It was Lyle’s first day at his new job. He had just moved into the city from about an hour out west and had spent some time before looking for a new job but had found nothing of interest. He had worked for years in the restaurant industry but wanted to find something a bit more lucrative. It’s not that he didn’t enjoy waiting tables or sleeping with waitresses, he just hated people. He had hoped to settle into something smaller but less intimate. He didn’t want to have to build false bonds of friendship with dozens of people every day. But sadly for Lyle, the staffing firm that he submitted his resume to had found him a job at a call center. The job would see Lyle making copious cold calls and he would continue to build false bonds of friendship every day.
On his first morning he wanted to make a good impression and was determined to show up early. He had heard that this was the proper thing to do when starting an office job. In that regard, it didn’t seem all that different from his restaurant gig, but, it did pay a lot better. After getting off the train and made his way through the tunnel and towards the stairs. As he climbed up the concrete steps the stench of urine grew permeated through his flaring nostrils. There was something odd about it. It wasn’t fresh in the sense that he may be standing in a puddle, but, more like someone had taken a spray bottle and freshly scented the area with secreted potpourri. Lyle loudly exhaled the minute he exited and gasped a few breaths. He took a left and continued on his way. The city was a bustle of activity: cars zooming past, laborers noshing their way through their mid-morning break and the homeless just starting to stir and stumble their way to the nearest milk crate. His office was in the building across the street and to his right. As he stood across from it and attempted to take it in he was overwhelmed. By Lyle’s estimate, the building could only have been five-or-so stories high, but, it loomed as if it had wings ready to engulf the entire block. The building looked like a gargoyle carved from a single piece of obsidian. It reminded Lyle of that movie he watched the first time he had eaten mushrooms; the one with the monkeys and the waltz.
He went awkwardly passed through the revolving door, almost missing his exit, and approached the old man sitting behind the front the desk. The guard looked like he had not moved for an eternity. His face was craggy and his eyes were sunken in. Lyle told the guard he was starting a new job on the third floor and the guard took one of the plastic white cards in front of him and as the guard moved is arm forward, lurching for the scanner, Lyle swore he heard the churning and grinding of tree roots. Lyle slowly walked towards the three elevators. The middle one beckoned to him and he made his way through the doors.
The walls of the elevator were covered with mirrors. Lyle, taking advantage of the solo trip up, used this time to straighten his tie, adjust his shirt, and shake off the remaining toaster strudel crumbs from his pants. He stepped out and peered over to see the entrance to the office on his right. The door was an opaque glass with a black frame and in large, solid white letters said, SMD CONSULTING. There was also a set of minute letters underneath it that read, tw research. Lyle opened the door and was greeted by a smiling middle-aged woman sitting behind a desk. She was pretty and carried a wild look in her eye that alluded to the hellraiser that she once was. She told him to wait in the large conference room with the others and that the Pool Manager would meet them inside. She walked him over to the conference room and the further they walked into the building the more it seemed to expand. The ceiling grew high and the hallways extended spiraled outwards. For a while, Lyle thought that he had somehow ended up in a warehouse as there were no offices within sight. Finally, they reached the conference room. As the woman made her way to the door Lyle noticed that not only was it glass, but, the walls surrounding the room itself were also glass.
Inside were three other people: a young man, who Lyle figured must have been fresh from business school, basing this only on the slick and black watch on his left wrist arm and the black and pink pocket square that garnished his jacket. A young woman stared down into the notebook in front of her. As she waited, she drew doodles in the margins of the lined paper. Finally, there was an older gentleman, somewhere around forty of fifty Lyle imagined, who was very calm and sat, stone-faced and motionless. For a second Lyle thought the he may have been the guard from downstairs, but after a quick double-take, realized otherwise. Lyle took a seat across from the doodling girl. He tried to get a glimpse of what exactly it was she drawing, but just as he was about to strain his neck, the glass door opened and in walked a middle-aged woman with pale blue eyes that sang a sad story. The woman with the sad eyes pushed out a smile and welcomed Lyle and his confederates.
