Futuristic Thriller, Pain & Gain, Chapter 4

Pain & Gain, Chapter Four

Catch up with the start of the story HERE

The rain was horizontal that day, dancing across the sky and streets in slabs. Eddie stepped out of the taxi and yet again found himself soaked to the skin. It wasn’t the worst start to a job interview he’d ever had, but it was hardly the good omen he was looking for. The clouds had brought darkness to London ahead of schedule, and it was almost a relief to look at the Salve Ltd building. Spotlights at the base illuminated the building, racing up the walls before hitting the sky. The building was a beacon, standing proud amidst the dull grey of the city. Eddie looked up for a moment, taking in the sight, and was rewarded with a face full of rain water.

He ran for shelter, pushing through the doors and into the lobby. He strode over to the reception, leaving a trail of water and dirty footprints, much to the dismay of the woman sat behind the desk. She might have been described as pretty, but not anytime in the last thirty years. Her hair was up in a bun, coloured a vivid auburn that could only come from a bottle. Wrinkles lined her face, exaggerated by the frown she had as she looked Eddie up and down. She looked like she’d been built from the same concrete that formed the building’s foundation, and had probably been around longer. “Can I help you sir?”

Eddie wondered how someone could make the greeting sound so much like an insult, but shook it off and gave her his best smile. “Hi there,” he said, pausing to read her name badge, pinned to a brown jacket that screamed sensible. “Mary. You alright? Miserable day eh Mary?”

The woman glared at him, but otherwise didn’t respond..

Eddie coughed. “Wow, tough crowd. My name’s Eddie Walker, and I’m here to see Freya Smith.”

Mary looked at him for a while, the same way a person might look at something they’d trodden in. Twenty long seconds later, apparently resigned to the fact that he wasn’t going to go away, Mary sighed. “And I assume you have an appointment to see Ms. Smith?”

Eddie began to explain that he did when he saw Freya walking toward him from across the foyer. “Never mind, I think I’m okay.”

Freya arrived at the desk and stood arm’s length away from Eddie, without so much as a glance. She smiled at the receptionist as she placed a hand on Eddie’s arm , as though claiming ownership and admitting responsibility. The touch was as impersonal as a touch could be. “It’s alright, Mary, he’s with me.”

Mary returned a warm smile to Freya. “That’s alright dear. You sure you’re going to be okay with him? He looks a bit, you know, dodgy to me,” she said without acknowledging Eddie’s presence. “Thought he might be another one of those reps trying their luck again.”

“Don’t worry, this one I know. Thanks for looking out for me, you’re a sweetie.”

The rottweiler nodded and turned back to her desk.

“The pleasure was all mine,” said Eddie, but the sarcasm appeared to be lost on Mary, bouncing off her back like water off an antagonistic duck.

Freya led him across the foyer, a foyer so large that Eddie wondered if anyone had ever got lost on the epic crossing from one side to the other. Pillars lined the walls, holding up a ceiling that was full of lights. Eddie wasn’t particularly up on his interior design, but even he couldn’t fault the styling of the building. It was stunning, lines curving along the walls and screaming elegance while not shoving it in your face. Eddie figured the lobby probably cost more than the entire building his office was rented in. “She’s a bundle of laughs” said Eddie, nodding back to Mary who was now sinking her teeth into another unwitting victim.

Freya chuckled, which came as a surprise to Eddie. He hadn’t pegged her for the chuckling sort. “She’s harmless really,” said Freya. “We could never get rid of her though, the place wouldn’t be the same without her.”

“You don’t say. It would be a hell of a lot more welcoming for a start.”

Freya smirked, apparently not deeming the comment worthy of anything more. “She’s been around here since the start, and she makes sure no nonsense gets into the building. She also makes the most amazing brownies.”

Eddie tried briefly to picture the rottweiler as a jolly housewife, slaving over a hot oven with Aunt Bessie’s smile, but it wasn’t working. “I’ll have to take your word for that.”

