~ a short story
Don sipped the whiskey down in the stale silence of the office air, mingling thoughts of Sharon with dreams of Jess. Panel windows cornerstoned him at the offices of Smith & Smither, where he spent his days brainstorming ways to sell staplers. Pitch decks and art cuts scattered across his desk underneath a set of six metal balls clanking against each other without end. Such things delighted Don. He had to piss.
There was a knock on his door.
“Bring it,” came the customary response, full of bravado. Don was proud of that little jingle; he’d come up with it himself, prepared presentations to explain to underlings how it raised morale and even pitched it to clients for copy on three separate occasions. He’d tried to brand the phrase for himself too, to no avail. A custom print of Bring It! in papyrus lay adorned on the ceiling of his workout room and bedroom, to alight similar enthusiasm in such arenas.
A man needs a killer instinct.
Through the door now he expected to see a latte from the team’s latest run. Maybe it would be Miranda with her beaming smile and shortening skirt. Don believed it to only be a matter of time.
Instead, in walked a strange man with a briefcase. Don had never seen him in his life. Right as he did a loud bang cracked against the left window. A crow slammed itself to death into the glass. The cloudy blue sky had turned dour without Don’s notice. Don watched the black bird slide down in a trail of red, baffled. Eventually, the body of the bird fell away, out of view.
The stranger did not stop. He walked right up to Don’s desk and towered over him. He looked strangely familiar. Stubble and a desperate look in his eyes. Close-cropped black hair was partially hidden by a fedoric hat a businessman like himself might wear — and did wear. The very same color as his suit, the cool grey matched his own. It did not fit the man.
“Listen to me very carefully,” came the quick response. The voice of a salesman, forceful yet inviting. He smelled like the subway.
“How did you-” Don stammered.
Don’s smartphone rang, the song “Highway to Hell.” Like clockwork, his eyes fell to its brightened screen. Was it his wife again? He hoped for Jess. Miranda with the coffee audible?
“Don’t answer that or the deal is off!” proclaimed the mysterious suit. He promptly placed his briefcase on the end of Don’s desk.
Befuddled and becoming frustrated, Don’s eye fell from his phone and towards this foe. He was youngish, somewhat shabby white man of false means appeared to be around the same age as Don. Finally leaning forward, Don opened his arms in amazement at the man’s gumption.
“Deal?” he asked.
The man at last removed his hat and raised a finger with his other hand. Casually, he flipped his fedora back near the door, to eventually land lightly on one of the hat rack’s rungs, next to his own.
“Impressive,” quipped Don without thinking.
“Thank you,” said the stranger. He pointed the finger down at him as he began what sounded like a pitch.
“Jung said problems are the Danaän gift of civilization, of our very consciousness itself.”
“Jung?” Don barked a mispronunciation out with a half-laugh. He did not recognize the name.
“Jung,” the man said with the conviction of a holy warrior.
“Jung,” Don repeated, nodding as if in sage contemplation.
“Problems…” the man continued with a golden voice that sang, fists clenched in performance. “They are part of the deal we partake in upon our birth into this Earth.”
“Hey that rhymed!” Don jested, forgetting the strangeness of this encounter.
“But that’s no longer true!” the stranger bellowed. Reflexively, he reached for his briefcase, now upright at the end of Don’s desk. He tapped it expectantly. Don’s eyes fell upon it. Brown and regular-sized. There was nothing special about it.
“What if I told you I had something in my possession which could make all your problems go away?” the suit smirked. Eye contact. Desperate power resided behind those eyes.
Don chuckled. He didn’t answer immediately. The stranger left one hand on the case and the other in the air of the suddenly darkened office. Rain was arriving outside in the city. Droplets began to splatter on the 33rd story windows. Don reached for a cigarette from his frocket, he lit it with a sly grin.
“If someone told me that,” Don remarked, eyes on the igniting flame brightening his greasy mug. “I’d call them a liar and tell ’em to get out of my office.”
Don clicked his steel lighter shut and puffed. He looked up to the stranger and asked, “What’s your name, buster?”
The suit shrugged, “Aren’t you intrigued at what lies within my briefcase?”
Don’s gaze wandered to it and then away. Back to his mark. “A little. But I’m more interested in you.” He watched the stranger tense.
“Who are you?” Don asked. “What compelled you to come in here? With this strange proposition, and why me? Coast behind Miranda on the way through the doors? Eh, I wouldn’t blame ya…”
“Here’s the deal-” the man said with force.
“No, I don’t care-” Don replied instantly.
“Give me a cigarette. And a light,” the stranger said with pleasant force. “And I’ll show you what’s in my briefcase.”
Don’s eyes narrowed. He shook his head and grabbed the pack from his frocket. Clapping it against his hand, he loosed the end of one of the cigs and reached forward, offering it toward the salesman. The man grasped it with a trembling hand and leaned down. Don flicked the flame at its end and saw as the man inhaled like a seasoned pro.
“You know, you showed some real initiative just-” Don began.
He was interrupted by the man’s sudden movement. With military precision he slammed the briefcase down, unlatched both its bolts, and reached inside its primary fold to unveil a pistol. The salesman aimed it at Don’s forehead at point blank range.
“Hire me or I’ll kill you.” The gunmen puffed off some smoke with a sigh, holding the cig in his off-hand.
Don looked at the barrel, took a deep breath, then gave a laugh. “You drive a hard bargain.”
Because the man held the weapon in his right, Don extended a left.
“When can you start?” ~