F1rst Contact

Storage San Francisco | Oct 11 | 3:15pm

Outside. Two weeks after I ran out of booze, my body felt weak, and the sunlight burned my fucking eyes. I figured it was withdrawal, and I could stop it if I just got another fucking drink.

The van hiding me from the last set of security cameras pulled forward. I stayed along side it, keeping pace until I knew I was out of camera range. Then I was alone again.

The brick wall around the electrical substation protected me from the rest of the city. From the other direction, a gust of air came off the bay, and I shivered.

I hadn’t expected Harry’s job thing to come through. I still didn’t believe it was real, but there was no way for me to know what kind of scam he was mixed up with if I didn’t at least check it out. I looked down and reread the text message.

HANS:
The job starts now. Goto Office Depot, 33 3rd St.

The phone was a plastic bar from Nokia, nothing but number keys and one of those greenish/blackish-green displays from the mid-2000s, which didn’t show there was a lot of money behind Harry’s offer.

That wasn’t the only way for a man in my position to get money for booze either. All I needed was cardboard and a sharpie. “Why lie? It’s for beer” wasn’t far off. I probably smelled about right, but I wasn’t about to start begging.

I wore the only clothes I have left, jeans and a shirt we made for our deceased band Effective Disorder — spray painted stencil on store-bought blank shirts. My sneakers are rescues off a telephone pole, but they hold up okay, and I don’t have to shave because my relatives from the Andes Mountains didn’t give me the genes to grow a beard. Still, nobody but Harry would hire me.

One more time, I called the only name in the contact list, but “HANS” went straight to a weird electronic signal, something other than a fax machine. Even if I could remember anyone else’s number, there’s nobody left who would want to talk to me.

I couldn’t go back inside without another car pulling in to hide me from the cameras, and the Third Street train wasn’t far. Whether I went with Harry or started begging, that would take me downtown.

Montgomery Street Station | 71 min later

I was never so scared of Market Street. It had me paralyzed on the top step up from the station. Nothing was familiar. I blamed being sober.

People all kept eyes front as they streamed past me, but I couldn’t block it all out. Businessmen walked by shoulder to shoulder, each talking to different people on their cell phones. A smoker in an apron leaned against the wall plugged into an iPod. An old man went by wearing one of the “SF” sweatshirts tourists buy when they don’t pack for the cold, watching the city through the screen of his camera.

I couldn’t make myself be like them anymore, stare forward and disappear into the crowd. The phone went off again.

HANS:
Are you there yet? I need light bulbs. 60 Watt.

There was a break in the crowd. I dove in.

As I matched speed with the flow of foot traffic, a motion caught my eye that followed every step but bounced with its own special rhythm. A gray sweatshirt to my left was unzipped to show cleavage. In my months locked away, I forgot about tits.

On my right, I saw the no-bra jiggle of a lacy red top cut in a low V. I merged closer to get a better look, but she stopped, and the jiggle settled.

I looked around and saw the biggest pair straining against the tightest silky top. They pulled me across the street while I admired their surroundings, a short skirt, sheer stockings, heels and an all-business ponytail. To my side, a car honked its horn.

I turned to see the grill of a silver Hyundai coming towards me. I was in the crosswalk against the light.

I ran, found the curb and kept running. I ducked down a couple steps and through some sliding glass doors, and I caught my breath in the climate-controlled air away from traffic. Then I turned around. I was standing in Office Depot. I was right where Harry wanted me to be.

I didn’t want to help him, but I could at least text and tell him so.

winston:
no money

I didn’t know yet why it sent my response as “winston.” Out of habit, I noticed the positions of the security cameras. There were gaps, so I walked down an aisle and stuffed something under my shirt. Harry replied.

HANS:
Confirmation no. 64-82594-72965

I didn’t think it would work, but I found the light bulbs in back and showed the code on the screen to the girl at the register.

“Okay, you can go.” Depot girl wasn’t happy to see me. Her apron hid the good stuff anyway.

Outside Office Depot | 16 min later

I sat on the curb, not sure what to do with the light bulbs, and the phone in my pocket lit up with another address, one of those big office buildings in the financial district, room 2101.

Dispatch | 29 min later

I was never in one of those buildings before. The lobby was spotless white marble. I went to the guard in the black blazer. “I–” My voice caught in my throat. He waved me on, barely looking.

I rode the elevator to the 21st floor and found door 2101. It wasn’t locked, but the room behind it was dark, except for the dim glow of a laptop screen.

“Close the door.” I knew that voice.

I did. My eyes adjusted to the darkness, and I saw a high backed chair with Harry in it.

“Did you bring what I asked for?” He turned the laptop to shine on a swing arm desk lamp with no bulb. I put the bag on the desk.

He unwrapped each layer of packaging around the bulbs, finally getting one out and screwing it into place.

The lamp came on, and I saw the office for the first time. It was a piece of shit. There were no windows, and the walls were bare white, but every inch of floor and desk were piled with layers of abandoned takeout. I didn’t know what kind of job would let a man decay like that, but it did make me hungry.

Harry smiled. “It’s all set up. I got you the job.”

I knocked the pile of boxes off the chair facing his desk and sat down. “What is it?”

“Pretty much what you just did. Hold onto the phone and take stuff where it tells you.”

“Why?”

He pointed to the laptop. “Your code name is Winston.” That’s why the phone said that. “And, now that it’s past five o’clock, I think it’s time for…” Harry spun, disappearing behind the tall chair. There was a familiar bubbling sound, and when the chair spun again, he was holding a big glass bong. His voice strained, trying to hold smoke in his lungs. “Welcome aboard.” Smoke poured out of his mouth over the desk, hanging in the air between us. “Oh yeah, you just gotta sign this, um, nondisclosure thing.”

I shrugged. “Who’m I gonna tell?”

[Editor’s note: obviously, this document constitutes a violation of that agreement.]