Sunday, April 3, 2022

The Interview

He was running the vacuum cleaner when the phone rang. Zack Turner had been busy looking for work the last few months in the rebuilding city of New York. He’d been turned down by most of the major newspapers, The Daily, and The Chronicle. Even the tabloid news website, the Daily slammed the door in his face. Zack was down on his luck and things didn’t look promising for many job prospects.

The most exciting event to happen to Zack tonight was he’d got a free pizza from a coupon in a flyer. Depression had set in hard and at least he enjoyed doing the mundane like cleaning, even if it was at nine at night. It would be another evening of falling asleep on his futon and playing on his phone til he passed out from boredom.

Zack looked around his little dingy one room apartment in Forest Hills, Queens, New York and sighed. Could this be good news? Could this particular phone call be the one that meant he could pay rent on his own rather than borrow money from his brother. Who would be calling at this hour? It’s likely a wrong number anyway, he always got calls for a “Sandie”, and man, did she get some WEIRD messages.

The banged up Garfield shaped phone rang one more time before Zack could reach it, and the call went to his answering machine. A woman’s voice on the end of the speaker could be heard.

“Mr. Turner, I am a representative for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division and we’d like to speak with you. We have an opportunity that could fit your unique perspective, and we would like to speak with you at your earliest convenience. If you could show up at 200 Park Avenue in Manhattan at around ten am tomorrow morning, we would appreciate it. Miss Potts will meet you at the front entrance. We look forward to meeting you.”

Zack looked at disbelief at the answering machine and was legitimately really happy for once. This was a real chance. It sounded like a job interview and maybe something really interesting. He didn’t remember the name of the organization though from the message, did he apply there and forget? It didn’t really matter. He’d bounced around from doing things like Uber driving and even working in a call center selling life insurance to retirees in Florida.

Zack had a lot of questions for tomorrow, but he wanted to be fresh and well rested. He also had to figure out how to get from Forest Hills to Manhattan, guess he was taking his beater of a car right down town. How in the Hell was he going to find parking in the middle of the morning rush? Maybe he could get a ride from his friend, Cynthia, he’d have to call now though before she went to bed for the night. Zack was pretty sure she didn’t have classes tomorrow morning so maybe she was playing World of Warcraft or something.

He picked up his cellphone and quickly dialed Cynthia, and hoped she’d pick up. A few rings, she finally picked up and sounded surprised to hear from him.

“Hey Cynthia! How’s it going? Long time no chat! You got a second?” Cynthia answered the phone and was happy to hear from her friend, Zack.
“Well, well, Zack Turner as I live and breathe. What does my favorite unemployed drain on society have for me this evening?” She jokingly said.

Cynthia and Zack had both moved to New York from the lonely isolated woods of Michigan last summer. Cynthia was going to university here for engineering, and Zack tagged along because he thought he could make it in the big city as well. Zack did have some writing experience from the Lansing newspaper scene. This, however, was way different then small town municipal politics and covering small town crime stories.

“So, I have a job interview tomorrow morning, and I kinda need a ride. Think you could help me out? I mean, I could make you dinner, beat someone up or maybe fix your laptop next time it dies on you. I really need this, it’s in Manhattan and it sounds really cool.”

Zack felt Cynthia’s mood shift a little bit towards annoyed but willing to help. She let out a huge exasperated breath but she relented.

“Yeah, I can do that for you. What time are we leaving at?” “Well, I have to be there for 10…”
Zack could feel her jaw drop through the phone and he hoped she’d still stay true to her word. It meant taking the big roads into NYC. That meant dealing with crazies, taxis and all sorts of other vehicular madness. Morning traffic was nothing to mess with, especially when you had somewhere to be.

“Fine, but we’re so getting Starbucks and you’re paying for it, kiddo. It’s a good thing I love you,man because, seriously…you better get this gig, whatever it is.”

“Cool, pick me up at 7:30 and we’ll head in.”

Zack hung up the phone and breathed a huge sigh of relief. He had a ride and he could get a reasonably good night sleep. He already had a suit in his closet that he sat in a bag for most of his

time here but it would at least smell good and hopefully not be too creased or anything. So, he was about as prepared as he was going to be for this thing.

Zack had written dozens of articles on political figures in his hometown of Lansing. He’d covered town events like Lansing Jazz festival, and he’d interviewed the Governor of Michigan at least three times. He was a competent reporter, but wasn’t set out to serve any one agenda other than the truth and serve the public trust.

The young reporter went to sleep finally with a good feeling about things tomorrow. He was prepared, and he was ready for whatever was going to happen. He still didn’t have any idea of exactly what he was going into. However, he decided he was going to have a good attitude this time and trust his abilities, and trust that his gut was leading him into the right direction with this one.

Zack dreamed of Pulitzer prizes and show stealing headlines and breaking scandals that rattled the upper echelons of government. This was going to mean, a bigger apartment, and new clothes. Maybe he could finally get a little dog that he could take to the park, and maybe meet a girl or two.

