The Last Shift

Written by Tim Mason Scott 

 Photograph by   Tim Gouw

Photograph by Tim Gouw

Another day, another Dollar, I said to myself as I pulled open glass door with the words 4th Dimension Marketing sprawled across it.

'Good morning Rick, nice and early as always,' Anetta called from her desk before I even had time to make eye contact with her.

'Hey,' I replied softly. We exchanged a glance for the briefest of moments before I continued past her towards the rows of cubicles.

My desk was all the way at the back, which meant being stuck acknowledging everyone that I walked by. That was what motivated me to get to work just that little bit earlier than most of the other staff. I was by no means at all a model employee; I just hated having to pretend to act interested in other people’s personal lives. I ran my hands against the sides of the cubicles as I passed them; it was a harmless habit I was well aware of. When I reached my desk at the back right of the building I threw my bag underneath it and glanced around. 8.45 a.m. the clock read on the door above the boss’s office, which gave me 15 minutes before the place was full of people. I turned back to my desk and sat in the chair, cracking my back in preparation for the uncomfortable support the chair provided. I stared blankly at my computer screen; the desktop was of my mates and me paintballing. Gosh, how much I wished I was doing that instead of being stuck behind a computer doing data entry. I clicked on the iTunes icon, hit play on the first song that came up and lifted my enormous headphones over my head. I didn’t like to converse much with the other staff members, not more than I needed to. This was just a job to me, not something I was passionate about, so I wasn’t going to bother making more of an effort than I needed to. As my music blared in my ears, I opened Excel and began.

Next to my desk was a large pile of speakers that I had to check the serial code of each individual device and enter it into the computer. It’s monotonous but it passes the time, and being able to listen to music makes it a pretty relaxing task. As I typed the serial numbers in, and each song faded out into the next one, I could hear the faint sounds of people arriving and moving about the office. I shifted my eyes to the clock at the bottom of my computer screen; I was surprised to see it was already 9.30. I could hear some screaming and yelling overpowering the music. It was probably Margaret in accounting getting excited about some story one of the other staff members told her. She always found the littlest things exciting (another reason why I avoided her like the plague).

I felt something touch the top of my head, and I began to get that sensation that people get when someone runs their fingers up your back. Suddenly my headphones came completely off. I swiftly turned to see a man in a balaclava standing in front of me.

'Holy shit,' I said before I had a chance to take in what I was seeing. The man grabbed me by the back of my head and lifted me out of my chair. Pulling me out of my cubicle, he held on tight to my head - it was awfully painful. I had no idea what was going on, my heart was pounding against my chest. My vision was blurry in all the commotion but I could make out the faint details of a line up of people on the ground. Suddenly the masked man let go of my hair and pushed me onto the ground. My head sank and I grabbed the back of my head, I think he pulled a chunk of my hair out. I looked up to see all of my co-workers kneeling in a line on either side of me with horrified looks on their faces.

'Get on your knees,' the hair puller said to me with his pistol aimed at my head. I noticed that my whole body was shaking and I couldn’t do anything to stop it, I just obeyed the man’s orders. I counted four guys, they all had their faces covered and each of them carried a different weapon, a pistol, a shotgun, some sort of machine gun and the guy standing near the entry had a hand gun and a machete. Just looking at all these weapons, I knew that I was neck-deep in shit and the chances were that this was not going to end well.

'Take your masks off, we gotta blend in,' the guy with the shotgun said to the others. Simultaneously, all four men took their balaclavas off. I could hear sirens blaring past the street outside. The guy with the shotgun turned to the other gunmen near the door.

'Vaughn, can you see anything?' he asked. The other gunmen, Vaughn, peered outside the entry doors, the faint sound of a helicopter joined in with the noise. He looked up and then pulled away from the door, turning to the guy giving the orders.

'They have no idea where we are,' Vaughn smirked. The one that grabbed me looked concerned.

'How long are we gonna need to hold up here?' he asked the others.

'Hopefully not too long.' the guy with the shotgun remarked.

I could feel my knees vibrating against the group, aching unbearably. The only thing keeping me from falling onto the ground completely was the knowledge that if I did, I would probably end up dead. The leader of the group grinned as he walked along the line of hostages, his shotgun nestled on his shoulder. I turned to my left to see Anetta shaking uncontrollably, tears streaming down her face.

‘Hey!’ yelled the leader towards me. I turned my head forward as his stepped in front of me. He lowered his head towards mine, allowing me to see his face up close. He had a scar on his right cheek; his tanned skin had made it less noticeable along with the stubble covering his jaw line. “No looking around kid”, he said as his eyes pierced mine. A slight sense of relief came over me as he moved away and continued to pace between the hostages.

