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Fractured: Chapter 4

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I am posting a chapter a week of the first book I completed as I revise and edit. For the beginning of the book, click here.

 

Chapter Four:

Assimilation – Incorporating objects, experiences, or information into existing schemas.

 

“You meet a werewolf and don’t even take time to see what she’s offering?” asked Tammy.

Sergio let his fingers glide along the edge of the manila envelope. He was not sure how far they had walked, but his feet were beginning to hurt. He was just happy he was out in public; with many would be witnesses to a savage werewolf attack. At least a police report would be made.

“That is right,” snapped Sergio. He quieted his voice and mumbled about deals with the devil’s minions. He had taken two extra pills that morning hoping that Tammy would not show up, and that it had all been a dream. Part of him held out that this was still a delusion, but his boss had seen her as well. Sergio decided that she was a least real, even if he wasn’t sure if he could believe she turned into a wolf.

“What was that last part,” Tammy quipped. Her eyes bent sharp. As they passed another group of people, Sergio noticed all stares were on Tammy. He kept his gaze on the sidewalk in front of him. How typical. He meets one decent looking woman at the office and she turns out to be a werewolf. Okay, the werewolf bit might not be typical…or the gorgeous women coming to his office…or…he decided to quit thinking about it.

“Are you going to tell me the offer or do I rummage through the envelope to find it?” asked Sergio.

“It’s a job offer. Which is what you need now,” said Tammy.

“I don’t participate in human sacrifice or anything similar.” He was still bitter over the whole evening.

Sergio heard a growl coming from the back of Tammy’s throat. She gave a polite cough. “Quit being uptight. I don’t know why you are jumpy. I read your file and you have never even been to a horror film, as far as we know. You don’t need to worry, we won’t change your wimpy status. The job offer is for a psychologist, doing the same things you currently do. Blaze thought it best to get you out of your office. He has specific jobs requiring you to be onsite. If your office is going to let you out as an independent agent, they are going to need a reason. We provided the reason, along with a hefty grant.”

“So you threw money at my boss to give me up, but why do I want to work with your company?” asked Sergio.

“Knowledge,” said Tammy.

“Knowledge?”

“Think of the things you can discover. People turn into wolves. You think your psychological texts will need to be updated. This opportunity rarely comes to those passionate about their careers or those seeking new opportunity. You will explore a world you never knew existed.”

Both stopped as Tammy stepped aside a glass door. As they talked, they had moved away from the downtown section of the city. They turned into a neighborhood lacking the clean streets they had been walking on. He looked at the neighboring buildings. A few broken windows were on a nearby apartment complex with the glass kicked into a small pile below the wreckage. A feeble sign with faded letters, carried by the slow breeze, swung above the doorway. It reminded him a little of where he bought his pills. Why would a company giving out hefty loans have an office here? Unless, of course, it was only a front to lead him away and turn him into human-kabob for the werewolf kind.

A rusty bell hanging on the doorknob clunked as they entered the room. A fragile woman sat behind a rotted desk. Her face sagged until a wide grin crossed it. She began to talk loud and rapid. Sergio did not understand a word.

“What did she say?” whispered Sergio.

“I don’t know. She only speaks Chinese. That is one of the reasons we hired her,” said Tammy.

Sergio tried hard not to stare. The woman behind the desk stood and began to talk more urgently, pointing to her feet. She had trapped a chicken from escaping around the desk with her foot. The woman bent and picked up the chicken. Her voice became more belligerent as she forced the bird into Sergio’s hands.

“Some places don’t want unexpected company.” Tammy pointed to the woman, “Lao helps us rid those who stumble into our premises by accident. If the front room appearance does not turn them away her language barrier often does.”

“But why have a front desk attendant at all?” asked Sergio. “The place stinks and she seems in need of a visit to my office, if you catch my drift.”

“I keep people who belong somewhere else from going further,” whispered the old Chinese woman. “I would have kept you out if I had a choice.”

Sergio turned. “You speak English?”

The woman stared blankly as if she did not understand and then continued to talk with words Sergio did not understand. The words sounded harsh.

“I’m sure she only speaks Chinese,” said Tammy. “But things are not always what they seem here.”

The woman was still trying to place the fluttering chicken in Sergio’s hands. He relented and held the bird away from his body.

Tammy led the way into a chrome elevator on the far wall beside the desk. The doors closed and soft elevator music began to play. Sergio noticed twenty-four buttons numbered sequentially on the push pad, the thirteen had been removed. Tammy pushed a series of four buttons and turned around. Sergio was shocked as the back wall of the elevator separated and opened into a hallway.

Tammy nodded her head toward two men in bright-colored suits, standing near the entrance. Sergio realized the men were guards. At least that is what they had been before being swallowed whole by the two bone crushers beside the door, Sergio decided. Muscles bulged tight against the security suits in places Sergio did not even know muscles existed.

