The Dance Contest of Building One

 By Johnny Apocalypse

            I was halfway through a pint of Guinness, watching "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and enjoying my night off.  My best friend, Chris, was doing odd jobs for a friend in an effort to make some money.  Beth, my girlfriend, had gone down to Colorado Springs for a rock concert.  To top it all off, my parents had taken a week long trip to the mountains, leaving the dog home with me for a change.

            Gideon, named as such by an animal breeder for reasons unknown, is the coolest Keeshond in the world.  One of the many reasons he has earned this title is that while he can't talk, he is probably the most expressive dog to walk the earth.  Judging by the look on his face, Johnny Depp was confusing the hell out of him.

            I reached for my beer when the phone began to ring.  My hand changes course in mid-air, snatching the receiver off the cradle.

            "Justin Taggart, ninja for hire," I answer.

            "Jesus Christ, you crazy bastard, it's Tony," my boss says over the line.  "Listen, Skip called off sick tonight.  I tried calling Beth in, but she's not answering her phone, so the graveyard shift is open.  If you work tonight, you can take tomorrow night off."

            I pondered the proposition for a moment, ensuring that my energy levels are adequate to pull an all-nighter.

            "Yeah, I can help you out," I said.  "Let's just hope I don't find any more ghosts."

            Instead of saying good-bye, Tony groans and hangs up.

            I turned the TV off and scratched Gideon behind the ears.  "I have to go to work, boy," I say, heading upstairs to put on a clean uniform.

            Working security for a multi-national computer company may be a bit boring, but it pays decently and I like my co-workers.  Almost half a year ago, I found a ghost in one of the buildings.  A few months after that, I discovered a gateway to hell in another building.  Both were dealt with using Chris' help, and the latter of the two sparked my romance with Beth.

            Once I had changed into my uniform, I ran a comb through my hair.  Looking in the bathroom mirror, I decided that after not shaving for three days that I should probably scrape some hair off of my face.  I was in the mood to try something new, so I carved some mutton chops onto my cheeks.

            Then, looking suitably retro, I left the house.

***

            "What's going on, Ray?" I said, strolling into the dispatch office.

            Ray looked up from his computer.  "What the hell are those monstrosities on your face?"

            "Those are my chops.  I decided that it was time for a new look."

            "Okay, Elvis," Ray shook his head.

            I walked around the desk and dropped into a chair.  Ray and I both share an affinity for coffee, and he makes sure to keep a full pot whenever we're working together.  I poured myself a cup while Ray was typing something on the computer.

            "Anything unusual on the docket tonight?" I asked.

            "The janitors are throwing some company papers away in about fifteen minutes.  I'll need you to go to the loading dock and unlock the recycling dumpster.  Be sure to check all the bags, make sure that everything is shredded before it gets thrown away."

            I climbed out of my seat, a Styrofoam cup of liquid alertness in my hand.  "Easy enough," I said.  "I'll check my vehicle out and head over there."

            The trek up to the supervisor's office was in the next building over.  Since none of the managers feel like working at night, the office was empty.  I went to the locked, gray cabinet to check the keys to a security truck out.

            When a guard checks out a vehicle, he has to list the date, time and the truck's mileage at the beginning of the shift in a record book.  Once their shift is over, they list the time and the trucks new mileage after having been driven for eight hours.  Once, I added an additional seven billion miles at the end of my shift, just to be a jerk.  Sadly, the mistake went unnoticed for over a week, pissing all the managers off and earning me a reprimand.  I thought it was funny as hell, and therefore well worth the trouble.

            I left the building and strolled out to my security truck.  All shifts are required to do a mandatory inspection of the vehicle, but the graveyard shift gets to skip checking the oil and transmission fluid levels.  Not that I ever check them anyway.  Ever since I started working here, the trucks odometer has rolled over twice and the oil has never been changed.  I figure it's only a matter of time before all the oil turns to dust, the engine seizes and security is left on foot patrol.

