Geoff felt the unfamiliar tickle of a tear roll down his chubby cheek. It was that damned song playing in the background that had set his tears in motion. He wiped his eyes while he looked on, frozen, as his parent’s respective coffins, side by side, creaked and grinded towards the funeral fire.
Both his parents had been wiped out in a rather unfortunate accident at their home.
Geoff’s father, who was a larger gentleman, had been up on his ladder removing leaves from the guttering, a job Geoff’s mother had constantly nagged about.
Coincidentally, Geoff’s father, Bill, was clearing a part of the gutter that allowed him to see into Geoff’s old bedroom. Geoff had only moved out a few months ago, and though he could be an annoying lazy little shit, (rather too much like Bill for Bill’s comfort) he loved his son and missed his dreamy easy-going presence around the house.
Bill’s wife, Margaret, stepped out into the garden holding a tray with iced lemon tea and sponge cake balancing atop, called up to Bill.
“That’s my big burly man,” she cooed. “See, not so bad once you get started is it?”
“No dear,” Bill mumbled back, wishing he was indoors and watching the cricket.
“If you can get it cleared by the end of the day, a certain someone might just get lucky tonight,” continued Margaret.
Bill looked down and smiled, then looked back to the guttering and disguised the hint of a grimace. I certainly hope not, he thought to himself. Bill laughed aloud.
“Something funny dear?” his wife frowned.
“Oh, nothing dear,” Bill replied.
“Mmmm, well, if sex with me makes you laugh, we should give it a miss,” Margaret commented.
“No dear, you are the apple of my eye,” he said, choosing his tone of response a little more carefully.
“Well good, anyway, depends if I have enough energy dear, I’ve not stopped myself today.”
Bill laughed to himself, once the 'promise' of sex had been offered and accepted, she often played it safe by stating how she may not be up to it after all. In his youth, this used to infuriate him, his sexual needs neglected for more than a few days and promises of pleasures revoked. Nowadays, he barely had the energy himself and was more than aware he was no lothario.
“Come on down Bill, I’ve got you a drink here and a slice of cake,” Margaret continued.
Bill looked at his over spilling belly and replied, “Maybe you should have the cake dear I think I’ve had enough to last me a lifetime.”
“Oh, come on, one small slice is all. Besides I’ve already had a bit,” added Margaret with just a hint of embarrassment.
“Well ok dear, if it saves you scoffing anymore and catching me up in the weight department, then I guess it is my duty,” he chuckled.
“Ooh you cheeky beggar,” Margaret replied and kicked his ladder, far harder than intended.
The ladder, not securely placed, slipped, started to slide then tottered backwards as Bill’s considerable weight did little to prevent the process.
“Marg!” he shouted as he realised he was no longer looking into Geoff’s old bedroom window but was rather looking at a rapidly disappearing wall, as he toppled sideways and left the ladder for earth.
Margaret reacted quickly and raced across to the flower beds where she estimated her husband would land. Margaret was right as Bill plummeted to the ground and landed squarely on Margaret who absorbed his weight. She absorbed it exceptionally well and would have survived, had her neck not been as keen to get so heavily involved.
Margaret was dead on impact as her neck snapped.
Bill didn’t really have time to take in his beloved’s death or confirm what that loud snapping noise was. Above him, a rather sharp and lethal piece of roof tiling had dislodged itself in the ladders dance, and fell from the roof just in time for Bill to see it race towards him like an arrow.
As Bill lay there spread-eagled across his broken wife, the tile found its way through Bill’s forehead and lodged itself there.
Bill twitched a few times before he slipped from his mortal-coil; his final thought was of that fucking guttering.
It wasn’t until the evening that Geoff’s parent’s bodies were found. The neighbour happened to glance out of her bedroom window and into next door’s garden (she often stared out the window to have ‘a good nose’ as she put it), and there she saw the tangle of two bodies in the flower bed. Her initial reaction was to turn away and not look any longer at this surprising turn of sexual exhibitionism from her neighbours, before she remembered who they were.
Upon closer inspection, she realised they were dead, Margaret’s head was almost back to front and Bill had a shard of roof tiling sticking in and out of his head.
