A 101 - The Smoking Roombyfiat_knox©
by Alex Greene writing as "Fiat Knox"
Copyright © Alex Greene. All rights reserved.
It was to be, for Julia Markham, a most interesting day.
Boredom was the bane of Julia's life. She had a boring home, a boring boyfriend, a boring job. Even her holidays were boring, with the same boring people in the same boring resorts.
Every year they would plan a different resort: each year, they'd find that the same boring people had booked the same bloody boring resort as they, almost as if they were following Julia and Brian around.
Today, however, was different.
Julia got up at the same time she usually did, began to get dressed, and looked out the window, in mounting dismay. Out in the suburban street, one of the neighbourhood trees had been knocked down or somehow fallen over, blocking the entire road.
Worse – it had fallen squarely on her car. There was no way Julia was going to be able to get to work. The landline was also down, as was her broadband connection, as the tree had sliced through the telephone cable.
Her mobile phone was also unusable – try as she might, Julia could not get a signal on it.
Frustrated, Julia called out to Brian; but there was no answer. Nor did Julia expect there to be one, since Brian usually got up half an hour before she did, to go to work.
Julia sighed, went back upstairs and got herself prepared for work. She knew where there was a public callbox nearby: if the phones were working there, she had a chance of being able to call work, tell them she'd be late, then maybe call a taxi that would get her to the station.
Finding a working telephone booth took longer than Julia realised. The fallen tree had caused more damage to the phone network than she'd thought, and the nearest phone booths, outside the Traveller's Rest pub on the corner by the newsagent's, were all dead; as was every phone in the shops. Only the mobiles were working, and fortunately Julia managed to get to a clear space long enough to pick up her network's signal.
Someone picked up: a pleasant female voice. 'Brendan & Sons, family clothing retailers. How can I help you?'
'Karen, it's me, Julia.'
'Hi. You know how late you are?'
'Can't be helped; my car's been written off, and I've been trying to get to a working phone booth for ages to call you. The same accident took out all the local phones. Everything on landline. My mobile barely works. The reception's bad.'
'What do you mean, written off? Have you been in an accident?'
'No, I'm fine, just that I'll need to catch a taxi now, to get to the station.' She checked the time. 'I might be able to get in for this afternoon.'
'Don't sweat it, hon,' Karen said. 'If you're out and about, why don't you do me a favour?'
'I've got no field agents available to deliver catalogues,' Karen said, 'but I've got a client, Dr Henderson, rang me up last night just on closing. He says he could do with a copy of a catalogue; something about his wedding anniversary.'
'I've got a few spare catalogues back home,' Julia said. 'I can take him one.'
'I was hoping you'd say that,' Karen said. 'Tell you what, you take him the catalogue, and I'll put you down on payroll as having done a full day's work. Deal?'
'Deal,' Julia said, fishing for a pen and writing the address down on the back of her hand.
'Did you get that?' Karen asked.
'Yeah, thanks, Karen. Gotta go,' Julia said. 'Oh, Karen, can you call my local taxi firm, Mandy's Taxis, and ask them to pick me up from my home address? I think I'm about to run out of credits on my cell.'
The taxi dropped Julia off outside the address Karen had given her. Julia stood on the pavement, briefcase in her hand, looking at the location in bemusement.
'I thought this was a home address,' she said to herself.
The address to which she'd been delivered was a large construction of brick, with a flat roof and no windows on the facing side. It looked like commercial premises – a factory or warehouse of some kind. There was no hoarding to indicate whose company it was, and a parking space on one side.
Julia crossed the road, walked around the building towards the parking area. Turning to face the building, she saw what looked like the building's only entrance, a set of double doors without any corporate signage, not even the word ENTRANCE. The car parking area was empty.
Julia approached the doors, which slid aside as she neared them. Inside was a hallway leading to a reception area at the far end. The lobby was large, with mirror-faced pillars and mirror-panelled walls to add the illusion of space.
A bored-looking young woman with red hair sat at the reception desk, apparently busy at the keyboard of her flat screen computer. The phone rang as Julia approached the desk. The receptionist answered it.
'Sharpton Human Response Research Centre. Alicia speaking. How may I help you?' she began. A moment later, she smiled. 'Oh, of course. I'll put you through to Doctor Thomas. Hold the line.' She pushed buttons and then hung up. As she hung up the phone, the receptionist's face sank back into boredom.
Alicia then looked up at Julia. 'Yes?'
