"This must be what it's like to go crazy." Jason said, sipping his latte and closing his eyes.
"Don't say that."
"Seriously, I mean what else feels like this. Maybe that's it. That would explain almost everything."
Jason ran his fingers through long, oily, black hair.
"The only thing that doesn't fit is that crazy people never wonder if they might be crazy, I do. I spend about two hours every night trying to get to sleep and that is the thought that circles through my head."
"And, since I wonder, I can't be crazy. If I was crazy I'd be sure of myself and convinced that everything fit. The fact that I wonder, disqualifies me from craziness."
The coffee shop was as empty as New York coffee shops ever get. It was 11:47 AM, and the college student who made the coffee was trying as hard as she possibly could to not eavesdrop on the weirdest conversation she'd ever tried not to eavesdrop on.
The man with black hair she knew, he was a regular. He came in about four times a week and always with someone new. His conversations were usually spirited and always in semi-hushed tones. The other man was not a regular
She turned a page in the book she was holding but not reading. The new man was tall. Just tall enough to notice, not tall enough to have to duck coming through the door. Try as she had, she didn't manage to get a good look at his face when he came in. He always seemed to be looking away or down. He sat, now, with his back to her.
"I don't see why you're going on so. Why not just keep writing."
"You have to be kidding." Jason snapped. "I can't ever write again. I can't be responsible for the thousands of deaths you want to lay on my head."
"We have an agreement."
"No," Jason shook his head, staring into his mug, "I didn't agree to this. You said that the work I did was for the good of all mankind."
"That's what I said?"
"Not you- the first one of you, the one I met first."
"That doesn't sound like something we would say." The tall man replied, adjusting his hat.
The hat was strange. It was a dark gray mobster-style hat with a thin black band circling it. It gave the girl behind the counter the impression of the kind of hat a cheap magician might try to pull a rabbit out of. It didn't look like the fashionable kind of hat a man as well dressed as the tall man would wear.
"You can't make me write today, I won't do it." Jason said.
The tall man nodded and got up. He carefully slid his chair back into place and made for the door.
"Nothing will happen. Then what will you do?" Jason said in a slightly raised voice.
The tall man paused at the door, he didn't turn but spoke straight into the door.
"We'll do what we have to do."
"I'm not afraid. I'd rather die than do this." Jason said running his finger around the rim of his cup, staring blankly at the cup.
The tall man waited a moment and then pushed the door open.
As he stepped out noises from the city rushed in. The door gently closed. Silence returned to the small coffee shop.
The next morning at nine-fifteen in the morning the girl behind the counter was bored out of her mind. Yuppies on cell phones and students on laptops had poured in and out ordering lattes, coffees, and teas but there wasn't a single worthy conversation to listen in on.
Partly out of boredom and partly out of a desire to look for a new job, the young and moderately attractive girl opened the daily paper. Boredom won out over self advancement and she started scanning headlines. She immediately noticed something was wrong.
There was no mention of tension in the middle-east. The was no looming conflict with North Korea. Insurgents weren't reorganizing in Afghanistan or Iraq. Men weren't being stabbed, women weren't being raped, children weren't being kidnapped.
NASDAQ was up, S&P was up. Unemployment was at an all time low. Gas was cheap again.
She dropped the paper and took a step back. Just then the city's hum entered the shop, as did Jason.
He walked up to the counter and tapped his fingers nervously a few times.
"I'll have a red-eye." He said, nodding.
She started the shot of espresso and half filled a cup with coffee.
Jason's eyes were red, and his eyelids were doing their best to hide the fact. He looked like sleep hadn't come easy or at all.
"Room for cream?" She asked.
She poured the shot of espresso into the coffee and handed it across the counter.
Jason took it, in both hands, drinking from it immediately. Shivvering in delight he took several sips while standing at the counter, facing the girl.
She gave him the look she thought he deserved for acting so strange in public. He didn't notice.
"Rough night?" She asked, starting to feel sorry for someone who needed caffeine so bad, so late in the morning.
Jason laughed made eye contact with the girl for the first time since he came in.
"No." he said, serious "Haven't you read the paper, it was a great night. Not one bad thing happened anywhere."
"Yeah!" She said, "So weird, huh. The stories in this paper are dull. They're all about firemen rescuing cats in trees and stuff like that."
"Nice change, right." He said.
"No." A stern voice said from behind Jason.
Jason spun, startled. He spilled some hot coffee on his hand and cursed.
The girl behind the counter jumped as well. Their had been no noise from the city, she could almost swear the door to the coffee shop hadn't opened.
"You're fired." He said, scowling at Jason.
"Great!" Jason fired back, "Better news still."
Jason stood still a moment. He had the look of a rabbit in the median of a four lane.
"Go home and sleep." The tall man said to Jason, "Before we change our mind."
Jason hesitated a moment, then walked for the door. He stopped a step from the door. He sat his mug of coffee on the table nearest the door.
Sound from the city crept in as Jason left. The tall man smiled, taking off a pair of black leather gloves.
"I'll take a coffee, light and sweet." He said.
The girl behind the counter made the coffee, never taking her eyes off the tall man.
"So you're looking for a job, eh?" the tall man said, pointing to the open paper.
She frowned, glancing to the paper she could of sworn was open to headlines and not classifieds. Sure enough, though, it was open to the career section.
"Sorta, I guess." She said, handing the man his coffee.
"Don't like making coffee?"
"It's okay, I just feel like I could do more."
"What's your major?" The tall man asked.
The man smiled.
"How'd you know I'm in college?"
The man shrugged pulling out a business card and handing it to her.
"Check out this address if you feel like writing for a living." The tall man said, turning his back and walking to the table near the door where Jason left his mug. He sat down, as if he was sitting across from him.
The girl behind the counter opened her laptop and opened her web browser. She typed in the address and waited. The page loaded instantly. A white page with black text filled her monitor.
For the good of all mankind, we need writers!
Starting Salary: $200 per day
Job Description: In poor writing, the heroes triumph; we are looking for writers willing to write "life". Sometimes the good guy slips on a patch of ice and breaks his neck the day after rescuing the damsel in distress. Sometimes the cruise missile can't be shot down and the government offices and the school next door are destroyed. If you can write life, we'd love to have you working for us.
Expectations: We expect no less than one hundred words per day of life quality writing. No exemption for illness.
Accept - - - - - Decline
It was the single weirdest job recruiting web site she'd ever visited. She really wished there was a link labeled 'more information'. Her eyes glanced to and from the salary.
She clicked accept. Instantly the next page loaded.
Please, in no less than thirty words, give us an example of the kind of story you believe we are looking for. You have three minutes before your text will be automatically submitted for review.
The cursor blinked steadily in the text box below the prompt. A counter in the corner of her screen read 2:55. Then 2:54.
She leapt to the keyboard. Pushing thoughts like, 'this is probably a scam,' and 'I hope no one comes in while I'm doing this,' out of her mind, she hammered out a quick little story about a man who got into an argument with a lady who's dog barked at him and was shot in the back by the lady's intoxicated boyfriend.
The story was campy, dull, and rife with spelling errors, but it was finished 49 words long, and with three seconds to spare.
The page disappeared and a new one loaded.
Thank you for your submission. You will be notified by email if we are interested.
She entered her email address and then closed her laptop. She couldn't help but feel that she had no chance at getting the job and that the whole thing had been a terrible waste of time.
Noise from the city reentered the coffee shop as the tall man left, smiling widely.
Jason fell to the concrete blood staining his white t-shirt. The last sound he heard was the shrill bark of a dog.
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