Copyright 2017 – Katherine Lato
Connor didn’t hate his night-security job at an office building, but he didn’t like it either. It was the best he could find at eighteen that didn’t interfere with high school. After graduation, he would land a fantastic full-time job that paid more than minimum wage.
Walking through the empty building late in his shift was peaceful. Occasionally people worked past nine, and they liked it when he walked them to their cars. The work was easy, and he didn’t have to sit at a desk or understand computers. Computers had destroyed his family, at least that’s what Dad said. Or maybe it was toilet seats. Dad didn’t make much sense after a few beers.
If only Mom hadn’t left when Connor turned fifteen. Dad said she hated being in a cold town with two males who couldn’t even remember to keep the toilet seat down. Seemed like a flimsy reason for leaving, but Dad claimed he had heard worse from the guys he worked with.
Having a job meant Connor didn’t have to make dinner for Dad and listen to his complaints. “The meatloaf tastes like sawdust. Did you step on the chicken? The pasta sticks like glue. Is this rice or cardboard?” Mom had tried to show Connor how to cook, but Dad used to say cooking was for girls. Once Mom left, Connor had to do the cooking and most of the cleaning until he got this job working from six until midnight four nights a week. Now, he didn’t have to make meals except on the weekend. Even then, he mainly caught up on his homework and his sleep. Dad respected that he was making money.
The only good thing about Mom being gone was that no one nagged about smoking in the apartment, or the amount of time spent watching sports, or how they should learn to use the computer. Mom had taken lots of classes. At first it was just so she could get a free computer. There was a program in the county to address something called the digital divide. Dad said that was just a fancy name for not being a computer nut, but Mom kept taking classes, right up to the day she left. Dad hadn’t liked it. It was the first volley in what turned into their worst fight ever when Dad demanded to know where Lois was going at night.
“I’m taking a computer class,” she said.
“You already know how to use the computer. Why don’t you stay home? The game is on.”
“I’m not interested in watching the game,” Lois said. “You only want me here so I can make popcorn and get you a new beer.”
Connor hated when his parents argued. “I can make the popcorn.”
“I wish you would come to class with me,” she said. “Or that you would let me teach you how to use the computer. It’s needed for so many things these days.”
With a glance at his father, Connor said, “Typing is for girls.”
“Typing isn’t just for girls,” Lois said. “And using the computer is about a lot more than typing. There’s a whole world of information available if you know where to look for it. If you’d just—“
“Leave the boy alone,” Dad said. “Stop trying to turn him into a sissy.”
“I just want him to make something of himself.”
“Like I haven’t, you mean?”
The fight had continued, getting noisier until Mom stormed out, not coming back until the next day. After that, the fights became more regular and she stayed away longer each time. Maybe it was her way of getting Connor used to her not being there so it wouldn’t seem strange when she left for good. If so, it hadn’t worked. He kept expecting her to return until he got the letter from California.
He kept it in his wallet and told Dad he had tossed it, but only after writing to the return address. Fat lot of good that did since the letter was returned to him. Still, it was the only letter she sent, or at least the only one Connor saw. It sounded like she had been writing for a while. But maybe that was a lie, just like her saying she would always love him. If she loved him, she wouldn’t have left him with Dad.
I wish you would write back to me. I miss you. I suppose you’re still angry about the way I left. I wanted to tell you I was leaving, but your father made it impossible. He—well, I’m not going into that whole story again.
I hope you like the packages I’ve sent. I know I said I wouldn’t push, but maybe you could visit me? I can’t afford a plane ticket, but there are buses.
I suppose your father canceled the internet connection, but you can take the laptop to a coffee shop and you can connect there for free. Or the library. Practically anyone can help, just ask. I would love to get email from you, or a regular letter although I still haven’t found a permanent address.
Still, not hearing from you is painful.
The letter was crumbled from when he had smashed it into a ball the first time he had read it. What did she know about pain? Painful was coming home to find her gone and being left to pick up the pieces. Painful was knowing she hadn’t wanted him. Painful was finding out she had discontinued her cell phone without giving him a new number.
Mom hadn’t asked Connor to live with her. He could have finished high school in California. He couldn’t wait to graduate and get away from the stoner kids and the jocks. Connor wasn’t good at sports, which annoyed Dad. Someone built like a linebacker should be on the football team, but Connor didn’t have the skill.
Dad was all right, a bit gruff at times but he had bought Connor the baseball jersey he wanted, even though it wasn’t a team Dad supported. When the package showed up in the mail, Connor had been so surprised. When Mom was around, she was the only one who fussed over his birthday, but after she left, Dad bought him something great every year. Unless the packages were from Mom. If only he knew how to use email and had access to a computer, he could ask. He didn’t know how to send an email. Dad had sold her computer, so he couldn’t take it to a coffee shop. When he went to the library, they asked for his library card. He didn’t have one.
Connor hadn’t told Dad, but once he had his own place, he planned to take a computer class like Mom had. Now that he was eighteen, he could get his own computer from those people who were addressing the digital divide. It would be a long time before he could afford his own place, though. If he tried to attend classes now, Dad was bound to complain. He blamed computers for Mom leaving.
Since Connor had made a complete circuit of the office building, he went outside. He wasn’t supposed to smoke while working, but he liked to check the outside of the building. Grabbing a quick smoke was his reward for getting half-way through his shift.
