[Fiction Practice] Cleared Side Job

Someone waved vigorously at two computer technicians as they returned from lunch. “Wasn’t that Harlowe?” “Yeah, he’s cool. Say, Sammohini…” the older technician, Hank, looked made sure no one was around before continuing, “how good are you at keeping secrets?” “Well, certainly not if it’s bad, unethical, or illegal! But, I mean, if it doesn’t hurt anyone, I guess it’s OK, so, I guess good…” “…Want an easy side job? The work’s clean and clear.”

“I’m not really sure.”

“Well, lemme explain. Worst case, no worries, just forget I said anything. Sound cool?” The older technician, Hank, guided the walking pace along a detour back to their office. “I mean, sure, I guess.” “So, Harlowe needs a lot of computer help, like, once a week or more. It’s always simple stuff. The team all know it. Linda’s turned a blind eye to it, as long as we don’t spend too long on the clock, and we don’t raise any attention off. Get where I’m going?” “I think so…” “It’s like helping out your parents with computer stuff. He pays decently, or if you feel awkward about that, he and his son do home repair.”

“I dunno, I kinda do need some extra cash, and it seems fair…”

“Why don’t you think it over for a few days? Feel free to talk it over with your family or whoever, just don’t tell them everything. Just say it’s like, a- well, it’s like picking up some overtime.” They were approaching the end of their quiet detour with their department’s doors nearly in sight. “I’ll help!” “Huh, OK, cool. Do you have time later today to help me out with some work? I’ll ping you.” “Sure! I don’t have anything scheduled. I’m just working on clearing out my ticket queue a little bit, so maybe I can get your help with one or two things I’m, not that I’m stuck, but it might be nice.”

They walked by their boss’s office door.

“Yeah, no worries. I’ll give you a hand, then we can go help out Harlowe.” There was a guttural sigh from within the office. “Hey, I’ll catch up with ya later, gotta chat real quick.” “OK, sure, umm… thanks again for your help!” Hank bobbed his head, walked into Linda’s office, and closed the door. Sammohini returned to her desk and logged in to a new ticket sitting in her queue. It was assigned directly from Hank, and where it wasn’t vague, it was cryptic. She was puzzled for a moment but figured she’d take her mind off it by clearing out some work and prepping some questions for later.

Her disheveled’s coworker’s hair appeared in her desk mirror about one hour later.

“Ready for that field trip?” “Sure!” She collected a few notes before putting on her coat. As they left the department, he patted down his hair and finished buttoning his customer-facing jacket, covering up a faded concert shirt. “I’m sure you were wondering about that ticket we made.” They walked down a long corridor she hadn’t been through before. “Yeah, I mean, it wasn’t really clear what I should do. I kinda figured it was about Harlowe and all, but umm… I dunno, is this really OK to do? I mean, we’re on company time right now, right? Even if Linda’s OK with it, I mean, what if we get caught?”

Hank stopped just before the maintenance department. Sammohini turned.

“What’s there to catch? He told us his work computer isn’t working and we can’t upgrade that piece of junk yet. Just gotta see what’s up with it this time.” Though he looked like he hadn’t got more than four hours of sleep in the past week, his slight smile didn’t help, but there was a polite intensity in his piercing eyes. “Yeah, I guess, umm…” She looked around, first at her answered notes, then thinking over the general situation. Maybe this is just how life works? “Yeah! Thanks!” He exhaled, and she thought she could see a plume of smoke. “No worries. Now let’s ‘break it to fix it!'” “Yeah!”

They entered into a large cafeteria. It was nearly empty.

“Yo, Rockstar!” One of the three burly construction workers called out, sitting at a table on the far end of the cafeteria. “How’s it going, ladies?” The two women at the table laughed as the deeply-sunburned man with a shaggy beard blushed. He quickly joined in the laughter. “Well, see ya guys later!” “Later!” Sammohini stood, disbelieved, watching as one woman lightly punched the man in the shoulder, before catching up to Hank as he put on a hardhat labeled ‘visitor’ from the rack. “That was good! Was that from a show or something?” “Nah, it’s all part of the game. We’re in rough territory.”

She grabbed one of the visitor hardhats from the rack.

They walked along the wall of the quiet warehouse. She had worked at Eville Medical for just about six months but never been through these parts, and her friend Jane was still working at that moving job, but she’d never been in a warehouse before. “Alright, we’re just about there.” She returned to reality and jumped at an ominous sign saying ‘keep clear.’ They were in front of a large machine with a ladder going down into a circular hole. “There’s a freight elevator over there if you prefer, but this is a good shortcut.” “No, this is cool! I’ve never seen anything like this!”

They went down the ladder and Hank knocked thrice on a nearby unmarked door.

The door opened to the unassuming man from earlier motioning them in. “How’s it going, Harlowe?” Hank let Sammohini go forward as he closed the door. The room was cramped. The three of them could barely fit in the small machine room, along with a large workbench that had tools meticulously positioned on a pegboard wall, and the “problem” computer attached to the wall near the door. That computer faced a window overlooking the innards of the large machine from the surface. “No good, Rockstar! Computer acted weird yesterday.” There was just enough room for two chairs.

“Sammohini here’d like-ta help. I’ll fix this piece of junk over here…”

There was a weird laptop on the workbench. It definitely wasn’t a company device, so this was untrodden territory for her, but she was already this far along. What would be the harm in trying? Harlowe sat in front of the laptop, confused, as though he were looking at an object that appeared out of the ether. “Can you tell me how the computer acted weird yesterday?” The time went by as they talked, Sammohini trying with each question to get a better idea of what was going on, narrowing down where the issue was occurring, until she figured it out, and translating for Harlowe to understand.

