Pain & Gain, Chapter 3 of the story

Pain & Gain, Chapter Three

Catch up with the first chapters HERE

The knock, although quiet, still disturbed the darkness. Red lines rippled across the black, scraping against Eddie’s consciousness as the knock echoed. Eddie tried to ignore it, to retreat to the shadows, but it refused to go away. Instead it grew louder, more insistent, demanding his attention. Eddie turned over, waking up enough to find the nearest cushion and smother himself with it. For a moment the knocking faded away and the Bliss welcomed him back into it’s warm embrace. Eddie could feel his soul smile when the door flew open and footsteps marched their way toward him, coming to a stop at his side. He risked opening one eye halfway, trying to glimpse the invader. Jamie stood over him, arms folded and a look on her face that would curdle a cow. She’d shut the door behind her, and even as she whispered there was no mistaking the threat in her words. “Get. Up. Now.”

Eddie closed his eye again and pretended that he hadn’t seen her. The footsteps went away, and he thought he had outwitted Jamie. Moments later however, he felt something land on him, something light. Curiosity got the better of him and he again sneaked an eye open. It was his tie. He hadn’t seen it for months.

“Put that on,” said Jamie. “And stop pretending you’re asleep, I can see your eye twitching. That doesn’t work for anyone, and everyone over the age of five knows it.”

Eddie, deciding the game was up, opened his eyes and took a closer look at the tie. “What’s this for?”

“Keep your voice down. I’ve said that you’re on a call with someone, not that you’re wasted off your face. You asking what the tie is for might just give the game away.” Jamie turned to the small closet in the office and looked through it, pulling out his two blazers and comparing them to the crumpled shirt that Eddie was wearing. “The tie goes around your neck. Makes you look like a professional, instead of a bum. Please try and grasp that okay? Make it your affirmation or whatever bull works for you. ‘I’m a professional. I deserve to be paid.'”

“I know what a tie is, I want to know why you want me to wear it.” He paused as his mind played catchup. “Who did you tell I was in a call?”

“You have a visitor. I know, I’m just as surprised as you. Now, I know this is tricky for you, but can you please try and stand up? I would be eternally grateful if you could manage that. How about it champ?”

Eddie turned over and buried his head under the cushion. His voice came out muffled. “Tell them to go away and come back later. Make up some excuse, just tell them that I’ll be back in the office this afternoon.

“It’s already afternoon numbskull.”

Eddie lifted the cushion up and checked the clock. Sure enough, it was just before 3pm. “What? What day is it?”

“Wednesday. Yes, you’ve been out of it for over ten hours. Yes, I think that’s a record. I’ll give you a gold star later. Now get the hell up.”

Eddie threw his head back, and instantly regretted the quick motion, as a million hammers started having a go at his skull. He groaned and held his hands over his eyes. Although Bliss killed 99.9% of all pain, it couldn’t kill the results of a Bliss hangover. Some things in life were inescapable. “I can’t to this right now Jamie, look at me. I just need another 30 minutes or so then I’ll be ready. Tell them 30 minutes. Can you do that for me?”

The water splashed over his face, ice cold and sent the hammers into overdrive. His eyes sprang open and he sat up. “What the actual hell Jamie?”

“I told you to keep your voice down. I also told you to get up but you were ignoring me. Besides, you stank. A bit of water can only help. You needed to change the shirt anyway.

Eddie groaned and swung his feet off the sofa and onto the floor. His shirt was soaked through again for the second time in 24 hours. Jamie placed the empty glass back on the desk and then turned to the closet. After a few moments rummaging, she fished out his business shirt and handed it to him. He snatched it off her, giving her his best glare as he did.

“Oh give it a break,” said Jamie. “Just try and act like an adult for once in your life.

“I could fire you you know.”

“Yes Eddie, so you say. Now get up and get the hell ready. We’ve got a client to impress.”

Eddie leaned on the sofa for support and climbed to his feet, before he began unbuttoning his shirt. “A little privacy, if you don’t mind?”

Jamie frowned. “If you even think of going back to the sofa I will absolutely tear you a new one, do you understand? Can I trust you to actually dress yourself?”

“Yes mum, I think I’ve got this.”

