Catch up on Chapter One HERE.
The door creaked open, and Eddie’s silhouette filled the room. He shuffled forward, looking like an unenthusiastic extra in a b-movie zombie flick. “Jamie.” His voice groaned like the door, and Jamie looked up from her book.
“What the hell happened to you Eddie?”
He stepped out of the dark corridor and into the dulled light of the office. Water dripped from his clothes, and an impressive size puddle was forming at his feet. One of his eyes was so swollen that it wouldn’t open, and all you could see was a narrow slit. A bruise was starting to develop that would look lovely in the morning.
“I want to you find a cardboard box, and I want to you put all your stuff in it,” he said.
Jamie shrugged and returned to her book.
“Then,” Eddie continued, “I want you to set it on fire.”
Jamie kept her head down and ignored him.
“What I’m trying to say is, you’re fired.”
Jamie mumbled a reply, not bothering to lift her eyes from her novel.
Eddie sighed and shuffled forward, closing the door behind him. “I get the feeling you’re not taking me seriously.”
“I have no idea where you got that idea,” she said, turning the page. “Is there something you want or are you just going to stand there?”
“Sure, get me a drink. Then fill that cardboard box with your stuff.”
“We’re out of cardboard boxes. And you took the drink out of here and stashed it in your office.”
“What the hell? What happened to the cardboard boxes?”
“I threw them out. And the old newspapers.”
“Damn, they were going to be worth something one day.” Eddie shook his head. “You can’t get the help nowadays.”
“You think that’s hard? You should try finding a decent job,” said Jamie. “I’ve been looking for the last five years and no sign yet.”
“What the hell kind of comeback was that? It’s like you don’t even try anymore.”
“You don’t pay me for comebacks. Hell, you don’t pay me for the drinks either, or putting up with all your crap. Now, can I get back to my book or are you going to keep moaning until I give you some sympathy?”
Eddie shrugged his shoulders. “Some sympathy wouldn’t go amiss, I guess.”
Jamie placed her book on the desk and took another look at Eddie. The torn clothes, soaked and dripping, and a collection of bruises. “Okay then, I’ll bite. What happened?”
Eddie took his jacket off and began wringing it out over the imitation wood flooring. “Tell me Jamie, what exactly do I pay you for?”
“Other than my sparkling company? You pay me very little to do all the paperwork and admin that you can’t be bothered to do.”
“Okay, let’s forget about your negative attitude and just focus on the admin work. What would you say that includes?”
“I deal with all the angry letters you get and the occasional client invoice.”
“And the client’s case details, right?”
“All the background information. What the job entails. All the key players. All the important bits of information I’d need to to my job, and continue paying you your exorbitant salary. Does that cover it?”
Jamie had gone back to reading her book. “Uhuh, I prepare all the case paperwork for you. Even though that’s not in my job description.”
“So, when you told me that Mr Brooks was looking for proof that his wife was having an affair, do you think it would have been worth mentioning who he suspected of committing this infidelity with his wife?”
“Of course,” said Jamie. “Did you even bother reading that file I sent you? It’s all there in black and white.” Her voice took on an official tone as she quoted what she’d written before. “Her husband noted that she’d spent an unusual amount of time on her phone to a Mr Ennis of Church street.”
“Yes, I recall that bit. Did you maybe think of finding out a little bit about who Mr Ennis was?”
“You mean do your job for you?”
Eddie chucked his jacket on the ground and glared at her, but Jamie just smiled back at him. “No, I mean to just do a little bit of background research,” replied Eddie. “The kind of thing you could find out in five seconds on Snoopster, while you’re on those damn forums and chat rooms. Think that’s reasonable?”
“If you’d asked me to, I would have done it. But I wasn’t asked.”
“See that’s the really funny part. If you had, you would have found out that Mr Ennis was a big time film director. A very successful, rich film director. So successful, in fact, that he can afford security. So rich, he can afford to hire actual gorillas for security. Angry gorillas Jamie. Big, freaking angry gorillas. That’s the kind of detail that I’m talking about.”
“Of course he’s a big time movie director. Everyone who’s been to the cinema in the last ten years would know that. Anyone could tell you he has security.”