At the other end of the line up, someone’s phone began to ring. My heart instantly sank; this could only make things worse. Vaughn raced over to the person like he was on a mission. I couldn’t make out exactly what he was doing without moving out of the line and there was no way I was going to do that.

'I’m sorry,' my co-worker, Eric called out, it must have been his phone that was ringing.

'Give me your goddamn phone right now!' Vaughn yelled at him. I could see through the corner of my eye, Vaughn lifting his arm and swinging back. There was a loud thud and everyone on that side of the room made some sort of squeal or cried out. I wasn’t sure exactly what happened but I think Vaughn had hit Eric pretty hard. 'Empty your pockets, all of you now.' Vaughn screamed waving his gun at all of us. The other armed men showed no reaction, they just allowed him to continue. I put my hand into my back left pocket and pulled my phone out. I didn’t hesitate throwing it to the ground.

'My phone's at my desk,' one person cried out, I couldn’t tell who it was.

'You better not be fucking lying to me,' one of the other hostage takers said. Vaughn and two of the other men began collecting all the phones one by one into a bin.

'Cox, go pour water on these,' Vaughn said passing him the bin.

The guy with the scar kept walking up and down the line; he had a perpetual smirk on his face. I couldn’t stop worrying that he was going to use his shotgun at any moment.

'Stop this please, what is it that you want from us?' came the voice of my boss, James Murphy. The leader tilted his head at James’s outburst, as if he was shocked someone would ask him such a thing. I could tell that James instantly regretted yelling out; the fear on his face was a dead giveaway. Vaughn walked towards James; put his arm out to stop him from proceeding.

'It’s James isn’t it?' the leader said, caressing his shotgun almost as if it was his pet. Shivering, James nodded his head in response. 'Hi, I’m Mason,' he said. 'You see James, I’m running things from now on, you understand? This is my show and I’m gonna tell you how it’s going to play out. So if I tell you to shut up and do what I tell you, you’re going to shut up and do what I tell you.' Mason explained, still maintaining his smirk. 'Is that clear, James?'

The whole room was silent, everyone on the floor were still with fear. All of Mason’s men looked as if they were anticipating how this scene would play out. James didn’t respond, as if the fear had blocked his throat. I turned slightly to look at him, and could see the sweat dripping down his face. My eyes darted back to Mason, his annoying grin had begun to fade and his face now looked frustrated.

'James, James, James. I asked you a question. The least you could do is show me the courtesy of a reply'. James’s breathing became deep and loud enough to be heard from where I was kneeling.

'Uh, yes that’s clear.' he finally responded.

'Good, man!' Mason exclaimed, his smirk now transformed to a complete smile. He turned away from us and walked towards the exit before returning to his original spot. 'Alright people, listen up. We’re moving to the conference room,' he stated. 'I want you all get up and stay quiet.' Nobody reacted at first, I think everyone was too scared, I know that I was.

'You heard the man!' Cox yelled, returning from the bathroom. We all slowly rose to our feet, I looked around to see all my co-workers shaking. Some had tears running down their face; others appeared as though they were trying to save face. I could see Eric now that I was standing. His nose was bleeding but he generally looked okay, thank goodness. I turned to my left to see Anetta still on her knees looking down at the floor. I reached out my hands towards her.

'Here,' I said, pulling her to her feet. She squeezed my hand; her normally happy face was nowhere to be seen.

'Thanks, Rick.' she said in between the sniffles. We began walking; her hand was still firmly gripped to mine. As weird as it might be to say, it felt nice to be comforting someone, even though I was by no means comfortable myself.

Everything became blurry again as I walked into the conference room. High intensity situations always had a habit of making me light headed, it’s why I had to quit going to the gym. The room was set up like a support group with the chairs circling around the room. I slumped into the closest chair to the doorway and rubbed my eyes. I was too disorientated to notice how everyone else was handling our situation.

Mason pushed past his men and entered the conference room; he looked calm and confident as he moved into the middle of the circle. 'Everybody listen up. Here’s the situation,' he paused for a moment. 'We are taking over this office for the rest of the day or... at least until the cops outside piss off.' he explained. Mason pointed his shotgun at James, 'Come up here.' James cautiously rose from his seat and stood beside Mason. I felt sorry for him, he was a good guy and a nice boss, and this guy just kept picking on him.

Mason smirked, placing his hand on James’s shoulder, James quivered. 'Thank you James. That takes a lot of balls.' He let go of him and gazed around at the rest of us before returning his eyes to James. 'Now, if the police come in here asking who the boss is, what are you going to say?' he asked. James hesitated; I could tell he was unsure of what to say and what to do.

