The rest of the day was spent trying to wrap his head around exactly what had happened that morning. Everything from Sara Durant’s inconceivable comeback to Sherrie Webster and her very vague job offer made absolutely no sense to him. It was easy to see that this company without a physical location was behind helping Sara get her job back but he still didn’t know how or why.
The most puzzling thing wasn’t the most frustrating. When he was finally back to his apartment he popped open the fridge and grabbed a Rolling Rock. As he did so, he saw something small and flat sitting on the top shelf of his refrigerator.
Picking it up, he almost started yelling. This wasn’t only impossible, but it was also ridiculously illegal and wouldn’t help their case at all when his lawyer got a hold of them.
Sitting on the top shelf of the fridge was the business card for Perdition Investments.
Shane sat down and stared at the card, completely forgetting about his beer. After about ten minutes of staring at the card, he pulled his cellphone out of his pocket and started searching Google for local lawyers. He didn’t get far. About halfway down the search options, Shane stared off into space. It was only about a minute of staring into space when he decided to set the phone down.
While Sherrie had obviously broken into his house, how she got his address wasn’t hard to understand. Whatever application she had opened on her smartphone had given her the personal information of Shane without even knowing his name. It wasn’t hard to realize that it might have included his address. Since he had gone directly home, she must have forwarded the information to someone else as to leave the card for when he arrived.
It wasn’t only clandestine, it was illegal and a violation of his personal space and rights. If it wasn’t stalking, it was borderline. With all of that in mind, Shane couldn’t help but wonder how he could get access to that application. It would be an invaluable tool in getting him deeper information on each of his clients and help him drill deeper into accounts.
That was exactly how Sherrie Webster was using the app. Shane wasn’t an idiot, it was obvious what she had done. When Shane had explained that he wanted to make a deal, Sherrie had opened the application to see what value she could get out of him. When she saw that he had a skillset that she could use, it was time to offer him a job.
It hadn’t worked, but that was only because Shane wasn’t there to talk about a new job, he was asking for a specific job. Her sales expertise wasn’t that great, but Shane had seen that in Sales Managers before.
What was the quote? Those who can’t do, teach. That wasn’t always the case with Sales Managers, but it was obviously something that happened from time to time. That wasn’t to say that Sherrie didn’t have sales experience, but she slipped up and offered Shane the big deal before she was even aware of what he wanted.
He wanted the position that he had been working for. The position that he had earned.
Then again, maybe he was driving toward his goal with blinders on. Just because he had been working toward the Global Account Manager position didn’t necessarily mean that it was the best thing for him. Shane had said no because he wasn’t getting what he wanted, but maybe he wasn’t aware of what he wanted.
Sherrie Webster had offered him a position to do what he was already doing for a lot more money. Wasn’t that the point of hiring the lawyers? Also, if he was inside the organization that was responsible for hitting the reset button on his career, than wouldn’t he be safer from further intrusion if he was part of that organization?
At the very least, maybe he could see the road hazards before he crashed into them.
Shane rubbed his face as the weight of the situation pressed down on him. The best thing that he could do would be to wait until tomorrow morning and see what Steve was going to offer him. It was an easy thing to guess what he would offer. Most likely, Steve would offer him the pay and commission structure that Sara Durant has, but while keeping Shane in his previous role as an Account Manager.
That would be because Steve, CIT, and even Perdition Investments didn’t know him as well as they thought they did. They all thought that if they threw enough money at Shane Lowe that he would fall in line and do what he was told. If they knew anything about Shane, than they wouldn’t have even offered money. They would have offered him a better position. Shane wasn’t doing this job for the money, he was doing it for the sales. He lived for the thrill of the close. He thrived off of convincing people to do things they wouldn’t normally do that ended in the mutual benefit for both of parties.
It was the sale that drove Shane.
The sale and the close. Sales at his current level had become too easy. That was why he strived for more in the form of Sara’s job. She handled accounts that had more players, larger concerns, and bigger threats. Those sales would be harder to close, but would be the perfect place for Shane to get better at what he loved.
Shane put his head down on the table and pushed the beer bottle and phone away. It wasn’t even noon yet, so the beer was a little much, even for him.
