This short story is our second entry into Issue 1 of Omakase Magazine: “Idols,” which will be running during September and October. To learn more about this issue, check out our Letter from the Editor.
That was how it ended. There on the 38th floor of the Meridian Global Financial Tower, overlooking Taraghee Park on April the 30th, late enough in the night that the cleaning lady had already gone home, but not quite early enough that the Harrison Bros. Bagels shop on the ground floor had started preparing for the morning rush, Daniel Bedecker flopped to the floor, dead of exhaustion, dehydration, and whatever the hell else happens when you don’t really eat, drink, sleep, or stop staring at your goddamn computer screen for four straight days. He fell rather cleanly, slumping to the side and off of his chair, which rolled away a few inches past his neighbor’s desk towards the large window. Not that it mattered. No one was around when his body fell to the floor anyways.
Three days earlier, Daniel’s boss Mr. Meyer had spent the night in the office. Some of the senior analysts said that he had had a fight with his wife, and spent the time in the office to clear his head and work up a clever apology for why he kept doing all the things he would do, like missing a kid’s soccer game or forgetting to pick up the whatever from the store. Others who worked below him said that Meyer was on thin ice with his own boss, some faceless human none of them had actually met before, and so therefore he was spending extra time in the office to illustrate his dedication to the firm. But like anything else in life, the answer was somewhere in between.
Over the last several years, Meyer had begun to doubt his innate ability to sniff out those who had it in for him. In 2005, he quit his Risk Management job at Wallis Trading, Inc. when he learned that his whole division of risk assessors was on the chopping block. Within a week, Meyer had leveraged his menial management role for the position he first held at Meridian Global Financial, 401K in tact and not a scratch on his savings. It’s a skill that often goes undervalued. When you all of a sudden find yourself not being called on during the weekly meeting for eight weeks straight, or realize that your boss is ready to retire and you haven’t been told about a possible promotion, it’s usually good to get the hell out of dodge. This was something Meyer had always been good at.
But he felt that his attention to this very important detail had begun to wane. In 2012, Brody, that guy from down the hall who was probably paid about as much as Meyer but didn’t ever seem to do quite as much, was shown the door some Wednesday afternoon. Aside from the jarring fact that someone was let go on a Wednesday—who gets let go on a Wednesday?—there was the fact that Meyer later learned that Brody had the exact same job title (whatever it was back then; Senior Risk Hedge Management Something). So really, even though Brody didn’t do that much work, Meyer had a 50/50 shot at getting fired; goodnight Audi, goodnight home sauna. Goodnight cabin with the red Adirondack chairs. It was scary, and might require some overtime until he knew he was in the clear, Meyer decided.
So you see, Meyer didn’t just spend this one fateful night in the office (the night before Daniel Bedecker flopped on that hard carpet); rather, he had spent the last 37 nights in the office. It wasn’t every night he spent there (although who’s to say, really), but he tried his hardest to make it seem so. It really wasn’t half bad. At 2:30 he’d stop by the vending machine. He didn’t have a regular order--sometimes he’d get the animal crackers, other nights the cheese puffs. He’d sometimes get pretzels. Around 3:30, he’d head up to the 44th floor where they had a little deck he could look over the city, and listen to all the nothing that was happening below. It was amazing a city of 6 million it could even be so quiet. He felt alone, even though there were lights in the high rises all around him. Then he’d go back inside, the workday would start, and he’d feel about the same.
It was weird that the desk wasn’t taken. Sure, it was placed between two other analysts, with two bespeckled twenty-four year olds eagerly clicking through charts and Twitter feeds, but it looked like a great desk, decently wide and only a few metres from the window. Jennifer Willman hadn’t been graduated for more than a year before she found herself accepting a job offer at Meridian and moving across the pond. Her family was sad to see her move so far away, but honestly, she could afford a plane ticket now to come home on days other than Christmas. It was weird being able to buy whatever she wanted.
