Written by Kayla McCall
“I see New York City burning down in a wash of flames. There’s smoke and ash everywhere. No, scratch that, I see Hannibal the Cannibal doing some very gruesome acts, but you get it. I don’t need to go into detail.” Lauren stared at me blankly until I sighed and put the papers back down on my desk.
“I expect you to take this seriously,” I said. I’d been conducting job interviews in my office all morning. I always reached a hiccup when getting to the Rorschach portion of the interview, but never a reaction like this one. “If you really see those things in this inkblot, then that is evidence for a severe psychological problem.”
“I’m not concerned about it,” she shrugged.
The officer over our campus security division recently gave me seniority to interview new employees and I took my own liberties with designing the process. Every time I showed an applicant an inkblot, they’d pause for a few seconds and then stutter out a response. With the particular inkblot that I showed Lauren, I’d gotten responses that either characterized the image as two angels hugging or a vampire with extremely large fangs. I was probably going to hire the candidates who saw vampires, because this wasn’t the type of job for the soft hearted. I didn’t believe the angel seers could handle the drunken negligence that went down on Saturday nights.
I was sure that Lauren was the exact type of person who wasn’t fit to join the security team. She had an overall sunny disposition that matched her blonde hair and fair skin. I’ve known her for a while. We were roommates during our freshman year and before that, she was friends with my sister. Freshman year was my first year working with campus security and we got called to break up a bunch of parties that I saw her at. I once had to drag her out of a fountain after she was dared to jump in. Afterwards, I learned that she wasn’t even drunk, she just didn’t want to look like a “little bitch” in front of everyone. I was surprised to see an application with her name on it cross my desk.
“I’m going to recommend you to student counseling—”
“It’s a joke, Jude! It obviously looks like Dracula.”
I hired Lauren against my better judgement and because I only picked two out of the twelve applicants and Sergeant Miller made me hire a third. Our office was pretty small. It sat across from the crappiest dorms on campus and I was pretty sure all the roaches we had crawled over from there. There was also this mildew smell that I’d gotten really used to ignoring, but Lauren couldn’t stop pointing it out.
Her desk was down the hall from my office, but somehow, she was always in front of my face. “How do you do this job? You’re so small.” I resent that I’m a half of an inch over five feet tall. I’m the shortest girl in my family. My sister, Ash, was almost six feet tall.
“What I lack in height, I make up for in bitchiness.”
“Is that how you intimidate the perps?” We weren’t technically allowed to arrest anyone. If it got bad, we were to call the county department. “Did you know people call you Jude Law?”
“My last name is Reneau, you know that.” I didn’t look up from the reports on my desk until I heard her sigh way too dramatically than the situation called for. “That doesn’t make any sense. He’s an actor, not a police officer.”
“You’re telling me he’s never played a cop? Not even a lawyer? What a waste.” She spent most of the day listing out all the movies that Jude Law had been in, swearing that he at least played a traffic guard in one of them. I couldn’t really blame her, most days in the office were slow. Nothing compared to the weekends. On Monday afternoons Sergeant Miller has asked me more than once to join him in a game of Jenga, but I refused in favor of staying at my post. It was a Friday, but calls wouldn’t start coming in until the debauchery started after dark.
Sometimes though, calls that no one expects register on my radio. “We’ve got another situation at South Dining Hall.” I could barely hear Carolina’s voice crackle over the radio because she hated talking on her walkie talkie in public and always made a point of whispering her reports into it.
“What’s missing this time?” I asked her.
“He stole all the bread and I mean all of it. They had to close the sub shop for the day.”
“He must love carbs.” I didn’t even notice that Lauren had sneaked her way back into my office. “How long has this been going on?”
I was slightly embarrassed to admit that it’d been happening since I started at campus security and I hadn’t been able to catch him. It began with a few bags of chips going unaccounted for and the cafeteria staff thought that it was an inside job, so they didn’t call it in until one day in the middle of September when all the peanut butter was missing.
I’d canvased each dining hall after a robbery more than once to find a pattern, but there wasn’t one. Whoever was behind this was more random than cunning.
“I don’t understand why he can’t buy his own food. This is college, we’re all poor.”
