The Red and the Rest
Part 1- Crossing
Chapter 1- Applied Application
There was only one cloud in the sky above the bus stop at Ste. Nero where two men and a very pregnant woman stood waiting. One of the men wore a nice brown jacket, the kind that said I don’t need to be taking the bus with you people, but something something global warming. The woman was done up in a nice thick sari that covered her arms and body from the crisp not-quite-fall wind. The last man, however, had only an old short-sleeved dress shirt to protect him from the early September chill. As a breeze ruffled the first man’s long jacket and the woman’s sari, the last man’s tie flew up into his face, wrapping around his long nose and revealing a mustard stain on his shirt. It would have been a miserable sight if one could help from judging the overall appearance of the third man.
Smith was not the kind of person who you would ask to look after your kids. Besides the long nose that made him look like a lying puppet, the unkempt unibrow that gave him the look of an angry villain and the beady eyes squinting through his old, cheap glasses, the tall, thin man was smoking a cigarette. While of course not all smokers are untrustworthy, Smith smoked as constantly as he could, giving his already uneven teeth a ratty, yellowed appearance and overall making him look like a bum. It was hard to tell if the other two bus patrons were standing far away from him because he looked and smelled unsociable or if he was the standoffish one, but either way he took his time stubbing out his cigarette on the sidewalk (rather than disposing of it properly) and following the pregnant woman onto the bus.
The driver was more distinct than any of the bus patrons because she was a large, humanoid pig. The proper term for these not-quite human animals is minos, but unlike the minotaur of legend, most minos prefer living in organized communities with other humanoids to residing in labyrinths and being monsters. If you would have asked Smith what he thought of minos, he would probably give you a long list of reasons why these “brutish beasts” should not be driving buses, but that whole discussion is more a matter of politics.
You would not like to get in a discussion of politics with Smith. He was the kind of man who held his grudges against the whole of the world, rather than simply accepting his bad luck like the rest of us. Because his family was poor, Smith’s father would blame the Jews, and because Smith could not maintain the grades to complete his engineering degree a good few years earlier, his mother would blame the blacks and the Indians and whoever else was around. So it came to be that Smith could not help but blame minos like the sow driving the bus for taking all of the good menial labor jobs and leaving him unemployed at the age of thirty.
Ten minutes later, Smith was outside of an office building double checking the address he’d written on his hand. A guy in a wide-brimmed straw hat was sitting on the ground outside the building, presumably taking a nap.
“Excuse me,” coughed Smith. His voice was dry after not speaking since arriving at the bus stop and he had to clear his throat before saying again, “Excuse me, sir? Is this the Scarlet Office?”
The man lifted his head only to reveal that he was no man at all, but a short, dark-skinned elf. Elffolk do not have the same skin colors as humans, of course, but when it comes right down to it a dark green and a dark brown look similar enough that Smith would not have noticed the difference between this elf and any black boy if they had simply passed each other on the street.
“Scarlet Office? This’un’s it, right,” he confirmed. Or maybe she confirmed. The few elves Smith had ever met had pointed out that humans had a hard time telling the genders of elves, and he had to agree. Not that it mattered too much to him. If you asked Smith, which of course you wouldn’t, he would tell you that most elves are fine, upstanding people, even if you’ve got to watch yourself not to offend their foreign customs. Hanging out with an elf was like hanging out with a person from another planet. Technically, most elves were from another planet, but that’s more political nonsense.
He took one last breath of fresh, free air before opening the door and heading inside.
Smith wrote his name on the form in clear block letters. All capitals. There was no space for a social security number. The form looked more like a rap sheet or a layout for fantasy role players to describe their characters than a job application. There was nothing about previous education, but under Confirmed Kills were several choices to circle. For a brief moment he tapped his pen over 20+ with a nervous twitch forming on his mouth, but he eventually circled the 0. He was the only one in the waiting room from the moment he walked in until he finished writing.
“Name, sir.” The secretary looked out of place. She wasn’t a killer. Smith could tell she was at least in her early thirties, but she had a youthful face behind her glasses that meant she would probably get carded at any bar in Ste. Nero. To complete the youthful image, instead of doing any work she was hunched over at her desk playing with a Game Boy Advance. What’s more, she was pudgy. She was definitely the sort who had been picked last for every schoolyard game.
Or maybe she was another assassin. Working undercover means you shouldn’t look like a hitman anyway. Smith felt a shiver run down his neck.
“Smith.” His mouth was dry again.
“First name, sir.”
The girl did not look up from her game. Smith was actually a bit jealous. He would’ve loved to be able to afford a new game system, but he hadn’t had the money since the Playstation 1 had not yet needed the distinction of a number. “Not your last name, Mr. Smith.”
“My last name is Geier and my first name, ah…” Smith set his application down a bit harder than was polite and glared at the secretary’s nameplate, “Miss Lӧwe, my first name is Smith.”
“My apologies, Mr. Smith,” but the secretary still didn’t look him in the eye.
Smith straightened his tie and turned to head back to his seat but before he had even taken a full step, a man called his name.
Turning around, Smith saw a cleanly-dressed man with a sharp, professional haircut. Greek, by the looks of him. The application still sat on the counter next to the secretary, who was still playing her game. Smith turned to the Greek man again and licked his lips. Still dry.
“Come along, Mr. Geier. Or do you prefer Smith?”
Smith followed the Greek through a door behind the secretary’s desk. “Either one works.”
“You have a strange name, Mr. Smith.”
