Mitch set up two drinks at the bar for Sal and Dee Dee. The bar was deserted this late on a Monday, so he was cleaning glasses and listening in for the entertainment value.
“Hi, Sal! I’m really glad you could meet me so we could go over this.” Dee Dee took a sip of her Virgin Bloody Mary.
Sal felt both nervous and ungrateful. “Yeah. You know, I don’t want to do that job. It just seems, and no offence to you, but it seems sort of … cruel.”
“Well, I certainly don’t want you to do anything that makes you uncomfortable. But we do want to see you out working and getting paid, so let’s see what we can do”
She opened up her lap top and pulled up the ever-changing job opportunities board. Putting in ‘Accountant’, she was dismayed by the choices.
Beaming a plastic smile only slightly too wide for her face she said, “Ok, I want to emphasize that we one hundred percent guarantee that you will get these jobs.”
“It’s that bad a list, eh? Well, let’s hear it.”
“We have a foreclosure specialist.”
“Keep moving. I’m not taking away houses”
“Tax auctioneer. Ah, here’s one! An auditor for child protective services. I hear that they have great Benefits!”
She beamed her too-wide smile at him, which freaked him out.
“Oh, uh, you know what? If this is at the top of the list, we should just stop.”
“But, I’ve got a few more openings!”
“Stop,” he commanded in a quiet tone.
She started to lose her composure and gave him a glaring stare. “Look, I’m sure I can find a job that is good enough for you and your… particular tastes. You have no idea what placing you means to me.”
“I’m sure these are fine jobs. I’m just not so… I can’t check my heart at home. I’m sure others can, but that’s not me. Really, these kinds of things, selling people’s homes and taking away their babies, that kind of thing keeps you up nights. I don’t think I’d be good at it, either.”
She glared at him with blue sparks in her eyes before finally saying “Fine! But can you please just finish out the week? I have other candidates for the job, but I need a bit of time to transition them in. And I really want to try to get you another job.”
“Sure, I guess. As long as I can give notice tomorrow. I don’t want to cause you any grief or anything, I just want out. I can stay until Friday. But after that… I don’t know. These are pretty much all non-starters.”
“Yeah. Good.” She got up and stomped to the back of the bar, barely able to control her mounting anger. “I’ve got to go take a wiz.”
Mitch leaned over the bar after she was gone. “Man, What a bitch. Bet she pees standing.”
“She’s just doing a crappy job, Mitch. I can sympathize.”
“That’s your problem, Sallie. You are too nice.”
“Well, I’d rather have that problem than be a bastard.”
Both men turned to the back of the bar as a feedback scream of frustration grew louder and more intense. Suddenly, the wall at the back of the bar blew open as if a bomb had gone off. Shrapnel and plaster flew out into the table area near the bar.
“Oh my god! That girl! She was in there!” Sal walked toward the exploded rubble and was about to call after Dee Dee when a large, silver hand shot out and grabbed his neck. Through the dust, a huge, shock-laden smile stretched across the hole.
Mitch threw a bottle of vodka at the monster in a panic. It burst into flame on contact with the demon’s sparking skin. In its surprise, the monster dropped Sal and both men ran for their lives.
“What was that?” Mitch yelled as they scrambled in to the haze of the night.
Sal looked back. “I don’t know, but Dee Dee!…”
“Don’t even think!” the young man said, breathing hard. He came to an exhausted stop in a nearby alley. “Ain’t Nothing you can do, Sallie.”
“Yeah, poor girl.” Sal walked over and slumped against the brick wall. He looked back at the now smoking bar, rubbed his throat, and tried hard to make sense of what just happened.
“Who are you calling ‘poor’?” A voice from farther in the alley startled the men. Dee Dee appeared from the shadows, dirty but seemingly alive.
“Hey Lady! You OK? We thought…”
“Well you thought wrong,” she snapped. “Look, we need the Police or the army or something here. Some kind of monster. Can you call for help?”
Sal looked at his phone. “Strange, no. My cell phone is dead.”
Dee Dee walked up to Mitch and put a hand on his shoulder. “Why don’t you find a pay phone or something and call the cops?” Her words dripped with fake sweetness.
“Why me?” he shrieked.
“Because Sal’s old, I’m a frightened little girl, and it’s your bar that’s on fire. Now go!” She pushed him into the street and he sprinted off into the night. She smiled a smile that was uncomfortably wide and said softly, “Besides, Sal and I need to have a little chat.”
