Authors: J. A. Redmerski
Tags: #Fantasy, #Contemporary, #Fiction
Copyright © 2012 J.A. Redmerski
All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to real people, historical events, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events, locales, persons living or deceased, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole, or in part and in any form.
Cover Illustration by Daniele Serra
Crow image by Pedro Medeiros (deadinsane)
For Brian Salata, who made me write a one-page story about a man sitting in a park. And for just about everything else, too.
“If it feels wrong, it probably is.”
THE CITY BUS SQUEALED to a halt, sucking me right out of my favorite daydream, the clichéd one about winning the lottery and never having to work for Hugh Bastardi again, or anyone for that matter.
I’m just like eighty-four percent of the working population; I hate my job and the tyrant in the suit who pays me. I’m underpaid, under-appreciated, in a dead-end career that I did
spend four years in college for. I know, I know; no one is forcing me to wake up every morning and go in. Whining about it likely encompasses that eighty-four percent, too.
“Still no word on that management position over at Hinkson’s?” Martin said, standing up next to me on the city bus with a briefcase clutched at his side.
“They hired someone last week.”
I stepped off and into a swarm of people, the smell of exhaust and cologne engulfing me. Like clockwork, Mr. Yeager bustled by with his nose buried inside a folded newspaper, the same one I’ll later find abandoned beside the copy machine reeking of bacon and cigarettes. Janice Bates, the nutcase head of Accounting sauntered across the street and slipped inside the pastry store. As always, I was sure not to make eye contact, because with Janice, that’s like provoking a gorilla.
“You should try out over at the Stanfield Building,” Martin added, skittering alongside me.
I smiled dryly. “Amanda works on the second floor.”
“Oh...” Martin paused, shrinking inside himself, “well, proof right there that ex-wives are impossible to get rid of.”
I laughed quietly, agreeing for once with my unlikely associate. Martin was a shit-sniffer and Hugh Bastardi’s favorite runaround guy. I knew my job-hunting endeavor would make it back to Mr. Bastardi’s ears by way of the Martin Scovolli pipeline, but at this point, I could care less.
In a way, I hoped Mr. Bastardi might feel threatened and make the move to set things right.
Keep moving, Norman,
I said to myself. Left. Right. Pause and let the suits from Enterprise Financial pass, or else get knocked over because I’m a peon and in their way. Just a few more steps and I’ll be in the clear.
Martin went on and on about how things at the office
be. The break room is too small, he said. The Accounting department is too big. The computers are outdated and can’t handle shit for processing large amounts of transfers anymore. Employees down the hall in cubicles have it better than we do over in the offices. He’s miffed the ‘hall monitors’ came around and confiscated all of the cordless mice because the ‘office Gods’ were tired of footing the battery bill. Just like a million paper clips and fancy whiteout pens, batteries have been pilfered in the pockets and purses of employees for at-home use since 1989. Four of them are in my remote control right now. I don’t remember the last time I bought a pack of batteries.
Finally, we came upon Martin’s morning doughnut ritual.
“Alright, well I’ll catch you at the office then,” Martin said as he opened the tall glass door.
I nodded and continued on my way. After all, if I linger once, he’ll expect me to do it every day and I really can’t stand the guy.
A little further and my pace slowed as I slipped past the coffee shop where Kate worked, barely turning to glimpse her through the window. I knew I’d never have her, but that never stopped me from dreaming about it. Kate came in second next to winning the lottery, for obvious reasons.
Three more blocks.
I waved across the street at John Myers and two seconds later, Phil Summers, as I did every day. I braced for the intersection at 9
and Main and sure enough, Mr. Davenport was standing on the corner waiting for the bus, a snotty handkerchief crushed between his sausage-like fingers.
Mr. Davenport beamed and raised his fat hand. “A fine morning don’t you think?” he said to me.
I squeezed out an uncomfortable smile. “Yes it is, Mr. Davenport,” I said walking by briskly. “Good to see you.”
Repetition. It was the same thing every day of my life. The same faces, the same stress-inducing sounds, the same pointless routines. But like most everyone dissatisfied with their lives, quietly complaining about it would be all I ever did. God forbid I actually attempted to break the cycle, or else that would be unconventional and humans are genetically programmed like army ants, moving incessantly and without change over the time that we exist.
Finally, only one block from work I came upon the mouth of the same alley I always passed without so much as a glance. But this time I stopped.
Nice long legs with black stiletto heels on their ends. Short skirt, leather pushed up the thigh; one heel propped against the red brick wall behind her.
I looked over each shoulder warily, expecting to see a police car any second now come to carry the hooker off.
Peering back down the alley, my eyes passed over every inch of her naked skin, but ultimately I took a moral step away and back toward the street.
“Where are you going?” said a voice.
I stopped and turned around to place the face with the voice. A man stood on the corner. Tall and lanky and obvious. I didn’t need to see him speak to know that it had been him.
“Why don’t you go talk to her?”
The man made a face, imitating my response. “Go talk to her,” he repeated, waving me along as if I needed that extra boost of encouragement.
