For my final month of employment at Xeno, I was given the rather humiliating assignment of training my own replacement, Shelly, a 19-year old computer science undergrad recently hired at half my hourly pay. This was typical of management's new “Resource Consolidation Policy”. But aside from that, I was, ironically, a casualty of computer automation, since many of the more complex operations on the Unisys mainframe could now be performed by lesser-skilled employees (and fewer of them). Nonetheless, Xeno, before booting me to the curb, wanted to suck out the contents of my brain: In order to assist the intelligent but ill-prepared Shelly, I had to write a “cheat book”, a user manual breaking-down, in intricate detail, every process and keystroke needed to perform System Administrator duties on the Unisys most efficiently. When I finally completed the two-inch thick manual, the instructions therein were dumbed-down enough to teach a high-school dropout to do my former job.
But all the workplace aggravation couldn't dampen my excitement over ServerComp, a brand-new corporation in which I held a 10% stake (albeit without a vote in corporate decision-making, as I discovered later). I didn't even consider the offer of $10,000 to sell my shares back to the corporation. Two days after refusing that offer, I found out that Allen Paulsen, a high-level executive at Microno Software, had just purchased the last available 2 ½ % block of shares for $60,000.
Overcome with an unrealistic sense of grandeur, I had congratulated myself for getting in step with the rapid advance of computer technology. In reality, though, I was merely a silent partner in a risky venture whose technology I barely fathomed. ServerComp's internet node was scheduled to go “live” to the public in less than a month, but it would take a lot of time - if ever - before we could realize any return on our original investment. To make matters worse, we still lacked sufficient capital, as most of it was budgeted for an expensive advertising campaign in magazines that catered to PC/Mac enthusiasts. However, without effective advertising, we'd be out of business within a year anyway.
* * *
Five days had elapsed since I last heard from Tina, since the day after Sharon's party, and she was apparently ignoring my phone calls and messages. On Friday evening, I hung-up the phone and asked Angie, “Has Tina gotten a hold of you lately? Every time I call her apartment, all I get is her answering machine.”
“Same here. I did talk to her when she was at work - Tuesday night, I think - but she was real busy. I haven't heard from her since.”
“Okay. I just tried calling the hotel, but it's almost impossible to get through tonight. Fuck it, she won't have time for chit-chat anyway.” Next morning, still getting no response from her, we drove down to Sea-Tac to see if she was all right. At her apartment building, her aged Toyota Corolla was parked in its assigned space, so we went upstairs. We rang the doorbell and called-out her name for a minute before she finally came to the door, which then creaked opened as far as the latched security chain allowed. It was nearly 1pm but judging by her dazed expression, we had obviously awakened her from a dead sleep. “Well, are you gonna invite us in or what?” I jokingly asked.
She coughed into her fist and replied with a husky voice, “Yeah, come on in.”
As we entered, Angie said, “Sweetie, are you sick? You sure look it.”
Tina, dressed only in a pink terrycloth robe, smoothed back her short Afro 'doo and yawned, “Naw, I'm ah-ight.”
The glass coffee table in the darkened living room was cluttered with empty Michelob bottles, broken potato chips and remnants of pizza crust. Even more surprising was the faint odor of stale cigarette smoke. I couldn't recall the last time her apartment looked anything less than spotless. Although this caused me concern, I tried to make light of it: “Looks like you've been on a three-day drunk, Amazon.”
“Anybody got a cigarette? I'm dyin' for one.”
My jaw dropped in disbelief. “You've taken up smoking?” She's the one who always made me brush my nicotine-tinged teeth for 15 minutes before letting me kiss her. “Now I know something's wrong.”
She sank down in a plush armchair and took amateurishly shallow puffs on a one of Angie's long brown cigarettes. “I got fuckin' fired, that's what's wrong.”
“Oh no,” Angie groaned in sympathy. “You? I can't believe that! When did it happen?”
“Couple-a days ago. I wasn't fired, exactly - encouraged to resign is more like it. The manager told me that if I cooperated with the cops and quit without causin' a scene, he'd write me a really good letter of recommendation.” She gestured to a beer-stained business envelope on the table. Then she chuckled without humor and said, “Sheeit, I got about 20 bucks in the bank, still owe this month's rent and part of last month's, and yesterday I found out that by quitting my job, I ain't eligible for fuckin' Unemployment!”
I patted her slender shoulder and said, “Now don't get all depressed about your bills - we got you covered. Anyway, I'm sure you'll find a job in no time - ”
Angie: “But what did the cops have to do with it?”
Tina: “Aw, well, they claimed there were crimes goin'-on inside the hotel - mostly when I was workin' the front desk.”