They waited by the lifts, before the doors opened and suits emptied out. Eddie held the door for Freya to step into first, which she accepted, and she hit the button for the 17th floor. Second from the top. The lift itself looked like someone had taken a lift from the 1920’s with all it’s style and refined it with a modern touch, simplifying it and leaving it looking more impressive as a result. “Do you know much about Salve Ltd, Mr Walker?”

Eddie knew enough about Salve, and probably on a closer level than most. Salve Ltd was, among other things, the world’s leading pharmaceutical company. Whilst they had many lines and many products, their most successful was Bliss. The drug that killed 99.9% of the pain. Eddie preferred the backstreet versions, which threw in a couple of highs as well. He figured he’d be best keeping that particular insight to himself, so he shrugged. “I’ve seen the adverts. And you don’t need to be a private eye to see that they’re doing alright for themselves.”

“Yes,” said Freya, “I suppose you could say they’ve done alright. Right now, Salve has a higher turnover than Silicon Valley.”

Eddie nodded, not knowing what to say to that. As the lift reached the 17th floor, the doors opened and they stepped out into a long corridor, with offices running off on either side. Freya motioned for Eddie to follow her as she set off down the corridor, walking along with her head held high. A woman who knew exactly where she was going. Eddie followed after her, looking from side to side, trying to work out the escape routes, a habit he’d picked up over the years that had saved his life a couple of times, and a habit when he was in any situation out of his comfort zone.

Freya looked over her shoulder at Eddie. “Is everything alright?”

Eddie glanced around, gave a short nod. “Sure, everything’s great. I’m just thinking. This place screams money. Money on money. That painting on the wall there, that’s a Truant.”

Freya raised an exquisite eyebrow. “It is a Truant, an original. You have an eye for art Mr Walker?”

Eddie shrugged. “I know a little. And what I know is that it costs more than I’ll make in a lifetime of detecting. Which makes me wonder, what exactly am I doing here?”

“What do you mean?”

“Salve Ltd could hire absolutely anyone on the planet. They could hire a million anyones on the planet. And yet they want to hire me? I don’t get it.”

Freya turned and continued walking down the corridor, leaving Eddie to hurry and catch up. “Why not you Mr Walker? You’re perfectly capable, aren’t you?”

“I’ve gotta be honest Freya, I’d be lying if I said there weren’t better out there.”

Freya looked at him, curiosity on her face. “What makes you say that?”

Eddie gave a non-committal shrug. “It’s the truth. I’m not perfect, never pretended to be.”

“And who do you think is perfect?”

“Nobody I’ve met yet, that’s for sure.”

“So you think we should have hired some who thought they were perfect rather than an honest man?”

“There’s far more honest men than me about too.”

“We all lie Mr Walker. That’s the one thing you can guarantee.”

Eddie chuckled. “Well, it’s nice to meet someone as optimistic as me.”

Freya stopped outside one of the doors and turned to face him. “Look Eddie, you may not be perfect, but I’ve done my research. You’re the right man for the job. You’ve got the skill set we need. Action and discretion. That’s what you’re known for, and that’s what we need. Your experience and knowledge make you the best man for this job, Don’t be so hard on yourself. You wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think you could do the job.”

“You? You personally?”

Freya nodded. “I reviewed the potential candidates, read up on them, and selected you as the man to use.” She leaned in closer. “I’m personally vested in this. So please, when we step through this door, do your best not to make me look like an idiot. Don’t sell yourself short. You’re more than capable, do us both a favour and act like you believe it.”

With that Freya threw open the doors and stepped through into a spacious conference room. Like the rest of Salve Ltd the building was simple yet elegant, modern yet understated. The outside wall was made of glass, framing the city below. A large pine table filled the room, surrounded by tall leather chairs. On the end wall, centred over the table was a wide screen monitor that took up most of the room. Freya picked up a remote, the only item on the table and turned it on. She took a seat, then indicated for Eddie to do the same on the other side. The monitor sprang into life, the blackness replaced with a rotating Salve Ltd logo. A phone symbol appeared, and began ringing. Freya looked over the desk at Eddie as he shuffled about in the leather seats. “Don’t speak unless spoken to first. He doesn’t like that.”

