Josh rolled over for the thousandth time. The television's rapidly changing green and bluish glow played off the walls of the bedroom of his apartment. The world of the infomercials was waking up. This world would provide anybody lucky enough to be watching a promise of a harder body, bigger breasts, a super models miraculous skin, and a porn stars stamina. And if that didn't interest you there was always the lawsuit of the century for all us unsuspecting victims to reap the reward from the evil medical product companies. These businesses were killing us all with their flawed and dangerous medicines and medical devices. There were also the commercials disguised as talk shows where the cheers of the fake studio audience greeted the disingenuous host and his contrived monologue promoting some bogus product for your perceived benefit. So began the night of the absurd as it has since the television companies ushered in the era of night time revenue streaming. Josh's eyes were burning and crusty as he worked to focus on the screen and change channels looking for something entertaining to watch while waiting for sleep to overtake him.
Tomorrow morning was the interview. His interview. The retail store where he worked was experiencing a persistent decrease in daily revenue or so his manager said trying to sound like he was in control of the downward spiral of his business. It was not his fault the company was failing. Just like it was not the fault of thousands of other small business across the country. Business as usual was changing and people like Josh were becoming expendable. He knew a job search was his only option if he were going to protect his meager earnings from the layoff that was sure to come.
He checked the Employment and Training website daily for openings in the area. The website greeted him each time with new opportunities and job fairs that promised to change his fortunes. He had attended a few of these fairs and saw them for the opportunities they were. People showed up hoping that their lack of skills would be swept under the rug along with their resumes and the real core of their being would be exposed and cherished with open arms. Unrealistic expectations were the norm at these events.
He stopped going after the third visit failed to do anything other than require his business suit of armor to be polished back to its magic glory by the dry cleaning gods. As he scrolled through the endless Physical Therapy and Nursing openings he wondered if these employers knew something he didn't. Was the entire world in need of medical care and therapy? This was news to him. He scrolled on. Eight hundred and thirty jobs left to look at. When he saw the opening at this local business it leapt off the screen. The skies cleared and trumpets blared. It was meant to be. What were the odds that this position opens at a time that he is looking for his future? The opportunity to meet the business owner who inspired him from his time in his college ethics class was too much to pass up. His ethics professor used this owner as an example of a local business run not just for profit but with a sense of responsibility. He showed Josh how a business could be profitable and help its employees and the community. This social accountability intrigued Josh. Most of his peers were simple creatures of profit. They wanted business to be their path to fortune and glory. Josh never thought this was right. He argued over pitchers of beer the folly of their thoughts. But his lack of experience and no clear understanding of pure capitalism robbed him of a convincing argument to counter their claims. That fact and the sheer volume of beer consumed made his statements less convincing when compared to the girl over at the pool table looking ever so appealing in her jump me jeans too small top.
He laid out his well-worn business suit of armor preparing for the interview battle the next morning. The dry cleaned razor sharp dark suit complete with the dry cleaning tags hung in the corner on a nail placed in the beam above the kitchen table. He wouldn't dare have placed anything in the walls of his new place. This was done by some previous tenant who was billed for the opportunity to deface the landlord's property. His only suit was completed with the second of three shirts and the first of two ties. All items were made new by the wonderful process known as dry cleaning. Such a marvelous process that created a sense of invincibility to all who wore an item cleaned by its magic. It waited patiently for the opportunity to protect its occupant from the rigors of the interview process to come.
Sleep finally took him for the last three hours of the night. Morning would be the same slow clueless dance he had grown accustomed to since moving out of his parents' house three months ago. His first night in this apartment was a mixture of excitement, fear, and a sense of loneliness that someone his age would not appreciate until he had children of his own who were in their apartment for the first time. A borrowed coffee maker sat patiently on the small counter ticking the minutes until it brewed the first cup of coffee in the morning. That first cup of maturity and freedom. His cup of coffee from his own hands. Crafted with the family knowledge of a process passed down from parent to child. This was the life, he thought as he stubbed his toe on the side of the cheap metal frame of his bed. God damn that hurt! The furniture was included with his apartment. Who was he to argue when all this wonderful furniture was his temporarily to use and enjoy. He wouldn't have to follow his mother around the home furnishing section of Walmart while she picked and pulled items off the shelf and turned them over and over. This wonderful obligation he would feel while his mother droned cheerfully through her list of things he should do and should know now that he was moving out. Any furniture was worth forgoing this torture.
