Chapter One

Day Zero, the Day from Hell



“HEY! What the hell do you think you’re doing?” the voice demanded.

Looking up to find the source of the voice, Jacob saw a really hot-looking guy in tight jeans. The only problem was that the appeal of the tight jeans was completely overridden by the angry look on the guy’s face.

“I’m picking up my box,” Jacob said, as if what he was doing wasn’t obvious.

“You can’t be back here! Drop it and get out!”

“But it’s my box. My boss is waiting for it, and not patiently.”

“I don’t care. Drop it and get out. Union rules. We have to deliver all packages to all booths.”

“But it’s just one box!” Jacob tried once again.

“I don’t give a flying fuck if it’s a postage stamp! If it’s back here, we deliver it. Now drop it and get out.”

“My boss is waiting, and she doesn’t wait well. Everything else came except for this one last box.”

“You don’t speak English or what?” the blue-jeans guy said angrily. “I said drop it and get out. We will deliver your box. Now get out of here before I call security and have you thrown out.”

Jacob dropped the box. But rather than leave, he just crossed his arms in frustration and stood staring at the guy. “When will you deliver this box—my box—to my booth?” He hoped his impatience was getting across to the guy.

“All boxes will be delivered by eight. I’ve got guys delivering everything. Out!”

Jacob was seething with anger. The end of his workday was in sight, or rather, had been in sight. All he needed was this one last box, and then he could go back to his hotel room, take a shower, order room service, maybe look at something mindless on TV, and most importantly, put his feet up. To have seen the box, held the box, and then been denied access to his box seemed petty and downright cruel.

He’d been going all day, first traveling and then working in the convention center exhibit hall setting up his company’s display booth. He had done it a dozen times before in a dozen different cities, but never had there been a city as difficult as this one. He didn’t know what it was about New York City, but everything had gone wrong that day.

Finally he threw up his hands. “Fine! Keep the box! I’ll go back to my booth and sit there and wait. The booth where I’ve been for eight fucking hours today already. I haven’t had lunch. I’m beat. Only two things stand between me and the end of this day from hell: you and that box,” he yelled, pointing to the box in question just in case the guy had forgotten about it in the last ten seconds.

Jacob turned and stomped back to his booth, which was of course way, way across the massive exhibit hall. His boss, spotting him empty-handed, looked upset. Was everyone angry today? Yes. It would appear so.

“Oh, hell! Couldn’t you find it? We need it! That box has all of our e-readers that we’re supposed to be giving away. Damn! We need to find it.”

“I found it.”

“Well, then, where the hell is it?”

“Union rules. I can’t touch it. They took it away from me and told me that they would deliver it to the booth.”

“But you saw it? You touched it? It’s there? It’s not lost?” she asked.

“Yes, yes, yes, and no.”

“Fine,” she said, seemingly relieved. “I’m sorry, but I’ve got to meet with one of my counterparts from one of the big New York firms.”

“What’s that all about?” Jacob asked.

“Not a clue. He called me earlier this afternoon and invited me to dinner.”

“I wonder what he wants.”

“I can’t tell if I don’t get there. Sorry, but I’ve got to run. You’ll have to wait here for them to bring the last box. You know where everything goes. I’ll see you back here for opening at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow.” And she was gone.

While Jacob liked his boss, Sarah, and generally got along with her, there were times when he was glad to have a little distance. And right now was one of those times. Jacob did not relish the thought of waiting, but he was glad to at least be rid of Sarah for that time. For some reason, she was extra stressed about this particular show, though they had worked the same event the previous year. Either that or she was anxious about something else, and that tension was just spilling over into all of her interactions with him. Whatever it was, he was just glad she had gone. Now, if only he too could go.

The nasty prick in blue jeans who unfortunately was smoking hot had said all packages would be delivered to booths by eight. Jacob checked his watch and groaned. It was only six, so he potentially had two hours of waiting before he could leave to shower, eat, and get off his tired, aching feet. He looked around hoping to find a chair he could sit in, but their chairs had not been delivered yet either.