“Maybe he doesn’t steal it for himself,” Lauren said. “There’s a homeless shelter down the highway. Maybe he’s being selfless.” Ash was the last person I heard say something like that.
“That doesn’t justify stealing. He can get a job like the rest of us. Our selfless Robin Hood would be better off feeding the homeless the right way.” Half the time I was sure that the robber was fucking with us. The last time he stole from South Dining Hall he arranged all the jars of Nutella in a giant smiley face. There’s a picture of it stored in his file and it’s taken all of the strength in my tiny body not to rip it to shreds.
“Maybe it’s worth it,” Lauren said. This also sounded a lot like what Ash would say in the third grade after stealing an extra milk to give to her friend who forgot their fifty cents at home.
“It won’t be worth it once we catch him.”
I had to take Lauren with me to the dining hall because she was still in training. I had her fill out a report the other day and it looked like the work of a deranged lunatic. Which, for the record, I wasn’t convinced that she was not.
“Don’t you think that this is a little funny? Like deep, deep down in your unconscious mind?”
“That isn’t how that works.”
“I took intro to psychology, I’m basically qualified to diagnose you.”
She started laughing and I walked away over towards Jordan who worked at the sub shop in the dining hall. He was sitting at a table in the far corner next to the broom closet. I wouldn’t have noticed him if it weren’t for the bright green university shirt.
“Anything new this time?” I asked.
“If you look in the kitchen, you’ll find a ripped-up head of lettuce in the shape of a middle finger. It’s art, really. I feel honored to have seen it.”
“When did it happen? Why didn’t you notify us until halfway through the day?”
“Because I get paid by the hour and I didn’t need Siobhan noticing that I wasn’t doing my job.”
I considered reprimanding him, but I remembered that he wasn’t my responsibility. Then I looked over to Lauren and Carolina playing paper football and suddenly I didn’t feel so bad for Siobhan.
“And the cameras didn’t catch anything again?”
“I’m pretty sure those cameras haven’t worked since 2005 so you be the judge.”
“Honestly, you’d think that the university would care about this,” I said.
“I think they’d rather throw money at the problem and I don’t care as long as it doesn’t mess with my extremely small, miniscule, microscopic paycheck.” This school was really good at band aid fixes. “Speaking of my paycheck, do you have an opening over at the security office?”
I looked back over at Lauren, who was now hanging over the edge of the ping pong table. “Ask me again in a month.”
“How many times has the grocery thief hit each dining hall? Lauren asked.
Michael walked over to the map I had on the wall of my office. I marked each incident at different locations on campus with a pin. I had to get a new map once the robberies started.
“He’s hit Swanson twice this semester, Brenner five times, but South Dining is definitely his favorite spot. He’s hit it eight times,” he said.
“How do we know he’s a guy?” Lauren asked.
“Jordan may seem useless, but he helped us out with that little detail,” I said.
“I’ve spoken to the president twice and he isn’t concerned about it. Since the university sells all groceries at an exorbitant amount anyway, they aren’t losing too much money. So, at this point catching the thief is more of a pride thing than anything else,” Sergeant Miller said.
“Which means it’s still top priority,” I said. “We need better security at the halls. I want each of you stationed at one of them.” It may sound preposterous, but I’m pretty sure I heard Carolina roll her eyes. “You can decide amongst yourselves who goes where and don’t even bother coming here at the beginning of your shifts just go straight to your posts. I want as much surveillance as possible.”
There was silence for a long time before Carolina spoke up. “Do we have to go now?” I let my glare answer her question and soon enough they were shuffling out of my office. Sergeant Miller nodded at me on his way out.
An hour later, Lauren and I were the only ones left in the office. I got the other two new hires to shadow Michael and Carolina at their posts and I tried to pawn Lauren off on Jailyn, but Sergeant Miller insisted that I have at least one subordinate stay with me. I wish I’d known that before sending everyone else away.
“So, what is your deal with inkblot tests?”
“If you’re unhappy with my interviewing skills, then you can file a report with Sergeant Miller.”
“I’m unhappier with your people skills, Jude.”
I sighed. “Rorschach tests can measure personality characteristics. I like to ensure that my applicants will fit well within this environment.”
“You got all that from a picture of a vampire?”
“It’s all an algorithm. Each possible response is linked to an explanation that can relate to the applicant’s personality.”
