Here’s a thing I don’t get.
People who worry about living in a big city because of the crime don’t seem to realize that crime happens everywhere. Even in a small town in Pennsylvania like ours.
Sure, maybe the actual quantity of crimes is higher somewhere like New York, but try telling that to the victims of the Scranton Strangler. He had the unfortunate M.O. of breaking into innocent folks’ houses and choking the life out of them… well, not really. Truthfully, he didn’t even kill them, he just left them passed out on the floor.
You see what I mean? Our only real claim to fame in the true crime department isn’t even technically a murderer.
I’m not trying to scare anyone off, I promise. And it’s not that I want another Scranton Strangler around. It’s just… as awful as that whole ordeal was, there’s a tiny morbid part of me (of everyone, I’d imagine) that’s a little fascinated by it, and maybe wouldn’t mind having something going on around here more exciting than the Pierogi Festival. And that isn’t even actually in Scranton.
It’s not bad here, really. I grew up here. And my job is okay, I guess. It’s a little boring being a paper salesman, but what isn’t boring around here? It’s a nice place to raise a family, too, which is something I hope to do someday. Just haven’t met the right girl yet, you know.
I can’t help but notice, though: every once in a while, even here in Scranton, you get hit by something you never saw coming.
She was cute as hell. That was the first thing Jim Halpert noticed when the woman in the pink coat boarded the elevator and pushed number five.
He saw her face for only a brief moment before she spun around and faced the doors. For the first time in his life he cursed this very specific instinctive human behavior, wishing the back of the elevator was somehow more interesting than the front so that she’d turn around and he could see her face again. All he could do was gaze helplessly at her golden brown ponytail as it bounced and swayed from side to side a bit when she tilted her head to look down at her phone.
Fifth floor, fifth floor, Jim tried to remember. She must work on the fifth floor. His nerves had his meatball sub from lunch at Cugino’s rumbling around in his stomach as he stared at the back of her coat.
The doors almost closed when a hand popped between them, and in bounded the last person he wanted as a third wheel right now.
“Jimbo!” Michael Scott greeted him. His boss was carrying an enormous cardboard box, and neither Jim nor the woman made an effort to help him as he awkwardly pushed the (already illuminated) number six button.
“Cold out there, huh?” he asked, a hopeful grin on his face. Jim nodded politely and sighed inwardly, thinking it was just his luck that Michael was the one who’d decided to engage him in conversation rather than the pretty girl. She was busy staring at her phone anyway and not really giving anyone the time of day. The elevator doors closed and they were all plunged into silence once more.
It occurred to him that there were only a few more seconds until she would exit the elevator and he might never see her again. He tried desperately to think of something to say that might get her to turn around, but he was completely tongue-tied.
“Is it five-thirty yet?” Michael suddenly asked no one in particular. Jim looked at his watch.
“No,” he said, and at the exact same time, the woman twisted her neck around and said “no” too.
Michael grumbled, struggling with the cumbersome box, but the woman caught Jim’s eye and smiled: not a huge smile, but enough for him to know she’d noticed him. He found himself unable to tear his gaze away. He was riveted. He was mesmerized.
He was in trouble.
She turned back around again, and the elevator stopped on floor two. The doors opened and a very, very tiny blond woman stepped aboard. She held a fluffy white cat in her arms, which was weird (this being an office building and all) but weirder still, the cat had a tiny handkerchief tied around its head, making it look like a feline version of Audrey Hepburn. Its owner gave each of them a stern look for no apparent reason, then spun around to press three.
“Oh my god, it’s so cute,” Michael said, attempting to pet the cat, which was a difficult task considering the enormous box he was holding.
“She’s a she, and don’t touch her, please,” the blond lady snapped, holding the cat back from his reach. “She doesn’t like strange men.” She backed away from Michael a bit, which sent the woman in the pink coat stepping further back into the elevator until she was right next to Jim, their sides just barely touching. She smelled incredible.