This particular show was a gigantic annual book fair—one of the largest in the nation. This event focused on publishing and publishers and readers and everything book-related. Their booth was set up with all of the usual pop-up display stuff. Copies of book covers were all over the wall behind their counter, display stands for books were set up and arranged, and the cabinets were filled with materials: books for sale, catalogs, business cards, CDs with free reads, other assorted information, and free giveaways. There was nothing he had to do except wait for the box.

He checked the adjoining booths to see if they had a chair he might be able to sit in while he waited, but they were all lacking chairs as well. He thought about sitting on the floor. It was cushioned with nicely padded carpet, but he was worried if he sat there, he’d be inclined to lie back and then fall asleep. Also he knew this carpet was used day after day, week after week, month after month, and contained who knew what dirt, gunk, and nasty stuff. He didn’t want to put his head down on anything like that.

Since he’d ruled out the floor, he moved some of the display stuff he’d carefully arranged earlier in the day and hoisted himself up onto the counter at the front of the exhibit display. Trying to find something good in the situation, he thought at least now he was off his feet and also had a good vantage point to see the delivery guys hauling boxes and crates and trunks of materials to other booths. Every time one of the crews came down his aisle, he was hopeful they would have his stuff. But no.

Half an hour passed. He tried reading, but he was just too tired, too hungry, and yes, too angry to manage more than a paragraph at a time. He kept losing his place in whatever he was reading. An hour passed. It was seven, and he was still tired, still hungry, still dirty, and getting angrier. Most other exhibitors had received all of their stuff, were all set up, and had left to go back to their hotels. The exhibit hall was much quieter than it had been earlier in the day when workmen were moving around setting up pipes and drapes, power supplies, and carpet, and moving forklifts full of boxes and packing crates.

Every time anyone came down his aisle or anywhere near his aisle, he made sure to let them know he was still there. At first he did it just by trying to be visible, but he finally asked one guy if they still had a lot to deliver. He told the guy he was still waiting for one box, hoping the man would take pity on him and make a special effort to get it to him.

But no such luck. The guy was just hired muscle and didn’t have any answers for Jacob, telling him he hauled what he was told to move. Slowly another half hour passed. Their work completed, more people left the hall. The place was now quieter than ever. When it was so empty of people, the space felt huge and cavernous. It was almost eerie now that it was so quiet. It just didn’t feel right to be in such a vast space all by himself.

At seven forty, he got up and stretched, trying to ease the kinks in his back from having spent five plus hours in a tiny airplane seat, the hours lifting boxes and setting up the booth, and then close to two hours on an uncomfortable countertop. At seven forty-five he started pacing, making sure to keep his booth within sight. If someone should appear from the other direction with his box, he wanted to be sure he saw them and could race over. At seven fifty there was still nothing. He spotted a crew of guys heading back toward their staging area after making the rounds to deliver stuff. He caught them and asked if they had a lot more to go and heard news that chilled him. “Nope. That was our last trip. Everything’s out.”

After grabbing his backpack from the booth, he stomped over to the staging area hoping to catch the guy he had “talked” with earlier. Jacob was so pissed he felt as if he could spit nails. He shoved the curtain aside and stomped into the area, which was now completely empty of boxes and anything else. His box wasn’t there, but the guy he had dealt with was.

“I thought I told you—”

“You told me I’d have my box by eight. Well, honey, it’s eight. Your guys tell me everything is out, and I’m still waiting. Where the fuck is my box?” he practically screamed. He hoped he was communicating to the guy that he was pissed—really, really pissed. If water had dripped on his head at that very moment, he was convinced it would have turned to steam and evaporated immediately upon impact.

Apparently his anger got across just fine. The hunk’s face changed. “Oh, hell,” he said as he started to leave the curtained-off area. Jacob heard him shout, “Marco! Hey Marco! You here?”