She turned around and faced Sal. Her hand went to her hip and she tapped her foot. The light from the street poured over her shoulder into the dark alley. All Sal could see was her clearly annoyed outline.
“Do you know how hot it is in hell? I mean really? You people think that this summer heat wave is hot, but where I used to work, now that was hot!”
Sal looked at her outline and couldn’t comprehend what he was hearing. “Wha… HUH?”
“Oh, come on, Sal.” She spoke sweetly but he could now see her spark-filled eyes in the dark, recessed shadow of her head. “You don’t think I’d go through all of this trouble just for a commission, do you? You see, you are my ticket to a job working on the earth. There are certain… fringe benefits… that I really like about working here. The weather is just the beginning.”
She began to walk slowly towards Sal. He could see the outline of her legs beneath her skirt suit. They walked toward him in a smooth, sexy fashion, one leg slightly crossing the other. But when her feet hit the pavement there was a crunching sound. It was as if the pavement was complaining about having to support her. Her smile, which was always a little freaky, now stretched to the very bottoms of her ears and her teeth shot sparks at each other.
“You! You are the monster from the bar!” Sal started to back away from the woman who seemed to grow taller and less human with each passing step.
“Duh!” Her voice now had a hint of the feedback-scream. “You really aren’t that smart, Sal. But since you brilliantly figured that out, I’m going to give you one last chance.”
Dee Dee’s right hand stretched out, becoming huge and metallic with sparks arcing between the fingers. Her thin arms became long flexible. The hand grew as it came toward him, fingers stretching out like knives. It snatched him up off the ground. “Take the job. Any job. I really don’t care.” The hand made a cage around him and dragged him close. “I’ll pay you a ridiculous amount of money. I’ll send your kids to college. Hell, I’ll even suck your putrid dick. Just take the job. It really does mean quite a lot to me, Sal.”
His thin hair stood on end and he cried out in terror. “Ah! Ah! So, what if I still don’t take the job?”
“Well, that’s easy.” Her huge mouth curled at the ends in a perversion of a smile. “Do that and I go back to plan ‘A’ and kill you. Not as advantageous, I’ll admit, but it will make me feel better about going back home.”
Her spark-filled eyes gleamed as she held him above the ground in a strong, vice-like grasp. She opened her mouth wide and he screamed “Oh God!”
“Not quite. The boy-scouts stay out of our little game.” It was a new voice, a man with the hint of a smile under his voice. Dark red smoke filled the alley. One rope of smoke formed around the arm that held Sal. As he watched, it became a pair of sheers which closed and severed the hand that held him. An inhuman scream erupted from Dee Dee as she turned around to try to find the source of this attack.
Sal dropped to the ground, still in the hand’s unyielding grasp. He kicked at the metallic fingers. They wouldn’t budge, but they no longer squeezed or sparked. Whatever happened next, he was helpless to do anything but watch.
Dee Dee twirled around as the smoke quickly gathered in one place. She shrank down to her human form as sparks re-grew her missing hand. Clutching her wounded forearm, she looked at the man who formed from the billow of red smoke. His suit was impeccable, and though it was a dark night, he wore yellow-reflective sunglasses. With his blood red suit, black shit and black tie, he looked like a pimp or a rock star.
The wounded woman looked at him. “Fuck! You know how much that hurts, you dick?”
“Dee Dee! Is that any way to talk to your Boss? And here I thought we were becoming friends!”
“Friends, my ass! You stuck me with a self-righteous loser that doesn’t want to work for shit.”
“So, you attack him?” He clasped his hands in front and looked at the ground. “I suppose you might call that a bargaining technique, but I had asked you not to abuse the clients. In fact, it’s a dismissible offense.”
Dee Dee snarled. “You won’t do that! I’ve got the man himself backing me and that trumps your bullshit rules any day.”
He moved around and talked to the air, gesturing with his hands. “You know, you’re right. The Big D likes you and he really wants you to fit in and learn the ropes here. Quite frankly, that is enough to overcome some infractions of the code of conduct.”
Dee Dee’s grin was spark-filled, wild and six inches too long for her face. “Good, so fuck off!”
The man in the suit walked calmly with his hands clasped behind his back. “On the other hand, your employment was contingent on the successful placement of a certain ‘self-righteous loser’ for a period of five weeks. And it seems to me that our little test is not exactly going well.”
