The process that turned James Penney into a completely different person began thirteen years ago, at one in the afternoon on a Monday in the middle of June, in Laney, California. A hot time of day, at a hot time of year, in a hot part of the country. The town squats on the shoulder of the road from Mojave to L.A. Due west, the southern rump of the Coastal Range Mountains is visible. Due east, the Mojave Desert disappears into the haze. Very little happens in Laney. After that Monday in the middle of June thirteen years ago, even less ever did. There was one industry in Laney. One factory. A big spread of a place. Weathered metal siding, built in the sixties. Office accommodations at the north end, in the shade. The first floor was low grade. Clerical functions took place there. Billing and accounting and telephone calling. The second story was high grade. Managers. The corner office on the right used to be the personnel manager's place. Now it was the human resources manager's place. Same guy, new title on his door. Outside that door in the long secondfloor corridor was a line of chairs. The human resources manager's secretary had rustled them up and placed them there that Monday morning. The line of chairs was occupied by a line of men and women. They were silent. Every five minutes the person at the head of the line would be called into the office. The rest of them would shuffle up one place. They didn't speak. They didn't need to. They knew what was happening. Just before one o'clock, James Penney shuffled up one space to the head of the line. He waited five long minutes and stood up when he was called. Stepped into the office. Closed the door behind him. The human resources manager was a guy called Odell. Odell hadn't been long out of diapers when James Penney started work at the Laney plant. "Mr. Penney," Odell said. Penney said nothing, but sat down and nodded in a guarded way. "We need to share some information with you," Odell said. Penney shrugged at him. He knew what was coming. He heard things, same as anybody else. "Just give me the short version, okay?" he said. Odell nodded. "We're laying you off." "For the summer?" Penney asked him. Odell shook his head. "For good," he said. Penney took a second to get over the sound of the words. he'd known they were coming, but they hit him like they were the last words he ever expected Odell to say. "Why?" he asked. Odell shrugged. He didn't look as if he was enjoying this. But on the other hand, he didn't look as if it was upsetting him much, either. "Downsizing," he said. "No option. Only way we can go." "Why?" Penney said again. Odell leaned back in his chair and folded his hands behind his head. Started the speech he'd already made many times that day. "We need to cut costs," he said. "This is an expensive operation. Small margin. Shrinking market. You know that." Penney stared into space and listened to the silence breaking through from the factory floor. "So you're closing the plant?" Odell shook his head again. "We're downsizing, is all. The plant will stay open. There'll be some maintenance. Some repairs, overhauls. But not like it used to be." "The plant will stay open?" Penney said. "So how come you're letting me go?" Odell shifted in his chair. Pulled his hands from behind his head and folded his arms across his chest defensively. He had reached the tricky part of the interview. "It's a question of the skills mix," he said. "We had to pick a team with the correct blend. We put a lot of work into the decision. And I'm afraid you didn't make the cut." "What's wrong with my skills?" Penney asked. "I got skills. I've worked here seventeen years. What's wrong with my damn skills?" "Nothing at all," Odell said. "But other people are better. We have to look at the big picture. It's going to be a skeleton crew, so we need the best skills,Patterson, James is the author of 'Thriller Stories to Keep You Up All Night', published 2007 under ISBN 9780778324560 and ISBN 0778324567.