The handwritten sign plastered to his door was not something he could miss. ‘Rent due on Monday: don’t be fucking late this time.’
Living with his best mate’s sister had been working out reasonably well, and to be fair, he felt terrible about being behind on rent so often, but he still wished Hazel would find a less passive-aggressive way of reminding him.
If only his parents had bought him his own place after he’d graduated college, he’d get to be the one behaving like an over-privileged asshole, Mike reflected, before tearing the sign off the door and entering his bedroom. He flopped down onto his bed, exhausted after another morning of fruitless job searching.
He knew he would have to face facts: things were getting tough, and he would simply have to accept anything that came along, sooner rather than later. All he had to show for his efforts today was that interview at the fast-food place scheduled for next week. As he got comfortable, he heard a crunching sound in his pocket and remembered the flier that he’d been given earlier. He took it out and looked at it again. He’d been handed this piece of paper by some random guy as he was leaving the subway. He’d taken it more of politeness than anything else, fully intending to throw in the next garbage can he came across. Now, actually taking the time to read it, he was glad he hadn’t done that.
There were scarcely any details, but it was enough information to pique his interest: Exciting job opportunity for the right candidate; excellent pay; no experience required. Call this number.
‘‘Well, I am at that point where I just need to do something to bring money in, so why the hell not?’’ Hopefully, this was said just loud enough for Hazel to overhear. Anyway, what harm could it do to give a number a call, he thought to himself.
And so, he dialed the number. The person on the other end picked up immediately.
‘‘Good afternoon, Mr. Featherstone.’’ A female voice, not particularly unpleasant to the ear, but not hinting at any emotion either.
‘‘Yes, hello. Hey, wait a minute… How do you know my name?’’
‘‘This is the Mr. Featherstone who received our contact details in the tube station early today, is it not?’’
‘‘We are happy that you have chosen to get back to us so quickly, Mr. Featherstone. We would like to schedule an appointment to discuss this opportunity with you later this afternoon. The location is only about a 10-minute walk from your apartment. Will 14:30 this afternoon be good for you?’’
‘How does she know where I live?’ he mused. This was all extremely weird, but those two words, ‘excellent pay,’ were enough to motivate him.
‘‘Sure, yes, that’s fine.’’
‘‘Good. Please come to the following address at that time. Mr. Elliot is eager to meet you.’’
What harm could it do to go along, he thought to himself. It was just around the corner, after all.
‘What the hell am I doing here?’ he thought, sitting in the lobby of an old but elegant office building which was indeed only a few minutes away from where he lived. The man at the front desk had ignored him, apart from pointing in the direction of the bench he was now sitting on. The building was so nondescript that he could honestly say he’d never even acknowledged its existence, despite having walked past it hundreds of times in the last couple of years. However, he didn’t have much time to ponder this, as he was soon greeted by the imposing figure of the gentleman who had requested his presence.
‘‘Mr. Featherstone, so nice of you to come at such short notice.’’
‘‘Call me Mike, please.’’
‘‘No, I shall stick to Mr. Featherstone; mine is a business that requires formality. I’m sure you’ll come to understand this soon enough.’’
This was a man not to be messed with, that much Mike could tell.
‘‘Now, do follow me to my office.’’ Again, this was non-negotiable. Mr. Elliot was already halfway there.
He broke into a light jog, not wanting to seem rude by lagging behind.
‘‘Now, take a seat, Mr. Featherstone.’’
‘‘Thanks,’’ Mike said, withdrawing the copy of his resume from his bag in preparation for the coming interview. ‘‘Perhaps I can give this…’’
‘‘That won’t be necessary, Mr. Featherstone. We are already somewhat familiar with you as a candidate. We don’t make offers such as this to random strangers.’’
‘‘Well, OK then. Thank you for…’’ Mike was once again cut off.
‘‘This is not an interview in the conventional sense. I will explain our requirements. I will discuss the financial compensation. Then you shall be given time to consider this information before coming to a decision.’’
Mr. Elliot then looked directly into Mike’s eyes, pausing his little speech.
‘‘OK, Mr. Elliot.’’ Mike was at a complete loss as to what to do or say at this point.
‘‘Good. Now here’s my offer to you.’’
‘‘Hazel, are you in there?’’ Mike asked, knocking on her bedroom door. A few seconds later, she groggily opened the door.