'Hi. I'm Julia. Julia Markham. From the catalogue company. I was asked to deliver a catalogue here to a Dr Henderson?'
Alicia nodded. 'Dr Henderson's busy right now,' she said. 'I'll take you to a waiting room, and he'll see you in person.'
'Okay,' Julia said, 'but I'm okay with dropping off the catalogue here.'
'No, that's okay,' the girl said. 'He wants to order from the book right away.'
Julia brightened. That meant getting a commission from any sales closed on site. 'Okay. Well, then I think I will wait,' she said. Then she thought of something. 'Do you have a working phone? My cell's run out.'
The receptionist smiled. 'There's an extension in the waiting room,' she said. 'You can call whoever you want there.'
Julia turned to look at her suit in a mirrored pillar. The girl touched a key on the intercom.
'I'm busy, Alicia,' said a male voice.
'Dr Henderson, the catalogue's arrived,' the girl said.
'Ah, good,' Dr Henderson said. 'Looks like Room A 113 is free. I'll send Anna in to take her there.'
Alicia looked up at Julia. 'Someone will be down shortly to take you to the waiting room,' she said. 'Please take a seat.'
Julia sat in a nearby chair, set against the wall. A few minutes later, a woman emerged from one of the entrances at the back. She was dressed in a white lab coat. She was pretty, with a heart shaped face and short brunette hair.
'Hi, Julia.' said the woman, approaching Julia. 'I'm Anna Walker.' Julia rose to greet Anna, shaking her hand.
'Doctor Henderson sends his regrets,' Anna said. 'He's busy wrapping up an important experiment right now. He's sent me down to take you to our waiting room. You can call whoever you like from there, and as soon as he is ready he will be along to pick out something from the catalogue.'
'Okay,' Julia said.
'No windows,' Julia asked Anna, as Anna slid a card key in the slot for Room A 113.
'Came with the building when we took it over,' Anna said. 'We've got a lot of light sensitive equipment on the shop floor.'
'Okay,' Julia replied.
'Here you go,' Anna said, as the door clicked open. She handed Julia a keycard. 'Use this to get out. If you need the facilities, ladies are at the end of the corridor. You'll find the phone on the table, and on the counter on the far wall there's a vendor for tea, coffee, whatever you need. Press 9 to call out; if you want to call me, press 0. Okay?'
Room A 113 was a large room, large enough to accommodate a group of people. It was indirectly lit by soft mood lights. The walls were a drab brown, as was the carpet. A small TV set was placed in the far corner, set high up in a corner mount; soft Muzak played from hidden speakers.
Julia noted a glass coffee table and a sofa in the room, with an empty ashtray, a table lighter, a small wooden box and a TV remote on the coffee table. At the opposite end of the room, behind the sofa, was a hot drinks dispenser on a counter, with two cupboard doors beneath it beside a small dining table and a single chair.
'Will Dr Henderson be long?' Julia asked, just inside the room.
'Nah,' Anna said. 'He'll be along soon.' The door closed. Anna wandered over to the phone, picked up, pressed 9, then Brendan & Sons' phone number. She got an answerphone message.
'Hi, Karen,' Julia said, 'you're probably out at lunch right now, so I'll just let you know I'm at the address you gave me, and it looks like the client's interested in closing a few sales on spec. Hope I'll be walking away from here with a few choice commissions by the end of the day. Okay? Bye.'
Then all Julia had to do was wait For Dr Henderson.
Back in Reception, Anna bumped into Dr Henderson, who'd just emerged from another door half hidden behind one of the mirrored columns. This door was positioned such that it could not be seen from the outside, nor from Reception itself, since potted plants and a mirrored column happened to be placed just between the line of sight of the desk and the door itself.
'Ah, Anna,' Dr Henderson said, in a clipped British accent. A shortish, middle aged man with a receding hairline and a thin moustache, he looked every inch the dapper British boffin in his tweed suit, over which he had casually draped a large white laboratory coat. 'Good, good. I'm glad I caught you. I only just completed the writeup for the last experiment, and I will need you to take care of things for me there.'
'Who was that?'
'Miss Edwards, Room B 124.'
'Gas experiment?' Anna asked.
'Introduced it through the vents while she was watching the TV.'
'What did you use?'
'Key 509,' Dr Henderson replied. 'Libido stimulator.'
'She must have had fun,' Anna said, chuckling.
'She did, that,' Dr Henderson said, grinning. 'The dreams she'll be having tonight ... Now, how about the new test subject?'