Her crazy smile started to droop at the corners. “We were dealing with that when you showed up and fucked it up. Go back to playing your little games, doomed man.”
“Well, you see, it’s my duty to follow up with our clients and placement employees to gauge their satisfaction. So, excuse me while I talk to our friend here.”
He quickly became a cloud of smoke and swarmed around Dee Dee. Re-forming on the other side, he walked over to Sal, still trapped in Dee Dee’s severed hand “Hi! I’m here to enquire about your satisfaction with our placement services. Do you have a second, or is this not a good time?” He smiled a genuine smile which confused Sal all the more.
“What?” The prone man was wide-eyed in disbelief.
“I’d like to know if you are happy with our placement services. So, tell me, do you feel that you are in a position where all the elements are in place for you to succeed?”
“Huh? No! The job’s a nightmare.” Sal saw Dee Dee approach the man from behind, growing in height, strength and power as she did. He struggled furiously against the constraining, severed metal hand. “Get me out of here!”
“This is stupid. I’m being railroaded.” Dee Dee powered up her right hand to swipe at both the struggling Sal and his interrogator. Her hand came across like a crane boom with talons, but smoke quickly formed around both men and hardened into a curved wall. Her blow glanced off the wall, throwing her off balance.
The structure dissipated into smoke as quickly as it had formed. From that smoke, the man in his sharp dark-red suit and tie emerged and walked towards Dee Dee. She was quickly regaining her composure and was readying for another strike. He raised his hand. “That’s enough.” The smoke rushed at Dee Dee. She swiped at it with both spark-filled hands but to no avail. A brick-red crust started to form around her wrists. Once it was thick enough to hold her, it pulled her arms behind her back.
“What the hell do you think you are doing!” She shouted. Her mouth grew bigger and the sparks that made up her teeth arced out like crazy lightning. Her voice boomed like thunder. “LET ME GO!”
With his hand still raised, the man in the suit now pointed a finger and a large, constrictive gag went over her mouth. He materialized a binder with the Idle Hands logo on the cover and calmly flipped through it as he strolled up to her. “You see?” He showed her a page in the book. “Paragraph 4 of the agreement you signed. ‘Third party satisfaction surveys are routinely conducted two weeks after an initial placement and every month after.’ You aren’t being railroaded. It’s in your contract. Plus, check out paragraph 7. I can use whatever means necessary to carry out my survey. You really should have read through the employee handbook instead of just blazing through to the signature page. Your loss. So, I’m not going to let you go. You are interfering with my evaluation.” He snapped the binder closed and it instantly turned into red smoke. “So, hang out while I finish this satisfaction survey. Who needs a spell book when you can have an employee handbook?”
Dee Dee glared at him with sparking eyes and fought against her bonds as soon as he turned back to Sal. “Sorry for the interruption. So, where were we? Ah yes. You had problems with your current placement. Did you bring them up with your Idle Hands representative?”
“Yeah, I called.” Sal looked down at the now disembodied and immobile, giant, metal hand that held him. “Hey, can you do something about this? It’s really uncomfortable.”
“Oh, of course. How rude of me.” Smoke swirled around the confining metal cocoon and it slowly relaxed its grip on the middle-aged accountant. “So, what happened next?”
“What happened next is she tried to kill me.” Sal dusted himself off and looked at the man. Fire from the bar lit him from the side, the flams making jumpy patterns on the brick wall behind him. And those mirrored shades held the flame. “I looked over the jobs she had and I didn’t want any of them. She lured us out here, got me alone, and threatened to kill me if I didn’t take a job.”
“You know, we have strict rules about that sort of thing.”
Sal shot an angry look at Dee Dee. The fire dancing off of the shining metal facets of her demonic form. “I’d hope so. And why am I not scared? I should be terrified of you two, but I’m not.”
“Oh, I find I have a calming influence when I get involved in HR matters. And on that point, are you sure I can’t place you anywhere? Based upon your experience here at Idle Hands, with Ms. Dee Dee, you are sure you want to sever your relationship here?”
Sal nodded and said, “Absolutely.” The word carried forever, as if it had broken some sort of spell.
Dee Dee fought wildly against her restraints and finally managed to slip free. She used this free hand to tear free the gag that held her mouth shut. “This guy is full of shit. You set me up!”
“You can think what you want Dee Dee, but he just quit, your contingency came up and now…” He grinned an evil grin that seemed right at home on his face. “I believe that you are dismissed.”
