Five years ago I graduated a Arizona community college with a gpa lower than my typical blood alcohol content, a degree as flimsy as my diploma, and absolutely no direction to my future. I spent the first year in my parent’s basement, sifting through online applications and tailoring unique resumes for every open position I could google. My parent’s terminated my free rent after months of rejection letters outweighed the junk mail in their mailbox, and I turned to couch surfing with my friends. Considering they had similar attributes to myself, I was technically sleeping on their parent’s couches, and that phase in my life lasted far shorter than I had planned.

As my couch reserves dropped desperately low, so did my job aspirations and pride. I started to apply for less lucrative positions, scouting around the dregs of job sites, in the narrow region where I fell just between overqualified for burger flipping and underqualified for what I wanted.

Almost immediately, despite my previous failures, I received a reply.

Dear Sir,

As per the attached documents, we have approved your application to become a contributing member of our team. We take pride in our servers, consisting of only the highest quality individuals, and as such we require a comprehensive drug examination prior to employment. Please review our hourly rates and medical package.

Thank you for your time,

Servers For Elegance

What’s Ours Is Yours

With a click I opened up the attached file, and my eyes widened at the pay rate. Plus there was a medical package, something I had long given up hopes of attaining. I smiled- for once the severity of my financial situation had come to my advantage, as I had not purchased any form of drugs in months, and my friends had already made too many comments about me taking advantage of their weed that I had stopped asking. I even could not afford the high strength sleeping pills I took regularly, ones that I had quadrupled the recommended dosage because of a tolerance I had built over the years

The next week I stopped by for a drug test The documents specified a certain clinic on the outskirts of my city, and I drove by twice before catching the alleyway it was nestled into. The insides looked dimmed, and the sign worn. After entering a small waiting room, I was ushered inside by an attendant who spoke little to no english, and into a back room.

“I’ll need your arm,” Said the doctor, an aged man with a gaunt face framed by wispy grey hair and a perpetual frown.

“You’ll what?” I asked. On the way to the office, I had downed four water bottles in preparation for the test, but there was no urinal in sight.

“Your arm, sir. Your employer specified that only a blood test would suffice.” “They have those? Blood tests, I mean? How long do those go back?” Perspiration started crawling down my back. I hated needles, and while I was fairly sure I would pass a urination test, I was just as sure I would not pass a blood test.

Without an answer, he pricked my finger, and obtained several vials of red fluid.

“Done” He said, tucking away the vials into his front pocket.

“Don’t those go in some sort of container?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Mr.” He paused, looking at his notebook, “Tribuo, I assure you I am a professional. You can expect your results in less than a week, and your employer will contact you.”

In the next few days a lady from their human resources called, and went over my schedule. Every week the staffing agency informed their employees of their next destination, sometimes only hours in advance. I worked weddings, funerals, graduations, events, and anything else a wealthy enough customer felt there was need for a professional staff. The best gigs were typically offered to the servers with the highest seniority, and due to the relatively high turnover rates I quickly rose among the other servers. Even the ones with high seniority did not tend to stay long, disappearing in a fashion typical to the service industry. And three years in, after I became a senior member, I was invited for my first shift at the Henley Hotel.

Almost no servers were invited to the Henley Hotel. It was known for the highest tips, with the wealthiest patrons, and upper management seemed to choose at random who would be invited in. Even seniority fell insufficient before their whims.

Henley Hotel was across the border to California, and due to California’s health laws I had to stop back in the clinic to attain more blood work and a small shot. The clinic’s hallways were dirtier than I remembered, but I was in an out faster than last time, and soon on my way to the Henley Hotel.

A fleet of Mercedes were parked inside the gated parking lot, and I pulled up to the guard station and flashed my papers to be allowed inside.

“Hmm,” He said, scanning the papers, “The computer’s rejecting these copies. It’s only programmed to receive cleared staff. Wait, sorry, it just went through. Carry on.”

I parked, and walked through a small courtyard lit by candles that showed me the way to the side door. Inside, intricate chandeliers dangled in the hallway, their bulbs reflecting off of mirrors bolted on the ceiling. An attendant pointed me through a small side door and through an intricate system of passageways that exist behind the walls of every hotel. I passed an elevator, marked with a swinging “Broken” sign across it’s face, and took the back stairs up to the ballroom floor.

“You!” Said the head chef when I entered the kitchens, handing out plates of h’orderves, “Take one of these, and man the area around table seventy three. The elder gentleman there requested for wine as well, bring it to him. It’s the Riesling, ask the bartender for the 1969 bottle. The event is in his honor, so do it on the fly.”