“Let me guess,” I interjected. “A.J. was involved in it.”
“Yeah, no shit.” According to what Tina told me next, Hilton Hotel Security had been cooperating with a Sheriff's Office investigation of A.J., pertaining to crimes allegedly committed there. It took little time for the police to link her with A.J., since some of Hilton's security guards, not to mention her co-workers, were already aware of their on-again off-again relationship. Then Tina said bitterly, “I loved my job and wanted to work there forever. I had no fuckin' idea what A.J. was up to, and if I did, I would never stand for it!”
“What, exactly, was he accused of doing?” I asked, although I already knew or had deduced many of the details, of which I had no inclination to share with her at this moment.
“Drugs - what else. You know I ain't got nothin' to do with fuckin' dope! And then the cops asked me if he ever brought young chicks there - underage chicks. You think I would put up with that pervert shit?” Her rhetorical question sounded a bit on the defensive side, and I couldn't help wondering if she knew more than she let on. But as I had never known her to lie about anything, she deserved the benefit of the doubt. I still remembered the time that she called A.J. a child molester right to his face, in reaction to his illicit dalliance with Marta.
Angie, who was half-sitting on the arm of Tina's chair, abruptly changed the subject. “Me and Denny were talking the other day - we want you to live with us.”
Tina thoughtfully exhaled a stream of smoke and then replied, “Last time you guys asked me to move-in with you, I made some long speech about not wantin' to give-up my independence. I'd feel like a fuckin' leech if I move-in with you now.”
I said, “Oh, screw that b-s, Amazon. We love you, and we want you with us.” Angie's caressing hand reached out for Tina's.
Her cat-like brown eyes shining with tears, Tina said, almost inaudibly, “Me too.” Then she added, with a wan smile, “At least yer not livin' in that nasty-ass trailer anymore.”
* * *
Within a few days of Tina moving into our apartment, some of our neighbors became keenly curious about the unusual trio who lived next door. I tried not to encourage the attractive middle-age married couple down the hall, who had hinted broadly that they too were in an open relationship. The cute 18-year old girls who shared an apartment nearby now gave me huge smiles whenever we happened to run into each other. Having lived there only a very short time, I merely responded with a tight smile and friendly nod.
As Tina settled into her new home, she told me a little more about the police interrogation she had undergone: “...And the cops showed me surveillance photos of two Asian dudes - I could tell they were taken in the hotel parking lot. I did recognize one of them in particular, from when they checked-in at the desk. He had dead, glassy black eyes like Jaws or somethin', like he'd just as soon cut yer throat as lookatcha. After I looked at the photos, this asshole detective started talkin' some stupid shit about how I supposedly let these guys register under fake names, like I'm part of some conspiracy. Hell, both of them paid cash up-front, so what do I care what names they used?”
“So, these guys were tied-up with A.J. somehow,” I presumed.
Tina shrugged her shoulders. “I wouldn't know, and the cops weren't sayin'.”
A few days later, while eating lunch in the Xeno cafeteria, I glanced at a discarded newspaper on the table and took notice of this article:
Victim ID'ed in Nightclub Drive-by Shooting
A man shot and killed outside a downtown Seattle club early Saturday morning has been identified as Anthony Davis of South Seattle...Davis, age 36, was released on bond from the Prince County Jail on May 10th, three days prior to being gunned-down in front of The Joint, a popular nightclub featuring recorded hip-hop music...The club has been the scene a string of violent incidents dating back to 1984...Davis, reportedly a top lieutenant in the BWM street gang, was arrested on drug charges last April 3rd during a Sheriff's Office sweep of residences rented or owned by BWM gang members. Davis was already wanted on an outstanding warrant in Snohomish County for his alleged participation in a drive-by shooting in Everett, but that charge was later dropped due to lack of evidence...
As the initial shock of learning about Davis' death faded, I thought it strange that he had been let out of jail at all - the court had originally denied him bail since he was considered a serious flight risk. But now it seemed he had cut some sort of deal with the County Prosecutor. If that was true, it very well could have been the reason behind his murder.
There had been many shootings, stabbings and brawls at The Joint over the years, so I had barely taken notice of this latest incident. From what little I remembered of the initial report, the victim had been machine-gunned by a man on a motorcycle. The shooter had worn a visor-ed helmet and unremarkable clothing, making identification impossible.
Certain Asian gangs favored the utilization of assassins on 'cycles, although there was no evidence of it in this case, merely my own speculation based upon Davis' apparent link to Asian gangsters. Was it only coincidental that soon before he was bailed-out, local and federal law enforcement began making a nuisance of themselves to the major heroin smugglers and human traffickers on the West Coast?
Copyright 2014 by K.D. Bishop