Everything is Not Permitted
As the night closed in, Mike entered the small building by the woods. He walked over to
the sign-in sheet on the front desk and wrote his name, saying aloud, “Where is everyone?”
He went into Dan’s office, open and vacant ten feet behind the desk, pulled out a
desk drawer and rummaged through it. “What the hell?” He kept looking inside,
moving papers around. Casey came in the front door and went to the sign-in sheet.
Mike, able to see Casey from where he sat. “You’re early tonight.”
“Yeah,” said Casey, writing. “I
need to stop doing that.” He put down the pen at the sign-in sheet and sat nonchalantly
in one of the three chairs arranged near the desk.
Mike closed Dan’s drawer and
came up to him, sitting in one of the chairs. “So, what do you think of our new truck
out there? Hard to believe this place can afford a vehicle like that.”
“I’ve got my eye on it,” said Casey.
“Your eye’s out
there, is it?” said Mike. “Did it happen to spot our paychecks? Mine’s not in
Dan’s drawer as usual. Did you get yours? I didn’t see yours or Ed’s, either.”
“Really? Sure mine’s not there?”
“I Looked. Dan didn’t mention some new arrangement,
you worried about your check?”
look for it. What’s Ed still doing here?”
“Not sure. I get here and see Ed’s car still
here, your car here early, and now no paychecks. At least mine isn’t there. Have
we landed in hell?”
place is hell, you don’t know that already? Ed’s supposed to get me on at the
golf course where he’s a starter on weekends, but still hasn’t come through.
Maybe he’s got some news for me.”
“His news is you can caddy for some snooty elites
and make more in tips than you do in a homeless shelter.”
“Sounds about right.”
“And if you don’t
leave soon, you’ll be working for Ed and chewing his toenails for a living right
here. You know he’s putting in for Dan’s job when he retires next month. Lord
and master of all us widgets. That’s what Dan calls us, widgets. He’s right,
of course. I once heard him say on the phone we were all mentally deficient. I don’t
know if that part’s right. The jury’s still out.”
Ed came in the front
door and confronted Mike and Casey.
“Evening, gentlemen. Been quite an evening. One fistfight, and five minutes before
my shift ends, the laundry catches fire.”
“I don’t see any
fire trucks out there,” said Mike. “You must have put it out yourself. Look
good on your resume.”
“Just our brand-new
truck sitting out there,” said Casey. “It’s too nice to fight fires in. Or haul
these losers around.”
“I did put the fire out,”
said Ed, continuing to stare at the others from the doorway. “It was Tim setting
his shirts on fire with a cigarette. At least the idiot had sense enough to come and get
He moved to the
chair by the wall behind the desk and took down the shift log pegged there. “Anybody
seen our paychecks?” he asked as he sat. “Mine is missing. So’s my wallet
I left here.”
missing too,” said Mike. “Someone’s got some ’splaining to do.”
He looked at Casey, but not harshly.
“Is Bill in his dorm? Casey said to Ed. “That new guy with
“I believe he is,”
said Ed, continuing to fill out his shift notes. “But before we discuss Bill and
his skin art, which one of you two jokers has my check and wallet?”
“Yeah, who could it
be?” said Mike. He again looked at Casey, more expectantly this time.
“Why’d you leave your
wallet in here?” said Casey.
“I took it out to
put my check in it, then got notified of the fire. I know I locked up behind me, it wasn’t
any of these loons.”
“The office was open
when I got here, but you two were here already, though not in the office,” said Mike.
“So did you go off
and leave the door unlocked, young Casey?” said Ed. “It wouldn’t be the first
“I was only gone a minute, and
I kept my eye on the place,” said Casey. “No one got in.”
“That you know of,”
Casey stood up and
started to leave. “Where are you going, partner?” said Mike. “It gets lonely up
“I need to talk to
Bill about something. I’ll be back.” He left, looking preoccupied.
“This is getting stranger and
stranger,” said Ed.
played tricks on me before,” said Ed, holding his pen aloft. “How about handing
over my wallet and check so I can get out of here? My shift ended twenty minutes
“Ed, there’s no one
I like to play tricks on more than you, who told Dan my first day here that I was incompetent,
and has tried to push me around ever since. But my check’s missing too, and I think
we need to talk to Dan about some new safeguards. Leaving our checks in his unlocked desk
drawer overnight isn’t working anymore.”
“And why is that, do you suppose?”
“Have you asked
yourself, Ed, what business Casey has going on with Bill? Do you conduct business with
homeless guys? Think about that.”
“I think it’s
suspicious you’re trying to point the finger at Casey. Sure he’s a bit chuckleheaded
and immature, but he’s not the type to steal our paychecks or wallets.”
“Is that a fact?”
“He’s asked me to get
him on at the golf course, and I’ve put in a word for him.”
“You hire the
chuckleheaded and immature there, do you, Ed? Good to know the kind of place it is if I
ever want to dust off my clubs.”
Ed turned in his
chair and pointed the pen at a hiring notice tacked on the bulletin board behind him. “Tell
you something else. If you put in for Dan’s job, I won’t stand in your way.”
He tapped the paper with the pen and looked hard at Mike. “Given it any thought?”
“I have,” said Mike.
