I climbed into my car and set out for another day on the job. I tossed an empty red folder into the passenger seat and turned the ignition. The car seemed to pull itself out of the driveway, out of the neighborhood and then all the way to the interstate. My mind was elsewhere, remembering the sleepy smiles of my little girls just that morning. My thoughts drifted between wondering how their first day of school would be and wondering how I would fare on this day of work. The memory of how I was offered this job began to creep into my head, but before I knew it I’d arrived at Smokin’ Bones Grillhouse.
I grabbed the folder and walked into the restaurant, making sure to relock the doors behind me. Once again, the familiar scent of smoke greeted me as I breathed in the air of the building. The smell never seemed to leave it. I made my way to the back of the restaurant and into the smoking room. In the room, there were racks of fish, beef ribs, pork ribs, steaks, and other various meats, all steeping in the thick smoke that perpetrated the room. Patrons of the restaurant claimed that the food had a unique taste. The smoke seemed to have no origin, rather it seemed to seep up from cracks in the floor. Through the gray haze, I found the trapdoor that opened up to a dimly lit stone stairway that disappeared into the Earth.
At the end of the stairs, I entered an elevator that led even deeper. I pressed the button for my floor and felt my guts drop out as the elevator began to hurtle downwards. Very quickly, the elevator sides were revealed to be glass as the dirt and rock suddenly disappeared around me. My elevator was falling on a rail through an enormous underground cavern, the walls of which were far too distant to be visible, making it seem like the whole of the Earth should come crashing down at any moment. The space was well lit by countless roaring fires covering large tracts of the cavern floor, and there were tiny figures visible crawling among the flames. The rail guided my elevator down into a tall building, and then it came to a sharp halt.
I walked down the hall and into the seventh room on the right, where I was greeted by my nameless boss. He was a rotund man who was never seen without a black pinstripe suit on, and his hair was receded just enough to reveal two stubby scarlet horns at the corners of his forehead.
“Ah, Mr. Bleak, how are the twins? You seem to still love them.”
“They’re doing well. In fact, today is their first day of kindergarten.”
“Yes, yes, I didn't ask for your whole life story. It doesn’t matter to me, as long as you do your job.” He handed me a packet of paper, and I slipped it into my folder. “It looks like you got off lucky today, not too many cases, but one of them’s pretty stubborn. I believe you’ve tested him before.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll get to work on this right away,” I said.
“You had better. Don’t forget what I get to do if you don’t fulfill your end of the deal.” He waved me off, and I left and walked to my office.
My office was fairly small, probably smaller than I would have gotten on the surface of the Earth, but those jobs didn’t offer the same benefits. I sat in the chair behind my desk and slipped the packet out of my folder. I opened it up and began to skim over the papers that detailed my first case of the day.
Her name was Lily, and she was debating whether she should cheat on her husband with a fellow volunteer from her soup kitchen. Her husband was rarely home because he was always at work, and she was lonely. The man she would commit adultery with treated her well, and she had happily entertained his advances until she realized just how far she’d gone. My job was to end the debate within her and tempt her into committing the sin. I skimmed over the rest of the information, then closed the packet and laid it back on the red-stained desk. Then I leaned back in the chair, closed my eyes, and relaxed.
When I opened my eyes again, I was pacing a bathroom floor. I was looking through the eyes of Lily, and I could see the white walls, white tile floor, white sink. Everything was blindingly white in there. I listened to her thoughts for a bit, judging what I needed to contribute in order to tip her decision in favor of sin.
What am I doing here? This is bad, I shouldn’t do this. I have a husband, he loves me, and I hardly know anything about this guy. He seems to like me a lot though, I’ve gotten more attention from him then I have from my husband lately…
But my husband is never home, he’s always working. He’ll never even know if I do this.
But we’ve always been so good to each other. I remember when he brought me lilies on our first date.
That was a long time ago. He’s probably giving flowers to a new woman now. He’s not gone because he’s working, that’s only what he says. He’s already been cheating for a long time now.
She’s probably a skinnier woman too, no wonder he spends all his time at work. If he can do it, so can I. But it’s still not right. This is just a bad thing to do.
What use is life without a bit of fun? I wouldn’t want to die never having taken a risk. I should just have fun with this sort of thing while I can. It’s not like anything bad could come of it.
My husband will never know, and I deserve this. It’s been too long since I’ve had some excitement. I’m doing this.
