Fatal Introductions Chapter 9

“It has been a week and you still haven’t had one call for an interview.”  Jess was getting worried.  Harold was still employed. The hours were already being cut as production was slowed. He spent every day after work looking for work, then hitting the bar.  At least, he told Jess he was looking for work after his shift.  Even when he came home smelling like cigarette smoke and beer, she had faith in him.  “Are you drinking before you apply for these jobs or after?”

The comment seemed like a dig but Jess had earned a bit of levity.  Harold was just happy she wasn’t angry.  The turmoil they would face would make his current smaller paycheck seem like a windfall.  Harold hated the guilt he felt looking into Jess’s eyes.  He could not wait until he could escape and drink it away.  The bar was becoming a second home.  The feeling of being welcome was there, at home it was lacking.  The roof over his head held the pressure of doing right by his family.  The task of finding a job seemed like a hopeless endeavor.  He had filled out only a few applications, with each one, Antonio was proven correct.

Pulling out of the driveway he was heading to his second home.  He told Jess it was to look for a job the next major town over.  Steel mills were not the type of work he was used to working.  Jess believed he could work his way up.  The faith Harold’s wife in his ability to learn was just another dagger as he had no real plans to leave town, or go anywhere that did not serve alcohol.  Antonio had convinced, him that if they would just wait out the storm, the company would be forced to change their minds about moving. 

Mr. Stanley had been out of the public eye since announcing the move.  The rumors had surfaced that the old man was working on something to keep the company stateside.  The absence meant the rumors were building steam. One had him working behind the scenes to protect at least some of the jobs.  There were rumors that had the man shopping for a second home overseas to hide from any repercussion.  Many people, including Harold, had hoped the jobs were coming back.  The painful announcement that Mr. Stanley had to make must not have set well with him.  The moment he went missing, was the moment that rumors of him saving the day had begun.  Desperate people hold hope in times they cannot explain. 

Harold eased down the road, waving to his wife.  He needed to get out of the pressure cooker that being soon to be unemployed meant.  A shift at work would ease some of the pressure.  Working for the dying company, seemed like a waste of time. It was time he could be at the bar.  Time had been going painfully slow ever since the closing had been announced.  Harold felt a standard shift that normally seemed to flash by, had double in the amount of time it had taken.  The bar stool called him every day. Their date seemed to be a longer wait than Harold had wanted.

Harold spent a decade delivering loyalty to the company; the betrayal was in the end they did not have the same loyalty.  A personal day was not anything Harold had believed in.  Jess made sure all major appointments for the kids were handled.  He did enjoy being there for the birth of every one of his children.  The kids even seemed to understand the need for his work dedication, by being born on weekends.  Harold had been the ideal employee if you looked at his attendance and production.  The dedication made the betrayal sting that much more.  A sting that Harold felt only alcohol could wash away.

Temptation did not dissipate as he pulled into the parking lot of the plant.  The first face that Harold’s eyes met was his drinking buddy.  Antonio had been a steady friend since the layoffs were announced.  It was rough for him, Harold surmised, as his family was going to be experiencing the same turmoil.  Harold felt a strong bond since the first moment they met in the break room. Antonio seemed to know exactly what Harold needed to hear.  The younger man had quickly become the closest friend.  It was a shame Harold thought that it happened late in the life of the company.

Antonio had a strong belief the move would be cancelled.  The conviction he held to that belief was strong enough that it had pulled many others in, including Harold.  arolhaThe words of hope were seductive to those desperate who needed something to cling to.  The personality of the man was hard to resist.  He was friendly and amicable.  The new hire shadow, that took some time for the older workers to accept, never surrounded him.  Harold admired the hard worker that they hired slightly prior to announcing the death of the company.

The minivan parked in Harold’s usual spot.  After over a decade of putting in the time at the same plant, even the minivan had developed a routine.  Antonio was awaiting the familiar family chariot.   The new hire did not feel the need to be a slave to the clock today.  Morale had dipped, making the plant a mausoleum of broken dreams.  Antonio liked that description and had repeated it to the point where it spread. He arrived at the plant where they all were facing an unknown future.  The desperation helped him bond with the fellow workers.  The desperation allowed him to hurdle the obstacles of time that most new hires had faced. 

Harold knew there was no chance of him putting a day’s work he would be proud of today.  He had too many worries on his shoulders.  There were too many variables in his future for him to focus on the task at hand.  The experience he had made most of his tasks muscle memory and instincts, but even they could be distracted on a day like today.  He had spent over a decade dedicating his hands to the task.  A task he could not dedicate them toward today.  The betrayal was too much for him to bear.  The ones that would have benefitted from his labors were the same ones who were costing his family.  Seeing Antonio, for some reason reminded him of that.

“Wow that face looks like it needs a break from you dragging it around all day.”  Antonio could read his inner thoughts it seemed, as Harold still sat behind the wheel.  It was not hard to see the dilemma he was facing.  It was the same look Antonio had witnessed at the bar before Harold started drinking. 

