The other day one of the bosses called me up from his home, and asked me to meet him out at the bus yard. This was a highly unusual request for two reasons..
- Usually just drivers, upper management and support staff such as mechanics and cleaners hang-out at the bus yard. We guides check-in down at the touristy area where we meet our bus for the day to start the tours.
- I have an immediate supervisor and usually anything they want me to know is passed down through him. The guy I'm talking about is second-in-command right under the General Manager, and I seldom see him.
I'll call this guy "Jack," since this is a public blog and I still work for the company, and want to continue working.
So Jack calls me up and says, "Hey Dave, get down to the yard as soon as you can, I have a special assignment for you."
I'M A TOUR GUIDE, what kind of assignment could he have at the bus yard, which is in an industrial part of town several miles from all the tourists? But I went because, you know, he's the boss.
When I got there he handed me the keys to one of the buses and told me what I was going to be doing.
"You're going to drive me around town on some errands."
I had to object. I reminded him I was a guide, not a chauffeur, and I didn't even have a bus driving license. I didn't feel too confident about weaving one of those monsters through San Francisco traffic but he told me not to worry about it, that I wouldn't get in trouble and that the company would cover the cost of any tickets or accidents that might occur.
So off we went, on "errands." I couldn't help but think of the approximately thirty drivers employed with the company who not only have daily experience handling these large buses but actual licences too, but I was just following orders.
The first place we went was to the home of a friend of his named Roger. Jack had me park the bus and insisted that I accompany him inside for "support." AH! Now it was becoming clear why he wanted me along instead of an ordinary driver. I was to be "SUPPORT."
I had no idea what that meant.
I shook hands with Roger when Jack introduced us and then had a seat on the sofa. Roger seemed to be busy cleaning and he excused himself, saying he'd be back in a few minutes with a couple of beers and we could talk over whatever it was Jack was there to see him about.
Jack and I sat in silence, so I surveyed the house. It was a rather ordinary abode -- nothing special -- but I was distracted by all the pretty young girls sitting around who kept glancing at us and chatting in what sounded like Russian to me. But I could never tell the difference between Russian and Ukrainian.
Jack finally spoke to me after a long, awkward silence to explain that Roger was going to be subletting his house out to about twenty Ukrainian models and their manager who were in San Francisco on assignment to do a big photo-shoot of some kind. He was busily cleaning the place because they'd just arrived and were all waiting for him to turn it over to them.
Well, that made perfect sense.
I sighed with relief to find out that we hadn't stumbled into a brothel and that the pretty girls -- most of whom were blonde -- weren't high-end hookers. Models certainly wouldn't be a problem, so I thought I'd be sociable and engage the one sitting nearest me in conversation. She'd been eyeing me all along and smiling a bit.
"So, do you speak English?"
BIG SMILE. "Ya, I do!"
"How do you like San Francisco?"
"I like very much! Is even better now!"
"Uh, JACK.." I croaked a little and started to sweat.
This made me damned uncomfortable, so thank God Roger returned at that moment and handed me a beer. He glanced at the young lady with a look that said business first, frivolity later, so she pouted and moved on. Then he handed Jack a beer and plopped himself down on the coffee table directly in front of us.
"Okay Jack ol' buddy, what's on your mind?"
I noticed a few beads of sweat form on Jack's forehead and he kind of fidgeted as he seemed to look for the right words to say. Oh God, the model thing was just a cover story! It WAS a brothel, and Jack is somehow involved! Or maybe Roger was a loan-shark and Jack owed him more than he could pay.
OR DRUGS! JACK WAS THERE FOR A DRUG DEAL! OH MY GOD WHY DID HE HAVE TO GET ME INVOLVED IN THIS! WHY???
Jack cleared his throat. "Well Roger, um.. you see.. you know I'm a manager with a big tour company and, well, things haven't been going so well in the business.."
Fuck, I knew it! Roger WAS a goddamned loan-shark, only Jack wasn't there to plead his case about any money he owed, he was there to borrow! DAMMIT! WHY GET ME INVOLVED!!! WHY??
Roger took a swig of his beer and then looked like anything but a loan-shark. He looked compassionate. He leaned forward and stared Jack right in the eye.
"Jack, we've been buddies since high-school, you introduced me to Teri, you're the godfather of our kids for crying-out-loud, there's nothing you can't ask of me. Out with it man, c'mon!"
Jack looked like he was going to cry. "Aw man, you're awesome, Roger.. it's just that we've fallen behind on bills and all I need is for you to float me like a hundred bucks for groceries until payday. Not for me, you know, but for Sharon and the kids."
Geez, I thought managers in our company made some pretty decent coin, but what do I know? Roger sprung up and grabbed his wallet. "Are you kidding me buddy? That's IT? I thought you were going to ask to live here for a while or some shit. That'd be a problem, as you see.."
He swept his arm around to indicate the gaggle of Ukrainian models who sat in silence to eavesdrop on the whole exchange. That's when I noticed that the one who'd came onto me earlier was missing.
Roger dug through his wallet and pulled out a couple of C-notes. "Here Jack, take a couple hundred, and don't worry about paying me back man, I love you guys.. anything for Sharon and the kids, y'know?"
Jack gratefully accepted and the two men embraced in a somewhat awkward man-hug that one witnesses on occasion between two straight males who've known each other for ages. We bade Roger farewell and gave the smiling girls a wave as we bounced out the front door. I asked Jack where we were going next.
"The grocery store Dave, of course! I need to stock-up before the kids get home from school."
We made it as far as the front porch and then stood in dumbfounded silence. The bus was gone.
It had been stolen.
The woman who was in charge of the Ukrainian models came out and stood beside us with a slight grin, her arms folded as she clucked her tongue a little and shook her head. Then she looked at me.
"Sir, you neever cross Ukrainian voman.. Alaina take your bus, she drife avay and you neever see bus again! She drife bus off ze gold breedge into ze San Franceesco Bay."
I turned slowly to look at Jack, who turned slowly to look at me. We both very likely had the same look of horror on our faces, which is the last thing I remember before waking up.
It was the weirdest damned dream I'd had in a long time.
I was down at the office less than two hours later to clock-in and start my tour, and I was very thankful that Jack -- as in the real Jack -- wasn't down there on some company business that morning.
I think it's going to be awhile before I can face him.