He hopped a few times on one foot cursing and holding his other foot before falling into the only chair in the room which looked like it had once held the big butts of horny bordello patrons from past centuries. The wicker chair creaked at the assault but surrendered with a final groan. A poof of dust exploded from the tasseled cushion that smelled like grandma's moldy porch furniture. This was the life.
Despite his parent's displeasure, he was happy with his place. It was his. But this pride turned to fear when he realized it was in jeopardy by the lack of foresight of not only his manager but the economy's cyclical movement downward that did not favor his escape from home bound servitude to self-sufficiency. If he lost his job, he would have to move back home. This would and could not happen.
He made his first cup of coffee. He still hadn't gotten the exact measurements down. No doubt he should have paid more attention while his family attempted to pass their secrets for coffee making on to him. Today the coffee was one step below tar in flavor and color. No amount of milk would change the color above dark brown. The coffee grounds spewed their hot lava like granules out the sides and over the filter with each puff of steam that escaped the machine. What a freaking mess. Clean it later, he thought. This was different from yesterday's brew that looked like a paupers watered down celery soup described in a Dickens novel. Damn it! He drank it anyway while watching the morning shows on the small LCD television. He didn't have a traditional television. This twenty four inch screen doubled as a computer monitor for his desktop computer. It was a wonderful device that allowed him to switch from a television game show to hard core internet porn on his computer with the push of a button. His desktop and laptop were the most expensive things he owned. These devices were his connection to the world he knew. This world of connected young adults who spent much of their limited socially aware existence telling all the other socially aware peers what they were thinking and doing at any given moment. These wonderful machines were presents from his parents when he graduated college. He used them more than anything else other than his car.
The suit felt powerful on his body. The fabric encased him with confidence. His tie only took three tries today to get the right look and length. Ties to boys and men were like make up to girls and women. A nicely knotted tie made the wearer feel pretty and secure in a masculine way. A poorly knotted looking tie made the wearer feel cheap and useless. Everything was in place when he picked up his keys on the way out the door. He made sure to check the coffee pot and the lights before leaving. The last thing he wanted to do was burn down the place because he left the coffee pot on all day. Would that happen? Most likely nothing. But leaving the pot on or the lights wasted electricity, he was sure. After he received his first electric bill he became an efficiency god. At night he would debate sitting in the dark rather than turning on lights. This lost its luster when he tripped over some boxes he left on the floor and nearly lost his front teeth on the edge of the kitchen table. He discovered night lights after this and had four strategically placed in the rooms of his apartment. Now the only time he needs to turn on a light is to read a real book or magazine. His father's maniacal hounding about turning off the lights to save money became more clearly understood to Josh.
Like all new apartment dwellers he has left the coffee pot on all day. It scared the hell out of him, though. His mother warned him to be careful and gave him a horror story about someone who left their pot on and was put in jail after a person died in the ensuing fire. Thanks mom. Nothing happened with his incident but the bottom of the carafe had a black coal like substance that he did not know how to clean without breaking the glass of the container. There was no way he would ask his parents and admit to them he was that irresponsible. No way. He did what any new tenant would do in this situation. He bought a new carafe! The old one was discarded under the sink. Maybe someday he would figure out how to clean it. Yeah, right.
Josh went out to his car through the uncut grass that made his newly polished shoes look like they were used as flippers in a pool. Damned grass, he thought. The landlord came around once in a great while to cut the grass. He always brought a six-pack of Genny to quench his thirst, no doubt. He had a bicycle basket mounted just under the steering wheel of the mower. The basket was the perfect resting place for the beer while he performed his chores. He and his well-formed gut bounced and farted around the lawn on a mower that had seen better days. It never failed that rocks from the lawn which was more dirt then grass were kicked up against Josh's car and had chipped the paint on more than one occasion.
He made the mistake of informing the landlord when it happened the first time. This landlord would forever be known as landlord prick after this first encounter. Josh's punishment for daring to criticize him on the execution of his duties was an early Sunday morning greeting at his door. The man stood there and stated in a loud voice that he needed access to the property for 'safety reasons'. Josh was still trying to adjust the early morning hard-on that many young men had to endure with embarrassment as he spoke, "I do not think you can do this without notice." The man looked at him pointing at his chest and asked sarcastically, "You gonna stop me, kid?" Of course not big man, who was I to challenge landlord prick, he thought. He is twice my size and I have no recourse. It's his word against mine, he went on thinking. He finally backed away and let the big man in to his home. The man took his time and made a show of looking for damage that may have been caused by Josh since he moved in. After twenty minutes and a healthy dose of methane gas emissions that had Josh close to gagging a few times, he left. Josh never confronted the landlord again.