Eddie kicked the door shut behind him. “Anyone apart from you apparently. You know damn well that I don’t go and see those fancy French art house films. I’d never heard of him.”
“He’s not French.”
“Forget about the French bit. Let’s go back to the bit about the big freaking gorillas he hires to walk around in suits beating up random people.”
“They caught you snooping around?”
“Yeah, caught with my pants down. Figuratively,” he added when he saw the look on Jamie’s face. “I’d just taken the photos when King Kong walks around the corner. He played the bongos on my head then threw me into the swimming pool. And the best part, he took my camera away.”
“Well, I’m truly heartbroken to hear you got a little roughed up and wet. Still, at least you got the photos first.”
Eddie somehow doubted the veracity of her supposed emotional status, but he decided to let it slide and continued.
“I just told you, he took away the camera.”
“But you had the automatic upload turned on, right?” Jamie looked up from her book now, the first signs of tension creeping into her voice. “You’d sorted that last week, right? When you said you were going to.”
Eddie looked to the ground, studying the puddle of water he’d created. “You know I’m useless with computers and all that crap.”
“You have got to be kidding me!” shouted Jamie, far louder than was proper for a lady. “You’re having a laugh, you must be. You literally have to tick one damn box on the options menu. The one that says to automatically upload photos taken to the SkyStream.” She stood up behind the desk, her knuckles turning white as she gripped the book. “My great grandmother has that sorted, and she still thinks that Hitler’s responsible for stealing our cat.”
Eddie shrugged, keeping his eyes glued to the floor. “I don’t do computers.”
Jamie threw her book across the room, knocking a picture of Big Ben off the wall. Eddie suspected that the reason she insisted on still reading paper books was so she could throw them when she got angry. He had always thought it was a nice photo, that made the office look trendy and stylish. Jamie had hated it from the start, and said it was cheap and tacky. That’s why Eddie was pretty sure it was more than a coincidence that the book hit the picture right in the centre. If it had been one of those fancy digital prints, or even a proper framed photo, then it would have shattered for sure. As it was, it was a cheap canvas that Eddie had bought online. It dropped to the floor and bounced before slouching over in the corner, looking ashamed. Maybe Jamie had been right about the picture after all.
“Just a minute” said Eddie, raising his hands. “I’m the one that’s meant to be mad here. You sent me into that situation without all the facts. If I’d known what I was getting into I might have been more careful.”
Jamie ran her hands through her long hair, her eyes clamped shut. “Being careful is your job. It’s literally what your clients pay you to do.” She took a deep breath then opened her eyes and looked at Eddie. “Without the photos we don’t get paid. You do understand that don’t you? This isn’t a charity. The lights don’t come on because of happy thoughts and sarcastic comments. We need money.”
“I’ll go back. I’ll get the pics, we’ll get paid, all sorted.”
Jamie smiled and clapped her hands together. “Hooray! Of course, because Mr Ennis won’t be at all on guard now that someones been found taking photos of him with someone else’s wife.” The smile vanished. “You won’t get in a hundred feet of the place.”
“I thought we just both agreed that sarcastic comments weren’t helping,” said Eddie, mumbling.
“We may as well kiss that cash goodbye. I don’t believe it, all you had to do was tick that one box. One box.”
“Okay, I’ll just have to take on another job. It’s not the end of the world.”
“Damn it Eddie, don’t you understand it’s not that simple?” She fell back down into her seat and buried her head in her hands. “I can’t deal with this rubbish anymore. Get out of here, I need sometime to think.”
“Wait, wasn’t I the one firing you? You can’t fire me, I’m your boss. I’m the one who pays your wages.”
“At the moment you don’t have the money to pay me anything. Just go and grab that drink in your office and give me some time to work out what the hell we’re going to do.”
Edie was about to argue the point, but one look at Jamie’s face made him reconsider. He walked past her and stepped into his private office. After making sure the door behind him he walked over to the couch and collapsed on to it. He lay back and closed his eyes, trying to forget everything that had happened. When that didn’t seem to work, he sat up and reached over to the drinks cabinet. All the single malt was gone. He cursed himself, guessing he must have finished it the night before. The blended brew was still there, but he didn’t feel in the mood for cheap whiskey. It only would have reminded him her didn’t have any of the good stuff. Instead he went for the unlabelled bottle of vodka. He’d bought it from one of his Polish neighbours who made the stuff in his basement. It was 94% proof and 100% illegal. He took a swig from the bottle and started coughing, the vodka hitting the back of his throat like a jackhammer. Still, it took the edge of the edge off, which was what he was looking for.
