BY BROOKS STERRITT
Bill was fired for killing too many flies in front of the customers. He folded his apron, black, with the coffee shop’s cutesy, punned name on the front, into a small square — to save face. Jimmy, the boss who was three years older than Bill and stupider, took the apron from his hand and shook it like something dirty, unfolding it. He followed Bill back inside the store, holding the black cloth and smirking.
Bill clocked out and left, avoiding the eyes of his former coworkers. Annie, his favorite, said, “See you later.”
“You probably won’t,” Bill said. “But take care.”
He waited a few months, then called the coffee shop one evening from a pay phone. He knew his former boss would have left work by that time.
“Is Jimmy still the manager there?” he asked. He was.
The next morning at 8:15, or just before the pre-9 a.m. work rush, Bill called the coffee shop using caller ID blocker, and ordered ten bagels with cream cheese, salmon, and bacon, ten breakfast sandwiches (three with no bacon, three with no cheese, three with no tomato, and one with tofu spread), two 96-ounce boxes of coffee, four cappuccinos (dry, with three sugars each), four soy lattes, and a blueberry muffin. All the food items to be heated up. Once cold, they couldn’t be reheated for other customers. Bill said he’d be in at 8:45 for the pick-up. He hung up, laughed for longer than might be considered healthy, and calculated how much he had cost the store.
From then on, he visited payphones throughout the city, called in orders—smaller than the first, and always varied in content—and did not pick them up. He chose items expensive and complicated to make: smoothies, chai tea lattes, specialty drinks, frappes, and sandwiches. He was careful of the frequency of these missions. He began changing his voice. He bought a tape recorder, did impressions of different ages and demographics, made recordings and played them back for practice. He stopped using payphones, bought a pay-as-you-go cell phone and changed the number frequently. His goal was to force this store’s location to close. It was, of course, a chain.
Bill read Guerilla Warfare by Ernesto Che Guevara and internalized its directives to disrupt communications, undermine morale, sow suspicion, harass supply lines, and spread misinformation. He put flyers on telephone poles and under windshield wipers alleging substandard sanitary practices in the store. He borrowed a friend’s car, parked it across the street from the coffee shop, and over the course of several weeks followed each coworker home, writing down their addresses. He gave them all the occasional flat tire; Jimmy’s car he left sitting on three flats. Bill wanted to set it on fire, but his sense of restraint prevented him. He still had Jimmy’s phone number from his time as an employee. He began calling late at night, usually an hour or two into the manager’s probable sleep cycle and/or a couple hours before his shift began. When the number stopped working, Bill bribed a friend to apply for a job at the coffee shop, waited for the callback from Jimmy, and began the cycle again.
Bill wanted Jimmy’s health to suffer, wanted him scared, his livelihood destroyed. He wanted Jimmy’s store to fail, wanted him to fail as a person. But the store rolled on: it absorbed losses, beefed up security, shrugged off what in truth were gnat-like annoyances, and would continue to turn a profit in this and in every other year for the foreseeable future. Jimmy, oblivious to any campaign of harassment, quit his managerial position to go back to school. He had long ago forgotten Bill’s face.