Title: Over Time
Rating: PG - Gen - Outside POV
Disclaimers: SPN & characters are owned by their various creators.
Summary: Outside POV - A man staying late for work becomes wary of the suspiciously efficient janitorial staff.
It had started out as a temp job.
One of those month long assignments that came along right in time to get the rent paid. It was just another sprawl of offices to bide his time in until his services were no longer needed. His name was always in the proverbial hat for anything better that came along.
But nothing ever did.
One more week would make his brief transfer into a year. The wait for a call from his agency to somehow trump the situation he had already comfortably settled himself down into had long since faded. It wasn’t some dream job that you imagined telling a class room of young kids about while they couldn’t wait to ask questions. It wasn’t even the highest paying gig he’d ever had considering he’d done his time and half in a few schools. The nicest thing he could say about it was its dental plan.
However, it was an easy job. His office had a window that looked right over the river that caught the light at any time of the day. No one ever parked in the little building parking lot unless they all worked on the same small third floor. There was a florist on the first floor. Some local non profit shabby headquarters on the second that always smelled like burnt coffee. But the last stop at the very top was his and it was all clerical. In fact, the company and staff he worked for he knew in name and letter head only. He and only three others like him worked anonymously, quietly and meticulously amongst stacks of heavy rolling filing cabinets that housed about four decades of insurance claims from people from one coast to the other.
Walking in an hour late made no one but the coffee cart guy downstairs nervous that you wouldn’t drop your usual buck fifty for breakfast. A few hours overtime gave you a silent walk out into the brightly lit lot with the hiss and rush of the highway that sat so close it made his commute to the grocery a longer ordeal that getting behind a desk.
He looked out at the dull glitter of the river as it sparkled gold and orange for the setting sun. Tipping himself about as far back as he could in his chair without falling backwards he took a good look at his garbage can. It wasn’t something he did very often but lately he had cause to check it almost two times a day for the pure wonder of it all.
Usually if he was stupid enough to leave what was left of his lunch in its plastic lined bottom he’d come back on Monday with a problem. By the time the custodial machine got rolling with enough momentum to get to his floor let alone the building, he had to either make the trip to the dumpster himself or open up a few windows.
But not this week.
This week had been drastically different. In a place where little to nothing changed he tended to notice the slightest tweak straight away. Just last month there was nothing short of a ticker tape parade when a new vending machine appeared in that spot on the bottom on the back stair well.
Almost on cue, he could hear the creak of the wheels on the trolley. It carried what usually those things had. A large plastic trash can to empty out all the smaller types on its route. A mop and bucket. An array of unlabelled spray cleaners and other handy things a guy could use when presented with something more than the unexpected mess.
The new janitor always greeted him. It was a far cry from the usual ghost like abilities the staff usually employed. Their English non-existent or not good enough for even the most basic of conversations. With ninja like efficiency, they were usually there and gone before he had a chance to even know they’d stopped by.
He watched the guy take the garbage can out from under his desk and empty it even though it had nothing in it but a few sheets of paper and an empty cup of coffee. A little fascinated, he watched the plastic liner be carefully replaced before the entire thing was set back exactly where it had been found.
“Workin’ hard?” He thought to ask. It seemed like one of those questions you put forth to someone who seemed to actually work for a living. “TGIF right?”
The janitor was taking a good look at the rowdy unchecked ferns sitting along the window sill. If he didn’t want to come off as some gigantic pussy he would have bragged that the largest of the plants was something he had grown from one measly half dead cutting. The actual plant it had come from had been enormous. At least it was until it had been reduced to a tragic tossed salad all over the sidewalk in front of his ex-girlfriend’s place. They’d never gotten married but they sure as hell had gotten a divorce. The only belongings he’d walked away with were all growing green in his new apartment. He almost mentioned that too but it didn’t seem to fit into the kind of thing most men his age found interesting. Or maybe even normal. Some domestication was only easily explained by the presence of a woman or a child. If you didn’t have the right excuses it was best to just keep that happy shit to yourself.
With a small grateful smile, he watched his admittedly parched foliage get a good spritzing from one of the unlabelled spray bottles.
“Workin’ hard, or hardly workin’ huh?” The janitor smiled back.
Normally he would have just given a friendly nod at the careful recitation of language deemed safe for professional exchanges, but the good natured cynicism twisted it all back into something unexpectedly real. It made the tired small talk actually kind of funny so he laughed instead.
“You have yourself a great weekend.” The man in the overalls told him.