Way off in the distance Jacob thought he heard someone answer. He decided where Hunk Boy went, he was going too. In other words, Hunk Boy had just acquired a shadow, a very pissed-off shadow. Unfortunately, Hunk Boy was taller than Jacob, and therefore had longer legs, which meant he walked faster than Jacob, who had to practically run to catch up and then keep up with the man, but he did.

“Marco,” Hunk Boy said when he found his guys. “You remember that box I gave you to deliver on the last load? Everything else was trunks, but there was one cardboard box. Remember?”

“Yeah,” the guy answered, without adding any further explanation. Jacob wanted to throttle the man.

“Where did it go?” Hunk Boy asked.

“We delivered everything.”

“The box was supposed to go to this guy, and he never got it. Where did it go?” Hunk Boy was getting more angry and impatient, but for once not at Jacob.

“We delivered everything. How the hell should I remember every stop we’ve made? Do you know how many things we’ve delivered throughout this hall today?”

“Yes, I know exactly how many things have been delivered in this hall today. You screwed up. I need you to go find that box.”

“Nope. Sorry. No can do,” Marco said, although the look on his face certainly didn’t indicate sorrow—more like joy or delight. “We’re off duty. Anything after eight is overtime. And you know what the big boss said—no overtime on this job.”

Hunk Boy was turning into Angry Hunk Boy.

“Fine. Get the fuck out of here! Where the hell were you delivering on that last run?”

“Last two aisles in Hall B.”

The guy started to stomp off toward what Jacob assumed was Hall B. Again his long legs were taking him faster than Jacob could walk so Jacob was half walking, half running to catch up and keep up with the taller man. When he fell behind, he got a look at, well, the guy’s behind. Wow. The man wore one nice pair of blue jeans. Not that the jeans were anything special. They weren’t. But the way they wrapped around his body, his butt in particular, was just incredible. Hunk Boy’s jeans were formfitting, and what a form they had to fit.

Jacob was a butt man, so being behind Hunk Boy was not a hardship. It was nice to see the man standing still, but to see him ripple as he strode down the exhibit hall aisles was a true joy to behold. If only he could have moved a little slower so Jacob didn’t have to run and could more calmly appreciate the sight in front of him. The material of the jeans looked soft, the soft that jeans get after years of wear and lots of washings. He so wanted to be able to reach out and feel the cloth to see if it was as soft as it looked. But of course he couldn’t.

When they reached Hall B, the guy slowed down from the galloping pace at which they had been moving. Jacob was winded from running to keep up with the guy’s long strides. Why did Hall B have to be so fucking far away? This was going to be one monster exhibition. Jacob had seen the floor plans and seen the booths numbered into the thousands, but to actually traipse across the entire place gave one the best sense of how gigantic this show was going to be when it finally opened the next morning.

Hunk Boy started walking up and down the aisle, slowly checking each of the dozens and dozens of booths along that part of the exhibit hall. As he had run to Hall B, Jacob hadn’t noticed another person anywhere. All the people setting up booths for the next day had finished and gone for the night. For those places that had just received their trunks, Jacob could only assume they would finish setting up the last of their displays in the morning, before the hall opened for the onslaught of potential customers.

It was eight thirty when they finished one side of the aisle. Jacob realized he could be doing the same thing and checking booths as well, and didn’t need to just follow the hot ass in front of him. Not that he had any objection to following such a nice piece of tail. He most certainly did not. If he had to be in hell, at least it came with a nice view. He walked back down the aisle and started working from the other direction toward Hunky Hot Ass. When they finished that aisle, they still had not found Jacob’s box.

They moved on to the next aisle. It was nine and still no box. Both Jacob and Hunk Boy were becoming increasingly frustrated. Finally, at 9:17 p.m. (but who was counting), the guy found Jacob’s box. Jacob’s company display was in booth 1325, and his box had been delivered to booth 3125. Someone was dyslexic or just trying to be malicious. Jacob didn’t know which.

“Oh, thank God!” Jacob said.

