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First You Die, Chapter 11: Finding Sonia



First You Die, Chapter Eleven: Finding Sonia

Rick opened a bottle of Skyy vodka and poured a half a tumbler full. He dialed Jip’s number in Bangkok. Rick waited for the connection and thought briefly about his drinking, not that he was going to change his habits now. A problem drinker? Could be. He took a long gulp of the smooth clear liquid and felt a small wave of calmness envelope him. Immediate relief, that was part of it, wasn’t it? They say that you’re a problem drinker if you can sit down at a table by yourself and just drink. Hell, he didn’t have any problem with that. He could do that anytime.

One of Rick’s earliest memories was of his grandfather sipping from a Log Cabin syrup bottle that he always kept in his pocket. ‘Mommy, why does Grandpa drink syrup all day?’ Rick remembers asking.

‘You’ll find out when you get older,’ was always the answer. It took Rick a few years to put it together. In the basement of his Grandfather’s house were stacks of cardboard boxes, at least twenty of them. Rick looked inside and there were four empty gallon jugs in each one. Rick could read by then and the labels said Gallo Port. Rick didn’t know what it meant at the time or that his Grandmother was embarrassed to put the cartons on the street with the garbage for pick up, so they just stayed in the damp basement like mementos from the past.

Rick remembered his mother coming home from work and drinking orange juice from a stemmed glass. No he couldn’t taste it but his mother would get him his own glass. One day his mother explained that she was drinking orange blossoms, gin and orange juice, a drink popular in the 1940’s although this was in 1962. She let Rick taste some of it and after awhile he felt a bit dizzy or dreamy and he remembered a pleasant sensation wrapping its arms around him as if to keep him safe. He thought at the time that if his mother did this everyday it had to be good. Rick knew now that alcoholism could be inherited and he stopped drinking every year for a month or two but he always knew that he would go back, that he would never decide to stop completely.

‘Jipthep-thee nee, khrap,’ came on the line, breaking Rick’s train of thought.

‘Jip, this is Rick. Sonia’s disappeared.’ Rick told Jip the entire frustrating story.

‘Did they arrest the doctor?’ Or take him in for questioning?’

‘Not anytime soon-here in America.’ Rick was more depressed than he had ever been. ‘I have to find her. I’m sure the doctor’s responsible or knows something.’ Rick held his hand over the phone as he squeezed the tears from his eyes and shook his head.

‘Hold on, I’ll be there within twenty-four hours. I’ll catch a flight right out. Then we’ll see what the doctor has to say.’

‘Thanks pal. I’ll either be at the apartment or working.’ Rick hung up and drove to the restaurant. It was almost closing time and he wanted to see the girls safely home. As he walked to the bar, a few of the girls ran up to him, their eyes wide in question. Rick just shook his head no and waved Joy over. Rick hadn’t eaten all day. He ordered vodka on the rocks and waited for the restaurant to close around him, everyone knew what to do.
Danforth had changed from his chef’s uniform and wore his shorts and T-shirt. None of the hot-shit chefs wore plain whites anymore. They all had to have jackets with black cloth buttons and black piping on the cuffs and collars. Their names were always heavily embroidered on the front, underneath where it said Executive Chef. Dan favored black baggy paints decorated with collages of red hot peppers and he wore clogs. He held a bicycle in one hand. He kept the ten-speed in the pantry; a bike on the street, even chained to a pole would not last very long in the city. Dan lived on West 9th near Washington Square Park and peddled back and forth every day.

‘Hey man, I’m really sorry about Sonia.’ Dan’s voice was twice as loud as anyone else’s.
Rick thought that this was because Danforth had been to too many Grateful Dead concerts and it had impaired his hearing. Rick nodded his head.

‘You know my wife Susan is one of the best restaurant managers in the city.’

Rick nodded his head again.

‘Suppose I get her to come over for a few days, run things for you. You need some time off, my friend.’

Rick looked up. ‘That would be great. I thought that little blonde beauty was managing Café Central on the West Side?’

‘Hey, if they can’t give her a short leave, then doom on them.’

‘Thanks Dan. I’m out of here too.’ Rick stood up and stretched. He was whipped. Rick gathered the girls together and locked the front door. He waited until a cab came by and he put some girls in the Jag and some in the cab. When Rick got home, he fell fast asleep for a few hours. The vodka had helped.