Josh felt lucky he was able to let things go because it helped him deal with the landlord without living there in fear of him. Josh never let his parents know of his involvement with the landlord since they had been hesitant to let him find his own place so close to the city. He assured them he would be fine and he was ready to venture out on his own without their assistance. These little experiences tested him, he thought. Was he ready for the big bad world? He thought so and said so to his parents on numerous occasions.
He reached his car and took off his suit coat and hung it on the coat hook in the back of the car. The bright white shirt underneath almost glowed in the morning sun and made him look like a high priced attorney or banker, he thought. This was right. He felt good and the day was beautiful for an interview. He got into his car and adjusted his tie so it did not get scrunched under the seat belt. He drove to fill up his tank and to purchase some drinkable coffee. A man in his suit while drinking his brightly colored cup of overpriced coffee. He had arrived. He was on his way to a new future.
The suburbs were no less congested at this time of day then the city. People looked like rats driving cars in a maze all vying for their power spot in line and all unforgiving in their pursuit. Josh went at least once a day with a near miss from some moronic young or old driver that cut him off being too aggressive or clueless because of inattention. He was as guilty as the next person for sending the occasional text while driving but did not consider himself a moron. He had some of the tendencies of a moron, he knew. His father would call him a moron on occasions when they were working together. It was at these moments that he gained the knowledge that he could be a moron. Other people had yet to refer to him as this, so he may have outgrown this character flaw.
His drive through the town reached the main highway as he signaled for entry to the on ramp. At the first off ramp he exited and turned right towards the city. The office park was just outside the main business district in what looked like a field but was actually a former garbage dump. In an attempt to return human waste to a natural setting, the office park looked like a farmer's field with series of generic rectangular buildings of similar size and height.
This part of town had none of the character of the more scenic parts with their older structure and design. A business park is not designed for character and look. It cares about efficiency of purpose and consistency of vision. Each business dwelling did not differentiate itself from another. This was the original plan for inexpensive business dwellings. Diversity of design meant an increase in expense. Since these businesses needed a home with minimal cost, this park and many like it sprout up outside residential areas in less desirable locations. Former garbage dumps would not bring goose bumps on the skin of new couples looking to start a family. But they are exciting to new business owners looking to put out a shingle and build a name with little expense. The large metal buildings were clones of each other with the exception of their sign which greeted each visitor.
His destination was the last building in the park. It looked like the first building erected because of the rust on the metal exterior. Josh thought about what it would be like to drive here every day to his new job. His thoughts went past the interview to the employment and beyond. These thoughts brought more fear and tension to his mind and body. He needed to stay focused or he would miss this opportunity. He mentally crossed his fingers and did the non-religious form of prayer that people do when they want something to go their way. The knots in his stomach were real and he was glad he only had a couple of cups of coffee. Well really only one if you don't count the glop he created back at the apartment. There was only one other car in the parking lot. Business must be slow if the only other car was the owner's, he assumed as he pulled his car into the space marked VISITORS.
Once the car stopped, Josh checked his watch before reaching over to get the binder with his newly printed resume and references from the passenger seat. He spent last night going over the writing and spelling of his entire employment experience. He hated going through what he had done because it seemed so trivial. When would his business life lead to something he could be proud of? He wondered. He was a few minutes early he noted as he took a last deep breath before exiting the car. He opened the rear door and reached in and took his suit coat off the hanger. It felt like it could be made of chain mail. He looked for the rush of self-confident power as he slide his arms, one at a time, into the sleeves and across his back. He was ready. Such a nice day for an interview.
The path to the front door of the building was lined with crushed gravel and his shoes crunched as he stepped from the parking lot and walked to the door. The visitors area was sparse but nicely furnished with typical chairs you would find in any business furniture catalog. The receptionist's area was also tastefully furnished with a dark wood desk and nice comfortable chair. The walls were paneled and plaques were hung on one of the walls beside the desk. He did not see what was on each plaque but assumed they had something to do with prominent moments of this businesses life. No one came to greet him or was present as he looked past the receptionist desk. He walked forward and looked down to see a handwritten note that read for visitors to ring the bell for Steve. He knew Steve was the owner and thought it was odd that the note would tell the visitor that the owner of the company would respond to a bell being rung on the receptionist's desk. Since there was no other option, other than walking out, he rang the bell.