Eddie, never a big fan of the pronoun game, was about to ask who this ‘he’ was when the screen changed from a logo to a 3D projection of an office. A large green executive chair sat behind a desk. The effect was uncanny, and Eddie fought the urge to reach out and touch the hologram. Whilst 3D had been all the rage since he was a kid, Eddie had never seen hologram technology as advanced in any office. As Eddie watched, a figure came into view from off camera, walking over to the desk and sitting down. He raised his hands into a steeple and leaned forward. “Hello Ms. Smith.” His voice was deep and with a hint of gravel, a voice of achievement with a reminder of grit.

Freya nodded her head. “Mr Toomes.” The smile that Eddie had grown attached to was nowhere to be seen, replaced with a professional expression made of steel.

“And this must be the man you were telling me about, the contractor, Mister…” The man left the sentence hanging and waited patiently for Eddie to fill the gap. The man looked to be in his late 50’s, with grey streaks starting to invade the thick dark hair. He wore large, thick framed glasses, an unusual sight in an age when you could get new top of the range eyes for the price of a good meal. Eddie recognised him instantly. Anyone on the planet would recognise him. Mr Toomes had appeared on the cover of every science and business data stream at least twice, and he was usually somewhere on the news stream on any given day. But Eddie recognised more than just his face, but also his type, back during his time in the SAS. He had the air of a man who excelled at giving orders and then having them obeyed. He was probably born at precise moment he specified, and not a moment sooner or later. That didn’t make him a bad man. But it definitely didn’t make him a good man. Eddie cleared his throat. “I’m Mr Edward Walker Sir.”

The man nodded, and Eddie could tell that he’d appreciated the sir. “Very well Edward. I may call you Edward?” He didn’t wait for a reply, and carried right on talking. “My name’s Geoffrey Toomes. I’m the head of Salve Ltd.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you Sir.”

The man smiled, showing none of his teeth. “Please, call me Geoffrey.” The words came out with the kind of practised modesty that only came from the proud. Those smart enough to know that pride alone didn’t command respect. “So,” he said, turning his attention back to Freya. “This is the man who’s going to solve all our problems.” He said the ‘our’ in a way that made it clear it was a ‘your.’ People like Toomes didn’t have problems, they had underlings to have their problems for them.

“Yes Mr Toomes.” Her words were clipped, as though she were reading from a script. “He’s an experienced professional with a resume that matches our requirements. As requested, I brought him here for you to vet.”

“Thank you Freya.” He turned back to Eddie. “Sorry this couldn’t be in person, but I’m a very busy man, as I’m sure a professional like yourself can appreciate. However, I do like to keep an eye on what’s going on in my organisation. Keep my fingers on the pulse so to speak.”

“I appreciate that sir.”

“Please, Geoffrey. None of this sir business. You’re not in the military anymore are you.” It was worded as a statement rather than a question, but it was clear that the interview had begun. The interview for what Eddie still wasn’t sure about.

“No… Geoffrey. It’s been five years since I left military intelligence.”

“One of my favourite misnomers.”

Eddie politely smiled along with Geoffrey and pretended it wasn’t the hundredth time he’d heard that. Geoffrey continued. “So what made you leave your position there?”

Eddie considered lying, but figured that if Geoffrey didn’t know the truth already, he’d know it by the end of the day either way.

“I was discharged.”

On the big screen Geoffrey raised an eyebrow in all it’s lifelike glory. “An honourable one I trust.”

“It wasn’t dishonourable, but I’m not sure I can say there was anything exactly honourable about it. I believe the term they used was ‘mitigating circumstances.’”

“Sounds like a wonderful euphemism to me.”