“Sorry, she is so cute,” Michael replied as the doors shut once again and the elevator began to ascend again. “She looks like Brigitte Bardot. Brigitte Purr-dot,” he grinned, very pleased with himself. The blond lady did not look pleased.
Jim felt as though he and the woman in pink were outliers by silent default, and turned to look at her with a “what’s up with these two?” expression. She grinned, shrugging in response, and his body turned warm all over. It was at this very moment Jim was convinced his day could not get any better.
The elevator reached three and the cat lady stepped off. Then before he knew it, they’d reached five, and the woman in pink was gone as well. Jim couldn’t help but feel a twinge of disappointment that she hadn’t looked back at him, and for the first time in his few months working in the building he thought their ponderously slow elevator was far too speedy. The doors closed and he was alone once again with Michael Scott.
“I didn’t know you could have pets in the building,” Michael said after several silent seconds.
The doors opened again on six and Michael stepped off, tripping a bit on the threshold and almost dropping the box. Jim followed his boss into the Dunder Mifflin office feeling a bit dazed. He practically sleepwalked to his desk, his thoughts still on the pretty stranger. What seemed like hours passed, and he couldn’t seem to get his mind off of her and back onto his work, so he gave up on both and pulled out his iPhone instead to listen to Serial, the true crime podcast he’d been addicted to since it began a few weeks ago. He’d barely gotten through one episode when the shrill sound of the building’s fire alarm tore through the office.
Ahh… Scranton, PA. What is it about you?
I’ve always loved living here. I had a happy childhood, you know. Well, it was sort of happy. Actually it wasn’t all that great now that I think about it. (I’m looking at you, Jeff.) I didn’t have many friends but I did have this city. It’s the Electric City, you know. Which… I don’t really know what that means, but it sounds pretty awesome.
Where was I? Oh yeah, Scranton. It’s a nice place to live. Pretty safe, I guess. Except that whole Scranton Strangler business. That was crazy. I followed that case obsessively, you know. Every news story, every tweet, every snapgab. I’m still convinced they caught the wrong guy, which makes going about your day to day routine a little more exciting.
You never know when someone’s gonna reach out and… well, strangle you.
Anyway, as I was saying.
Scranton is basically the Paris of Pennsylvania. Except instead of the Louvre, we have the Anthracite Museum. And instead of sidewalk cafes, we have like… entire trucks full of food. You should see the trucks, they’re amazing. And you can get the same stuff here as in Paris. Even better because one time I had this bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos that was covered in nacho cheese. Wow, that was incredible. And I don’t think you can even get that in Paris.
Anyway, where was I?
Michael Scott trudged down the stairs to the shrill sounds of the fire alarm, wondering how long this would take. He had no sales appointments for the rest of the day and was eager to get back to his pirated DVDs of The Sopranos. He wasn’t really following the plot, but it was giving him ample opportunity to work on his Italian mobster imitation, which he’d damn near perfected. And lugging them all the way upstairs from the trunk of his car hadn’t been an easy task.
After the obligatory fire drill procedures were completed, however, there seemed to be no sign of movement back towards the office. Hank, the security guard, hung around the front door and glared at anyone who so much as went near it. It was all rather mysterious. So people from the Scranton business park began making their way down the street towards Poor Richard’s to wait it out.
He decided to follow. A drink sounded nice. Maybe Todd Packer would be there and they could be each other’s wingmen, pick up some ladies.
Well, Packer would pick up some ladies.
Actually, maybe they could just play darts or something.
When he entered the bar, he scanned the room for someone he knew. He didn’t see anyone, but there was an empty booth, and he knew it wouldn’t stay that way for long. He slid inside and waited for a waitress to come by.
The tables around him started filling up as more and more tenants made their way inside, and after a few minutes he finally saw a familiar face enter the bar.
“Jim!” he called out as one of his best salesmen turned to look at him. “Come on over, sit with me!”
Jim hesitated, and for a moment Michael thought he might completely ignore him. He began waving his hands a bit more aggressively. The urge to share his booth with another human was powerful. Ultimately, Jim made his way over.
