Word Count: 1874
Flavour: Tangerine 8 (first impressions), Pistachio 11 (argument), Blueberry yoghurt 21 (blackmail)
Summary: Benjamin Shai visits Mr Lock after accepting an offer he isn't very sure about, and is introduced to a bearded man with anger issues.
Benjamin Shai sat on a very long white sofa, in a very bright room. He had spent about five minutes wandering around, enjoying the quite unbelievable sight one got from the twentieth floor, trying to locate his neighbourhood and various places he knew, but then, not wanting to appear fidgety, sat down on the couch with his hands in his lap, patiently waiting. The room was almost empty, with two wide couches facing each other across an ornate gold and red carpet. Between the couches sat a low coffee table; a second, higher table near the elevator held a coffee machine and several plain white tea cups, along with a bowl of sugar cubes and a small jug of milk. After ten minutes of waiting and no sign of anyone arriving, Benjamin made himself a cup of coffee, then sat back down, before getting back up for milk and sugar. Ten minutes after that the elevator gave a light ding and the doors slid open soundlessly, revealing Mr Lock, who was fittingly dressed in a pearly white suit with a red ascot which gave the eerie impression of having been soaked in blood. He carried a cane, Benjamin noticed, but it wasn’t the same as the night he had been offered the job. This one was white, with mother of pearl and thin lines of gold elaborately worked into what part of the handle was visible. He adjusted his ascot with his right hand, then greeted Benjamin with a curt but polite nod, before making himself some coffee. He said nothing until he had sat down on the couch facing Benjamin.
“I am,” he said, stirring his coffee, “very glad you accepted the offer. I am aware that you do not know all the details, but would like to assure you that you will not be required to do anything…” he paused to search for a word, “unseemly,” he decided, his lips twitching slightly, “without a preemptive warning.”
“Right. So are you going to tell me the details?”
Mr Lock calmly took a sip from his coffee. “No.”
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you everything, I’m sure you’ll understand that a certain amount of discretion is needed for this particular job, and I cannot give you all the details you will undoubtedly want, but Ariel will be more than happy to fill you in on anything you might be curious about. Within reason, of course.” He gave a polite smile.
As if on cue, the elevator rang and the doors opened. Benjamin would in future remember it as the doors slamming open with rather too much force and causing the whole building to shake, but as it was, the doors were as silent and smooth as ever. Which was rather deceiving, given the explosion that came out of them. A man stormed into the room, going straight for Mr Lock, who stood up to meet him eye to eye (or rather, eye-to-forehead; the man was rather a lot shorter than Lock, who, Benjamin decided, would appear to tower over anyone if given the right suit).
“Ariel,” Mr Lock nodded at the short man, who was dressed in a long grey coat and a fedora, and sported a rather bushy brown beard.
“You are unbelievable,” Ariel whispered, prodding Mr Lock’s ascot.
“That coat is unbelievable,” Mr Lock answered. “Who on Earth allowed you to put that on? It makes Mr Shai here look like royalty. And don’t get me started on the beard…”
Benjamin was slightly taken aback by what had at first appeared to be a playful tone, until he realised Mr Lock was serious. Wondering about the man’s obsession with clothes, he looked down at his own garments. He had dressed as well as he could muster, was wearing his best suit, and had even shined his shoes before he left. However he pretended not to have heard the insult as Mr Lock and the man called Ariel continued arguing.
“This is blackmail!” Ariel said slightly louder, his voice pitching.
“No it isn’t, it’s you repaying me for a favour.” Mr Lock sat down again. “Besides, don’t act like you wouldn’t want to do it if you had the choice.”
“Well I do have the choice, and I say no. Find someone else to do your handiwork. I’m not a handiwork sort of person. I’m sure there are plenty of idiots happy to play fetch for you. No offense,” he added, turning to Benjamin. “Look, I’ll be happy to help, but I’m happy right here and really not in the mood to go places. Besides, you know I work better from a distance, why would you make me do this?”
“Because some of the work requires two, and I need someone with enough class to pass as actually having some class. No offense,” he said, turning to Benjamin in turn. “Look, dear, I wouldn’t ask you if I knew anyone else. But do this one last thing, and I will leave you alone.”
Ariel narrowed his eyes. “Promise?”
“Promise,” Lock said, sipping on his coffee. Ariel slumped down next to him. “It’s still blackmail,” he muttered. Then he eyed Mr Lock’s coffee. “Can I get some of that?”
“You can get your own. In the corner.” Lock nodded towards the coffee corner. Ariel pouted (which was quite a sight on a man with a beard of those proportions), got up with a surprising amount of grace, and turned his back to Benjamin and Lock. The coffee machine buzzed.