“Maybe it is,” said Eddie. “But I left without having to look over my shoulder, which qualifies as a win in my book.”

“Never looking back and always looking forward, I admire that in a man. But if I’m going to pay you I would like to know something more about these mitigating circumstances you speak of.”

“There’s not much to tell. I worked in the SAS. You spend enough time in a place like that and you see things you wish you hadn’t seen.” Eddie swallowed. “I got to the point where I’d seen enough I couldn’t unsee. The SAS and I both agreed it would be better if we both went our separate ways. They thanked me for the best years of my life, I thanked them for letting me leave. Everyone was a winner. I was down to serve another five years but I think they were as happy to be rid of me as I was to be rid of them.”

“Oh, and why would they want to be rid of you Mr Walker?”

“They saw me for what I was. In the army you need tools, not men. You need someone who jumps when you say jump, shoot when you say shoot, die when you say die. As a tool, I was broken. The sooner I was out of the tool box the better.”

“Interesting. So, what happens when I say jump? Say shoot? Say die?”

Eddie didn’t hesitate. “When you say jump, I tell you how much it’ll cost you. If you’re happy to pay me the asking price, I’m happy to jump. Shooting costs extra. Dieing gets you a great big fat no.”

Geoffrey smiled. “Now, that I can understand. We all have our price, don’t we?” He turned his attention to Freya again. “I can see why you chose him Freya. I had a look over the file, and he does seem to be exactly what you need.”

Eddie wondered what file they were speaking of. As far as he was aware, his file of service was sealed and surrounded in enough red tape to keep it shut until the Apocalypse. Geoffrey’s hologram spoke again, addressing Eddie. “If you’re willing to take on the job, I’m willing to foot the bill. Freya here has all the requisite paperwork. In particular, I want you to note the confidentiality agreement. Any information you discover, both in the case and about Salve Ltd itself is the property of Salve Ltd, and you are not permitted to share it with anyone. Do you understand?” His mouth twitched into something resembling a smirk. “That’s one of those ‘jump’ moments. You can say yes or no, but if you say no that’s it, thank you for your time, and Freya will see you back to the foyer. Say yes and you mean yes. I’m sure you’ll find the payment more than adequate. The form spells out all the details.” Geoffrey leaned closer, filling up the screen. “But please understand Mr Walker, that you do not want to cross me or renege on any deal we come to. Play by the rules and we all will win. Break them, and you will lose. Do you understand Mr Walker?” He paused, making sure he had Eddie’s full attention. “Do not mess with me.” The words came out slow and laced with threat, and Eddie couldn’t help ut smile, a smile he made sure to hide immediately. Gone was the charming and friendly boss. For the first time in the conversation, Eddie was speaking to the real Geoffrey. Whilst he may not have graduated from Oxford or Cambridge, he knew that you don’t get to the top of a global powerhouse like Salve Ltd without breaking a few eggs. Usually a few bones as well. Here was Geoffrey, the man who had built an empire. “It would not be in anyones interest, and definitely not yours.” He waited for a response, his stare.

Eddie nodded. “I understand you perfectly.”

Geoffrey’s smile reappeared as if he’d turned a switch. “Marvellous. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have business to attend to. Freya, make sure you keep me updated on the case. You know I have a personal interest in this one. Mr Walker, a pleasure meeting you. I look forward to seeing how you get on. The best of luck.”

Geoffrey and the office disappeared, replaced with a picture of the Salve Ltd logo, slowly rotating on the giant screen.

Freya turned to him, and pushed a single sheet of paper across the desk. “I think he liked you.”

Eddie didn’t want to think what it looked like when Mr Toomes took a dislike to someone. The threat had been loud and clear in his last words. “That’s me, a regular charmer.”

“I’m serious. I’ve sat through many interviews, and I’ve watched him tear apart candidates and leave them in tears. And that was just the men.”

“He oversees the interviews?”

