Erin had been trying to ignore the beads of sweat travelling down her spine for the last thirty minutes. She gulped, trying to rid herself of the ball shaped lump in her throat. The flyer in her hand was her only chance. She didn’t know much about it – didn’t know anything, really. It had been shoved through her letter box last week. A crumpled, dog-eared blessing in disguise.
She was down to her last tin of baked beans and she’d been picking mould off the same loaf of bread for far longer than her stomach should allow. She supposed she could go back home. Home with her family, not the cardboard box she tried to convince herself was home, now. But she didn’t think the situation was that dire, yet. She’d rather live off one baked bean a day than go back to a family that couldn’t understand her. Besides, returning home after only two weeks of being gone would prove them right. She couldn’t make it on her own.
She fiddled with the tatty edges of the flyer, staring at the words scrawled across it as if she suspected that they’d jump off the page when she wasn’t looking.
CASH IN HAND.
CALL NOW TO BOOK AN INTERVIEW.
The job description was flimsy at best, but the promise of cash in hand was almost too good to pass up.
“Erin Richa?” a stern voice called.
Erin flinched, a rush of nerves flipping her stomach. She looked up, suddenly feeling like she was being called into the principle’s office. The man in front of her was dressed so sharply that she feared she’d crease his suit just by looking at him for too long. He had thick black hair that had been tied in a loose ponytail, and the kind of mouth that was permanently turned down. She considered remaining silent. After all, he wouldn’t know which one of the women in this room was Erin, would he?
His gaze found her instantly. A cold, hard gleam in his eye, as if he’d read her mind and was silently saying, ‘yes, I know who you are.’ She sighed, jamming the flyer into her coat pocket before wiping her clammy palms down the sides of her jeans. Here we go, she thought, as she pushed herself to her feet and walked towards the stranger.
He didn’t say anything as she reached him. His face simply scrunched into a deeper scowl before he turned and headed back down the hall. Erin hovered for a moment, wondering if she was meant to follow or whether that look had been the anticipated rejection. He was halfway along the corridor before he turned and threw her an irritated glare. She hurried after him.
The room he led her to was pretty much the same as the rest of the building. The floors were tiled in grey and shiny enough that she could make out her reflection. The walls were a dirty shade of white, the ceilings comprised of those weird Styrofoam slabs and everything smelt metallic. She gave the man a wide birth as she edged past him to enter the room, and took a seat at the table in its center. She couldn’t have imagined a more uncomfortable environment to be interviewed in. She sensed an interrogation was more likely.
He closed the door and turned to face her, the heavy silence hanging between them like fog. He watched her fiddle with her fingernails. She wanted to yell at him for staring. Didn’t he know that was rude? She really, really wanted to get up and leave, but somehow, leaving didn’t seem like an option. Besides, he was blocking the door.
“Here’s how this is going to go,” he said, finally. One giant step placed him across the table from her. He leaned down, palms resting flat against the table top, and peered into her eyes. “Do you run?”
She frowned, “What does that have to do with anything?” She sounded calm on the outside, but on the in, panic was rising. Running wasn’t a strong point for Erin. Her lungs always threatened to implode and sweat had a canny knack of finding its way into her eyeballs until she couldn’t see through the agonising sting.
“Do you run?” he repeated.
“Not if I can help it,” she mumbled, although running was beginning to look more attractive with every second that passed.
He pressed his lips into a thinner line, grooves forming at the corners of his mouth. “What experience do you have with combat?”
She thought about his question. She’d thrashed her older brother’s ass more times than she could count, but somehow, she didn’t think that was the kind of combat he’d been talking about. Which is why she was surprised when she replied, “Some.”
His eyebrows rose. She thought he looked impressed, but she didn’t know him well enough to be certain. He nodded, staring at the table top for a few excruciating seconds. Erin returned to picking at her fingernails, mulling over her potential – she could always learn how to fight, it couldn’t be that hard. She decided not to dwell on the lie she’d just told, even if the man in front of her seemed to.
“Preferred method of protection?”
She blinked, barely preventing her chin from hitting the table. She couldn’t decide which emotion to address first – her nauseating abhorrence or her outright confusion. Surely he wasn’t serious?
“I – what?” she managed.
He sighed, shaking his head. “Preferred method of protection?” When she did nothing more than gape at him, he elaborated, “Guns, knives, spears, axes…the list goes on.”
“Er, guns, I guess,” she replied, glancing around the room to search for any hidden cameras. This had to be a joke. There was no way the flyer was legit. Anger roiled its way up to the back of her throat and she felt her cheeks heat. She didn’t have time for this crap. She needed to find a job – a real job. She shoved out of her seat so fast that the man actually jumped. He stood straight, watching her with an expression that flaunted a hint of amusement. She was suddenly beginning to consider putting that ‘combat experience’ to use.
“I’m leaving,” she snapped, walking around the table and as close to the door as she could get. He was blocking it, his arms folded over his chest.