“Right on it,” I said, took the plate, fetched the wine, and started passing out tempura shrimp near table seventy three.

“Please, bring me my wine.” Said the elderly man at the table, raising a shaking hand to accompany his shaking voice. Age splotches covered his face, which strained as he coughed into a handkerchief, and he squinted at me before dropping me an instantaneous tip of twenty dollars.

Two other waiters circled my same section, and each brought the old man a glass of wine, but he sent them away as soon as they came. His eyes followed me as the evening progressed, tracking me along the dining room, and once I caught him talking to my manager and pointing in my direction.

“Is everything alright?” I asked my manager after catching him in the back, where the customers could not see.

“Alright? It’s splendid. The host wanted to pass along his compliments for you, and asks that you have a beer on him and the rest of the evening off. Just tell the bartender it’s my request.”

“Will I still get paid?”

“Of course. Lighten up, he’s dropping a communal tip double our typical values due to you. Now go, before you mess this up.”

I frowned at the portly man, then headed to the bar, where I was passed a house beer. I’m no expert in beer, but this one had a slight tang to it- one that tasted slightly familiar.

The night progressed, and I had another beer, listening to the classic rock cover band at the front of the ballroom. Couples danced on the floor, swinging in a motion that made my eyelids flutter as my head grew heavy.

Across the floor, my manager gave me a look, and gave me a casual thumbs up with a smile. I yawned, and midway through, realized where I recognized that tang taste to my beer. Sleeping pills. It was the same aftertaste of the sleeping pills I had taken for years.

With a jolt, my eyes opened, and my head snapped up. Now not only was my manager staring at me, but also the elder man from table seventy three, and the bartender.

“I’m going to use the restroom,” I said, pushing back my chair and walking past the bottles of pink champagne. The room had started to spin, but my tolerance resisted the sleeping effects as I hustled out of the room.

When I reached the maze of back hallways, I heard the sound of footsteps behind me, and quickened to a weaving run. The foot steps quickened, and I turned to see the reddening face of my manager sprinting the catch up to me. Even in my condition, I knew I could outrun him, but I also knew I could not outrun the bartender who appeared at his shoulder.

I took two quick turns, losing myself in the labyrinth, though I could hear them gaining behind me, and another set of foot steps approaching from ahead.

Then, around the corner, I saw the broken elevator from earlier, and uttered a quick prayer.

I jammed my finger to the button, and the relic creaked to life, the doors opening to reveal a dark chamber with plastic wrapped walls. Before the doors fully opened, I slipped inside and repeatedly pressed the door close button with frantic intensity.

As the doors closed, I saw my manager’s snarl through the final sliver of light, and the shaft began to move downward.

The elevator jolted and clicked down the shaft, helping me in my fight to keep aware. It seemed as if it took an entire minute to reach its destination, and I realized I had accidentally hit the basement button instead of the ground door.

The doors opened, and what I saw made me step back deeper into the elevator. The basement was illuminated by harsh incandescent bulbs, and a surgical table was centered between two stands carrying a various medical instruments. Beyond the table was a furnace, leading to the hotel heating, with a door large enough to pass the entire table. A man stood in a white labcoat, his back to me, and he spoke as he primed a syringe.

“You’ve brought him, I assume? Expansive as your network is, I’m surprised you were able to find three donors with matching organs for the client. He’s quite a rare case, and to give him his choice between the three was quite the luxury. Go ahead, bring him to the table.”

The elevator doors began to close again, and the man turned at my silence.

In shock, I recognized his gaunt face as the doctor from the clinic.

“No!” He shouted, lunging towards the closing door, but it was too late. They slammed in front of him, cutting him off just as he threw a surgical knife. The steely knife stabbed me in the arm, barely piercing the fabric of my server attire, but no where near a vital organ that would kill me. I heard his voice calling from far away.

“You can never leave!”

The lift struggled upwards, having a much harder time on the return trip, and opened on the ground floor. The last thing I remember inside, I was running for the door, back through the courtyards and to my car, paying no attention to the vehicles that cost more than my entire life earnings on the way.

I revved the engine and my car shot forward, crashing into a statue of an eagle that fell and broke in half on the pavement. I cursed, threw the gears into reverse, and smashed through the gate at the guard building.

Behind me, I heard gun shots.

I arrived home in half the time it had taken to travel to the hotel, and spent the night on a friend’s couch.

The next morning, I left for the outskirts of the city, driving to the medical clinic where I had my blood work.

The building was empty.

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