Jamie pulled a can of deodorant out of the closet and threw it at Eddie, which bounced off his skull and onto the floor. “Do us both a favour, spray yourself before you come out. You have three minutes. After that I’m coming back in and dragging you out there.” She spun around on her stiletto heels and headed to the door. She opened it a crack, peeped out, and then slid out and sealed it behind her.

Eddie could hear her voice on the other side of the door, an indistinguishable apology and assurance that someone would be right there. With a sigh, Eddie towelled off his hair and struggled into the clean shirt. He noticed that it had been ironed and washed since he had thrown into the closet, and wasn’t sure whether to thank Jamie or shout at her. With no other way out of the office, Eddie buttoned up his shirt then fastened the tie around his neck, moving as slowly as he dared. He’d never liked ties to start with, and the fabric felt even more like a noose than normal. He was considering wedging his chair under the door and going back to the sofa, and to hell with Jamie. He knew it was going to be another shady job, or heaven forbid a missing pet. Right now he was in no mood to deal with either. He spotted the job files Jamie had brought in yesterday, leaning against the sofa, and sighed. There was no way this job could be worse than either of them. So he took a glance in the mirror, made sure his hair was pointing in more or less the same direction, and stepped through the door.

Jamie was stood behind her desk and looking his way, and Eddie figured his three minutes must’ve been almost up. He looked over to the waiting room (a rather grandiose way to describe the chair that sat opposite Jamie’s desk, but Eddie insisted on calling it that anyway) to see the latest prospective client. It would have been a cliche to say that his heart skipped a beat, but whilst Eddie despised a cliche he was at a loss to describe any other way what he felt when he first saw her. Physical symptoms were definitely present. She was sat down, dressed in an tailored suit that Eddie reckoned cost more than the office, and pale skin framed with long red hair. She stood up when she saw him and smiled. He wasn’t one to fall over over every pretty girl that walked by, but that smile made him dizzy. For a moment, all he could think was he wished he’d taken a breath mint before he’d come out. He paused for a second to catch his bearings, then walked over and held out his hand. “Hi, I’m Eddie Walker. You can call me Eddie.”

She held out her hand to his, allowing him to shake it. “Hello Mr Walker, my names Ms. Smith. You can call me Ms. Smith.”

Eddie smiled. “I’m sorry for the delay, I was just reviewing a very important case, a lot of paperwork, you know?”

Jamie coughed. “When you were on a call to a client, right Mr Walker? The call I told Ms. Smith about?”

Eddie took the ball and didn’t miss a step. “That’s the one, thanks Jamie.”

Ms. Smith kept the smile on her lips, as though to say she got the joke, but her eyes said she was all business. Eddie straightened his tie, then loosened it again. The room felt too hot all of a sudden. “So, how can I help you Ms. Smith?”

She didn’t answer immediately, rather she took her time looking him up and down, appraising him. It wasn’t unusual for clients to be nervous when they walked through those doors. People who came to see him were rarely there because they were happy. They would often need to be coaxed, to be reassured, to be convinced they were making the right decision. But Ms. Smith didn’t look nervous. Coaxing looked like it would be received with open hostility.

“So, Edward Walker. You’re a private investigator?” she asked.

Eddie chuckled. “That’s what it says on the door.”

The smile remained unmoving on Ms. Smith’s face, but she didn’t laugh back. “Yes, yes it does.”

The room felt like a sauna, the heat oppressive, but when he looked around both Ms. Smith and Jamie looked comfortable. It was October, and hot summer days were a distant memory. Winter was yet to take its hold on the city, and Eddie always made sure the heating was turned off until the Thames froze. Yet when he wiped his forehead, and his hand came back covered in sweat.

“I have a job” said Ms. Smith, “and I gather you are a man with the talents I require.”

Jamie had a coughing fit, excusing herself. Eddie had to admit that he was siding with her on this one. Unless the talent was the ability to get punched repeatedly for a cheap price tag, he wasn’t sure what this Ms. Smith was getting at. “My talents?”

The woman rolled her eyes, fast enough that Eddie almost missed it. “Yes Mr Walker. Believe it or not, you came highly recommended. I have a job, relatively straightforward. But it calls for some sensitivity. I need someone who can keep a low profile.”

