Ivor trudged home. It had been a long, hard day. He had got into the office at 7 in the morning and it was past 10 at night now. The office was struggling to complete the audit and he had to pitch in. Still, it was better than previous years, back in The Agency. His thoughts started to drift back to- No. He was stronger than that.
Walking down the street, he was almost home again. Small flat in one of the outer boroughs. Way, way too much money for what you got but at least it was his. Most of the other employees of The Agency moved out of the country. He was one of the few who remained. He should have gone elsewhere, but why? There was nowhere he wanted to go. Besides, this city was home. It’s labyrinthine streets filled with dead ends was the only place he ever felt comfortable. Despite The Agency.
Stop thinking about it, Ivor told himself. You’re tired. It’s not helpful.
When he arrived at his flat door, he knew something was wrong instantly. There was a deep scratch by the lock. Ivor knew, before he even pushed the door, that it would swing open. Someone had forced the lock and let themselves in. Was it a burglar? Had all his stuff been stolen? What to do? Run away? Ivor sighed. He was so tired. It had been such a long day. Resigning himself to whatever lay beyond, he opened the door.
Darkness. Of course. In the gloom, a figure. Sat on his armchair. Waiting. Waiting for him. Of course. That’s how they operated. It was worse than a burglar. Much worse.
Ivor flicked the light on.
He was only half surprised to see Janice sat there, with her same smug grin he remembered from all those years ago. Same way of looking down at you as well. She had aged, of course, but everyone had. Janice had held up pretty well. Only a few more wrinkles, but that same hard jaw and cold eyes.
‘I was wondering when you would join me,’ she said, with a smirk. Of course she was enjoying it. Ivor put his bag down and crossed to his drink cabinet. There was a glass missing. Janice had clearly taken advantage of his absence. Oh well. He poured himself a large glass of brandy and drunk half of it. It burned and he felt sick. He needed it though. The jolt of the alcohol shook off some of his weariness and brought him back to the room. He turned to face his visitor.
‘What do you want Janice? I’m done. I left a long time ago.’
Janice picked up her own glass and spun the ice around. She always loved a bit of theatrics.
‘Got another job for you. Nice complicated one.’
‘Did you not just hear me?’ Ivor said, his voice tired and weary. ‘I’m out. I finished with The Agency a long time ago.’
He turned away from her, trying to hide the glass shaking in his hand. The memories had laid sleeping for so long were now awake and hammering at the door of his conciousness, waiting to get in. She’ll have a gun, he thought to himself.
‘Shame.’ Janice was smiling to herself again. She knew something he didn’t.
‘Leave me alone.’ Ivor was so tired. He just wanted to crawl into bed and stay there. He didn’t need this.
‘You never leave the Agency, Ivor. You know that as well as I do. There is no exit clause in your contract.’
For the first time, he met her gaze.
From under a cushion, Janice produced a small pistol. Yep. Right on cue. Ivor knew the tactics and knew where all this nonsense was going.
‘Come now Ivor. For old friend’s sake.’
The memories were a flood now. They tumbled through his mind in disjointed, confusing parts. Images and sounds he had forgotten. Moments where the choice had been the wrong thing or something worse. Piles of standard forms to be completed. A collection of sterile, anonymous rooms. Late night flights to some field in some corner of the world. Blindfolds and pliers in the supply closet. He remembered he had a system for getting out blood stains. All this passed before him in a flicker of an eye.
He sighed. There was no way he was returning to that. He couldn’t run. There would be another member of the agency waiting outside to scoop him up. His flat was on the third floor, so the window was out. Where to go? What to do?
Instead of turning and running, he walked up to Janice and knelt down. He rested his forehead on the barrel of the gun. It felt comforting. Safe.
‘What are you doing?’ Janice’s cool demeanour had been shaken up.
‘I’m not going back.’
Janice smiled again, regaining control once more.
‘That’s what you think.’
She held the gun against his forehead, just for a moment. Ivor could feel the weight and the coolness of it.Then, before Ivor could even blink, she aimed down and fired the pistol into his leg.
There was pain. A sudden shock spreading upwards. But it was not as much as he thought. Ivor looked down. A red feathered dart was sticking out of his thigh. He tried to focus on it, but the world was fading around him. Everything was losing detail.
He tried to speak but he mouth didn’t seem to work. ‘Whaa?’
Then blessed darkness.
Ivor came round slowly. A blank wall. A sterile fluorescent light above him, flickering slightly worn lino on the floor.
He came round a bit more. A windowless room. He was sat on a plastic chair, his hand bound behind him. Through his confused and tired brain, one thought ran clear. The Agency. He closed his eyes and tried to wake up safe in his bed, but it was no use.
He was back. They had brought him back.