“My parents were immigrants, sir. They thought that Smith sounded fine as a first name so I ended up with three surnames. “
The Greek adjusted his tie. “And your middle name? Cavendish is an English name, I believe, not something German immigrants would think of right away.”
“There’s a story there.” Smith slowed to match the Greek’s pace. “Mom and Dad told me their ship sprung a leak in the middle of the Atlantic, and a Centaur saved them.”
“An aquatic Centaur? I didn’t think those actually existed.”
“Well, you know how secretive Centaurs are. And when you’ve got the whole ocean to hide in-”
“I understand. This merman’s name was Cavendish?”
“If he even really existed. Could just be a story.”
“Mr. Smith, is there any reason you came here?” The Greek stopped in front of another door, this one cut from a nicer wood and labeled ENGELBERT.
“To get a job, of course.”
The Greek opened the door to Engelbert’s office. Inside was an older man, small with a shock of white hair. Smith walked in to find the door swiftly shut behind him, trapping him with the thick scent of cologne and hairspray.
“Mr. Smith. Sit down, please.” Engelbert had the slightest hint of a British accent and a fake, businesslike grin. “I’d like to welcome you into our organization.”
Smith raised his eyebrow and clenched his back. “I got the job?”
“Would you like a cigarette, Mr. Smith? I can’t help thinking you’d be craving one by now and we happen to smoke the same brand.”
“But you didn’t even check my application. I mean, this is a-“ Smith swallowed his thought and narrowed his eyes, his glasses sliding ever so slightly down his long nose. “How do you know what brand I smoke?”
“Mr. Smith, you are brilliant in a few ways, but you need to gain some self-awareness and foresight. Did you honestly think that we would hire you without first knowing who you are?” Engelbert tapped his box of cigarettes and offered one to his new comrade. “We are a highly influential organization, after all. We keep our secrets as well as those of any of our employees or clients. We couldn’t very well allow just anybody to apply unless we knew for sure that we would accept them among our ranks. You got the job as soon as you walked into this building.”
Smith sucked in air as he struck his lighter, pulling in the warm sensation. “So it’s true, then. This isn’t some sort of prank or conspiracy.”
“Oh, it is very much a conspiracy. We hold quite a bit of the world’s political and economic power and we’ve existed without allegiance to any government for hundreds of years, Mr. Smith. What else would you call this?”
“I don’t know. From what you’re telling me, I’d say Illuminati, Elders of Zion, some Jewish banking thing? Is that what I signed up for? I was under the impression that this was some sort of local Mafia-type thing, not a worldwide network.”
“No, no, Mr. Smith. We are not a Jewish organization nor are we Italian. Do you truly believe that a minority group so distrusted as the Jews would be able to grasp any sort of power? For that matter, any ethnic group trying to gain such influence would be dashed upon the rocks in a matter of years. We are our own power. We are indistinguishable from normal citizens because that is what we are, normal citizens who see the world a little more clearly than the rest. We are the Redshirts.”
“Like some sort of old Soviet spy-“
“Dammit, Mr. Smith!” Engelbert didn’t look particularly angry, but he cradled his forehead in his hand for a brief second, the lit cigarette dangerously close to his product-laden hair. “This is not a nationalist organization. It is not a matter of subjugation, nor of ideology, nor anything you’d read in some paltry newsletter photocopied out of the basement of a political radical’s deranged psyche. We’re independent from anything so based or biased as country and creed. The Redshirts are about one thing and one thing alone: business!”
Engelbert tapped some ashes directly onto his desk and gave a loud cough. It led into further sputterings, deep, resonant hacks from the bottom of his lungs. “The world’s oldest profession is not prostitution, Mr. Smith. It is assassination. A man will want his enemies dead before he considers his own means, something which the Redshirts have provided for its customers for years. Our business is people, our members are people and our product is people. You may now consider yourself among our ranks.”
Smith shuddered. He cradled his cigarette in his palm and flicked a piece of ash down onto the carpet. “How do I know that you are a legitimate organization? I mean, I found you. If you are really in the business of killing, how could you remain secret? I can accept that you trailed me, that you somehow manipulated me into this interview, but it’s simply not possible to be sure that everybody will accept. What do you do to those who would tell your secrets?”
“Simple, Mr. Smith. You either leave this building fully loyal to us or you never leave. We have no qualms with eliminating those disloyal to our organization. Suspicious behavior will get you killed here, but if you are good at what you do you will soon be rich. Especially now, as we are nearing the most important day in Redshirt history since Pearl Harbor.”
Smith slid his hand up his leg toward his pocket. “I assure you that I would like to work with you. You’ll have no reason to kill me, I mean. Not that you were thinking that anyway, but I thought it worth saying. Where?” Smith tapped his pocket to find it empty. “What did you do with my phone?”
“No need to be nervous. We’ve taken the liberty of removing you from your cellular phone until we can be sure of your loyalty. Manolios, my associate in the hall, is quite the pickpocket, and he sensed your hesitation. Don’t worry, Mr. Smith. We have been watching you long enough to know that you will accept this career path. You’ve already made your choice, and we don’t kill anybody without a reason or a price.” Engelbert once again smiled a politician’s smile, flashing only the top row of his teeth. “I may have killed a few people in my day, but I’m not a monster.”
Smith had barely any minutes and even fewer friends to reach with his phone, but the fact that he did not need it did not make him want it any less. “You could murder me right here if you wanted to.”
“Ah, but neither I nor anybody in the Redshirts has ever committed murder. That’s the beauty of it. We kill out of economy, not spite or anger. Emotion makes one sloppy and killing is an exact science. Now, what kind of scientist are you going to be for our company?”