Dee Dee screamed a feedback scream of utter contempt as she lunged at the two men. As she attacked, a great burst of hellfire surrounded her. She continued to reach for Sal even as she burned. The hellfire yanked her back down to the pit just in time as her lunge stopped just short. Screaming an awful metallic scream, she was sucked back into hell.
The fire went out in seconds, leaving no trace of ever having been in the alley. Sal looked at the mysterious man who had saved him and tried to think of something to say. He finally settled on “Thanks … I think.”
“Don’t mention it. I’m just doing my job.”
“And what exactly is that? I have a strong suspicion that I’m not going to remember any of this so you may as well tell me the truth.” He tried to look the man in the eye but was blocked by his sunglasses. “I’m right about that, aren’t I? People don’t just have this kind of thing happen to them and get to tell about it. You’d have heard.”
“Yeah, Sal, you aren’t going to remember anything odd about me or Dee Dee. You’ll get paid well … extremely well … for your hours and I’ll make sure there is a bonus in there for you, because…” He paused and faced Sal. The man was middle aged, rumpled, and defeated by life, yet he had an air of dignity. He’d never given in to the struggle. “Because I like you, Sal. I deal with people all day … and they are assholes. They just suck, but you … you have done me a favor by just giving a damn and being a good guy. If I have one true gift of my own it’s to be able to size a guy up and know what he’s good for. I saw you and knew you’d be able to do this for me because you are fundamentally decent. And while you were doing that, I have done you an insulting disservice. Think of the bonus as my way of saying sorry, you deserve better.”
“Well, that’s kind of you. Thanks again. Money isn’t everything, but it does buy some nice stuff.”
The man chuckled behind his glasses. “Yes, it does.”
“But I’m troubled. You seem nice and all to me, but the things you are doing… you and that… whatever that was … They aren’t very nice, are they?” They walked out of the alley and into the stuffy night. Mitch’s bar was now fully on fire and the two could see him wandering around outside.
“I’d like to say you don’t have the right of it. But, you see, we didn’t come up with the postings.”
Sal stopped walking, which made the man stop as well. “But you fill them.”
The fire from the bar lit the man’s face and glinted in his yellow-mirrored sunglasses. “Sal, the world is a place that is filled with horrible consequences and even worse random shit-storms. You didn’t deserve unemployment. That Barron shit kid doesn’t deserve to fuck supermodels. And no one deserves to be on the receiving end of a screwing, but life is risk. That foreclosure job? How do you know those people reached for the ring and came up short? Actions, consequences, free will. For instance, no one is forced to work at Idle Hands, not even me.”
“Or me. This… I’m probably still in shock, to be this calm …” A throaty woosh came from the bar as something inside of it gave way. “… but really, I just want to forget all of this.”
“Yeah. I can do that for you. Kinda have to.” The man avoided Sal’s gaze. “Hope you don’t mind.”
“But how do I know that I’m now done, that you won’t test me again or use me as a pawn? Can I get your assurance that I’ll never be messed with by you or your people again? Can you give me that?”
The man smiled. “I give you my word and my promise.” He raised his hand and said “We are done.” A small puff of smoke blew out of both of Sal’s ears. He stared blankly for a while and turned to help Mitch, having forgotten all about his dealings with Idle Hands.
“And Heaven forbid, Sal, that I would ever tell a lie!” He chuckled, and in the street the echo of his laughter lingered. The haunting sound stewed in the sweltering heat of the summer night, becoming one with the sound of the burning bar and the approaching sirens. Real flames now poured out of the broken windows. And the man in the red suit, slowly turning to smoke, joined with them and drifted away.
[Author’s final note: Sorry for leaving you hanging over the weekend. I’m still not sure about the final edit on the last bit, but either I left it alone for a week or shoved it out on stage now with cue cards. Hope it’s not too hackneyed.
And here again I’ll ask you for likes, to tell your friends and random people on the street about the story and the site. Also, if you like Idle Hands, Maybe you’d like my main ongoing, “The Strange” which has a much slower burn than this, but is starting to tighten the screws. I’m not advertizing and my social media ability is kinda crap, so word of mouth would be absolutely huge for me and help me justify continuing to write stories for you all. I love to do it, but it is a bunch of work. Please help me out if you can. More than enough said.
Stay Weird. More Strange coming this week.