Update: I'm going to have to put this story on hold for a few weeks - I've taken on an extra job that now has me working 7 days a week, no
real weekend, and so I dont have the time to pursue advancing this story.
I'll tenatively plan on resuming this story on Sept. 1.
(I took this photo as a self-portrait a few years ago but it occured to me today it might be an appropriate photo for the thriller-novel-in-progress i've been writing a bit of each day in recent weeks)
Lot going on in my life right now.
So I'm going to distract myself from thinking and worrying and overthinking about that other stuff and
and instead focus some attention, detailed by viki here
I've decided to attempt to write a novel, starting with a variation on this short story and going god knows where.
The project is to write each day and so I shall. But plotting is important, as is planning.
I've always wanted to write a novel so now I shall.
(I made a revisions on Chapter 1, opting to stick with first person at least for now.)
There was a sensation of something wet on my back. It gradually began to occur to me that I was not, in fact, in bed,but on something metallic. I began to open my eyes but oh the burning - I realized I was at the park. I closed them again but not before realizing two things, some were staring at me and some were asking the police about me
I felt sick. How much did I drink last nite?
I passed out again.
I awoke again, aware that whatever was on my back seemed to be growing in size.
I leaned over - almost falling out of the bench I was on - and touched what I was hoping were rain drops or, at worse, bird poop.
Instead he realized it was blood. I tasted - not sure why, exactly,it's like I can tell by taste whose blood it was. What - did I have my own CSI lab in his mouth?
The realization I had blood on me and police in proximity made me sit up suddenly, a move that caused his body much pain.
Looking around he saw the police officer now giving him the eye. Was I under suspicion for anything beyond passing out on a park bench? I pulled a jacket on, covering up the blood on the back. There would be time later to investigate that. What was needed now was to get back to his place.
Standing brought on a new kind of hellish pain. A memory hit me - someone pouring something into my drink. What and who was that?
I walked the two blocks to his house and what he saw there was something I will never forget....
They say you can't go home again, not really. But that's what I aimed to do. Never been sure what exactly that phrase meant but for me it was simple - I'm confused, hungover or high, and have an injury on my back I need to check on. So where to go? Home. Good thing I live alone - that way I dont have to face all those questions: "Where were you last night? Where'd that injury come from? Why are our nosey neighbors saying you passed out in the park," etc.
What I didn't know was what I would find when I got home.
And why it would suddenly seem much less, well, homely.
First thing I noticed was a drop of blood on my apartment welcome mat - call that symbolism, foreshadowing or a promo for a new CSI show - all I knew was this was not good.
Was it my blood? Did I come here last night before passing out in the park? Why would I do that? God why can't I remember?
I went to the bathroom for three reasons but I'll spare detailing one of those three because, hey, why gross you out. (Although, really, if you dont get grossed out by the blood in stories like this or on tv shows or movies like this would you really get grossed out by a character using the toilet? But I digress...)
I grabbed the aspirin bottle and took four. Yeah, I know you're supposed to only take two but, hey, my brain felt like it had two headaches so I took enough pills for both.
And, after doing that unmentionable thing, I took off my shirt and looked at myself in the mirror. It looked as though someone sliced something on me but I couldn't make it out. The cuts were not deep but they spelled out something - but the letters were not in English. Well, this is akward. I considered trying to write down what I thought it said and then going online to some babelfish site to get a translation but between trying to scribble things down and reading messages that were already reversed since I was using the mirror - oh, it was just too much. And then I noticed the pen I was using, which I saw laying on the bathroom table, was bloody. Not just bloody as in someone was writing with it while bleeding but soaked in blood as if the pen had been used as a weapon. I felt myself almost pass out again.
I needed to go lay down. And as I stumbled toward my bedroom it occured to me that 1) my fingerprints were now all over that pen - watching too many CSI shows was really messing with my brain - and 2) I have no idea whose blood was on that pen but maybe it was connected to the welcome mat. The injuries in my back were not deep enough to explain that bloody pen.
Then I got to my bedroom and had more questions than answers. "Who's been sleeping in my bed?" I joked at first, seeing a body laying in my bed. Then I saw the blood dripping from the body and onto the floor and passed out again.
I awoke to the sound of sirens and that didn’t exactly help my headache either. My brain went into overdrive and seemed to hit three thoughts in quick succession: 1) Oh, god, yes, please let that be the sound of paramedics come to help me with this headache and whatever the hell happened on my back.
2) Wait, how am I going to explain what happened to me and what happened on my bed and who is that anyway? What if I get locked up for something I didn’t do?
The paranoia that kicked in with the second thought gave me a second wind. The third thought come next: I need help but I’d prefer to get that help before law enforcement comes.
The siren sound fades and I start to breath normal again. I get up off the floor and head to the kitchen. I grab a half glass of water and drink it down before realizing that drink could have been left by whoever is seriously messing with my life. Criminal cooties? Poison? Oy. This was getting seriously freaky. I grabbed some sealed bottles of water from the fridge and gulped those down as I was feeling seriously dehydrated.