Rick woke up in the morning and made his own coffee, thinking that he hadn’t done that in a year. He had to do something, anything to make himself feel better. He went over to the other side of the apartment and spoke to the girls. They all were worried sick and looked like hell. Most had been crying.

‘Listen up. You know that Sonia would be disappointed if you didn’t carry on and take care of your school work and the restaurant, right?’

They nodded in silence.

‘Okay, I’m going to find Sonia and I may not be around for a while, just do best you can, all right?’

The girls sobbed and shook their heads yes. Rick went back to his kitchen and took the Colt revolver from the refrigerator and put it on the table, wondering when he would find Sonia. He could not let himself believe that he wouldn’t. He poked around the cabinets until he found a box of cartridges for the Colt. He put the Glock in its holster and clipped it on his belt and threw two clips in his jacket pocket.

He had a Remington pump twelve gauge in the hall closet. He took that out and put it on the kitchen table. He got down a box of shotgun shells from the top shelf of the hall closet. The shells were double-0 buck. They were red paper cartridges with a brass rear. Each one held nine .32 caliber stainless steel ball bearings. They couldn’t make slugs for hunting out of lead anymore. Amazing America-kill people or animals, that was okay. Pollute the environment-that was a no-no.

The Remington was a beauty, matte-black finish, polypropylene hard plastic stock and fore-end. It was an 870 Police Magnum and held seven cartridges. Rick ejected them onto the sofa and reloaded. The piece worked smoothly. It was a combat weapon and Rick had managed to get a hunting license for it. If he were to go deer hunting, he would have to put a plug in the chamber so the weapon could only hold three rounds. That was the law but it didn’t make it much easier on the deer. Rick never went hunting. He couldn’t conceive of killing a deer.

Rick shoved the Colt in his belt, gathered up the shells and put the shotgun under his arm. On the way out he grabbed his mobile phone- not wanting to be with out one again. He took the elevator down and waved to Rafael for his car. When it arrived, Rick placed the Remington in the trunk along with the boxes of shells. Rick drove to the restaurant and parked right in front, almost on the sidewalk. It was like a bad dream-his life now. He had to find Sonia.

Rick went up to his office. Dan’s wife Susan was going over the day’s delivery slips.

‘Oh Rick, I’m so sorry about Sonia.’ She hugged him.

‘Thanks for coming.’ Rick sagged into his seat.

‘Slavin sent over fish with the gills cut out. When I called up to complain he said not to worry as he just wanted to help clean the fish for us. I refused delivery.’

‘That idiot should know better. The last time he did that I put the whole order on the sidewalk and told him to come and get it.’

‘West-Conn delivered beautiful steaks though.’

‘Roy’s a good man but his prices keep creeping up. Who do you use at Café Central?’
‘Blue Ribbon.’

‘Okay, use them for the next few days and when Roy calls up crying, we’ll beat him down a bit.’

‘I can’t find yesterdays bar checks.’

‘I know. I throw them out at the end of the night. The bar register is strictly for us.’
Rick knew that he was required by law to save all checks and cash register tapes for at least three years in case of an audit. But if you didn’t have them you couldn’t save them could you.

‘You got some mail from the fire department. Your yearly refrigerator permits are due. You have a walk-in and four reach-ins. Fifty dollars apiece for the permits.’

‘What a pain in the ass. Oops, Sorry Susan. Just send them a check and sign my name. Anything else?’

‘I’m about finished reconciling the dinner receipts. Where do they go?’

‘Sorry, I didn’t get a chance to tell you. Leave in two cash checks with the charge checks for the accountant and set the others aside with the money.’

‘Got it.’

Danforth brought up a sautéed steak and Portobello mushroom sandwich with sweet potato fries. Rick picked at the food and waited for Jip. The day dragged by. Susan took charge of the restaurant and Blossom did the seating. ‘Sonia took a few days off,’ she had to keep explaining.

It was eight-thirty in the evening. The restaurant was full and so many people were asking for Sonia that Rick stepped outside and stood away from the door, not wanting to talk to anyone. A yellow cab pulled up and out stepped Jip with a small carry-on flight bag.
‘Hey Rick. How are you?’

‘Good, thanks for coming,’ Rick gave him a quick hug before Jip could put his hands together in a wai.