            I made sure that all the lights were working, started the truck and grabbed my radio.  "Dispatch, this is operative delta two-zero-niner," I said, letting Ray know that I was planning to screw around all night.  "My vehicle is go and I am en route to the loading dock."

            "Ten four, mobile one."

            Even though my security department lost the funding to carry two mobile units a shift ages ago, we're still required to call the only unit "mobile one".  I'm thinking about proposing a constitutional amendment to change this foolishness, but it would probably never make it out of committee.

            I swung into the dock right on time, greeted by an impatient janitorial crew.  As I climbed out of the truck, Pedro, a Hispanic teen, began uttering angry strings of Spanish at me.

            Foreign languages were never my specialty, but during high school I took a year of French.  Since then, I have forgotten everything but the basic greetings, and how to ask a girl to take her shirt off.

            "Bonjour, Pedro," I said.  "Como ca va?"

            The janitor was visibly confused.  "Que?"

            The graveyard janitorial crew is a unique mixture of race and culture.  We have two Hispanics, one male and one female, a Korean lady and a white guy named Terrance.  Terrance is the only one who speaks English, and has also mastered the Spanish tongue.

            "Hey Justin," he greeted me.  "You ready?"

            "Yeah," I said, walking to the locked recycling bin.

            Due to the "top secret" nature of the papers our employer throws away, the bin has to be kept under lock and key until it's picked up and hauled to the dump.  The company seems to have overlooked the fact that someone could easily tail the garbage trucks to the dump and steal all of the papers.

            But in my book, that's an S.E.P.  Somebody Else's Problem.

            Once the dumpster was unlocked, the janitors started carting out bins full of trash bags.  Inside each bag was a mass of shredded paper.  It was my task to make sure that all the paper was cut to pieces, and that nothing else found it's way in.

            Terrence handed me a pocket knife and I started cutting bags open.  The first two sacks were okay, but I was wrist deep in the third when my hand struck something solid.  I wrapped my fingers around it and pulled a keyboard from the refuse.

            "What the hell is this?" I demanded.

            "Looks like a keyboard," Terrence answered.

            "Yeah.  You can't recycle this."

            He shrugged.  "I didn't throw it in there."

            Whenever a piece of computer equipment is found out of place, security is supposed to write a report on it.  But since I hated writing reports, I decided to huck it into the garbage.

            Nothing out of the ordinary could be found in any of the remaining bags, so we tossed them all in and I relocked the dumpster.

            "Mobile to dispatch," I called in on my radio, "I am clear from the dock."

            "Ten four, mobile one.  Please proceed to building one, office one twenty nine.  We have a report of a missing or possibly stolen keyboard."

***

            Once I entered building one, I decided that my caffeine levels were dangerously low.  Going to a break room in the first building can be dangerous.  This building houses the over-night technical support crew, a group of madmen who protect their coffee pots and vending machines like wild hyenas.  I've written more reports on people being chased from the building then anything else.  But, a coffee jones is a coffee jones, so I had to risk it.

            I creeped towards the nearest break area, keeping vigilant for any sight or sound of a crazed computer geek.  The coast seemed clear, so I loaded a cup full of java as quickly as I could, and headed to the office that had reported the missing keyboard.

            As I neared the office, I realized that it was stationed in the heart of tech-support country.  The dangerous scent of night owls playing internet solitaire filled the halls like strong perfume.

            Outside of the office, a tall, wide brunette woman was standing with her arms crossed, impatiently tapping her foot.

            "I reported this fifteen minutes ago," she said once I arrived.

            "Sorry, ma'am, but I'm the only guard working tonight and I was caught up with another issue."

            Pure textbook response.

            "Well I have important work to do, and-- Hey, where did you get that coffee?"

            Shit.  I prepared myself to run.

            "I brought it from home," I answered.  "The coffee here is nuclear waste."

            She eyes me suspiciously.  "And the cup?"

            "I got it from the security office.  Listen, do you want to report the problem or not?"

            The bitch was quiet for a moment, deciding whether or not to believe me.  She must have swallowed the load of bullshit that I fed her, because she started giving me the details of the story.