“Sorry about the prison like security around here, but you can imagine how we want to keep this place secret,” said Tammy.

Sergio smiled as he held the chicken tight in his arms as it struggled to get free. The guards gave a grimace back.

“This is the main calling center,” said Tammy as they entered into a white walled room. Sergio could see the room was long and contained metal I-beams holding the structure up. Dull gray fabric walls separating the cubicles filled the room.

“The calling center?” asked Sergio. The room was abuzz with voices all talking at once. He took a glance inside the first cubicle they passed. A woman with a headset sat in front of a flat-screen computer monitor. From the pictures on the display it looked like the caller was ordering packets of green sludge. Sergio didn’t ask.

“All the cubicles are connected in one way or another. We call this place the maze,” said Tammy. Sergio picked up his pace, staying close behind. She walked quickly through a main corridor of cubicles and emerged on the other side. They passed a stairwell that continued downward.

“Your office when you are here is on this floor, our onsite services center.” Tammy continued in a quick pace down a narrow hallway. Thick wooden doors were on either side. Most had a slit glass window beside the door allowing anyone to look inside. She stopped in front of the only steel door in the hallway. Sergio had not even noticed the three feet high and two feet wide door.

Tammy crossed her arms. “Is this my office?” asked Sergio.

“The chicken goes in there,” said Tammy opening the door. A cold blast of air exhaled from the room and chilled Sergio’s ankles. Nimbly she took the chicken from Sergio, flung it into the darkness of the room, and quickly shut the door. Sergio stopped and watched the undersized door in utter confusion.

“I suggest throwing a chicken in there as often as possible, unless you like hearing a bunch of whining and moaning,” said Tammy. Sergio began to ask, but decided he probably did not want to know what was behind the door. They continued down the hallway to near the end. Tammy stopped and pulled open a door identical to the rest in the hallway. “This is your office,” she said.

Sergio walked in and fumbled for a light switch near the entryway. The light illuminated an almost complete copy of his other office. The only things missing were a few personal items he brought with him, and the large window overlooking the park. By the time his eyes roamed the room and made it back to the entryway, Tammy was already gone. He hurried out into the hallway. She was halfway back the way they had come.

“When do I expect clients?” asked Sergio. The hallway echoed his words.

“Don’t worry others will be with you to fill in the details,” said Tammy without looking back.

“Am I going to be carrying lots of chickens?” asked Sergio, but Tammy was already out the door on the other side of the hallway.

Sergio tried to ignore the constricted feeling in his chest as he went back to his room. The company had gone through tremendous effort to replicate his office, but knowing others studied him, or at least his office, minutely was a bit creepy. He rummaged through his desk drawers and began to set up his desk in his usual manner. He refused to think about how unusual this place was from every other previous office.

A soft tap knocked on the door.

“Come in,” said Sergio.

A portly woman entered with a beaming grin. She rushed across the room and took Sergio’s hand. “Hello. Hello. I am Mrs. McLendon,” she said. “I’m your next-door neighbor, the office chiropractor.”

“Where am I?” asked Sergio registering he was now in a basement room talking to an over excited woman where moments before he had talked to a werewolf. Things were not always as they seemed.

“We call this place the Import,” replied Mrs. McLendon with a shrug and still smiling with a wide grin. “We provide items and services for people. The rather low risk type services anyway.”

“Like psychological services,” said Sergio.

“Well I suppose that could be part of it, yes. We provide other services. Some of our clientele need special dietary supplements. Others need a safe place to stay for a bit.”

Mrs. McLendon bustled across the room to Sergio’s desk. She picked up a bent silver butter knife lying on the desk. She raised an eyebrow and shrugged. Sergio changed the subject before it could be brought up.

“So who else is in the psychology department here?” asked Sergio.

“No one else. You are it, if that is what you do. The office next door is mine and the other side is the allergy office. You are going to love this place.”

“So what else is around here?” asked Sergio.

“Offices and calling center. Your key should open nearly any area up to the door at the end of this hall.”

“What is behind the door at the end of the hall?” asked Sergio.

“For you, most likely horrible death,” said Mrs. McLendon. She sat silent for a moment then smiled. Sergio was not sure if she was joking. He found it difficult to distinguish what her mood was because she was always smiling.

There was an awkward silence.

“Well, welcome. Come by anytime if you need anything,” she said. She rushed from the room as quick as she had come.

 

The door swung back on the hinges and closed. Sergio slumped in the plush chair and swiveled. He decided things might turn out all right in the end. If he had could talk with a werewolf for a few moments then, he decided, he must be braver than he had supposed. Maybe he could survive this place after all.