“Sounds like one of those quizzes in Cosmogirl.”
“And I’m done talking to you now,” I said.
I spent the next hour filling out a report on a case of vandalism on the sidewalk in front of the student center. No one called it in for the longest time because they thought it was a chalk drawing and we were experiencing a minor drought. When it finally rained and the cartoonish interpretation of the president of the university sitting on top of what some people thought resembled dog poop didn’t wash away, I got several calls from concerned professors.
The first noise complaint of the night came over the phone and Lauren was excited to answer it. It was directed at one of the fraternity houses on Old Row, I didn’t really know the difference between each one. Most of the time I’d just drive down the street and pick the loudest house to investigate.
In this case, Lauren knew exactly where the house was and the entire ride over she was telling me about the last time she was there. She hadn’t grown out of accepting stupid dares. The last one involved dancing with a guy who had conjunctivitis. I’m glad we weren’t roommates then because I would have never hired her for this job if she had given me pink eye.
I heard people yelling “Jude Law” before I even got out of the car and part of me wanted to march down to the local courthouse right at that moment to change my name. It didn’t take long for people to start clearing out especially since Lauren was pretty excitable with the bullhorn.
Jordan from South Dining stumbled out, still sporting his work T-shirt. Lauren neglected her bullhorn in favor of having a ten-minute conversation with him.
“Jude Law!” There was an arm around my shoulder before I could settle my eyes on who called my name or really the name of a forty-year-old actor who I have no association with.
I had to crane my neck up to see the guy violating my personal space. It was Finn, an old friend of my sister.
“I haven’t seen you in forever. What are you now, a junior? I’m a super senior, but that isn’t important.” There was a beer can in his hand and judging between his disposition and the terrible state of his breath, it was probably empty. “Geez, I really miss your sister. Do you miss her? We should get together and talk about her some time.”
“I have to do my job, Finn,” I said, and I pushed his arm off of me and walked over to Lauren who was still joking with Jordan. His eyes bulged like he was scared when he caught sight of me, but I didn’t pay him much attention before grabbing the bullhorn out of Lauren’s hand and pressing the alarm button. Several people to fell over in their haste to leave the house. I caught sight of Finn slipping over a beer bottle and slamming his face down in the dirt. And even though I hadn’t received any calls about it, I went ahead and busted the party down the street too.
Over the next few days, my office had somehow become the breakroom against my will. It started off with meetings about the thief, but now Carolina and Michael were playing Jenga on the floor and Terry and Justine, the new hires, were playing a joint game of Sudoku. Lauren had the night off.
Sergeant Miller poked his head in. “I’m going over to the county station for the rest of the night. Stay vigilant, guys.” No one looked up from their games.
An hour later Ryan’s voice crackled over the speaker. It was his turn to watch South Dining Hall. “We’ve got a situation.”
“What’s happening?” I asked.
“There’s some suspicious personnel down here. I’m not judging, but there’s some guy in a hoodie and sunglasses and those articles of clothing don’t really go together without screaming ‘I’m a suspicious person,’ you know?”
I stopped listening to him halfway through his report. I had to ask twice to get everyone off their asses and into the squad car donated from the county. Ten minutes later, we were outside South Dining and Ryan was standing on the corner of the street, doubled over and out of breath. He couldn’t even get a word out when we approached him, he just pointed in the direction that the thief had run.
I had nothing to go off except a hoodie, but I took off in the direction Ryan was pointing in anyway. I dodged the few students who were milling about and heard a few yell, “Jude Law” as I ran past them.
I was sure that everyone besides Ryan was behind me, but when I turned my head, there was only Michael jogging alongside me. I really needed to put those people through physical assessments again.
I was almost ready to stop and call it a lost cause when I caught sight of him, running with a large black backpack slung over his shoulder. He was really close to the woods that surrounded the south side of campus, so I picked up my pace. My uniform boots smacked against the concourse and I guess he heard us approaching because he turned his head for a split second and then started running faster. Maybe I should have interrogated the track team. That would have saved me from coughing up a lung after the thief disappeared into the woods.
When we got back to South Dining, both Michael and I had red faces. His was from exhaustion, but mine was just from pure, concentrated shame.