“Hey,” he said, pulling his earbuds out of his ears and tapping a button on his phone.
“Have a seat,” Michael greeted cheerfully. “Better than working, right?”
Jim put his earbuds into his pocket and slid into the booth across from Michael, setting his phone on the table. His eyes darted around the bar as if he was searching it. “Yeah, I guess so.”
“Are you looking for someone?” Michael asked. “Andy, maybe? Or Stanley?”
Jim finally looked at Michael directly and blinked. “Stanley?”
“Never mind. You want a drink?” He spun around, gesturing for the waitress. “Looks like we might be here for a while.”
“Why not,” Jim shrugged. They both ordered beers and the waitress headed back to the bar to retrieve them.
They sat across from each other silently, neither really knowing what to say. Upstairs, Michael was in his element, and could easily capture anyone’s undivided attention, but in a social setting he wasn’t always quite sure what to do.
“Any idea what’s going on at the building?” Jim finally asked. “I didn’t see any smoke or anything.”
“Nope. Maybe there was an accident?” Michael looked intrigued. “Or a murder!”
Jim scoffed. “Yeah, right.”
“You never know. Remember the Scranton Strangler?”
“I do,” Jim said. “That was nuts.”
Michael sipped his beer and Jim continued scanning the room. “So what were you listening to?” Michael asked.
“On your earphones. Your air buds.”
Jim just stared at him.
“Not air buds, that’s a dog movie,” Michael corrected himself.
“I was listening to a podcast,” Jim answered. “It’s called Serial.”
Michael’s eyes lit up. “No way! That’s my favorite podcast!”
Jim raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
“Yeah! What the hell is up with Jay?”
Something had finally gotten through, and Jim cracked a smile. “What the hell is up with Jay? There’s something really off about that guy!”
“...But I don’t think he did it,” Michael added.
Michael shook his head. “I have this whole theory.”
Before he could elaborate, Jim’s eyes lifted once again towards the door and brightened. Michael spun around in his seat to look over at the entrance, where he saw another somewhat familiar face; actually, the same one who’d shared an elevator with them just that afternoon. She was wearing a heavy pink coat and her eye line landed on their table.
“She works in our building!” Michael said excitedly. Jim didn’t respond, and actually seemed like he was transfixed by the strange woman. “Do you know her, Jim?”
“No,” Jim replied. “I’ve never seen her before today.”
“Uh huh,” Jim replied distractedly. He appeared to be in some kind of daze.
Michael looked at him, then at the woman, and knew exactly what was going on. Luckily for Jim, one of the things Michael was great at was being a wingman. He turned back around and his hand shot straight into the air, waving her over. “Hey! Yeah, you! Come over here!”
“What are you doing?” Jim hissed. “Do you know her?”
“No,” Michael shrugged. “But she’s gotta sit somewhere.”
The woman glanced from side to side and, after what appeared to be a lengthy deliberation, began to make her way over to their booth. She had earbuds in both ears, which she removed and stuffed into her pocket.
“Hey,” she said. “You guys work over at the business park, right?”
“I’m Michael,” Michael said, nodding and extending his hand. “I sell paper.”
“Pam,” she said. The woman shook his hand, then looked at Jim, who turned a slight shade of pink.
“Uh, I’m Jim. We work together,” he continued a bit nervously, gesturing towards Michael.
“At Dunder Mifflin,” Michael added. “Sit with us. Who knows how long the fire drill will last. Drinks are on me.”
Pam slid into the booth on Jim’s side, which irked Michael slightly, but Jim seemed absolutely thrilled about it. He scooted over, sliding his phone out of her way.
“So are we thinking it’s a fire drill?” Pam asked. The waitress set down Jim and Michael’s beers, and she silently indicated she’d like one as well. “I didn’t see any flames or smoke or anything.”
“We don’t know,” Jim said.
“I think it was a murder,” Michael tried again.