“Ok, think, Sam, think,” I told myself. I walked over to the bed and was just about to touch the body there when I remembered all those episodes of CSI and went and grabbed some gloves. With gloves on now I checked for a pulse. Damn, no pulse. I rolled the person over and my first thought was “Hey, this person looks an awful lot like me.” Coincidence? I thought of something and rolled him onto his back and realized he too had something – some letters from another language – cut into his back. I needed someone to translate this stuff but who do you call when someone is seriously messing with your life? All this blood made me feel like vomiting and I knew that was not going to help things.
I took a shower and changed clothes. I gathered into a bag all of the clothes I had worn that day as well as the gloves I was wearing and took them with me with plans to burn them all. Who knew all those viewings of crime shows would turn out to be helpful? But wait, why am I acting like a criminal? I’m a victim – I just don’t know of what exactly or by whom.
All I knew was I needed to get the hell out of there. My prior stint in juvie meant I’d have a hard time convincing the law that I was innocent.
I made one last stop before I left my apartment – I sat at my desk and booted up my laptop. I needed to get this body out of here. Maybe, I thought, there would be some organization that specialized in moving bodies - these days you can find just about anything you need online. Of course it wasn’t all legal but right not I was not so concerned with laws and ethics.
When I ran Firefox, though, I noticed it indicated someone had used my computer last and had not properly shut it down.
“Restore session?” it asked.
I asked it to do so and up popped a page advertising an organization with the name Bodysnatchers-R-Us.
“Perfect,” I thought. As I went to call them from my cell phone a few thoughts dawned on me that made me stop and hang up again…..
Does the fact this site was used mean that is how this familiar looking body tourned up here?
And if I use this phone they - whoever "they" is or was - could trace the call. Or is that a moot point since they already brought the body here?
Better to use a pay phone... provided I can even find a pay phone anymore. I copied down the info and left. I heard someone coming up the stairs as I locked the door but then the person stopped. No big deal, I thought, the person must have been going to see someone at a lower level. I used the elevator and thought little of it.
It took a few blocks of hunting but I finally found a pay phone and this conversation ensued:
"Yo, Bodysnatchers-r-us. You got a body you need moved?"
"Yes, I do."
"What's your name, bub?"
Hmm, should I use my real name? "Um, John. Er, James."
"John James? Ok, what's your address."
"I gave him my address."
"Oh, wait, that's weird?" he said.
"What? What's weird?"
"Mr., er, James, was it? We did some, um, business at that, um location last night."
I almost dropped the phone – I hadn't realized how much I was sweating.
"Really? Oh, I mean, yeah.Hey, can you remind me who called that order in?"
"Sorry, bub. I couldn't tell you even if I could tell you. Wouldn't be right or legal."
Legal? I had to stifle a laugh – surely it's not legal to move bodies, live or dead, from place to place.
"You there, Sam? Er, I mean Mr. James?"
"What? What did you just call me?
"I called you Mr. James, I –"
I hung up and looked at the phone. I made a point of not telling him my real name but he knew it. Was I being paranoid? Maybe he knew it from the prior order? I began looking around and noticed for the first time a few people who appeared to be giving the eye.
"What?" I asked one.
"You going to answer that?" one replied.
I realized the pay phone was ringing. Oh, maybe they were paying attention to that instead of to me.
"Sam, this is Detective, um, James, I think it's time for you to come in we have some more questions for you."
"But – wait.. how did you get, how did –"
"Kid, look up at the balcony behind you."
"I did and saw a man's gloved hand wave. Who wears gloves when talking on the phone? This guy did. To avoid finger prints."
"What do you want?"
"Just a few questions about last night and some allegations that have been made against you and your brother."
"Brother?What brother? I don't have a brother!"
"Your momma didn't tell you, did she?"
"Tell me what?
"About your twin?"
"I.. don't have" then I remembered that body.. on the bed.. that looked a lot like me.
"You don't sound too sure of yourself."
"I need to talk to my parents."
"No problem, we're already holding them."
"What? Why? How?"
"You forgot when and where but I get it – you have questions, I have answers. Right now I just want two things – to talk to you and your brother."
I told him I'd have to think on it and talk to my brother.
"Ah, so you admit now you DO have a brother?"
"I'm not sure. I need to just sit and think about all of this." I hung up and went to go sit down.
My cell phone rang.
"Yeah, did you want that body moved or what?"
"How'd you get this number?" I yelled.
"Same number you called from earlier."
"No, it's not.
"Well, do you want the body moved or not."
Let me call you back.
I was trying to decide what to do with these deck of hands I had been dealt when I saw her…
Mom? What is she doing here?
He started to run over to her to ask that exact question but then he heard squad cars pulling up, some with sirens on. Damn, this was making the Bourne Identity movies seem like child’s play.
His mom began to run and he ran after him. He figured she would be no match for him but then remembered his condition – that pounding headache was back in full force and jumping over debris while rushing through alleyways reopened the wound on his back.
Finally he caught up with her and said,”Mom, please wait. We need to talk.”
“I know, Sam. But not here.”
“Back at –“ she looked around to see if anyone was watching or listening “… I was going to say back where we used to live but they have someone there already-“
“Mom, what the hell is going on? Mom –“
She slapped him. “I didn’t raise you to speak like this.’
He sighed. This was not the time or place to debate whether a grown man has the right to use the word “hell” in a sentence.
“Mom, do I have a twin brother?”
“It’s a long story, Sam.”