The door flew open and banged against the wall. An object rolled across the entryway. Sergio could hear the muffled bang and felt pain blossom in his chest. He looked down. A red stain mushroomed on his shirt.

A boy sat crouched in the middle of the floor. The barrel of the gun still pointed at Sergio’s chest.

“Hey, you aren’t Kiera,” said the boy disappointed.

“You shot me,” moaned Sergio in disbelief.

“Sorry,” said the boy with a shrug.

“You shot me,” moaned Sergio again. He wondered how long he could survive a chest wound. He noticed another person at the doorway. She was a girl about the same age as the shooter.

“Put the paintball gun away Eric,” said the girl. “Sorry. It will wash off.”

Sergio looked down at his shirt again. He noticed the red seemed bright. He dabbed his finger in the liquid. The paint hung sticky and wet.

“I thought you were my sister,” said the boy defending himself.

“Sorry my brother can be a nuisance sometimes,” said the girl ignoring her brother’s grimace. She raised her hand toward Sergio. “You must be the new recruit. I’m Kiera.”

Sergio shook her hand ignoring the dull pain in his chest. “Hello. I’m Sergio.”

“I’m Eric,” added the boy as he stood from his crouch. “So do you know karate?”

“What?” asked Sergio.

“Well any martial arts,” added Eric.

“No, I don’t.”

“He would just try to shoot you again if you did,” muttered Kiera. “Eric hasn’t surprised me yet, and he thinks he could if he were an amazing karate expert who has perfected the art of disguise and escape.”

“I haven’t gotten you yet, but I will,” said Eric with a lopsided, malicious grin. He pumped his gun once and ran out of the room.

Kiera watched her brother go and shook her head. “He can be a bit strange,” she said.

“I think strange doesn’t quite explain this place,” said Sergio.

She shrugged.

“So Eric is your younger brother?” asked Sergio.

Kiera laughed. “No, he is my older brother. Well, technically. We are twins. The way he acts though makes him seem like the younger one. So what do you do?”

“I’m a psychologist,” he replied.

Her face wrinkled, and a slight frown formed. “I guess they need everything. You’re not analyzing me are you?”

“Maybe,” said Sergio turning his back on her so she would not see him smiling.

“Well, see you around,” she said and left the room.

Sergio was preparing to collapse back in the chair, when again there was a knock on the door. Sergio was glad Blaze didn’t bother to wait to be invited in.

“Had an interesting day?” asked Blaze.

“You could say,” said Sergio finally collapsing into the chair behind his desk.

“I can’t say your first client was pleased with your diagnosis,” said Blaze smiling. He moved to the chair on the opposite side of the desk and sat down.

“How was I supposed to know she was a werewolf,” said Sergio.

“I did try to warn you. I said other psychologists jump to conclusions and told you to prepare for the abnormal.”

“I thought you meant I would be talking to crazy people, not werewolves.”

“Crazy people, a technical term?”

“Yes,” said Sergio.

“Well, now you know,” said Blaze with a shrug. “I came here to get you settled in. I have made sure my company has bent over backward to get you here and make sure you’re happy.”

“I’m not sure that is going to happen,” said Sergio.

“Really? Why is that?”

“I mean. You know. Werewolves…” Sergio let his voice putter out like a dying lawn mower.

Blaze laughed. “No different from you or I.” Sergio raised an eyebrow. Blaze continued, “Okay. Perhaps a bit different, but deep down they’re the same. They still need a competent person to talk to about their problems. You can be a valuable asset to them.”

“Are we talking about only werewolves?” asked Sergio.

“Nope. Let’s just say you are on the tip of a resplendent new world with possibilities and people you never imagined.”

“People that need a mental health professional,” said Sergio.

“Now you’ve got it,” said Blaze.

Sergio sighed.

“We can keep going to your other office as much as you want. You only need to come here when a more delicate case arrives, but your office here will always be prepared,” said Blaze.

“Delicate?”

“Those who can’t just walk through the front door of your office without causing alarm,” said Blaze. “So what do you say?”

Sergio blew the air out. He moved his hands through his hair. “Okay, Mr. Blaze. We can try this. I can’t guarantee anything, but I can give it a try.”

“That is all we’re asking,” said Blaze. He jumped to his feet and headed for the door. Sergio let himself sink deeper into the plush chair. Before exiting, Blaze turned back. “We’ve tried to make your stay as stress free as possible. We provided everything that you might need here, including specialty items.” Blaze gave a wink and exited the room.

“Specialty items?”

Sergio opened the drawer. Several bottles of Trifluoperazine were inside. Sergio pulled out a pill and swallowed it down. He needed to be certain he was not hallucinating after a day like this.

He laughed. At least if he was hallucinating he was seeing pretty werewolves instead of bony skeletons. Then he thought back to the alley and quit smiling.

***

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