He’d taken a few punches tonight. Thanks to the painkiller he hadn’t felt any of them, but his body was very politely telling him he had taken a beating and that he wouldn’t be back up to full power until he’d gone in for some maintenance. In this case, another dose of Bliss. He got up from the sofa, bottle in hand, and walked over to the desk that stood at one end of the room. It was a rather ordinary desk, but made out of real wood rather than the cheap veneered rubbish that dominated the rest of the office. That made it the most valuable thing he owned. He opened one of the drawers and felt around in the back of it until he found what he was looking for. He pulled out the paper bag, the pharmacy logo on the side. He removed the box from inside and opened it to find his fears realised. He was out of Bliss. He’d have to get a refill on his prescription tomorrow, if they’d let him have any more this soon. The idea of having to wait until then was brought Eddie out in a nervous sweat, and he could feel his hands start to shake.
He yanked the other drawer right out of the desk and turned it over, emptying the contents onto the floor. Taped to the underside of the drawer was a large padded envelope, which he tore away. He looked inside and smiled. Sure enough, there were the six vials of Dark Bliss, the black market equivalent of the wonder drug. Twice the price, but the ‘pharmacists’ who dealt it weren’t too worried about usage levels as long as you had the money. As a bonus, they were also happy to put in the optional extras that the original manufacturers couldn’t get past the drugs review board, adding a few extra kicks to the miracle cure. Next to the vials was the dispenser, a small aerosol spray nozzle which he attached to one of the vials. His pulse racing, he began to raise the vial to his face.
The office door was thrown open. Eddie panicked and dropped the spray onto the floor. He kicked it under the desk, before looking up to see who the intruder. Jamie was striding toward the desk, a stack of files clutched to her chest. She dumped them on the desk, alongside the paperwork that Eddie had thrown there moments earlier.
“As I see it,” she said, “we need to have a high paying client but without the time investment of waiting around for stuff to happen. That narrows it down to these jobs. Take a look, let me know what you think. First up we’ve got the McClain case.”
Eddie took a deep breath and considered ordering Jamie out of there, so he could get high in peace. But as she stood there, hands on her hips, he realised she wasn’t going anywhere until he’d at least looked at the files. He reached over and, after Jamie nodded her approval, took the top file. He started leafing through it whilst Jamie spoke. “McClain suspects one of his employees is cooking the books and skimming money. He wants you to look through his team and find out who it is. He’s good for the cash.”
Eddie shook his head. “McClain employs over a hundred people. If I know him, that’s going to mean months of digging for someone who might not exist. Even if we did find who it was, McClain will still try to haggle the cost down. We’ll spend more time arguing about the cash then getting any. Next job.”
“Okay then,” said Jamie, handing Eddie the second file. “How about Donnell? He’s got someone stalking him and he want us to find out who it is and report back to him.”
“Seriously? Again? This freak shows up every five minutes with another apparent stalker or conspiracy. I swear he’ll have us looking for a second gunman on the grassy knoll next week. Way more trouble than he’s worth. Next.”
“You really shouldn’t call our potential clients freaks. Besides, just because you’re paranoid it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.”
“Whatever you do, don’t you dare tell him that. He’ll think you agree with him and then we’ll never get him out of the building. If half of what Donnell says is true then there’s at least fifteen governments focusing their efforts on seeing what he had for breakfast.” Eddie dropped the file back on the desk, unopened. “That’s the kind of crazy I can do without, not for the paycheck he offers.”
“Well, how about Ledger? Pretty straightforward job, no conspiracies either. He wants us to locate a missing person, a Hannah Reynolds, and then report back to him. The money’s crazy good.”
Eddie pushed the file away like it was toxic. “I’m sure I told you already, we don’t go anywhere near Ledger and his mob. Not unless we want to end up on trial as accessories to murder. That guy’s involved with bad people Jamie, seriously bad people. We don’t touch his money, it comes with too high a cost.”
