The Interview by Fred Miller
The Interview by Fred Miller
Following a long step down from the bus, he moved across the sidewalk onto the plaza and gazed at the gleaming monolith rising out of the ground and disappearing into a limitless sky. He paused to take in the enormity of the tower and the array of sparkling windows, each an eye following the mad commotion below.
“Hey, buddy, watch it!” said a voice attached to a thin face of anger that hurried away from where he stood shaken. He observed the man’s retreat toward the building and wondered why the doctors had never thought to have his keen sense of visual recall evaluated or consider a discussion of the possibilities with him or his mother. Odd, he thought. But this facial portrait, this one, and that slump-shouldered lope were now fused into his memory banks for future agendas.
To him the open atria around him replicated the vast expanse of the Megiddo Plain where ancient warriors met in mortal combat, and from where victors, loaded with plunder, would return home to hero welcomes that soared to the levels of tribute afforded to revered deities. He could see himself leading a triumphant army down flower-strewn boulevards into the capitol of a great empire.
Waves of pigeons swirled over the throngs of commuters in a rush. He looked up and smiled. My friends from the park here to watch over and protect me. What a contrast the park offered to the tiny apartment where he and his mother were forced to survive.
He hated the apartment. His bedroom, a constant torment, was small enough for him to touch opposing walls simultaneously. And his mother’s constant campaign against his open window policy. Even in the dead of winter, a window ajar served as a potential escape from his confinement. The park had become a refuge, an open space of freedom, and had afforded gatherings with his feathered friends. And there the only rules observed were those he chose to enforce.
He stared at the mass of humanity charging forward, dodging collisions, and slipping into the whir of revolving doors at the base of the structure. He imagined the scene as a leviathan sucking up and devouring tiny creatures that wondered into its path in a roiling sea.
He looked down at his watch. Still time to kill before the interview. As he shuffled in the direction of the doors, he was reminded of the leather shoes that were pinching his toes and cutting his heels. He hesitated, took a deep breath, his nostrils flaring in the fresh spring morning air, and continued to observe the tide of movements at One City Plaza.
Near the spinning bronze door he felt a tingle of perspiration across his neck. Though he was confident he’d not be trapped in the doors, the feeling that accompanied enclosures in his path persisted. He remembered his mother’s words: ‘Take your pill as soon as you arrive, Sammy. Take it with water and follow with ten deep breaths. This will calm you and prevent nervous tics. You want to make a good impression. And don’t forget to smile’. Three times she’d repeated these instructions, the last as he scrambled down the apartment stairwell.
He could see two women ahead with a breach behind them, a clear shot at entry into the lobby without touching a soul. He raced forward.
Inside he stopped and peered up at the expanse of his surroundings. And listened to the echoes of heels striking the floor in concert down the long hallways. People in motion. Commerce. Excitement. He could feel the pulse of his heart quicken, his breathing almost into a pant. He thought of the nascent possibilities of being a part of something big, something headlines big.
He eyed the building security at the information center across the lobby and noted that each was armed with a flashlight as well as bright shoulder patches. He took a deep breath and exhaled.
On a far wall he spotted the water fountains. Now? No, he reasoned, he’d take the pill just prior to the interview. On a marble wall nearby he glanced at his image and the ill-fitting suit he wore, the only thing his father had left behind when he’d abandoned Sammy and his mother years ago. Hopelessly out of style. And the tie, a remnant from a bygone era. And the shoes. But it was what it was and it’d have to do in this effort to secure this job his mother appeared desperate for him to have.
Sammy had been happy with the status quo. But his mother, through a friend of a friend whom the man who ran the company in question owed a favor, had secured this interview. He could hardly tell his mother he had no time for this interview. He had nothing but time.
His head lowered, he approached the desk.
“Can I help you, son?” the information officer said. Sammy’s face burned. Despite his size and child-like face, he hated to be called son. He was almost thirty.
“The floor for STS Enterprises,” he said.
“STS is on the forty-third floor. Fifth set of elevators down the hall to your left.”
Sammy looked down the long hallway where he saw people in swells and ripples feeding into the elevator doors. Once he reached his destination, he could see a crowd of people already in the car. He stepped back and waited. When the next elevator door opened, a flood of people rolled out. Sammy looked around. No one was close by. Good, he thought. He walked into the elevator, turned, and waited for the doors to close. But the doors remained open. He could feel beads of sweat forming across his forehead and his shirt collar binding around his neck. He was sure his windpipe was becoming constricted. He needed space, relief. But before he could step out of the elevator, a swarm of people rushed in and forced Sammy back into a corner of the car. When it appeared the elevator could hold no more, three people shouted for the elevator to wait and pushed into the crowded space.