'That saleswoman from the catalogue? She's waiting for you in Room A 113, just as you asked.'
'Excellent. I've left her for you.'
'Are you sure?'
'I'm giving you carte blanche. I'm going to let you fly solo with this one.'
'Okay,' Anna said. 'Give me a few minutes to prime her, then bring in those other newcomers. That couple from this morning.'
'The drop ins?' Dr Henderson asked. Anna nodded.
Julia sat and fidgeted uncomfortably. The wait was testing her patience. She got up, crossed over to the door and unlocked it with the keycard. Julia peered out into the corridor. It was empty. She sighed and returned to her seat.
Five more minutes, she thought to herself. Five more minutes, and then I'm out of here.
In a control room without windows, Anna sat at a bank of screens and controls, watching Julia from various cameras secreted about the room.
She watched her as Julia began to fidget and look at her watch. She was getting uneasy; Dr Henderson was busy, but Julia clearly had a lot on her plate as well.
Anna picked up the extension, dialled the phone for Room A 113. Julia reached forwards, picked it up.
'Hello, Julia. Anna speaking. Dr Henderson regrets he's been delayed slightly by something. He will be with you in five minutes, okay?'
'Okay,' Julia said, and hung up at her end. Anna watched as Julia checked her watch, looked around, stared at the keycard, stared at the locked door. Anna sat on the edge of her seat. Would Julia do a runner?
Julia sat back, relaxing. Anna also sat back, smiling. This one was going to be a keeper. She hit speed dial.
'Henderson. Ah, Anna. How's our latest subject?'
'Julia's making herself comfortable in A 113.'
'Good. Start it up.'
Anna hung up, grinned, turned her attentions to two slide controls in front of her, marked "Regular Muzak" and "Sublim". Slowly, she faded out the regular Muzak, and slid the volume on the Muzak. She also turned up the thermostat slightly.
Beside the control panel were a set of gas bottles, affixed to the wall with feed pipes leading into A 113's ventilation system. The bottle on the left was metallic green. The words KEY 509 were stencilled on the side. Two others, one black, one blue, carried different markings. The blue cylinder's stencil read SOMNOZINE. The black cylinder simply read O2.
At the top of the gas cylinders were round, knurled silver knobs. Anna turned the knob of the green gas cylinder, mixing it with a little O2 feed, and let Key 509 gas slowly begin to fill Room A 113.
It was getting hot and stuffy in the room. Julia found herself sweating, slightly stifled by the heat. She looked around for a thermostat: finding none, she slipped off her suit jacket instead, and sat back.
The phone rang. Julia answered. 'Hello?'
'Dr Henderson here,' said the voice. 'I'll be with you soon, but can you do me a favour, Julia?'
'If I can.'
'Can you look through the catalogue, please, for some nice ladies' evening wear? Something smart casual, something that'd go well with a thirty something on a, a, company bash.'
'Okay,' Julia said.
The phone went silent. Julia ran her finger under her blouse collar. It was still too hot; she loosened the top button as she spoke, before taking out the catalogue and putting it down on the table before her, pushing the wooden box and lighter out of the way.
Out of curiosity, she opened the box to peer inside, scowled and closed it again in slight distaste. Cigarettes.
The phone rang again. 'Julia; Anna here. Dr Henderson asked me to pass on further details. He wants something stylish,' Anna said. 'Any colour except black. Oh, or mauve. He can't stand mauve.'
'Okay, I'll look at a list,' Julia said, undoing the second button. She was sweating profusely, although the temperature hadn't actually increased at all.
'If you just look through the book, maybe pick something nice out for him, he'll be with you shortly. Must dash.'
'Okay, Anna,' Julia said, hanging up. She felt thirsty, and got up to go to the drinks dispenser.
In the control room, Anna sat and watched Julia, who now displayed a very satisfactory cleavage, at the drinks machine.
Julia was perspiring. She began to look over the counter for anything resembling a paper wipe. Nothing. Julia then opened the cupboard doors underneath the counter.
'Oh, good,' she exclaimed. There were a few wipes. Julia reached in for them. Her hand dislodged something, which fell at her feet on the floor with a heavy thump.
Julia poured herself a coffee from the dispenser as she flicked through the first few pages, took a sip, grimaced – it tasted foul. Julia then bent down, looked at the catalogue. It looked to be some sort of glossy catalogue of some sort.
'Oh. The competition,' Julia said, picking up the book. She sat at the table and leafed through it.
