I'd just stumbled into the daylight after an afternoon meeting near San Francisco's Union Square. I'd been standing on the sidewalk for a moment, shifting my attention between my notebook, phone, and this man. I'd stolen glances like I was meeting a blind date, wondering if this was my contact but not quite approaching him
I confirmed my identity, and he motioned me over to the sedan. "I'll be taking you to the drop zone," he said and then was silent.
A few weeks earlier, FedEx dropped off an unmarked, prepaid mobile phone. The carbon-copy shipping slip gave no origin address or FedEx account number. I called the delivery company and asked for more details, and all they could dig up was the location the phone was picked up. Some place called "Vivendi University" according to the agent. And so the marketing stunt began.
I slid into the back seat, and my driver, now identified as Julius, pulled onto Geary. The leather interior swaddled me and smelled like it was just days old. He made a brief call, saying little more than, "pickup confirmed" before resuming the silence.
The prepaid phone had been blinking with text messages over the prior weeks. Initially terse notes arrived about the driver and pickup location, calling me "agent." One message urged me to buy a Rolex, and another suggested I "become one of well-hung mates!" I don't think Vivendi or its University sent those, but I was prepared just in case.
In the car, I used my own phone to call my editor, Chris. We talk about the prior meeting, and I let him know I was on my way to the next, mysterious event. "I'm surprised they didn't put a bag over your head," he heckled.
I relayed the message to Julius, asking if the bag was coming. He chuckled, "Possibly."
We ambled through the city, often in straight lines, but occasionally turning around and backtracking a few blocks. The first time we made one of those loops, I asked, "Did you miss the turn, or was that part of the excitement?"
"Possibly," he said.
We drove down Van Ness, to Bay Street, through the Marina district, and even made a U-turn in a locally famous Safeway. We finally pulled into Fort Mason across the street, stopping at the former military installation's back corner.
Julius got out, opened my door, and told me in his always-even cadence, "The drop site is in the Firehouse. Please return when you've secured the package."
I stepped back into the sunlight. Alcatraz was directly to my left, and the Firehouse was straight ahead. I shot a few photos and saw a conspicuous metal case lamely lying ahead.
Before I moved to it, the white end of a professional Canon zoom lens peered at me from around the building. Finally, some action. The case wasn't going anywhere, so I walked at the photographer.
"Hello?" I asked. "Do you have a case for me?"
The photographer and her helper initially froze, then turned away from me and walked away. They moved with only their legs, their backs frozen at me. If they ran, they were guilty. If they didn't look at me, maybe I'd go away. I trotted in to close the gap.
Still without looking, one pleaded, "Agent, you were given specific instructions. If they see us talking, they'll kill me." Fine. I left them alone, walked by a jumbled cache of other cases, and retrieved the first.
The light, silver briefcase was marked, "Intec." Inside, I found only a postcard with a picture of Coit Tower. Julius and I drove off in that direction until he got a phone call.
"Hello. Yes. ... Yes. ... Understood." He hung up. He wouldn't tell me where we were headed but that we had new orders. Again, we wandered through the city, near where we'd come from, along The Embarcadero, past the Ferry building and piers, under the Bay Bridge, and along PacBell AT&T Park.
Then 3rd Street, Mission Bay, the Dogpatch, and Bayview. We were lost for real this time. He made a call, turned around again, and finally arrived at a warehouse building in the Dogpatch.
My contact from Sierra, Tom Stratton introduced himself, leading me through the loading area and freight elevator. We walked long, dark hallways, past assorted barrels and shipping palettes until finally reaching the demo of The Bourne Conspiracy.
The game looks [REDACTED] with all sorts of [REDACTED] action and [REDACTED] moments. You play as [REDACTED], a [REDACTED], who is trying to [REDACTED], with all kinds of [REDACTED] trying to stop him*.
When my adventure ended, I walked off with the case, only this time it was slightly heavier that before. Alongside a dossier and telephoto shots of myself, I found Bourne schwag:
- A courier bag with Bourne branding
- A Bourne-branded wrist strap that turns into a 2GB USB disk
- An Olympus VN-4100PC voice recorder with Bourne branding
- A Maglite flashlight with Bourne branding
- A Sony NWX-B105F Digital Music Player with two versions of a Gnarls Barkley track
*My full impressions are coming as soon as my clearance is authorized.