I pressed myself against the cold tiles of the tunnel wall as another car sped past, and it occurred to me for the first time that this wasn’t going to be the best place to hold a secret meeting.
The headlights of the cars stared at me out of the dim, exhaust choked air as they roared by. They seemed like empty machines, their windows black, but I knew there were people in there. Drivers. With cell phones. Any one of them could call in, “There’s a skinny girl in a jean jacket walking the curb in the freeway tunnel.” I kept my head down, my eyes on the toes of my boots, and hoped that at least no one would be able to get an identifiable pic of me while they were driving by at eighty miles per hour.
By the time I reached the “Emergency Exit” door at the center of the tunnel I felt dizzy from breathing the sour air. All those car fumes, I was probably going to get cancer just from walking this tunnel. I didn’t change my pace, just leaned on the door. They’d said they would disable the alarm, but still I held my breath as the door opened and I slid through it. I was sure sirens were going to start blaring and the police would come whizzing around the corner.
A chilly, dark tunnel with a little water trickling down one side stretched away behind the door, lit by one old-fashioned lightbulb in a wire cage. I grinned, loving the sense of adventure. Look for the utility door on the left, Maddie had told me. I walked past a fat, rusted pipe, then found a metal door with no handle, only a keyhole. I tapped on it and it swung open.
The guy at the door was a total screen zombie, one of those people with absolutely no facial expression. I’d seen plenty of them, but it still gave me a turn, trying to figure out what he thought of me standing there. He stepped back and let me pass, so I went into the room beyond.
I wondered if I’d come to the wrong meeting. I don’t know what I was expecting, monks dressed as the Dalai Lama maybe, or hippies with long hair and little round John Lennon glasses, but this sure didn’t look like the peaceful resistance crowd. Didn’t matter, I was open-minded. Someone was standing on a platform at the middle of the room, trash-talking the government. “Well, yeah,” I thought, “We all know that, but what about organizing a flash protest or doing a text blast or something?”
The crowd was muttering angrily at the end of every few sentences from the speaker. This had to be the wrong meeting. I looked around for Maddie, but didn’t see her.
“What are you doing here?” said someone beside me. Keith Ange, the last person in the world I would have thought to find here. The tone of his voice, the disbelief, the disappointment in his eyes, put a twist of betrayal in my stomach. This absolutely was the wrong meeting. What had Maddie been thinking?
“What are you doing here?” I snapped back, trying to keep some of my pride as the terror of how deep in trouble I might be for being here came crashing down on me.