It was a normal morning for a normal man. It consisted of a slow drift back and forth between sleep and the aggravation of waking, for those few precious moments after the alarm was snoozed. It was followed by toast, buttered all the way to the crust. It ended with him watching the morning infotainment news for a few moments as he ponderously chewed. The lady on the screen was crossing to another lady on a smaller inset screen. They were both talking about a prison siege. Martin, our avidly mediocre man, was distracted by the news ticker crawling along the bottom, to the point where he lost all flow of the story being told by the newsreader. From what he made out, there were troops somewhere in the middle east, some kind of hostage crisis in a prison, and rent for apartments had virtually doubled since 2001.
He checked his phone messages after showering and dressing. As expected no one had called, texted, facebooked, tweeted or probably even googled him since he woke up. His ex-girlfriend had once accused him of being a real fourth album of a man. Someone comfortable and uninspiring, but someone who knew what they were doing and with nothing to prove any longer. Plus, just a little bit of extra padding in various places. He didn't take it personally because she said not to, but it was a pretty personal jibe and one that certainly fitted him. They'd split up a few weeks later because he was too shy to talk dirty in the bedroom with her. He could barely bring himself to say sex, and like a 60's crooner, much preferred the term "make love".
He pressed his phone to his ear and called the office. "Right Skip, what have we got today?" he said, same as he said every morning when ringing the office. He had a habit of saying the line he was thinking of before anyone picked up, and then saying a different line once they did. "Hi boss, it's me, any jobs?" he asked, after someone finally picked up. "Nothing yet, but keep your phone on, something will come in," his boss replied. It was unusual for him to not have a job to head to straight up. On the rare occasion he had a bit of a morning off he never knew how to properly spend them. Without a fixed time period and nothing to do he nearly always spent the time scrolling down and down on facebook, days into the past, clicking various links and random people who were friends of friends, and wandering through their photos. An hour could easily drift by until he realized what he was doing, and then the memories were gone. An hour completely wasted.
"Maybe a walk," Martin suggested to no one in particular. His boots were on and he had everything ready to leave the house anyway. No sooner had he closed the front door and removed the key, when a black SUV pulled up at the front of his house. His phone began ringing. "Hello?" he said. "Martin, glad I've caught you, its me again," said his boss. "Look we've got a situation. Did you see the news? I'm sure you've seen it, it's in Tucson. I thought nothing of it at first but, look, someone's got to go there." Martin had no idea what was going on, he had a habit of staying silent in these kind of situations so as not to appear stupid. "Look Martin, I'm sorry, but someone has to... did the police arrive yet? They said they were heading straight over."
"Well someone's here..." he replied, eyeing up the three men getting out of the SUV. "Good, good," said his boss. "They can explain it all, they asked me not to say too much, you'll get paid of course, maybe we can put some of it through at time and a half even. Well, as long as I clear it with the higher ups of course, don't quote me on it!" He said thanks and wrapped up the conversation. Martin stood still, pursing his lips and watching the men approaching. He began to feel a little nugget of worry rolling around inside his stomach.
"Martin?" one of the men said. They were all in plain clothes, the SUV was unmarked. "Yes?"
"Can we come in?" the man said, as the three of them pulled up level to the front gate.
"Yes, yes of course. You best come in," Martin said as he fumbled with his keys. "You know, I wasn't expecting guests so..."
"Do you have some place to sit, this might take a while?"
"O-of course, tea, coffee? Can I get y..."
"Sure, three coffees. Black. No sugar."
"Just like on TV," Martin said, "Every cop always wants black on every..." he scanned the room of long faces, "nevermind."
He brought three steaming mugs back into the room and sat on the chair opposite them in the lounge. They'd all taken seat on his couch and had been watching him potter around in silence. Their suits were well pressed and expensive looking, they didn't gel well with his drab décor. Martin nervously crossed his legs, uncrossed them, and then crossed them the opposite way.
"Mr Schofield, we understand you work for Ambuscade Security Solutions."
"And in that line of work you sometimes visit the county jail in Tucson?"
"Yes, I do."
"And how frequently would you say you visit, would you say people might recognize your face when you are working there?"
"Yes, I suppose some of the staff know me there," said Martin
"And what of inmates?"
"Do I know any? No."
"But would they recognize your face?"
"Maybe, I mean, I don't know. I certainly can't recall any of theirs," said Martin. "What's this about anyway, is someone saying I know somebody? Am I in trouble?"
"No Mr Schofield you're not. Have you heard the news today at all?"
"I was watching the news just before you arrived, but I get so caught up in the news ticker... why? Did something happen?"
"Martin, listen closely, this is important. Several armed felons have taken control of the prison. There's around fifty staff being held hostage in the administration wing. We don't know exact numbers of felons as we've no eyes in the building. Electrical power to the site was disconnected from the grid in an attempt to take out the security cameras. We believe the felons were using the cameras to monitor where our attempts to breach the wall were coming from. Unfortunately and as you probably know, there's a large UPS and a backup generator. So we sent a spike - hoping to knock out the comms gear and surveillance."
Martin wasn't really following, his eyes had been drawn down to the coffee mugs that sat on the table along the bottom of his field of vision. It was like the news ticker again, distracting him from whatever was important, but he just couldn't work out why they hadn't even taken a single sip. He wondered if he should have made something better than instant, but then, if he'd gone to the trouble to make something better, would they have not touched that either? He moved his gaze back up and locked eyes with the officer who was speaking. He'd stopped now. He was staring at Martin with a slightly contorted scowl. The jig was up, thought Martin, the officer knew he wasn't listening.
The officer cleared his throat and recomposed himself. "Martin we need you. They're going to start killing people if they don't see someone they recognize, and you're the only person they'll recognize who can fix what they want. And, you're the only person who can do what we want - take control of the security system, hand us remote access. We'll take care of the rest."
Martin smiled and looked around the room, "oh, no. No that's okay. Hah! You see, that's not really my cup of tea." He stood up, still smiling, a loud expulsion of breath occasionally puffed from his nostril to indicate his amusement. "No no, no- but thank-you- but no." The police officers hadn't moved as he'd expected - he was hoping they would've stood by now so he could shuffle them out the front door. Instead they sat there staring at him with their severe looking faces. Martin lost his smile and felt compelled to sit again. The blood began draining from his face, leaving him light-headed and woozy as the police officer continued to explain. Martin wasn't listening again, his mind was awash with mutterings and excuses: they've got the wrong man, I couldn't possibly, I'm sure it'll work out, someone better will come along, what if I were to run out the door right now? How far would I get? Would they chase me down and tackle me onto the concrete? Would they shoot me? What if I jumped up and clucked like a chicken so they thought I was crazy? Before he knew it his absent minded physical nodding had convinced the police officer that he was following along and he was suddenly on his feet being escorted to a car. His eyes bulged and his lips pursed as he screamed internally.