We’re all very excited to add you to the research pool, she began. Here at SMD Consulting, we make sure to bring in the brightest and best minds available. We work with some of the largest private equity firms in the country and strive for nothing but excellence. As I mentioned during the interviews, we have a very collaborative process in our office. You will be working with teams researching into various markets for our clients. I just want to cover a few basic things once more before I send you off. Firstly, when speaking with your respondents do not mention SMD Consulting. Instead, you inform them that you work for tw research. There is a chance, no matter how small, that if you tell the respondent you are with SMD Consulting, they will be able to link you to the project and if they can link you to the project, then they might be able to deduce who our client is. That would not create the synergies that we need to succeed with our research. So again, you do not work for SMD Consulting; you work for tw research. Secondly, your paycheck shall arrive once every two weeks. You will receive them via mail. Do not be alarmed if you do not see anything from either SMD Consulting, or, tw research. You will be receiving paychecks from our third-party affiliate, GROTTO Outsourcing Services. Finally, please make sure to update your tracker on the hour, every hour. That will inform us how your progress is going throughout the day. It is imperative that we track all calls, incoming and outgoing, to make sure that everyone is up to their potential. It is the metrics that we keep track of that allows for an iterative process and allows you to perform in the industrious manner that we know you are all capable of. Now, I will inform you as to which project you are working on and who your Associate will be.
Lyle was left a by the speech. He worked for tw research, but, he actually worked for SMD Consulting? Or was it the other way around? And who exactly would be paying him? He had already told some people he knew that he was working at SMD Consulting because that was the name that the recruiter had mentioned on the phone. Was he in violation of whatever those papers were that he had signed a few days ago? He took note to bring this up with his Associate later. When Lyle looked up, the three others were walking out of the conference room and the blonde woman with sad eyes was looking at him with a broken-branch smile. Lyle, you will be working with Harrison Pinkgoose on project code LSTAT_Dragoon. I’ll show you the over.
The woman waited at the door while Lyle got out of his seat and walked out into the hallway. She followed and took a left, walking at a mild pace. They went in silence as she took him through the winding hallways. Lyle couldn’t decide if the long groupings of desks reminded him of the shelves of a library or the stalls of a stable. A new row started every three or four feet. Lyle couldn’t tell how many people sat in each row but thought it must have been around a dozen. The rows were endless in each direction and at every desk someone sat hunched over, either staring into the pages in front of them or furiously dialing at their phones. Lyle noticed that they didn’t have computers in front of them and found this odd. He looked up and saw that the ceilings were high and there was a gloom about them. Lyle pictured the ceilings being cleaned by small units of adolescent chimney sweeps, dressed in rags with horse hair brooms, and soot covering their faces. They took another few turns before coming to a row that read, LSTAT_Dragoon. So, the woman with sad eyes began, this will be your area today. You’re going to need this, she said handing him a time card. You come over to this area, she said pointing to the card punch, to update your tracker. Once you do that just grab an open desk and Mr. Pinkgoose will be over to kick you off in the next couple of minutes.
Lyle walked over to the time punch. It was something that would have been more appropriate a boardwalk in New Jersey. He punched in and tried to find an open desk. He was amazed as he walked down. Even though he thought he had arrived early, a time should have been totally reasonable for the first day. There were others that looked like they had been sitting at their desks for hours or days. He found an empty desk towards the end of the row. He looked at his desk and found only a telephone, a medium sized legal pad, and a pen holder without any pens, pencils, or writing tools of any kind. To his right, pinned against the wall, there was a small map of the United States and the southern half of Canada. The map was split into time zones: Eastern Standard, Central Standard, Mountain Standard, and Pacific Standard. Lyle was tracing up through the Canadian Rockies when he heard a knock to his left. He looked over there was an older man standing beside him. The deep wrinkles in the man’s face reminded Lyle of the guard downstairs. The man that he hoped to be an Ent.
You must be Lyle. I’m Harrison Pinkgoose, your Associate on LSTAT_Dragoon. Today, you’ll be working with the team to learn more about the nursing certification market. You’ll be calling into hospitals to try to speak with nurses about how they go about reapplying for certification every year. And also who they usually take those classes with. Here’s the list of numbers you’ll be calling. There should be enough in there to get you through the day. If you do your job right, you might not even get through them all. Now, we need to bear down on how much they have to spend for each credit, how much they’re spending year over year, and who they are spending their money with. Any questions?
Lyle had barely kept up and paused to think. So, I’m calling hospitals and trying to get nurses to talk to me? Yes. For how long? Usually these calls take fifteen to twenty minutes, I’d say. So… call these nurses, while they’re at work and try to get them to talk for twenty minutes. Yes. And remember, if we’re going to create these true synergies, you’re going to have to get three to four conversation per day and they’ll need to be written up by EOD. The computers, where do I find one to write up the interview? At the end of each row there should be a computer mounted to the wall. That is where you’ll write up your interviews. To the left you will find a scanner that you place your timecard. That scanner will print out a small sheet of paper with your number on it. If you listen you will hear the overhead announcing numbers. When your number is announced, you will be able to go and write up your interviews. It is imperative that you finish these reports by the end of the day. The synergies created between your work and ours is what allows us to achieve the excellence that is associated with the SMD Consulting name. Now, like I said, here is your list of numbers, and this is the interview guide. Just dial in, find a nurse, and run through the questions one by one. It’s that simple.
