Harrison Boyle had his first interview in two months, and he was running late. He felt as though some invisible force was purposely attempting to thwart him at every turn—prevent his arrival. That’s how bad the morning had been.
He forgot to set his alarm, spilled coffee on his only pressed shirt, stepped in dog shit on his way out the door, got stuck behind a construction crew, went out of his way after fat-fingering the address into the GPS, and then had trouble finding parking. Harrison’s gray suit rippled behind him as he ran for the front door of the massive building, exposing his terribly wrinkled shirt. His appointment had begun six minutes ago. A security guard stopped him as he bolted through the glass door and rushed toward the elevators.
“Hold up. Can I help you, sir?”
“Interview. Late. Sixty-first floor.” Harrison huffed and puffed, catching his breath.
“Ok. Your name?”
“Ok. Did you say sixty-first floor?”
“There are only sixty floors in this building, sir.”
Harrison went blank. “What?”
“The building only has sixty floors. Who is your appointment with? Company name?”
“Umm…” Harrison tucked his resume folder under his arm and began scrambling through his pockets for the slip of paper. Found it tucked into his billfold. Sure enough, his note said sixty-first floor. Did he mean sixteenth? Befuddled, he read the other details to the anxious guard. “Colburn Fallender. Bygone Industries. My appointment…” Harrison glanced at his watch, a platinum Omega inherited from his father. “…started ten minutes ago.” He gave the security man a sheepish look.
“Ahhh… the mysterious Fallender… Can’t say as I’ve ever met or seen the man. He lives to work, from what I gather. Bygone is new here, not even in the directory yet.” The guard gestured toward a panel on the wall near the elevators, then ran his finger down his clipboard, flipped a page, flipped a page, flipped a page. “Hmmm… that’s strange… no floor listed, just the phone extension. One second, I’ll have to call.”
Harrison realized he was sweating, shifting from foot to foot impatiently. He feared he’d never recover from such a terrible first impression, and he desperately needed the job. His situation was dire, and Harrison was mere weeks away from losing everything; the immediate threat of bankruptcy was encroaching on any hopes for the future. He knew virtually nothing about the potential job, and had circumstances been different, he may have asked more questions. The security guard hung up the receiver, snapping Harrison’s attention back to the present.
“Someone will be down momentarily,” the guard said. He took a chair, leaving Harrison in the expansive lobby to grapple with his thoughts.
Expecting an elevator ding to signal his escort’s arrival, Harrison jumped when the sudden greeting came from behind him.
Harrison spun around to find an immaculately dressed man eyeing him expectantly. The man was tall and fit, sporting an Ivy League haircut and a short, dark beard. He wore a heather gray bespoke suit, shiny reptile-skinned shoes, and a Windsor-knotted tie the color of a midday sun. His piercing eyes appeared maroon, flickering with yellow bursts.
“Yes, hello, so sorry I’m late,” Harrison replied, proffering his hand.
“I’m Christian. Mr. Fallender is waiting. Shall we?”
Harrison nodded, fretting over his unacknowledged apology. The elevator dinged loudly, and he followed Christian inside, a strange metallic odor wafting off the broad-shouldered man, tingling Harrison’s nose. Noting that the rows of buttons did, in fact, end at sixty, Harrison began to inquire about the proper location of Bygone Industries, but his escort’s actions rendered his question moot. Two small strips of violet light appeared on either side of the elevator door, running up and down like a display on an old pinball machine. The moving light stopped, flaring when it reached Christian’s eye-level, and a small dark panel emerged, revealing a single glowing crimson triangle. Christian held his thumb on the triangle; there was a faint beep, then the hidden panel disappeared, and the elevator began its climb. The strip of violet light continued running on Harrison’s side of the elevator. Soon the doors opened on the unknown floor to reveal a glittering atrium of glassy marble and polished steel. Harrison exited behind Christian, now cradling an entirely new series of questions.
“Mr. Fallender will be in momentarily,” Christian said, opening the door to a massive office sporting a panoramic view of the city beyond crystal clear windows. “Sit anywhere you’d like.” He left in silence.
Awestruck, Harrison inhaled deeply, taking in the aroma of new leather, his eyes scanning the room, stopping abruptly on a painting hung behind a massive dark wooden desk. “Jesus…” he said under his breath, traversing the carpet for a closer look. Harrison knew it had to be a print, but God, it looked real. Bosch’s “Hell” was currently on display at the Palazzo Ducale in Venice—his late wife was an art history professor, and considering her soliloquies about her favorite artists would not bolster Harrison’s mood. He shuddered at the sight of the winged demon in the bottom corner and began focusing on becoming more interview-ready.
“It’s something, isn’t it?” The baritone voice boomed from above and behind him; Harrison jumped, got another start when he saw the looming seven-foot figure.
“You startled me! I didn’t hear you come in.”
“Cloak-and-dagger, Mr. Boyle, cloak-and-dagger… I am Colburn Fallender. Please have a seat, and let’s get down to business.” He shook Harrison’s hand, glided around the desk, and took a seat. His face was all sharp angles, framed by shiny jet-black hair that fell to his shoulders. His shirt looked like black velvet and hung open at the throat. Harrison perceived dark lines creeping up the man’s collar bones, tattoos perhaps.
“Yes, I’m eager to find out what you do here at Bygone Industries and where your interest lies with me. I’m afraid I didn’t receive much information on the phone.” Harrison took a seat, trying not to be intimidated by the massive man backdropped by grim artwork.
“Simply put, Bygone deals in the fate of our future. Actuarial science is your expertise, correct?” Mr. Fallender said, his dark eyes scanning a paper on his desktop.
