Loose Ends
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Mr. Eric Brashin checked his silver pocket watch, holding it only by the chain. The boy was late. Of course. The meeting he had scheduled was already bound to prove a waste of time. Lateness always reflected badly on a prospective recruit. When the prospect, as he was wont to think of them, can't be trusted to handle even the simplest of appointments properly, why on Earth should he trust them with matters of infinitely greater importance? Misters Marshall, Carter, and perhaps even Dark, did not look kindly on a lack of professionalism. More personally, he himself had only contempt for the kind of idiots who came to him, hat in hand, begging for a chance, and then didn't even bother to show up for the introductory meeting.

Mr. Brashin stood stiffly in one of the greeting rooms the club used to meet with those not aware of the more exotic aspects of the establishment. Barely a minute had passed before he was drawing his watch out by its chain again. He examined the face, taking note of the time while being careful to not actually touch the watch itself. Irritated, he asked himself aloud, “Eight minutes late already, where has the punctuality of this new generation gone?"

Another five minutes passed unremarkably, with his scheduled meeting still going unmet. Despite himself, Mr. Brashin began to feel a bit annoyed. The young rich these days all felt themselves entitled to the world waiting on them, hand and foot. Well, he doubted this particular entitled fop would be finding himself favorably received by Mr. Marshall. Five minutes late could be explained. Ten minutes would get you a polite kick out the door. More than that, and you would likely end up as what Mr. Marshall referred to as a "loose end."

Gripped by a sudden suspicion, Mr. Brashin reaching into his coat pocket and drew out his pocket watch, this time holding it by the actual timepiece, not the chain. The hands spun crazily for a handful of moments, before resting on twelve hours, twelve minutes, and one second. He knew what it meant, it had been explained to him very concisely, all those years ago. He could still hear the oily voice of his predecessor, "Twelve means zero, hours mean years, minutes mean months, and seconds mean days." Whatever tiny hint of color there was in his face drained out of it. Only now did he hear the measured footsteps leading towards the room. It was of no use to try to run, trying to hide would have been laughable, and fighting back would only embarrass him.

Unexpectedly, Mr. Brashin felt his eyes sting and his vision blurred for a moment with tears. He pushed them back sternly. If he had to go, he would not go crying. The click of shoe on hardwood stopped just outside the stately meeting room door, and the handle turned slowly. The door opened, and there was Mr. Marshall, smiling at him sadly. A rather large man stood just behind and to the right of him, but the brute was unimportant, in the larger scheme of things. Eric Brashin only had eyes for his employer.

His voice was barely controlled, almost cracking as he asked, “If I may ask, Mr. Marshall, why?”

Mr. Marshall’s sad smile didn’t change for an instant. He looked the man, his faithful employee of nearly twenty years, dead in the eye. “Loose ends, Mr. Brashin. Always loose ends. Your last hire was more trouble than they were worth, being a spy and all. We simply can't allow you to continue, after a horrendous mistake like that. Our clients value privacy above all else, and letting in even a single mole jeopardizes every last one of them. I had hoped you would be eligible for a nice, peaceful, retirement, but you know far too much.”

He sighed sadly. “I understand, sir.” And he did understand. Working for Marshall, Carter, and Dark, one knew that you would likely never make retirement. He had known all too well how likely it was that precisely this thing would happen, but he had tried to never pay the idea much mind. He gently removed the watch from his pocket and held it out. “I suppose you’ll be wanting this back then. For my-” He choked a little on the word, "Replacement."

Still with that sad smile plastered on his face, Mr. Marshall answered while taking the silvery timepiece, “I’m sorry, Eric.”

The soft thump of a silenced gunshot sounded over Mr. Marshall’s shoulder, and Eric Brashin stumbled backwards and fell to the rich hardwood, blood staining his crisp grey suit. Darkness swam across his vision, and the last thing he heard was Mr. Marshall say softly, “Loyalty, Henderson. That is what loyalty looks like.”

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