Jordan was standing outside with the rest of the squad.
“Why didn’t you stop him before he left!” I said. Ryan was trying really hard not to make eye contact.
“In his defense, it all happened really fast. She was here for a second and then bolted out of the door,” Jordan said.
“What do you mean ‘she’?”
Jordan took a minute to respond. He started avoiding my eye contact just like Ryan. “I saw her face just before she left. I guess I was wrong before.”
“You could’ve stopped her too! If I was your boss, I’d demote you. You know what, I’m going to tell Siobhan and you can forget the job at the security office. I hope you work here until you’re a seventh-year senior.” Everyone was staring at me. “All of you better get back to your jobs or you’re fired.”
Morale around the office had been pretty bleak in the week after the last robbery. Sergeant Miller tried to brighten spirits with a pizza party on Wednesday, but all that lead to was silent grease consumption. Lauren was the only one who was in good spirits which served to make everyone else angrier and while they all had broken their habits from hanging out in my office, she didn’t seem to get the memo.
“Your forehead crease has been more prominent than usual,” she said.
“My forehead crease is none of your concern.”
“I heard you screamed at the staff. I didn’t think it was possible for you to break from your robotic disposition, Jude.”
“Don’t you have a job to do?”
“Yeah, I’m not really sure what my job is. I don’t think you did a very good job of training me,” she sighed. “So, I have this theory about you and those Rorschach tests. I think you’re on a quest of self-discovery. I swear I’ve seen a movie like that somewhere.”
“I don’t think this is appropriate for work.”
Lauren never knew when to stop pushing. No matter how different my sister and I were, that was something we always agreed on. I think that’s one of the reasons Ash stopped talking to her. Lauren and I stopped being friends long before that.
I met her way before college. She lived down the street from us and I helped her once when she crashed her bike into our mailbox. That was when we were both ten years old. Ash was twelve.
After about a year of being friends, I think Lauren just decided that she liked my sister better and instead of hanging around me, she started shadowing Ash and copying everything she did. Maybe it was because Ash was always so much more likable. She was a leader too, but not because she intimidated people, it was because she inspired them. It was like she captivated people like Lauren and Finn. Still, it’s like she took my place and became the annoying little sister.
She spent most of her time with Lauren and they once got caught stealing from a convenience store. Our parents screamed at Ash for it and after that, she started getting reclusive. The only person she talked to was Lauren. Anytime she was at home, she isolated herself. It got worse once she started university. At least once every other week, her and Lauren would disappear for a night. When Ash returned, she’d go right back to shutting herself away.
Eventually though, Ash began to isolate herself from everyone, Lauren included. Our parents thought she had clinical depression at one point. The last time Lauren came around, Ash didn’t come out of her room.
I didn’t see Lauren again until the university surprised me with her as my random roommate assignment for freshman year. She tried on more than one occasion to start up a conversation with me about Ash, but I always ignored her. Getting a job at the security office helped me avoid her.
“I remember Ash loved them. Are the inkblots a kind of homage to her?” Lauren asked.
“Don’t psychoanalyze me. I’m still your boss and I could fire you.”
“Well, at least wait until I get my first paycheck,” she groaned.
The thief had stolen so much of my attention over the last week. This was the first time that I ever neglected my classes. After leaving work at nearly one in the morning, I headed straight to South Dining because it was the only place open on campus after midnight besides the library. The latter was always full of weeping undergrads, so I tended to avoid spending much of my time there. Studying in my apartment never proved to be a good idea either, especially because my current roommate had a tendency to violently scream while studying whenever she didn’t understand a particular topic.
I only had the introductory paragraph written for an essay due at the end of the week when I heard a loud bang from the opposite side of the dining hall. I assumed that Jordan knocked something over in his usual incompetent fashion. There wasn’t anyone else around besides me except for a few employees and a bearded man napping on one of the benches. Another, louder bang caused the bearded man to snort in his sleep and I decided to investigate.
The noises were coming from the convenience store area of the hall. When I approached, Jordan’s back was to me and he was frantically picking up boxes of granola bars that fell onto the ground. I was about to walk away when I noticed that he was stuffing the boxes into a duffle bag instead back on the shelves. He was also whispering harshly to someone hidden behind one of the racks.