Geoff was informed via a police visit. When they knocked, he panicked and was desperately trying to hide his porn, tidy his living room and remove any other recriminating evidence.
Geoff now making his way from the funeral wished with all his heart the police had called for such menial matters.
The crematorium itself was picturesque in its own morbidly fascinating way as he wandered outside after the service and into a fittingly damp grey day. There were a handful of people who had attended and each patted or hugged Geoff and mumbled comments and condolences of how they wish they were seeing him again under better circumstances, if there was anything they could do to help.
All the usual things that people were somehow paralysed into saying at such events.
One or two offered to help clear the house and collect anything he wanted. Geoff hadn’t even given this necessity a thought and once it was mentioned the stark bleak reality of the situation struck him with renewed power.
He had always loved his parents and they loved him. They weren’t a family for dramatic proclamations or public gestures of love, but they happily sensed each other’s affections. They were gone, and now Geoff, although he didn’t visit them as much as he should of after moving out, felt alone and totally lost. He was grief stricken and as he dwelled on the speeches at the funeral, he felt another surging pang of deepest loss as he instinctively thought, 'I must tell Dad about it all.'
He’d liked being an only child and his own company, but he also enjoyed the comfort of knowing his mum and dad were always there, sitting quietly in the background, ever ready to support him in their own understated way.
Geoff had unwittingly wandered quite a distance from the crematorium whilst lost in his thoughts. Attendees looked on with sympathetic faces as his stuttering outline started to blink into the distance.
Apart from one attendee that was. One attendee had waited outside, keeping a discreet distance until Geoff was alone.
He called out to Geoff, “Mr Smith?”
Geoff didn’t register the call. The skinny man continued his polite but determined pursuit and softly jogged up to Geoff.
“Mr Smith,” he said, “I am so sorry for your loss and to bother you on this day, of all days,” he rasped breathlessly in a squeaky tone.
Geoff turned and saw, though not really seeing, a tall wiry man with sharp bird like features and wild ginger hair.
“I’m sorry,” mumbled Geoff, “Did you say something?”
“Mr Smith, I’m sorry to bother you at such a difficult time but I have an offer that may help you move on somewhat.”
“Resurrection?” Geoff quipped.
“Not quite”, said the stranger, unperturbed. “It’s about an opportunity Mr Smith, a rare job opportunity. It is what you do now, only we’ll pay you far more and treat you far better.”
Geoff couldn’t quite process the information but looking at this man he knew that he should listen to what he had to say.
“I, I can’t do this now Mr?” Geoff enquired.
“Of course not, I quite understand, I’ll pop by a week tomorrow Mr Smith and I’m sorry again to pester you on such a sad day. I specialise in recruitment you see for a major and unique employer and we’d like to bring you on board. But anyway, here is my card and I’ll see you next week,” he said as he started to wander back the way he came.
Geoff looked down at the card, ‘Stealth Recruitment - Proactive Square,’ it read neatly in subtle print. The cardholders name did not feature.
“Oh, and Mr Smith?” called the figure. Geoff looked up from the card. “We would be more than willing to help with any legal items you need to get sorted, in light of your...well, your awful loss. It’s such a confusing time and there can be many things to organise with nobody on hand to help or assist.”
With that the man continued his walk in the opposite direction and left Geoff to mourn in privacy.
Geoff forgot about the conversation as quickly as it had happened.
The week following the funeral had been a messy broken blur for Geoff.
He felt that the very essence of who he was had been removed and replaced by an empty imposter, stumbling from one phone call to the next without knowing who he was talking to or why.
It seemed Geoff had taken on a new importance since his parent’s death, people wanted to talk to him about wills, duties as next of kin, property and every other legal and practical item you could think of that seemed so trivial in comparison to precious life.
Amongst those calls were several ignored messages from Geoff’s employers who sympathised with his current predicament, but unfortunately, due to their own requirements, needed confirmation of his return ‘ASAP’ or they would have to terminate his contract.
Within a few days Geoff had packed it all in and had drawn the curtains, unplugged the phone and had fallen into a glorious wallowing stupor.