“Yes, that’s right. My wife fell ill, and I was forced to resign from my last position, I’m afraid.”
“Invasive Lobular Carcinoma. Very difficult if spread into the lymph nodes.”
Harrison swallowed. How did he know that? They didn’t put it in the obituary; only close family knew details. “Yes,” he said.
Mr. Fallender leaned back, tucked his dark hair behind his ears with long pale fingers. “We have a unique opportunity for you, Mr. Boyle…”
“Call me Harrison, please…”
“Ok, Harrison. We would like to utilize your recent experience, as well as your time developing training regimens for military and law enforcement, for something entirely new, specialized, of great importance to the world.”
Again Harrison gulped, his mind desperate to understand how they’d come to know this information. “Excuse me, sir, I’m sorry, but I was under the impression my time with the Department of Homeland Security was classified.”
Colburn Fallender’s pale face split into a wide smile. “Yes. It is. You’ll find Bygone Industries is quite well connected; our new project has captivated many of the highest government officials’ attention. Here’s the bottom line. We would like to hire you immediately to begin laying the groundwork for a new program. We have a massive cache of files profiling specific individuals who seem to have a proclivity towards dark, potentially dangerous behaviors. We wish you to become the architect of scenarios to exploit these individuals’ weaknesses and triggers and catapult them into action.”
“Do you mean to cause them to make mistakes? Commit crimes? Violence? I’m sorry, maybe I’m not following…”
“Sometimes, Harrison, what a forest needs the most, is a controlled burn, a cleansing conflagration… Imagine a world where all of those dreary individuals destined to wrack the world with their improprieties are squeezed, forced to make their blunders in a controlled environment, unable to hurt those around them.”
To Harrison, the idea smelled of a Biblical cleansing from a vengeful Old Testament God. Perhaps he misunderstood. “Sir, the programs I developed for the DOHS were used in conjunction with detailed psychological profiling, designed to reveal the specialists’ weaknesses to create a deep, personal understanding of the dangers they could bring to themselves and their team. The idea was that if they saw the potential risks first hand, they would be better prepared to deal with them, learn, grow, overcome…”
“Yes, I am aware. Our purposes are similar, yet our approach relies on awakening the human mind’s more atavistic areas. I’m afraid I’m only privy to tell you so much without an acceptance of the position. I can assure you that full illumination of our program’s aims will bring understanding, acceptance, and, I believe, a fervent resurgence in your work-place passions. Something perhaps you lost during your time dealing with the shady antics of insurance companies…”
Harrison shifted in his seat, trying to take it all in. His gaze flitted from the raven-haired man to Hieronymus Bosch’s grave depiction of hell and back again. He was filled with intrigue but unsure he had enough information to make a decision.
Mr. Fallender leaned forward, his dark eyes glinting. “Oh,” he said, chuckling, “I suppose I should also offer a few other tidbits of crucial information. The position’s starting pay is seven-fifty, plus benefits, along with a signing bonus of fifty-large, available for you to take home today, should you decide to take the plunge…”
Harrison flew from his deep contemplative abyss, coughing after sharply inhaling some saliva. “Seven-hundred-and-fifty… thousand? A year?”
“Yes, Harrison, that is correct. More, ahh, perks, shall we say, come after the first year. Shall I call in Christian to finalize your transition while I gather your signing bonus?”
“Ok! Yes! Let’s do this! I can’t thank you enough!” The flurry of statements was out of his mouth before he knew what he was doing. Harrison was a fish captivated by the sparkle and shine of the lure, blind to the barbed hook about to secure him to his decision.
“Excellent,” Mr. Fallender said, releasing Harrison’s hand and dipping into a low desk drawer. Harrison’s jaw dropped as his new employer began placing stacks of crisp bills onto the polished wood desktop.
This time, Harrison Boyle heard Christian enter behind him, heels clopping on the marble floors. Harrison turned to greet the dark-bearded man, surprised to see a figure following so closely behind him that he was virtually invisible.
“Ahh… Mr. Boyle, so glad you have decided to join our little family…” Christian beamed as he took Harrison’s hand with both of his own.
“Yes, thank you, thank you. I’m a bit shocked at all of this, to be honest,” Harrison said.
“Oh, there will be many more surprises, I’m sure,” Christian said. “Speaking of, let us complete our acquisition of your talents with one final matter. An employee of your stature is in dire need of an entirely new wardrobe.” He flashed a disdainful glance at Harrison’s horribly wrinkled shirt.
Harrison looked down, blushing, opened his mouth to reply, but when he looked up, Christian had stepped aside and revealed the figure standing in his shadow. “Whaa?” the utterance fell from Harrison’s lips like a grunting exhalation after having the wind knocked out of him. Harrison Boyle looked at himself—a mirror image if not for the perfectly tailored blue pinstripe suit exquisitely hanging off his doppelgänger. His doppelgänger smiled.
“Welcome to Bygone Industries,” Christian said. In a lightning-fast motion, Christian ran his hand down Harrison’s doppelgänger from head to crotch, a black seam splitting the form apart and expanding wider—a dark crevasse spreading apart like wings of a human-sized vampire bat.
Harrison gasped and stumbled backward into the desk, then an irresistible magnetism drew him forward into the dark void of his doppelgänger’s split open form.
Instantly, the seam sealed together with a flash of red light, sending rippling waves over clothes and skin. Harrison’s twin’s irises became glowing yellow circles, cycling like a throbber on a computer screen, signaling an in-process action. When the spinning ceased, the doppelgänger blinked once, reopening with Harrison Boyle’s dark green eyes, alive and alert.
Harrison Boyle 2.0 looked from Christian to Mr. Fallender, smiled affably, and uttered a single, short statement.
“Eager to get to work.”