“I will be fine, just need a minute to collect my thoughts before clocking in.”  Harold sat behind the steering column trying to will his feet to step out. 

“I think you need a sick day.”  Antonio said with a devious smirk.  “You seem to be suffering from the same bug that is bothering me.”

“Yeah and what exactly is that bug?”  Harold raised an eyebrow to question his friend’s thoughts.  Harold had come to expect a whimsical answer from Antonio.  The man never seemed to get too upset with the current eerie future in front of them.  Small slights that rumors leaked about the loss of jobs would create uproar in others but never with Antonio.  He was a beacon to many.  He knew when it was time to invite someone to get a drink.  Harold had come to appreciate that foresight and comfort.

“Well not sure the medical term for it.  But the only cure for it is plenty of alcohol.”  Antonio smirked.  Pushing the car door shut he helped Harold make up his mind.  “You know, we have closed the bar many of nights, but I don’t ever remember being there when it opened.” 

“We have a job to do.”  The tone dropped with each word as the realization that that purpose was soon to be ending.  Harold did not know what life would be like without a purpose.  He had one since the moment he had to leave school early and begin his life here.  “We need to get it done while there is still a job to do.”

Antonio then asked the one question that had lingered on every employees mind since the announcement, “Why?”  Harold could not think of an answer well at least a good one. 

“Get in, we are making some history.”  It did not take much more than the one question to convince Harold the bar is where they needed to be today.  He hoped it would give him a renewed outlook.  The drive he had hoped for could be found with just one stress free day away.  He had hoped.

beer

***

“Going home?”  A body emerged from the shadow cast by the dying facility.  Even in the height of the day, shadows seemed to overwhelm the facility.  The diagnosis of the transfer of labor only increased the shadows, or made them more noticeable. 

“Just leaving work,” the voice was barely recognizable but to Nathanial it appeared somewhat familiar. “Are you running late for a shift?”  A valid assumption was if someone had made it through the gates to the parking lot then they are an employee.  Well currently an employee, until a few more months at least, thought Nathanial.

“I am here for a job but not the one you think.”  The voice was growing in familiarity to Nathanial.  The shadows allowed a glimpse at the handsome man’s face in between a casting of shadows.

“Well, I am not going to stop you.”  Nathanial recognized his colleague.  “I do thank you for the knowledge you will be operating in my area.”  Bright eyes flashed from the executive with a fire instead of irises.  “Just do not step on my toes.”

“You tormentors amuse me.”  A handsome smile flashed at the rise in tone.  “Do you really think your threats mean anything to those of us who know what a fail of our duties mean?”  The approach did not slow as he moved closer to Nathanial’s ear. 

“We should be working together.  There are many opportunities for all of us to enjoy.”  Nathanial was trying to recruit followers.   Being in another’s territory meant it would not be easy to gain allies.  “We could bring about a partnership that will earn praise. “

Sulfur breath struck against the skin of the executive sending chill bumps over Nathanial for the first time in his existence.  “You don’t deserve to be my equal.”  The handsome man whispered.  “You will not be living long enough to enjoy any partnership.”

An uneasy chuckle met the threat in disbelief.  “Are you going to send me away because I stepped on some toes?” 

“No, I am going to send you home.”   The conviction behind those words meant he was a true threat to Nathanial.  “I would do it now but I am giving you the courtesy of getting your affairs in order.”  The professional part of the handsome dark haired being could not allow anything threatens to stop him from completing his portion of the deal. 

Gordon had requested he eliminate Nathanial.  Simply killing the body of an evil creature, such as Nathanial, would not eliminate it.  The creature also had to be banished. 

“They are just food.”  He laughed in the disbelief of any threat anything hunting him could present.  “No one here can harm any part of me.”  Nathanial cast a burning gaze toward the handsome man.  “No one!” He made sure his appearance was stern to ward off any thought of someone making him prey.

For the first time in the conversation his eyes met Nathanial’s gaze with an equal burning fire.  He had never failed to make a deal happen.  There was always someone who sold their soul for a greedy and foolish thing that pledged to take his place in hell.  Even if it meant sacrificing one of his own kin, there was going to be a successful deal.  “You are not the one I answer to, or his designated representative.”  Putting the executive in his place was simple.  Whatever power he held within the walls of the dying company, it ended the second he left work. “I have a purpose.” The stern tone began the echoes of a multitude of tormented souls.  Foolish souls who had traded their souls were the majority of the echoing torment.  “At this moment, you should worry that my purpose is your end.”  The cold remark was a reminder that the deals that were made always ended with success.

“Who else is hunting me?”  Nathanial was running over the thoughts in his head of potential predators.  He knew Mr. Stanley was no longer a threat.  The boiler took care of that problem.  That left only a myriad of employees who torments fueled him.  “Who is your partner?”  If he could figure out who was working with a fellow demon then Nathanial could eliminate one of the suspects. 

“You will learn soon enough.”  To prove the task was always complete the damned soul had to witness the event.  A murder was easy.  Showing someone who wished for wealth a direct correlation between the pact and the income was a bit trickier.