            "I came in today, around eleven o'clock, and my keyboard was missing."

            "When did you last see it?" I asked.

            "Yesterday, when I left work.  Probably around nine o'clock."

            I wrote all of this down in my notebook.  "Is this the company's standard model of keyboard, or one you brought from home?"

            "The company's."

            "Do you happen to know the serial number?"

            She rolled her eyes at me.  "Yeah, let me recite it for you.  No, of course I don't know it.  Who would?"

            I took her sarcasm on the chin.  I knew that all building managers were required to keep records of all equipment and their serial numbers on file.  If the security investigator needed it, he could get the number easily enough.

            "Okay, that should do it," I said.  "I'll just need your name, title and your direct supervisor's name."

            She grudgingly gave me the info, calling herself Sarah O'Reilly.

            "Thank you for your time, ma'am," I ended the conversation.  "I'll turn this over to the investigator and he will be in touch if anything turns up."

            As she went to her office, I called Ray to let him know that I was on my way to the office to write the report.  I started to walk back to the lobby when Sarah poked her head out again.

            "And by the way," she wailed.  "If I find out that coffee came from our break area, it's your ass!"

            Several of the tech geeks popped out of their offices, glaring at me.  I decided to walk a little quicker, before I had to run.

            I was halfway to the lobby when I heard music down a hallway.  At first, I thought it was am employee blasting their music in a vain attempt to make the night go quicker, when I realized that the hallway didn't lead to any offices.  It led to a massive auditorium, where the company housed meeting to tell it's employees how many lay-offs were coming this year.  Figuring that it was an electrical issue, I wandered towards the music to see if I could shut the speakers off.

            I was nearing the entrance to the auditorium when I heard movement inside.  I paused next to the doorway.  Peaches and Herb were pounding over the stereo system inside.  I could hear something moving in rhythm with the music, usually fabric brushing against itself but sometimes I heard a metallic jingle.

            Peering around the corner, I could see all the metal folding chairs lined up, undisturbed.  Several tables were lined against the wall, covered with empty donut boxes.  But on top of the stage, someone was dancing.

            It looked like an old man, but far more emaciated, like all the blood had been drained from his body.  Either his skin was very dirty, or it was naturally a greenish shade of gray.  Several sharp, jagged fangs protruded from its mouth under two black, bulging eyes.  He was wearing filthy, baggy clothes made of burlap, several rusted chains around his neck.  He was dancing the hustle.

            Security is supposed to report anything unusual, but after Ray's disbelief of the ghost and the entrance to hell, I almost decided to leave this one alone.  But, rules are rules.

            "Mobile to dispatch," I said.  "Just so you know, the Boogie Man is dancing in building one."

            "Ten four."

***

            I brought a fresh pot of coffee into the dispatch office once I got into building one.  Ray and I had a cup while I prepared my missing property report.

            "So you saw the boogey man, huh?" Ray asked me.

            "Yep."

            "You want to do a report on it?"

            "Nope."

            "You want to notify the FBI?"

            "Nope."

            "Are you going to call in the National Guard?"

            "Nope."

            Ray was silent for a minute, staring at me.  "Are you going to do anything?"

            "Nope.  I told you about the ghost, you did nothing.  I wrote a report on the portal to hell and no one tried to help.  This guy is just dancing in the meeting room, he's not hurting anyone."

            Ray poured himself more coffee.  "Well, it's good that you're not trying to involve the rest of security, but I wish you would stop with the bullshit stories all together."

            I finished my report and signed it.  "Oh, they're not bullshit," I said.  "You can go check if you want, I'll cover the office for you."

            "You're not qualified to work dispatch.  Besides, how do you know it was the boogey man?"

            "Because he was dancing.  You know, dance, boogie, get it?"

            I was just refilling my coffee cup when the phone rang.  Ray snatched up the receiver.

            "Security," he said.

            After listening for a second, he picked up a pen and began to scribble notes.  I had the sinking feeling that I would be writing another report soon.