“So it’s true?”
“I’ll explain everything later, Sam. Meet me at 3 pm. Remember where we used to go for ribs?
“Oh, yeah, B-“
“Don’t say the name or the place. For all I know they have this alleyway wired too.. or you, for that matter.”
“Who is ‘they’?”
“I’m still figuring that out, dear.”
“Where’s dad? Is he mixed up in all of this?”
“Dear, THIS is all happening because of dad. So 3 pm?”
“I’ll be there. Mom, can you read this?”
He showed her his back. She didn’t seem surprised to see foreign letters on her son’s back. He wondered, not for the first time, what else his mom know but wasn’t telling him.
She copied the lettering down on the back of an envelope.
“Nope, but I know someone who will know. I’ll bring that intel with me when I see you at 3.”
“Mom, since when do you use words like ‘intel?”
“Since I got sucked into all this crap,” she said then blushed. Go ahead and slap me back for speaking like that myself. I just am so tired of all of this.
“One last question for now, mom: Can we trust the police?”
She laughed. He didn’t get it. “What’s so funny?”
“The last people you want to turn to right now are the police,” she said. “Plus they’re not going to listen to someone with a record like you.”
“Yeah but you know that was planted”
“Doesn’t matter – who do you think did the planting”
He thought back to all those times he’d insisted to anyone who would listen that he was innocent, their numbers quickly dwindling. He thought of the time lost while in prison, returning to find his girlfriend gone along with their son. No employers would touch him, except a gas station where they let him do some work under the table.
When he looked back up his mom was gone.
Dad? What did dad have to do all of this? I hadn't even seen dad since he deserted the army during the first Iraq war. You know those Rambo movies? No, not the first when he's buff but the last one when he's getting a bit long in the tooth? That's what I figure dad is like by now.
Why would law enforcement be out to get dad?
OK, maybe that blog he wrote, the one described as "Wikileaks with even more bite" by the Washington Post, could be a factor.
Mom has told us she doesn’t know where he is but he sends a postcard once a month to let her know he’s ok, always changing where he sends it from so he can’t be easily found or captured.
Come to think of it I should ask her when she last received a postcard from him.
But there was something else I needed to do, namely eat. I went back to my apartment and went to heat up a frozen pizza – I can live off the stuff – and was not as surprised as I probably should have been to see the body was missing again… or should I say the lost body was re-found. Either way, the body was not there.
He was halfway through his meal when he heard a siren approach and someone coming up the stairs. Fearing the worse he grabbed the rest of his pizza and went out the fire escape.
He was walking toward the meeting place with his mom when he heard sirens and then saw they were fire trucks… going toward his apartment complex.
A few days ago, had this happened, he would have considered this coincidence. But with this weird day he was having he knew there was a possibility the fire was taking place in his apartment and he also knew it was unlikely it was an “accident.” Heck, he used a microwave not the oven to cook the pizza.
He wanted to go back, to grab some possessions from his place, especially grabbing his beloved laptop computer but he knew two things: first, that would be a dangerous move and, second, if he returned to his apartment he would miss the set meeting time with his mother.
But as he walked closer to the diner where he was going to meet his mom he saw something else that was worrisome: police helicopters and cars.
He slipped into a convenience store, bought a hat and some disposable razors and asked to use their bathroom. He came out looking a bit different than before and as he walked closer to the diner he realized he was not the one the police were watching for: it was his mom.
He needed to warn her but he couldn’t even see her.
No, he was going to have to hope for the best.
“Stay safe, mom,” he said. “Stay safe.”
My cell phone rang. I’d forgotten I had it on me since I had been avoiding using it for fears my cell phone calls would be traced. That was the least of my fears.
The caller was the same guy I’d talked to earlier at Bodysnatchers-R-Us letting me know I owed them money for moving the body. I said I wasn’t paying them anything until they told me what was going on.
“Right, like I’m going to tell you details. Are you going to pay or not?”
“Well, in that case I have two pieces of news for you.”
My heart sank.
“We had an order to move the body back so we did so but you and the other customer-“
“Let’s not go through that again. The OTHER customer, who shall remain nameless, had us move it right back.”
“Ok, and the other piece of news.”
“I hear you’re dead. You really should have turned off the oven.”
“Your oven, you know when you cooked your pizza, apparently your place got torched.”
“What? No? What?”
“Dude, you’re not making sense. So once you sort it out you better pay me or I’m coming after you… assuming you’re still alive.”
He hung up and I stared at the phone. The pizza? But I used the microwave. But those bastards could have used it to make it look like an oven fire and – damn….
I realized I was looking at the phone instead of looking at the restaurant. I still had to warn mom. I had an idea. I called Henry, a friend of both mom’s and I.
“Henry, I need a favor –
“Henry, I need –
“What’s going on? I just heard on tv that –
“Henry, I’ll explain all of that later. Right now I need you to listen.”
“But they found your body. Is this some kind of ghost story?”
“Henry, are you high?”
“More than a few joints.”
“No, in that case, I am not, as you say, high.” Henry was an English grad student and the more high he was the more he began to sound like, well, an English grad student.
“I need you to get a hold of my mom.”
“Why can’t you call your own mom?”
“For one thing, I don’t have her number.”
