"Please ... sit down."
More of a hallway than a room, it stretched out in gray, smooth concrete blandness, draped in shadow and swathed in riddles. The steel table, affixed to the slab with knobby bolts, sat adjacent to a sturdy chair that was likewise immobile. A single, angry bulb buzzed above, its harsh light forcing me to squint.
"The chair, Mr. Jones."
Mr. Smith, for all I knew, or Carter, or ... whatever, wore a severe expression of seriousness that drove any hope of a shoot-the-breeze-joke-to-break-the-ice from my mind. I suspected he despised humor.
"Let's have a ... meetingoftheminds. What do you say?"
He ran those three words together, forming a single, oppressive verb. Ordinarily, I'd say that would be grand if his mind weren't as thick as a bunker wall. Of course, saying that would be sure to illicit something rather nasty from The Man.
"I'd like to ask you about the YouTube video you not only liked, but also shared with your 'followers.'" He made careful use of his fingers to form phantom quotation marks in the air.
From his dour expression and Gestapo style, I ruled out the videos of the Beach Boys I had shared from their 50th Anniversary concert tour. Then again-
"You think this is a sign of intelligence, I suppose. Critical thinking? Maybe? You suppose yourself part of a 'civil resistance?' Perhaps. You wish to open people's minds. Yes?"
Definitely not the Beach Boys videos.
"Does questioning the established facts from reliable sources give you a thrill, Mr. Jones?"
Mr. Smith had moved in so close I decided to take him up on his offer of sitting down. Unfortunately, this gave him the chance to plant his fists on the metal table and glare down at me, the light casting deep pools of blackness in his eye sockets.
"Do you get off at the idea of your own government conspiring to kill a mall full of children, Mr. Jones?"
"So, when do I get to meet the 'good cop?'"
I regretted that one before I finished the question. Smith pulled out a file folder and slapped it on the desk, making me jump. After flipping it open, he pushed it my direction. I could see it was a write up from Snoops, a mythbusting news organization. I'd seen this article before.
"As you can see, Mr. Jones, the whole conspiracy has been deconstructed quite handily. It is just the fevered imaginings of folks who refuse to believe we live in a world where terrible things happen."
"And, I suppose, you and the Snoops people live in a world where the government would never perpetrate a terrible fraud on the public?"
Smith stood up and paced around the other end of the table, his face hidden in gloom.
"Let's be reasonable," he said, "would an act like this really be able to be kept secret? Would the government be able to make everyone go along with a story that was a complete fake?"
"I think you're right," I said, "I think there would probably end up being people who questioned the lack of emotion from parents who supposedly lost their children and are even seen laughing, then mustering up fake emotion when they get on camera. There would be questions about the lack of emergency vehicles in front of the mall, or SWAT team at the site. There might be those who would notice an utter lack of patrons at a supposedly busy shopping center or question why none of the regular employees were working that day."
"Every one of those points was addressed in this article, Mr. Jones. It is pure insanity to go on trying to connect the dots from buckshot and insist it has a pattern."
I looked up, surprised he had pulled that little simile from his tight little, pressed gray pocket.
"Okay," I said, "I admit that I don't buy everything they said. And I'm not ready to accept a conspiracy out of the box."
Mr. Smith moved in, smiling and nodding.
"But, there are some good points in that video that no one has properly explained."
Smith didn't like that.
"Mr. Jones, it sounded as though you were about to show intellect."
"You mean, it sounded like I was going to go along with the official version without reservation?"
"Yes, that's what I meant."
"Here's what I see. I see some good questions being raised about a government that has said 'Never let a crisis go to waste.' I've also seen some absolutely absurd allegations by the people who have raised those questions, which makes them look like a bunch of looney grass-smokers."
Smith liked the 'grass-smokers' part, even though he probably supported legalizing pot and outlawing smoking.
I went on, "The last time I checked, I lived in a free country where people, even the nuts who believe in alien abductions and government conspiracies were allowed to voice their views. If for no other reason, I posted that video. And I liked the idea that they were able to express their concerns."
"Are you about done?"
"Why, you have somewhere to be?"
"No, but you do." Smith smiled broadly and spread his hands out to the side. "You see, a crazed, lone conspirator is about to walk into a bus station wearing an explosive vest hidden under a winter coat, convinced that he's stopping a government coverup in progress."
"Let me guess, then you'll get a law passed against winter coats."