Authors: Mackey Chandler
It's Always Something
book in the 'April' series
Kurt Bowman was still upset from his job interview yesterday. They claimed to be hiring for a number of government subsidized housing projects, big enough to go to multiple contractors. He'd expected to be hired since they'd called him in for a face to face interview. Instead the man had asked all sorts of strange stupid questions about his personal life, and intimated he was tainted by having worked high iron on Mitsubishi 3. He simply pointed out he had never become a Home citizen, and then made the mistake of saying the process was very easy, if he'd wished to do so. How that was offensive he was at a loss to understand, but the man bristled like an affronted cat.
The fellow persisted in wanting to know why he took a job there. When Karl laughed and told the man that for a little better than a million dollars a year most folks would work for the Devil himself, a mask of disapproval had descended over the man's face, and he knew the interview was over. How was he supposed to guess the man was a religious nutter? He obviously took the expression literally instead of as the hyperbole Kurt intended.
Then on top of it all he'd looked at Kurt's long sleeves and asked if he had any tats. Long sleeves were just expected in North America now. For something like a job interview you might as well come in bare chested as wear a short sleeved shirt. If the fellow had such a bad opinion of iron workers, high or low, he shouldn't have to lower himself to hire any. The question was way out of line.
The man was just looking to find fault by that point. He'd asked the man what that had to do with his ability to do iron work, rather than answer. There was nothing left to recover at that point by trying to answer factually, and he knew it. He finally stood and abruptly terminated the interview himself, rather than take anymore pointless abuse for a job he wasn't going to get. Kurt probably should have tried to end it on a gentler note, but he hadn't. Too late to worry about it now.
Then on the way home he was driving his rental in manual mode, because there was no auto-control way out in the sticks where he'd found a cheaper room. He was upset and not paying attention. The car data link informed him he'd averaged more than ten kilometers an hour over the limit for this country road and an auto-ticket would be mailed to the address he'd given for the rental agreement. They couldn't provide auto-control but they sure found the bandwidth to monitor his speed and issue tickets. That would be another thousand dollars, and if he didn't pay it in thirty days they'd charge it straight to the same account the car was charged to, plus a generous 'service' fee.
Kurt had felt pretty well heeled when he came home. The third ring of Mitsubishi 3 was done then and they were laying construction people off. He had two tours under his belt and had saved well over half his pay even after sending his sister money regularly to help her along. She lived with two other young women in an efficiency apartment, and they were fortunate to have it. That's why he wasn't staying with her. They were already jammed in and didn't need a male roomie. When they talked while he was still on M3, she'd been describing for some months how the influx of people from the north was driving up housing prices.
It had been bad last year, but now in mid-summer 2089 it looked like even more people were deciding that living in the north was too dangerous. You couldn't blame them. The electric utilities hadn't made any visible progress in reducing the outages and brown-outs. Fuel oil was hard to get and expensive in rural areas. Freezing to death was a particularly nasty way to die.
That was part of why Kurt decided to come home. With the migration south, right on the warm gulf coast was about the only place anybody was doing construction. There were quite a few huge condo complexes going up around Mobile, and he figured he could get a job putting the framework up. That might have been a miscalculation.
He wasn't feeling so flush now. The cost of most things was three or four times what he remembered them being when he'd lifted to M3. He hadn't paid a lot of attention to prices before, because he'd done a year of college and then lifted to Home while he was still living with his parents. His folks had died of the flu and left him and his sister very little, mostly keepsakes like photos, not cash. Food was even worse than stuff like clothing, and he'd gotten spoiled eating at the construction workers cafeteria on M3. They hadn't had a lot of things toward the end of his there. No fresh hamburger to make your own, and very seldom whole cuts of anything for supper, but it was still take all you want scrambled eggs from freeze dried, and stuff like pancakes.
The North American news sites argued the cost of living wasn't much higher, because there were other offsetting expenses that were now lower. Yeah, you could get a very reasonable place to sleep in Winnipeg, and farmland in Wisconsin was suddenly affordable. Last year's phone that did things undreamed of ten years ago was dirt cheap, but it made lousy filling for a sandwich.
A couple of the guys laid off from the construction crew stayed on at lower paying jobs, rather than come back to Earth. He could understand the fellow from Estonia staying. Europe was a mess even without the flu, and he had no family. But Kurt didn't feel the same as the guys calling Earth the Slum Ball and making fun of him for returning. Well, he hadn't then; he was wavering now.
He liked Home OK, but it was very limited. There wasn't any serious night life for a young guy. The number of peers with who you could date or party with was really limited. Homies and beam dogs didn't mix much. The only live music was pretty tame stuff. Kurt favored music than would rumble through the deck halfway around a ring. And there hadn't been any beer for months.
Kurt liked Mobile, and had fond memories of going to school here. He felt he could probably help his sister, and he still had Uncle Don alive even if his mom and dad were gone. If there were any other distant Bowmans with which the family had lost contact, his mom and dad had never mentioned them. Uncle Don and his wife hadn't seemed that thrilled to see him however. It was an awkward visit with his uncle scowling at him and making short unfriendly replies. His aunt said almost nothing, looking back and forth between them, distressed. He'd cut his visit with them very short, although he hadn't just stood and walked out with no further formalities, like he had earlier with the job recruiter. Uncle Don hadn't seemed friendly at all until he announced he better be going. Then he seemed visibly relieved that Kurt hadn't asked him for any help or a place to stay. He didn't tell his sister how badly that hurt.
Rather than wait and stew on it Kurt paid the ticket online. It wasn't like he'd save anything for waiting to get the paper copy in the mail. Then, when he called his sister to tell her about the job interview, she told him the county didn't usually mail the notices out until the last day anyhow. They wanted the late fee if you were foolish enough to forget about it or try to ignore it.