After giving Lyle the paperwork, Pinkgoose turned around and started to walk away. Remember, I need four reports from you, he started over his shoulder, and you don’t work for SMD Consulting. Lyle looked down at the paperwork. The list of numbers was two pages long and there were thirty contacts between the two pages. Each hospital had three pieces of information: the name of the hospital, the phone number, and the state within which it was located. Lyle decided to take a look through the interview guide. It was exponentially longer than the contact list. The guide was fifteen pages long and topped out at forty-six questions. After a second and third tour Lyle realized that even though the last question written in the guide was labeled as forty-six, there were probably three times as many questions. Every question had a sub-question, and every sub-question had a sub-sub-question. There were also a few charts and matrices thrown in as well. Lyle had no idea how he was going to ask the questions, let alone get someone to answer all of them in fifteen minutes.
Lyle practiced his spiel and ran through the guide for around two hours. When he wasn’t looking at the guide he was staring at the phone. There was a small, digital clock located at the top of the mount, right next to the receiver. Lyle made his first call at eleven-thirty and only did it because he told himself he would make at least one call before lunch. It was a number in Montana. Lyle figured that it was around ten o’clock there and maybe the hospital wouldn’t be that busy. An elderly woman answered the phone.
Hello, who is this? Hi, I was hoping to speak with a nurse? A what? I was hoping to speak with a nurse? A nurse? There are no nurses here. Who is this? My name is Lyle. Is this St. Clement’s Hospital? No, no, you called my home young man. Oh, ma’am, I’m so sorry about that, I obviously have the wrong number. That’s quite alright, what did you say your name was, Blyle? Lyle, ma’am. Well, Kyle, it’s no problem that you called. In fact, I’m glad you did. Your voice reminds me of my son. I haven’t heard from him since we moved up this way. You know, moving here from Northern California was been a real nightmare. We moved up here after I retired, hoping to live the simple life. I was a real estate agent back in California, the best around. We moved up here once the cabin was finished. After a month or so, I tried to get some part-time work, but they do not take kindly to strangers around here. I’ll tell ya, you can feel it when you walk around town or go to those damn rodeos. That’s right, I said rodeos. That’s all you see around here, cowboys with their damn pick-up trucks and rodeos. Nope, they do not like outsiders around here. Hell, I don’t even think I’ve ever seen a black person up here. Can’t imagine what would happen if one ever did show up. The elderly women went on like this for quite some time. After the first ten minutes, Lyle stopped trying to interrupt to end the call, and just embraced it. He thought it would be good for his tracker. The elderly woman continued complaining about the snow, I haven’t been able to leave my house in almost a week. She again went on about the general lack of culture in the area. She had taken a breath to explain the term goat-roping, it’s like dealing with a used car salesman except when its over you’re tied up and about to be milked, when Lyle interrupted and said, Thank you ma’am, I really do appreciate you taking my call and promptly hung up. The call had gone on for forty-five minutes and it was now twelve fifteen.
Lyle had little-to-no money so instead of going out for lunch he decided to take a walk around his new work space. He walked up to the top of his row and took a right. The rows and hallways around him were boundless. There also weren’t many people walking around. He decided that he would just stay on the path until he hit the end of the hallway, turn around, and make his way back to his seat. The further he walked the more everything looked the same. The hallway still didn’t seem to have an end in sight and each desk was a facsimile of the one before it. Every row he looked down had people hunched over, speaking in low, dull tones, and scribbling away on their notepads. The project names also got much stranger as Lyle made his way down the hall. First there was CBAP_Luxury, which seemed straightforward enough. A few rows later he came upon a sign that read XML_Snakes. He thought of what that project could have been researching and settled on what he thought was the obvious answer, the online market for snakes. Lyle stopped when he came upon the third sign. He stared at it, incredulous, and even wiped his eyes to make sure he was reading it right. The piece of paper read, RDRM_HumanCapital. The phrase ‘human capital’ made Lyle very nervous. Maybe it was because he had seen too many movies. What didn’t help was the phrase being preceded by the term, redrum. With visions of ghoulish twin sisters and an elevator filled with blood, Lyle turned around and went swiftly back to his desk.