“Dude, that’s not cool – how could you not have your own mom’s phone number?”
“Long story. But right now I’m in major trouble with the police and so is she and
“Whoa. I don’t know if I want to get involved in this.
“Henry, you’re a drug dealer. Last thing you can do is lecture me on breaking the law.
“Right, right, whatever. What do you need?”
I explained my plan and he said he’d call my mom and if he did not got ahold of her – “She hasn’t been taking my calls lately. Something about trying to drop off the grid” – he’d think of something.
I didn’t like the sound of that but between him and me and mom I hoped we figured out something soon because while we were talking the restaurant was not completely surrounded by police. If mom was in there she’s busted. If she wasn’t then would she still go in, thinking I’m already there?
“Goddamn it, this sucks,” I told myself and I could just imagine mom scolding me if she heard my language. I sighed and watched and waited.
Just as the cops - some undercover, some in uniform started to move toward the restaurant something happened, some kind of commotion.
I heard someone yell that four letter word: BOMB. At first I assumed it was someone inside who yelled it which would explain why everyone inside looked panicked and were running out every exit and some through windows. Later I realized it could just as well have been someone near the building – maybe this was my weird friend’s back up plan
Either way, the cops stood there, confused. Hard to raid a place and deal with its occupants when said occupants are now running out of the place. They tried to stop a few people but these people, obviously, had no interest in standing around talking to people while still NEAR the building in question (the one with the bombs.)
Soon even the cops began to move away from the restaurant even though they did know the initial source of said bomb threat.
Calls were made to get the bomb squad and it was chaos. I wasn’t sure what was going on but decided standing around myself wasn’t helping.
I hit redial.
“Was that you?”
“Um, dude, your phone might be tapped.”
“Oh, right. OK, that was brilliant.”
“Thanks. I’m going to be careful what I say here so let me say this – go to the place where you had your favorite chocolate milk shakes when you were ten.”
“Oh that would be –
“Dude! Don’t say it.”
I began moving toward a McDonalds that was about three blocks away. OK, so sue me, even though by now I’d seen Super Size Me and read Fast Food Nation and all that and knew how awful and evil McDonalds was.. when I was ten I thought they were the bo, er, thought they were great. I’d beg and plead to get the milkshakes there.
I was halfway there when I got a call – it was my girlfriend.
“What?You’re there? I’m confused.
“Of course I’m here. Why wouldn’t I be there?”
“Oh, I don’t know – maybe because I just saw on the tv news footage of your burned up apartment. You really left the pizza on the stove and then fell asleep? That’s such a cliché?”
“No, that’s not what happened, I-
“I’m not done. Or maybe because cops just visited me to ask when I talked to you.
“What did they –“
“I’m not done. Or maybe I’m a bit pissed because the only reason I called your cell phone was to hear your voice, only I expected to hear your voice mail greeting so now I’m confused about what’s going on.
“Well, obviously, I’m not dead.”
“Don’t you ‘obvious’ me. Where the hell have you been? And if you aren’t dead then whose body did they find in your apartment?
“I can explain.”
“Well, it’s a long complicated story and I’m still sorting it out.
“So you can’t fully explain it.”
“Not at the moment.”
“This is so like you. You run around and get in trouble and I’m always the last to know. Thanks a lot.”
“I’ll make it up to you.”
“Maybe I’ll let you try to explain later. Do me a favor?
“Try to stay alive, ok?”
“For you, sure.”
“Well, that too but I meant for your mom – she keeps calling here and asking me if I have heard from you. And I got a weird postcard – could your dad have sent me a postcard?”
“What? Oh wow.”
“I know, I know – you need to go save the world.”
“Yeah, well, sorta. If mom calls again tell her I’ll see soon. And save that postcard – it may mean something. And don’t trust the cops.
“Honey, you know I never trust the cops.”
“Well, keep that attitude then.
I told her I loved her and tried to placate her but I wasn’t sure she was buying it.
I hung up and walked on.
I approached the McDonalds and then hung back, trying to recall – from watching Burn Notice and other shows – how to tell if you’ve been tailed. I didn’t feel any sense I was tailed but I waited a few minutes to see if I noticed anything out of the ordinary.
Finally I went into McDonalds. All that working had caused me to have quite a hungry built up so I ordered a Big Mac Value Meal along with the requisite referenced ice cream. Even if mom didn’t recognize me after I’d made these changes she would at least notice the ice cream and give me a double check.
I scanned the place. A couple of old dudes talking while reading the paper – seems like they’d been doing that ever since I was a kid.
I found a place against a wall where I could see who was coming in and out. I finished my meal and was halfway through the ice cream and still I didn’t see my mom. I checked my phone – no calls.
I was getting pretty frustrated. Around then an employee I didn’t recognize came over and handed me one of those evaluation forms.
“It would mean a lot to me if you would fill it out,” the person – name tag said Rose – told me.
Well, ok, I agreed. Rose even handed me a pen oh and did I forget to mention she promised me a free cherry hot pie if I filled it out? Oops.
As Rose went to get the hot pie she added, “Be sure to fill out both sides. My boss said to tell you that part.”
I flipped it over and there, over questions 8 and 9 (regarding the quality of the drinks and burgers) was a post-it note indicating I should be in the manager’s office in ten minutes. If anyone asks tell them you’re applying for a job, it said. The handwriting was mom’s but I had no idea what she was talking about?
