NO BUSINESS LIKE • by Nick Mamatas

It was the day before the shootings — the day of the all-hands meeting and the big layoff — when I last saw Mark. He and Jillian were in the window of Fitz’s right across from work, laughing, as I walked by. The laid off workers had gathered there while the rest of us had to sit through a speech about being lean “going forward” — to where? — and picking up the slack, before being sent home for the day to “decompress.” I hadn’t paid much attention to the CEO. If he was so smart, why did he just let half the company go?  I walked in and gave Mark a hug. He initiated it, arms wide, calling me “Kath”, which I couldn’t object to anymore. And then Jillian, on my team in PR. Formerly. I sucked on my teeth and offered her what I hoped was a good smile. We’d had a little tiff the day before, and she’d sent me a terse email that just read, “Let’s leave it for now and revisit on Friday after the big meeting.” Guess we won’t be doing that, I thought as I hugged her.

Fitz’s was pretty crowded. Whole teams were sitting together, some shocked, others gossiping. Every department had taken a few cuts… except for HR, of course. They wisely stayed away, even as Mark waved the other survivors leaving the office over, to join the party. I squeezed in with a remnant of the wireless development team — they’d already sent out their resumes with their smartphones and were being texted job offers, because San Francisco is still a start-up town, dammit, and these guys didn’t come to America to be unemployed even for a day. They were happy to have some female energy at their table, and I bought them drinks. Kishan burst into tears, and yelped something in Hindi, then in English. “I can’t stop thinking about my to-do list!” he said. I rubbed his back with small circles and told him that I couldn’t stop thinking about his to-do list either, because a lot of the stuff on it was for me.

Jillian’s voice, nasal, cut through the hubbub. “It’s like old George who spent fifty years in the circus following the elephants around with a shovel and a pail. ‘Why don’t you just retire, George?’” Then in a thicker voice, with a working-class accent: “Whut? And quit show business?” She got laughs, because cute girls who actually know a joke or two always get laughs. Why is she so friggin’ happy, I thought. I’m the lucky one.

We broke up around five, pushed out by the everyday after work crowd.  Jillian grabbed my hand and made me promise to take an inventory of all her little toys and stuff in her cube, because she worried that the janitors were helping themselves to everything. Mark stood on the curb and shouted at our office, “Free at last!” Then he howled a weird and wolfy howl and we laughed.

And that’s how I knew it was Mark in the lobby the next day. That same howl, followed by the Jiffy Pop pop of gunfire. Then the screams and the shouts of “Call 911!” I hit the floor on my hands and knees. I saw someone actually pointing his phone at where Mark must have been standing. Oh Christ Oh Christ I thought as I crawled to the back exit, sure my spine was going to be torn in half. Then I was up and pushing out onto the pavement, zigging a quick zag and away from work. I was the lucky one.

Nick Mamatas is the author of five novels, most recently BULLETTIME (ChiZine Publications.) His short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s SF,, LONG ISLAND NOIR, and many other venues. He has never been laid off, but has come close.

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