Upon sitting at his desk, Lyle felt a slight pinch on his left shoulder. He immediately thought of the Vulcan death grip and quickly spun around brandishing only his pen. Pinkgoose stared down at him, looking just as somber as when Lyle had last seen him. I noticed you haven’t check in on the tracker yet. Is there any reason for that? I, uh, only had one call and it didn’t have anything to do with the project so I didn’t think it would be necessary. Well it is necessary. We need to know how you are all faring every hour, on the hour, to understand whether or not we have the right people in place to make this a truly collaborative process. Remember, it is the synergy created between our teams that allow us to achieve the excellence associated with the SMD Consulting name. Now, I need you to go update your tracker and then hit the phones. We need a big push from the team today, a solid second half effort. Pinkgoose turned around and walked away. When Lyle got up, he was astonished to see that Pinkgoose was completely out of sight. He went over to the tracker and scanned his card. A little light on top of it turned green and Lyle made his way back to his desk.
Looking back down at the contact list on his desk, Lyle grabbed his pen and crossed out the number he had called before lunch. He was now down to twenty-nine numbers. He called the next hospital on his list: St. Bartholomew’s in Bakersfield, Indiana. After the seventh ring an administrator answered. Thank you for calling St. Bart’s, how can I direct your call? Hi, I was hoping to speak with a nurse? Which nurse sir, we have a lot of them here. Just someone who might be familiar with nursing classes? I’m working in this project and- I’ll connect you to head nurse. Thank you. And just like that, Lyle was on hold. Ask for the head nurse, he wrote on his notepad. After the fifth ring the call went to the machine. Lyle left a stuttering voicemail requesting to speak with the head nurse about the process of acquiring continuing education credits for nurses. I was only hoping to take up, maybe, fifteen or so minutes of your time, he sputtered. Lyle left his phone number and attempted to add some cheerfulness by ending his message, I look forward to speaking with you soon! He set the phone down on the mount and let out a sigh of relief. That wasn’t too bad, he thought to himself. Now that he had an idea of the particular person he needed to talk to, he felt a bit more confident. He dialed in the number for a hospital in Texas, St. Alexander’s Hospital in Broken Bell. After the second ring a quiet voice said, Hold please, and the call went silent. Lyle eagerly waited for the next person to answered, ready as ever with his pitch. When the phone went live he was met with a voice that was sharp as glass and sounded like it was booming from under a bridge.
Thanks for callin’ in fellow true believer! You are live on the Ted Drohl show here on KCUF! Can I get your name friend? Uh, Lyle. You see Lyle, we are all workin’ towards our own end here, aren’t we? No matter what you find yourself doin’, you are just feedin’ into the machine that will take everything from you. It’s only a matter of time! This Zionist, Fascist, mongrel of a commander-in-chief is lookin’ to take every single freedom we have away from us. It’s only a matter of time! He’s already got his cronies stationed at FEMA camps all across the country. When the time is right, martial law will be set in place and their armies will come crashin’ down upon us, forcibly relocatin’ every single one of you and your own into those chicken-wire pens. People, I have been sayin’ it for years and I’ll say it again: we’re livin’ in Stalinist Russia! Wake up sheeple! Now, why is it that you dialed into this tremendous show, Lyle? Well, actually I was trying to – Oh, let me guess! You’re calling about the Nibiru sightin’. That’s right true believers, it is just like I predicted. The famous Planet X will be high in the sky for all of you to see tonight! All you gotta do is get yourself outside, tilt that head of yours up towards Heaven and find Orion’s Belt. Once you find that, you’ll notice somethin’ odd. You’ll say to yourself, Hey Ted, I thought Orion’s belt only had three notches? You’re not wrong! The fourth one up there’ll be Nibiru. For those of you who might be scratchin’ your heads right now, let me give you a little history lesson. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, before humanity thought about building their first mud-huts, Earth was visited by aliens. The Sumerians called them the Annunaki, or, the Elder Gods. They presented themselves as saviors and offered to give many gifts to mankind. However, they enslaved the Sumerians and had them harvest the gold that was needed to power their ships. And before they left Earth, they impregnated as many women as they could. These reptilian hybrids would go on to monitor the human race and continue to infiltrate our leadership. That’s right folks, they’re still watchin’ us today. They keep tabs on us from their subterranean bases deep within the Earth. Well, thank you for your call Lyle, I do hope that I helped you out. Thank you and keep your eyes peeled!