The phone was another matter. The more he thought on it, the more he talked himself out of calling the lawyers. Sara was fighting to keep her life together. Shane’s problem was with CIT’s willingness to fold under her demands and therefore pull the rug out from under him. By the time the lawyers had finally gotten Shane something that might be considered a victory it would have cost him more, both financially and emotionally, than he was really willing to spend.
Whatever deal Sara had made with CIT had made Shane collateral damage. CIT would try to clean it up with money, but even that seemed hollow.
If he decided to stay with CIT, it would be constantly shadowed by Sara still being there. He would never be able to step into that office again without people either seeing him as the guy that got screwed over by Sara Durant, or as the guy who stayed with a company that wasn’t willing to reward him for his efforts. He would be a warning painted on the walls of everyone’s cubicles.
No. If he wanted to hurt CIT and help Shane Lowe, Shane was going to need to find another position. Leaving CIT would hurt them financially, destroying their forecast, but they would recover. Everyone would know they messed up, though, and it might serve to further protect future employees.
It was still a big move to make. The only position directly available for him to step into was a vague thing offered by an even more vague company.
Shane sat up and picked up the card. Staring at it again, he thought about how he might spin this offer toward his advantage.
He still had the majority of the work day available to him. Shane might be able to get a glimpse at what Perdition Investments was about.
He sighed. They weren’t the bad guy, and neither was Sara. CIT was for not fighting for him.
Shane dialed the number on the card.
“Mr. Lowe,” Sherrie Webster had no reason to know it was him, but Shane found himself not surprised that she did. “Why might I be getting a phone call from you?”
Shane sighed, “Does that job offer still stand?”
While he couldn’t see her, Shane felt he could feel her grinning from over the phone. “Of course, we can meet in person and I can provide you with a proper offer letter. When would you be available?”
“Slow down,” he said. “First, I would like to schedule a ride along so that I can see what it is that you do at Perdition Investments. I still don’t fully understand what this job offer is.”
Perdition Investment’s Sales Manager was quiet for a while before replying. “That shouldn’t be difficult to put together. When would work for you?”
Shane liked that he had caught her seemingly off guard. “I was actually hoping we could meet sometime today.”
Sherrie paused again, but this time it seemed less surprised and more logistical. Or so Shane assumed. If Perdition Investments was anything like every other sales company that Shane was familiar with, the Sales Manager had to see who was out and about as well as who might have basic calls that would be good for a visiting rep to ride along with.
“That shouldn’t be a problem. One of my sales team is currently in my office,” Shane was surprised to hear that Sherrie had a physical office location. “His name is Al Keen and he can be by to pick you up within the next half an hour. How does that sound?”
Shane smiled, “Great. I’m guessing that you don’t need the address.”
“Not at all,” Sherrie answered without missing a beat.
Shane hung up the phone and realized that he didn’t need the full half hour to get ready. He was still in his suit for work and only needed to grab his binder from his car.
Once he had collected his binder, he saw no point in going back up to his apartment and instead just stayed on the curb outside. He killed the time by trying to search the internet for anything that might help him learn more about Perdition Investments.
Aside from the one entry that showed the reverse address lookup, Shane found nothing about the company except for a five-star rating on the Better Business Bureau website.
Around the half hour mark, a car pulled into his apartment lot. There was nothing remarkable about the car. It was a silver Lincoln. Shane didn’t know cars, but he knew enough to know that this wasn’t a cheap car.
The Lincoln pulled right up to the curb at the front of the apartment building and the driver put it into park. Stepping from the driver’s seat an older gentleman came around and met Shane.
Albert Keen was taller than most of the people Shane knew, standing a few inches above six feet. He wore large glasses and was dressed in a full suit. His hair, thick but silver, implied that this tall guy was nearing retirement age. When he opened his mouth, the first thing Shane realized about Al was that he came across as quiet and shy.
He reminded Shane of an older Clark Kent as played by Christopher Reeves. Uncomfortable in his own skin, very pleasant to meet, and entirely too big for his quiet demeanor.
Al stuck out his hand to Shane, “Shane Lowe? Are you Shane Lowe?” He said it twice, obviously unsure if just questioning Shane’s name would be interpreted correctly.
Shane grasped the man’s hand and shook it hard. Much like Clark Kent, Al’s grip was stronger than his demeanor implied.
“That’s me,” Shane answered.
“Albert Keen, everyone calls me Al,” he pulled back his hand and gestured toward the car. “I guess that I am taking you on a couple of appointments?”