“Not my thing,” I said, walking away. “And you might want to go back to the Southside—cops’ll have your ass over here.”
Though my back was already facing the strange man who I assumed was the woman’s pimp, I couldn’t help but turn around to look when there was no response.
The man was gone.
I looked all around me, over the tops of moving heads and across the intersection before shrugging it off and rounding the corner.
“I’ll give you five hundred bucks,” said the man standing with his back against the building. “Cash money. Right now. All you have to do is talk to her.”
Instantly I was taken aback, trying to figure out how he got out ahead of me so fast.
I pressed on past him. “More goddamn nuts in this city every day,” I mumbled under my breath as I walked by.
“Suit yourself,” said the man. “Guess I can’t blame you for wanting to get to work so you can process all those life-fulfilling invoices.”
I kept on walking. The need to understand how exactly he knew what I did at work all day was evident, but the need to get away from him was more imperative.
“Break the repetition, Norman Reeves,” he said from somewhere behind me. “You’ve nothing to lose. Not anymore.”
The man disappeared this time it seemed for good. I couldn’t move for what felt like an eternity. People passed me by, some taking notice to the only unmoving body on the sidewalk, which threatened to break the rush hour procession like a stagnant domino. I was turned here and there, as a different shoulder brushed against my own, as a thousand Excuse Me’s finally moved me out of the way and into a safe zone underneath a fancy awning.
Gently gnawing on my bottom lip, I gazed across the busy street and up at the towering building where I would be late in just minutes if I continued to linger. A whistle blew somewhere to my right. An elevated train buzzed by overhead to my left, rattling the tracks in a vociferous rage.
I looked up at the building again, searching for a particular office window overlooking the city, the one I put in for last November but lost to Patricia King. And then I saw Hugh Bastardi’s office (born Hugh
ardi, but nicknamed by Martin and myself last year before Martin turned into a brown-nosing douchebag). Six years with the company and I was still stuck with the dinky office steps away from the restrooms. A few inches smaller and it could pass for a utility closet.
“What can it hurt?” I said aloud to myself.
After a few moments of justifying and convincing, I turned on my heels and headed back the way I came.
It baffled me how much that man knew. Maybe the pair were schemers, come to prey upon a fresh breed of gullible. Perhaps it was a good thing I was onto them, ahead of the game; that way I could nail them before random charges started showing up on my credit card statements.
I reached down quickly then, feeling for my wallet to make sure it was still in my left pocket.
I punched the air with my fist. My collection of business cards
gone. My expired driver’s license, the cheesy Portrait Studio photo of Amanda and me
At first, I thought about calling the police, but that would take too long.
I rounded the corner and marched angrily into the alley, clutching my briefcase a little tighter in my hand.
Slowly I approached her, one hand in my pocket absently fumbling the few ones and fives I had borrowed from the petty cash box at the office the day before. I moved between the scaling brick walls, feeling the smooth concrete of the sidewalk change to broken asphalt crunching under the soles of my dress shoes.
Her eyes were perfectly painted by a heavy dusting of eye shadow and thick mascara. Her golden-brown hair covered her shoulders and fell upon her breasts, barely hidden by the skimpiest leather top that I had ever seen. I thought those only existed in magazines.
“I’ve been waiting for you, Norman,” she said.
My chin drew back just a little and I felt the creases tighten in my forehead.
Everything about this felt…off. Completely apart from the whole wallet-stealing ordeal, something just didn’t seem right.
“Yes,” the woman added with a grin, “I saw you watching me, could sense the jolt in your pants.” Her propped foot came down from the wall. “Is that what it does, or does it swell? I don’t know these things; perhaps you could show me?”
I was at a loss for words. I thought about the strange and rather forthright question, but hardly found it conversation material.
Against my better judgment I moved closer, passing a stinking dumpster piled high with large cardboard boxes and trash from the businesses on the other side of the walls.
The hooker was not alone.
I gazed clumsily down at a boy. Next to the boy stood two men wearing top hats and holding silver canes. The boy bounced a tiny colored ball on the asphalt in front of him, his legs crossed Indian-style. His grin made me uneasy. Something about that kid just wasn’t right, either.
“The longer you look the more you see,” said the twins at the same time, “the more you see, the less you are.”
“Shut the hell up,” said the boy, “gonna give me a damn migraine. Besides, he’s mine.”
“He saw me first,” said the hooker.
She looked back at me. Of course, I stood motionless and confused beyond comprehension. Because when something doesn’t feel right, no one ever
runs. No, we stand there sucking down a good dose of idiocy.
“And I’m no hooker, so stop looking at me like that,” the woman added. “You know what they say about looks and deception.”
“I...uh, apologize, ma’am,” I said, much as a child might address someone else’s intimidating mother.
I heard noises in the dumpster beside me. The ruffling and rustling of paper, the squealing and squeaking of rats, but also there were strange little voices:
“That’s mine you imbecile! You got the Teriyaki chicken yesterday!”