“But you’re not fooling me, Ed. I know your style. There’re only two reasons
you’d tell me you won’t stand in my way. One, you think I’m no competition for
you, and that's likely true. You have seniority on me, and ambition too, and I suppose
your military experience counts for something, whereas I have no ambition at all, at least
not here. And two, you want me to think you’re a fine and magnanimous guy, willing
to give up a promotion to help a coworker get ahead. What nonsense. No one does that, least
of all a self-promoter like you. You actually think you can mess with my mind, don’t
“I know this,” said
Ed, giving the notice a dismissive wave. “You’re the type to hold onto our
paychecks and wallets and make it look like a theft. You’d do it as a joke. You’ve
never been serious about this job.” He went back to writing.
Minutes later Casey came back in the
front door looking like he’d resolved a problem, and ignoring the two men, disappeared
into the tiny rest room adjoining Dan’s office. After a brief time, he emerged and
ducked into Dan’s office. The two others couldn’t see what he was doing back
there, but figured he was sitting at Dan’s desk. Casey quickly came out and sat beside
“Your check was on the floor,”
he said to Ed, handing over the item. “Yours is back there too,” he said to
Mike. He looked calmly at the others while they stared back at him.
“What about yours?”
Mike asked Casey. “Did you find yours?”
“Yeah, it was back
there. I had it earlier. Picked it up after I got here.”
“No sign of my
wallet?” asked Ed.
“Nope,” said Casey.
“That’s not what you told
me before,” Mike said to Casey. “You said you’d have to look for your
“No, I had it,” said Casey.
“I don’t know what you heard me say.”
“But mine’s back
there now, huh. Well that’s dandy. Thanks for letting me know. You could have brought
it out here with Ed’s.”
“I’m going to take one
more look in Dan’s office for my wallet and then get out of here,” said Ed,
replacing the shift log on the wall. “I’ve got to be on the tee tomorrow at
eight in the morning. I think I’ll hold off on writing a report of stolen property
until I talk to Dan on Monday about how certain people here can’t be trusted.”
Casey stood up
casually and walked to the door. “Night, Ed,” he said. “I’d be at the course
myself in the morning if I didn’t have the nightshift to tire me out.” He started
“Where are you going now?”
Mike called to him.
“I told Bill I’d check
on his bed neighbor. Bill says the guy hasn’t showered in two weeks and stinks like
a sewer, and he may have a knife stashed in his locker.” He left.
“It looks more and more like
somebody took off without locking the door, allowing some scum to get in here,” said
Ed. “What do you know about this Bill person?” He headed to Dan’s office
without waiting for an answer.
“Do me a favor while you’re
back there,” called Mike. “See if the shelter gas card is in its usual spot
in Dan’s desk.”
Ed was back in a
minute, looking unhappy.
“Let me guess,”
said Mike. “No wallet and no gas card. Do you begin to see?”
“No wallet,” said
Ed, “but the card’s there. I think you’re getting desperate.”
“A desperado, that’s me,”
said Mike. “But when you talk to Dan about the criminal element here, be sure you
can make your accusations stick.”
“If it was you and
not one of these hobos, watch out,” said Ed. “And it’s never too late to return
“Let me give you a
hint about what’s really going on before you take off for some well-deserved sleep,
Ed. Accuse me of anything you like, but are you aware that Casey drives off with our gas
card and uses it to fill his own tank? Ever notice that, Ed?”
“No,” said Ed,
poised in the doorway. “He doesn’t do it on my shift, anyway. The more I listen
to you, the more I doubt what I’m hearing. Sounds to me like you’re scapegoating.”
He was gone.
Mike sniffed and stretched his neck.
Usually at this time he tuned in a late-night talk show on the old TV on the stand beside
the desk, to help pass the hours, but he wasn’t in the mood for a comedian. He had
his book, but needed to settle down more before he could relax into reading. His insides
strode in his trademark sweeping way back to the men’s, flushed the commode and then
detoured into Dan’s office. He didn’t speak until he was on his way out the
for a while,” he said. “I need at least a six-pack to get through one of these
nights. Want anything?”
"No, I’m good,” said Mike. “I’ll put a pot of coffee on, do the
ten o’clock walk-through. Why don’t you take the new truck for a test spin?”
“If I ever
get behind the wheel of that thing, me and it aren’t coming back. But Dan would
notice the mileage.”
would? Where you going, California?”
maybe,” said Casey, “but not tonight.” He gave Mike a searching look.
“Hey, you and me are cool, right?”
left. Through the side window, Mike watched him walk through the night under the outdoor
office lights to his little red beater parked nearby, start up and drive off. He’d
seen this before, and knew his coworker wouldn’t be back for an hour or two. He never
asked Casey where he went, not caring. The thing was to get through the night. Get paid
for it. Go home by morning. But the little punk had handled his check, considered stealing
it. Would have stolen it if he could cash it.
He got up and walked back to Dan’s office, opened the top desk drawer and took out
his paycheck. At least the kid had returned it. After Dan stashed it in his wallet, he
opened the lower drawer. The gas card was missing, as he knew it would be.
went back up front and put on some coffee. In twenty minutes he’d do the walk-through,
make sure the men were snug in their beds or at least not drinking and fighting. Maybe
get a good look at Bill, refresh his memory of the loser’s inked hide. He wondered
what Casey had bought from Bill with Ed’s money, but had a pretty good idea. Lately
Casey seemed to have a live monkey on his back. Planned to steal a truck and bragged about
it. The upstart lacked the nerve, but needed to wise up.
sat at the desk and opened his book. A dense, foreign one
where a character called Ivan says, “Everything is permitted.” Sure, everything
is permitted in a novel, but in a homeless shelter? On Monday he’d confront Dan with
what he knew and take it from there.
Michael Fowler is a
mystery and science fiction writer living in Ohio.