“Ariel,” Lock said, loudly enough for both of them to hear, “is an expert. Well, almost, at least. I won’t always be available during the job, but you two will be working quite closely, and any questions you have,” he turned to Benjamin again, “feel free to ask Ariel. I’ll leave you two to get aquainted for a bit, I have a call to make. There are people who are simply dying to know you’ve accepted the offer.” Mr Lock smiled, got up, and went to the elevator. “Oh yes,” he added, as he pushed the button, “Ariel?”
“Be nice.” The elevator arrived and Mr Lock disappeared. The silence that rang out started to thicken the air, until Benjamin felt compelled to loosen his tie and say something. “So… you’ve worked for Mr Lock before?”
Ariel came back to the table holding three cups of coffee. “Yes.”
“Is it… dangerous at all?” The question came out before Benjamin realised he was really rather worried about it.
“Not generally, no.” Ariel downed a cup of coffee, then grimaced, muttered, “sugar,” and went back to the table. Possibly out of curiosity, possibly because there was nothing else to do, he asked a question of his own. “Did he tell you anything at all?”
“Just that it wouldn’t be illegal and I wouldn’t have to do anything unusual without being warned beforehand.”
Ariel came back to the sofa with the bowl of sugar cubes. “Why did you accept a job if you don’t know what it’s about? I mean, we could be bank robbers or murderers for all you know.”
Benjamin shrugged. “It’s tough, finding a job, and he said he pays well. He didn’t seem to be lying, and well, the desperation of men…”
“He didn’ seem to be lying?” Ariel scoffed.
“You think he was?”
“No,” Ariel said flatly. “But don’t ever suppose to know what goes on in that man’s mind. He’s clever as a fox in camouflage. Just cause he isn’t lying, doesn’t mean he’s telling the whole truth. You don’t know mysterious until you’ve spent a few years with him. Heck I don’t even know if Lock is his real name.”
Benjamin mustered the man in front of him. There was something exceedingly strange about the way his voice seemed to falter every once in a while, as if there was something lodged in his throat.
“Are you all right?” Benjamin asked.
“What? Oh, yeah, fine. Cold. Not so great with winter weather.” They sat in silence for a while, drinking their coffees, until Benjamin thought to just be straight and ask what the hell he would be asked to do in this job.
“So what exactly will I be doing in this job?” He was aware that he had signed nothing, and wasn’t really obliged to do anything, but there was still a certain anxiety telling him that this was an extremely stupid idea, even if he was desperate.
“Oh, a variety of things. You’ll probably have to go to a couple of big events, that’s why they’re asking us to work together.”
“You think Lock is the only one behind this? He’s merely the planner, the architect, if you will. He works on commissions, so to speak. But don’t worry, you won’t have to do any parachuting or deep sea diving, it’s mostly fairly doable stuff.”
“Then why wouldn’t he ask just anyone?”
“Oh, well, it’s doable stuff, but not just anyone can do it. I mean, deep sea diving is doable to a deep sea diver. It’s all very subjective.”
Benjamin felt like he was learning absolutely nothing from this conversation. Ariel seemed to notice, because he leaned forward and explained. “The job will most probably entail us talking to people and convincing them of something or the other, or getting them to convince other people of something or the other. This means we’ll have to pass for whatever we need to pass for, say high-class businessmen or the like. It’s fairly simple stuff once you get into it. Like playing a role in a play.”
“Why doesn’t Lock do it himself then?”
“He doesn’t like dressing up. Or down, which is always the case for him.”
“Really? He hires people to do stuff because he’s picky about clothing?”
“I think if you look carefully, you’ll find that most everyone who hires people hires them because they don’t want to do the work themselves. But yes, he’s picky about clothing.”
Benjamin leaned back in his seat and exhaled slowly. “I can’t believe I agreed to this.”
“Neither can I,” Ariel seconded. “But don’t worry, it’s not like you signed anything. You can still decide to just leave, although I wouldn’t recommend it. The money is excellent, for those of us who get paid.”
“You’re not getting paid?”
“I’m the one doing the paying,” Ariel said, sipping his coffee. “So no, no money in it for me. But I still get the excitement.” He looked bored half to death. “Besides, Lock always sets me up in excellent places, I’ll give him that. He has good taste in more than just clothing. The food and service are always first class, I suppose it would be worth taking the job just to get pampered for a few months.”
Benjamin thought this over. The whole thing still seemed dodgier than a back alley drug transaction, but Ariel didn’t appear to be lying, or even have enough interest in Benjamin to attempt lying, and he was quite keen to get out of the city for a while.
There was still the issue of Nelly, but he was sure that would work out sometimes. It was about time things did.
- Current Location:Brighton
- Current Music:Kaizers Orchestra