'Um… I am?' he questioned Mason. Mason backed away, scratched his head and walked around the circle, chuckling to himself.

'Damn James, I was beginning to like you.' he said, as he walked up behind him. Without warning Mason hit James across the back with the barrel of his gun. We all watched helplessly as Mason hit him again, this time on the back of the head. James fell to the ground as he was hit a third time, I could see blood dripping from his mouth. I felt like vomiting and crying at the same time, it was sickening. 'Not bad man. You took it like a champ.' Mason said, as he wiped his gun on the back of James’s shirt.

He stepped away from James like it was nothing and started to wave the shotgun at the rest of us. 'Now that was an example of what happens if you don’t pay attention to what I have to say. So if none of you want the same fate as James here, then I suggest you stay quiet. If the cops do come in here you’re all going to pretend that everything’s fine and that we’re just having a meeting.' Mason exclaimed as he paced around us. As he looked at me, my anxiety peaked and my throat locked up. I had never felt such fear and uncertainty before. Over the course of ten seconds my eyes completely fogged up, I couldn’t see anything. My body shook erratically and I began to feel myself lurching forward, with no way to control my movement.

'What the fuck is wrong with him,' a muffled voice said.

'I think he’s having an anxiety attack!' someone else yelled. As I hit the floor, my vision began to clear up but I was still shaking uncontrollably as if my soul was trying to escape my body.

'Bathroom,' I cried out without even thinking.

'I’ll take him,' I heard Cox say. I felt an arm lift me up and hold my weight as I began to walk out of the room, no longer paying attention to anyone else other than myself.

'Just makes sure he doesn’t try anything,' Vaughn said to Cox as we passed him.

Continuing out of the room, I stumbled against a cubicle wall as I lost my balance. Cox pulled me away and motioned for me to keep moving. 'You better not be playing me,' he said as we continued down the narrow walkway. I began feel my strength coming back the more we walked, as if leaving the conference room had already lifted my spirits. I caught a glimpse of my desk as we walked past it. My bag was still sitting under the table and my headphones were lying on the floor. Those bloody speakers sat on my desk in a pile, what I wouldn’t give to be doing data entry right now, I thought.

Cox pushed the door open for me and turned the tap on. I stared briefly at the water as it gushed out before placing both hands under and splashing the cold water over my face. It was amazingly refreshing, and I instantly began to feel better. I looked at myself in the mirror, my face was more pale than usual and my eyes looked strained.

'You good kid?' Cox asked as he stood guard next to me, he looked uneasy. I began to dry my hands, '

'Yeah, a lot better thanks,' I replied. He pushed the door open with his foot and motioned with his head for me to start walking.

Walking out of the bathroom, I could see the exit to my far left. A desire to run towards it began to come over me. I felt a push and fell forward a few steps.

'What are you doing kid? Move!' Cox yelled. I started walking, thinking about all the hostages I had seen on the news that had escaped crisis situations like this whilst everyone else was still trapped inside. Maybe I could get out of here, warn the police and save everyone. I had to act fast, this was my only chance and Cox and I were almost about to pass the door. I turned my head back to see him with my peripherals; his eyes were fixed on me. 'Keep moving,' he said as I surveyed where his weapon was. I couldn’t see it; he must have put it behind his back.

A mere two metres from the door, I looked forward to see what was happening in the conference room. Mason was saying something to the group and the other two were lifting James up, probably moving him. Now’s your chance, the voice in my head kept telling me and I knew it was right. I had the opportunity to save myself and, potentially, everyone in the office if I succeeded.

I pushed my right leg off the ground and suddenly I was running, my legs working harder than they ever had in my entire life, I felt like an Olympian. I pushed against the doorway bursting the double doors wide open. I could hear Cox yelling out in the background but my focus wasn’t on him. I was outside; the fresh air flowed through my body as I sprinted into the car park. The gorgeous sun was almost blinding, I could barely see. I wanted to turn around to see if Cox had pursued me but I needed to keep going. It was at that moment that I heard a loud bang and felt a piercing sensation through my chest.

It wasn’t painful at all; in fact the most surprising part was how little I could feel. I knew a bullet had just made its way through my body but rather than agony, I just felt cold. My legs gave way and I dropped to my knees, the bones cracked as they hit the pavement. I began to look down at my chest but my vision blurred. I could see what looked to be blood, a lot of blood, in front of me on the ground. I placed my hand over my chest in an attempt to slow it down, when suddenly I felt all my energy drain and I fell face first into the concrete. I forced my eyes open and in the distance, I could see the outline of people rushing toward me but I couldn’t tell if they were friend or foe. My eyes closed, I had no more energy to give and with that, the sounds around me dissipated into silence.