‘‘Mike, you know I work nights. Is it important?’’
Damn, he’d forgotten about her shift work.
‘‘Sorry, Hazel. I just wanted to pay up what I owe. Here you go.’’ He handed over an envelope stashed with his - for once - not overdue rent.
‘‘Bloody hell Mike. In cash? Did you rob a bank or something?’’
He couldn’t help but smile: ‘‘Not quite. Look, something’s come up, and they paid me in advance for my first gig, so there you go.’’
‘‘I don’t think I want to ask any more questions, do I?’’
‘‘Erm, maybe not.’’ Mike couldn’t help but feel a little sheepish. Handing over a sizeable wad of cash must have looked a little odd, he had to admit. ‘‘Don’t worry though, it is legit.’’
Hazel gave a slight smile in response, the first time she’d done that to him in a long while: ‘‘Thanks, Mike. Oh, and sorry about the note earlier. You know how I can get sometimes.’’
‘‘Think nothing of it.’’
She widened her smile, then closed her door. Things were looking up already.
All he had to do now was wait for the call. Two days, Elliot had said. Friday evening just before midnight, at the address given. It all sounded simple enough. Mike would be working as a personal assistant to an exceptional client of Mr. Elliot’s and would be there for a short period to help him out in whatever way was necessary. This would be a one-off occasion, after which he would not see that particular client again, unless requested to do so. As a gesture of goodwill, Mike had been paid in advance for his first assignment; he hadn’t been kidding when he said the pay was good. If this went well, Mike was at the very least out of financial trouble for a while. Of course, the goodwill gesture did come with a caveat: even if Mike decided to quit after the first assignment, he’d have to go through with this one job, whatever it entailed.
Now, time to wait and see what adventures Friday night would bring.
Where was this place?
It wasn’t that the address had been hard to find; it was just that he couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to be here, let alone some exclusive client of Mr. Elliot. This was smack in the middle of the city’s most dilapidated industrial estate. He’d gotten an uber to as close as possible, but even the driver wouldn’t bring him all the way to the door; he’d had to walk the last half mile or so and was in real danger of being late.
What was going on here?
Mike approached the door, feeling more than mild trepidation. Before he had the chance to knock, the door was opened, and a giant of a man stepped out to greet him.
‘‘Erm, hi. I’m…’’ Once again, Mike didn’t get the chance to finish his sentence.
‘‘First door on the left. Get changed and await instructions. Be quick about it.’’ The security guard then bundled him inside and slammed the door behind him.
Mike found the room and entered. Whatever he might have expected to see, it certainly wasn’t this: a full hazmat suit. This thing was the real deal, too. He was starting to get more of an idea as to why he’d been paid so handsomely. No job requiring him to wear this would be easy… or pleasant.
‘‘I’d make sure you put that on properly, Mr. Featherstone.’’
Mike recognized that voice. He was starting to understand that it was also one he was never likely to forget.
‘‘Mr. Elliot, what the hell is going on here?’’
‘‘As I stated, a significant client of mine has need of your assistance. He can be found on the third floor. Your assignment is merely to perform what I like to refer to as post-task completion.’’
‘‘What?’’ If his intention was to confuse Mike, it was certainly working.
‘‘Think of it this way. If someone were cooking a meal, the meal itself would be the fulfillment of the task. Sitting down with a loved one, cutting into that steak, and enjoying a nice glass of red is what the whole experience is about. Of course, no one wants to think about washing the dishes afterward. Nonetheless, the dishes need to be cleaned. That is what I mean by post-task completion.’’
‘‘So, I’m here to clean up afterward?’’
‘‘Yes, Mr. Featherstone, indeed you are.’’ The creepiest smile Mike had ever seen slowly emerged in Elliot’s expression. ‘‘Now, as this is your first assignment, I’ll be accompanying you to make sure all goes smoothly.’’
Mike had a feeling he wasn’t going to be washing dirty dishes.
He followed Elliot to the elevator. He pressed ‘3,’ and they began their ascension. Mr. Elliot exited and made his way to a door some way down to the right. As previously, Mike found himself having to half jog to catch up. He stopped at the door, turning to Mike with a look as cold as death on his face.
‘‘Time to honor our agreement, Michael.’’ There was something about Mr. Elliot’s use of Mike’s first name that utterly terrified him. He then proceeded to open the door.