“For all the jobs that matter. And this one matters a lot.” She pointed to the paper. “This is the confidentiality agreement that he was talking about. If you want I can get someone from legal to talk you through it, or if you really want you can get your own lawyer to look through it, but I assure you it’s all pretty straightforward. You’ll work for us, and you’ll report what you find to us and us alone. Any company information cannot be shared with any third parties. And trust me, if you do you’ll have more than just lawyers to worry about. Mr Toomes takes that kind of thing very personally,”

“Maybe, but that’s not the sheet of paper I’m interested in. Before I sign my soul away, I want to know how much you’re paying me for the pleasure.”

Freya nodded. “Of course.” She pulled another envelope out from under the desk and pushed it toward Eddie. “That’s the other £1,000, for showing up. That’s yours whatever you decide.” She produced another envelope and tossed it over the table. Eddie wondered how many envelopes were under the desk. Was there a stash of them, just waiting to impress job applicants?

“This is for you when you sign on. Go ahead, open it.”

Eddie cautiously opened the envelope. In it was a written agreement, with his details already filled in. £1,000 a day for his work. He normally didn’t earn that much in a week. Heck, he sometimes went a month without earning that much. He tried to keep his poker face intact. “Not bad. It just makes me wonder how bad the job must be.”

“The jobs straightforward, but takes a specific touch. Specialist knowledge. You’ll also be paid a bonus of £25,000 if the job is completed to our satisfaction.”

Eddie had no doubt the big money was meant to impress him into signing right away, but in all honesty it was scaring him. This was daft money, out of his league money, ten times more than he’d ever earned on a case. Sure, the idea of having that kind of money was appealing. But he’d seen enough half empty glasses in his life to know that everything had its cost. And if this was the prize, then he wasn’t sure he wanted to know what the price of admission was.

Freya’s eyes narrowed. “What’s the problem Eddie? Feeling intimidated?” There was a coy taunt in there, and Eddie could tell he was being teased.

“Not at all,” he lied, trying not to take the bait. “What’s the case that carries a price tag this big?”

“I understand your concern. But I can’t tell you anything about the case until you sign the agreement.”

“There’s a saying in the army. Never volunteer for an assignment until you know what it is.”

Freya sighed. “Okay Eddie, let me explain two things. I know it’s a lot of money. But you have to realise that to Salve Ltd it’s not even a blip. They’ve made that money back in the time it’s taken us to have this meeting, probably a hundred times over. It may be big money to you but to Salve it’s just a another bill that won’t raise an eyebrow in the accounts department. It’s just money to a contractor for a job that needs doing. Heck, they probably spend that much on getting the photocopiers serviced around here. And this is a very important job. I can’t tell you any details, but some Salve ‘property’ has gone missing.” Eddie could practically see the quote marks around the word. Whatever she was talking about, someone hadn’t gone walkabout with a pen from the stationary cupboard.

“Sign the form and I’ll tell you everything you need to know.”

Eddie looked into her eyes, and saw sincerity, but saw something else as well, something hidden deep beneath the surface. Desperation.

“Do I have time to think this over?”

“Of course.” Freya checked her watch, Eddie thinking he hadn’t seen an actual watch in over ten years. “You have two minutes.”

“Wow, thanks.”

“I’m sorry Eddie, but this is a time sensitive issue. If you’re not going to take this case then we need to find someone who will, and we need to find them yesterday. I’ve got associates literally standing outside office doors, ready to knock and make the same offer I made you. Only this time they’ll be people who aren’t stupid enough to look a gift horse in the mouth. And we’ll be left dealing with a second best option. Mr Toomes doesn’t like settling for second best. I don’t like settling for second best. So do us all a big favour and sign the piece of paper.”

Eddie looked down at the paper, and the fancy fountain pen sitting next to it. He thought back to the cases he had on his table that morning, looking for cats and helping perverts, chasing cheating husbands and trawling through bank records for two-bit fraud. He thought about Jamie, begging him to get off his ass and get a job. He thought about how much he owed her. And he thought about how much Bliss he could buy for £10,000. He wasn’t proud of that last thought, and immediately tried to dismiss it, although it merely went and sulked behind the other reasons, gone but not out of sight, not out of mind.