“What the hell are you doing?” I said.
He turned his head and once his eyes zeroed in on me, he fell on his ass and scrambled away as quickly as he could. I stepped over the duffle bag to see who else was there and came face to face with sunglasses and a hoodie. She didn’t move from her crouched position, it was like she really believed that if she didn’t move then I wouldn’t be able to see her.
I tried to gather my composure. I’ve imagined catching the thief countless times in my head, but never like this.
“You’re off the clock,” Jordan said.
“That doesn’t matter. I’m still the head of the security office.”
“Yeah, but you can’t arrest us,” the thief said.
I recognized that voice. It was the same one that I spent so much time trying to avoid. “Lauren?”
Jordan’s eyes widened, and the thief finally jumped up from her crouch and attempted to run past me, but I caught hold of her wrist and held it behind her back.
“Dammit, why do you take your job so seriously?” The thief sighed and finally removed her sunglasses with her free hand. I was right, it was Lauren.
Jordan was sitting on the floor mumbling about if he could go to jail for being an accomplice to a petty crime.
I didn’t have much time to be shocked. So, I dug my phone out of my pocket with one hand while still keeping Lauren’s arm locked behind her back. The county police department was the first number on my speed dial.
Lauren noticed what I was doing. “What could I say to convince you to let me go?”
“I’m not listening to anything you have to say, Lauren.”
“It’s all because of Ash.” I was so sick of being reminded of my sister. This was exactly what I spent most of my time avoiding, but I should’ve known Lauren would ruin it. “I’m not stealing for myself. It all goes to the homeless shelter down the highway, I promise. I’m like the poor man’s Robin Hood.”
“Robin Hood is the poor man’s Robin Hood!”
“It was Ash’s idea. The shelter wasn’t getting a lot of donations and they almost had to close it down. She tried doing food drives at first, but most people who live in the area are students and they can’t donate much. This was how we picked up the slack. I kept it going after she was gone.”
One of the most interesting aspects of psychodynamic theory is the unconscious mind which is full of most of the memories from your lifetime. There are some small things there, like when you can’t remember the name of your first pet. You haven’t forgotten it, you’ve just failed to retrieve it. But there are also some things that bounce around that part of the hippocampus that were put there on purpose. Like the mess that goes from scattered across your bedroom floor to shut up behind your closet door. This is called repression, and it takes active energy to keep that memory in the unconscious where it belongs. Consequently, that is where I kept most of the memories about my sister. Especially the memory of her overdose.
She was the one who was really interested in Rorschach tests. She’d quiz me with them all the time when we were kids and then try to diagnose me with any disorder her ten-year-old brain could think of. She had problems balancing her moral dilemmas and it’s true, she did steal from the dining halls, but she was never happy with herself. She’d tear herself apart with the guilt.
I never knew Lauren was involved. Ash didn’t come clean to me until right before everything ended for her, but she never mentioned that Lauren was an accomplice. I should hate her for it because she must’ve seen how it was wearing on Ash. She could’ve done something.
The last time I talked to Ash near the end of her sophomore year, she told me that the superego won. The part of the mind that was supposed to control bad impulses like stealing, but the problem was that she’d already done it and a part of her still thought it was right. Psychoanalysts would characterize it as a conflict between the id and the superego.
“You should be proud of her. Everyone at the shelter loved her. They still talk about her every time I bring a donation. We made a difference in real people’s lives. I kept going after she was gone because I know deep down she still believed it was right.”
I always thought that Lauren was more of nuisance than anything else, a parasite that attached herself onto my sister and stole her way from me. I thought that my job was my way of doing something good in a way that could make my life different from Ash’s. Still, I let go of Lauren’s wrist. Ash wanted to help people and I made this my small way of keeping that goal alive. There wasn’t much else I could do for my sister at that point.
“This can’t last forever. I can’t promise that I’ll let you go next time,” I said.
Lauren smiled at me before packing up the granola bars and running off.
I wish I had my inkblots with me. A new one that I hadn’t seen before so that the results would be accurate. I wanted to document the moment when I believed that my mind broke. Too many things from the id were showing their ugly heads and my superego couldn’t keep up. I was sure that somewhere New York City was burning down in flames.
Last Updated: November 05, 2018