He got no more interviews for a week. He wasn't getting any online responses, not even the usual hungry recruiters asking him if he could do something he wasn't even remotely qualified to do, so he decided to actually visit a few of the larger construction companies and ask if they had something for him to do, even if it was a step down from iron work.
The first three places refused to even talk to him. They had to remotely unlock the door to their reception area, and they looked out at him and refused. Then leaving the last place the police had pulled him over with two cruisers. They spread him on the trunk with guns pointed at him, wanded him, and searched the car. When he'd explained why he was visiting the businesses the one cop had cursed angrily at the waste of his time, and told the older cop there was a group of newcomers downtown who'd got past all the checkpoints, and stalked back to his cruiser to go on that call, leaving the older cop behind.
"Newcomers?" Kurt asked, not sure what the man was talking about.
"You know," the cop insisted, even though Kurt plainly didn't. "Migrants. You can't cover every little farm road and side street. Sometimes a bunch of them, usually just a single family, filter through and don't get taken to the camp. They're bad for business and scare folks they look so rough. They're pretty easy to spot since they have been walking for weeks and not exactly staying at the Holiday Inn.
"That's what they are, no matter what you call them," Kurt said, disgusted.
The old cop had the decency to look a little embarrassed. "Some politician decided that sounded nicer, so the chief told us to call them that at the last morning roll call. If it makes them happy I'll call them anything they want. God only knows that's the easiest part of this job."
"Yeah I can see that," Kurt said, with little conviction. Maybe if I got a job I could learn to do that, he realized. "Anyway...as I was saying, that's all I wanted to do this morning. Talk to somebody about getting a job."
that now," the old cop told him. "It isn't against the law," he said, as soon as he saw the look that flashed on Kurt's face. "But it's been
since you could go door to door without an appointment and ask after a job or try to sell stuff to a business. Going to residences is even worse. People assume you are either scouting them out to come back and burgle the place or rob them. Or you might be working a con to fall down and claim you are going to sue them to force a small settlement.
hires off the street. In fact most places only hire through other agencies, because there is less chance of being sued for discrimination. They only hire on the agency's recommendation and never
you or read your full history before, so they can show innocence of any possible bias. Even the county hires our police recruits through a third party."
The cop didn't seem in a big rush to leave. It was a pleasant day and they were pulled well off on a street that wasn't busy with fast traffic. He was standing thumbs hooked in his equipment belt, and actually looked concerned. So Kurt told him the story of how he'd had a face to face interview and how badly it had gone.
The cop sighed. "It's always something. Let me call the fellow who put us on to you and ask a couple questions," the cop offered. He held his phone square to his face like you have to do to make a video call. It was quickly obvious the cop needed to reassure the business man
wasn't suspected of wrong doing, first thing.
"I'm standing outside with a phone, not at a desk as you can see. I've already ran this fellow against criminal records, he's clean. But would you run this guy's name against your available personnel sources for me, and see what sort of return you get? Thank you, I appreciate it."
"OK, OK, why is that significant? No this is just for my information, don't consider it an official inquiry. That's not my area of law enforcement at all...OK. Yeah thanks," and he terminated the call.
"The agency that interviewed you has your file marked as 'turned down'. This guy claims that is a code for unsuitable. If it had said declined or just not hired it would indicate you should be considered again. I'm sorry, don't blame me for bringing bad news, but I wouldn't waste any more time pursuing big companies around Mobile for your usual line of work. And if you get a lawyer and try to sue I'll deny I ever said anything to you. I don't need to sit off duty for days waiting to repeat hearsay for a trial. I'm just doing you a favor to keep you from wasting a lot of time beating your head against a wall you didn't know was there."
"No, I don't intend to make any trouble for you," Kurt promised. "I appreciate the help. So I'm basically blackballed from any iron work?"
"That's kind of old fashioned, people don't use that expression much now, but yeah, that's what I'm hearing," the cop said.
"Thanks," Kurt said, disheartened. "I won't keep pounding on doors, making trouble for you."
"If you run out of money, don't try sleeping out on the street," the cop warned. "We round up anybody that isn't in a shelter and take them to one, if they are locals, or to a migrant camp well outside town. They placed it out too far to be able to walk in and back in a day, so you don't want to get stuck out there."
Kurt was horrified by the suggestion he might sink so low. "I have funds," he assured the cop. "I'm not homeless."
"That's good. Then best of luck to you finding something. I don't expect to run into you again." Whether that was sincere or a veiled warning Kurt wasn't sure, but the cop walked off to his cruiser, and Kurt got back in his car quickly rather than stand there alone on the shoulder like a fool.
* * *
"How can you possibly grow this to have the right texture and flavor?" April asked. She took another generous bite of tenderloin. It was pale pink in the middle and charred on the outside, but hot all the way through. The little cup of steak sauce with it was built on a butter base with mustard, thyme, garlic, salt and a dash of Cajun seasoning, but no tomato. It was an heirloom recipe from Dr. Ames' grandmother. No surprise anyone nicknamed Jelly would come from a family of cooks and appreciative eaters. The fact April was ignoring the sauce didn't bother him at all. He took it as a good sign the beef stood alone just fine with only a little salt and pepper.
"I'll tell you if you'll agree to strict nondisclosure," Ames offered. "I intend to keep the process secret as long as possible. Heather is agreeable to allowing me to keep the production in physical isolation with very few people knowing the entire process. She offered to start issuing patents, but I figure the Earthies wouldn't respect them even if she does. But if you're going to invest in it I understand why you'd need more details."