BY GEOFF SANSOM
Copyright is held by the author.
“YOU JACKASS son of a bitch!” The yell overrode the morning activity at the intersection. The lights changed from red to green to yellow to red. No one moved.
Maybe it was Kemplyn’s hand thumping down on the hood of the car as it pushed its way into the pedestrian crosswalk, but he’d certainly got everyone’s attention. He’d smiled grimly at the horrified face of the driver, debating whether he should do something more. But there’d been trouble about that in the past, and he was in a hurry, and so he contented himself with a one finger salute. “Loser,” he snarled, and continued on his way to the coffee shop.
“God knows why I bother with this place,” he thought. “They spend more time talking than serving.”
However, his client wanted to meet him here for coffee and he needed the contract. He always needed a contract, but this one was big — so big — and he wasn’t going to let it get away from him this time. If the customer wanted to meet in this crunchy granola place so be it.
Last time he’d been there he had sworn never to return; the service had been slow to non-existent. In fact, he was sure they had gone out of their way to ignore him. The waitress had been at the table next to his just about shoving her arse in his face like she thought it was the greatest piece of tail in the World, and instead of turning around, she’d just carried on talking to the guy whose coffee she had already poured.
He’d allowed her a few more seconds and then said, “What do I have to do to get some coffee around here Toots.”
It wasn’t as though he said it nasty or anything, but oh boy did Miss ‘I’ve got the greatest tail in the World’ take offence.
But he got his coffee – so that was okay. His refill, he noticed, was served by a guy.
“You the bouncer around here?” he’d asked him.
“I’m sorry?” the waiter replied.
“You the . . . ah forget it. I need some more cream.”
And now he had a client waiting to meet with him for coffee in this place, and so here he was again wondering what kind of guy with big bucks comes to a place like this? ‘One of those millionaire liberal lefties I bet. I gotta remember to stay away from all that political shit those guys like to shovel, or at least sound like I’m agreeing with him. Yeah like see if I can do that without puking’.
He found a table and sat down. The chair was loose and wobbled under his weight. “Fer Christ’s sake,” he muttered as he got up and moved to the other chair. It was more solid. “Maybe not a bad thing,” he thought. “Mr. Money can sit on loosey goosey there. Maybe feel a little psychologically insecure. Give me the upper hand.”
‘Mr. Money’ was what he called all his clients.
He surveyed the coffee shop. It was as he remembered. An odd assortment of tables and chairs. Clean, but in need of paint. He had to concede that it was alright if you liked that sort of thing, but they needed to pick up the pace. It felt like he’d been there a long time and nobody had showed up with as much as a ‘good morning’.
Well, Mr. Money wasn’t here either so it was no big deal. He checked his watch. Plenty of time. Good thing. Get there first. He’d read it in a book. It gives you time to acclimatize to your surroundings the book had said. This would give him the psychological advantage. In the past he’d always practiced a ‘keep the client waiting’ approach. Make them think you’re busy, but now he liked being early. It helped him calm down and now it gave him time to ‘acclimatize’ to his surroundings.
If he had arrived late he might have got the wrong chair. He smiled to himself in satisfaction.
Probably got the only stable chair in the whole damn place he thought, but really someone should have come to see him about his order by now.
He looked at his watch again. The time had not changed. He wondered if his watch had stopped, but the second hand continued its rhythmic sweep of the dial. The watch had cost a small fortune. He bought it as a business expense. It was a message to his clients that here was a man who could afford the very best. It even had a distress signal feature which, once activated, meant that he could be located wherever he was in the world.
Middle of the ocean, middle of the rain forest, goddamn desert, polar ice cap, they could find him.
The salesman had been very enthusiastic about this feature. “If you’re on this planet sir then search and rescue will find you. Important man like you travels a lot…” and he had paused allowing the buyer to do the thinking. “You know what I mean don’t you sir?”
It had cost a lot but he’d bought it saying to the salesman, “So in my watch I trust; all the other losers have to trust in God.”
“Very apt sir,” the salesman had replied.
He noticed that there seemed to be some sort of commotion at the front of the coffee shop. Customers and wait staff alike were crowded up against the plate glass window that overlooked the intersection. Someone said something about “an accident” and through a brief break in the ranks of the onlookers he could see a flashing red light until someone obscured the view.
Bunch of rubber neckers, he thought. Got such pitiful boring lives that they got to drop everything when there is an accident.
“Hey,” he shouted, “What do I got to do to get a coffee,” but his words were obscured by a siren’s wail, failing the restaurant like a banshee until his head ached. Through another break in the gathering of onlookers he saw an ambulance making its hasty departure.