The slump was admirable in its tenacity. He didn’t wash, shave, clean, do anything around the house, he simply dragged himself around in his dressing gown with cups of tea or coffee, which were normally proceeded by cans of beer, while he stared blankly into space or at the TV. And he ate, unforgivingly so.
As Geoff dragged his feet into the kitchen, battling his way through a mass of empty food wrappers, containers and dishes, he found himself again wishing he wasn’t here. Wishing he could be anywhere but here.
Just as Geoff had left the kitchen with a corned beef pasty in hand, there was a knock at his door.
Geoff’s instinctive reaction was to ignore it and indeed he followed that impulse by moving quicker than he had done all week, dashing into the living room before diving behind the couch and lying flat on the floor.
Geoff while waiting for his unknown caller to slip into forgotten history, found his eyes spying all the junk that had accumulated under his couch.
The knock came again. Geoff flinched and found himself coming out in a sweat.
Somewhere in the recesses of Geoff’s mind, his father was jumping up and down, crossing his arms, furrowing his brow and lecturing Geoff to get up and answer the door. This is getting you nowhere. Geoff started to weep at his own hopelessness. He felt as if he were disintegrating. Perhaps, soon all that would remain of him would be a flesh coloured puddle.
The knock at the door rattled for a third time. This visitor it seemed was not easily dissuaded. Geoff wondered if it was another long-forgotten aunt or uncle or some relative or other looking to see how they could profit from the death of his parents.
The letterbox on his front door swung open and a strangely familiar voice floated through and down the hallway before invading Geoff’s reluctant ears.
“Mr Smith??” it called.
“Mr Smith, I assure you I’m not here about matters regarding your parents or their sad recent demise,” squeaked the letterbox voice as if reading his thoughts.
“I, I um spoke to you last week Mr Smith, at the funeral, very briefly” the voice went on. “I gave you my card, Stealth Recruitment - Proactive Square?”
Geoff had no idea what this shrill voice was on about though he did feel relieved it wasn’t related to his dead parents.
Stealth Recruitment, Geoff thought, never heard of it, last week at the funeral? Nope, I’ll just have to stay down here in the safety of the carpet.
Geoff’s father or rather his memory of his father again interjected and urged Geoff to action. Just answer the damned door it could be a way out of this misery. Ooh what’s that card under the couch? Geoff spied the card in question, partially hidden by ash and sweet wrappers. He reached under and released the card from its dusty resting place.
Stealth Recruitment it read and at the bottom it stated further:
Selecting You for THE Opportunity of a Lifetime.
There, said his dad, a way out.
Before Geoff had time to gather himself and decide what to do, he found himself at his front door and opening it a slither.
There stood the familiar figure from the funeral last week. Tall, pale, with wiry ginger hair and an outstretched arm to meet Geoff.
“Mr Smith," he squawked. “Thank you for answering the door, I was about to leave you in peace.”
Geoff murmured an indeterminable response, shook the man’s hand then held the door wider to let in his surprise visitor. The man strolled in breezily and stepped over numerous piles of mess and disorder. He sat down on the sofa Geoff had been cowering behind only a few moments before. The stranger nearly sank entirely into the sofa’s musty cushions as a small dust cloud reacted busily around him.
“Can I get you anything Mr?”
The ginger man looked around the room and obviously thought better of it, “Oh no that is fine Mr Smith, I rather wanted to see how you are doing and whether you were in a position to discuss the offer I mentioned briefly last week?”
Geoff nodded to nobody and slumped into the chair opposite the couch, crushing magazines, empty beer cans and a pair of glasses in the process. He still had his pasty in his hand and took a nervous mouse sized nibble.
“I, I don’t know” croaked Geoff. His own voice sounded strange to him, distant and foreign so underused had it become.
“It’s ok Mr Smith, there is nothing to worry about here. I’m just here to make you a very simple offer and one that may just help make all this”, his open palm gestured around the room, “go away."
"Would you like that Mr Smith?” enquired the pale guest.
“Yes, I would, God yes please,” pleaded Geoff as the tears started to spill again. “I’m a fucking mess.” For somebody who rarely cried, Geoff had been making up for lost time this last week. Geoff wiped his tears, unwittingly, with the pasty he was holding, or rather squeezing. Corned beef smeared his cheeks and pastry clung to his eyebrows and lashes.
