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To introduce the characters, I’m sharing the first of each of their chapters and a short character profile – one per day – between 15th and 19th May. Today belongs to Brett.
Brett Archer is chaos, wildfire and the sweetest deception. He has a freezer full of vodka and a head full of everything all at once. He gets paid too much to protect people from people like him, even though he doesn’t care about money or people. He has an impressive collection of scars and the kind of smile that makes things happen. He is a predatory masochist, manipulative, vicious and eloquent. He frequently dreams about the end of the world and wakes up curious. His moral standing is lying down and buried in a shallow grave. Death before drudgery and experience before everything.
“Jordan, what?” My assistant. I haven’t slept with him yet, but I’ve been thinking about it. I like his fingers. I want them to tighten around my throat until the floor falls away.
He’s calling from his desk, outside my office, where I’m not. “Byron’s looking for you.” He sets down the phone, still connected.
James Byron’s voice sets me on edge, even through two phones and however many tonnes of concrete. “Have you seen Archer?”
The reply comes quietly. “I don’t know.” The new guy. I haven’t slept with him either. Yet.
“You don’t know if you’ve seen him?”
“I mean, I don’t know where he is. I saw him a while ago. Sorry.” His voice is shaking. I like the way he says sorry.
“Where was he when you saw him?”
“The lifts. He’s maybe on the roof. Or something.”
“He’s maybe what?” I can see Byron’s face in his voice and it’s nothing new. Angry and confused is his natural state of being, at least in my experience.
“The roof. That’s sometimes where he goes. As far as I know. He mentioned it before. Sort of.” I only slightly hold it against the new guy. I have mentioned the roof before, but I figured anyone within earshot would know I wasn’t going up there because I wanted to be interrupted.
“What’s he doing?” I’d be getting a kick out of Byron’s stress if he wasn’t about to come looking for me.
“I don’t know. He said not to disturb him unless the building’s burning down.”
Good to know this is a catastrophe equal in severity to a large-scale office fire. Jesus. Fucking. Christ.
Jordan’s voice comes through again. “He’s on his way. And Janek’s sitting with his head in his hands saying ‘Brett’s going to kill me’ over and over again like a fucking Hail Mary.”
Janek. Janek. “I’m not, but let him think I might. And tell him to apologise next time he sees me. Right, later.”
One foot’s tapping on nothing but high empty space, the other’s pressing against the inside of the low wall I’m sitting on, my fingers are hitting the keys at the speed of progress and it sounds like comfort. I keep trying to turn off the stream of awareness of my own actions and their immediate consequences, but I can’t. It’s one stream of many. It doesn’t matter.
The access door clicks and slams.
“Archer, what the ever-loving fuck are you doing up here?” Byron’s words collide with a breeze that does nothing to soften them and the two swells of air come to a dead stop against each other.
“I can concentrate better.” It isn’t exactly untrue. Even when I close my office door and turn the glass walls on, knowing there are so many other people nearby gets distracting. It’s the wrong kind of noise and too much of it. Up here, it’s peaceful. Comparatively.
“If you drop that laptop over the edge it’ll kill someone. Do you know what our fucking insurance would be like after that?” His priorities are always on point.
“I’m not going to drop it.” I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about it. I thought about it five times in the last hour. “And I like that you’re not concerned about me dropping myself over the edge.” That, I also thought about. Not in a suicidal way. I’ve no practical interest in ending myself, but it’d be an experience. I keep remembering a dream where I jumped off something and landed on concrete and how unexpectedly conscious of everything I still was when my body burst open. I see it from every possible angle and it no longer distracts me, but I notice it.
“That would be an expensive disaster too. Come back from there. You’re making me nervous.”
“I didn’t think anything made you nervous.” I file away ‘edges of high-up places’ under ‘Byron, things to use against’.
“Fuck off.” The veins at his temples are pulsating. I imagine his head exploding. It’s not the first time I’ve thought about that either. It’s always good.
I plant both feet firmly on the roof and shut my laptop, resisting the urge to lean back just to see him panic. “Better?”
“Yes.” His vertigo-by-proxy visibly fades. “Right. We have a new client. He’s somewhat unconventional so I think he’ll appreciate your approach to…everything. This is either the best or the worst decision I’ve ever made, but you’re going to be his primary contact.”
“And I have time for this?”
“You’ll make time. And we need to cover some details before you go.”
“Go? To him? Since when do I do that?”
“Since he has his name on a lot of doors and he’s more important than both of us put together.”
“More important than you?”
Byron takes a deep breath and it hisses through gritted teeth. There’s a unique pleasure in frustrating someone with that degree of accuracy and persistence.
“You have exactly-” he looks at his watch, “-one hour and forty-three minutes before you need to be walking into his office.”
“You’re not giving me much time.”
“Wind your fucking neck in and get back inside then. And don’t make me regret anything.”