See Part I of this story here.
It took me two weeks of hard work and diminishing hopes to find Mr. Martinez. One other salesman had already broken through by then, with several sales under his belt, but the rest of us had nothing. I was starting to wonder if I’d ever get the knack. But then there was this guy that let me in for some reason. He was impressed with my security knowledge. I was also impressed with my security knowledge, because it’s pretty amazing to have a wealth of knowledge about a topic you know absolutely nothing about. I sold him a system, and suddenly all those crazy promises of wealth seemed within reach again.
Though I find it pretty surprising now, I wasn’t surprised at the time to find out that one sale was all it took. After struggling without a single success for two weeks, once I got my first sale, I got sales every single day after that. In five more days of selling, I made five more sales, and that was all it took to convince me I could do this. But even after conquering the challenge of door to door sales, there was a greater challenge that awaited.
Its name was Top Cop. Top Cop was the hardwired, pre-installed security system in the apartment the company had rented for us. It chirped amicably when we walked through the door for the very first time. It had a kind of a quirky personality, speaking up with little electronic beeps and boops whenever you came and went, and a few other random times each day. All of us enjoyed having Top Cop around. We weren’t so concerned about our safety, but it just felt good to have our first experiences with an actual security system at the same time we were out there gravely informing everyone that life should never be risked without the assurance of a security system at one’s back. Top Cop had our back, and we enjoyed its company.
Top Cop was a a flat panel in the wall, with a nine key number pad and maybe six other buttons of varying shapes and apparent importance. “TOP COP” was written boldly along the bottom of the box. Cool. There was no off button, and the apartment managers never gave us any instructions or security codes. So we lived with Top Cop in a sort of bemused symbiosis. It was protective, but never in our control.
This would have been a fairly stable situation, but for two agents of change that entered the mix. First, in one of the back bedrooms, far from the Top Cop control panel, there was a little cord on the floor with a knob at its end. The second change agent was one of our friends, Jens. Have you ever known a person who is compelled by their very nature to mess with stuff, to tweak and fiddle and test the limits of everything around them? That’s Jens. Jens slept in the room with the mysterious knob. They didn’t get along.
His experimentation was innocent at first. He’d twist the knob around a little bit, and someone out in the front room would notice Top Cop light up a little bit. Some lights would flash and a whine would sound. It became clear that there was some relationship between the knob and the machine. They were in love, or they were alter egos, or something. We were cheered by this knowledge, thinking it would give us a way to subvert Top Cop to do our will. Learning the secrets of the knob became an obsession for Jens. He’d twist it around and around in all directions and try to see what response his manipulations might evoke. Top Cop would always complain a little, but always stayed in character.
Until one morning, when Jens just went too far, as he was born to do. Numbers on the keypad were punched, in all sorts of combinations, the door opened and shut, and the knob in the other room was manipulated mercilessly. Top Cop protested in its normal way, until the limits were finally reached. At some point, Top Cop had had enough, and it let out the shrillest, most piercing scream any of us had ever heard. All of us ran into the front room to make it stop. But no one had any idea what had caused it to start, and no one knew how to stop it. We pressed all of the buttons endless times. We went back and twisted and untwisted the knob. We synchronized our efforts to press buttons and the knob at the same time. We did everything we could, with increasing urgency. We could not get Top Cop to stop screaming. It screamed and screamed. There was nowhere in that little apartment you could go without losing your mind, and there was nothing you could do to stop it.
We went down and hung out at the other apartment for a while. We called the management office. Closed on Sundays. Then it was time to go get ready for church. We returned to our place. You could hear the high-pitched scream at the bottom of the stair well. Walking into the apartment was like walking into a snake pit for your ears. Just a few seconds in that apartment was unbearable. We grabbed some clothes and headed off to church.
Three hours later, Top Cop was still furious. We went through all the same motions- buttons, knob, door, windows, buttons. Nothing worked. Each minute in the presence of that unearthly wail, you became less of a man. It made you want to cry. It made you want to sit down and claw your ears off and flush them down the toilet. Someone came up with a screw driver and we took out all the screws on Top Cop’s casing. The panel wouldn’t budge. We pried and chiseled, and Top Cop screamed. I vividly remember yelling at the top of our lungs. “TOOOP COPPPPPP!” All of us together couldn’t be heard over the security siren that we could not subdue.
Someone had a baseball, and we took turns throwing it madly at the alarm. Errant pitches dented the surrounding walls, but direct hits did nothing to break the indomitable will of Top Cop. We grew despondent. The screams were inside our bodies, rattling skeletons and liquifying brains. It made you need to sit down, then lie down. Sobs would come soon after. It became clear that no security deposit was worth this pain. We would cut Top Cop out of the wall, or we would die in the attempt.
Silverware knives and screwdrivers came out. Paint and plaster were scraped away. We worked in shifts with half of the crew resting in the far bedroom with pillows on their heads. The screaming continued, which we matched with our equally indignant yells. We clawed frantically, desperately. And then we saw it- a side entry to the box, with a wire clearly visible. With the last of my strength, I cut the wire.
And still the banshee howled. I don’t know how much longer we worked, but it seemed like hours. We gave our entire Sunday to that thing, and nothing could stop it until we found the actual power source. Only removal of the power could vanquish Top Cop. But vanquish him we did. Top Cop was dead at last. But the victory ached. We could barely move. Jens was a lifeless husk in the corner.
Not long after that, we headed home. We had mastered the sale of security systems, but for all our skill in selling the things, we never again acted like we understood them. Indeed, if you looked deep enough into the eyes of that confident young man on your doorstep talking about security systems, you might even find a look of terror just below the surface. That was the legacy of Top Cop.