            "Okay, I'll send Justin right over," Ray said before he hung up.  "Bad news.  That was Terrence, he said that the cafeteria in building two has been broken into and vandalized."

            "Crap," I climbed out of my chair, clipping the radio to my belt.  "I'll get down there.  Are you going to call the police?"

            "Yeah, I'll let you know when they get here."

            He was already on the phone again as I jogged out the door.

***

            I arrived at the cafeteria five minutes later, right around one in the morning.  I was only two hours into my shift, and it felt like it would never end.

            I saw Terrence behind the serving counter, waving me into the kitchen.  Sauntering through the cafeteria and past the counter, I saw the destruction that lay ahead.

            Spatulas and mixing bowls had been thrown everywhere.  One of the deep fryers had been emptied, leaving vegetable oil drying on the walls and floor.  One of the locked walk-in refrigerators had been opened, and food was scattered across the linoleum.

            "Jesus Christ," I said, "It looks like a pack of wild pit bulls have been in here."

            "No shit," Terrence answered.  "Pedro's been screaming since he saw the mess."

            Loud, angry Spanish was booming from the back of the kitchen.  I decided it wise to leave Pedro alone with his troubles for the time being.

            "Have you cleaned anything yet?" I asked.

            "No, everyone wanted to get started on the mess immediately, but I knew that you would want to see everything as we found it."

            I nodded, keying my radio.  "Hey dispatch, I'm here at the cafeteria.  The kitchen is torn up from the floor up."

            I gave Ray a quick description of the devastation.

            "Ten four, mobile one.  The police just called, they're right outside of building two.  Would you escort them down to the cafeteria?"

            "Sure thing, Ray."  I told Terrence that I would be right back and started running towards the lobby.

            I shoved the main doors open and two uniformed officers came in, one white and the other black.  I introduced myself as security and began to lead the way back down to the cafeteria.

            The white cop, a tall lanky guy named Garland, was questioning me the whole way down the hall.  I tried to answer him the best I could, telling him when the cafeteria closed and when janitorial found the wreckage.  The black cop, named Henderson, was quiet.  I assumed that he was the more experienced of the two.

            I led the way through the cafeteria and into the cluttered kitchen.  Garland started writing furiously in his notebook.  Henderson strolled around with his arms crossed, taking everything in mentally.

            "Garland," he finally spoke.  "Go talk with the janitors.  I'll look around here."

            The white officer was careful to step over and around the mess.  Henderson pulled a small camera from his pocket and started taking pictures of the mess.

            I was taking my own notes and outlining my report in my notebook, when Henderson asked me if anything was missing.

            "I don't think so," I answered.  "We'll have the cafeteria crew inventory everything come morning, once they get in."

            I stood next to the officer as he photographed everything.  He took his time, getting each spatula and every chunk of food from two angles.

            As he knelt down to get a picture of the remains of a steak, we waved me over.  "Hey kid, look at this."

            I squatted next to him.  The steak had been torn apart, but half was missing.  Shreds of lettuce were strewn nearby as well.  "It looks like it was eaten raw.  Same with the veggies, they look like teeth have torn through them."

            "Yeah, but there's something else.  This dusty stuff covering the floor."

            Looking closer, I saw what he meant.  Specks of a brownish-orange powder was scattered across the tiles in front of the refrigerator.

            "What is that?" Henderson asked.  "Cinnamon?"

            My heart plummeted into my stomach as I realized what it was.  "It's rust," I said.

            Henderson stood up and walked to the open refrigerator door.  He looked around it, checking out the front.  "Holy shit.  Check this out."

            I stepped over the mess of meat and vegetables, next to the officer.  The massive stainless steel door had been battered, rusty dents covering the front from top to bottom.  The lock had been smashed and the handle was violently torn away from the door.

            As I decided that rust had likely been chipped off of the chain, I realized that the Boogie Man had gotten hungry.

***

            The last six hours of my shift went irritatingly enough.  The two police officers took full statements from everyone, then bagged all the half-eaten food as evidence.  I gave them the security investigator's name and phone number, so they could call the police report number into him, as well as mail him a copy of the photographs.