‘‘Hi Mike, how was your first day?’’
Hazel had an overly comfortable habit of walking around the apartment scantily dressed to the extent that Mike had to more often than not mentally remind himself that this was his best mate’s sister. Not tonight, though: his mind was elsewhere.
‘‘Erm… rough first shift, don’t really want to talk about it.’’
‘‘Oh, sorry to hear that. Hope it gets easier from now on.’’
‘‘Thanks. Actually, I think I might go to that interview on Monday. Might be good to weigh up my options.’’
‘‘Whatever works for you, Mike.’’ She gave him a quick peck on the cheek. ‘‘Just remember that rent’s due again next month, yeah?’’
He was scarcely listening, though.
Describing it as a rough first shift didn’t do what he had seen and done any kind of justice at all. He didn’t know what he had been expecting to see when Elliot opened that door, but it turned out to be a scene that was now burned into his psyche forever.
‘‘This will be a pretty tough cleanup, so take as much time as you need. Just make sure you do the job properly.’’
And at that, Elliot had turned and left.
The room was poorly lit, so it was hard to make out what that coppery brown mess was that coated the walls. He’d followed Elliot’s advice and put the suit on properly, meaning he was also using its breathing apparatus. Had he not done so, he would have by now recognized the stench of fresh blood. His eyes met a figure, dressed in what appeared to be full butcher’s garb, slowly but precisely removing what were clearly the last few remaining chunks of flesh from the corpse in front of him. Its arms and legs were strewn across the floor; the head had been removed and tossed aside.
The butcher turned to face Mike: ‘‘I guess my accountant here has ripped me off for the last time.’’ He said with a sadistic chuckle. ‘‘Only fair I got to rip him apart, don’t you think?’’
‘‘Indeed, it is, my good friend.’’ Mike twisted round to see that Mr. Elliot had reappeared at the doorway.
‘‘Let me introduce you to my new junior associate, Mr. Featherstone. He’ll be performing cleanup duties this evening.’’
‘‘Good luck with that, Kid.’’ The butcher then slowly exhaled. Stepped back from the remains of the corpse and started to make his way out of the room. ‘‘Make sure you do the job right. I don’t want a single trace of this piece of shit remaining when you’re done.’’
‘‘That is our guarantee, as always.’’ Mr. Elliot then stepped aside to allow this murdering psychopath to exit the room, leaving Mike to survey the whole devastating scene.
‘‘Make sure you get this place spotless. Take as much time as you need,’’ Elliot said, now directly facing Mike, ‘‘but I want this place so clean that you’d be able to eat your next meal off the floor in here. I’ll be back in a couple of hours to see how you’re getting on.’’
He then pointed to a mop and bucket in the corner, as well as a bunch of cleaning supplies. He then ignited the incinerator, randomly picking up a limb and tossing it inside, before once again leaving the room.
‘‘OK, then, Michael. Well, as I’m sure you can imagine, times are tough for all major multinational corporations, and the same goes for the fast-food industry. We’d love to have you on board, but we’d have to start you on a zero-hours contract, minimum wage to start, of course. I’m pretty sure you’d be guaranteed at least 8 to 12 hours of work every week, maybe even more. After 2 or 3 years, you’ll almost certainly be in line for a full-time position. So, what do you say? Are you excited to join the Bandit Burger team?’’
‘‘Who wouldn’t be?’’ was all that Mike could say in response.
‘‘Great, then we’ll see you first thing tomorrow so you can pick up your new work clothes. Sorry to say that you’ll be expected to buy them from the company, but you should earn enough in the first week or so to cover the costs.’’
Mike offered the weakest of smiles in response.
The following day, Mike, resigned to his fate, knocked on the office door.
‘‘Ah, there you are! So lovely to see you again.’’
Mike had to chuckle at the absurdity of the situation. ‘‘Yes, glad to be back.’’
‘‘Raring to go, I assume?’’
Mike hesitantly replied with a question: ‘‘Erm, can I be honest with you?’’
‘‘Why, of course.’’
‘‘I’m really just happy to have a job.’’
‘‘Absolutely no harm in that at all. We’re glad to have you on board and fully committed. So, Mr. Featherstone, let’s get you fitted up with a bespoke hazmat suit, shall we?’’
Written by DariusMcCorkindale