North moved to the other seat so he was facing the exit. He drummed his fingers on the table for only a few seconds before the doorknob rattled again.
A man wearing a dark pin-striped suit stepped in and locked the door behind him. His jacket’s gold buttons and cufflinks twinkled in the fluorescent light. He was carrying an unmarked manila folder. His face was tanned an unnatural orange-bronze that accented his blue eyes and manicured eyebrows. His gelled hair reminded North of the models from Carol’s fashion magazines.
The newcomer tested the doorknob to make sure it was locked. Then he finally turned and looked North in the eyes.
“Hello, Mister North,” he said. “I’m Redfire Account Executive Clarence Addison.”
North waited for him to say ‘Nice to meet you,’ but he didn’t.
“Okay,” North said.
Addison extended his hand over the table. North shook it, making Addison struggle a few seconds before releasing him.
“So, what’s this all about?” North asked. Addison unbuttoned his jacket and sat down. He pressed his fingertips together and leaned back in the chair, resting his right foot on his left knee. His shoes glistened in the harsh light.
“You’ll know what you need to when you need to.”
“All right,” North said.
“Your file indicates you’ve gone through this before.”
“Lots of times.”
“Some of the things I’m about to say you’ve undoubtedly heard, but I will be going over everything for the purpose of our records. Please note we are being recorded.” He nodded to the camera in the corner of the ceiling.
“Got to keep the lawyers happy,” North said.
Addison held up his hand. “This will go faster without interruptions.”
“I was just-”
“Time is critical. Now, I need you to confirm you’re aware this entire conversation is being recorded.”
North leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. “I am.”
“And are you aware this recorded conversation will be used in legal proceedings against you should you deviate from the contractual obligations of your employment?”
“And do you acknowledge that your employment contract with Redfire Advanced Security Solutions, Special Projects Division, stipulates that you will on occasion be promptly dispatched on highly secretive assignments that exploit your special talents?” Addison took a deep breath after he finished.
“I do,” North said.
“You’re an old pro.”
“I’ve been with Redfire for a while.”
Addison held up his hand. “Small talk is not necessary.”
“Mister North, may I continue?”
North stared at him.
“Or do you want to keep wasting company time?”
Addison pointed toward the camera as a reminder. “May I go on?” he said to North. “Is that okay with you?”
North’s eyes narrowed.
Addison continued. “This is your verbal notification that Redfire Advanced Security Solutions wishes to activate the portion of your employment contract relevant to clandestine activities. Pursuant to that end, only a select few Redfire employees, their identities known only to myself, are aware of this as yet unspecified task. For the purposes of extreme privacy for our customers, our executive team, excluding myself, but up to and including our chief executive officer, has not been and will not be notified of this task until it is complete or confirmed aborted or failed. Have you understood everything I’ve said so far?”
Addison slipped a stapled collection of paper from the folder and spun it around to face North. He pushed a gold-trimmed pen across the table.
“Careful with that pen,” he said. “It’s worth a lot.”
North leafed through the stack, not bothering to read the tiny single-spaced text. He flipped through the pages, signing next to the small red stickers.
“Wait a second,” North said, closing the packet. “You’re supposed to be explaining what I’m signing.”
“Waivers,” Addison said.
“And exactly what am I waiving?”
“As a veteran you should know.”
“I know you have to say it out loud if I ask,” North said, smiling slightly. “It’s part of my contract.”
“I’m trying to save time.”
North shrugged. “Remember we’re being recorded.”
Addison pressed his lips together tightly and exhaled through his nose.
“Fine,” he said. “You are waiving your right to hold Redfire and its representatives or stockholders or board of directors responsible for any damages or injuries, up to and including death, that you may sustain during your assignment. You also agree not to disclose any details of the assignment to any person or media entity. This includes immediate family, spouses and/or children. The contract you are signing is primarily concerning terms you’ve already agreed to as conditions of your employment. We’re simply getting another signature. To be sure.”
North resumed flipping through the pages. “Next you’re supposed to tell me what happens if I don’t sign. Come on now.” He set the pack of papers down again and smirked.
Addison frowned. He spoke fast and low, like a disclaimer at the end of a used car lot’s radio ad. “If you choose not to sign, your employment with Redfire will be terminated immediately and you will be sued for breach of contract. Redfire will seek all your back wages plus additional damages caused by your deceptive business practices.”
“Wow. You’re good. Some guys use a script.”
“Aren’t you going to inform me of my next of kin’s rights?”
“No,” Addison said abruptly. “That’s no longer part of the process. Now sign.”
North signed the last page and slid the packet across the table. Addison slipped the stack into the manila folder.
“Congratulations, Mister North,” he said. “You’ve been activated.”
“Am I still allowed one call?”
“Pen,” Addison said, his hand out, palm up, across the table.
“What pen?” North raised both hands. They were empty.
“Pen.” Addison said more firmly.
North grinned. He flicked his wrist and suddenly he was holding the pen. Using both hands, he placed it in Addison’s palm with exaggerated care.
“Technically,” Addison said, “because of the need for secrecy and efficiency, the phone call is at the account executive’s discretion. But I will allow it.”
He pulled a mobile phone out of his pocket.
“Only Redfire phones work up here against the signal blocking. Push the green button. You will have five minutes from the moment the first call connects until the phone is automatically deactivated.”
“Are you sure you want me to do this?” North said. “That’s five whole minutes of company time gone forever.”
“Remember,” Addison said, “no discussions of your assignment.”
North pushed the green button and held the phone to his ear. He looked up at Addison.
“Some privacy, please? Even people who are arrested get one call.”
Addison stood and unlocked the door.
“People who are arrested have more freedom. And they don’t get paid. Consider yourself lucky I’m letting you have this much.”
“Five whole minutes,” North said. “Oh, thank God.”
Addison closed and locked the door behind him.