Jamie huffed. “At the moment it comes down to a shady job or none at all.”
“What about that one?” asked Eddie, pointing to a file Jamie had kept hold of. “Is that another job?”
Jamie looked down at the file, as if it was the first time she’d seen it. “Oh this? This one’s Mrs Wilkins.” She paused, grimacing. “She’s lost her cat.”
“Yup,” said Jamie, nodding her head. “Third time this year.”
“We may be desperate Jamie, but I don’t think we’re quite at the level where we have to go and find missing cats.”
Jamie dropped down on the couch. She didn’t look like she was about to cry; Eddie had never seen her cry, she wasn’t that kind of girl. But she looked tired. Tired and frustrated. “Well, there’s nothing else in at the moment.”
“Something will turn up Jamie, have faith. Something always does.”
“Oh, I’m sure it will. In the meantime though, we have no cash flow. I know you missed that class in business studies, but that’s a bad thing.”
“In words that you would understand, it means there won’t be any more money for whiskey.”
Eddie raised his eyebrows. “We’re seriously that out of money? Not even enough for one bottle?”
Jamie shook her head, the occasion too serious for words.
Eddie scratched the back of his head and sighed. “Carry on and leave the missing cat file with me.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “I can’t believe I’m saying that.”
Jamie picked up the other three files, but Eddie stopped her. “Leave them all. I’ll study them now. See what’s best.”
Jamie dropped the files back down, looking at Eddie. “Is there anything else you need?”
“Other than a great big stinking pile of cash with no strings attached? No, thank you Jamie. I will just go through these on my own. You go back out front, man the phone. You never know, maybe some more damn cats will go missing and we’ll be able to afford two bottles of whiskey.” He tried to force a smile. “Wouldn’t that be great?”
Jamie gave her own thin-lipped smile, then left the room, shutting the door behind her. Eddie had known the young woman long enough to tell that she was busy thinking of a way to solve the mess he was in. She always was quiet when she was thinking, and she spent a lot of the time quiet.
As he’d promised, Eddie looked over the four files again. They looked even worse after a second read through. He could hear the vodka calling him, so he decided not to argue with it and picked up the bottle. He put his feet on the desk and kicked the papers to floor, taking another swig from the bottle. How had it come to this? He couldn’t move for work only a few months ago, but it had tapered off, and now he was resorting to rescuing cats out of trees. This wasn’t how he’d seen life going. Mind you, a lot of his life wasn’t how he’d seen it going. His five years in the military hadn’t been the glamorous life he’d envisioned as a teenager. He’s been damn good at it though. Until that last mission, obviously.
The bottle slipped from his hand and fell to the floor, spilling all over the worn carpet. He swore as he knelt down and picked up the bottle, when he spotted the vial from before. He grabbed hold of it and stood back up. He looked from the files to the vial, weighing up his options. Even if he couldn’t find work for his own sake, he knew he should for Jamie. For all their arguing, he knew Jamie had his back no matter what. She’d helped him out more times than he could remember and he didn’t want to let her down. But the vial was calling out to him, promising freedom from all the stupidity and stress, all the demons that lived in his head. He reasoned that after a hit he’d be able to focus on his work, and he’d get more done without that sinking feeling of dread in his stomach. Really then it was the responsible thing to do, to take the hit and then get down to work.
He looked over to the door. Certain that it was shut, he lifted the vial to his face. Using a hand to keep his left eye held open, he pointed the nozzle at it. After years of experimentation, his personal pharmacist had told him that everyone else had it wrong. The the fastest and strongest hit came from getting the Bliss right to the brain, and the closest thing were the optic nerve. He held the nozzle so that it just touched his eyeball, then pushed down. The spray coated his eye, and within a second he could feel the haze begin to fall over his brain. He dropped the empty vial to the floor as his head rolled back and he stared up at the ceiling. The edges of the world began to fade away into clouds, and everything took on a smoother, warmer tone. He closed his eyes, feeling the drug envelop him like a comfort blanket. Don’t worry about the work, don’t worry about the jobs. Everything was going to be alright. For a few moments he hovered, floating on the cloud. Then the Bliss whispered in his ear and sang him a lullaby, as the world turned to the most beautiful shade of black.