The alarm was jolting, riveting. The blare of the half-tuned
radio station breaking the dim, cold sleep with a razors edge and a
killers wit. Shaking his head awake, the world began to slowly come into
focus. With the focus came the thought process
meeting today, 9:45 AM
Whats with the fucked up time? he thought to himself.
Not 10? Not 9:30? 9:45, whats the deal? rambled his mind as
he swung legs onto the floor to press into the soft swag of the crimson carpet.
Arms stretched akimbo as he rose, thinking with pride at the strength he still
possessed at thirty five. Friends going downhill, the guys that would rush him
as a quarterback almost twenty years ago moving about the planet like blobs on
slabby, stubby legs. He alone retained his vigor, power and singularity.
Marriage everywhere not here, no. No time for that. Meetings.
The shower squirt ice for a split second, but long enough to
elicit a grunt of half-rage half-pain from him. Then everything went on
auto-pilot as he showered, shaved and dressed for the Manhattan advertising
firm, Lockhart and Swede, where he rose slowly through the ranks with as much
treachery as skill forced debilitation on others, the proverbial toes
not only stepped on but cracked like so much glass between the treads of his
Dior designer shoes and the hard marble surface of the slick and shiny ad room
floors. Not his problem, really, if they couldnt handle it right?
It never occurred to him that his last departmental riot
overthrew a man by the name of James, whos sudden and unexpected pink
slip following the arrival of his third child two months ago threw the family
into a state of despair. This caused unmitigated financial duress that cut off
the health insurance he needed to care for his new son who was born with a
slight malfunctioning section of his brain which required surgery. Surgery he
could no longer afford. Young Hans didnt live past three months old and,
if you must know, James didnt live much beyond that. On the way home from
the hospital where he watched his first born sons brain matter hemorrhage
until he died painfully and terribly
barely two weeks after a trusted
coworker took credit for his report and sabotaged his own work to get that
extra hundred a week that really made no difference at all to him an
extra few Scotch shots at Club Rare maybe
he pulled over on the Verrazano
and had a long, terrible cry. Amidst stalled traffic and honking horns and
through blinding tears James opened his cars door, walked slowly to the
edge and promptly jumped.
The crowds on the subway platform pushed and parried as they
advanced for the N line amidst the haze and heat of the August summer. The 8:45
five minutes after 8:45. Gregg cursed his luck less than
an hour to make a usually forty five minute trip and get to the 17th floor at
the Canal street building to make the crazy timed meeting. And here the N line
rolls in five minutes late How the fuck are people supposed to
function in a city that runs like this? said his brain to his skull. It
never occurred to him that he could have skipped his morning tug from the JD
bottle while reading the comic strips to have been here for the 8:30 train,
which was on time. He dragged fitfully on his Newport and listened to the
squeal of brakes as the train finally arrived at the station. A pale faced
skinny young man in a transit cap requested he put the cigarette out, which
Gregg did eventually. Only he took one last fitful pull, positioned the still
flaming stick in front of his middle finger and balanced on his thumb, and
flicked it flying at the kindly-asking man in the transit hat.
He pushed roughly forward through the rank and file of the
other people on the platform, also vying for a shot at the already half-full
train and it never occurred to him that the cigarette would have bounced off
the metal nameplate the man wore Steven engraved across its length
and sent sparks flying that showered Steven as the head of the cigarette
imploded on impact. One stray still-burning ash found its way to Stevens
left eye, where it landed and scarred his eyeball forever limiting
Stevens life. Steven had enlisted in the Air Force and was working as a
transit janitor just for the summer to save up some money to get his mother,
who had worked three jobs most of her adult life to support him and his two
sisters, something nice he had been rebuilding an old Mustang, the kind
she drove when she was a happier and younger woman, and was using the money
from this short stint in the transit system to buy the parts for the car
new struts, shocks him and his three friends were doing the work
themselves and he planned to present it to her before he left for the Air
Force. Unfortunately, Stevens vision was now less than desirable
he was barred from enlistment and he worked this small subway scraping away gum
off of the walls just like a haughty smoker scraped away the dreams from his
life. He had to sell the car he had been working on to pay for his new alcohol
Gregg found his way into the train and, as always happens,
others tried to push on behind him. There was room enough for him, but he found
himself less than happy surrounded by the types of people around people
not pressed, glamoured and deserving like he was, of course. Rather than move
further into the train he stood his ground, back to the crowd, to keep others
from boarding so that he could have a few feet of space between him and the
next sweaty, sticky denizen of the crowded metropolis. The doors began to close
and a young woman reached to stop them to catch the 8:45, but deftly and
quickly Greggs hand shot out, tripped up her grasp and gave a short push
and the doors closed solidly and the train was on its way.