“Thank you, Superstar!”

There was a minor laugh from the corner. “Oh, no, thank you, Harlowe! This was nice. I’m glad I was able to help you!” “Really appreciate. Thank you for the explain. Makes sense.” They exchanged niceties for another minute, before talking and concluding business, and Sammohini writing down her phone number on a scrap piece of paper. “Sure, I have time this weekend. Would you like to stop by our apartment? My husband can take care of our baby for an hour or so while we talk some more about this. Do you want to see a picture of little Allie Pally? Actually, here’s a family photo of us.”

She showed Harlowe a photo from her purse wallet.

“So cute. You have so happy family.” She smiled. “Ah, thank you, yeah, Samuel and I just got married about a year ago, and Alejandría came along shortly after. We’re both working a lot, and it’s tough finding a good place to live in the city, but we found a good place that’s a little pricey, but we make due with what we have, and our parents help us out, too.” There was a little cough from the corner. “Oh yeah, Hank! Would you like to see the photo, too?” She turned to see him quickly put away some sheet music he had been studying. “Sure. We probably should be getting back soon, though, too.”

“Oh! I completely lost track of time.”

“I hadn’t. We’re still good.” He looked at the photo of the smiling family, smiled a little himself, before handing it back carefully. “Thank you, Harlowe.” He smiled. They departed and on their journey back, discreetly talked about how to cover their tracks. “You know, you really hit it off with him. We get along well enough, and he’s nice, but it’s like you’re talking in more of his language, if I may say so.” “Oh, thanks.” They arrived back to their department, and Hank, upon seeing that their boss’s door was open, waited, knocked, and motioned for Sammohini to enter the door, before closing it.

“How’d it go?”

“Harlowe gave her the nickname ‘Superstar!’ And she’s taking on some weekend duties.” “Nice! Good work, ‘Superstar!'” “Oh, umm… thank you, Linda. We hit it off really well, and he’s nice. He kinda reminds me of my father in a lot of ways. I’m usually the computer helper in the family, even when my sister Trishna is around, I guess because I do this sort of thing professionally? It’s easy enough, even when people are mean sometimes, but- H-Harlowe’s nice! He’s not mean at all! I think I can get him cookin’ along like everyone else with a few visits over to my place to help him along.”

“Yeah, he needs a lot of computer help.”

Hank was slouching in his chair, looking over the scribbles in his notepad. Sammohini sat in the chair more directly facing Linda. “You’ve probably noticed we don’t do this a whole lot. Well, I don’t know. Rockstar’s got his own thing going on. He’s your team’s best worker, so I don’t care. Anyhow, Harlowe’s our well-documented exception case. Lisa got involved with this whole thing about a year ago. However you want to get it done is fine! Just don’t get too sucked in. He can be a little needy.” “Thanks for the advice! I think it’ll work out.” “Yeah, they got along real well. She’s a ‘Superstar,’ after all!”

“Well, I trust you’ll do well, ‘Superstar.'”

“Oh, thank you, Linda. Yeah, I think it’ll work out good! We, umm, I- the…” “She got paid more than usual.” “Huh, oh, umm, cool!” The boss shifted back in her chair, folded her arms, and exhaled slightly with a slightly stern look on her face. “Sammohini, just remember, don’t let this pet project of ours overwhelm you. This should not affect your regular duties. Or your family time. If it gets to be too much, let Hank or I know.” “Yeah, I don’t have much time on the weekends anymore. My band’s coming along well. But if needed, we can figure out something. Just take the rhythm slow and steady.”

“I will, thanks!”

“Well, I’m planning out some projects with Hank here, so why not close out that ticket with something vague? Thanks again for your help.” “Sure thing! Oh, yeah, cool, well, thank you again, Hank, too.” She stood up, left the office decorated with plethoric military awards, and closed the door quietly on her way out. Upon returning to her desk, as advised, she wrote some innocent notes about what was going on with the laptop. She caught herself accidentally writing “laptop” but replaced every instance with “computer” and double checked everything before closing the ticket.

Everything looked good on paper.

Sammohini returned to her other assigned duties, and on the drive home, thought about everything that happened. How many other folks were out there like Harlowe that needed help? They could definitely use some more money, but Alejandría was happy and healthy, which was the most important thing.

They could get by better with this extra side money.

Quotes: None
Sources: My professional experiences. At this point, I will need to clarify the nuances of this work of fiction with elements of truth. Side jobs like this are an open secret within the IT departments. You’re just a few key code words away from making side money, especially if you’ve worked at a company for a few years. As you might imagine, I’ve been burned by the nature of some of this work, so now I deflect any offers for side jobs. It’s not worth the risk, or time away from writing, or sometimes relaxing, but back in my wild, younger days…?
Inspirations: After writing about Harlowe’s Burrow in “Middle of Turn,” I made a note to write about it, and eventually this story unfolded. Sammohini’s nickname was based on Hank’s nickname and went with Superstar. This sort of senior and junior training dynamic is honestly discouraged by most management styles, but narratively, it was more convenient to tell the story this way.
Related: Somewhere in the Sammohini Arc of “The Story” after the “Turn” Trilogy: 123.
Photo: Taken at a warehouse somewhere along the way… Isn’t it striking typeface?
Written On: May 30th
Last Edited: May 30th
My big goal is writing. My most important goal is writing "The Story." All other goals should work toward that central goal. My proudest moment is the most recent time I overcame some fear, which should have been today. I'm a better zombie than I was yesterday. I'm not better than you and you're not better than me. Let's strive to be better every day.