‘Let’s pay a visit to this doctor now. You have anything? I couldn’t carry on the plane.’
Rick opened the trunk and put the shotgun on the backseat, handing Jip the Colt revolver. ‘I have my Glock.’

They got in the car and Jip put the colt in the glove compartment. ‘I’ll take the shotgun. Speak softly and carry a big stick, as they say. This should do it.’

‘I think the clinic’s open until nine. There’s a huge goon protecting the place.’

‘Pay him no mind. Walk right in, grab the doc and hustle him out to the car. You only have to worry about the doctor. Also, I meant to tell you that I’ve been all over Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy. There’s always girls coming and going, so it’s hard to keep track, but I did find another instance where a girl vanished without a trace, left her clothes behind, like the girl you called about and they both seem to have visited the Double Lucky Health Clinic. ’
‘It looks like something is happening with these clinics.’

‘I don’t know for sure, but we’ll find out soon enough.’

When they reached the clinic, Rick pulled a lever underneath the dashboard and the car trunk popped slightly open. Rick had his pistol in his hand when he exited the car. Jip was right behind him.

The big Thai was outside and made a grab for Rick’s arm. ‘Hey, you go where?’

Rick opened the door and kept going as Jip whacked the barrel of the shotgun down on the man’s head like a sledgehammer. The Thai crumpled in a heap on the sidewalk. Rick rushed past the nurse, her shouting at him, as she reached into her desk drawer.

Jip was right there slamming the side of the gunstock into her face, putting his shoulder into it, the nurse falling back against the wall, slumping to the floor.

Rick running into the office and around the desk, grabbing the doctor’s shirtfront, putting the Glock in the doctor’s face. ‘Let’s go.’ Jerking him out of the chair, pushing him towards the front of the room, the side door opening, a Chinese man stepping out with an automatic rifle pointing at Rick.

An explosion filling the room, the Chinese man flying backwards, his chest a mass of blood. Jip ejecting an empty cartridge from the shotgun and scooping it up on the way out. Rick forcing the doctor over the unconscious thug on the sidewalk and pushing him into the trunk. Jip jumping in the passenger’s side with Rick starting the engine and the big car speeding down the street.

‘Rick, we need to use someone’s apartment for an hour or so, someplace where no one will bother us if we make some noise. If this snatch gets reported to the police, they’ll be all over your building. You wouldn’t happen to have a safe house stashed somewhere would you?’

‘As a matter of fact I do,’ Rick turned off Canal Street and into the lane marked Holland Tunnel. When they came out of the tunnel they were in New Jersey and Rick turned on to Highway 1&9 Southbound. They drove past the town of Elizabeth; the famous Jersey swamps, oil refineries belching out black smoke and Newark International Airport.
‘You know, some people refer to New Jersey as the armpit of America.’ Rick passed another mammoth factory. ‘But there are a lot of nice things in South Jersey. There’s a beautiful beach that extends for miles from Rumson to Asbury Park, past Atlantic City to Cape May- a small town filled with hundred-year old houses. Kids from all over the state fill the beaches in the summer; go crabbing and fishing. We did too when I was a kid. My aunt and uncle built a summer cottage in Brick Town, about twenty minutes in from the shore. It’s still pretty quiet. Not much industry, mostly retirement homes now. We used to call the seashore near Point Pleasant, the Italian Riviera, all the Italian families from Newark and Belleville come down there for the summer.

My aunt and uncle passed away and left the house to my brother and myself. All the furniture is still there. My brother got married, stored his furniture in the house and moved in with his wife. When my wife left me, I moved in over the restaurant and put some things down there too.’

After an hours drive, Rick turned off the highway and onto a long two-lane asphalt road. It was mostly wooded area with the street lights far apart. Rick pulled in a dirt driveway. There was a small red house with an attached garage a hundred feet back.
Rick got out of the car, fished his hand into the mailbox and pulled a few keys out. He turned one in the garage door and pulled it open. He drove the car inside and left the headlights on.

‘Let me find the fuse box, turn on some lights.’ Rick edged his way into the kitchen, past stacks of cardboard boxes. The fuse panel was on the wall by the bathroom. Everything was on one floor, so when you got old you didn’t have to climb the stairs. Jip unlocked the trunk and pulled the doctor out.

