Casner/Third Shift Noir

Look, I’m not a first shift kind of broad. Maybe my face has seen better days; maybe I’ve got reasons I’d rather not look at in the bright glare of day. I know my place and my place is third shift.

It’s that certain shift which dredges up those who have their own reasons to be in the shadows. No one asks, on third shift. I knew what I was getting into.

It wasn’t quite a bloody horse’s head in my bed, but the cruelly smashed blue pencil laid at my computer station still spoke pretty loud. Poor little pencil, it never had a chance. I would have to watch my step; the trainee typesetters were on my case. The tables weren’t going to be pretty like a picture tonight.

My guts were quivering like Homer Simpson’s blubber but I couldn’t let them see me cry. Proofreaders don’t cry. I wasn’t here to make nice with the typesetters.

I gathered up the broken slivers like the garbage they’d turned into and tossed them in the trash. They pattered in the metal can like sleet on a helmet in the mud in the trenches which hadn’t saved it’s sad young wearer. I was glad for the trainees they’d never know that kind of war; hell, neither would I.

I picked up my work, chose my words carefully, and spoke with any honey years of hard living had left in my voice.

“Danny, could I have file FE printed out again . . . my checksum isn’t matching up.”

Danny looked at me, his Irish eyes cold and hard. He just nodded. He hated me, but I had his number. He’d do what I wanted.

The printer spat out the pages like a 25 buck hooker spitting out cum. I picked up the paper, compared it to the client copy. Brought my red pen to the fore and then my heart sank. I wasn’t sure, wouldn’t bet my mother’s life on the meaning of this client’s instruction. You can’t make mistakes in this kind of work. I looked up, I laid it on them straight.

“I’m going to have to check this with Ivan.” The very air shuddered.

Ivan stood like a colossus astride the third shift composition staff. A very small, socially maladapted, colossus. He was a man who knew when to use a hyphen in anal retentive and yet his eyes spoke of pain.

My feet were reluctant to get started when silence hit me like a very quiet brick. Ivan was standing in the doorway, his hands covered in blood.

I gasped.

Ivan’s brow furrowed. It furrowed a lot. You could have grown corn in those furrows, fed a starving family in India, if there were any starving Indians left in this crooked, outsourcing world of ours.

He looked at his hands, he looked at me. It was a look that said everything. It said he wanted me, it said he couldn’t have me. It said he wanted out, but couldn’t find his way.

It said I had missed an edit on page S-3 and I was a frigging moron.

Oh. That wasn’t blood. That was just a page Ivan had marked up in his bloody hieroglyphics with his bloody red pencil. I really should wear my glasses more often, but you know what they say about girls in glasses.

But I hadn’t missed that edit; the typesetters had ignored my markup and sent the pages out without my approval. This was my test. Their eyes followed me.

Lorenzo’s little piggy eyes would have showed pity, but he had no heart. It had been taken a long time ago when he lost his slot on second shift. He had never forgotten, never felt this was where he belonged. The rest of us, we knew.

Jerome was a sweetheart. I wanted to wrap him up and take him home, but I still had fifteen months left on probation from the last time I tried that. He couldn’t look me in the eye right now.

And then there were the kids, Val and Joe. I’d seen a million like them. They were young, tender. They hadn’t learned the truth yet — they thought third shift was exciting. They liked staying up late rather than getting up early. Val was sweet and pretty, she wouldn’t be on third shift long. But Joe, he didn’t know what had gotten him. He had the look of a long timer; he’d turn hard and bitter in soul and soft in belly. He was going to die here.

Now they were being carefully attentive to their computers.

But it was 5 am, the eternal darkness before dawn. We all knew what 5 am meant. Animal noises from the typesetter’s room. Thundering sounds echoing from graphics. A hideous laughter, if it was laughter, from nowhere and everywhere. No one goes to look, no one wants to know.

All that matters are the pages; the haunted financials where the numbers move from column to column, the headings which disappear into other dimensions, different realms of reality.

Ivan threw the pages down. “Fuck it, get rid of it,” he said, with his customary elegance. He didn’t have to tell me twice. I handed the pages to Ira; Ira always had my back. Ivan said Ira was whipped. I wasn’t going to say one way or another. You shouldn’t judge, on third shift. Ira quickly did the edit and sent the document off to the customer service representative.

The typesetters seemed to breathe more freely, their keyboards suddenly singing like jihadists in a secret CIA detainment center. I had passed.

No one would ever know I nearly released a typo to the clients, those smug bastards, in their pink Brooks Brothers’ sweaters, their picked over lobster shells sent to the staff break room like sops from the lord’s table, nearly as empty as their lawyer hearts. They didn’t know what we did for them.

The night was almost over; soon we would go home, crawl back into the dark places we came from.

I’d have a drink or twelve, get some sleep. I’d wake up in the dark. If I knew his or her (never their) name, I’d say goodbye to whomever was in my bed.

And then I’d be back. There was another SEC filing deadline down the road.