For the first time in five days, he finally noticed that the name stitched tag across his chest that said: Riley
“Thanks, uh, R-Riley?” He pointed while he said it to make the connection clear. “Try and get some of that sun they promised us.”
Riley seemed a little distracted by the computer that sat still running on his desk.
“Uh yeah?” He slid his hands into the back pockets of his Khaki dockers. “Bout time this weather let up.”
Glancing at the clock he realized why he and Riley had been intersecting as much as they had for a week. The latest influx of claims from a southern office had doubled his work load with no end in sight. By this time his station was typically dark and quiet but not today. He hadn’t even gotten around to shutting down all the locked active files yet.
“After all this rain.” He murmured as he rubbed the sore muscles on the back of his neck. “It will sure be nice to just sit around outside you know?”
“Right.” Riley’s smile was back, his work gloves tugged on to a better fit before he patted the huge plastic bin on his cart. “In the sun. It sure is great to get some sun.”
He watched the cart wheel into the next tiny office before he turned back to his terminal. There was at least another hour here to be done. With a short exhale he sat back into his chair and cracked his wrist before taking up the mouse.
If he was lucky, he’d miss the tail end of the rush hour and catch what was left of the news. If he was really lucky he’d stay awake long enough to see the end of the game. Even if all those glorious plans fell through he still had some fried chicken sitting in the fridge and at least two beers.
Most people complained about Mondays and he knew enough to keep his ambivalence towards them a secret. If Mondays were bad, the Tuesdays after a long weekend usually made people want to drive their cars into solid brick walls rather than have to walk back into the inside of a fluorescent lit cubicle.
But with the extended stay away, there came another strange surprise.
It looked like the very small custodial staff of one had grown into a grand total of two within the span of one holiday weekend. He wasn’t sure if complaining was the right way to go about it when he found the state of his working area. His office was not only vacuumed clean along side with the sharp chemical scent of Windex, but the jammed fax machine was miraculously unstuck and his cracked phone replaced with one he was sure he’d seen in the break room but never bothered to claim as his own.
Walking towards the aforementioned break room so he could microwave his frozen lunch, he paused when he saw the hall closet was ajar and wedged open with a small rubber door stop. He’d always had a rabid curiosity of rooms that were usually locked away from public view. This particular door had a plaque on it that neatly said: PERSONNEL & LABOR STATION
Its vague assertion of importance left a lot to his considerable imagination. It was like finally getting a look into the inexplicable depths of Snoopy’s dog house. Wondering what exactly he’d witness inside, he slowed his pace to get a good look at just how far back the metal racks of mystical cleaning equipment could go. He imagined a large soft flowered old sofa in there for the guys to sit around on and watch TV. Maybe a pinball machine or an old Pac Man—
“H-Hi.” He had no idea that Riley knew his name. However, there were only four live human beings on the entire floor so it made sense that he’d picked it up from somewhere. “Have a good weekend?”
“Sure did.” Riley practically beamed at the words, pointing at him while he nodded in remembrance of their talk. “Got lots of sun!”
“Good. That’s good.” He rocked back and forth in his loafers suddenly at a complete loss at to what to say. “Heard you got someone to help you out around here?”
Just as he said it, he heard movement somewhere in the depths of the Personnel & Labor Station. That gritty screech of a metal bucket across concrete and the sharp sputter of a utility sink turning on and off. The newest addition to the office staff abruptly appeared pushing a trolley of his own.
He frowned. He wasn’t a racist and he wasn’t narrow minded but he’d seen his share of corporate America and the people who worked there. From the first time he’d laid eyes on Riley he knew something just didn’t quite add up. In fact, he had already made up some story in his head that the only reason the guy was here cleaning toilets for minimum wage was because he probably just got out of that prison one town over. But this guy, the new one, he looked even younger than Riley and his face just didn’t scream misdemeanor in any way, shape or form.
“I got to ask…” He shifted in place, not sure how to put his thoughts into words without offending anyone. “Are-are you guys… are you…”
They both paused to give him their full undivided attention which on some weird level flattered him as much as it made him uncomfortable. The thought of offending one or both of them seemed less likely than a good old fashioned punch to the mouth. Reconsidering only for a moment, he decided to give it a try anyway.
“Are you both—going to school? Or something?”
He didn’t want to say that the typical guy behind that mop was a lot older, a little newer into the country and didn’t necessarily have a ton of options to explore in regards to a career that would pay enough to feed some children and extended family.
