15th November 2017: Mercy

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Audrey's sitting behind her desk, this huge thing with layers of wood that looks like art, frowning at her laptop. "Are you seeing anyone?"

"What?" I didn't expect her to ask that. I never expect anyone to ask that. I know it's one of those generic small-talk questions, but still. It's kind of intrusive.

"Romantically. Are you involved with anyone?" She shuts her laptop and pushes it away. She's looking right at me and it should be confrontational, but it isn't.

"No. I've been kind of talking to this girl, but it's not going anywhere."

"Why not?"

I literally never get into this shit at work. I don't even know how to. "She used to be a dancer. Now she's a yoga teacher. The most illegal thing she does is smoke other people's weed. We don't make compatible life choices."

Audrey gets all thoughtful. "I can't imagine what it would be like to be in a relationship with someone who didn't understand the business."

"What about your first husband?" I probably shouldn't have asked, but she brings it out in me.

"He tried, but it didn't end well for him."

"Is he dead?"

"Not as far as I know, but I can't be certain. He's very far away."

Right. "Yeah, I know a lot of people who are very far away."

"Your work with Deacon was impressive." This feels like a change of subject, but Audrey doesn't do those, not like this, at least not in my experience of her so far. It's going somewhere.

"Thanks." I was impressed with myself as well, but I don't want to be a dick about it.

"Did you ever meet NJ Thurston?"

There's a name I haven't heard in a while. "Tall, good coats, hardcore about coffee?"

"That's the one."

"Yeah, years ago. He used to work with my dad sometimes. Why? Is he very far away too?" I don't usually give a shit, but NJ was alright and I don't like the thought of him being that kind of far away.

"No. He's retired."

"Retired-retired?" Shit. I wouldn't want to meet the person who could try that and survive.

"No, actually retired. He's completely fine. I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone make a clean break like that and remain on such good terms, but he seems to have managed it. I suppose no-one who took issue with him lived long enough to do anything about it. There was something about his work that I always appreciated, a real sense of purpose, yet such a neutrality of emotion. It's an unusual combination, very useful."

I remember him at Dad's funeral, with the cigarettes and the flask of coffee. Now that I know he's still alive, all that starts coming back. I'm not asking it to, but it does. "Why'd you bring him up?"

"You remind me of him."

"How? The purpose or the neutrality?" I sure as hell don't spend his kind of money on clothes.

"Both." She pauses and those couple of seconds get really heavy. "Have you ever considered security work?" There it is.

"It's more of a physical job than I've been interested in for a while." That's the truth. I don't mean I couldn't do it, but it hasn't been on my radar for a long time.

"Nonsense. Sorry. I mean, it can be as physical as you want it to be, but it doesn't have to be. It's not a far stretch from our visit with Mr Deacon or some of the additional responsibilities your driving work involved at the beginning of your career."

I don't remember the last time I met someone who could catch me off-guard this many times in one conversation. I also don't know how to be anything other than straight up with her, so. "If I was up for it, which I'm not saying I am because it's a lot of hassle, wouldn't you be doing yourself out of a driver?"

"No. If you're interested in security work, it would be directly for me. It would be part of your driving duties."

"Don't take this the wrong way, but don't you have people to do this stuff for you so you don't have to be there when it happens?"

"Of course I do, but I like to be there when it happens."

"OK, but I only started driving for you two weeks ago. Do I get a bit of time to think about it before I start taking on extra whatever this is?" I'm sitting in one of those chairs that wraps around you and it's starting to feel like it's holding on tighter. I'm stuck between wanting to get the fuck away from it and wanting to curl my legs under me like I used to do when I was a little kid and just let it fold up over me.

"You can think about it for six days."

"Or what? I don't have a job?" I lean forward in the chair and it lets go a bit.

"No, of course you still have a job. I mean, on the twenty-third I'm going to visit someone and I'd like your help. If you're not interested, I'll need a couple of days to arrange for an additional contractor to join us on that trip."

"Jesus, you move fast."

"And if you're still determined not to join Harold and I in celebrating our anniversary this weekend, would you mind dropping by here on Saturday and picking up a file from Arden? She knows which one. You don't even have to come in. Just call and she'll bring it down."

"Can't I get it now?"

"It's still being prepared."

"OK. And no offense, about the party. I'm just not a parties at country hotels kind of person."

"You are whatever kind of person you want to be, but I respect your choice. And thank you, about the file. Arden should be here by two o'clock, but feel free to encourage her to move more quickly if she isn't on time."

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