Morning came and it was a bright and sunny day in the suburb of New York and Zack was already three cups of coffee in for today. He’d replayed the answering message again to make sure that it wasn’t a mistake or if he even had the address right. He did some basic web searching on his phone while waiting outside his apartment for Cynthia. The organization that was mentioned was evidently some sort of a US government agency, like an anti terror task force.
There was some connection to Homeland Security, but then again after 9/11 what organization wasn’t linked to Homeland Security. He wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Zack pressed his blue suit one more time with his hands to make sure it was straight and clean lined and that he looked his best. He shaved this morning and cut himself because even though he was ready, it didn’t mean he wasn’t a little nervous.

Cynthia finally pulled up in her little blue Toyota Corolla and honked the horn to the tune of “La cucaracha” and she smiled at him. She smiled at Zack and already had coffee in the car waiting for him. She opened the door and looked up at him.

“Well, don’t you look like a sharp lady killer. Maybe you’ve awakened my lady parts.” She said deadpan, as Zack got in the car undeterred by her quip at him. She smirked at him as he looked annoyed then softened when she winked at him.

“You just love to take me down a notch don’t you?

“Look, dude. You got this. I bust your balls because I love and because it’s fun and because I’m awake on a day when I don’t have class. You owe me, so let’s ride!”

“I am ready for this. You know where we’re going right? 200 Park Avenue.” “Wait, we’re headed there?”

“Yeah, so, so what?”

“That’s Stark tower, man. You know who lives there right?” “Oh shit, that’s Tony Stark! That’s goddamn Ironman!”

Nerves suddenly shot through Zack and he felt all that confidence just slip away from him. He’d never dealt with anyone of this caliber. This wasn’t a city councilman or some local political figure. He was going to the home of the Avengers, Earth’s mightiest heroes and they called HIM. What the hell do they want with a small town reporter? He wasn’t anyone special or someone noteworthy like Mike Wallace of Sixty minutes, or Wolf Blitizer of CNN. He reported on music festivals and who had the best Halloween set up. He’d covered some big stories at times, but this was well above his experience and pay grade, this was definitely punching above his weight class.

The drive through the highways and roads of New York filled him with anxiety as he ran through various scenarios through his head. Was he in over his head now? What if he screwed this up?
What the hell was he going to do when face to face with people who had literally fought aliens a few months ago? This was weird, this was too much, and it was all happening too fast. Turner’s heart started to beat more and more rapidly as the large looming building with “STARK”. The business of the streets of the city seemed to melt away in front of this towering monolith of glass. Zack felt his stomach tighten as Cynthia pulled the car up to the curb out front of the building.

“Look, it’s not like they are gonna ask you to take Captain America’s shield and go fight someone. Go in there, do the best that you can. After that, we’ll grab a slice of pizza on the way home and we’ll have a beer, and you tell me how you fangirled all over the superheroes.”

Zack stepped out of the car and took it all in. He was here and he absolutely had to be on the top of his game this morning. He gave a thumbs up to his friend and started to walk towards the building. He tried not to let the weakness in his legs become too noticeable.

The lobby was a vast structure of modern art and stylized design and was both elegant and technological at the same time. Various TV’s and screens displayed advertisements for Stark industries and then occasionally showing video packages for the Avengers themselves. There were various employees milling about their activities and none seemed to pay him any mind.

A moment passed as he walked back a large monitor and a computerized voice sprang to life from it.

“Excuse me, Mr.Turner. Miss Potts sends her apologies but she will not be escorting you this morning. My name is JARVIS and I am the artificial intelligence for Stark tower and I will be your guide. If you please follow the highlights on the monitors, that will lead to the executive elevator. Mr. Stark will be along shortly. Please come along.”

The voice startled Zack as he’d never heard of anything so advanced. He’d heard of things like Siri, but this was way more advanced than the smart phone in his pocket.

A wall of LEDs made an arrow shape and the voice guided him towards a posh elevator and it automatically set course for the top floor near the landing pad.

If he was confident, if he played his card right, and especially if he kept his head on his shoulders then this could be a wonderful opportunity. Maybe this was a real chance at something special, maybe this was a sign of luck turning around. He could do this, he could absolutely handle this if he just believed in himself like Cynthia did.

Zack smiled and straightened his tie and jacket one last time as the door slid open from the elevator,

He wasn’t going to go back to being a loser. He was going to succeed. He was going to make a good impression.

He was ready.

Zack looked out the large window by the landing pad and heard the sound of heavy engines that could only be one thing. Tony Stark was preparing to make a grand entrance. A shimmer of red and gold strutted onto the landing pad in an appropriately over dramatic fashion.

It was game time.

He was going to make sure this opportunity led him somewhere better than a one room apartment.

He made clear that he would never go back there again.