by Green Actor
An intransigent rulebreaker infuriates a janitor.
Five minutes officially remained until the end of Jim Low's shift. In practice, about thirty-three minutes and twenty-one seconds did. He was the longest-serving janitor at the Good Hope Hotel and Club, the hippest social spot in town, and he worked an average of twelve hours a day, six days a week, fifty-one weeks a year.
Most of the other janitors working this hot July were high school and college students who couldn't get any better work. Jim had never gotten better work in his life. A child of absentee working-class parents, he had limped to high-school graduation. That had been twenty-five years ago, and he had never looked back.
He was married but without children; his wife Cathy also worked long hours for rotten pay, and not even in a good place like this. No, she worked at Pigeon's on the other side of town. Pigeon's was a dump, but at least it was near their home. In any case, much as he and Cathy would have liked to have children, they represented a cost well out of their reach. His brother and sister had two kids each, but Larry was an architect and Christina was a pharmacist. Jim had never been good at school, unlike them.
He waited for a pair of happy young dancers to get off the floor so he could go in with his mop. The Good Hope was, he thought, charmingly retro, shamelessly catering to fans of disco and jazz. These two young women (he was trying not to think of them as girls) had been dancing on the discotheque's floor for the past half-hour. They had so much energy they had not just outlasted everybody else in the club, but they were tiring him out just watching them. He had barely kept himself awake by, ironically, doing his job looking at everybody else.
It was 1:25 AM on Saturday. Every respectable person in town was in bed or here. All Jim had to do was wait these dancing women to leave so he could clean the floor.
In the meantime, he knew he should check other areas and make sure they were clean. He had long since become hypersensitive to cleanliness, having worked as a janitor for so long. Ironically, this did not extend to caring too much about his personal appearance. He was a dumpy, prematurely bald man who sweated like a fountain and rarely showered. His shirt usually rumpled within an hour of starting. It had nothing to do with the fact that he slept in it, or so he insisted to himself.
Jim checked under each eating table, behind the bar, on the jazz floor, in the kitchens, and in the front of the house. All these places were clean. He wondered how Cathy was doing as a cook at Pigeon's across town.
He made his way back to the disco dance floor. The women were gone and, mercifully, they had somehow left no mess to speak of behind them. Maybe he could go home early after all.
Or maybe not, as he found after he put his mop and bucket back in the closet. He turned around and saw, standing right there, the taller of the women who were dancing at closing time.
"Excuse me," Jim said, making himself smile. "You're not supposed to be back here."
The five-foot-nine blonde shrugged nonchalantly. "I can do what I want."
"No, Miss, we have rules at the Good Hope Hotel and Club. This area is for employees only. The club is closed, and you need to go home."
"Don't talk to me like that," she said.
Jim softened and said, "Okay, you're not 'Miss.' My name is Jim. What's yours?"
She sighed. "Uuuuugghh … I'm Sabrina," she said, not taking his outstretched hand.
He got the hint and dropped his hand. "Look, Sabrina, I don't know why you want to be back here."
"I'm seeing my partner back here," said Sabrina. "It's his birthday and I want to surprise him with a gift. He's a dishwasher here."
"He's probably gone by now," Jim noted. "Can't you do it somewhere else?"
"No, it has to be here."
"What's his name?" Jim couldn't explain edge effects, the marginal propensity to consume, or the difference between satire and parody, but he knew the names of everybody who worked at the Good Hope.
It was just as Jim thought. Nobody named Rajib even worked at the Good Hope, much less as a dishwasher.
"You may be mistaken," he said. "You might have danced too much tonight. I know everybody here and I don't know any Rajib."
"Oh no?" The voice was that of a younger man with a pronounced South Asian accent. Jim looked up and saw the younger man standing a few feet behind Sabrina.
"Jim," he said with his hand outstretched, "I'm Rajib. We met once when I started here three months ago. I'm studying computer engineering at Tech."
Jim racked his brains. Management usually had everyone meet everyone else when they hired new employees, which happened on consecutive days every month. Three months ago would have been mid-April. If Rajib was a student, he should have been studying for finals, especially if he wanted to be an engineer. Maybe he was just that good that he could do both; Jim knew he wasn't, himself, but he did know no single person was representative of the statistical aggregate, nor even likely to be.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, again, Rajib," he said. They shook hands. "Sabrina was just telling me she wanted to give you a birthday present …"
"Oh, good!" He smiled broadly.
"…and I wish you a happy birthday, too. Unfortunately, she broke a rule by coming back here to do it."
"Come on," said Sabrina. "It's Raj's birthday. Can't you cut me a break?"
"As much as I'd like to, rules are rules," Jim said heavily. He took no joy in enforcing these rules and hoped he would convey this to them. He went to the back room and retrieved the book where the manager recorded infractions, then came back to Rajib and Sabrina. "Would you please show me your identification, Sabrina?"
Sabrina scowled. "You're a jerk. I'm gonna report you."
Incredulous, Jim said, "I'd like to see that. You're going to report me for reporting that you broke a rule?"
"Uh, yeah," said Sabrina.
"Love or not, you broke a rule and I have to record it," said Jim.
"What do you have, some power trip and special needs?" Sabrina asked.
Jim started. His nephew Marty had high-functioning autism, and he'd seen other kids tease him for it. Consequently, he didn't take kindly to references to "special needs." "Young lady, I think you've crossed a line and you really have to leave. Now."
Sabrina clenched her body and quivered with rage. She looked like she was just barely holding back from punching Jim in the face.
"Sabrina, it's not worth it," Rajib said after nearly three minutes.
"Did you put her up to this?" Jim asked Rajib.
"No," the dishwasher said at once. He turned back to his partner and said, "Please go home, Sabrina. I'm sure your gift is very thoughtful, but Jim is right. I can see it later."
After a moment of hyperventilating, Sabrina turned around and stormed out of the dish room. Jim looked at Rajib apologetically.
"Can we just make sure we've done our jobs right?" they asked in unison, followed by the answer: "Yes."