Connor opened the back door expecting an empty parking lot since all the employees had left before seven. A black SUV and a dark-blue Prius were near the fence facing in opposite directions so the drivers could talk. Maybe they were discussing fuel efficiency. Connor snorted at the thought. It was probably a drug deal. If he called the cops, they wouldn’t do anything. And his boss might discover he was smoking while on duty. Connor took another drag on his cigarette, then ground the butt under his heel.
The guy in the Prius looked like one of the stoner guys from high school, Wes. Wes gave a half-wave which caused the driver of the SUV to duck lower in his seat.
It was clear they weren’t discussing fuel efficiency. Connor went back inside the building.
The next night, Wes’s dark-blue car was there for almost an hour before the black SUV arrived. Evidently Wes was confident Connor wasn’t going to report him. They didn’t come every night, but often enough to interfere with Connor’s smoking routine. Watching a drug deal might make him an accomplice so he checked if there were there before going outside. Sometimes, though, he was already smoking when the Prius arrived and had to put out his half-finished cigarette. He was getting tired of being interrupted.
The next time he was outside and the car pulled in, Connor continued smoking. He had a right to be there, the others didn’t.
A short, thin youth with hair falling into his eyes got out of the car and walked over with a lazy half-grin. “So, it is you. I thought so. Good to see you, Connor.”
Although surprised Wes knew his name, Connor nodded.
“I take it you work here?”
“I figured.” Wes scratched his chin. “Bet the pay is shit.”
“I have a proposition for you. When does your shift end?”
“Perfect,” Wes said. “As you may have gathered, I have a regular customer out here. The problem is, the guy has a complicated life so can’t always get away on time. I have to sit here and wait. I don’t like waiting. Time is money, as they say. Seeing as how you’re here every night, I figured you could do the waiting.”
“Are you talking about drugs?”
Wes winced. “We refer to them as packages. It’s easy money.”
“It would be simple,” Wes said. “I come by near the start of your shift and drop off a package. The guy in the SUV arrives to pick it up and leaves you another package. I come by near the end of your shift to get the package and you get a nice tip. How’s fifty bucks sound?”
Connor shook his head. “I can’t be waiting outside for some guy to show up. In fact, I should get inside now.”
“Hold on,” Wes said. “You don’t have to wait. You have a cell phone, right?”
Connor started to nod and stopped himself. He didn’t want Wes thinking he was interested. Dealing drugs could get him a long stretch in prison. It wasn’t worth the risk.
“The guy can email you when he’s heading out,” Wes said. “He emails me, but I’m too far away to get here in five minutes and he’s a nervous nelly, so won’t wait for me. But you’re inside the building, it probably takes you less than five minutes to get to the back door. If he emails you, you go to the back door and hand over one package and get another.”
Despite himself, Connor was curious. “How could he email me?”
“You have a cell phone, don’t you?”
“It’s not a fancy one.” It was a condition of working security, but he had purchased the cheapest one he could find.
“You can still have email on it.”
“How?” Connor asked.
“I can show you. Will you do it?”
“It sounds dangerous.”
A black SUV pulled into the parking lot, the same car as before. Connor could clearly see that the driver was a plump man who looked like someone’s grandfather wearing prism glasses in a parody of a bad guy. Connor felt foolish for calling him dangerous. Wes’s slim frame didn’t pose much of a threat to someone with the build of a linebacker like Connor.
“What happens if he doesn’t show one night?” Connor was sorry he had asked the question. He hadn’t meant to indicate any interest, but he liked to understand the complications of a situation. It made life easier.
The glint in Wes’s eye made it clear he thought Connor would do it. “I’ll take back the package. You’ll still get your tip. Can’t be fairer than that, can I? Give me your phone and I’ll set up the email.”
Connor handed over his phone, not surprised when Wes shook his head. “The first thing you should buy is a better phone. Still, I can set this up.”
Wes typed for several minutes before handing back the phone. “Your email address is our high school name followed by 54321. Your password is our school mascot followed by today’s date all in numbers. You can remember that, I’m sure.”
“Let me try it.” Connor stared at the phone. “How do I get started?”
Wes glanced at the SUV, then sighed. “You tap on this icon—the one with what looks like a letter, see?”
Connor bent down to see what Wes was doing, watching as he clicked on the picture of a letter, then typed in the information. He then did it himself while Wes watched, trying to control his shaking hands. He didn’t want Wes to know how excited he was. After his second try, he felt a bit more confident that he could do it himself. He put his phone into his pocket.
“Come on, I’ll introduce you to the dweeb.”
Connor shook his head. “I haven’t said I’d do it.”
Wes’s smile grew tight. “All right, seventy-five. Since dweeb comes by three times a week, that’s $225 a week for a few minutes of work swapping a couple of packages.”
“Sorry, I have to get back inside.” Connor couldn’t wait to be alone. “Maybe you should find another place to make your trade.”
“Don’t think playing hard-to-get is going to up the price,” Wes said. “I can see you’re excited about the easy money.”
Connor didn’t bother correcting him. The opportunity to be involved in illegal drugs didn’t excite him. He wanted to know if the packages were from Mom. And now he could email her and find out.