When he entered the room, he stalked in like a predator at a buffet of lesser creatures seen only as flesh for the feast, and no one knew a thing about him. Not his name, not where he came from, not why he was there. But primal instinct is a powerful thing and they could all tell he was a beast to be reckoned with, a creature of hell’s design. He stormed by them all, passing each one with such force it caused their heads to turn, not toward him, but away. Most pretended he wasn’t there.
“Man?” they’d say, “What man? No man here, buddy. Certainly not one in an old fashioned black and white suit, certainly not one with the face of a man who has done terrible things to good people, certainly not in this room, no sir. Not here.”
He cut a path all his own through the room and never once looked anyone in the eye. He made his way to the large oak door and he stopped. The room fell silent as everyone in it simultaneously failed their attempt to ignore the hulking stranger at the door in the back of the room. They all looked up from their places at their desks or the water coolers, they peered in from the break room door while cups of coffee shook nervously in their hands. They all sat and they waited. The man knocked upon the door only once and he listened for a response from behind it. When he received none, he sighed deeply and reached into his jacket pocket, producing a 9mm pistol, and with one brutish kick, the door splintered around the edges and nearly fell off its hinges.
The silence had been broken, and with it, the tension and the unspoken uncertainty as to how to act in this situation. This was no longer the sort of situation where one sits quietly, still and afraid, waiting for something big and loud to happen. The big and loud thing had already happened and everyone in the room acted accordingly. Cups of coffee were dropped, files and folders and scraps of paper took to the air, and the silence that had once occupied this space was now replaced by a god awful clamoring and collection of screams and curses.
Inside the office at the back, through the broken door and away from the turmoil in the room outside, the tone was much different.
“You have a lot of balls, coming here, coming into my place of business. Who the fuck do you think you are?” asked the man behind the desk. He was thin and bald, his face was mean.
“The guy with the gun usually talks first.” Said the man with the gun, “But since you asked, my name is Avery and I’m here to conduct some business of my own.”
“Your name isn’t really Avery.” said the bald man.
“You’re right, it isn’t.”
“Who’s paying you? Who’s your employer?” asked the man behind the desk, “Listen, I have a right to know who hired you to kill me.”
“You’re sure I’m here to kill you?”
“A guy shows up out of nowhere in a three piece suit and slicked back hair, looking like a mob enforcer from the 1950s. He kicks in my door and points a god damn pistol at my head. Something tells me you’re not here for a consultation.” said the bald man.
“I’ll be honest, Mr. Gabriel-“
“Please, John.” said the bald man.
“John.” Avery replied, “I’ll be honest, John. Killing you is definitely an option that is available to me right now. But that’s all it is: An option. The choice is yours, really. This could go one of two ways.”
“The fact of the matter is you owe my employer a lot of money. Money that I’m here to collect. So, the choices laid out before you are as follows: One, you give me the money that you owe my employer, all $500,000 of it, and I take my leave of you. I take my leave of you and this whole thing will serve as a learning experience.” Avery said.
“And the second option?” asked John.
“That’s when my job gets a bit messy.” Avery said, “I don’t like it when my job gets messy. You sure as hell won’t like it either.”
Time passed, minutes maybe, and there stood Avery with a pistol aimed at John Gabriel’s head. The two men held eye contact and Avery smiled.
“You’re trying to stall me, Mr. Gabriel. Your thought is that out of all your employees that ran screaming from the other room, surely at least one of them will have called the police by now. Surely the police must be on their way, and you’re hoping to hear sirens outside before you give me an answer.” Avery said, “Am I close?”
“I am.” Avery said, “Now, as cliché as it may sound, I’ve little choice here but to say it. Your money or your life, Mr. Gabriel.”
“Mr. Forsythe, your employer is Mr. Forsythe.”
“Yes.” Avery replied, “How many other people do you owe half a million dollars to?”
