by J.D. Tuccille
Job hunting? Psshaww. Itís a bitch, isnít it? Sometimes it seems like the whole world is against you. Seems? Maybe it is a conspiracy ...
Job interview day. Itís the seventh interview in response to 372 resumes. Not just an abysmally low ratio of interviews to mailed resumes, but every fourth or fifth job application brings a nasty, unsigned response that defames my skills, background and personal character.
My hands shake as I enter the lobby.
"Hello," I say. "Iím here to see Ms. Gavin, the Personnel Director."
The receptionist looks at me blankly. "Ms. Gavin?" she says. "We donít have any Ms. Gavin."
My mouth goes dry.
"Oh, wait. Ms. Gavin is new. One second."
I wait. I try to read an old copy of Time magazine left to yellow on the coffee table. It features an article on the terrible situation in Europe. I close the magazine and fidget.
"Hello, Iím Ms. Gavin. I hope you havenít been waiting long."
"Not long," I mutter, though I had been tempted to return to the magazine.
She laughs. "I just started here as Personnel Director and Iím still getting settled in. Have a seat right there. Can I get you a cup of coffee."
"Sure," I say. "That would be nice."
She disappears around the corner. I wait. Too much time passes.
"Ms. Gavin," I call, rising from the chair. I walk down the hallway towards the sound of voices. From behind, I see Ms. Gavin speaking with a tall, distinguished man, graying at the temples.
"No, no, I already told you," the man says. "His name is on the list. All these names are on the list - they must never be hired. It is dangerous to even bring them in."
"But this is monstrous," Ms. Gavin answers. There is anger in her voice, and something else: horror. "I never expected . . . I mean, I knew, but I never expected . . ."
"We told you about the list when you were initiated. They brought it on themselves. Of course, if youíre having second thoughts . . ."
They notice me.
"How long have you been standing there?" the man barks.
My jaw drops, then snaps shut. "The list?" I ask.
"He knows," the man hisses.
"Sir," Ms. Gavin interrupts. Her face is chalky white. "Please have a seat in my office. Iíll be with you in a moment."
I turn to leave. Behind me, the man whispers, at the edge of hearing, "He heard us. You know what must be done."
I walk briskly up the hallway, past Ms. Gavinís office, and out through the lobby doors. I donít look back. On the street I nervously glance from side to side as I cross against the light to lose myself in the crowd. Digging into my pocket, I count the money. One bill plus a fistful of silver. Enough for either a sandwich or a beer. My legs tremble. I opt for the beer.
In the bar, I drop one of the remaining coins into the pay phone and punch a number on the keypad.
"Hello, could I speak to Mr. Mulcahy in Human Resources?"
There is a brief pause.
"Yes, hello, Mr. Mulcahy. I applied for the position you posted about two weeks ago, and I wanted to see if any decision had been made."
"Yes, sir. We did look over all the resumes that we received, but we decided on another applicant."
"I see, thank you. One more question. Is my name, by any chance, on the list?"
The line goes dead.
Another coin clatters down the chute.
Again, "Iím sorry to hear that. By the way, could you tell me if my name is on the list?"
That evening, I meet friends for drinks. Itís a regular crew who are kind enough to spot me for about half the cost of our evenings out.
"Itís crazy," I say. "Iím starting to think that thereís more to it than just bad luck. Almost like thereís an organized effort, maybe even a conspiracy. They use something called the list."
"Youíve been out of work too long," one says.
I laugh too. "Hey, even paranoids have enemies."
Mary excuses herself to go to the rest room. I watch her curiously. It occurs to me that sheís a hiring officer at her company. I rise from the table, and walk to the back of the restaurant.
Mary is on the phone. She whirls to face me.
"How much do you know?"
"Just enough," I answer.
"You should have left well enough alone. We would have made it relatively painless."
"I donít think so. Itís time to blow the whistle."
"Itís too late for that. Besides, youíll never have the proof." Mary reaches slowly into her purse.
I turn and run.
My apartment has been tossed. Oh, itís not obvious; they did a professional job. But, I can tell by the subtle shifting of bric a brac, by the odd thumb print on the bathroom mirror. Theyíve been here.
And they left their calling card. On the chalk board by the phone, two words: The list. Two words that you might expect on any chalk board by any phone, except I never wrote them.
I start leaving messages for others like me, others who know. Are you on the list, I write on slips of paper that I stuff into job search books at the library. If so, call me.
And they call. First, an out-of work auto mechanic. "I accidentally tuned them in on a car radio I was fixing," he says. "Musta been freak atmospheric conditions."
Next, a one-time stockbroker who hasnít seen a paycheck in two years. "The hiring officer at my old brokerage house told me. Right before he hanged himself."
"We know," they say. "Weíve heard about the list. Weíve heard about their schemes. Others who spoke up disappeared, or worse, so we kept our mouths shut. What can we do?"
We meet someplace different every time. One day a crowded restaurant. The next, down by the pier. Weíre careful, but we know that weíre being watched.
A stranger stops me on the street. "Come with me," he says. He shows me the gun under his coat, all blued steel and gaping muzzle. "Some people want to talk to you."
I shake my head and start to move away. Powerful arms pin me from behind. "Help," I yell, "theyíre going to kill me!" but the passing crowd seems not to notice.
They hustle me into the back seat of a car. The doors donít have handles on the inside. We move off at a fast clip, one goon looking back over the seat with his gun pointed at me.
"Why are you doing this? Whatís with the list?"
"You know," he says. "You brought it on yourself. You, and the others."
Suddenly, a pick-up truck cuts us off.
"Who is it?" one goon shrieks. "Not one of ours."
The doors are wrenched open. Itís the mechanic and two others of our group. The mechanic holds the goons at bay with an acetylene torch as we run for safety.
"I thought they were up to something," the mechanic says. "So we followed you."
"Itís a good thing too," I answer. "The fun and games are over. Itís time to fight."
Now we hide in the hills, living off of pilfered cans of beef stew and bottles of Old Granddad. Daily, our numbers grow. Mechanics, stockbrokers, painters, word processors and talk show hosts answer our call and swell our ranks. By day, the enemy patrols seek us out, but we are too wily for them. We escaped the list, and now we muster our strength, learning the old ways. At night, the sound of our drums echoes through the wilderness, and down to the city streets. Soon we will move. Then, we will see whose names go on the list.
Now, Iím not saying that they really are out to get us, but sometimes you have to wonder ...