“No, you’re not.”
“What?” she squeaked, before repeating the question in a less ear piercing tone.
“You’re not leaving; this interview isn’t over.”
She glared at him. “You’re keeping me here against my will?”
He smiled – and it wasn’t a kind one. “When the interview is over, you can leave.”
She pondered his words, weighing up the possibility of being able to forcefully move him aside and making a quick break for it. Slim to none. He looked as if he’d been made of stone.
With a heavy sigh, Erin turned back to the table and sat down. He nodded, pleased with her decision, and returned to his normal state of scrutiny. “Have you ever participated in any undercover operations?”
“What kind of position am I interviewing for?” she exclaimed.
“Just answer the question.”
She wanted to get out of there, so she did as she was told. She guessed when he said ‘undercover operations’ he wasn’t referring to her pro expertise at Facebook stalking her best friend’s potential boyfriends. Nor was he likely to be referring to her immense stealth when it came to eating the last of the chocolate covered hobnobs – her brother blamed her dad for that one, something that gave her masses of entertainment whenever the argument resurfaced.
She threw her hands into the air and shrugged. What the hell, she already knew she wasn’t going to get the job, she may as well have some fun with the interview. “Yes, I think you’ll find I’m incredibly skilled when it comes to undercover operations. I think it’s my small size and delicate frame.”
To her amusement, he actually nodded as if he agreed with her.
“Don’t move. I’ll be back in a minute,” he said after a few more seconds of silence. As soon as he left the room, she raced over to the door and tried the handle. It was locked. The beads of sweat tickling her spine became a stream. Her throat was suddenly bone dry and she was certain the cramps in her stomach had nothing to do with the stale bread she’d had for breakfast. She shouldn’t have taken any notice of that damned flyer. It sat in her pocket now like a taunting reminder of her idiocy. Of course she couldn’t survive out in the real world – hell, she wasn’t even sure she was still in the real world.
What kind of organisation asks questions like that in an interview?
What kind of moron actually answers them?
She threw herself back into her chair and buried her head in her hands. She supposed returning home in a body bag would be better than skulking back with her tail between her legs. It was hardly as if her mother could scold her for leaving when she wasn’t capable of arguing her defence.
Erin had no idea how much time had passed before the man returned. She’d been too busy imagining how her death would play out. Maybe this interview wasn’t really an interview. Maybe these people were part of some government investigation, and were really searching for a rogue spy. If that was the case, then her answers to the questions probably hadn’t worked in her favour – especially the last one.
The door clicked shut behind him and he stalked back over to the table before sliding something heavy across to her. She stared at the gun with incredulous eyes. Her heart threatening to jump out of her chest and slap him in the face.
Surely that wasn’t a real gun? It couldn’t be. They were illegal for a start, and well, who in their right mind would trust her with a gun? Once more, she looked around the room, searching every corner, every scrape in the walls for hidden cameras. It had to be a joke. Had to be. There was probably a room full of people rolling around in hysterics as they watched her make a fool of herself through the cameras she so ardently searched for.
This was the kind of stunt her brother would pull. Erin eyed the man for the thousandth time. She’d never seen him before, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t a friend of her brother’s. She’d bet that was what this was. Another way to mock her. Yeah, well, if a game was what they wanted, she’d play it.
She reached out and picked up the gun. It was heavier than she’d expected, its handle cold in her palm. She swallowed, hoping it wasn’t loaded.
The man dipped his chin, stepping back to open the door. “Follow the hallway until you reach the double doors at the end. Congratulations, you got the job.”
Erin smiled sweetly, purposely making sure to aim the gun at his chest. She walked down the hallway, head held high, feeling pleased with herself for figuring it out. The joke was him, not her. Now she was calling his bluff.
When she reached the double doors, she forced them open with both hands, the gun still resting in her right. She’d expected to see her brother sitting across from her with a smug grin consuming one half of his face. But apparently, his plans were far more elaborate than she’d first anticipated.
The room held no more than a dozen people, both men and women mingling in a tight formation in the center. They all looked a little on edge, nervous smiles on their faces, some as flustered – if not more – than she was. Most, she was shocked to see, had weapons. Some held guns, some batons, others walked around with knives tucked into their belts. She had a momentary wave of doubt. Perhaps this wasn’t her brother’s doing. She didn’t think he had the brains for such a complex scheme, but on the other hand, she did always underestimate him.
“Please, all gather round,” called a sharp suited woman with hair the colour of blood and eyes fierce enough to crack stone.
Erin cautiously joined the crowd, ignoring their examining gazes. Gazes that, no doubt, were laughing at her behind serious eyes. She was going to kill her brother when she found him. She twisted her neck to get a good look around. He was probably in there somewhere, snickering in a corner.
“We are delighted to welcome you all,” the woman began, her ice blue eyes scanning the clump of bodies in front of her. “As I’m sure you have discovered; this is not a job for the faint hearted.”