I know she didn’t like my current job but did we really have to have this “What are you going to do with your life?” talk now? Aren’t we busy trying to avoid getting arrested or, gulp, killed?
But I’m an obedient son – or I like to think I am anyway – so I asked for directions to the manager’s office and, when I saw raised eyebrows, explained that I was applying for a job.
“Good luck, dude,” one person said. “The manager’s a real –“
“Brian!” another co-worker interrupted.
“Witch, I was going to say, she is a bit of a witch.”
“Thanks for the directions and the, um, warning.”
I went the way they said and opened the door to the manager’s office.
The chair was turned and the person’s back was to me. The person appeared to be filling out some forms.
The person turned around and handed me a page.
“Mom?” I said though this person looked nothing like my mom. The hair was all different – guess she had been dying it and she let that all wash out – and since when does mom dress in –
“Shh!” she interrupted my thoughts and handed me a post-it.
“We may be being taped.”
“This place is bugged,” I said but she got up suddenly and handed me another post-it: “I’m going to hand you a script. Let’s follow it together. While we do please remove your clothing so I can look you over for bugs.”
She pointed again – banging her hand against the table in the process – at the script.
Still looking at her but beginning to unbuckle my belt quietly I read the first line out loud, “Hello, I’m here to interview for the position.”
“Oh, great,” she said. “Let me just close this door so we can get some privacy.”
And so it went…
It was hard. I'm referring to the script, of course. I mean, ok now i'm flustered and blushing, it was hard to stay focused on sticking to
the script both while undressing and then as mom used some kind of wand to check me over for bugs. She saw a few scratches and
scars - not to mention the tattoos - that she clearly wanted to ask me about but this sticking to the script-gambit applied to her too.
Finally she nodded.
"We're good," she said.
"Well, you may be good but I'm not - for one, the mental anguish of being forced as a man to undress in front of my mom while listening
and speaking inane conversation about McDonalds... let's just say you're going to need to start giving me an allowance again to pay
for the therapy bills.
Her response was a thin smirk.
"Can I dress?"
"I don't know, can you?"
You can dress in a minute - for the moment I need you to focus on listening to me.
"I can focus better when clothed."
"You always were a bit of a prude," she said.
"That's a bit much coming from you," I replied.
Suddenly the door opened and a man whose name tag said assistant manager appeared. He did a quick glance, at me, at her and then at me
and when I saw where his eyes were going I said, "Um, yes?"
"What's going on in here?"
"Job interview," I said.
"I don't remember any part of the McDonald job interview that involved being naked," he said.
Thinking quick I said, "You had to drop a drug test, right?"
"Right, he said.
"You know how sometimes people sneak fake urine into those."
His smile vanished. Did I just hit close to home?
"They're doing them in person now, with the manager watching?" he said.
"Wow. Maybe I WON'T apply for any more jobs here after all."
He vanished but not before mom reminded him to knock next time.
Mom nodded. "You ARE quick on your feet aren't you? Go ahead and get dressed. By the way what were you going to say if he asked
you about your urine sample?"
I pointed at her cup of green tea. I was going to ask him to go process that.
Her face spoke volumes.
"So what are you going to tell me? You don't really work here, do you?"
"Of course I do. It's the perfect hiding place - who would look at McDonalds. Heck, your dad
I always wondered why she referred to dad as "Your dad" instead of "my husband.
"Dad, what does dad have to do with this? Don't tell me he works for McDonalds too.
"You can say that."
Just then the building shook.
"What the hell was that?"
"Hopefully it was just another drive-thru customer who drank and drove the wrong way but let's check just to be sure it wasn't something more.
"Stay here," she added. "And dont' forget to tie your shoelaces."
Moms, they never totally stop momming us, do they?
For the first time that day I caught a break - it WAS just another drunk drive-thru customer hitting the wall and this apparently happens so often that mom just said "I just need him to sign a 25b form" and she left and had the drive signing it. The driver would later sober up to realize he'd just admitted drunk driving, driving into a McDonalds and would be paying for all repairs. But, hey, he got a free happy meal so he seemed happy, mom said.
"So here's what I'm thinking we should do," mom said.
I braced for the worst.
"I think you should start working here immediately."
I groaned and a part of my gut turned. "But-"
"Before you protest let me explain my reasoning. First, this way you and I can stay together during this crazy times. Second, at some point the cops will have to sleep or in some way give us a break and we can use that to contact your dad-"
There it was again, "your dad" vs "my beloved husband" but I decided this was not the time to bring it up.
"But mom, it's going to be weird having you as my boss."
Granted but wasn't I essentially your boss raising you. It's not like dad was around much. Anyway, you interrupted me and you shouldn't do that, not just because it's bad manners but because it's bad for employee morale. If you interrupt me while out doing your job I'll make you work without pay for at least one shift."
At the word "pay" I started. My last job was long gone and temp work I had - well, I think with all the legal stuff including me being reported as dead - let's just say that temp work was probably over too.
"A paying job? I'll take it. What will I be doing exactly?"
"Now we're talking. You will do what I tell you to do - man the register, cook the food, smile at the customers, etc. You in?"
"I'm in," I said.