“Exactly.” said John. He rose from his chair and buttoned his jacket, and Avery kept the pistol trained on his forehead. “Mr. Forsythe is a desperate man, Avery. He didn’t hire you to kill me. No that would be the last thing he would want, because with me dead, he’ll never see his money again. Half of a million dollars is a lot of money, even to men like us, and if he should go to such lengths as this, as hiring a man of your obvious talent to retrieve it from me, that means one thing. He needs it now as much as I needed it when I came to him for it.”
“You’re stalling again.” Avery said.
“There’s something Mr. Forsythe does not know, Avery.” John said, “Through a series of shrewd investments, not all of them completely legal, I’ll admit, I have in fact more than quadrupled that money. My not paying him back had nothing to do with not having the money, but rather I just didn’t want to. A man in my position can afford to do things like this, you see.”
“I don’t understand.” Avery said.
“Of course you don’t.” John replied. Avery heard a familiar click from behind his head. “Avery, meet David. David is the man I hired to stop whoever Mr. Forsythe hired to get his money back, in this case, you.”
“Son of a bitch.”
“I suppose I’d expect such language from a man in your profession.” John said, “Little account for manners. Here’s the fun part: I have no reason to send you back to Mr. Forsythe alive, since it would make a much bigger impact on him to find out that a skilled retrieval expert such as yourself would turn up dead by my hand. Well, David’s hand, technically, but I keep that hand well-greased with compensation.”
“It’s true.” said David, “I’m a well-fed and obedient guard dog.”
“So, you see my dilemma, Avery.” John said, “As much as I’d like to have David here rough you up and send you on your way, I’m afraid that’s simply not in the cards for you. It’s nothing personal, though. I’m just a businessman.”
“How long has David been in your employ, Mr. Gabriel?” Avery asked. John blinked.
“Roughly six months, I suppose.”
“Since you quadrupled Mr. Forsythe’s money.” Avery said.
“Well, yes. Once I could afford it, I thought to protect myself.” said John, “I’m not stupid.”
As the roar of police sirens slowly faded in, Avery smiled. John suddenly felt uneasy, as though his stomach was attempting to warn his brain of something awful that was about to transpire. Before he could acknowledge this horrible sense of dread, John was painfully aware of the fact that he now had not one, but two pistols aimed at his head.
“What is the meaning of this?!” he shouted, raising his hands slowly.
“My friend here and I are in a particular sort of business.” Avery said, he took a step toward the desk. “It’s the sort of business one must be very well trained for. Over the course of many years, David, as you know him, and I put that training to use in the manner we just presented to you. We offered our services as retrieval experts, or as personal bodyguards. Both of those jobs paid very handsomely.”
“Like I said, well-fed puppy.” David said.
“But it wasn’t until a few years ago that we came to the realization that we were missing out on an entirely new level of this business, complete with far better compensation.” Avery said.
“You- You play one against the other.” John whispered, “One is hired to retrieve the money, the other hired to guard it, you get paid twice.”
“Plus, if both of our respective employers should meet an unfortunate end, we also get to keep the indebted amount itself.” Avery said with a smile. “We think of it as a sort of finder’s fee.”
“My god, this whole time, he’s been with me.” John said.
“Long enough to learn every thing about you.” said David, “Including where you keep your cash.” John’s eyes flashed to the ugly painting of a sea captain on the wall behind the two men with guns.
“No.” Avery said, “There? In the wall behind that ugly ass painting?”
“I know, right?” said David.
“Not very original, Mr. Gabriel.”
The sirens grew ever louder, as outside the streets were flooded with police cars and television news vans, all clamoring for a good view.
“It’s nothing personal, Mr. Gabriel.” Avery said, “We’re just businessmen.”
Two shots echoed through the air like claps of thunder and they were gone.
Five police officers armed with automatic rifles and vests that read “S.W.A.T.” in bold white letters rushed into a room in utter chaos, coffee staining the already bleakly tan carpet, important documents strewn about the floor. Once inside the office, they discovered the body of Mr. John Gabriel slumped in the chair behind his desk, dead by two precision gunshot wounds to the head. The window behind him was awash with blood. The ugly painting of a sea captain lay on the floor, ripped from the wall in which there was now an open and very empty safe.