Steve came a few moments later with his hand extended and his manner composed and confident. Steve was a tall man in his fifties. He had a shaven head that many older men have started doing when the grey hair showed too much age. Josh was a little intimidated with this man and rose to shake his out stretched hand. He hoped his first impression would be good. The suit gave him the power he needed to level the playing field before the interview. He could not get a read on Steve's face. His limited experience with facial expressions did not matter since Steve showed a perfectly white toothed smile and sparkling eyes. Any negative thoughts the man may be having were cloaked under his smile.
"Josh?" Steve greeted in a loud voice.
"Yes. Steve?" I replied.
"Yes, good, good, So glad you could come. Please excuse the quiet. I gave the employees the day off for a good job on the completion of a very large sale. Come this way, please". He sounded like a wonderful boss and a nice man also.
I followed him eagerly to his office down the long hallway in the corner of the building. The only window faced the man-made, grass covered, trash filled rolling hills behind the business park. His office was sparse but lived in. Everything looked important because this man owned his company. I wondered how I would decorate my office if I owned a business. I would have more color and style but since this was his office and I didn't own a company, this office was still impressive. The desk was off to the left of the door on the wall next to the window. The view from the window was not very scenic, but at least it was not facing the road. I looked out at the rolling green and wondered what was on the other side of the hills.
The architects of this park did a good job of hiding the highway that ran a quarter mile further from view. When I sat down, the window and the outside daylight was lost from my vision. In the distance, police or ambulance sirens seemed to be coming from all directions and sounded louder than normal. As my mind focused on our impending conversation, any outside interference dulled and lost meaning. The pause Steve gave before talking unnerved me. This was like a tennis match where I was waiting for the serve from the other player who continued bouncing the ball before tossing it in the air to hit towards me. He looked at my resume and references before looking up at me and smiling. I had to do well in this interview, I thought. My mind was put into overdrive and my stomach was in knots.
The chair in front of his desk became my hot seat and I started to perspire and sweat rolled down my chest into my belly button. Shit, I thought, please don't sweat through my shirt. This thought only increased my fear which caused more panic. I was lucky he started out slow and relaxed with his questions as he closed the door to the office. On his way past me he put his large hand on my shoulder and squeezed before sitting in the chair behind his desk. I thought this was odd and yet comforting for me. This one action made me much more relaxed. The interview was now in full swing. The battle of my employment future was under way. He made me feel at ease as he went through some routine and not so routine interview questions about my past jobs and experiences. Things that did not seem important to me were looked at and questioned by him. On several occasions he would pause and look at his phone and text something before proceeding. I had to smile because I would not think a man such as him would be a slave to his phone like myself. What could possibly be so important that he would take the time away from this interview? Get over yourself Josh, I told myself. Just because my future was on the line did not mean he was as well.
When it was over, I was relieved and the panic I felt was conquered. It was over! Steve stood up from behind his desk with his hand extended and said with a warm smile, "Congratulations, you're hired!"
The window facing the rolling hills beside him exploded as a high velocity projectile punched through it on its way to its intended target. Time seemed to slow down as I flinched and involuntarily shut my eyes tightly when the window erupted and the sound hit my ears. When I opened them, the right side Steve's head had blossomed into a shiny red explosion like a rock being thrown into a lake as his body started the long slow collapse to the floor. His eyes were no longer sparkling and bright. As if a light switch was flicked those eyes became dull and unseeing. What was happening? This can't be real! Can it? Something came through the window. Got to get on the floor now! I fell on the floor and saw the now lifeless former future employer emptying the contents of his skull onto the carpet. His body was twitching in a way that made me want to scream, but nothing came out. Just then the door to the office exploded inward and I heard screaming behind me as an assault team burst into the room and started surveying the scene.
I felt what I thought to be the barrel of a gun pushed into my back. "Who are you!" was screamed at the bank of my body as I moved into a fetal position. Was I going to die? What the hell!. I was afraid to move or say anything. The warmth between my legs as my bladder involuntarily emptied itself expressed the fear I was feeling better than anything I could have said.
They hauled me to my feet and I could see the two hooded men exchange glances as they smelled the fresh urine coming from me. The level of fear, embarrassment, and shame enveloped me as I started to cry and sob. My breathing came in heaves as I struggled to stop which only made it worse. I had not cried since I was twelve years old, but this was something totally new for me. It was as if every emotion I ever experienced needed to get out of my body at the same time. I continued my melt down as the men, one under each arm dragged me out of the room and into the hallway and leaned me against the wall.
I crumbled to the floor when the guys in masks let me go. They quickly reached down to pick me back up when I held up my hand and said "I'm good right here".
"What is your name?", one of the masked men demanded.
"Josh", I said shakily, "Josh Collins".