Jim shook his head. “Why are you so hung up on that, man?”
Michael shrugged. “I don’t know. But it would be pretty exciting, right?”
An alert came up on Jim’s phone, and Pam reflexively glanced down at it.
“You listen to Serial?” she asked him excitedly.
Jim looked down at his phone, then back up at her. “Yeah?”
“Oh my god!” she squealed, her eyes wide. “What the hell is up with Jay?!”
Jim looked over at Michael, then back to Pam with a huge grin. Pam took her own phone out of her coat pocket, holding it up to show him. “I’m listening to episode four again. It’s like my third time. I’m totally obsessed.”
“Me too! You should see the chart I have at work,” Jim said. “It looks like A Beautiful Mind.”
“I totally think Adnan did it,” Pam said, looking at Jim. She looked very convinced.
“So do I, actually.” he replied. “I mean, who else had the motive?”
“I don’t know,” Michael piped up, not appreciating being a third wheel. “His alibi checked out, remember? Asia saw him at the library on the afternoon of the murder.”
“But do we even know for sure where the murder happened?” Pam pointed out. “Or when? What if he killed her at the library, and that’s why his lawyer never followed up on that alibi in the first place?”
Michael began to interject, but closed his mouth. He stared at her. “You’re good.”
Pam smiled smugly.
“Wait… say that again?” Jim asked, very impressed.
Pam pulled out her phone and swiped a few times, shuttling through one of the episodes to find something. She handed Jim one of her earbuds and he took it gingerly, unsure. He held it as Pam placed the other one in her ear, then noticed he wasn’t doing the same.
“Listen,” she said, taking the bud out of his hand and putting it directly into his ear. They sat together in the booth side by side, the cord dangling between them. Pam didn’t seem to notice that Jim was practically gaping at her like a dead fish.
“Hel-lo,” Michael said, annoyed. “What am I over here, chopped liver?”
Pam mouthed sorry, gesturing at the earbuds as if to explain there were only two. There was really nothing more Michael could do, so Pam and Jim sat across from him for the next couple minutes, listening to Serial together. Pam sipped her beer occasionally, and Jim appeared torn between focusing on the podcast and gazing at Pam in such an obvious way Michael had to physically stop himself from rolling his eyes. It was obvious Jim had a crush on her, and Michael would find it cute if he weren’t feeling incredibly left out.
He sipped his own beer, waiting for a sign that they could all return to the office.
Scranton is okay, I guess.
I went to art school in New York for a couple years and loved it there. The fast pace of it, the people, and – yes – even the grit.
But quite frankly, New York can be a lot.
I was mugged once on the subway. Well, almost. Some guy tried to take my purse, and I’m not really sure what came over me but I held on tight. It popped out of his grasp
and I hit him with it, hard. Maybe he was just so shocked anyone would have fought back, or maybe it was the dozens of people taking notice, but he bailed. And ever since then I’ve felt sort of powerful with the knowledge I can take care of myself.
Maybe that’s why I’ve become kind of addicted to true crime; it’s probably this deep-rooted primal instinct to be as prepared as possible not to get murdered.
Anyway, I eventually left the city to move back home. When I first started working in my building, l heard some creep on his phone in the parking lot talking about me. He didn’t think I could hear him, but when someone eyes you and you hear the words “Scranton 7” and “New York 6” come out of their mouth, it’s pretty easy to draw conclusions. I’m not exactly sure what came over me, but after he brushed past me to get on the elevator, I let the air out of his tires.
It’s not really something I’d usually do. But I suppose when I came back to Scranton, a little bit of New York City came home with me.
She wasn’t sure why she did it, exactly. Sharing earbuds was a pretty intimate thing and she’d known this guy for all of three minutes. But as they sat shoulder to shoulder listening to those familiar piano chords of the Serial intro, she felt more at home than she had in months.