            Once the cops left, I had to stand by the fridge as Jim from maintenance attached as new handle and lock on the door, muttering foul, unholy language the entire time.  I then helped the janitors scrub the vegetable oil from the floors, then went to the office to write my report.

            Everything was secure, clean and documented when seven o'clock rolled around.  I staggered to the security office, dead tired, to turn all my equipment over to the relief officer, a middle-aged lady named Mandy.

            I was afraid that I might be too tired to drive home, but I piloted my car onto the roads anyway.  Letting the cool morning air pour through the window and blasting Def Leppard on the radio kept me alert enough to avoid the other cars until I cruised into the driveway.  The house was silent as I entered, but once he heard the door close, Gideon came trotting down the stairs and into the kitchen.

            "Where the hell have you been?" the look on his face said.  "I haven't had a snack in hours."

            "I know, boy," I said, careening into the kitchen.  "It's been a long, long night."

            I refilled his water bowl and tossed him a doggy treat before setting the coffee pot up.  I set the auto-brew timer for noon.  Coffee would be ready once I woke up.

            Gideon was close to my heels as I lurched up the last flight of stairs and into my bedroom.  Once I set the alarm clock, I kicked my shoes off and dropped onto the bed.  Just before I fell asleep, Gideon hopped onto the bed next to me and lied down.

***

            When I awoke, my bedroom was rhythmically buzzing and the dog was pawing my shoulder.  I turned the alarm off.  Gideon kept swatting my arm, so I turned to face him and scratched him behind the ears.

            "Get up," he thought.  "You've slept long enough."

            We both got out of bed at the same time, Gideon standing next to me like a trusty sidekick.  He led the way down the stairs as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes.  Gideon's nails clicked across the linoleum towards the back door.  My head began to ache again.

            I let the dog out so he could poison the lawn with his urine.  The coffee pot was full and my mug was loaded within seconds.  I snagged a bagel from the fridge, not bothering to toast it, or even smother it with peanut butter.

            I had my breakfast next to the coffee pot, refilling my cup after every sip.  A caffeine addiction is an odd and wonderful thing, helping you though the strangest of nights and the worst of mornings.

            Once the bagel was beginning the digestive process, I let Gideon in, gave him a snack and headed downstairs to watch some TV.

            One of the movie channels was showing "The Thing".  I was humming along with the music when the phone began to jingle.

            "Justin Taggart, coffee connoisseur," I answered it.

            "Hey sweetie," Beth cooed over the line.  "How was your night?"

            "It sucked.  I worked graveyard shift last night because Skip called off."

            "Oh, poor baby.  I bet I can make you feel better."

            I smirked.  "I bet you could."

            When Beth and I had first started dating, our relationship was pretty much about sex.  While our libidos have never taken second place, we discovered that we really like spending time together.  Our three month anniversary was coming up soon.

            "Well, I'm sure that it was a quiet night," my lady said.

            "Nope.  First, the Boogie Man showed up in building one, dancing the night away.  And then he trashed the cafeteria in building two."

            Beth was one of the witnesses to the gateway to hell, so she knows as well as I do that some freaky, metaphysical shit sometimes occurred at work.

            "Oh, my god," she said.  "What are you going to do?"

            I grimaced, not seeing why it was my problem.  "I have no clue.  If he was just dancing, I would leave him alone.  But if he keeps trashing the cafeteria, I'll worry about it then."

            Once again, I was falling into the role of supernatural security guard.

            "If you're not busy," I said, "Why don't you come over?"

            "Okay.  I'll be there in twenty."

            I killed the line before standing up, stretching my back and walking up the stairs.  Whenever I have a friend coming over I leave the front door open so they can just walk right in.  Once I opened the door this time, Chris walked right in.

            "Hey bro, good timing," he said.  "You must be psychic."

            I led Chris down to the living room while he lit a fresh joint.  He dropped into the easy chair, trying to hold the toke in.

