The rusty metal gates were parted only slightly, barely offering an invitation to enter. The industrial district, once the hub of activity, was now a desolate place, filled with half-empty buildings and long since faded memories.
“Second door, right hand side,” John muttered, slipping the reminder back into his jacket pocket.
The brick walls stood bare, noticeable signage having long since fallen into disrepair. John had been warned check his destination beforehand, or find himself lost in the maze of similarly designed, equally decrepit old buildings. He reached the office; no lighting indicated it was open. Only a select few knew it was safe to enter. He turned the handle and did exactly that.
Considering the fatigued appearance of the exterior, the interior of the office was surprisingly tidy. Modern even. The wooden floor reflected a fresh coat of polish, the walls a vibrant shade of red, and healthy green plants lined the windows. At the back of the room sat a large, fine oak desk and two plush, leather chairs. Plants of the tall, potted variety sat either side, adding a touch of symmetry. John found this stark contrast remarkable. But his appreciation of the room was abruptly ended as a man appeared from a back office.
“Mr Brown, I presume?” the man asked.
His faded grey suit had seen many washes and even more Sunday morning sermons. He reminded John of the protagonists from his favourite Classical Hollywood movies. The man’s wrinkled, aged face and drawn-out features helped make this comparison. He appeared from another era.
“Yes. Nice to meet you,” John replied, politely.
“Please, come right in. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Take a seat, won’t you.”
The man offered his arm out towards the leather chair closest to John, and then took his seat on the opposite side of the desk. The way the man spoke reminded John of an old physics professor he once had. How he started his sentences quickly, before slowing down at the end, emphasising his final words as if to press them home. He found it funny, but did not let on to this fact.
“I assume you already know who I am?” the man asked.
“Yes, of course. You have quite a reputation, Mr Kenneth.”
Mr Kenneth’s eyes tightened a little. John knew instantly his last statement had aroused suspicion.
“But don’t worry. I told no one of my visit here today,” he rushed out.
“No bother, really.”
The sincerity in his voice relieved John. He did indeed know all about Mr Kenneth’s reputation and he knew better than to upset him. He slouched back a little in his chair, Mr Kenneth leant forward from his.
“And so, pleasantries over with, let’s get down to business. You know how this works, correct?”
John nodded. Suddenly nervous, he cupped his sweaty hands together.
“Good. First question. You recently lost your wife, correct?” Mr Kenneth asked.
John found himself tracing his wedding band. “Yes.” he replied.
“But her death was by the hand of another, correct?”
Mr Kenneth’s eyes widened, his head nodding forward ever so slightly.
John watched closely, evidently his nod would not suffice. “Yes. She was murdered.”
“Very good. So your wife was murdered, and yet you still go to church…”
John noticed the pause, the wait for him to jump in and explain the action.
“I still believe in God, Mr Kenneth. I just had one of two things I wished to discuss with him.”
“Very good. Very good indeed,” Mr Kenneth beamed, a big smile stretching his wrinkles.
John half smiled back. He knew what was coming next.
“I think I can help you, Mr Brown. If you do indeed know my reputation then you know I can do what it is you ask of me.”
John sat up in his chair,anxiously waiting for the words he knew were about to cross Mr Kenneth’s lips.
“I can indeed ensure you see your wife again. But, of course, I expect something in return.”
John nodded. “Of course.” He knew there was a price to pay for what he was asking.
Mr Kenneth pulled a small piece of paper and pencil from his desk drawer, scribbled a small note, and passed the it to John.
“Before you read that, Mr Brown, let me make something very clear. In a matter of minutes you will be with your wife again-”
He paused, as if allowing John a few moments to process the enormity of his statement. John took the time offered and did just that.
“-but, once there, you will also have a job to do. I cannot speak of this job in detail here. To speak the words aloud is too dangerous, even for me. But a man named Michael will explain more on the other side. Rest assured, Mr Brown, you won’t be alone. You will be with your wife once again. And many others just like you.”
John nodded and unfolded the piece of paper. He read the note, contemplated it for a second, then turned his attention back to the other side of the desk.
“Do we have an agreement?” Mr Kenneth asked.
John nodded again.
“I need to hear you say so, Mr Brown.”
“Apologies, yes of course. Yes. We have an agreement,” he replied.
“Very good. Then I’m satisfied with what has been agreed here today, and I am happy to proceed. Just make sure you hold up your end of our agreement, Mr Brown, or, as I am sure you are aware, there will be hell to pay.”
A glisten in his eye momentarily unnerved John. It was only there for a second, just long enough to be noticed. But his thoughts quickly switched to those of his wife. Of her long blond hair, her deep blue eyes. Her smile, her laugh, her touch. He smiled back, and nodded one final time.
“I’m ready,” he said.
Mr Kenneth clicked his fingers and forced himself out of his chair. He then pulled a small notepad and pencil from his top pocket, flicked through several pages, made a small note, and popped the items back into his suit. Walking around to the other side of the desk, he snatched the piece of paper up from the now empty seat. As he placed the paper back into his desk, Mr Kenneth allowed himself just a short glance at the two words filling the page. Two words which forced his lips into a small smile, a smirk even, a smirk he quickly removed should anybody be watching. These two simple words he planned on using to change not only this world, but the others, too.