August 23, 2013

Caper Challenge

 I know it's been all "BABY!" up in here for a while, so when my Twitter buddies Ricky and Joseph asked who in the blogger world might be interested in a writing challenge, I decided, "Why not? I can do that along with a full-time job and a 2-month old baby!" hahahahahah I know, right?  But I did it! 

Here were the rules:

The Category: A Caper. Now, this isn't limited to a bank heist or something (though that's definitely an idea!) but it's definitely not an action-hero shoot 'em up. Use your imagination with it, because it can be serious or humorous or anything you want it to be, as long as it sticks with the general concept of a character in a tight spot having to figure a way out.

Required Elements: These can be used as little or as much as you like, but must be included.
     1. A rooftop
     2. A custodian named Glenn
     3. The line "Well, that's not how I would have planned it."

Here's more info and a list of participants on Joseph's blog, too.  I plan on reading the rest of them when the afternoon sleepies hit me later today.  You should, too!

Anywho, we had a VERY short deadline, so this has been neither titled nor edited/proofread.  Proceed with caution, if you choose to.  Just know that I decided to interpret "in a tight spot" in a slightly different way (don't be dirty).  

Shelby closed her eyes tightly and pressed her thumb and forefinger to the bridge of her nose.  She slowly inhaled and exhaled, trying desperately to lower her rising blood pressure by sheer will.
“Hello? Shelby, are you still there? Hello? Can you hear me? Damn these cellular phones; we never had this problem when I was—“

“I’m here, Mom, geez.” Shelby resumed her pacing up and down the length of the whiteboard, the clicking of her high-heeled boots echoing off the classroom’s empty walls.  “I’m here.  Look, it’s not that I don’t want to come home for Thanksgiving this year.  It’s just that—“

“Do you need money? Is that what it is? I’m telling you, if that boyfriend of yours would just get a job and stop letting you carry all the burdens, we’d see you more often.” 

“Will you just stop for one second and let me finish a sentence?” Shelby took a deep breath. “My last class is at four on Wednesday and, while I’m sure none of the students will bother to show up, I kind of have to be here.  Payroll would prefer that I actually teach the classes they pay me for. Then Cal has a gig on Saturday night, so it just doesn’t make sense for us to—“

“A gig? You won’t come see your family on a holiday weekend because Cal has to go play guitar at some dive for—“

Shelby jabbed hard at her iPhone screen. “End, end, END,” she muttered, feeling slightly wistful for the days when the forceful, gratifying snap of the flip phone ended most phone conversations with her mother.  She sank wearily into her desk chair and pressed a button on her laptop, bringing it whirring back to life.  The email was still up on her screen:

Sent: Tuesday, November 22, 4:43pm
Subject: MESSAGE FROM THE DEAN: Spring Semester

Dear valued employee,
We regret to inform you that, due to budget cuts, classes previously given to adjunct faculty members will be given to tenured faculty next semester.  Your contribution to our esteemed university is greatly appreciated and, should funds become available next fall, you all will be given first priority when and if classes become available.  Please contact a Human Resources representative if you have any questions.


Herman Anderson
Dean, College of Fine Arts and Literature

Shelby sighed.  A part of her had hoped that the email would have disappeared during the phone conversation with her mother.  She stood and closed the laptop, resting her hands on its lingering warmth for a moment before sliding it into her leather messenger bag.  As she turned off the classroom lights, she paused at the sight of her reflection in the rectangular class window of the heavy wooden door.  Her eyes looked wide and scared, and her disastrous-on-a-good-day hair was desperately attempting to free itself from its messy bun.  “Jesus,” she muttered , and walked into the empty hallway.  As she turned to lock the classroom, she heard the creaking wheels of the custodian’s mop bucket further down the hallway, approaching the Dean’s office suite. 

A wave of bitterness coursed through her as she saw the soft glow of the track lighting illuminating the exquisitely framed black and white photos of campus activities that adorned the walls of the suite.  Warm and inviting, its carpeted floors and gleaming wood desks seemed to mock Shelby.  “We’re sorry about your shitty life, Shelb, but budget stuff and all that. No hard feelings.  By the way, have you seen the espresso machine we got for the break room? It’s right next to the Keurig we got last month.”  

“DING!” Her text message notifier went off, startling her.  

MESSAGE: Hey. Extra lessons tonight, forgot to tell u. Extra $$ though, right? Love u. Home by 10.” 