The guy picked up the box and started to shove it at Jacob. Jacob crossed his arms and simply stood still, glaring at Hunk Boy. “Now, let me think. Someone was telling me, quite recently in fact, that I’m not allowed to carry anything in this exhibit hall. Something about union rules. I’m pretty sure it was today that I heard this. You work here. You must have heard the same thing. I’m just trying to remember where I heard that information.”

Jacob stood and stared at the guy. The guy stood and stared angrily at Jacob, but then he turned and, still carrying Jacob’s box, started walking away with his big, giant strides. Jacob again raced to catch up and then keep up with him, all while holding back about three feet so he could enjoy the sight of the muscles in the guy’s ass rippling as he stomped down the aisle. For once Jacob was glad the exhibit hall was so big he had ample opportunity to watch the beauty of the man’s ass in motion for a good three minutes.

Hunk Boy never once turned around and never once said anything to Jacob while they were walking. When they got to Jacob’s aisle, Hunk Boy stopped in front of Jacob’s booth and waited for Jacob to catch up.

“Did you really need to run?” Jacob panted.

“I wasn’t running. Maybe when you grow up and your legs are full-size you might be able to walk with me.” He thrust the package at Jacob and said, “Here.”

“Thank you, hot stuff,” Jacob said, pasting a fake smile on his face. He hoped the “hot stuff” comment pissed Hunk Boy off. At that point, pissing the guy off was about the only recreation available to him. He was ticked off and he was in the mood to share. Jacob saw the stranger’s eyes widen a bit before he turned away to leave. Jacob couldn’t resist one last jab. “Hey, you said you had to deliver it, so don’t be so nasty. I was just following the rules you gave me.”

He stopped, paused a moment, and then turned back to Jacob. “You think this is nasty?” he asked, barely containing his frustration at the entire situation.

“Well, I certainly wouldn’t call it joy and happiness.”

“Huh?” the guy said, clearly confused.

Jacob was tired. He’d had enough. “Nothing. Thanks for the box. I hope you have a good evening, whatever’s left of it.”

Hunk Boy turned and walked away, although for a moment it looked as though he was having an internal debate about whether to leave or to stay and have it out with Jacob. Jacob was relieved when he left. While cute, he was bigger than Jacob and could easily win any physical altercation the two might have. Jacob certainly didn’t want to find out if he was right.

Jacob found the box cutter, opened the box, and packed the contents away in one of the cabinets. About ten minutes later when he was nearly done, he noticed the lights at the far end of the big, cavernous hall start to go out.

“Oh, fuck! Hey! I’m still here! There are still people in here!” he practically screamed.

But either no one heard or no one cared, because one by one the aisles of lights kept going out. Jacob quickly shoved the last of the contents of the box into the cabinet, locked it, pocketed the key, grabbed his backpack, and headed as fast as he could toward the door, all the while trying to let someone, anyone, know he was still in the hall. He knew once the lights went out he would be screwed. There were no windows in the room to let in outside light. It was late. He knew he would never be able to find his way out without light, and he didn’t have a flashlight with him.

He just barely reached the doorway to the exhibit hall when the last of the lights went out. As he shoved the door open, he panicked for a moment that maybe the lights in the hallways had been turned off as well. But no, fortunately those lights were still on. Checking to make sure he had everything—not that he was going back into that big, dark room lit only with emergency exit lights if he had left anything behind—Jacob started the long hike from his present location to the exit, which was, like everything else, a long trek.

At the door he found a guard who seemed surprised to see anyone still in the building.

“Can you tell me where I catch the shuttle bus?” Jacob asked, even though he was afraid he already knew the answer.

“That quit running two hours ago at eight. It’ll start up again at seven tomorrow morning.”

Jacob sighed. What a perfect ending to a perfectly miserable day.

“Is there a cab stand outside?”

“Sure, but you won’t find any cabs there at this hour. They only come around when there’s something going on in here. Nothing going on tonight. No cabs.”