The sound of the phone going silent was the most welcome sound of Lyle’s short life. The call had gone on for what felt like hours, but according to the timer on the phone’s mount, it had only been ten minutes. Lyle tried to shake off the nonsense and made a few more phone calls. He was happy that no one answered because he could not get the sound of Ted Drohl’s broken glassed voice out of his head and was afraid that if he did have to speak with someone, he would end up spitting out the babble that he had heard. He could smell cigarette smoke like he had been in the studio with the talking head. On his third call after the unscheduled radio appearance, a young woman answered the phone: St. John’s. Hi, my name is Lyle and I was hoping to speak with a nurse? What about? I’m working on a project and I’m trying to do some research into continuing education for nurses. Is there anyone around that I could talk to? Look kid, you called an ER. Do you know what an ER is? We have people dying around us. We can’t help. She hung up the phone. Lyle’s stomach sank. He was glad that he didn’t hold anyone up because he didn’t want to be responsible for a few extra corpses, but now, he was nervous about accidentally calling into more emergency rooms. He made another call and got another voicemail. He made a note next to that number, because judging by the voicemail, he thought that the number was actually someone’s cell phone.
Lyle spent the next few hours making calls, leaving voicemails, and being told to call back later. He made sure to scan his card on the hour, every hour, to make sure that his tracker would be up to date. He was nervous about his lack of progress, but, had not seen Pinkgoose since his lunch break. He had also yet to speak with any of the people around him. He wasn’t sure but he couldn’t recall seeing anyone get up from their desks. Whenever he looked to the person to either his right or left, their heads were down. Periodically the overhead went off, announcing the line-up change for the computers.
It was at five o’clock when Pinkgoose finally appeared. I see you have been making calls and updating your tracker every hour. That’s good. But by looking at your average call time I can tell you haven’t exactly had a meaningful conversation. Any reason for that? Well, Mr. Pinkgoose, I called all of the contacts on my list, but, a bunch of them weren’t even hospitals. I mean, one of them sold anointing oil, like for churches or sanctuaries. And the ones that were told me that it wasn’t a good time to talk. The rest of the numbers went straight to voicemail and I wasn’t able to get ahold of anyone. Well, it is your first day I guess. We can try to get you more numbers tomorrow. We need a big push though. Our n is looking rough right now, but, if we have a collective push and really hit our marks I think we’ll be in good shape. Just finish up with a few more calls, get an interview in, and you can leave at 5:30. Before Lyle could say anything, Pinkgoose was gone.
Lyle let out a sigh of relief. He was glad no one came down on him for a rough day. He decided to make one more call before heading out. The number was strange, started with 545, and didn’t have a state attached to it. Lyle shrugged his shoulders and dialed the number anyway. There were two quick rings and then the tone to something that brought Lyle to the first time he booted up the dial-up modem in eighth grade. The loud screeching and whirring wailed through the receiver and right before Lyle hung up, a voice came through the din that was like grinding teeth. Yes? Hi, uh, my name is – Yes? My name is Lyle, is this St. Elmo’s Hospital? We are not a hospital, but, we have certainly saved lives. Okay… so this isn’t St. Elmo’s? Not quite. I’m sorry I must have the wrong number. But I can help. I don’t think you can. I need to speak with someone at a hospital. Why is that? I’m trying to learn about continuing education credits for nurses. Can anyone there help me? No, we cannot help you with this. I didn’t think so. But we can help you with something else. Can you? The voice didn’t respond. The grinding got louder and louder and the screeching and whirring returned. The noise grew harsher and heavier until it was gnawing its way into Lyle’s brain. He closed his eyes, backed the phone away from his ear, and moved his right hand to his head to fight off the noise. When Lyle opened his eyes he was in the elevator. His ears were still ringing and there was the feeling of a vice grip between his shoulder blades and his neck. The bell in the elevator rang and Lyle walked into the lobby. He was shaking and covered in cold sweat He looked over to see the guard was still there from the morning. What the hell had just happened, he asked himself. He walked towards the guard and saw him there completely still, like a corpse carved into a mountainside. Lyle made his way through the revolving door and out of the obsidian building as fast as he could.
Lyle never went back to SMD Consulting or tw research. No one seemed to notice as he never received a call inquiring about his absence. Lyle instead found work at a restaurant that one of his old co-workers had recommended. He is hoping to be working at the bar in the next couple of weeks.