“Get up, Mr. Mitch-,” Finch’s voice was cut short when he peered into Alan’s room and saw that he was already up and dressed. “Five minutes.”
Alan nodded and grabbed his vest and hat. It had been a week since he joined the 308 precinct, and he still didn’t sleep well, but not from living arrangements. No, Alan couldn’t sleep because all he could think about was Nick Bradford’s horrible fate. He heard some of the magnet crew walking by his room as curfew began the night before. They were talking about Nick, hoping they would see him again. One of the voices shouted, “You idiots, we’re not going to see Nick again. They never come back. You see the board, you don’t see nobody ever again! So shut up about it.”
It was deathly silent after that. Alan wondered how long it would last: when would he be hauled away to the Board? He already had one strike, on his first day no less, so it was entirely possible he’d be gone within the month. He looked down at his dresser, the top drawer open and half-full of simple t-shirts. His hand rested on a watch lying on top of his shirts. The watch was from home, a simple weekender styled number with leather strap and analog face. It held two very conflicting memories for Alan, memories that liked to rise to the surface every so often; especially when he looked at the cracked glass on the face.
Alan soon realized he had an audience and looked up. Athena was standing in the doorway, and Marshall jumped out from behind her, as if he was the surprise for the day.
“Hey, Alan, you ready for week two?” Marshall asked enthusiastically. Athena rolled her eyes, her arms crossed and her left shoulder leaning up against the doorway.
“Sure,” Alan replied half-heartedly, and he put the watch back in the dresser, trying to push the memories – like the drawer – back out of sight.
“Yes, week two is just week one… again,” Athena joked, this time a small crack in her smirk, revealing more humor than cynicism.
“That sounded almost excited, Athena,” Marshall said with a big grin, and the three of them walked down to the lobby for week two of Alan’s job.
Everything seemed to be marching in rhythm now: same lobby, same people, same bus, same route, same site. It was all a matter of routine, and it gave Alan time to ponder how his week had been.
Another day, another beam. Alan tried to pretend he didn’t notice the rest of the Magnet group giving him the evil eye as they began working. He couldn’t blame them. Nick was gone. He was the type of gone that nobody really understood until they lived it. Nick was an unperson. Nobody mentioned him in roll call. The supervisors acted as if he’d never existed. Save for a few sparse remarks from his coworkers, Nick was little more than a fading memory to workers of 308. Alan had ruminated on this fact the entire week, and had come to a conclusion: never again.
Alan decided at some point in his sleep-elusive nights that he was going to be different. If this was the hand he’d been dealt, then he would be as safe as possible. It was one thing getting yourself in trouble; getting someone else in trouble was another thing entirely.
“Never again,” Alan mouthed to himself as he lifted his hand and played support to one of the other Magnet crew members. He was going to make sure he never got someone a strike again, and he was going to honor Nick by playing by the rules.
Lunchtime arrived, and the bell rang out, echoing in the open area. Alan joined Marshall in line outside the food truck, where the groups were receiving their chicken or bean tacos. At least, Alan assumed it was chicken. Castor was standing next to Athena, his face sulking around a cauldron filled with meat ingredient. Alan could see the dead eyes; he knew that look.
“Chicken or bean?” Athena asked Alan.
“Um… what would you recommend?” Alan asked with a smile.
Athena made a half-smile and looked at the two options. “I think I’d go with chicken.”
“Then chicken it is,” Alan said, his voice slightly more optimistic than it had been all day. His eyes then reluctantly moved over to Castor, who was none-too-happy to see the newbie giving him requests. Castor rolled his eyes and prepared some tacos; then he placed them in a paper box on top of some Spanish rice. Alan smiled at Athena – who smiled back – and Alan took his meal back to the picnic tables adjacent to the concrete foundation of their construction site.
Alan looked down and saw oozing refried beans cascading down his tortillas and onto his rice. He wasn’t entirely surprised Castor would give him the exact opposite order.
“Castor,” Alan clenched his teeth, his emotions pitching toward frustration.
“Didn’t you order chicken?” Marshall asked with a big grin.
“I thought so. It was all a blur,” Alan replied in a sour tone.
“I figured as much. Here,” Marshall put his plate in front of Alan. They sure were chicken-esque tacos. “I actually like bean tacos. Everybody thinks I’m nuts, Athena included.”
“She seems to think that about you in general,” Alan joked.
“Oh, look at that. New guy’s got jokes,” Marshall smiled. “Good to see you getting acclimated. Yeah, Athena thinks I’m crazy in general, but aren’t we all a little crazy?”
Alan thought about it for a minute. Marshall had a point. Everyone seemed to be on the verge of anti-social behavior, save for Marshall. It didn’t take much effort to push Nick over the edge toward homicidal behavior. Castor almost melted Finch’s arm off over a small misunderstanding. Athena had bitten Marshall’s head off at dinner merely because Marshall was trying to be positive with his outlook.
“Yeah, everybody seems crazy here. Everybody except for you, Marshall,” Alan said, and he took a bite of his chicken taco.
“What’re you talking about, kid? I’m the craziest one here,” Marshall fired back, his face lacking the trademark smile Alan had grown accustomed to.
“Everyone here is looking for a reason to start a fight, and you just try to keep us sane. What makes you crazy like us?”
“Because, kid,” Marshall replied, and he looked down apathetically at his meal. He stuck a fork in his rice, and cleared his throat. He locked eyes with Alan, and, suddenly, he appeared far older than Alan had considered before.
“I chose to be here.”