His visitor looked on with a faint smile of distaste, angled his head in a gesture of sympathy and gentle amusement before unclipping his suitcase and pulling out a rather impressive document.
Geoff struggled to see through the mix of tears and pastry.
“Mr Smith, this is a contract, an employment contract to be precise. It’s for a job, Data Entry in our unique organisation based in a location, a secret location, named..Proactive Square.”
Geoff was hardly taking a word in, more focusing on the realisation that he had been wiping his tears with a pasty which explained why the last bite tasted so soggy and salty. Geoff was also clinging to the fact that this slightly creepy chap had said he could vanquish the pit of misery he found himself in.
He could make it all go away, his mind echoed.
“Just tell me what I need to do Mr?” stuttered Geoff.
The man, whose name remained a mystery, got up from the couch and crossed over to Geoff, document in hand.
“Just sign here and here Mr Smith and we’ll get you far away from all this and have you cleaned up and moved into your nice new life in no time,” the man said as he offered his pen before plunging it into Geoff’s free hand.
Geoff looked down at the pen in his hand and then at the pasty in his other. “I’ve been wiping my tears with a pasty,” whined Geoff as he looked to his new-found companion pitifully.
“I know you have,” soothed the man. “But that’s because you’ve been through such a tough time, Geoff, may I call you Geoff?” asked the nasal voice.
“Yes, please,” wept Geoff. “Did you say your name was Mr Stealth?”
“Why not. But before you sign, I want to refer you to this section here,” said the man as he flicked rapidly through the pages and pointed out a specific paragraph.
“What does it say Mr Stealth?” asked Geoff.
The man smiled to himself. Mr Stealth, he thought. I like that
“It basically says, Geoff, we as new employers would be willing to sort out all legal matters, regarding your parent’s recent sad demise, on your behalf, without charge and ensure nothing is left outstanding. We will inform you of all developments and deal with the property matters according to your wishes.”
Geoff was about to sign but then thought on for a moment as his father’s voice floated into action. Think about this for a second Geoff my boy. They go to all this trouble just to recruit a Data Entry Clerk? Something doesn’t smell right and it’s not just you or that mess of a pasty.
Geoff found himself awkwardly spitting out the question his father had prompted.
“I just do data entry Mr Stealth. Why…why would you go to all this trouble just for me and to fill such a common job?” enquired Geoff.
The newly dubbed Mr Stealth flashed Geoff a winning smile and placed a bony hand on Geoff’s shoulder, “Good question. A sure sign you will pull round from you’re mourning.”
The man knelt delicately next to Geoff and continued, “Every job you can think of has been accounted for Geoff, we have all sorts of people and job roles and we have the very best in each regardless of how common you may think a job is. Every job is to be done properly at every level. We are talking about getting as close to organisational perfection as possible. If we’re to change the world, then every aspect of what we do must function at its optimum level. You may think your job common or easy, but you do it better than most. Your productivity and output are practically unrivalled.”
That was a good enough answer for Geoff, particularly as all the legal necessities around his parents would be taken care of. He just couldn’t face that seemingly unending mountain and couldn’t cope with the hole he was finding himself fall deeper into. Besides, his dead father had just prompted him to answer the door and get involved so he was doing just that. If that wasn’t good sense, he didn’t know what was.
He looked at the bright sparkling silver pen in his hand, as Mr Stealth subtly turned the pages of the document back to the signature area. Geoff signed the document and eventually dated it after having to ask what the date was.
“Congratulations Geoff, you won’t be disappointed and trust me you’ll look back at this and be relieved you took the decision to leave it. To life!” cried the man as he mimed a toast with an imaginary glass towards Geoff.
Geoff mimed a toast back, confused, repeating the man’s gesture but using his dishevelled wet sop of a pasty instead.
Geoff saw what remained of the pasty’s fillings plop onto the carpet and sludge down his dressing gown.
For the first time in what seemed a lifetime, Geoff smiled.
There was a way out of this mess after all.