It was the new kid that spoke first. He was a big fucker that fit into the one size fits all jumpsuit with about as much grace as to be expected. For some reason his overalls had the exact same name on them as Riley’s. Maybe it was a last name. The thought that he had maybe been dropping a formal surname around like they were old friends immediately made him feel like a huge ass hat.
“My-my brother?” The tall kid gestured sideways to Riley One who was nodding pleasantly enough. “He said they were looking for some extra help and I really needed the work—“
“It’s just for the week.” Riley One cut in. “Got all that basement clean up to do.”
Oh yeah. The basement. He had forgotten all about that mess of filing that went back probably to the second world war. They were actually going to clear that stuff out of there? They’d need to break down a wall and drive in a forklift. He started to feel a little sorry for these two men and the amount of dreary tasks that were laid out ahead for them.
“Oh, okay, well, nice to meet you Ril-,” He caught himself before he said Riley Two. “Nice to meet you?”
As he walked down the hall his thoughts wandered off and far away from his awaiting hot pocket that he daily scalded his mouth on. Mindlessly shoving the icy lump into the microwave, he sat down numbly on one of the plastic chairs and stared at the slow count down of digital red numbers on the display.
If he knew anything about anything at all, he would put down cash money that these boys were not here for the reason they said they were. You would have to make a game show with some pretty grand prizes to find healthy white men in their youth willing to do hard labor for under five bucks an hour. His thoughts turned to the fresh plastic liner in his pristine garbage can and the well watered African Violets. No one paid to clean did their job that well. If watching bad movies like it was his second income had taught him anything else, it was that people did certain things so they could check out a place without being noticed. The correct term was ‘casing a joint.’
But casing it for what?
This office contained nothing but an aged firm’s data that hadn’t caught up with the 21st century methods of information storage. Transferring all the bulk and weight of humanity all down onto something that could fit in the palm of your hand hadn’t even begun here. Even if what the building housed was magically made easily accessible, it was next to worthless. There was nothing to steal here but a few years supply of paperclips and a couple pricey ink cartridges for the copy machine.
But if they weren’t here to rob the place, then why the hell were they here?
His hot pocket was probably cool enough to eat without removing any part of his mouth with it by now. His hunger was missing however. Maybe he would just get another cup of that hazelnut decaf stuff and pretend dinner was just another hour away.
“Hey, uh Jeff?”
He was startled from the steady stare he was now giving the silent microwave.
Riley One was half way in the door, leaving it partially closed like he’d invaded the sanctity of a bedroom or something.
“Can I borrow your car keys?”
"My car keys?” He repeated in confusion.
If the Rileys weren’t here to take some hidden bricks of gold stashed under the worn floor boards they sure as hell weren’t here to heist a 1992 Dodge caravan. It had the faux wood paneling on the sides and everything. It hurt him a little when he thought about what fate had forced to him to buy gas for, and he hesitated to go ahead and say yes because the idea of this man seeing what he drove embarrassed him for some reason.
Riley seemed to get that vibe although he hadn’t said a thing.
“Hey, it’s cool, I just thought I’d—“
“No, no. It’s fine.” He sighed and patted his pockets until he heard the soft jangle of metal. Considering he was just pondering that this man may have just finished some jail time, he wondered at the trust he seemed to have in a person he barely even knew. “What do you need them for?”
Riley blinked at him as if the question had come out of no where.
“Uh, we just have to move your car. Those back seats come right out right?”
A little dazed, he nodded. It was one of the reason’s his ex had wanted the car so much. All those trips down to Home Depot for that garden she never started. All that room for a dog they never bought.
“Hey, it’s the perfect size.” Riley’s smile renewed with vigor when he quickly observed the lack of enthusiasm. “Even got one of them overhead racks!”
Size? Was it in the way? All he could think of down in that little parking lot was that dumpster-like lock box for Good Will clothes drop offs, a FedEx pick up slot and the old rusted double doors that lead down to the cellar.
“Perfect size for what?”
Riley licked his lips and nodded solemnly as if the question hadn’t been a question at all and had instead been some interesting fact.
The janitor caught the tossed keys easily right out of the air.
“You have to kinda jimmy the lock a little to get in—“
“And that CD I left playing in there heh, I don’t really listen to Bryan Adams all that much. Like ever?” He managed a weak smile. “A-A friend left it in my player—“
Riley held up the keys on the small novelty ring from a long ago vacation to Seaworld. “I’ll get these right back atcha.”
