by David Court
The oddest thoughts go through your mind when you’re seething with rage. As his reddened knuckles banged on the door, it suddenly dawned on him that he couldn’t remember the last time that the “Number of Days without an accident” counter in the warehouse had reached double figures. His heart was beating so loudly, the blood pumping so noisily in his ears, that he almost missed the plaintive voice from behind the door telling him to come in. Charles paused for a moment to settle himself, straightening his overalls before taking in a deep lungful of air.
He’d been running through the scenario in his head ever since he’d stormed away from his desk and marched towards this, his bosses’ office. He knew exactly what he’d say—he’d seen too many accidents and wouldn’t settle until it was sorted out once and for all. He pushed open the door, stepped inside and was just about to launch into his well-rehearsed and pre-prepared lengthy tirade when something about the old man’s demeanour disarmed him on the spot.
He’d seen the old man in action before. He rarely stepped out of the confines of his luxurious office but when he did, he was a maelstrom of balls and bluster. Charles had expected to have walked in and be met with a torrent of abuse, but that simply hadn’t been the case. The old man looked—well, old. Like the fire had gone from his belly.
The old man squinted at Charles’ name badge before gesturing to the worn leather chair that sat in front of him across the desk. “Take a seat, Charles. Chuck? You don’t mind if I call you Chuck, do you?”
One thing Charles had always despised with a passion was being addressed as Chuck. Which is why he found himself surprised to sit down and respond to the Boss with a murmured “No problem”.
The old man poured a shot of something amber from an elaborately decorated decanter and offered the glass to Charles. Charles shook his head but the old man left the glass in front of him anyway before pouring himself one. He took a sip before leaning back in his chair with a concerned expression.
“What’s up, Chuck?”
Charles nervously looked around himself, suddenly feeling very small and self-conscious. The wind had been taken out of his sails by the old man’s calm and welcoming demeanour, and this wasn’t how he’d expected things to go at all.
He picked up the glass and sloshed the liquid around, releasing its vapours—whiskey from the bitter and distinctive smell of it. He looked up at the old man and stared him straight in the eyes.
“Something needs to be done about the safety here, sir.”
The old man blinked a few times before staring into his glass and downing the contents in a single gulp. He nodded his head a few times before looking back at Charles.
“And what do you propose, Chuck?”
In all honesty, Charles hadn’t expected to get this far. From the old man’s reputation, he was surprised he’d even set foot inside the door, let alone be offered a drink and be asked for his advice. This was a golden opportunity—provided the old man wasn’t simply toying with Charles for his own amusement.
“The products that we’re storing in the warehouse—do they have to be so dangerous?”
The old man raised an eyebrow and placed his glass back on the table. He looked back at the decanter as though considering whether to pour himself another drink, but then his gaze turned back to Charles.
“Explain what you mean by dangerous” he asked, his expression one of genuine concern.
“I’ve worked in warehouses before, sir. I’ve been in places where we’ve had to store flammable materials, poisons, all kinds of dangerous goods—but nothing compares to this place. Not a week goes by without something in one of the boxes going off by accident and injuring somebody.”
The old man opened his desk drawer and pulled out a wooden case the size of a small book. He opened it up and removed a cigar before holding the box open in front of Charles to offer him one also. Charles shook his head and, without a word uttered, the old man put the box away.
“Chuck”, he said as he lit the cigar, “Chuck. As the Warehouse manager it’s your job to make sure that your staff are given the adequate training to handle the products we sell. If you can’t do that…”
“With all due respect, Sir,” interrupted Charles, “It’s next to impossible to adequately train staff when our product line seems to change from one week to the next. We’re given next to no warning until we accept delivery from the factory.”
The old man’s face was a little redder now, his complexion becoming ruddier as the conversation went on. “This establishment has been operating since 1949 and we’ve held on to our customer base because…”
Charles was on a roll now.
“That’s another thing, Sir. Who are our customers? Some of the things we’re storing in that warehouse are lethal weapons. That’s not even a metaphor—they’re actual lethal weapons. There are experimental things in there that I’ve never heard of. Things that defy logic. Who is buying these things?”
The old man went to speak but Charles wasn’t having any of it. He was determined to have his say. People were getting injured on his watch, and it would only be a matter of time before somebody got killed. The accident this morning had been the final straw—it was only by sheer luck alone that the forklift truck driver had survived. The box, precariously balanced and badly weighted, had fallen from a top shelf and the balls stored within had come flying out, bouncing their way around the warehouse. It was only when they’d started to explode and everybody was ducking for cover that they’d realised the danger they were in.
“There are rumours flying around that we only have one customer. That we’ve only ever had one customer. What kind of madman is buying this dangerous crap we sell? Is it even legal?”
Charles pulled a piece of paper out from inside his pocket and began to read down the long list of handwritten items.
“Jet-powered unicycles. Artificial rocks. Do-it-yourself Tornado kits. Disintegrating pistols. Explosive tennis balls. Earthquake pills. Snow machines. Giant Suction cups. Jars of bumblebees. Man-sized rubber bands. Anvils. Anvils, I ask you. Who even uses anvils in this day and age?”
The old man sat there in silence. Charles stood up and walked towards the door, pointing an accusing finger before he left.
“Something has to change, Mr. Acme.”
* * *
Downstairs in the warehouse, unseen, the contents spilled out of an inadequately sealed container on a high shelf. A black mass silently dripped down the wall. It was only when Charles arrived back into the warehouse that he heard the train.
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David Court was born and resides in the Midlands, UK with his patient wife Tara and his three less patient cats. When not reading, drinking real ale, writing software for a living or practicing his poorly developed telekinetic skills, he can be found writing fiction and has had a number of short stories published in anthologies including Fear’s Accomplice, Terror at the Beach and Caped along with contributions to the Twisted Dark and Twisted Sci-fi series of graphic novels. He can often be found haunting his website at www.davidjcourt.co.uk