Swedish Rock and Roll

Prompt: Infuse

headphones

Gordon Ping was angry.

He shaved with a hand razor, examining with disgust the crusty lines deepening around his mouth and eyes. He dressed carefully for work, re-ironing the pair of grey polyester trousers that he’d worn the day before. He wore a white polo shirt fresh out of the dryer, which smelled of lilacs. He disliked the smell of lilacs. His ex-wife left the box of dryer sheets and he was frugally using them up, and now the odor made him angry, too.

She said she didn’t like the way he looked anymore. She said his face and body told stories about his insides the way a house exterior says much about its occupants. Fuck her. He wasn’t a thatched cottage (far from it, as his hair was thinning too)— he was a man with man challenges and man problems. Maybe he didn’t spill his guts to this woman at every turn: that was down to her. She questioned his version of events, his opinions, his decisions to such an extent that it was no longer valuable to share with her. If he wanted nit-picking judgements he’d go talk to his boss.

Thomas Agent, rich asshole and micro-manager. All Gordon did was put on a cheap royal blue smock and push a cart of external mail and inter-office packages around the four floors of the company, but Agent personally conducted his three-month review and later, his annual review.

“Tell me, Gordon” — who said he could use his first name? Presumptuous asshole. “Tell me, what do you find the most challenging about your job?”

Nothing is fucking challenging about being a fucking mail boy at age 48 except the fucking people, like you. “I find many of the employees distracting. They start chatting and slow me down. It’s hard to complete my daily tasks.” Daily tasks. A helpful term he’d learned at his first review.

“And what do you see as a resolution to this problem?” Thomas Agent was a man who thought he was subtle but was as transparent as cling film. Still, he had no eyebrows, which threw Gordon off balance at times. They’d been permanently singed and traumatized into non-existence after his briefcase exploded. The authorities believed his tale of ignorance as to where the bomb came from, which seemed lazy and complacent. Anyway, he was actually lucky to be alive.

He was lucky, period. Gordon Ping had more education than this son of a bitch, but far less luck. Health problems: diabetes, lung cancer, and a host of allergies kept him off the upward ladder, and he found himself having to start over again and again. He was introverted and some mistook this for pride or disdain, which slowed his progress. Who wants to promote or work for an unlikeable man? Well, guess what? His introversion did develop into pride and disdain— why not? He was better, smarter than most of the delusional, self-seeking morons he lived and worked among. He learned to hide his disdain until it was simply no longer possible. Thus his wife telling him his face now betrayed him, and broadcast his bitter contempt instead of hiding it.

She was a hypocrite in her own right. Pretending to be feminist but refusing to help support him after the divorce. If he’d been the main breadwinner you can bet he would have had to pay alimony. But no, she could afford the lawyers and he was recovering from a collapsed lung— no contest.

So he found himself sitting faux-humbly before Thomas Agent as he sipped tea infused with ginseng, believing it to have life-enhancing properties, discussing the challenges of dropping packages clearly addressed with the recipient’s name and location to the correct cubicle.

“Well, Mr Agent,” said Gordon.

“Call me Tom, for heaven’s sake, Gordon.”

Gordon closed his eyes for two seconds. “What I see as a resolution to the challenges of my job, is: headphones.”

“Headphones?”

“Ms Cohen thinks I need to be alert and that headphones could cause mishap,” said Gordon. “I’ve asked several times.”

“Good,” said Thomas Agent. “I see where headphones could help you do your job more efficiently; thank you for the input. This could resolve the issue of complaints of slow mail delivery etc, that we’ve received about your work, Gordon.”

And so it was that Gordon Ping, 48, divorced, angry, disillusioned, got a pair of inexpensive Philips On-Ear Sound Isolating headphones, which while not high quality, did a superb job of allowing Gordon to ignore conversation, so he was able to push his little trolley among four identical floors and deliver his mail without having to communicate with humans, and instead listened to Swedish rock and roll.

It is hard to be angry when listening to Swedish rock and roll.

Thomas Agent

Prompt: Suitcase

spock_inquisitive

Thomas Agent was flagged again, this time for trying to reenter the country.