She smiled.  Poor Cal.  She peeled the flyer advertising his guitar lessons off the front of her door, for once not caring if the tape left a gummy residue behind.  She noticed that there were only a few phone numbers left to tear off at the bottom and, for a brief moment, she thought it might be okay after all. If the recent surge in bearded, emotional hipsters carrying guitar cases across campus was any indication of Cal’s future success as a guitar teacher, maybe they could get through the holidays and the spring semester. 

If she got a part-time job.

And if she could defer both of their student loans for a while.

And probably cancel cable and just watch TV online.

Shelby sighed again.  As she approached the suite of offices at the end of the hall, she heard a low voice from inside.  She paused at the propped open glass door and peered inside.  The custodian was standing in front of the two (two!) gleaming, expensive, black and chrome caffeine-producing machines and reading a piece of paper, muttering to himself and shaking his head. He ran a tan, callused hand through his thinning hair. 

“DING!” Shelby dropped her phone, and the custodian’s head jerked up and he looked quickly in her direction.  

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry, I was just on my way out and saw these lights were still on and I thought I heard someone talking, so…” Shelby trailed off as the custodian’s eyes narrowed.  He looked with contempt in his eyes at her engagement ring and her iPhone, and Shelby suddenly felt self-conscious, as if she needed to explain to this stranger that the ring was a family heirloom and yeah, she had a fancy space-phone, but she had to be on her brothers’ cell phone plan just so she could afford the monthly bill. 

Then she saw his eyes moved to the folded piece of paper in her own hand.  His face softened and he said, “You too, huh? ”  Shelby frowned, confused.  Had he found one of Cal’s guitar lesson flyers somewhere else in the building? 

“I don’t—“  Her eyes landed on the heading at the top of the piece of paper he was reading:

Sent: Tuesday, November 22, 5:03pm
Subject: MESSAGE FROM HUMAN RESOURCES: Outsourcing Custodial Service, Spring Semester

Dear valued employee…

She understood.  

She quickly slipped the piece of paper into her messenger bag and sheepishly shrugged her shoulders at the custodian.  “Yep, me too. Found out this afternoon.” 

“The bastards. Waited til the end of the day, too.” He carefully folded the dismissive email and tucked it neatly into his faded blue work shirt. The paper half-covered his embroidered name. Glenn.   “Been here thirty years and now they’re outsourcing me. Budget cuts, shit. But this,” he gestured to the coffee shrine in front of him, “this is an important purchase.”

Shelby laughed. “I was just thinking the same thing.”

The custodian smiled.  An awkward silence filled the space between them.  Shelby didn’t know what else there was to say.  It seemed inappropriate and ridiculous to just say, “Well. Sorry you got fired, too. Happy holidays!” so she turned, hoping to leave without being noticed again. The custodian’s voice stopped her.

“We should take ‘em.”  

She almost didn’t hear him. “What did you say?”

He was staring, fixated on the two shining coffee machines.  “See how well the pampered office drones do without their morning cappuccino.” He looked at her again and smiled, a gleam in his eyes that wasn’t there before.

Shelby smiled back.  “Right.”

“I’m not kidding.” He winked at her.  “You like coffee?”

“Well…yes.  Of course I do, but…”

“Then let’s do it! Let’s serve ‘em up a big ol’ Venti cup of ‘Kiss my ass!’ whaddya say?” 

Shelby waited, sure he was joking.  But as he waited, his eyes gleaming with the mischief of his plan, she saw that she had two options at this point: be a witness or an accomplice to his crime.  Neither was all that appealing but, if she was out anyway, she may as well give one last middle finger to the bureaucracy on her way out the door.  However…

“How do you suppose we get out the door with these things? There’s a security guard at the entrance, and, while we’re justifiably pissed off, wouldn’t you like to get paid for the time between now and the end of the semester? I don’t know about you, but every penny counts right now, so…”

He brushed aside her concerns with a wave of his hand. “I have an idea.” He disappeared into the Dean’s office and, moments later, returned into the reception area with his large, wheeled trash can.  “Here, put this on.”  He threw an extra work shirt at her.  “Those guards just see a blue shirt and wave us on by.  That’s if they even look up from those fancy phones they got.” 

Still unsure, Shelby put the old man’s extra shirt on over her tunic and leggings as Glenn carefully removed the two shining coffee-makers and placed them into the large trash can.  It looked like a nightshirt on her.  Surely the security guard would notice how strange she looked.  As though he could read her mind, Glenn spoke again.

“Don’t worry.  We may not even see ‘em.  We’re goin’ up.”


“Follow me. You push that mop bucket.”

