Gunther woke up feeling sick. He got dressed in a rush half asleep – a shirt flew on, pants rushed up and his hair made itself look presentable. He flung himself to the coffee machine and whilst preparing his coffee found a cheesecake sitting on the kitchen bench. A note lay folded next to it.
To Gunther. Happy Birthday.
It was his birthday. He had forgotten. How old was he this year? 27? Maybe 28. It made no difference – it certainly did not change the fact that the fridge was empty and cheesecake was a remarkably unsuitable breakfast food. He decided to skip breakfast and just have coffee, which never helped if he was feeling sick. He left his apartment in a whirl, the coffee sloshing around in his stomach.
The building he arrived at was the kind of building that made you question whether you had got the street numbers mixed up. Dust-ridden lamps cast depression onto the walls and the carpet looked to be woven from the pubic hairs of the dead. The reception was a wonky trestle table with an unplugged rotary dial phone sitting on top. Behind it sat a receptionist who looked as if he put far too much effort into a job that required very little.
“Hello there,” said Gunther. “I was wondering if I was at the right place. I’m looking for Techno-Vision and Associates.”
“Then welcome,” said the receptionist. “Are you Gunther?”
“Wonderful, Rebecca isn’t expecting you.”
“I just need you to fill out a form with a few details.” He passed over a form requiring more than a few details. “And also another one detailing your preferred method of payment. As discussed, it’s a lump sum of $32,947.”
Gunther took the forms and a seat. He filled them out with a calligraphy that was worth more than administrative paperwork.
When he was done, the receptionist led him down a dim hallway to an elevator that was barely wide enough to accommodate one person.
“I won’t come up with you. Just make sure you close the door behind you.” He pressed the button and the doors opened.
Gunther turned at an angle to squeeze into the lift and watched the concerned face of the receptionist disappear behind the closing doors. Gunther realised he hadn’t been told which level he was going to. There were only two options – Ground and Level 1.
Level 1 was much like the corridor leading to the elevator on the floor below. It made Gunther long for the benefits of good architecture. There were four rooms on the floor, only one of which had a name tag.
He knocked and stood in silence. After a few more seconds, he knocked again.
The voice came hammering back from behind the paper-thin door. “What is it?”
Gunther, deciding the voice would be annoyed regardless, opened the office door and stepped in. The smell of smoke clung to the room like it could sense Gunther had just quit. In the centre of the room was a large mahogany desk and behind it sat a woman with a prominent fringe and grey eyes. She looked young. Maybe Gunther’s age, but that depended on whether it was her birthday.
“Miss Downey,” said Gunther. “I am Gunther Coleridge. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Who let you up here?”
“Your receptionist. May I take a seat?”
She didn’t respond so Gunther took a seat anyway. She lit up a cigarette. She offered him the packet.
“I quit, but thanks, that’s very kind.”
“Your loss.” She shrugged.
“Miss Downey, I’ve been sent here on behalf of the board of your company, Techno-Visions and Associates.”
She exhaled and watched the smoke float through the air.
“You work for TVA?”
“No, they’ve hired me as a contractor.”
“A contractor. Right. So what work do you do then?”
“I’m a firer.”
She took the cigarette out of her mouth.
“A firer. I’m hired to fire people.” Gunther adjusted his shirt.
She took a drag and stared at Gunther.
“So TVA hired you to fire me?”
He nodded. “Effective immediately.”
She stopped and looked around the room. Gunther tried to figure out what she was looking at but the room was so sparsely decorated he couldn’t tell.
“When did they make the decision?”
“Several months ago. Apparently none of them could bring themselves to tell you once the decision had been made.”
Rebecca put the cigarette out against the mahogany desk, opened a drawer and pulled out a bottle of Jack Daniels. It was one of the small bottles they sold at front counters. She downed it in one go.
“Cowards. How long have I got?”
“You leave when I do.”
They sat in silence for a while. She lit another cigarette, turned away and opened the window. A million sounds from the bustling street below filled the room and washed the haze away. Beeping horns, the sound of high heels, and the laughter of workers on a lunch break. She looked out the window and let out a sigh.
Gunther watched a tear roll down her cheek.
“Do you like your job, Gunther?”
“It pays the bills.”
She let out a stifled laugh and wiped away the tear.
“Typical. Do you have many friends, Gunther?”
The question caught him off guard.
She stubbed the second cigarette next to the first and stood up.
She left the office. Gunther listened to the lift trundle down to the ground floor. He walked over to the window. A few minutes later, he watched as Rebecca Downey pushed her way through the crowds and walked out of sight.
He realised she hadn’t taken anything with her. Gunther shut the window and left the office. He closed the door behind him and called for the lift.