, I knew, but just not at me. "I never realized how chintz you are."
I started the car. "Not wanting a squirrel to pee in my car is not being chintz. It's common sense. Now, let's knock it off. Markus didn't show. So what next? What's Plan B? Is there one?"
"Turn around and head back to the Quiki Mart. I need to use the bathroom, and I need a cup of coffee." A car went by, slowing to look at us. "Come on. I think we're starting to draw a crowd."
I agreed. Whatever had happened to Markus could also happen to us, and if he was somewhere being persuaded to talk, there was always the chance of company arriving at the tunnel. I carefully backed up onto the road. The Quiki Mart was back the way we had travelled, about half a mile, and we reached it in a few moments. The bathrooms were not very clean, but the coffee was hot and ready.
Later, we stopped for the evening after a minor adventure involving a semi-driver, a school bus, and an aluminum crutch; the world is not ready for that tale. We holed up in a safe house the Org had provided Elizabeth with; home was definitely not safe, and we had doubts about the safe house as well, but options were limited. I poured Elizabeth a drink and she moved her feet off the couch so I could sit down. "You shouldn't put your feet on the furniture."
"And you shouldn't chide."
"Agreed." I sipped my iced tea. "I put Rocky in the panic room. It was either him or me."
We relaxed a bit. I started a small fire in the metal stove. Fire cheers up any situation, and we spent some time cuddled together, watching the flames and not saying anything. I was starting to nod off when I was roused by a sharp rap at the door.
"Who knows we're here?" I asked.