To say Steve never knew what hit him would be incorrect because Steve did, in fact, know what hit him. What hit him was a dart. Steve knew this because he plucked it from the back of his neck and looked squarely at it before he fell unconscious. What Steve didn't know was what he hit when he fell unconscious. It turned out to be a wheelbarrow full of peat moss, which he actually upended, but he didn't find this out for some time.
* * *
When he regained consciousness, Steve was tied to a folding chair in a gray, anonymous room. There was a table with two other folding chairs behind it. There was a harsh fluorescent light. There was a door with a tiny window in it and a large mirror on one of the side walls. Steve imagined it was an interrogation room. Steve was right.
Once he had taken in his surroundings, Steve struggled with his bonds for a few seconds, which only served to inflame the ache in his ribs, which was a complete mystery to him. He stopped when he heard a buzzing sound and the door opened to admit two well-dressed gentlemen, neither of whom looked at all like the sympathetic type.
They both took a seat and, after a brief scuffle, one of them took the other seat. Since they never identified themselves, Steve thought of them as the One on the Left and the One on the Right. Steve looked from one to the other until the One of the Right spoke.
"What do you think you're doing?" he asked, not unreasonably.
"I'm sitting in a chair," Steve replied, most unreasonably.
The One on the Left raised his hand to slap Steve in the face, but the One on the Right shook his head, staying him.
"What do you think you're doing wearing those?" the One on the Right asked, pointing an accusing finger at Steve's crotch.
Steve unconsciously closed his legs. Then he looked down and realized that the One on the Right was merely pointing at his Bermuda shorts. He relaxed and shrugged his shoulders.
"I wear them because they're comfortable," he said, matter-of-factly.
The One on the Right exchanged a glance with the One on the Left and they got up and left the room. There was a brief scuffle at the door, but eventually one yielded to the other.
Once the door was closed, the buzzer went off again. That's when Steve heard the gas. It was odorless and colorless, but not without effect. Within seconds, he was unconscious again.
* * *
When he again regained consciousness, he was tied to a different chair in a different room. This time he was in a rather stately office. There was a fine mahogany desk with a high-backed leather chair - much like the one he was tied to - on the other side of it, its high back turned to him. The lighting was soft, with most of it emanating from the roaring fireplace to his left. Steve couldn't see a door, so he imagined it was somewhere behind him. Steve was right.
Steve struggled with his bonds, again inflaming the now-dull ache in his ribs. He still had no idea how he had gotten that. He stopped when the chair behind the desk swiveled around, revealing its occupant. He was a small man, completely bald, dressed in an immaculate suit. For reasons known only to himself, Steve thought of him as Edith.
"Ah, I see you have decided to join us again," Edith said, pleasantly.
"I don't see how I have much of a choice," Steve replied, unpleasantly.
Edith pursed his lips, stood up and walked around the desk, stopping directly in front of Steve.
"You have a point, young man, but I would keep my surliness in check if I were you," Edith said. "Now, perhaps you can tell me what you're doing in those."
Edith didn't point, but Steve still looked down and was relieved to find he was still wearing his Bermuda shorts.
"Well, when I was getting dressed this afternoon, it seemed like it was a nice enough day, so I put them on," he said, hoping the truth would be satisfactory.
Edith stared at him for a full ten seconds.
"Hmm," he said, and crossed back to his chair. Sitting down, he pressed a button on his desk. Since he spoke into it, Steve assumed it was an intercom. Steve was right.
"You can come get him," Edith said, and turned his chair around so that it faced away from Steve again. Steve heard a door open and two pairs of footsteps approach him from behind. Then he saw the hands place the blindfold over his eyes and felt it being tied behind his head. Then he smelled the chloroform as the handkerchief was held over his mouth and nose. Consciousness quickly left him.
* * *
This time when Steve awoke, he was no longer tied to a chair. Rather, his hands were bound together and tied up above his head and his feet were in shackles about three feet apart on the floor. He was in a large room, possibly a gymnasium, with a wooden floor and high ceilings. He didn't get a chance to see more of it because he was not alone in it.
The two men from the interrogation room were standing in front of him. The One of the Left was holding a bucket. The One on the Right was holding a pail. Steve looked back and forth between them. Finally he could take it no more and spoke first.
"Well?" he shouted, his outburst echoing around the cavernous room. The men waited for the sound to cease. Then the One on the Left spoke.
"Which one?" he said. Steve waited, but he did not continue.
"Which one what?" Steve asked.
"Which one?" the One on the Left repeated, holding up his bucket. When Steve looked at him, the One on the Right held up his pail.
"What's inside them?" Steve asked.
"Which one?" the One of the Left said.
"Both of them," Steve replied.
There was a long pause.
"Which one?" the One on the Left said.
"Okay, I give up," Steve said, mentally throwing up his arms in frustration. "The one on the left. I'll take the one on the left."
The One on the Left looked at the One on the Right, who hefted his pail, swung it back and hit Steve square in the crotch with a large quantity of what he appeared to be mud. Steve was livid.
"My left!" he cried. "I wanted the one on my left!"
The One on the Right shrugged his shoulders and looked at the One on the Left, who was already in his backswing. Moments later, Steve was hit full in the face with another quantity of mud. As he was temporarily blinded, he couldn't look down, but he imagined that his Bermuda shorts were permanently ruined. He also imagined that he looked incredibly silly. He was right on both counts.
"Okay, I think I've had enough, don't you?" he said, getting a taste of the mud as he did so.
As he spat it out, Steve's hands were cut loose and his feet released from the shackles. Before he could run or wipe the mud from his face, though, he felt himself being lifted bodily by both men and carried out of the gymnasium and into a hallway. He didn't struggle. He heard the gasps of people as he was hustled past them. They passed through a few more set of doors and, when they stopped, Steve felt the setting sun on his face - even through the still-dripping mud.
Without warning, Steve was unceremoniously thrown to the ground. He caught himself and quickly sat up, finally wiping the mud from his eyes. When he opened them, he was looking up into the face of the bald man from the stately office. He was flanked by the two other men, who were wiping their hands with handkerchiefs.
"Young man," Edith said, "in future, please be advised that my building has a dress code. Thank you." So saying, Edith and the two other men went back into the building, leaving a confused Steve to puzzle over what he had just been through and why.
As he rose, he again felt the dull ache in the ribs. Looking into the lobby of the building from which he had just been ejected, Steve saw the half-empty wheelbarrow just inside the entrance. He also saw the gardener who was filling it back up with the peat moss which had been spilled all over the floor. The gardener looked up and glared at him for a few seconds before going back to his work, which was proceeding slowly since all he had a small gardening spade.
Suddenly all was clear. The ache, the interrogation, the humiliation - everything. In a state of Zen acceptance, Steve walked home that evening, believing in his heart of hearts that he would never again wear Bermuda shorts. Steve was right.