The door was already swinging shut before he realized his question was never really answered.
He finished up much later than he suspected he would.
One hour turned into two. Two turned into four. He could barely believe his eyes when he glanced down at the small clock face that ticked steadily up on his desktop. He wasn’t even close to done but that was the nature of his occupation. The paper work never actually ceased. It ebbed and flowed. If you knew that your task never really had a point to focus on over the yawning expanse of its overwhelming horizon, you could make it through your day just fine.
It was only after he got his jacket on that he remembered Riley had never reappeared with his keys.
By the time he got down to the first floor he saw another often locked passage sitting wide open. The basement was about ten times as exciting as the storage closets for the simple reason that they were opened even less often. He had descended into its ill lit depths on exactly three occasions. Each time down the old service elevator to roll a few quarters worth of deactivated insurance policies down into no man’s land. There was sort of a filing system down there if you looked hard enough. More like find a box that was as close to the current year you existed in and start a new stack where there was room.
He paused at the top of the steep incline of metal grating.
“Hello?” Stepping down a few more, he leaned down under the railing to see if he could get a glimpse of the custodians. “Anyone down here?”
The first thing he noticed when he reached the cellar floor was that there was a cold draft blowing through the teetering aisles of sagging cardboard and loose yellowed binders. The air was as fresh and as frigid as the outdoors. The usual mildew and musty decay that typically made his lungs start to seize up within minutes of the room’s exposure made it a welcome relief. The second thing he noticed was that every bare bulb that hung down the center row of the room was turned on, shedding more light down there than he’d ever personally seen.
It was hard to notice shifts in chaos, but he did. Entire staggering heaps had been reallocated and moved to completely different sides of the cavernous room. Some piles had been simply knocked over and scattered just to get a look at what could be underneath it all. The most recent additions, which counted in the last ten years were all more or less nicely packed away in decomposing boxes. Those had been relocated like house bricks all around the center of the place. The meager bulb light was the most concentrated there. A few brand new clip on floods added to the concentrated illumination.
It wasn’t a lot but it allowed him to see a folding table and a few chairs sitting in the middle of the room with an empty pizza box laying on top of it. Just beyond that was what looked like... a pit.
Walking slowly to its edge, he found the wide set of steps that lead out to the parking lot not far behind it. It was an imperfect rectangular hole. Deeper than what he expected until he got close enough for the light to reflect down to its very bottom. The earth that had been removed out from under the loose floor boards had been set aside in a tidy pile. There was nothing in the hole. Nothing but a cast off shovel with the damp dirt caked all around its edge.
Blinking up at the glare of street lights, he soon emerged out into the deserted parking lot. His car wasn’t where he had left it, but set on the opposite side, backed into a space like he would never do because he was always too paranoid about hitting other parked cars.
There was no note on the windshield.
His door was unlocked to his mixture of relief and annoyance. The keys were sitting in the ignition as if some valet had just stepped away for a moment to go help with the next person in need of their vehicle. Sliding behind the wheel he noticed that his seat was farther back than he liked it. The mirrors were tilted in odd directions. Looking back into his rear seats he saw they had been flattened down as if the back had been used to haul something.
Squeezing his hands on the wheel he saw more fresh earth crumbled in a fine outline against his faded blue upholstery. It was as if someone had laid down a tarp that was almost filled with the stuff but some had slipped over every so slightly at its edges and—
Heart pounding, he fumbled for his cell phone. Taking deep breaths he stared at the glow of the numbers for a while before he slowly snapped it shut again.
With a small strange laugh he let his hands fall back into his lap.
What was he going to say? He found a hole?
Whatever it was down there in the dark, forgotten and hidden, those two boys had gotten it. Taken it away right under who knew how many noses, and borrowed an employee ride right on top of it.
The cellar doors sounded like the loudest things on the planet when they slammed shut. The old rattle of rusted chain looped back through the latches as easy as they had been there for all those years. The weird thing was that it would take almost another year for anyone to venture down there to see what the hell had gone on. If anything had gone on. Staying his hand on the corrugated metal, he wasn’t quite sure if anything actually had.
The keen urge to know what exactly was behind all those locked doors suddenly became unappealing to him. Secrets that required a key and a password seemed like they should stay that way, left for only a few to know and see.
He felt his hand feel and turn the sticky ignition, pushing it inwards when it didn’t want to move. The engine grumbled to life, and his CD player clicked on just where it had left off the last time someone had been driving it.
Guess old Riley had left him a small note after all.