Bad for Business
By Adam Dixon
George pressed the call button and said, “Mrs. Whitfield, you have a visitor.” A few seconds later the phone receiver crackled and a confused, high-pitched voice barked a reply.
“A visitor? Who is it, George? I’m not expecting to see anyone until tomorrow.”
“A tall gentleman with a large moustache and a bowler hat, Mrs. Whitfield,” George responded patiently. “He hasn’t give a name, he said that you would know him from that description. Shall I send him in?” The response was barely a heartbeat in coming this time.
“Oh, good Lord! Yes, George, send him in at once!”
George smiled at the man standing in front of him. He was in his fifties, his face impassive and his eyes steely grey orbs floating above an enormous walrus moustache. He stood erect with both hands clasped behind his back, his long black coat giving him the look of a funeral director.
“Mrs. Whitfield will see you now, sir,” George said, gesturing towards the door to his right. “Please go ahead and let yourself in.” The man gave him a curt nod before striding resolutely towards the door. His back was straight and his eyes were set dead ahead. As he passed, George’s smile faltered and a shiver ran up his spine. He smelled…strange. It was a musty scent yet somehow acidic, and he couldn’t put his finger on what it was. Whoever he was, he gave George the creeps. The man opened the door to Mrs. Whitfield’s office and without a word he entered her inner sanctuary, slamming it behind him.
George sat at his desk staring after him, bewildered. Who on earth was that? He thought to himself. Mrs. Whitfield had seemed rattled, and that made George uneasy. This man was quite different from the usual suspects who dragged themselves into his employer’s office, seeking her legal aid concerning matters malignant and benign. For one, he seemed very sure of himself, whereas most of the people who passed through George’s line of sight were either quivering wrecks or hopeless optimists.
To pass the time, George decided to speculate on who this mysterious stranger could be. Perhaps he was an old client who needed help again, or he was a former adversary of Mrs. Whitfield’s? She had practiced law as a barrister several years ago, and this man had the look of a professional about him. Maybe he had crossed swords with Mrs. Whitfield in the past, and had come back for some personal reason. Embittered by a sound defeat at her legal prowess, possibly? That was interesting enough, he mused.
He could be Mrs. Whitfield’s estranged husband! He thought with excitement, his earlier discomfort vanishing. She had separated from Mr. Whitfield before starting up her own business, and perhaps he had come back wanting a slice of the cake. Perhaps he is an acquaintance of Mr. Whitfield, he thought, coming here on his behalf. Very juicy, that notion. He’d have to share that nugget with Debra from accounts. Maybe he was her lover? This one made George chuckle and he dismissed it immediately. Mrs. Whitfield was, although charming and attractive in her own way, completely asexual. Besides, the man George had let into her office didn’t exactly look like a man incensed by desire. No, come to think of it, he looked more like a man intent on doing some harm.
This last thought made him uneasy once again. George chided himself for considering such groundless notions, but he couldn’t help turning to stare at the office door, regardless. He sat in silence, straining his ears in the hope of catching a hint of the proceedings within. All he could make out were the muffled voices of Mrs. Whitfield and the stranger. It didn’t sound like they were arguing, so that was a relief. Soon, George’s curiosity got the better of him, and he gingerly picked up the phone receiver and held it to his ear. Mrs. Whitfield often forgot to toggle off the call button, which meant that George could eavesdrop on her meetings. Not a particularly noble, or indeed legal, thing to do, but it passed the time on slow days. Listening in on some of those conversations was like hearing a radio broadcast of The Jeremy Kyle Show. But this one wasn’t like that at all.
“I trust you realise why I’ve come to you now,” the man was saying, his voice a deep bass rumble.
“Yes, yes, of course I do,” Mrs Whitfield’s usually chirpy voice held an edge of tension. “But…does it have to be now? I’ve just gotten my life readjusted and my plans are secure. Things are going very well at present.”
“My dear woman!” The man laughed unpleasantly. “One could hardly expect this moment to come when it is convenient, could one? No, you have had ten years of success to this very hour, and now the payment is at hand. You must come with me!” The man spat the final sentence, and George could have sworn that his voice had become a rasping snarl for a moment.
“No, I will not!” Mrs. Whitfield was defiant. “Stay away from me!” George had no idea what was going on, but he had the feeling that things were about to turn ugly. He sprung out of his chair and rushed towards the office door. As he reached it, he heard a blood-curdling screech emit from within the office. He froze, unable to process what he was hearing. He then forced himself onwards, wrenching open the door and stepping inside.
The scene which greeted him defied all his expectations. The short, slightly plump Mrs. Whitfield was standing in the centre of the room holding aloft a large wooden crucifix. Her eyes were wild and there seemed to be a strange glow emanating from her hands. Backed against the wall, cowering and still screaming, was the strange man. He glanced past the arm which was shielding his sight, and George saw with horror that his eyes had turned blood-red. Half of his face was horribly burned and smoking skin was barely clinging to his skull. His walrus moustache was smouldering, the stink of burning hair and flesh filling the room.
“You ungrateful whore!” The man bellowed, his voice rasping again. “We had a deal, bound in blood! I will not be denied!” Mrs. Whitfield took a step towards the creature, brandishing her crucifix like a blazing torch.
“Yes, we did,” She glared furiously at the figure huddled against the wall. “But I’m a lawyer, dearie, and I always find a way out!” She flung out her right hand and a small glass sphere filled with water flew across the room. It struck the creature on his arm, shattering instantly and soaking it from head to foot. The creature bellowed in agony, and layers of skin began searing off its face and hands. Its moustache fell away as it burned, the impressive spectacle obliterated in seconds. At this final insult, the creature pointed a trembling finger at Mrs. Whitfield.
“You’ll pay dearly for this, woman!” It spat, baring its teeth in fury and pain. It straightened up, clasped its hands together as if in prayer, and abruptly vanished with a blinding flash of light. The after-image of the room still showed the purple silhouette of the creature before it had disappeared. George stood by the doorway, blinking rapidly and trying to make sense of what he had seen. He looked at Mrs. Whitfield, a dozen questions rendering him tongue-tied. Mrs. Whitfield lowered her crucifix and gave him a level stare.
“Well, that takes care of that pest, for now at least.” She said, matter-of-factly. “I’m sorry you had to witness that, dearie, but it can’t be helped.” She frowned at the wet patch of carpet. “Hmmm, my contacts omitted to tell me whether or not Holy Water stains carpets. How irritating…” She trailed off, shaking her head. She smoothed her grey suit jacket absent-mindedly before glancing back up at George.
“Well, George? What are you still doing here?” She asked, somewhat dismissively. “Don’t you have some files to be checking for me? A few for Mr. Black’s wrongful imprisonment case, I believe?”
“I…Yes, Mrs. Whitfield, I’ll…erm…I’ll get on those right away.” George responded, dumb-founded. He turned around and walked with shaky legs back to his desk. He leaned heavily against the wooden frame for a moment, trying to collect his thoughts.
“Oh, and George?” He started as the phone receiver crackled. He could almost see the amused smirk on her face by her tone. He pressed the call button.
“Yes, Mrs. Whitfield?” George replied, shaken.
“Be a dear and don’t mention that little incident to anyone, will you?” She asked nonchalantly. “Demons in the workplace are terribly bad for business! Many thanks!”
With that, the phone was silent, leaving George staring at it in astonishment.