“Show’s over,” he muttered as customers went back to placing orders and wait staff returned to their duties.
“I’ll just sit here, let’s see how long it takes them.” He glanced at his watch again. “I must take more careful note of the time.” It seemed that the minute and the hour hands had not moved at all since he entered the coffee shop while the second hand continued to sweep the dial.
“Eight fifty-five. Mr. Money’s nowhere in sight,” and no waitress either. What’s the matter with this watch. Lifetime guarantee he said. My lifetime — it’s supposed to last my lifetime. I’m taking it back, you don’t pay thousands of bucks for a watch and only the second hand works.
He began counting the seconds, one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three . . . it soon became obvious that not even the second hand was accurate, lagging his count by three or four seconds, and maybe even decreasing in speed.
He looked up from his watch. There had to be somebody to bring him a coffee before ‘Mr. Money’ arrived.
Instead, there was a stranger standing in front of him resting his hands in a rather proprietary way on the back of an empty chair.
“Mr. Kumplyn?” the stranger asked.
“Yes,” he answered warily.
“Mr. Kumplyn,” the stranger repeated, an easy smile crossing his face for a brief second. “My . . . ,” he paused, “. . . ’er my boss asked me to express his regrets, but he has been delayed.”
“Who are you?” Kumplyn asked.
“I am an assistant of his. He asked me to attend to you while we waited and for me to express his most sincere regrets for any distress you might suffer.”
“I don’t suffer distress,” Kumplyn replied. “Either people are on time to talk business or I move on.” He looked at his watch again. It still said 8:55 and the second hand had now stopped. “According to this piece of overpriced junk, your boss would be early if he walked in now.”
“Is your time piece not satisfactory?” the stranger asked.
“Let’s just say it cost a lot and it’s not working.”
“I am terribly sorry. Time is such a complicated concept. I never pay any attention to it myself,” and the stranger held up his left arm pulling back his jacket sleeve and shirt cuff to reveal a muscular wrist that was free of any watch, “and yet I always arrive at the right time.”
“Well that must be convenient,” Kumplyn sneered. “While we wait maybe you can tell me a few things.”
The stranger allowed a flicker of a smile.
“Who are you?” Kumplyn asked again.
“I’m my boss’s assistant,” came same the response.
“Your name. You’ve got a name, right, or do I just call you Boss’s Assistant?”
“Oh no, call me Jack.”
“Yes, Jack is fine, although some call me Fast Track Jack, but that’s a bit of a mouthful, and Fast Track by itself as a name sounds so . . . so . . . so Hip Hop doesn’t it?”
“Fast Track Jack?” Kumplyn stared at the stranger. “How’d you come by that?”
“I get things done quickly I suppose.”
“Bit of a contradiction for someone who pays no attention to time,” Kumplyn said, “and what is it you do so quickly?”
Jack leaned back and stared at the ceiling. Finally he returned his gaze to Kumplyn and leaned across the table.
There was a faint whiff of tobacco as he spoke. “You know how the higher you go up the corporate ladder the harder it gets to define exactly what you do. I mean Mr. Kumplyn, do you actually do what you say you do or do you get other people to do what you say you do and then take the credit and the money?”
“I make things happen,” Kumplyn retorted and leaned towards Jack.
He wants a staring match, we’ll see who blinks first Kumplyn thought.
Jack grinned. His teeth were ragged and nicotine stained. “Exactly.” Jack said. “You make things happen, and without people like you then all those loser people, who think they do something, would be unemployed.” Jack slowly leaned back as though coiling for another strike. He continued. “I make things happen too. My specialty is personnel. Recruitment you might say. Recruitment of like-minded souls. Individuals who make things happen such as yourself.”
“So what you’re telling me,” Kumplyn said, “is that your boss asked me to meet with him in this snail-paced, granola-crunching coffee house so that I could waste my time talking to his gofer boy who thinks that he is a big shot in the company. Give me a break. I’ve got a contract here for your boss to look at. I’ll get the job done, it will be done right and the price is fair.”
So saying Kumplyn reached inside his jacket and took out an oblong envelope, dropping it on the table in front of Jack. “Take that to your boss and have him call me,” and he started to stand up.
Jack leaned forward, resting a cold hand on Kumplyn’s arm. “You are, of course, free to leave any time you want Mr.Kumplyn. It’s a rule so to speak, but just have a seat for a moment. Jack’s grip tightened on Kumplyn’s arm causing him to wince in pain. He felt himself levered against all mechanical possibility down into his chair by the seated man.