It never occurred to him when the train pulled away that
even his slight push would have knocked the young Jennifer off her feet, her
happiness at this mornings discovery blinding her with giddiness
the kind you get when something so miraculous happens that you cant put
it down even for a moment. She was on her way to her husbands office,
where she hoped to catch him to tell him the news that they, finally, after
three years worth of attempts, managed to conceive a child. Years of therapy,
medications, fertilization tests and they had nearly given up on the chance of
raising a family, but still they tried. It had finally worked, and Jennifer
wanted to tell him in person and was there to catch the 8:45 to reach him just
as he started his day at the office maybe take it off, have lunch, just
be together. Her cloud-treading happiness left her vulnerable to even a slight
push and she fell backwards, sprawling into the man behind her who carried a
metal briefcase. She came down full force, left side, on the corner of the hard
surface where it knocked the wind out of her and pounded into her belly. It was
that moment when the jarring impact caused her womb to pulse and the growing
cells that someday would have been their first and only child lost contact with
the comforting wall inside her body and was lost. They never had another
chance, though they tried.
It also never occurred to him that one of the people who
stopped to help, Sal, was on his way to the hospital to see his mother, who was
fading fast. If he would have caught this train he would have arrived about
9:00 in the morning. His mother hung on until a little after 9:30. He was
coming home from Afghanistan, you see, and hadnt seen his mother since he
left fourteen months ago with his Army Reserve unit. They released him when his
mother took ill, and he would have gotten to see her one last time before she
passed away time of death 9:33. The 8:45 would have gotten him there,
but someone had just gotten hurt and he stayed behind to help, cradling
Jennifers pain filled head in his arms until the paramedics arrived to
take her to the very same hospital his mother was at. Because he was with
Jennifer, he got to ride the ambulance screaming through the Manhattan traffic
to the hospital. He arrived at 9:36.
It was at this exact moment that Gregg stepped off the train
just across the way from Lockhart and Swede. He pushed roughly through the
doors, swiping aside people as he went and rushed across the platform towards
the exiting stairs. He bustled between closely knit commuters, nary a word, as
he sent a teenager to the side as he pushed. The teenager, Rob, had just
received word that he was accepted to run the New York City Marathon, something
hes been trying to do since he was fifteen. Now at eighteen years old, he
was going to get his last chance to run it before he left for college in the
fall across the country where hed bury himself in the academia of
becoming an economics major. It didnt occur to Gregg that, as he pushed
his way up the steps, the young mans heel lost its purchase with the one
he was standing on, slipped and promptly forced his ankle to move in directions
it was not meant to go. The bones scraped against each other and the ligaments
let go, ruining his running plans for the upcoming marathon after he finally
got in after four years of trying.
As Gregg reached the sunny outskirts of the subway steps it
did occur to him that he had less than ten minutes to reach his meeting on the
17th floor. He took off at a run, dodging people and nearly sprawling over more
than a few as he utilized his still sharp football skills to reach the front of
the glass doomed building and pushed his way inside. It didnt occur to
him that as he ran past young 8 year old Aliza and leaped over her brand new
puppy she named Sandee after her favorite movie, that the dog was too young to
know how to handle the sudden barrage of a full grown adult flying through the
air inches from her head. The puppy took off, wrenching its leash from the
unexpecting little Aliza, and barreled into traffic where it was messily run
over by the same ambulance that took Jennifer to the hospital following her
miscarriage and was now carrying Sal and his deceased mother to the morgue.