"There was something else I was going to tell you but I forgot it when you interrupted me... It was important."
I waited, polite and quiet now. Demure even.
There was a knock on the door - it was the assistant manager returning and this time he remembered to knock first in case we'd move from the urine test part of the interview to whatever other parts he was worried he'd interrupt next.
“Good timing THIS time,” she told him.
She told the assistant manager, whose name was Steve though I knew in the short term I’d think of him as the dude who interrupted my fake urine test, that I was hired.
“Great,” he said, and he looked like he meant it.
He looked at me conspiratorially and said, “We’ve been a bit short staffed since one employee went MIA on us and so we’ve all been pulling long hours and -“
He looked like he was going to say something bad about mom, er, my boss so I whispered, loud enough for both of them to hear, “Dude, she can hear you.”
We all laughed. Brian went out first and said “I’ll show you around.”
“Just remember,” she reminded me, “nobody is to know we’re family. If they knew you’d be in trouble and not just because of violating the nepotism policy.”
I was going to ask her what she meant when she made that shoo shoo gesture with her hands that always drove me crazy.
And so I began my career as a McDonalds worker.
That first day was pretty boring: I had to watch four hours of corporate videos telling me exactly how they wanted me to do my job. I felt like a sell-out, it was made clear this was not the type of job where I could “do things my way” (in fact, if memory serves, that was essentially the slogan of another chain). Incidentally, I was told mentioning competing chains was a firing offense. So was spitting in a cup but I felt was much more likely to break the former rule accidentally than the latter.
I was told how to make the fries,burgers, pies,etc – lots of it was done by machines so this was pretty easy work.
Harder was dealing with difficult customers. Apparently you could NOT just flip them the bird although I knew my solution would be one alternative they offered: “Excuse me, I think I need my manager’s help in getting this order complete to your satisfaction.” The only hard part of the job, I quickly realized, would be avoiding yelling “Mom, help” or just “Mom!” Instead, I repeated to myself “Manager, not mom… Manager, not mom.”
At one point the video paused while I practiced this and I heard myself saying “Manager, not mom, please come to the check out.” I decided this might be more difficult than we thought.
Soon it was 5 pm, quitting time. Mom, er, my manager, had told me to come to her office at 5 so I did so.
She asked me where I was planning to stay. I started to say “At my place, of course” before recalling, dang it, that that place had been burned up.
“Stay at my place until you figure something out,” she said.
“I don’t know, mom. You’re making me feel like I’m 16 again – not only am I working for you but I’m going to live with you too?”
She told me it wasn’t easy for her either.
“You may not understand this until you have kids of your own but trust me, the last thing you want is for them to work for you and live with you 15 years after you kick them out.”
Besides, she said, she could tell me some things that were not included in the video, from how they could put drugs in the drinks of police officers – something she planned to do if things got hairy – or take photos of suspicious looking people or cars that went through the drive thru.
She told me she’d take me to dinner and I agreed on one condition: it had to be some place other than McDonalds.
“Did you know what they put in this stuff? I thought reading Fast Food Nationhttp://sbutki.newsvine.com/_news/2007/04/17/667637-book-review-fast-food-nation was disgusting but this is worse.”
She laughed and said she sneaks food into work all the time and only pretends to eat the company swill.
That would explain your figure, I said.
“Son, did you just check me out?”
I blushed. OK new rule – I won’t comment on your appearance and you won’t comment on mine.
“Yes, mom,” I said.
“And that’s another thing – I saw you having trouble getting used to calling me the manager” – she saw my reaction and explained she has most rooms in the place bugged – and we’re going to figure out a solution. In the interim you are no longer allowed to call me mom. Just call me “The Manager.”
“The manager? And what are you going to call me?”
And so mom and I – er, manager and employee, aka master and servant, went to dinner… at Chili’s where they both avoided ordering anything served at McDonalds – no fries, shakes or hamburgers or chicken nuggets.
Mom and I caught up on things while waiting for our orders. Turns out she's now vegetarian which I thought hilarious as McDonalds is not exactly the most vegetarian-friendly franchise in the world. But she got defensive on that front and since I was her new employee and roommate I knew when to be quiet.
She had brought a copy of the newspaper and we read, with a mixture of alarm and confusion, the story about how I died in a fire.
Actually "story" is being kind - "police brief" is a better term for it. I was relieved they did not include a photo of me as that would be confusing - not to mention bad for business - if someone ordering a big mac meal suddenly said, "Hey, aren't you supposed to be dead?"
Being a smart-ass (which mom would prefer I refer to as smart aleck) I'd probably reply "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated... now did you want that Big Mac MeaL supersized?"
Mom was lecturing me about leaving the oven on and remained unconvinced by my claim - heck now she has me doubting myself -by the fact that I cooked my pizza in the microwave.
"They saw the pizza and used that as a cover-up," I explained.
But what about the body? Where did that come from?
"That came from some shady group called Bodysnatchers-R-Us. Are you familiar with it?"
"Sadly I am," she said.
My jaw dropped but before I could prod her to explain the food arrived and having a weak stomach I changed the topic. As much as
I wanted to know why my prudish mom would use such a site I really wanted to try Chili's baby back ribs. While I was eating she pulled out of her purse some documents. She wanted to talk about the tattoos. I told her I'd rather not talk about those until after dinner.