Moving back here hadn’t been the plan. She’d hoped to be working somewhere in New York by now, some graphics house or design firm. Even painting along the edge of Central Park barely scraping by would be preferable to giving up and coming home. But things didn’t always work out the way she wanted them to; at least, that was what Pam had told herself as she’d moved the last of her boxes into her Scranton apartment.
It had been pretty lonely for the past several weeks. She missed her friends from New York, and most of the ones she had in Scranton had moved on by now. She’d made exactly zero new ones. So sitting in a booth with the cute guy from her building didn’t seem like such a bad idea.
She wasn’t too sure about the other guy – he was a little odd – but he seemed friendly enough. Drinks turned into an early dinner, since no one from the office park seemed to be heading back to work yet, and the three of them spent the better part of an hour talking about true crime documentaries. It wasn’t until the sun began to set that they decided to close their tab and wander back down the street to see if the building was open again.
The older guy, Michael, took a call on his cell phone and moved a few feet away from them, so the younger guy fell into step with her as they walked back.
“So, it was Jim, right?” she asked in a friendly tone.
“Yep. And you’re Pam.”
“What’s the deal with your boss, exactly?”
Jim sighed; a long, beleaguered sigh. “He’s… beyond description, really.”
She chuckled. “He’s a little strange, but he seems harmless.”
“Harmless? Well, I suppose it depends on your pain tolerance,” he grinned. She looked at her feet as they continued along, falling into a silence that he eventually broke.
“So… where are you working?” Jim asked. “I mean, in the building.”
“Bratton Graphics,” she answered.
“Oh, cool, so you’re like an artist? Designer?”
She blushed, a little embarrassed. “Well, I’d like to be. Just answering the phones right now.”
“Ah, well that’s cool,” he said quickly. “At least you’re in the right place.”
“Yeah, it’s not very exciting, but I hope maybe someday my work will be noticed. I’m trying to put together a portfolio but in the meantime it pays the bills, I guess.”
He nodded. “I hear that. Sometimes I wonder if ‘paying the bills’ is all I’ll really ever be doing myself.”
“You don’t like your job?” she asked, craning her neck to look up at him.
“No, it’s fine. I don’t hate it or anything. The pay is pretty good, and I have health insurance. So there’s that. It’s just not very…” he trailed off.
“…Exciting?” she completed his thought.
They grinned at each other. He really was cute. She was trying to discern the precise color of his eyes in the fading sunlight when she noticed red flashes reflecting on the planes of his face. When she turned to find their source, she saw a police car situated at the entrance of their business park parking lot, its lightbar blinking red. A crowd of office park tenants had gathered in the lot, looking confused and intrigued in equal measure.
Michael joined them, having hung up his phone call. “Whoa. What the hell happened?”
“I don’t know,” Jim replied, “but it’s definitely not a fire.”
“Why don’t you go and find out, Michael,” Pam suggested, pointing over at the lone police officer, who stood stoically in front of the building with his arms crossed over his burly chest.
Michael, who seemed eager to do anything Pam asked of him, glanced at the cop. “I’ll go check it out,” he said very seriously. He walked off in the direction of the officer, and Pam and Jim stood side by side, watching.
“Does that guy even look like a real cop to you?” Jim asked. And his question was valid: the guy was tall with wire-rimmed glasses, and while he was indeed wearing what appeared to be a police uniform, he also had on boots and a ridiculous brimmed hat.
“Not really,” Pam agreed, shaking her head. “He looks a little more like a park ranger than a police officer.”
They stood silently while Michael and the cop conversed briefly, then he ran back over, somehow breathless after only a few steps of running.
“You guys!” he shouted, his dark gray trench coat whipping in the wind. “You’re never going to believe this, but… I was right! There’s been a murder in the building!”
Jim’s jaw dropped. Pam gasped.
“Is it someone any of us know?” she asked.
Michael’s eyes were as wide as saucers. “You know that lady who rode up the elevator with us?”
Pam gasped again, bringing her hand to her mouth. “Oh my god! She’s… dead?”
Michael shook his head. “No,” he said gravely. “But her cat is.”