All Is Bright (17)

A Christmas Eve story in 24 installments

Seventeen

Jim Brock has worked at the courthouse for two years, for American Eagle Security. This is his first job with the company, and also his first in government. Previously he worked in warehouses—night shift, like this job—for three other security firms. He came to American Eagle looking for something more than warehouse work. Courthouse guards seemed more important, or at least the ones on day shift who manned the metal detectors inside the front entrance. Maybe, he thought before he signed on with the company, he could get the day shift, and then make himself known around the courthouse, impress the right people and someday, somehow, become a bailiff. 

But instead he was put on the night shift, all alone, just like he was back at the warehouses. You can’t impress anybody on night shift, because nobody else is around. You could be the best night guard in the world and nobody would know. The only way you can ever get noticed is if something goes wrong—some drunk that you didn’t pay enough attention to shatters the front window, or a homeless guy is found sleeping in the revolving door by the first judge who arrives in the morning. Night shift is all downside, no upside. And now he has already been here two years—recently he has begun to worry that he’ll never move up, and he’ll have to find another company and another job.

He glances past the metal detector and through the revolving door at the silent street, and tries to remember the last time that a car drove by. Everybody must have had nowhere else to drive, and were back where they belonged. Home, with family, for most of them, he guesses. This is the third straight Christmas Eve he has had to work. The last time he was home with Mary and the kids, he lucked out when another guard needed the overtime, and took Jim’s shift. It was the old man Bill, Jim remembers, who must not have had any family around. Unlike Jim himself, with a wife, three kids and another on the way, all before age thirty. Four and soon five mouths to feed. He thinks again about that next job, which now seems even more likely.

With the Hawks having lost and the postgame show ended, he pulls up the county website on his phone, wondering what qualifications they require for a jail guard, if there’s any way they would ever consider a guy with six years of experience, but none in corrections. He finds a job listing, and is engrossed, and increasingly subdued, by the long list of requirements that he barely hears the knocking.

He looks around, trying to pinpoint the sound, and finally sees a silhouette just beyond the front window who knocks louder this time and holds something over their head, which he recognizes as a paper bag. From the silhouette’s outline he senses that it’s a woman, and as she turns he catches a glinted reflection from the streetlight behind her, on what is, unmistakably, a badge.