Joanne didn’t know if it was a random flag, or whether the official had detected suspicious behaviour. The form had no information. It was better if she didn’t know. She had no preconceptions– except that she had interviewed him when he was detained on his outward journey.

She glanced at him through the blinds, as he sat in the small waiting area. He wore a tailored business suit, very flattering; he sat upright in his chair, mostly unmoving, with his briefcase in his lap. Except for the quality and fit of his suit, he could be mistaken for a down-on-his-luck salesperson, eagerly and nervously making a cold call.

After watching him for a few moments, Joanne sat at her desk and made a list in her hardback notebook. She then went to the door, called Thomas’ name, and invited him into her office for a little chat.

It was a warm day and a portable fan oscillated in the corner, ruffling Thomas’ hair every twenty seconds or so. He paid it no mind and concentrated on Joanne.

“Do you remember we spoke when you exited the country?” Joanne asked.

“Yes, a technical problem with my passport, all sorted out,” said Mr Agent.

“And this time?”

“I have no idea.”

“What was the purpose of your visit abroad?”

“Business,” said Thomas.

“Are you bringing back any cash, food stuffs, tobacco, alcohol, or firearms?” she asked.

Thomas shook his head. “No.” He had decided, Joanne saw, to keep this interview strictly formal. No banter. Sometimes banter was the unconscious protective behaviour of a smuggler or dealer. Sometimes they knew to be silent and business-like. In other words, she was no wiser by this approach– yet. But there was something about him, something about the way he held the case, something about the way he avoided looking at it.

“Did they inspect your luggage and briefcase?” she asked.

“Yes they did.”

Joanne opened her notebook to the list she had made earlier.

“Do you have any over-the-counter drugs in your possession?”

Thomas hesitated. “Some aspirin, and some Melatonin.”

“Melatonin?”

“For jet lag?” He seemed slightly impatient, as if she should know what the product was; which she did.

“Cheese?”

“No, no food.”

“Goods above the duty-free limit?”

“No,” said Thomas.

“Your suit?”

“I took the suit with me,” said Thomas.

“You have a receipt?”

“Yes, in my phone.”

Joanne made a note. She continued to question him from the list in front of her.

Electronic devices?
Perfume?
Wine?
Jewellery?
Medicine?
Explosives?

Slight hesitation on that one.

Books?
Candles?
Pencils, pens, or stylus?
Leather items?

Another hesitation before the “no”.

Watches?
Chocolate?
Glassware?
Children?

That last one stopped him cold. “Children?” he stared at Joanne. “What do you mean?”

“Human trafficking is a serious problem,” Joanne said cooly.

The tiniest beads of sweat formed on Thomas’ forehead, right at the hairline. She could almost see the wheels turning inside his brain. He was not going to respond naturally; he was planning how he wanted to appear.

“No.” He had decided to suppress any annoyance or anger. He rubbed his hands, as if they were cold. Perhaps a nervous gesture.

“You seem unsure,” said Joanne.

“This is crazy,” he said. “My luggage was examined. I had no humans in my suitcase.” He looked down at his watch, then back up where he met Joanne’s gaze. The fan ruffled his hair.

“And your briefcase?”

“No! I’ve had enough. I would like to speak to your supervisor.”

Joanne got that a lot. She left him in the office with the door open  and went out to the reception area. She called Angus, who had sent him through.

“You examined his briefcase?” she asked Angus.

“Just open, fluff, and close,” Angus said. “No secondary.”

“Call Martin.” She ended the call and turned to go back to her office, when there was a loud pop. Smoke curled out of her office, drawn upward by the slow, steady pull of the ceiling fan. Protocol stated she should wait until help arrived. People had been fired for not following protocol.

An ambulance was called for Thomas.  Joanne didn’t hear it arrive, even though the siren was blaring, because of the airport alarms, which, for some reason, still sounded.

“I don’t know what happened,” Thomas Agent said as they belted him to the stretcher. He had no eyebrows. It was interesting how much eyebrows actually reveal about a person, Joanne thought.

The briefcase was a pile of ashes and charred metal.