Before you saw the Call Centre, you heard it: keyboards clacking, the soft crinkle of plasticized procedures sheets being flipped and a hundred choruses of ‘can I help yous’, all of it devoid of anyone actually giving a shit.
There were no windows in the room, just a sick yellow glow cast from the ceiling to twenty feet below. The walls were covered in ancient brown foam baffles which had absorbed all the smells a cramped overheated room can generate. It was like working at the bottom of a dirty toilet.
Karl skirted the back wall then ducked down the ninth row to get to his workstation. He moved quickly, head down thinking that Ed was probably watching him. He wasn’t in trouble but he didn’t like to go around drawing attention to himself, either.
Getting to his desk always felt like a disappointment. It was about as cheery and utilitarian as the inside of a 1950s Russian space capsule. There was a phone, a computer, a grimy three-ring procedures binder and a desk lamp that was starting to buzz and flicker. To be fair, Karl hadn’t done much to create an “atmosphere”. Then again, it had never occurred to him he would be working at AMICO for as long as he had.
Karl had studied programming at BCIT but he’d dropped out five months shy of graduating because all of his profs “lacked vision”. He told them he was going to design a game that was going to spin the world on its ass. In between then and now were seven years and a whole lot of water under the bridge.
Before Karl even grasped how it had happened, he’d logged onto a porn site. He had to log out but a Flash animation of a chick shaking her cans caught his eye. She shimmied, leaned in and said something. Then, the clip looped. It was mesmerizing. Karl could hear his brain telling him to it shut down but it’s like he couldn’t not look.
It had started off like a normal enough “hobby” but somewhere along the line, it had changed. Now, there weren’t enough hours in the day for porn. He owed everyone for it, everywhere. He owed his family; he owed thousands on his credit card and AMICO wouldn’t give him any more advances. And thinking about the mess others called his life just made him want to whack off which was SO fucked up. What the hell was wrong with him? Then, the clip looped again.
“What’s up Karl?”
Karl’s heart shot up into his ears.
He hit the space bar. His screen went black. “Whoa, Ed!” he said a little too loudly. “Where’d you come from, man?” He tucked himself under the desk to hide the beginnings of a boner.
Ed stepped around the foam divider, smiling, into Karl’s workstation. For an older guy, he was stealthy. And fit. Muscles strapped onto a barrel kind of build. Ed didn’t get intimidated. He did the intimidating. And of course, he immediately noticed Karl’s dark monitor.
“Something wrong with your screen?”
Ed’s hand hovered over the space bar like he was ready to fix the problem. One tap and the tits would be back in plain sight.
“Nah. I’ve just got to reboot. Refresh rate thing? I talked to IT about it a few months ago.” Karl tried to smile but there wasn’t enough spit left in his mouth to make it work.
Ed stared at him a few seconds, then cut to the chase: “We have a new employee starting tomorrow but it I’m upstairs in a budget meeting. Can you show her the ropes? Get her settled in?”
Usually, once a matter was settled Ed took off but now, he lingered. “Another thing,” he said, lowering his voice. This is strictly on the Q.T. but I’ve been getting reports about an ‘individual’ masturbating in the men’s washroom. You run into that?”
Karl looked surprised. “No.”
Ed nodded like that’s the answer he’d expected. “I didn’t think so. Well, if you see anything, if you hear anything… come tell me.” Ed clapped Karl on the shoulder and walked away.
Karl’s hands felt moist. His skin felt hot. He was fucked. He was so fucked. And as he went through the motions of a reboot, Karl looked around like a person who had nothing to hide.
NEXT WEEK: Becca meets real life.