            "Dude," he said, his voice raspy.  "Those mutton chops are far out."

            I smirked, "Damn straight.  You'll never guess what happened at work last night."

            Chris sat up, "More ghosts?  A leprechaun this time?"

            My pot-smoking friend had come to enjoy our encounters with the supernatural.  He told me a few weeks ago that he wanted to start his own ghost-hunting business.

            "Nope.  Dancing Boogie Man in building one."

            "Awesome!" Chris' eyes were alight.  "Maybe he would like to come to my break dancing contest today."

            "Well, he was doing some disco dancing last night, not sure that break dancing is his style."

            I sat back, flipping through channels until I came across "Revenge of the Ninja", before realizing that I had missed something in Chris' last statement.

            "Wait a minute," I said.  "Break dancing contest?  Since when do you dance at all?"

            It was Chris' turn to smile.  "I've been cutting the rug for years, man.  I decided that competing could win me some extra cash, so I signed up for the earliest contest.  You want to come?  It starts at four."

            I checked my watch.  It was only one o'clock, still enough time to finish watching Sho Kosugi kick some ass.

            "Yeah, if Beth wants to go, we'll tag along."

            The movie continued on for a few more minutes before Chris spoke up again.

            "Dude, I almost forgot.  My philosophy circle is getting together tonight, I was wondering if we could use your house?"

            "Why here?"

            "Well, we usually go to Frankie's house, but her record player is broken.  We like to play classical music when we do our deep thinking.  You know, Beethoven stimulates the mind."

            I had been exposed to the philosophy group once before, only to discover that it was basically a bunch of pot smokers sitting around and spitting out half-baked riddles that they thought were based on the search for higher knowledge.  But since I could use a good laugh and my parents had a working turntable, I agreed to hold the meeting at my place.

            We watched an old grandma ninja get sliced to pieces before Beth came in.

            "Hey honey," she said.  "Hey Chris."

            "Dude," Chris greeted her.

            Once she reached the bottom of the stairs, Beth froze in place, staring at me.

            "What the hell did you do to your face?" she asked, worried.

            "I decided to grow some mutton chops."

            "Some what?"

            "Mutton chops.  They're like massive sideburns, babe.  It's a retro thing, like Elvis."

            "Oh.  I thought it was a funny looking bruise."

            Beth sat next to me, still trying to evaluate my chops.  I draped my arm around her shoulders and told her about the contest.

            "Sounds like fun," she says.

            We sat in silence until the movie ended, Chris grinning like a stoned idiot the whole time.  Once the credits began to roll, he began to applaud the TV screen.

            "Sweet!" he said.  "I fuckin' love that movie!"

            "You know," I replied, "the people who made that film are never going to hear you clapping."

            His hands dropped to his lap, immense confusion clouding his eyes.  "Oh shit," he moaned.  "You're right.  I've been wasting precious energy clapping at the TV for years!"

           If I took this statement to heart, I would be plagued with headaches all day.  I decided to plant a kiss on Beth's lips for a quick distraction.  Her hand darted down to the crotch of my pants.

            "Hey," I murmured.  "Chris is here, none of that."

            "I don't mind, bro.  It'll be like watching porn."

            Beth started giggling, most likely contemplating the idea of committing sins in front of my best friend.  I had to put a stop to this nonsense, fast.

            "Oh, hell no," I said.  "Not gonna happen.  I only get my horizontal swerve on in privacy."

            Chris called me a killjoy and lit another joint.

            "Should you really be smoking that much marijuana before you dance?" my lady asked.

            "Definitely.  Helps keep my body loose and my mind focused."

            I've only heard that marijuana improves mental function from potheads, but I'm no scientist, so I decided to let Chris do what he wants.  Beth was doing her damnedest to get my hormones flowing when I checked my watch and decided it was time to get on the road.

            We piled into my car, Beth next to me, Chris sprawled across the back seat.  I scanned the radio until I could pull up some Zeppelin, then zipped out of the driveway.

GO TO PART II





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