The doctor was shaken but clear-headed enough to be angry. ‘You are in very serious trouble right now. You have no idea who my bosses are. Let me go now before it’s too late.’

Jip pushed the doctor into the living room and onto a straight-backed chair. ‘You better pray it’s not too late. Where’s Sonia?’

‘I don’t know who you’re talking about.’

‘Get some rope.’ Jip slapped the man hard in the face.

Rick went to the pantry and rummaged around coming up with a length of clothesline. Jip bound the man securely to the chair. There were three table lamps laying on one of the sofas. Furniture was stacked all over, chairs piled on top of each other. Books and magazines spilled over from a stack on one of the many chairs. Jip took a knife from the kitchen drawer and cut the cord from one of the lamps.

He sat next to the doctor, peeling the plastic insulation from the strands of electric wire. ‘You’re from Mainland China aren’t you? I can tell by your accent. How long have you been here?

‘I’m a legitimate businessman. You are making a very big mistake.’ The doctor strained against his bonds.

Jip walked over to the electric socket. ‘The problem here is- there’s no resistor to control the current. It’s a full blast or nothing.’

Jip had shaped the wires like the ends of the doctor’s stethoscope. They were almost touching. Jip squeezed them together. There was a loud ‘splat’ as a huge spark shot out. The house lights blew out.

‘Rick can you hit the switch box again please?’ The wires had fused together from the heat and Jip pulled them apart, carefully holding them around the outside of the doctor’s nose, one wire on each side.

‘Wait a minute.’ There was an urgency to his voice as his eyes went wide with fear.
Jip squeezed the wires. There was a scream as a bolt of flame and sparks flashed from the wires and the doctor’s nose. Rick hit the switch on the fuse box again. The doctor’s nose was burned black on both sides. The doctor was unconscious. Rick filled a glass of water from the sink and threw it in the doctor’s face.

The doctor slowly raised his head. ‘Please, please, don’t do this.’

Jip sat next to the doctor again and straightened out the wires. The ends were burnt black. ‘See, that’s the problem, you can’t adjust the voltage. So, what’s up with the clinic?’
The doctor’s head dropped. ‘They’ll kill me. I can’t tell you anything.’

‘I will try to keep you alive but I can’t guarantee it. It’s the resistors. I have no control over the electricity.’ Jip suddenly jabbed the wires into the doctor’s cheek. Another scream filled the room as the lights went out and a huge spark exploded in the air.

‘You forgot to ask him anything that time,’ Rick said, hitting the fuse switch again.

As the doctor started to come to, he felt his fly being unzipped. He looked down, horrified as Jip carefully wrapped one of the wires around his scrotum. Jip took his time with the second wire, running his fingers along it. When it was nice and straight he grasped the doctor’s penis and inserted the wire as far as he could.

The doctor screamed in pain. ‘Stop. My God. Don’t. Don’t do it.’

Jip held the plug in his hand. ‘I want the whole story. Start talking.’

The doctor drew a deep breath. ‘Take the wire out. ’

‘Rick go over by the fuse box, the doctor’s wasting my time here.’

‘No, no. I’ll talk. I’ll tell you everything.’ The doctor was breathing heavily, his eyes bulging.

Jip leaned forward. ‘First tell me about Sonia, the girl that has disappeared. Then tell me about the clinics.’

‘We abducted a girl two days ago. She may have given a false name. She has a rare blood type.’

‘That’s her. Where is she?’ Rick pulled the doctors head back.

‘She’s safe and is being transported to Thailand. We’ve been looking for this specific blood type for over a year. A wealthy businessman and politician has cancer and the chemotherapy treatments have destroyed his blood cells. He needs a massive transplant of bone marrow to restore his stem cells.’

‘Stem cells?’

‘Stem cells are the first stage of blood produced by the bone marrow which must be collected from a healthy body. These then turn into the white blood cells that he needs so badly.’

‘Specifically, how do we find Sonia?’

‘The only thing I know for sure is that she has left for Bangkok with Khun Rawy and his men

Rick and Jip exchanged worried glances but said nothing. Jip grabbed the man’s neck. ‘When and how is the operation going to take place?’