"So you're still a wimpy eater then?
"That's better, dear."
"How come you can call me 'dear'?
"Because I AM your senior and I'm picking up the check."
"In that case you can call me anything you want."
While I ate she talked. This seemed perfectly normal - I've always had a big appetite and she's always been a talker.
She explained three advantages to us working and living together: 1) We'd know where the other is at all times 2) When we hear from dad we can go see him together 3) If there's a problem we can tackle it together.
I added a fourth item, She has a freezer we can lock bad guys in and a lockable office we can lock ourselves in.
Her only response was to tell me not to eat with food in my mouth.
She told me she not only has the place bugged but she also has cameras throughout the place and is hoping to draw a few cops in to the business under the guise of free coffee and other free items and would then record their conversations in case there was anything juicy. Oh and speaking of juicy they'd also be offered free orange juice. (Hey, not every cop is into donuts and coffee - heck, i've seen some who prefer bagels and iced tea but I digress.)
I told her I wasn't crazy about the idea of doing something to draw the already sketchy cops toward us not away from us but she started quoting something about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer" and I asked if she'd been sneaking drinks from a flask while I went on restroom breaks.
"And you wonder why you didn't do well in school," she said.
It's too late, she said.
She already posted the ad on Craigs List anyway, she said.
"What ad? What's it say?"
She said she would show me when we got home but once we arrived at mom's place we both were so exhausted, understandably, from recent events that we fell asleep in our respective rooms.
I would later regret she had not shown me the ad because of the problems it brought on...
I slept soundly until I heard a thump and a slam and jumped up, panicked, wondering if we were under attack or what.
I raced to the kitchen, which is where I found mom staring at the newspaper.
"This may complicate things," she said.
I was going to joke about how nobody readers newspapers anymore but her expression silenced me.
She pointed at the front page which talked about my "death" in the kitchen fire and had photos of things. It also contained a picture of me. She looked over my disguise for the first time and decided it needed work. While I'd planned to ask her a few questions about minor matters like, what's the deal with my twin brother (apparently the dead body they found, as referenced in the news story, in my apartment), about the Craigs List ad and related matters.
Instead we stopped at a few stores where she picked up products she used to dye my hair and otherwise further change my appearance. Won't my new colleagues at work notice this? She laughed.
"Most of them change hair color monthly if not weeky," she said.
I looked in the mirror and had to admit she did a great job of it.
Then we got to work and saw four police cars in the parking lot and I began freaking out.
"It's ok, dear," she said. "This just means it's all working."
"The ad. It offered them free coffee and one free breakfast meal each."
And what do you get out of it besides freaking me the hell out?
"Watch your mouth, dear? What we get is a) a free pass - they're not going to look for you here because they're so happy with us and b) I'm taping their conversation so if they mention you, me, us, etc we'll get some clues."
I took a deep breath and headed toward the entrance.
She grabbed my arm - "Just to be safe, though, let's use the back entrance."
I once again got the feeling my mom had been in situations like this before but where? What, was she a secret agent while also our mom?
I learned a few things about my mom that day and I'm dividing on whether I was shocked, pleased or just freaked out. All three I guess.
The first surprise came when she, after walking me into her office, pulled out a bottle from a desk drawer.
"What's that?" I asked.
"You have a bottle? Why?"
"Well, for one, it sure makes the job interviews more interesting, not to mention making the applicants more honest."
"How do you get them to drink it?"
"I offer them a free drink and pour it in. Nobody can turn down a free drink."
I look down at the drink she handed me on the way into the office.
She smiles wryly. Her eyebrows go up.
"Who ARE you and what have you done with my mom?"
"I AM the more interesting version of your mom, the one you didn't know existed."
"Ok, so what's the story on the cops?"
"It's pretty simple. I want to know what they know. They're trying to find both of us. As I told you earlier they won't think to look here but they'll talk freely and will do so even more after I give them some more of this," she pauses and points at the truth serum.
"When are you going to explain what's really going on? Where dad is? Why I have twins?"
"You never were good at patience, were you?"
"Mom, this isn't about patience - this is about figuring out why my life is being torn apart, trying to sort out all of this confusion."
"Well, lets figure out how to save our own skins first and then I can explain how we got into this mess. For now let me just confirm for you that, yes, Dad is alive and ok in a secure location, that I haven't seen your twin brother since he was taken away from me right after you were born and -"
"You'll have to wait. But the government has been unhappy with your dad long before you were born and their taking of your brother was supposed to be a warning sign. It backfired - it just made dad and I more angry."
I had more questions but she said, "I'll tell you everything in good time, I promise. For now lets start eavesdropping."
She pressed a few buttons and we were able to hear the conversation at the table where the police officers were sitting. They were talking about another case. "Fortunately I have a tape recorder so we can skip over the boring or unrelated bits and hear what they said earlier."
And now, she said, she had to go offer them more coffee. She picked up the bottle of truth serum and headed for the door.
"Honey, I said you'd have to wait"
"No, I just wanted to remind you to be safe."
"I always am. It's why they have never caught me or even photographed me for that matter. But that's another story."
She left. I immediately began to rummage through her desk drawers to see what other surprises she had in store. She came back in and added, "I have a camera in here too, of course, so I'd prefer if you respect my privacy."
