The bus’s brakes hissed as it jolted to a stop along McKenzie Avenue. Naomi Tucker gripped a few leftover résumés in her lap and sighed. What did a girl have to do to get a job in this city? If no one called back in the next few days, she’d probably find herself behind a fast food till for yet another summer… Ugh. Not where she’d pictured herself at 21 years old.
The bus pulled away from the stop. Staring out the window at the shady sidewalk rolling past, Naomi was startled when a soft voice said, “May I?” Without waiting for a response, the owner of the voice slid into the seat beside her. He was middle-aged, of middling height and weight, with an average face and half a smile, the kind of man you pass by without a second look. He was wearing a cheap beige suit and a fancy gold watch.
Naomi briefly raised her eyebrows to acknowledge his existence, then turned to look out the window again, in an attempt to reestablish the typical bus-rider bubble of solitude. Much to her surprise, it didn’t work this time.
“Job-hunting?” asked the man.
“Er,” said Naomi. On a scale of 1 to 10, how rude would it be to ignore him? Call it a 6… “Yeah.”
“Tough for young people to find work these days, isn’t it?”
“It can be,” admitted Naomi, thinking to herself, And why do you care?
“Where have you been looking?”
“Um… Grocery stores, coffee shops, restaurants; that kind of thing.”
The man turned a little in his seat to face Naomi. “Why limit yourself to those kinds of jobs?” he asked. “Doesn’t a bright-looking girl like you have any special skills?”
Naomi froze. Special skills? No, it was just a harmless phrase. It had to be. “I, uh…”
“It’s okay,” said the man. “You don’t have to answer that question.” He tapped the side of his nose and flashed his half-smile. “It just so happens that my company is hiring summer students right now. You’re going to Camosun College, right? We’ve worked with them before. You might even be able to get some co-op credit.”
How did he…? “Um, and what does your company do, exactly?”
“‘Exactly’? It’s a little hard to narrow it down… We’re kind of a specialized temp agency. Clients come to us with different jobs they need completed, and we send them the people with the right skills to do that job. Like just last week, this little old couple needed someone to water their garden twice a day while they’re gone to Arizona for the summer, so I connected them with Doris Jimson. She’s basically a human sprinkler. Fills herself up by sticking the hose in her mouth and then sprays the water out of her fingertips, so she can water multiple rows at once.”
“I see,” said Naomi. “Wait—out of her fingertips?”
“What a world we live in, eh?” grinned the man. “Doris is so efficient at what she does that she can pull in thirty bucks an hour on a good day, and she’s at the low end of our income scale. We’ve got all kinds of clients. Some of our bigger opportunities are far more lucrative.” The man lowered his voice and dropped his chin as he said the word, and a shiver went up Naomi’s spine.
After a few thoughtful seconds, Naomi said, “And you want to hire me?”
“Does that surprise you?”
“Well… Yeah, it does. I can’t spray water out of my fingertips or anything like that.”
“But you do have your own set of skills, don’t you?” He said it as a statement, not a question.
What did he know? How could he know? “…Yes,” said Naomi. “I guess I do.” She hurriedly added, “But, I mean, everyone has a unique skill set, don’t they?”
“Not everyone,” said the man. “Not like you.”
Naomi frowned. “Anyways, I don’t see what you would want me to do for you. My… skills… don’t have any obvious applications, really.”
“I bet they do,” said the man. “I bet, for example, that you were really, really good at Hide and Go Seek as a kid.”
“They’d come around the corner towards your hiding spot and poof, suddenly you aren’t there anymore! So they give up and look elsewhere, and by the time everyone else has been found, you’re back in that same spot, where they thought they’d already looked. In fact, you were there all along. You just weren’t always then, eh?
Naomi’s mouth dropped open a little. She looked around the rest of the bus, sure that there’d be a dozen curiosity-filled faces staring at her. “I… But… What?”
“And you don’t think there are any uses for that in the working world?” said the man, with his benign half-smile. “Believe me: there are. You just have to think… creatively.”
Slowly, Naomi said, “And lucratively, right?”
The man’s half-smile grew into the real thing. “Exactly.”
“I see.” He was a criminal! She was sure of it. This man wanted to hire her to do something illegal. She didn’t know what it was, or how he knew so much about her, but it didn’t matter. This was not the kind of work she was looking for, no matter how good the offer sounded to her bank account.
“Now I don’t want you to get the wrong idea,” continued the man. “There’s nothing shady going on here. We all report our income and pay our taxes.”
“Uh huh,” said Naomi. Stop talking to me. Stop talking to me. Leave me alone.
“And before we make any decisions, I do have some questions for you.” The man lowered his voice again, almost conspiratorially. “How long does it last?”
“How long are you gone for? Six minutes? Seven? Does it vary, or is it always the same? Can you control it?”
“I’m…” There was no use denying anything at this point. He seemed to know everything else about her. But he was getting creepier by the minute. “It’s usually pretty much the same,” she said, quickly. “Sixish, I think. I don’t know.”
“Fascinating,” said the man, still using his quieter voice. “I’d love to time you, figure things out more exactly. ‘Know thyself’, eh?”
“Sure,” said Naomi, glancing around again to see if anyone was watching—and this time, she hoped they were. Couldn’t anyone get her away from this guy? No luck: everyone else was unhappily sequestered within their solitude bubbles. But through the window, Naomi saw a bus stop just ahead. It was a few stops before the one she normally got off at, but she reached up and yanked on the cord anyways to request that the driver let her off.
The light dinged, and the driver whisked the bus to the curb and hissed open the doors. Trying to sound apologetic, Naomi said, “This is my stop. Thanks for the offer, Mister. I’ll think about it.”
The man stepped out into the aisle to let her pass. “Do that,” he said. He pulled a business card out of his pocket and handed it to her. “Here’s how you can reach me.”
Naomi took the card without looking at it and hustled off the bus onto the sidewalk. She set off at a brisk walk towards home and sighed with relief as the bus pulled back into traffic and drove past her. She could see the man sitting at one of the windows, looking back at her, smiling his half-smile…
She realized she was crumpling her résumés in her hands out of nervousness. Oh well. She wasn’t planning on dropping off any more today. She could print more tomorrow if she had to.