“Do you not believe I can handle it?”  The lack of faith in Nathanial’s abilities was a slap in his face. 

“Explaining another dead body that can be tied to you is not a simple task.  Do you think your reputation at the moment will grant you any favors with their law enforcement?”  It was not that he questioned the tormentor’s ability.  Too much death and eyes start to look deeper.  Deep enough that maybe millennium of warfare gets discovered by those who are the prize. 

 “How long do I have until you come to fulfill your deal?”  Nathanial mocked.

“Take care of your loose ends.  It will happen soon enough.”  The warning was finished as the shadows leapt from their location.  The echo of tormented voices hid within the darkness.  “You are going home very soon.”  The shadows wrapped the sulfur smelling stranger in darkness, he was gone.

***

It was an escape.  One beer at a time, Harold was running away from the problems that began to plague him.  Words did not define the pain of frustration he was feeling.  It seemed no one in his life truly understood the pressure he was experiencing.  Antonio might have a taste.  The fact he was a new hire and never talked about his family struggling, led Harold to believe that he bounced job to job without incident.    The stress of coming up with an excuse to Jess for drinking the day away quickly vanished as the empty glasses took a precedence on the bar.  Harold and Antonio spent the entire shift at the bar.  The hours had passed from the day and quickly night was the background.  The day had been wasted.  Not only did Harold not fulfill his duty of bringing in an income for his family, he had wasted the funds already earned. 

“Don’t you have a wife and kids to get home to?”  Antonio was looking out for his friend.  The interruption had broken the fit of silence. 

“Yeah, you are right.”  The reality that he could not escape permanently was where this evening was destined to end.  Harold knew there was an argument coming. “I better call a cab?”

“Can you afford it?”  The duo had drank the entire day and cash they had away.  Even in his inebriated words, Antonio made a valid point. 

The wallet of Harold never did make it back into his pocket since they started this morning.  He opened the leather pouch to find nothing but receipts.  “Well,” he let out a sigh upon the discovery, “it looks like I may have to walk.” 

“Nonsense,” Antonio read that Harold was not too far gone.  “If you are smart enough to see you need a taxi obviously you are smart enough to drive home.”  The logic was infallible to both men.  “Besides, do you really want to explain where the van is to Jess?”

“I don’t want to add to my troubles by driving legally drunk.”  Caution was a valid reason Harold thought.  “But I think I am fine.”

“You do know, as long as you drive normal the police will never know you are drunk, right?”  Antonio was making a valid argument.

“Very good point, I think she would be pretty upset I had to spend more money to get another taxi to pick up the van.”  The decision to drive home was starting to be the most beneficial decision.  There were not a lot of other people around. There did not seem to be much of a risk.  Weekday drink binges seemed to be safer in Harold’s mind, no one else to risk if he made the wrong decision.

The rest of the bar was somewhat empty.  The duo had already out lasted the usual post work crowd.  Their absence was another reminder that Harold needed to get home.  The usually work stained fingers wrapped around the glass mug’s handle. Harold raised a salute to the only other member of the bar crowd Harold could see.  The woman with a quill pen looked familiar but Harold could not quite place her name.  She was probably a regular that the previous beers had hid her name from him.  She seemed too busy to take an interruption to inquire her identity Harold thought.  He had to get home.

A quick goodbye and a stumble out the door, was the last memory he had about the bar with Antonio.  The next moment he was conscious the steering wheel was against his chest, and he was staring at a branch from the tree he had struck.  The splintered wood had punctured the windshield.  Its spider web of shattered glass caught the reflection of red and blue strobing lights let him know the incident did not go undetected.  The moment the police officer knocked on the window, it was apparent the decision he had made at the bar was entirely wrong.

Clemmons was working a double shift when he came up on the accident.  It was obvious the driver had lost control.  It did not take a lot for the experienced officer to find the cause.  When he knocked on the window he could see the accident did not even scratch the driver.  The tree he collided with at what could only be assumed as a high speed was not so lucky.  The splinters told the story that the tree had witnessed its last days.  The portions that would not be removed from the accident would eventually, have to be removed before they became a hazard.  Clemmons wondered if the same could be done when neighborhoods started going bad.  Arrests removed some of the main damage, but eventually, the rot that cannot be seen caused more trouble. 

Helping the man out of the wreckage, Clemmons could tell the amazing miracle that the man had survived the crash was due to his limber inebriated state.  It was just a moment the officer was thankful there was not an innocent victim.  The path that Clemmons had stumbled on this accident was pure coincidence.    He was heading to relieve the officers on watch on some executive who was scared.  With the layoffs plaguing the area, it did not surprise him some would feel the need to hunt vengeance. 

It did not even take a full sobriety test to determine the man was drunk.  Even the portion he had slept after or even during the accident did not curb the effects of spending the day drinking. The man could barely walk and needed help being placed in the police cruiser.  Shifts like tonight were where the job got every penny worth’s of work out of the patrol officers. The shift had just begun and the job was already pulling out an effort from him. 

***

 

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