Shelby followed Glenn out of the suite of offices and looked up and down the hallways nervously for wandering security guards.  Glenn motioned for her to follow him down the long hallway to the service elevator.  He jingled his keys mischievously before inserting the key to activate the elevator.  They were both silent as they boarded the elevator and Glenn pressed a button marked “R.” 

“Why does the service elevator go to the roof?” Shelby asked.

“Hell if I know. Just know lots of folks go up there on smoke breaks. Don’t exactly feel like we belong in the faculty lounge, y’know?” 

Shelby nodded.  She did know.

The doors opened to the rooftop, and Glenn pushed the trash bin out onto the landing. Shelby wheeled the mop bucket out into the chilly night air.  She followed Glenn to the edge of the language arts building roof and waited for his next move.  He stood, quietly looking across the dark, empty campus. After a moment, he finally spoke.

“Thirty years.”  Shelby didn’t know what to say.  Suddenly, having to see if the Starbucks near her college apartment would hire her back for the busy holiday season didn’t seem like quite such a bad thing.  She was still young and marketable in her field; she’d find something.  But what would happen to Glenn?  

Just as she was about to say something, anything about how they’d both be okay somehow, Glenn turned to her and smiled.

“Ready? Which do you want, the ex-presso maker thingy or that thing with the cups?” 

Shelby laughed.  “Gimme the thing with the cups.”

Glenn handed her the Keurig and Shelby held it out in front of her chest, just past the ledge. She looked once more over at Glenn, hesitation creeping back into her mind.  He folded his arms across his chest, crinkling the form letter email in his pocket, and nodded at her.  The sound of the paper and the raise of Glenn’s eyebrow gave her the reminder she needed.  Screw them.

She closed her eyes and dropped the machine.  Seconds passed, and then the distinct sound of shattering plastic and chrome on sidewalk made them both laugh out loud.  Shelby leaned over the ledge and could faintly see the demolished coffee maker in the parking lot below.

She smiled at Glenn, suddenly feeling energized by the cold air.  “Your turn! Get out the ex-presso machine!”  Glenn rubbed his hands together with anticipation and lifted the heavy machine out of his trash bin. With a grunt of satisfaction, he threw the machine off the building like an Olympian throwing a discus. 

This time the noise was much louder.  Shelby and Glenn leaned over the ledge to once again survey their handiwork.  At that exact moment, the autumn clouds parted and the bright moonlight lit the empty parking lot just enough to see where the espresso machine had landed.  It sat perfectly between the white lines of one parking spot.  The sign above the parking spot read “RESERVED FOR THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSITY.” 

Shelby’s smile faded.  Surely they’d be caught now. She looked over at Glenn to see if he had a similar reaction.  His smile was even bigger.  He said, “Huh, look at that,” and chuckled a little.  Then his chuckle escalated into full belly laughs.  “Well,” he said, between gasps of laughter, “that’s not how I planned it. But I’ll be damned.”  

“Aren’t you afraid of getting caught?” Shelby was concerned for the old man.  She didn’t want him to get fired and lose any severance pay from the layoffs.  This had been a stupid idea and she was regretting their actions.

“Honey,” said Glenn, “I’ve been talked down to my whole life.  People think they can shit all over a janitor just because he cleans up after them.  Even if I get fired, I’ll be just fine. Hell. Maybe I’ll take up the guitar. I always wanted to; I’ve just never had the free time.”

Shelby smiled. “Are you sure?” 

“I’m positive. Now you go on back down.” He handed her the keys. “Take the mop bucket, and leave the keys inside the shirt and draped over the bucket. I’m just gonna stand here and enjoy this a few more minutes.”

Shelby turned and headed back toward the service elevator.  Suddenly she stopped, turned, and walked back to face Glenn.  She pulled a folded piece of paper out of her messenger bag and handed it to Glenn.  He looked at it and frowned.

Shelby smiled. “I never printed out my email.  Take this. Call the guy on the flyer and tell him Shelby sent you. First five lessons are on the house.”

Glenn’s eyes widened in surprise.  “Happy Thanksgiving, Glenn.”  Shelby turned to go back down the elevator and out the doors of the language arts building and into the unknown future.  Before the doors closed, she called out to Glenn, who was still watching her with the flyer in his hands.  “I’m serious Glenn! Come for some lessons. I’ll make you a cup of coffee!” Glenn stared at her a moment longer, then burst out laughing.

He was still laughing as the elevator doors closed.


  1. That was fun!

    Thanks for joining us!

  2. Loved it. Especially the significant coffee element...