“30 seconds” said Freya.

Every reason he had to sign the sheet, and only one stopping him. That fear. This was big, and he wasn’t sure he was up to the task, no matter what Freya said.

“20 seconds.” said Freya. Her voice was very matter of fact, but Eddie could feel her eyes boring into his hands, practically willing him to pick up the pen and sign it. His head was telling him to sign the damn form but Eddie had learnt to trust his gut a long time ago, and it was telling him that here there be dragons.

“10 seconds Mr Walker, decision time.” His options were simple, sign the form and do the job or risk his business shutting down. He knew Jamie didn’t think he cared. And in a way he didn’t. Certainly not as much as she did. But he’d seen the bank statements. Walker Investigations was in danger of closing its doors if he didn’t bring in some real money soon. And although he didn’t care too much about him, he couldn’t see Jamie thrown out on the street. She’d trusted in him, and the one thing he’d taken from his time in the SAS was not to let down those trusting in you, because one day you’d be the one trusting them.

“You’re out of time Mr Walker.” Freya stood up. “What’s it going to be?”

Eddie took a deep breath. “I’m sorry I can’t help you Ms. Smith.” He stood up too, and walked around the table toward the door. As he walked by her, she put a hand out to his chest, stopping him.

“You’re really going to walk away? Seriously? If this is some negotiation tactic it’s not working.”

“When an offer’s to good to be true, it usually is.”

Eddie went to walk past, but Freya kept her hand where it was, pushing him back. “Once you walk out that door, you can’t change your mind. We’ve done a full background check. We know your bank balance. We know your overdraft. What are you going to tell Jamie when you lose the office?”

Grabbing her wrist, Eddie pushed her hand away, but stayed put. “Leave Jamie out of this.”

Freya sighed. “Don’t be an idiot, I know you’re smarter than this. We’re offering you a way out of this Eddie.”

“And you’ve told me nothing, just veiled threats and big promises. People don’t pay me that kind of money. Scratch that, honest people don’t pay anyone that kind of money. The only jobs with that price tag get you either in the jail or the morgue, and I’m not a fan of either.”

“You want to know what this case is? You want to know why we’re willing to pay you so much?” Jamie reached into her case and pulled out a single photo. “This is the case.” She threw the photo onto the table, where it fell face down.

For a while the two glared at each other, each waiting to see who would break first. In the end, Eddie shrugged and picked up the photo, curiosity winning out.

As soon as he saw what was on it, he dropped it to the floor. He stepped back, then back again, until he felt his back against the wall. His heart felt like it was going to crack his ribcage. Snakes writhed in his gut. He tried to speak, but all that came out was a dry croak. Finally he managed to wheeze out the question. “Where did you get that photo?”

In reply, Freya held up the confidentiality agreement. “Sign on the dotted line.”

Eddie clenched his fist and slammed it into the wall. “Tell me where the hell you got that photo.”

“I’ve already told you too much.” Freya glanced at Eddie, stood there with his clenched fists, but she looked more sympathetic than scared. “Sign the sheet Eddie. You’ve got no choice.”

Eddie collapsed into the seat, breathing heavily. He bent over and picked up the photo from by his feet. Looked at it again. The photo of a thick set man, 250lbs of muscle and attitude. The glint was gone from his eyes, but Eddie would have recognised that face anywhere. He still had a drink to the man’s memory, once a year on the anniversary of his death. He snatched the agreement from Freya’s hand, picked up the pen and scrawled his name at the bottom of the sheet. He pushed it back to Freya. “Now tell me what you’re doing with a photo of David Stone.”

What’s the link between Eddie and David? Find out in the next chapter. Make sure to sign up for updates, using the box in the sidebar.