Eddie shrugged, “Yes, I suppose that you could call me discrete. I’m not the kind of guy to kiss and tell.”

Ms. Smith glanced at the ground, her cheeks blossoming red. But when she looked back up, it was indignation rather than embarrassment in her eyes. Eddie smirked, enjoying the first signs of some genuine emotion, some humanity from the stranger. He knew he shouldn’t have, but he couldn’t help himself.

“That’s good to hear,” she said, locking eyes with Eddie. “Sounds like you’re the man for me.”

The words were carefully chosen, and Eddie realised that she was playing with him. The confrontation hung in the air over her, palpable. Eddie, a firm believer in the customer rarely being right, would normally be overjoyed to lock horns with a client. If only it wasn’t so damn hot in here. It couldn’t be the Bliss. He’d only taken as much as he needed. Maybe he’d caught a cold after his late night swim. Yes, thought Eddie, that was far more likely. He just needed a little time, get himself back up to full strength. Yet here was this beautiful stranger, stood in his office, judging him. Eddie couldn’t decide whether he wanted to throw her out of his office or ask her to never leave.

“Well,” he said, clearing his throat. “We do have a lot of work on at the moment, so I’m not sure if we’ll be able to help you.” He ignored Jamie’s incredulous look, though he had no doubt that Ms. Smith had picked up on it. Eddie nodded, trying to buy his own lie. “Yes, very busy at the moment.”

“Ah, I see. Well, I’m sorry to hear that. As I said, it’s a very straight forward job. Maybe I should be a bit clearer. First of all, I represent a rather large company, one that you no doubt have heard of. Discretion is very important, but money isn’t as much of an issue, if you can guarantee the job’s done. That’s why I’m authorised to reimburse you fully for your expertise.” She reached into her handbag and pulled out an envelope. “I appreciate you’re busy; professional people always are. My company believes in making sure people are compensated for their time. So this is for you taking the time and seeing me.”

She placed the envelope on the table and slid it across toward Eddie. He wanted to appear unperturbed, but it took all his self-control not to open the envelope. Ms. Smith smiled, as though she had just played the winning hand. Jamie reached forward and snatched up the envelope, Eddie secretly glad that someone was going to look in it. Jamie opened the envelope and Eddie caught her eyes widening. However much it was, it must have been a lot to break Jamie’s usual stoic expression. Ms. Smith spoke. “There’s £1,000 in there. Cash. Count it, please.”

“There’s no need,” said Eddie, “I trust you completely.” Jamie started counting the money, much to Eddie’s relief. He hoped she’d remember to check they were genuine. On cue, Jamie held up one of the notes to the light and checking for the hologram.

“Don’t be rude Jamie, there’s no need to check Ms. Smiths money.”

Jamie ignored him, and nodded. “Well, they look like they’re the real deal to me.”

“Of course they are,” said Eddie, as though every client had only ever handed him genuine notes, and as though he’d ever been handed £1,000 in cash before, genuine or fake.

“Yes, that is real money, and that’s just a taster.”

“So what’s the catch?”

Ms. Smith fluttered her eye lashes. “Catch Mr Walker? There’s no catch. My company has a job that needs doing, and they pay generously to ensure the jobs done well. It’s as simple as that.”

“There’s always a catch. I just don’t like it when I can’t see what it is.”

Ms. Smith smiled, and Eddie felt that for the first time that it was a genuine smile. “Well, in that case, there’s another £1,000 pounds waiting for you at headquarters. It’ll be a great time, we’ll get to know you, you’ll get to know us, you can find out what the catch is with us, we’ll find out what the catch is with you. How does that sound to you?”

Ms. Smith’s eyes met his, and although Eddie couldn’t put his finger on it, he felt like the prey in the headlights. He’d met people like this before, and the situation never ended well. He was on the verge of saying no, when Jamie piped up. “Mr Walker will be free this afternoon, he can meet you then.”

Ms. Smith turned her gaze to Jamie, sizing her up, before giving a nod. “I’m very glad to hear that.” She stood up and walked over to the door. “Head to the Salve Corporation building after lunch on Mill Street, and ask for me.”

“Ask for Ms. Smith?”

She turned back, a victor’s smile spreading. “Ask for Freya. Freya Smith.”

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