Like every story I’ve ever written there is a strong aspect of myself in “Night Shift”. A situation I experienced, and even more specifically, someone whom I’ve met, who became a character. In this case it was Derrik Lehmann.
It was my first time in Berlin, I was riding the S-bahn having pulled out of Zoologischer Garten bahnhof a couple of stations before. I then noticed a man looking at me. In the way of most Germans, he was not shy or surreptitious in his glance. Even seated I could tell he was tall and long-limbed. He was no more than 25 or 26, but that could be hard to tell for he had a classically handsome face which would age well: very clean, strong lines, a firm mouth, and those kind of blue eyes also common in a certain ethnicity of Germans, deep and dark. You will think them dark brown or black even, until you’re close up. (I learned that later passionately attentive). From his hairstyle, slicked back except for a few long strands loose around his cleanly shaven cheeks, I could tell it was long even before, while still watching me, he reached up, unfastened then refastened it tighter. Near to black was his hair, very straight.
By that time I couldn’t help but smile a bit, because of his intentness, and he gave a small smile also, finally looking back down at the textbook which was across his lap. Now it was my turn to look at him all I wanted. I pulled out a sketch book to make a drawing of his shoes (I still have it). They particularly caught my eye. Although his clothing was all dark: fatigue trousers of a kind you can zip the bottom pant legs off in warmer weather and a matching coat, ironically his socks were short and white showing a measure of black haired leg, and those shoes with big loopy bows.
Gleaned: A student who shopped in second hand clothing stores, was perhaps on his way to class, and despite his outfit had a whimsical twist to his personality exhibited in his footwear.
The calm automated female voice announced the next stop, and with a practiced motion he closed his book and slipped it into his rucksack and stood, glancing at me boldly again as he walked past and turned towards the soon-to-open door giving me an excellent view of his well-muscled rear end. He must have felt the gaze. He turned just before the little bell sounded, looked down at me and asked, “Ein tasse kaffee?” in a dark, melodious voice. That means in German: “a cup of coffee?”, and in the evening, it might have been “ein bier?” (a beer) or if he were particularly direct, “ein fick?” (A fuck?). Yes, Berlin can be as easy as that.
“Ja, warum nicht?” I replied, standing, though this was no where near my own stop and I’d never been in the area, yet I had nothing to do anyway and he was infinitely interesting. This man I met on the train and got to know to the full extent I desired, I titled “Herr Zug”. (Mr. Train).
I created “Night Shift” around Herr Zug, named him Derrik and settled him into a past work experience I had. A romantic interest had developed between myself and another employee, but not as nearly satisfying as the one shared by Derrik and the other main character, little Jamie Holloway.
The title was first published on November 7, 2010 by JMS Books, LLC. (Update 29 March 2012, after rights reversion, this title was re-released by Flying With Red Haircrow on 6 March 2012.)
“To escape a troubled home, Jamie works the night shift at a department store, among a rag-tag group of punks, war veterans and bickering couples, unsure what direction he wants to take in life until a mysterious new co-worker arrives. With a long ponytail, faint accent, and quiet manner, Derrick manages to disturb or fascinate everyone, not just one pint-sized Southern boy who wants to escape from his boring life.”
“Third shift trailed in by ones and twos. The rather young supervisor, Jason, and his loud-mouthed assistant, Rick, awaited the full crew before giving the nightly schedule. So far, Arnold was there, the quiet Vietnam veteran who went about his work seldom speaking to anyone; the young couple who’d met on the job and spent at least a few hours of every night unaccounted for though everyone knew they were making out in the upstairs stockroom, and Jamie who sat atop a pallet loaded with boxes of soda.
Excluding the supervisors, the full complement was usually around sixteen people if no one called in sick. Being sick usually meant “too drunk to work”. Everyone was locked in from ten p.m. to seven a.m., come what may, which occasionally included heated arguments, emotional break-ups, and hangovers. Everyone had a job to do, and in the end, each made sure the other pulled their weight so everyone could go home on time when the sun rose.
The majority of graveyard employees were college students signed on to make extra money for tuition and fees. They worked the night, caught a few hours of sleep before going to class, and when that was finished, headed back to the store. Jamie was a sub-type of that group. Although he was attending school, he came from an affluent family and thus didn’t really need the job, but liked to make his own money and stay away from the stuffy upper middle class peers with whom his parents encouraged association.
He’d disappointed them when he’d chosen to take a few basic classes at a local college instead of attending an Ivy League university out of state, but his secret dream was go to Europe. His parents had vetoed that idea immediately refusing to fund what they considered a wild idea, so Jamie had quietly decided to make it happen on his own. This job was a huge part of reaching that goal.
There was supposed to be a new guy supposed joining the team tonight Jamie remembered, looking around. Well, not exactly new, but transferred in from another store. Seems the guy’d had some problems with a co-worker whom he happened to be going through a divorce with, so said Cindy, the local gossipmonger.
Loser, Jamie automatically thought, but revised his hasty judgement a few minutes later when the “new guy” walked into the receiving area. He looked to be in his late twenties, was tall and long-limbed, clean shaven with a narrow quiet face, and black hair pulled back into a ponytail. He wore khaki cargo shorts, sneakers with low socks, and a faded band t-shirt. His eyes seemed to meet no one’s in particular before they fastened on Jamie’s a long moment before sliding away. They were grey and curiously bright beneath strongly marked eyebrows….”
My Herr Zug is in the past now, funny to think seven years gone. I remain eternally grateful for what we shared, what memories he gave me, perhaps I gave him some also. Derrik will always be with me in a similar way.
Ah, and btw, I’m currently working on a sequel to this international love story. Derrik and Jamie have more to tell everyone.