I haven’t been sleeping too well. Instead of lying in bed and dreaming, I toss and turn. I think I’ve been working too hard. That maybe I haven’t been home enough. That my headache has finally gotten the best of me.
Beth said it’s because I’ve turned into a real asshole. She said she hardly knows me anymore. She didn’t marry a sonofabitch, she said when she called to tell me about Sam Johnson.
Sam Johnson put a .12 gauge shotgun in his mouth and used a pen to push the trigger. He didn’t have long arms to begin with, so even with the pen it must have been a stretch. The pen was the gold one he got a few years back from the motel to celebrate his twenty-years of working there. I wonder what happened to that pen.
Sam’s sister found him after he wouldn’t answer her calls, the top of his head blown off with brain and skull and mush and goo splattered on the ceiling. He was sitting in the worn recliner of his one-bedroom duplex on the bad side of town. The duplex, Beth reminded me, that he had to move into after he lost his job and couldn’t afford his mortgage.
Sam’s neighbors said they didn’t hear anything and that’s why they never called the cops. Sam’s sister told Beth it must have been tough hearing anything, what with their television on so loud. And the soiled mattress on the floor. And the dirty coffee table with powder and spoons and little baggies on it. I didn’t get what those last things had to do with noise.
Sam was living there because he lost his job at the motel. He lost his job because I got him fired from it.
When we worked at the front desk together, Sam told me he often found himself dozing off in the back during his shift. With a wink, he said something might be wrong with his diabetes prescription. He used air quotes around prescription and took another sip of coffee, steaming with Folgers and whiskey. He said his boss had his head waaay up his ass, and if he were running things he’d have this motel sold out every night, and not the same rooms two or three times a night either. Sam Johnson would make this a respectable place, Sam said, because Sam Johnson didn’t have his head up his ass. Then Sam checked his watch and asked if I wanted lunch, and when I said why not, he pulled money out the register and off we went.
I told Sam’s boss what Sam had to say. Beth’s father was Sam’s boss. He owns a chain of motels in the Amarillo, Lubbock, Abilene, Midland and El Paso areas. He’s trying to move into the eastern part of the state, and just opened a branch outside of San Angelo. Sam had worked for Beth’s father at the flagship motel in Amarillo for the last twenty-some-odd years. He was her father’s first employee. They were best friends, Beth’s father said, before he became a backstabbing sonofabitch. He was like an uncle, Beth said, before I betrayed him.
Beth said she hopes I’m happy with his blood on my hands. She called me a murderer and hung up after saying she wants a divorce. I tried telling her it’s not my fault Sam Johnson blew his brains out. I tried telling her I didn’t force him to sleep and drink on the job. He did that. He made his own decisions, and I just did my job. Either way, I haven’t been sleeping too well.
Before working with Sam, I was a member in good standing of the Lone Star Temporary Employment Agency in Austin.
About two or three times a week I’d get a call from the agency’s automated message machine around six in the morning. I’d answer it and go back to bed, and after I’d hit the snooze button twice, I’d wake up, pack a lunch, put on a collared shirt, kiss Beth goodbye, then go off to whichever secretarial, day laborer, or telecommuting gig needed me. I’d do the work to the best of my ability, whether it was billing insurance policies for dental crowns or laying handicapped-accessible sidewalks. Usually, I pretty much had no idea what I was doing. When my day ended, I’d leave a note for the manager and, despite the occasional sexual harassment, on-the-clock drug abuse, or threats of physical violence from the more permanent employees, I’d write how I loved working here!, and I left you a copy of my resume with references upon request!, and it would be a fantastic opportunity to work for such a wonderful organization on a full-time basis!
Other mornings I’d wake up without a call and wander out to the front yard and check the lock on the fence surrounding the house Beth and I rented in the only neighborhood we could afford. The fence that hadn’t stopped anyone from stealing our car radio three times. It didn’t block out the noise from police helicopters hovering overhead and spotlighting our street at all hours. The fence that didn’t stop my car from getting the random bullet hole it got last year. After I’d check that, I’d go back to bed.
Beth and I met a few years earlier at UT Austin –Go Longhorns– and moved in together and got married. Then the economy went to shit and her thesis got her a job folding sweaters at Dillard’s, and my MBA got me doing whatever the agency’s automated message machine told me to do. We could’ve asked Beth’s father for help but Beth wouldn’t allow it. He had already paid for her schooling, she’d say, and she wasn’t going to ask for another handout. As far as Beth was concerned, her daddy could go on thinking we lived in a nicer part of town and that her thesis got her a good job just fine. I, on the other hand, refused to lie, hoping anyone who’d hear might know of any entry-level pity positions available. We didn’t know what we were going to do when the baby was born in a few weeks. Needless to say, I didn’t have an excuse for Beth’s father when he called and offered a few day’s work.
“Timothy,” he barked, after Beth handed me the phone. With chopsticks she took a bite of her Chinese take-out then rested her hand on her belly. She went back to trying to figure out which of her letters could be added to BRIS so she could get the triple word score.
“Yes sir,” I said.
“Need you to drive up to Amarillo and help me out,” he said. He said the San Angelo opening was taking longer than expected, and he hadn’t any time to hire anybody to help Sam Johnson, the manager.
I wanted to tell him I’d be hard pressed to miss the few days of work I got each week, and that I didn’t know what I would do if one of the seventy jobs I applied to called for an interview. That I didn’t want to work at a run-down motel in Amarillo. That I had an MBA.
“I’ll pay you for it,” he said.
“When do you want me there?” I asked. Beth added H and U and got thirty-three points.