Erin smirked, wondering where her brother had hired this woman. She was a good actress, she supposed. She had an air of authority about her, a way of scanning the crowd that made everyone stand to attention. She continued to speak in that ordering tone, but Erin had blocked her out by now. She didn’t need to listen to instructions that had probably been scripted in her older brother’s bedroom.
She turned the room again, that niggle of doubt sitting in the pit of her stomach when she, once again, failed to find her brother. If he’d been responsible, there was no way he’d miss the action. He’d be there, waiting for the moment that she discovered his plot.
Suddenly, a gun fired making Erin jump. Her heart dropped down into her gut while her stomach flew into the back of her throat. Her ears were ringing and panic had made stars dance in front of her eyes. She blinked through them, noting that she hadn’t been shot so there was nothing to be concerned about.
As her eyes refocused, she flinched, finding everyone in the room watching her. She glanced from one face to another and swallowed thickly.
“I did not mean for you to use your weapon now!” the woman bellowed, real anger saturating the room. Erin sucked in a deep breath, grimacing over the strange smell in the air. She glanced down at the gun in her hand, it was smoking. A thick cloud of grey flowing up towards her from the barrel.
On the ground, only a few inches from her right foot, she saw a hole she knew hadn’t been there moments ago. The panic on the floor below came in waves. Screams of terror, horrified whimpers, flashes of people running to safety.
Her brother would’ve died with laughter, had he been there to see it. But Erin knew, deep down, that him being there was an impossibility.
Her brother wasn’t anywhere.
She crouched to peep through the hole, her stomach gripping in a tangle of nerves. A face peered up at her, dead eyes, wide and horrified, mouth gaping. His head had rocked slightly to the right and the trails of blood eagerly followed the path of gravity. Her heart raced with excitement. She’d done it. She’d finally done it.
Erin carefully rose to a standing position, taking in the aghast faces around her. Some looked pitiful, as if they believed she’d fired the gun by mistake. Others gave her scathing frowns. Either way, she didn’t care. She turned away from the attention of the crowd and casually walked towards the door.
One thing hadn’t been a lie; she really did hate running.
As she pushed her way out into the hall, chaos flowed from the rooms beyond it. She felt a mild sting of guilt for her actions, but then the thought of her brother wiped it away like a wet cloth on chalk. She’d known about this organisation, been warned to stay away from it, actually. But she hadn’t been able ignore the slight shove of fate. Her lucky stars had aligned when the flyer fell through her letter box – her lucky stars had aligned when she discovered the man who’d murdered her brother worked for that same organisation.
She continued down the hallway and out into the reception area where she’d sat only minutes ago. Then, she’d been an anxious girl, pretending she needed this job like her life depended on it – that’s what the organisation saw, anyway. That’s what they liked to see.
In truth, Erin had been anxious. Timing was everything. The interview had to take place when it did, she had to be in the room above his office at that precise time. Every footstep counted – literally. As she’d walked into that final room where the murder took place, she’d calculated her footsteps to place her directly above him. Her brother had helped her through it, just as he did every time she’d needed him. He’d given her distraction; the gift of a clear head.
In the back of her mind, Erin hadn’t expected it to actually work, but she didn’t care for much anymore, and the attempt – even if she’d failed – was worth the wrath of punishment that would follow. At least she wouldn’t have to live off stale bread and baked beans for the rest of her life.
As she made her way down the building’s four flights of stairs, she knew security would be waiting for her. But her trepidation had vanished, replaced by the sweet taste of successful revenge.
Everything had worked out perfectly.
The interview, she laughed to herself, the interview had moved like clockwork. She knew she had him the second she tried to leave and he wouldn’t allow it. She knew she’d wormed her way in and was about to be accepted as a new member of the organisation. With a smug grin, she dropped the gun on the second level and continued to make her way down to the exit.
“So you’re kind of a badass, huh?”
Erin blinked away from the memory, refocusing on her cellmate. She was a mousy thing with pale skin and virtually no meat on her bones. She made Erin look large – which was saying something. Erin shrugged. “Not really. I just needed to do it.”
Her cellmate shook her head in admiration. “Yeah, but that plot. That scheme – it was genius.”
“It was flimsy,” Erin replied. “There were so many places it could have gone wrong.”
“But it didn’t.”
“As I said, it’s down to fate.”
Her cellmate laughed and slid down from her bunk. “Yeah well, fate was on your side that day.”
Erin would have agreed with her, if fate had also allowed her to escape, but that may have been too much to ask. The jangle of keys drew their attention away from the story and Erin joined her cellmate beside the door. Her stomach rumbled and she momentarily wondered what was on the menu for breakfast today: porridge or porridge?
Lesley Pilbeam’s interest in writing developed three years ago, during a particularly difficult time of her life. She has since been working to improve her literary and story telling skills. In September 2018 she began her masters in Creative Writing and she hopes to one day become a published Young Adult author.