‘In less than a week. They’ll simple remove the marrow with a needle. It’s best if the prospective recipient goes through six days of anti-rejection drug treatment just before the operation. Donated organs or marrow from cadavers must be transplanted immediately so there usually isn’t time for that. And that body can not expire from a disease. A sudden death is preferred, like an automobile accident or a random shooting. There’s a waiting list for new organs at every hospital. Patients are dying in droves and ironically only the dead can help them. In a business like ours, we can hold the donor until the recipient is ready.’
Rick jumped up. ‘Cadaver? No way. I’m going to get Sonia back alive. We’ve got to get to the airport.’

‘Right.’ Jip untied the doctor.

On the way out, Rick picked up a book and flung it through the stained-glass window that was standing against one wall. The glass shattered, breaking into pieces; he was starting to feel better already. They rushed out to the garage. The car trunk was still open. Jip slammed the trunk shut, shoved the doctor into the back seat and raised the garage door. Rick pulled the Jag out. Jip slammed the garage door shut and jumped in the car. Rick spun the wheels on the dirt, the backend fishtailing as he sped down the driveway.

Rick reached the Garden State Parkway and really stepped on the gas as he handed Jip the mobile phone. ‘Call for the first two seats to Bangkok, doesn’t matter what airline. I have to stop by my apartment and pick up my passport, dump the guns there. I’ll leave the car in the airport parking lot.’

Jip punched a few numbers into the phone. ‘Don’t worry; getting guns will be no problem. We’ll get Sonia back, that’s for sure and then I’ll start working on my other case again.’
Jip reserved two seats out at two A.M. from Kennedy. They would just make it. Rick was doing a hundred on the highway. He knew he would have to slow down on the feeder road off the parkway and on the way to the Holland Tunnel.

‘What about our passenger?’ Rick was more concerned about what was happening now.
‘I’m going to have to ask him for his help.’

Rick winced; he had heard Jip say that before. ‘We can ask him to disappear, keep his mouth shut.’

‘Right, good idea. Do you think you can do that? Jip nudged the doctor with his elbow.
‘Of course. I won’t say a word.’

Rick paid the toll on the parkway and exited near Elizabeth. He was on a small road that connected the tunnel with either the Parkway or the New Jersey Turnpike. ‘How’d you get mixed up in this Doc?’

The doctor sighed and shook his head. ‘It was my country’s idea to fill a need at a great profit. You know that China has more executions a year than any ten other countries put together. A bullet in the back of the neck is the method and the family is required to pay for the bullet, about three cents. The body is then thrown into a van and driven to the nearest hospital.

I was the doctor in charge there and I preformed all of the transplants. There are no organ donor cards in China like here in the states. Chinese families have a custom that prohibits the disturbance of bodies, so prisoners were the most likely donors.

When a prisoner was about to be executed, we just looked in the data bank and called the person that was next in line for a transplant. Soon the Western world found out about it and there was more business than we could handle; more bad publicity too. America joined with other countries to ban people from coming to China for transplants. Other types of people became interested. A powerful businessman from Thailand came to China and bought me. Yes, bought me from my government.’ The doctor shook his head as if he still couldn’t believe it. ‘A man, I’ve never met, paid a million dollars for my services, a five-year contract. That was two years ago.’

‘Keep talking. Tell me about the clinics.’ Jip patted the doctor’s arm.

‘This man set up a business in Thailand, especially for transplants, only for the very rich. Do you know that in Thailand, in the past ten years there has been a total of only a hundred and thirty organ transplants. In ten years! A ridiculously small amount. My patron recognized the overwhelming need for something like this and for the wealthy to have a chance to live. If you run a business, you must have a supply to sell; that’s where the clinics come in. We open in disreputable parts of town, places where a person might not be missed. We were selective. If a customer had friends and relatives, we gave them an exam and they went on their way, no harm done. But when we came across a person with no family and few friends, someone that wouldn’t be missed, we filed the blood type away or called them right up if we had a client.

We set up our first clinic on a back street off Petchaburi Road. However, many customers are unable to travel because of their condition. Americans are rich; that’s why we are here. It makes everything easier. Did you know that in America there are sixty-four thousand people waiting for a transplant of one kind of another? Imagine the money to be made from this. A person dies every two and a half-hours waiting a transplant, but then there are many more taking their places especially with the baby boomers getting older. Khun Wou realized the tremendous potential for this business.’

‘How many other people have you abducted?’