“Crap.” He sighed again. He pulled the other strap of his backpack onto his back, took a deep breath, and left the building to start the long hike to his hotel.

Jacob knew the Javits Center was on the edge of Manhattan, tucked back sort of out of the way from the downtown area, but walking out of there at night was a different experience entirely. The center was located between 11th and 12th Avenues, with the Hudson Rail Yards to the south and Hell’s Kitchen and the entrance for the Lincoln Tunnel just to the north. His hotel was located on 7th Avenue near 31st Street. He kept telling himself that wasn’t so bad. Too bad he wasn’t buying it.

He started slowly walking along the front of the building. Just as he was about to step off the center property and start his trek across town, he heard a horn blow right behind him. He hadn’t expected that, so he jumped and his heart started racing at about two hundred beats per minute. The horn had been from a big pickup truck that was pulling up beside him.

Oh, great, he thought. Just what I need! Some nutcase here to murder me.

The passenger side window, which was closest to him, started to roll down, and he looked inside, trying to fluff himself up to look big and fierce and tough. He was shocked to find the hunky guy he’d just spent two plus hours with inside the center. The guy was cute, but Jacob had had enough of him for the day.

“What am I doing wrong now?” he asked. “Am I not supposed to walk along the sidewalk without union assistance?”

“Don’t you know you shouldn’t walk around here alone at this hour of the night?”

“Yeah, I figured that out, but there’s no other alternative. The shuttle bus to my hotel stopped at eight, two hours after I wanted to be out of there, but instead I was traipsing all over the place for another couple of hours trying to find what I’d held in my own two hands earlier in the day. So, I missed the bus by a good couple of hours. There are no events in the center tonight, so therefore there are no cabs. I don’t see another alternative. But don’t worry. If I get mugged and murdered on the way out of here tonight, my last thoughts will be of you.” He smiled at the guy, but it was not a smile of happiness or pleasure. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m beat. I’ve had a very, very long day, I’ve been dealing with a bitchy boss, I’m jet-lagged, I didn’t have lunch and haven’t had dinner yet. My feet are killing me. Oh, and I probably have to get mugged yet tonight. Good night.”

Jacob turned and started to walk away from the truck. The truck pulled up alongside him once again. Apparently the guy wasn’t finished. What fresh hell does he have in store for me now?

“Come on. Get in,” the guy offered, or more accurately, ordered.

Of all the things he could have said to him, that was absolutely, positively not one of the first five hundred things Jacob would have expected.

“Excuse me?” he asked, honestly thinking he must have misheard the guy.

“Get in,” he repeated. “I’ll give you a ride. Where are you staying?”

“Near 7th and 31st,” Jacob responded, still not believing what he was hearing.

Jacob reached out and very tentatively touched the door handle. He thought about it for a moment and then opened the door. He kept half expecting the guy to step on it and race away with peeling tires, laughing at him.

“Are you planning to take me to some dark alley and murder me, leaving my body for some hobo to find in the wee hours of the morning?”

What? Jesus! No! Where do you get shit like that?

“Then what are your plans for me? For the last few hours you’ve looked like you wanted to reach out and strangle me, so I know we’re certainly not friends. So, what? Should I be prepared to be driven to the far end of the island and left to make my way back to my hotel, or sold into prostitution, or something like that? Will I live out my days as some rich guy’s boy toy plaything? A guy likes to know these things, you know?”

And for the first time all day, Hunk Boy smiled and laughed. Jacob had to admit the smile looked good on his face.

Jacob slowly and carefully moved up inside the truck, but he hadn’t closed the door yet, thinking he could still make a fast escape—probably not a pain-free escape, but nonetheless a quick escape if he needed to.

“It’s okay,” Hunk Boy said. “Get in.”

Without exchanging a word of conversation, Hunk Boy drove him to his hotel where he let him out at the curb in front. Jacob, always (well, almost always) a gentleman, thanked the guy for the ride and escaped through the doors as quickly as possible. For a weird day, getting a ride from the guy with the tight jeans was the frosting on the cake.