"Why are you here Josh?" It was the second masked man's turn to demand.
"A-A job interview", I replied slowly.
"What the hell! Are you fucking with me?" The first man asked incredulous.
"Yes, I-I mean no. Yes I am here for a job interview and no I am not fucking with you", I said with my ears still ringing from the exploding glass and destroyed door.
The men paused and looked at each other again as their radios squawked. They spoke into them and then removed their masks. They looked hot and sweaty as they looked down at me. Their faces were stern but there was something approaching sympathy in their eyes.
"Sorry we dragged you out here Josh, but we didn't know if you were with him in there", they motioned to the former future employer with his head half blown off in his office.
"No", was all I was good for.
"I'm lieutenant Bristo, and this is Sergeant King. We are members of the Valley SWAT team", he stated proudly in a way that men with their training and experience do when talking with civilians. "We saved your ass, son!" He finished with enthusiasm.
"Why is that sir?" I started with something approaching defiance in my voice. "He", I motioned to my former future employer's now soon to be vacant office behind me, "had just offered me a job when the top of his head exploded and you burst into the room". When I finished, their faces clouded for a second before returning to a non-expression that only people who have killed other people before can express.
"You have no idea what is going on, do you son?" asked King.
"No", I was back to one word replies.
He went through the entire situation which astonished and scared the hell out of me. Where was I while this whole process played out? Why was I chosen for this little adventure into the Twilight Zone? I thought back to the first moments I arrived here and believed it was odd that no one was at the receptionist desk when I came in. There was single hand written note leaning on the phone facing the entrance that stated simply "Ring the bell for me to come get you. Steve" I rang the bell and Steve appeared in normal business attire and nothing seemed out of the ordinary until later in the interview.
Steve asked me what I would do if a gunman ever broke into this office and started shooting. I did not answer at first because I had coached myself to have any answers I give be as careful and direct as possible. How do I answer this question? Is there even an answer? I thought it must be a test and said that I would call the police before trying to get to safety along with anyone else I could bring with me.
I remember Steve smiling with those twinkling eyes and saying my response was an ideal response that anyone would be expected to give. My immediate reaction was to curse myself that I was not honest and was trying to answer it the way I thought he would want me to answer the question. He went on to say that if your life were in danger, you would have no idea what you will do until that situation presents itself. I said I guess I agreed since I assumed there was no way I would ever experience something like that. He then continued with questions about my qualifications and background.
I heard sirens in the distance again and they seemed to be getting closer but this neighborhood had a lot of businesses and retail stores that are always being robbed or so the television news programs told us most nights. Things go on here every day and my focus was on myself and my future, not on what was occurring outside these walls. The sirens kept getting louder as he concluded the interview.
When it was over, he looked down at his cellphone phone as he had done throughout the interview when it buzzed and this time he frowned for a second, looked at the window next to him, then stood as he smiled at me with his head directly in front of it. His hand was outstretched to offer me the job when it happened. The rest is now history.
I did not know that the police had his cellphone number and were trying to call him throughout the interview with no success. They resorted to texting him to let him know his business building was surrounded and that he should give up now or he would be killed. Steve had texted back that he was alone and ready to die and they would not take him alive.
Three hours later I sat in front of my parents big screen television in their living room as the reporter began her story. "Steven Bradley Jones woke up this morning to get ready for work as usual. Only today was not a usual day", the reporter continued. "He calmly visited each of the five bedrooms of his large Chestnut street home and shot the inhabitants to death with a single silenced low caliber gun". She paused for effect before continuing, "He reloaded, then went next door to the home of his brother-in law and sister where he repeated this grisly process; killing everyone in that house as well".
The story continued, "In all, thirteen people ages 5 to 55 were dead in the two houses on Chestnut Street, not including Jones. He was later killed by a police sniper at his business in the hours following the grisly discovery by his niece Veronica. A note left at the scene in his own hand writing said he was at his business downtown and had already killed another unrelated person. Come and get me were his final words."
I stared blankly at the screen in my parent's living room with the pictures of me in a little league uniform and me graduating high school and also me with my college diploma hanging on the wall. I started to sob again. My parents sat on either side of me not knowing what to do or what to say. I could feel them shaking as they held me. We all were crying.
Nothing prepared me for this. I looked at them and smiled weakly through my tears. I held the gaze for a moment then got up and walked up the stairs I had climbed a million times during before. The room I spent my young life growing from a little boy to a grown man was where it has always been and would always would be. The safety and security of this room beckoned as I stepped inside and closed the door behind me.