A burst of air from the vents as the car rose offered him scant relief. He felt like a tiny fish packed in a tin. The acrid odor of fellow human beings around him stung his nose. He shook his head and looked up over the crowd at the numbers above the doors and realized the first stop would be the thirtieth floor. From there as many as twelve stops could follow before he’d be able to exit onto the forty-third floor. Looking up at the ceiling, he could see vitreous floaters sail aimlessly across his field of vision. And he could hear the thumping of his heart and wondered if anyone else could hear it. His auditory acuity was that of a wolf, a hundred times that of a human being. He was confident of this. He could hear the whispered conversation of two women nearby.
“Are you seeing Stu tonight,” one said.
“Uh-huh. We’re going to a trendy, new restaurant on the East Side. “
“And?” the first one giggled.
“We’ll see. He told his wife he had a late meeting so I don’t know how much time we’ll have together.”
Sammy’s head was down. He’d captured their images earlier and now, no way he’d tip them off that he was in on their private conversation. But he’d remember them. And every word spoken.
The car eased to a stop, restarted, then jerked twice and stopped again. Two shoulders bumped him. He could feel his stomach churning. His hands began an unwanted dance.
He looked up at the numbers over the door and saw a white bar. The car had stopped before it’d reached the thirtieth floor. For a moment the crowd was quiet. Then he heard a woman say to no one in particular, “I hope we aren’t stuck. I’ve got an appointment in five minutes.”
A series of small conversations broke out. The car began to move. Sighs filled the air. Then the car stopped with a sharp jerk and the lights went out. A woman screamed. Several shrieks followed. Sammy was bumped again. He realized his throat was dry. And he was grinding his teeth, a habit he’d picked up during a recent hospital stay.
“Everyone remain calm,” said a bass voice from the other side of the car. Sammy tried to connect the voice with a face. Was it the tall, broad-shouldered guy with gray hair? Had to be.
“All of these elevators are constantly monitored from a room off the lobby. If we’re stuck, help will be here shortly,” the voice continued.
The car squeaked, jerked, and dropped about a foot. One quivering voice said, “My God, we’re going to die.”
Amid the cacophony that followed, Sammy heard a metallic slide and click. He knew that sound. He’d seen every cop show on television in the past ten years. He missed nothing. This was the sound of a clip being shoved into a pistol grip. To calm himself he concentrated on reviewing each person he’d seen entering the car: the facial expression, the height, and the way each one moved.
The lights came on. The car began to rise. More sighs of relief. The elevator chimed and stopped at the thirtieth floor. Several people hurried out of the elevator. Sammy could feel the pill box in his coat pocket. He reasoned that he’d look silly opening the box and popping a pill in his mouth in front of all of these people. Besides, he had no water.
He heard the two women he’d eaves-dropped on earlier whispering again.
“When is Stu going to tell his wife the truth.?” said one.
“It’s complicated. He has the kids to consider. He has to pick the right moment.”
The elevator chimed again and the doors opened. And again. And now Sammy could hear the tones echo in his head.
The doors opened on the forty-third floor and the two women he’d overheard got off ahead of him. His eyes followed them down the hallway. Then he looked at the floor directory: STM Enterprises…4330. To the left. He looked down the hallway and saw the two women enter the door where he knew he’d be shortly.
“Yes, may I help you?”
Sammy, visibly shaken, looked down at the seated woman. Her gray hair was styled in a bun much like his mom’s. And she wore glasses similar to hers. This woman could pass as his mother’s sister.
“Sir, can I help you?”
He cleared his throat and stood erect, the posture his mother had made him practice. ‘Smile,’ she had said. ‘It exudes confidence.’
“Samuel Fine to see Stewart Schulman.”
“One moment. Yes, here it is. Please take a seat, Mr. Fine. Mr. Schulman should be with you shortly.”
Sammy nodded and looked around. No windows. The off-set lighting was what decorators called soft. The walls were finished in deep wood paneling. Sammy wondered if he touched a wall, he’d feel a soft give. But no way would he touch the wall. He could feel her eyes on him now.
On a far wall he could see three portraits. To him the paintings represented a logical succession of CEO’s: the grandfather, the father, the son. He eyed the current leader of the firm and blinked. He stepped back a couple of paces and looked again. Carefully.
He heard a phone behind him buzz.
“Yes, sir. Yes, sir. He’s here now, sir. Yes, sir. Mr. Fine, Mr. Schulman will see you now.”
Sammy turned and his knees buckled. He could feel his heartbeat accelerate and his face flush.
“Um, could I excuse myself first?”
“Of course, Mr. Fine. The restrooms are down the hall on the right.”
In the bathroom mirror he gazed at his image. The suit wasn’t that bad. Maybe the bastard had good taste. And a maroon power tie even if it was a bit dated. He glanced down at his shiny shoes and back at the mirror.
He shoved his hand in his pocket, pulled out the pill box, opened it, and looked at the pill. He could hear her voice: ‘Remember, take the pill with lots of water. Breathe deeply ten times. Always smile at the interviewer. Show them you have confidence, dear.’
He dropped the pill in the sink and turned on the water. He opened his coat and pulled out a Glock 19 from his waistband, racked the slide, and returned the pistol under his coat. He looked into the mirror and smiled. Ready.
Copyright Fred Miller 2021