‘Oddly enough, I have been in America for over six months and haven’t received any requests from higher up so we keep doing free exams. It’s amazing because right here in New York State there are over eight thousand people waiting for one kind of organ or another. I was told to get everything set up and wait for the arrival of Khun Wou but so far nothing has happened. We have met many prospective donors, street people, people with no relatives but for some reason I have to wait until he comes. However, I knew that they were searching all over Thailand for this blood type so when I came across the girl I phoned Bangkok immediately.’

Rick jerked his head towards the rear. ‘Wou is coming here?’

‘It’s a secret but I overheard a phone conversation. He bought an apartment in Trump Towers.’

‘Tell me one more thing. What’s in the gas tanks in the clinic? They’re way too big to be used for ordinary operations.’

‘I don’t have anything to do with that. I just order what they tell me to.’

‘Do you want to tell me the truth or shall I tell Jip to ask you the hard way?’

The doctor shrugged his shoulders. It didn’t matter much anymore what he told them. ‘The tanks are all full of anhydrous ammonia.’

‘That’s an explosive isn’t it? ‘Isn’t that what that nut Timothy McVeigh used to blow up the federal building in Oklahoma City? What’s going on?’

‘No, but you’re close. He used ammonium nitrate. They’re similar as they are both fertilizers.’

‘So now you guys are terrorists? Islamic Jihad? Al-Qaeda? You’re going right to the FBI when we get back.’

‘What kind of people do you think we are? Mass murderers? Terrorists? Do you think that we are some kind of lunatics? That’s quite insulting. We’re ordinary business people. We have nothing to do with that kind of destruction.’

‘So what are the tanks for?’

‘I really don’t know. I was told to order them and wait.’

‘Hey Rick, can you pull over here. I have to pee.’ Jip pointed to a dark area. Jersey marshland was on both sides of the road.

Rick parked on the grassy shoulder of the road, next to the guardrail. There was high grass, bushes and vegetation as far as he could see.

‘Rick, do you have to go to the bathroom?’

‘Yup.’ Rick stepped out of the car and walked a few feet into the tall weeds.

‘I’ll wait until you get back, don’t want to leave the doctor alone.’

When Rick came back, Jip grabbed the doctor. ‘Piss call. Come on out and stretch your legs.’ Jip lead the doctor into the weeds. They both had to pee. While they were doing their business, Jip spoke to the doctor in a confidential manner. ‘About how many girls have been killed all together? How many transplants have you done?’

The doctor zipped his fly. ‘None here as I said, but in Bangkok we kidnapped over forty people. Unfortunately many of them ultimately were not found to be suitable for the donors, for some reason or other, and we had to dispose of them anyway.’

‘All of those lives gone, just to make money.’

‘Some things just happen like that.’

‘I’m glad you understand. Listen,’ Jip said speaking softly, putting his hand on the back of the doctor’s head. ‘I need your help.’

As the doctor bent closer, Jip put his other hand on the doctor’s jaw and twisted violently. There was a sharp cracking sound, like a bat sending a hardball all the way over the fence. The doctor collapsed on the wet earth. There was no need for Jip to feel his pulse to see if he was alive. He wasn’t.

Rick watched Jip walk back to the car alone. The engine was still running and Rick put the car in gear and sped towards the tunnel. After a few minutes Rick glanced over at Jip. ‘I want to ask you something’

‘Sure, go ahead.’

‘The lady at the desk in the clinic- you slammed her in the head with the shotgun.’

‘Yeah.’

‘Was she reaching for a pistol?’

‘I have no idea.’

‘Just being careful, right.’

‘Right.’

‘Just like now?’

‘Right. You let that guy go-walk around; first thing he’s going to do is call someone because he’s scared. Give him up to the cops and he’s still allowed one phone call. Who’s he gonna call?’

‘Johnny Wou. Tell him we’re coming?’

‘You can bet on it.’

‘It’s not right, do something like this.’ Rick shook his head. ‘It’s morally wrong, killing people. You shouldn’t do that. You’re a police officer’

‘Think of it as making the world a better place to live.’ Jip leaned back in his seat.
They drove in silence through the tunnel and across Canal, making a left on West Broadway, Rick flying through the traffic lights.

Rick pulled in front of his apartment building and reached for the shotgun, hoping the elevator was on the ground floor.

Stickman's thoughts:

Excellent, as always.