Angel Among Them: Prologue
I never cared much for Tuesdays. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and even Thursday get more attention. Tuesdays are sort of this “blah,” second work-day of the week sort of misery day. As I sat there on the rooftop of the forty-two story building in downtown Chicago that housed the 13,384 employees of the Chicago Area Network Analysis and Data Acquisition Corporation, or CANADA Corp., my mind flew through my agenda for the rest of the day. I was running ahead of schedule, so I decided to take in the view.
The CANADA Corporation was a multi-national data brokerage firm, leveraging their popular social networking websites to mine data on millions of people across the globe. The sites are so immensely popular that inevitably it attracted criminals, terrorists, and politicians. Whole businesses have been developed around consulting business professionals and celebrities alike on using these sites without ruining their image or giving away their privacy. The CANADA Corporation takes the data they mine and sell it to marketing professionals for research on various demographics and their tastes in, well, everything.
Down below on the streets in front of the office building, tiny people moved along the sidewalks, shuffling on to their own office buildings and into taxis or stopping at a street vendor for coffee and a biscotti or whatever the hell yuppie business people find trendy this week. One young man amused me; he stepped off a bus in his second-hand Oxford suit with a tattered messenger bag he’d had since college. His shoes were always slightly scuffed even though he polished them every night, no matter how hard he tried to protect them. He hurried towards the office building – he’d be late in less than thirty seconds.
I’d be late as well, but that was my way. I walked over to the roof access door and re-entered the building security code, then returned down the ill-lit staircase to the 37th floor. No one even noticed I walked in. I headed over to the department manager’s office and handed him my business card.
“Mr. Barclay, so nice to finally meet the man behind the voice on the phone,” the office manager chirped. I see his type all the time in my line of work. They’re overworked, underpaid, and commanding a dozen or so others even more so than he. When a high-dollar self-employed consultant is hired to come in for any reason, they stand at attention. They want to ask half a dozen questions about how you got your start, how can they break out of the rat race, how much do I take home per year, etc. He was balding prematurely, and probably had a young one at home from the small stain on his shoulder he was trying to draw attention away from.
“I understand you have been hired by the company to provide a third-party security evaluation. It all sounds very exciting. We’ve received your paperwork and instructions and are ready to assist you in any way possible,” he said almost flirting. The office manager handed me a keycard and told me to take my run of the building. I thanked him and pulled out a small personal digital assistant and made some notes as I made an apathetic exit into the hallway.
Picking myself up off the floor, I dusted off my pants and helped up the young man in the second-hand Oxford suit that had just collided with me in the hallway. He had almost wet himself with fear, I thought, as he profusely apologized and I handed him his messenger bag. I offered him my business card and used language that suggested I wanted to discuss with him a job opportunity. We took a walk to the stairs, then up to the roof.
“Take a look over the edge, friend. See all those people scurrying about? They don’t have power. They don’t have control. They don’t even have it all figured out. They have money, but they keep it at the price of never living a life bigger than all of this. I know what you’re thinking. It’s easy to talk about living a life bigger than just earning money when you have money.” The young man nodded nervously in agreement.
I pulled out a small hand-held video camera from my pocket and flipped open the viewfinder. The young intern stepped closer to see the tiny screen. I hit play and his mouth hung wide open as he saw his boss in the break room on their floor, apparently after hours, mid-coitus with the office secretary. The young man seemed less interested in the distinct breach of the office anti-fraternization policy and more interested in how that man managed to bluff the top-heavy office assistant into such an encounter.
“Meet me at the café at this address in half an hour – go now, it’ll take you that long to get there. I’ve cleared the day off with pay for you with your boss. He has no idea I’m recruiting you, so it would be wise not to mention it.” The young office intern offered his thanks and headed down through the roof access door as nervously as he had entered. Once the roof access door closed, I could hear him give a jubilant shout. Then as though he had realized he could still be heard, he scuffled down the rest of the stairs to the top office floor and took the elevator the rest of the way down.
Here I was again, up on that roof top. The view was incredible from up there. I pulled out my PDA and made a few more taps on the screen. It was time for my next appointment. I called the office manager from the roof top and asked him to meet me in the hallway outside the office by the elevator. I made my way down the stairs back to the 37th floor. Waiting anxiously by the elevator was the balding office manager. He had, at this point, sweat a small spot around each of his armpits, and was beading around the forehead.
“Let’s go upstairs. We’ll take the elevator to the 40th floor, I want to show you something about your security cameras.” We traveled upstairs in the service elevator without saying a word. I lead the portly, sweaty corporate ox into one of the conference rooms on the backside of the building.
Closing the door behind me, I pulled out the video camera. I set it on the table in front of him and pressed the play button. I could see his blood pressure rising by his face turning a rosy hue as the scene unfolded on screen. Pushing the pause button, he looked ready to explode, if only he’d had the chance.
I will never fully understand why the crunching noise in your head, like when crackers or potato chips are chewed, is so entirely satisfying. Still, as I drew my head back from this obese, philandering bastard’s neck, I noted that the man’s cholesterol-laden ventricles had almost ruined an otherwise gratifying feeding. His lifeblood tasted bitter and salty, reminding me of the grease pit I once flipped burgers at back in the borough. Everything brought back memories these days.
Still a few taps more on the PDA, and I made a call to the secretary on the 37th floor.
“Hey Susan, it’s Gerald. Listen, that consultant left for the day. He had some emergency out of town with another client and took a cab to the airport.” It would appear that the portly office manager, at least aurally, had been resurrected.
“Listen Susan, I’m going to lunch. If anybody needs me, tell them to e-mail me and I’ll get it when I get back.” I stepped to the edge of the forty-two story CANADA Corporation building rooftop. There were 13,382 employees inside the building stapling, filing, collating, pulling reports and creating graphs, spreadsheets, and charts for their clients across the globe.
Standing outside the door at the café, I made two more taps on my personal digital assistant. Several café patrons flung around, nearly spilling an espresso on the floor, in reaction to what sounded like thunder localized to the other side of the city. It was a beautiful day out, no clouds or rain in sight. A breaking news alert fifteen minutes later told the anxious people that a gas leak on the 40th floor of the CANADA Corporation building caused an explosion. There was still no word on whether anyone was hurt, the floor was scheduled for fumigating later that afternoon.
I sat down across from the now pale-faced young intern, formerly of the CANADA Corporation. On the table I began to configure the cardboard shipping box I picked up on the way there to its proper shape. I placed the bubble wrap around the digital video camera and then placed it in the box and began to fill out the shipping label. Tap, tap, tap. “CANADA Corp. Accounting Manager,” the screen glowed on the PDA. I copied the home address listed on to the shipping label, and pushed the parcel aside.
“So, is this like some sort of job interview?” the young intern asked, puzzled.
“Tell me where you see yourself in one hundred years.”