It wasn’t that she was looking to get away from anywhere (or anyone, or anything) in particular. She’d always liked Kent and received a pretty generous paycheck from the community bank which was irregularly helpful in offering a job straight out of university, especially for a finance graduate. But there were other adventures, and the time was now (well, then). Despite the rather seismic bump in pay (one of the few things her father asked about the move), Jennifer’s ambitions were more insular and self-driven than one might expect.
This wasn’t obvious to those who didn’t ask. Not only did Jennifer find a sweet desk, but the whole of the Meridian Tower seemed made for her (and everyone’s) professional comfort. There were granite countertops in the bathroom, seemingly endless windows, access to a rooftop deck (“A wonderful lunch spot!” her division’s receptionist would tell her several times), and ice cream bars every other Thursday, including those rare Thursdays that were also their quarterly meetings. For a while, it was overwhelming, new.
She'd heard something about Daniel, some analyst who previously worked at the firm. Others had tried to gloss over whatever the story was, but Jennifer could put the pieces together. It was weird hearing about the kid who used to sit at her desk (a detail which was certainly chilling, although not altogether traumatic), and the manner in which his life came to an end. Sure, stories like that often hit the middle pages of the New York Times, tales of hedge fund employees unable to keep up with the hours, the pressure. Somehow Daniel’s story sunk into that kind of obscured reality for Jennifer—another headline, distant and without context.
That distance would be Jennifer’s saving grace. Every time she was called into a performance review, her marks would be positive, her manager giving a thumbs up, and she would make up some story about wanting to be CFO or something. A few pats on the back and she would be off, carrying a knowing smile and a set of plans no one at the firm would ever know but her.
Jennifer eventually settled into her routine, and the granite countertops meant less and less. That was okay. In a weird peculiarity which no one would ever notice, Jennifer would only work the exact number of days at Meridian as one Daniel Bedecker, at the same desk, under the same boss. But her future had been in hand all along. Soon, she’d leave the Meridian Tower for greener pastures, and after four decades of hard work would retire with a boat. She slept every night, except those ones she wanted to stay up.
Meyer didn’t even know he had a midnight office-mate, starting about halfway through his reverse sabbatical. Daniel Bedecker wasn’t even aware of the fact that Meyer didn’t know his name. Bedecker had graduated from Rochester a few summers before, and after interning for what was a real hourly wage of $4.14 per, finally landed some junior risk analyst position. He was a minnow in a fairly enormous pond of fish that didn’t particularly care about minnows, so for a long time he went unnoticed. He actually went unnoticed for much longer than he thought, but somewhere around month four he started to think about his potential at the company, not realizing how dumb of a thought this really was. So, as many young men and women choose to do, he began to look for ways to impress.
There wasn’t actually any good work to be done. Meridian’s unofficial tagline (“More of the Same”) should have tipped him off immediately, but it somehow took a few afternoons of deep thought and Minesweeper to realize that even if he handed in a report solving Every Possible Risk Assessment Problem In The World, it wouldn’t change the fact that he was a minnow, and minnows don’t write important reports. So, he did the only other thing he could do. He stayed late.
And then on Wednesday, he stayed late. And on Thursday, he stayed late. On Friday, he stayed late. And on Saturday, he came in around 9:25am (in order to seem, you know, pretty casual), and then he stayed late. If Bedecker had a girlfriend or boyfriend, or parents he called regularly, or a homeless man who stood outside his apartment door, someone might have noticed that very quickly, Bedecker would be spending 130 hours a week on the 38th floor of the Global Meridian Financial Tower. It was a pace no one could expect to keep up, and he didn’t.
The night before he passed away, Bedecker went to the vending machines around 3am. He looked at the snacks that were taken, and those that weren’t, and he noticed that the light was out. The digital display to the right, the alpha-numeric selection buttons were all dark. He looked behind the machine and saw that it was plugged in. It was broken, so used, and wouldn’t be fixed very soon. Probably, a man in a black polo and unpleated shorts would come with a dolly and carry it out to a warehouse somewhere. He would then bring a new machine, plug in the cord, and stock it. Then he’d leave again.