I watched as we opened the bathroom door and began to walk into the bedroom, but once I could be sure it was going to happen, I came back to myself, once again sitting in my office chair. I sighed and wondered if the woman would ever realize it wasn’t actually worth it. Thoughts of my girls quickly brought me back to reality, and I leaned forward to look once more through my packet of cases.
The boss was right, that day was pretty light. I finished my next two cases quickly: a man stole a ruby-colored Dodge Charger, but the next woman refused to steal a diamond necklace she handled in a jewelry store. Boss wouldn't be happy about that one. Once I finished with those, I began reading about the next case. When I saw the name it made me pause for a second.
Patrick Steiner, the name seemed familiar. This must be the case the boss mentioned. I read on and began to remember some information about Patrick. He handled many of Yenner Insurance’s financial transactions and had numerous chances to embezzle. He’d been given to me as a case before, but the boss seemed to be intent on me making this guy slip up. Rather than embezzling, Patrick works overtime in order to make the income that he and his wife require to sustain their lifestyle. I decided to skip the rest of the briefing since I figured I knew most of the guy’s situation already. Leaning back in the chair, I closed my eyes once again.
Upon opening my eyes, I found myself sitting at a desk that wasn’t my own. In front of me were short stacks of paper scattered around a bright monitor. On the screen was a window open to a multitude of numbers.
It would be so easy to do. I could stop working so much, I could spend more time with Lily, everything would be better if I just took some money.
She probably thinks I’m neglecting her, but we need the money. I wouldn’t even deserve her if I embezzled. She’s such a good person, I couldn’t do this. If only she could get a real job instead of volunteering at the soup kitchen. But I suppose that’s one of the reasons I love her, how selfless she is.
I should spend more time with her though. She’s probably feeling lonely. In fact, she might even be looking for another man already.
But she would never do that, I know her. We’ve always been perfect together. I’ll get a promotion soon, and then things will be better.
In the meantime, I can just take a little bit of money to make it easier. No one will ever know. I should stop working such long hours, or the promotion will come too late to save my relationship.
Embezzlement wouldn’t solve anything, not really. Lily knows how hard I work for her sake. If I do this now it will come back to haunt me later, and it wouldn’t be worth it.
But Lily needs me now, not later. I could start a family with her, have children. It would make my life so much better if I just took this money.
It would be a crime though, and I am no criminal. I can start a family later with a clear conscience. I must be patient. I will not do this.
With that, I watched as his hand moved the mouse to the close button in the corner of the screen and closed the program. As he began to get up from his office chair I found myself back in mine. I thought for a moment, and then I leaned forward to start on my last case. This one took little effort, and the woman quickly chose to poison her father for what she believed to be left to her in his will.
After I successfully tempted her into getting an early inheritance, I placed the papers about my cases back into my red folder, got up, and walked back to my boss’s office.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Bleak. Good job on the adultery, theft, and murder. I would give you a bonus, but you once again botched the embezzlement temptation. If I didn’t know any better, I would think you were forgetting why you work here.”
“No, sir, I haven’t forgotten. I never will.”
“Hand me that packet and leave. I want you in here even earlier tomorrow.”
I walked out of the room, leaving his malevolent presence, and began my walk back towards the elevator. I braced myself before pressing the button for Smokin’ Bones Grillhouse, and I was nearly crushed as the elevator accelerated upwards. The building around me disappeared, and I could once again gaze upon the forsaken souls wandering among the flames of the cavern. Soon enough I was back in the dark, and then my elevator came to a stop. The doors opened, and smoke rushed onto the staircase along with me. I opened the trapdoor, giving the meats a fresh dose of smoke. As I walked through the restaurant, returning greetings to “Hey, John,” “How’s it going, John?” and even “Me and you have to hang out again sometime” from various patrons and employees alike. I made it to my car and began my trip home. It was earlier than I normally left work, so the highways had nearly no traffic, and I was able to get home before my girls even got home from school.
Not long after I arrived home, my wife got back from picking them up. I came outside to meet them and find out how their first day went, and as soon as they got out of the car, Sammy and Sophie screamed “Daddy!” and attacked me with their little hugs. Sammy thought the teacher was scary, but Sophie had a fun time meeting the other children. I told them to go on inside, and my wife gave me a kiss and grasped my hand. Together, we watched Sammy and Sophie run inside, with their tiny backpacks bouncing all the way.
Michelle had always wanted children, but before I’d found this job she was infertile, and multiple adoptions had fallen through. Although I might not like the job, I love my family.
Some deals are worth it.