“I didn’t know what I was going to do but luck was on my side. They installed one of those number locks two days after I got suspicious about what was going on in there. I swear it must have had something to do with me being on the loading dock that night. Anyway, I knew all I had to do was find out what the code was and I’d be in.”
We continued to hang on his every word. Steve interjected before Earl could continue.
“But Earl, how’d you get the code?”
“It really wasn’t hard. I knew they’d told those guys to keep it guarded when they punched in the code but I figured they’d only care about doing that if there was someone around when they went in. I figured out if I stood against the wall near the door where they couldn’t see me I could watch them put in the numbers when one of them came along, so that’s what I did.”
He drank some more of his beer and gave us a self-satisfied grin. He was enjoying this now, all trace of his early reticence gone.
“It took a couple more days before I managed to get the whole set of numbers, but I did it. I knew those special deliveries came every other night so once I had the code I waited for the right time to go in.”
“Well hell,” Frank wanted to know, “how’d you get in there without them knowing? You coulda got yourself fired.”
“Could have, but I waited for them to go on dinner break. They all went together, you see. I just took my coffee break when I knew they’d be gone and went in.”
We all leaned in closer. Things were getting exciting.
“So I got in there and I found the box, but the damn thing hadn’t been opened yet. The padlocks were still on it. I was really scared anyway so I got out of there. I had a quick look around before I left but I didn’t see anything unusual. Just that box that was the thing.”
He fell silent then and went back to drinking his beer. We looked at each other in disbelief.
“So Earl, is that it? You never found out what was in the box?”
Bill was incredulous. Earl gave us a grudging look.
“Oh, I found out all right. The next night. But guys, you ain’t gonna believe what I saw. To this day I wonder sometimes if it wasn’t just a dream.”
Bill was beginning to lose his temper.
“Come on, Earl, we been listening to your story for a long time now, you can’t stop on us. What the hell was in the box?”
Earl nodded and ordered yet another round. It was apparent he needed liquid courage to finish what he had started.
“Okay, don’t get mad at me. What I’ve got to tell you, well, it ain’t like anything you ever heard before, that’s for sure. There’s things in this world that just don’t hardly make no sense.”
I could see his hands were shaking now. An idea was starting to form at the back of my mind but I didn’t want to entertain it. It was just too horrible to contemplate. I looked around the table and it seemed a couple of the others might be having the same thought. Still, we had to know. The room seemed to go quiet as Earl put his beer down and prepared to let us in on the secret he’d been carrying around all these years.
Tomorrow, Part 5 – The end.