Then she left again and I decided to just take a moment to try to sort out all the confusion in my head.
When she returned she rewound the tape. I started to say something about whether it wasn't time to switch to a more technological aspect when she asked if maybe that discussion could wait.
She pressed play at what appeared to be a random point in the conversation.
Voice 1 (raspy): "So I got this problem with my prostate."
Thankfully mom hits fast forward.
A few seconds later she hits play again
Voice two (high pitched - female?) "So they said it was the oven that burned his place but I don't know..."
Before I can say "stop" mom has sat down and hit rewind.
So we went back to the start, now that we knew they were indeed talking about our case.
And, well, let's summarize it this way:
The good news: We got some new information
The bad news: We had to hear way more than we wanted to know about some cop's prostate.
The ugly: I learned that the last time someone came close to getting a photo of mom that person, in that case an FBI agent, was killed.
I looked at mom for an explanation:
"What can I say? I value my privacy. Gotta go - I think I smell the hash browns burning."
I sigh and wait.
My mom is such a badass. But what can I say? She knows me well and brought me some hash browns - explained someone messed with the electronics system for the hash browns - and coffee. And at this point I no longer cared if the coffee had truth serum in it or not. I'm not the one with secrets that needs shedding. Mom does have secrets I'd like explained
but how does one start that conversation? "Mom, did you really kill someone?"
"Mom, how many people have you killed?"
She went back to the tape recorder and pressed play again..
I won't bore you by going into everything they said but it was clear there was a problem with our plan - some of what the cops were saying was clearly spin. The question, as mom noted correctly, is whether they believed the spin or not.
Mom decided it was time for them to get some more truth serum.
Mom showed me how to operate a camera - she clicked on a monitor - so we could then watch those at the table.
I watched as mom approached them, smiling as they realized they were about to be given more coffee, and having no idea that this coffee came with more than just sugar and cream but would instead cause them to become more truthful.
I watched with disgust and disbelief as one of the guys tried to thank my mom by feeling her behind. I jumped up ready to kick the oaf's butt then realized punching a cop would not help our case.
Mom, apparently more used to this behavior than I realized, had a better style of revenge. She dropped something into the guy's shirt pocket.
She was back a minute later and I asked her what had just happened.
"Well, one got fresh with me."
"Well, yeah, I saw that. But what did you do?"
"Ah, you saw that, did you?"
Mom explained she'd dropped a bug into his pocket.
"Mom, you can't bug the police!"
"Why not? They bug us all the time."
"It's a little late to be worrying about who is listening to who, dear. They are trying to eavesdrop on us so why not even the playing field. I'm just sorry I've not figured out how to get a camera inside the station office."
I just stared at her... then she looked at me.
"It's not polite to stare, dear."
"But, mom, where did you learn all this stuff."
"Remember all those hours you thought I was watching soap operas while you were at school?"
"Let's just say you were not the only one getting an education on those days."
Anyways, she said, let's get back to work.
We were returning our attention to the table when we heard the explosion down the street....
"What the... "(I looked at mom who I knew would correct me if I said the word I was thinking" heck was that sound?" I said.
"No idea," she said.
She looked way too relaxed - how many explosions has she seen or heard? Apparently way more than me.
"Shouldn't we go check it out?"
"Why bother? We're safe in here."
Then she saw something that DID bother her.
"Oh, @!$%#!" Wow. I turned to give her a hard time about cussing then I realized what irked her so - the cops from the table were leaving. Free coffee only goes so far - the call to duty supersedes it.
"What a waste of truth serum," she said.
True, I said, unsure what to say in this situation.
I just hope that microphone/bug stays in that one cops pocket, I said.
Well, it's time I showed you another trick up my sleeve," she said.
She pulled out her IPad and fired up the Internet.
"Sorry, mom, I'm not impressed.
"No, silly, it's not the computer that will impress you but one particular site."
I watched as she went to a bookmarked site: newsvine.com
"Newsvine? What is that? It sounds like a site where people get news about vines... so it's about wine? Or trees?"
"No, it's an alternate way to discuss the day's news. But there are so many authors the site can be used by other people like, say, your dad - "
"Wait, dad has an account on here."
"Yup, but not under his own name, of course."
"You can post anonymously there."
"Yup. People debate that issue every few months but currently yes."
While talking she was scrolling through articles and tags and then said, "Ah, here it is."
I leaned over to find a first person account of seeing a phone booth explode up the street from us.
"Heck, I didn't even know phone booths still existed," I said.
"Well,that one doesn't exist anymore."
Question is whether it was exploded as a distraction or whether it's a clue or what. Let's wait and see if your dad weighs in.
"While we're waiting can you tell me why you call him 'your dad' rather than 'my husband'?"
"No, we can't. I have better things to do. Like clean up the mess after those cops."
And she left me alone again,
While she was away I explored Newsvine. Sure were a lot of people talking on there, mostly about politics. But there were some who talked about things they saw in person. Others shared what I would have dismissed a few weeks or days ago as conspiracy theories but now I wasn't so sure the stories and theories weren't true.
This was all making my head hurt.
I put my head down to rest.
She came back and gave me the low-down: killfile was always writing about politics