The magazine showed pictures of women like herself. Cool, smartly-dressed, confident, clean. Smiling for the cameras. Some of the photos were taken in studios, others out on some beach somewhere. It looked like a clothes catalogue, only Julia could find no item descriptions, brand names or other advertising.
Curious, Julia carried the thick glossy book over to the sofa with her, holding the half – empty cup of black coffee in the other hand. Sitting down, she began to leaf through the guide.
At first, it showed just pictures of women. Women wearing summer clothes, walking about on beaches. Then, as Julia read on, the pages began to show interior shots of women taking off their coats, sitting on chairs and sofas wearing a variety of blouses and skirts and trousers.
So far, there was no men's section; only women. Julia sighed, sat back, idly began playing with the buttons of her blouse. She leaned forwards to sip some more of the incredibly bitter coffee, and found herself reading the odd book once again. This time, as she read, she idly unbuttoned her blouse all the way, loosening it yet not removing it. At the same time, she slipped off her shoes and kicked them under the coffee table.
Julia finished off the coffee and went back to the sofa with her blouse loose about her, revealing her bra. She picked up the competitors' catalogue and continued to read.
There were four women featured in the book: a blonde, a brunette, a redhead and an Oriental girl, all looking to be between 25 and 35 or so. All four were extremely pretty, and Julia felt a slight pang of envy at their apparent physical perfection.
As she pored over the book, to her astonishment the next pages showed the women taking off their blouses and other clothes, and sitting on their chairs in their bras and panties only, drinking coffee. This puzzled Julia, since no catalogue she'd ever seen had featured the women actually stripping, let alone drinking coffee or performing any actual activities in their underwear.
The more she read, the more this catalogue began to resemble a big, thick soft porn mag. Still, Julia read on, only pausing to get another coffee and bringing the book with her. At the vending machine, Julia stopped to slip off her blouse and skirt, sitting at the table in her underwear, sipping more of the odd-flavoured coffee and staring at the women on the glossy pages.
She turned a page: the Oriental woman was lighting a cigarette. Julia went to the table and retrieved the ashtray, lighter and box. Opening the wooden box, she took out a cigarette. Dutifully, she lit up, sat back and leafed through the book, drawing the smoke deeply into her lungs.
As well as drinking their coffees, the women in the book were now also smoking cigarettes, all the while sitting in their underwear. Julia breathed out a stream of blue smoke and continued to flick through the pages of the book, feeling a strange sense of sexual arousal and excitement.
It all seemed so strange, yet Julia felt more horny than disturbed by it all.
It was time.
Anna changed the subliminals CD to another track, suggesting obedience rather than envy. By now, the subject had drunk what amounted to a good, solid dose of Key 509; she could see, by her state of undress, that it had taken effect. Now, it was time for the next phase.
Anna got up from the chair. She picked up the phone, called Reception. Nobody answered. Anna shrugged and wandered out of the control room.
All thought about her reason for being here had fled Julia. She was engrossed in the contents of the thick book in front of her, showing pictures of the women in their underwear, smoking, drinking coffee. She was on her fourth cup of coffee by now, and smoking the cigarettes which also had a funny taste, though being a non-smoker herself, Julia was not to know this.
In fact, there was not much that could concern Julia at the moment: the drug in the coffee, the oddly flavoured tobacco in the cigarettes, were having their full effect by now, and Julia's mind was a pleasantly obedient fuzz of cotton wool.
She turned a page; one of the women was undoing her bra. On the following pages, the other women were also removing theirs. Diligently, Julia removed hers also, leaving her breasts to swing free. On the next page, it was their panties: a moment later, Julia was naked. By now, Julia was past knowing what she was doing, or why she was doing it. She just sat at the table, naked, just as the women in the book were doing.
On the next page, the women were lighting up cigarettes again, so that's what Julia did, a cloud of blue smoke swathed about her as she drew the smoke deeply into her lungs.
The door clicked open. It was Anna, carrying a clipboard and pen. Julia looked up and stared at her with empty eyes.
'Put out your cigarette,' Anna said. Julia found herself extinguishing the cigarette in the half-drunk coffee in the cup. 'Get up,' Anna ordered. Obediently, Julia did so.
'You're about ready,' Anna said to Julia. 'Come here. Stand in front of me.' Julia obeyed and stood in front of Anna, awaiting the next order. Anna nodded, ticked off a box on a form on the clipboard she was carrying.