“Mr. Kumplyn,” Jack continued, “I am indeed, my boss’s gofer as you put it. And I am proud and honoured to be such. I personally believe we are all someone’s ‘gofer’, but you should know that I have authority concerning this contract” and he tapped the envelope with a ragged fingernail. He then picked up, opened and perused the contents with care.
Kumplyn sat still massaging his arm waiting.
Finally, Jack looked up. “This is excellent,” he said, but my boss has empowered me to add some . . . some inducements to encourage an ongoing and satisfactory business arrangement, especially in view of the change in circumstances.”
“What change in circumstances?” Kumplyn asked.
Jack waved his hand dismissively.
What the fuck is this? Kumplyn wondered.
“No cause for alarm,” Jack continued, “you wouldn’t have to do anything extra. My boss simply suggests an annual retainer for your services, in addition to your usual fees with an inflation rider, of course, for any work you might actually do for us. And you’d have first right of refusal on any such work that the boss has on offer, so you have all the freedom in the world, whereas my boss has all the obligation.”
“This is the big one Mr. Kumplyn,” Jack smiled, “I’m sure you wouldn’t want it to get away.”
“You got something in writing?” Kumplyn asked.
Jack reached into his inner coat pocket and withdrew a white envelope. “Snap,” he said, laying it on the table.
Kumplyn’s hands were shaking as he tore at the envelope and unfolded the papers. The opening paragraph was the usual legal crap. He flipped on through the papers until he came to terms and conditions and there it was, an annual retainer’s fee at an eye-watering sum with first right of refusal on any suitable projects the corporation should be undertaking.
“It is the big one, isn’t it?” Jack said. “I can sign as an officer of the corporation,” he continued, “and, of course, you can sign for yourself.”
From seemingly nowhere jack produced a pen. “Why don’t you allow me to sign first,” he said. It was not really a question and he scrawled something indecipherable.
Kumplyn looked at it dubiously.
“It’s good,” Jack said. “Of course you can wait until the boss comes and have him sign it too, but he really wants to have trust in the relationship. Trust that will be reciprocated by both parties.”
A waitress passed close by.
“Jesus Christ!” Kumplyn barked, “About time. Hey Toots, what do I have to do to get some service?”
Fast Track Jack winced like a man hearing fingernails scratching across a blackboard, but Kumplyn was too focussed on the waitress to notice his reaction.
“I’ll have a coffee, make it strong,” he said, but she didn’t seem to notice, her focus on a male co-worker.
Her co-worker was saying: “The guy who got hit, he was the guy in here a few weeks ago. You remember him? Called you Toots? I saw him being lifted into the ambulance.”
“Oh,” was all the waitress said, her face pale.
“He wasn’t very nice to you,” her male co-worker added.
“Maybe he was just having a bad day,” she said.
“Nah, he was a nasty piece of work,” the young man replied.
“Was?” she asked.
“Oh yeah, somebody said he was dead. They covered his face inside the ambulance. I could see it all.”
“It’s kinda sad,” she said.
“I guess so,” her companion answered.
Kumplyn turned back to Jack, “What’s going on?” he said.
He noticed that the restaurant was getting darker. The overhead lights seemed to be dimming as though a thick fog had drifted into the room.
“I think the boss is coming.” Jack smiled.
Kumplyn could feel a sinking coldness in the pit of his stomach. It was how he felt as a child before his father was about to give him “a dose of his medicine” while his mother huddled in a corner moaning.
His fingers fumbled at the buttons on his watch.
That expensive emergency system won’t work here,” Jack said. Remember what the salesman said. They’d be able to find you anywhere in the world. A rather limited system when you think about it.”
In the gathering darkness, Jack’s eyes had taken on a red feral glow.
“You need to relax,” Jack said, “the orientation process can be a bit rough, but once you’ve got used to the boss and his ways, it really isn’t that bad. And he really does see you as having leadership potential. Mr. Kumplyn, this is the big one.” Jack smiled as something empty and dark filled the disappearing restaurant.
All Kumplyn could see was his mother’s fearful face reflecting back at him through the plate glass window while the ambulance sped away, its red light throbbing as it faded into the distance.
“The big one,” Jack whispered.
Geoff Sansom is a retired teacher and psychotherapist. He has always loved writing short stories, poetry and even a novel or two. He is yet to be published, but carries on recording his lifetime of experiences. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease six years ago, but although this presents challenges, at 79, he just keeps writing.