The elevator doors were closing as Gregg slid and raced
across the slick marble. He sent his briefcase sliding across the floor, metal
standing studs dragging arching scratches across the newly polished marble
beautiful floor. It didnt occur to him that about ten minutes later old
man Sanborn, who had worked and scrubbed the halls of this building for almost
forty years, would be brought into the front hall and shown those scratches.
There was a visiting foreign delegation, one of the largest advertising
clients the group had from Japan, and the floors were supposed to shine
brighter than the sun. It was, just moments ago, but now four unevenly spaced
metal-dragged gashes were running a good length along the floor. Sanborn had
spent all morning since 4:00 polishing every floor in any public area and they
were spotless he took his job with pride, really, having been doing it
for quite some time. With the delegation having just passed through, and the
scratched marble of the main foyer clearly visible, Sanborn had been dismissed
from his job for that reason.
His briefcase caught the
doors and kept them from closing, giving him the seconds necessary to get to
the elevator prior to the solid thunk of the closing doors. Gregg could see the
lone Armani dressed tall man in the elevator, near the back wall, who
didnt so much as budge when he saw his sprint across the floor for the
obvious elevators. This annoyed the hell out of him, really, and he let some
epithets fly lightly under his breath as he forced the doors apart and wrenched
his scratch-causing case from its grasp. He stepped into the elevator and
glared at the slightly taller man in the pressed suit and cowling smile. He was
the only other one in the elevator and he stepped towards the controls.
Going up or down? he asked Gregg as he made sure his tie still hung
properly and his shirt was tucked, his briefcase on the floor between his legs.
Glancing at his watch
9:39. Hell make the meeting, barely, but would
miss the chance to open if this asshole kept asking stupid questions.
From the pit of his black depths he summoned the most
sarcastic and grumbling overtone, so that his new elevator partner would
understand just how much he was lacking in niceties and time this morning.
Knowing full well they were standing on the elevator which was currently
stationed on the lowermost floor of the building, he spit back: Down,
indeed! Yes, lets go down there, Chuckles, down it is! and glared
his worst possible abysmal stare.
So be it, stated the black suit nonchalantly,
calmly and reached out to press a button that Gregg had failed to notice
before. It was a different color than the others
and was labeled with an
H. Strangely enough when the elevator lurched it really did feel
like it was going down, but that was impossible as they were already on the
bottom floor. This building didnt have a basement with elevator access.
1 was the bottom most level. Where did the H come from?
His mind reeled as the elevator continued to move. The man in the black suit
winked at him once and smiled plainly.
Was it getting hot in here? And not just noticeably
warm, either. Downright stifling. You couldnt tell by looking at
the man in the Armani suit he was cool as ice, no sweat at all, but
Greggs forehead was really getting toasty and damp from the rising heat.
It was actually getting a bit difficult to breathe, or maybe that was his
imagination. He watched the buttons on the elevators control panel but
none of the buttons for 1
3 had lit yet, and he wondered if maybe
the elevators lights werent working. He surely should be nearing
the 17th floor by now up was the only way to go from where they were and
the elevator feeling like it lurched downward had to have been a trick of sorts
on his mind
it being early and his distraction with the upcoming important
meeting and all. He looked at his watch.
Was his watch going out of whack now? Maybe the heat was
making it work funny, but it was a Bulova for crissake
the best money can
buy. But it said 9:52
if correct hed been in this elevator for 13
minutes now. That couldnt be. It was still getting hotter and he pulled a
handkerchief from his left breast pocket and mopped at his face. Involuntarily
he pulled his tie just a tad to loosen it slightly around his neck as it got
harder to breathe in the stifling heat. He could actually feel the heat wafting
off the faux-wood of the elevator wall nearest his back. The Armani man still
stood nonchalantly, non-sweatily and comfortably near the control panel, which
seemed to not be working even slightly. The man in the black suit started to
whistle then. It took a few moments, but he recognized the tune after two bars.
A low, dark whistling of When the Saints Go Marching In wafted the small
chamber to the rhythm of the moving elevator as it continued to carry them.
It never occurred to him that just because things
didnt occur to him that someone else might have been keeping score.