“Yes,” Shane decided to see if he could push Al. “You’ve been assigned to convince me to join Perdition Investments.”
To Shane’s surprise, his words didn’t even phase Al. “Then let’s get started.”
Shane climbed into the car and Al quickly ran around and joined him before pulling out of the lot.
“So,” Shane ventured, “tell me about yourself, Albert.” He consciously chose to use Al’s entire first name. He wanted to show Al that Shane Lowe wasn’t everyone.
“There isn’t much to tell,” Al answered. “I’ve been with Perdition Investments for almost nineteen years. It hasn’t changed much. People have come and gone, but the company has remained the same.”
Shane didn’t miss that Albert had avoided the actual question and jumped directly into talking about Perdition Investments under the guise of his relationship with the company.
If Albert wanted to talk about Perdition Investments, then Shane wouldn’t stop him, but he also wouldn’t forget that Albert didn’t like talking about himself. That could be useful information later.
“What do you sell at Perdition Investments?” Shane hoped that Albert would be a little more accommodating than his manager had been.
“We don’t.” Albert looked at Shane while he drove, his eyes were seeking deeper understanding. “Do you not know what we do?”
Shane rolled his eyes. “Well, Albert, that’s why I asked.” As means of an explanation, he added, “Sherrie gave me the elevator pitch, but you’re probably aware of how vague that is.”
Albert nodded and turned his eyes back to the road. “Well,” he said slowly, “I would love to tell you, but you would think I was joking.”
“Try me,” Shane was beginning to regret not calling a lawyer.
Albert visibly struggled with Shane’s response. Finally, he said, “Do you believe in God?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Then my answer would have to be that I am agnostic,” Shane answered reluctantly. “I never really think about religion.” It wasn’t some politically correct line he was feeding Albert, as Shane still wasn’t certain that he even wanted the job. He was being honest in that he never really thought about God or Heaven or whatever. People were too hung up on what other people believed, so Shane made it his goal to understand and speak to what other people believed, but his beliefs had nothing to do with beings that controlled the Universe. His beliefs focused on how the world already worked, and what steps would he need to follow to achieve the goals that he put in front of himself.
“So,” Shane said into Albert’s ensuing silence, “Perdition Investments sells to Churches?”
That seemed odd to Shane as he said it. When he said the name Perdition Investments in a conversation about belief, he suddenly found himself making a correlation that others would have seen as obvious. “Wait, isn’t Perdition another name for Hell?”
Albert nodded. “That’s a good start, but you should stop guessing and just let me show you. You still won’t believe me until you see it.”
As he said those words, he slid the Lincoln into park at a small house in a cul de sac.
“So, this isn’t a business to business sales job?”
Albert grabbed his sales binder and put his pen in it. Shaking his head, he replied, “It’s not exactly a sales job, it’s a job that sales skills are necessary. And no, it’s not business to business, but it’s also not consumer specific.” He shrugged and climbed out of the car while Shane followed suit. “We go where the business is.” He nodded toward the small townhouse, “Today the business is in Francine Stein’s home.”
Shane stayed a step behind Albert as he walked the short distance up Francine’s path to her porch. Somehow, Albert managed to translate his quiet demeanor to his knocking. He knocked three times, hesitating between each one as if he were struggling to decide if he should knock again.
When the door finally opened, Shane remained calm while Albert seemed startled by it. He obviously wasn’t, but he still gave a small hop and hurriedly thrust his hand out to the equally jumpy old lady on the other side of the threshold.
Francine Stein was looked to be nearing her eighties. She stood at a little over five feet tall and her hair was in a short cut that followed her hairline, leaving her ears exposed. Her hair, which Shane imagined was normally between silver and white, was dyed an unnaturally dark shade of black.
When it was Shane’s turn to shake her hand, he could feel the bones in her hand and her skin felt paper thin. In contrast to how her skin and bones felt, her grip was as solid as any middle-aged male that Shane had ever shaken hands with.
“Francine Stein?” Albert asked in his shy way.
Francine nodded. “That’s me.”
“We’re with Perdition Investments. We were hoping to talk to you about,” he paused, “Bruce.”
“Perdition Investments?” Francine seemed confused. “What’s that?”
“Well,” Albert explained, “Perdition Investments helps people, such as yourself, uh,” his nervous demeanor was worse in front of prospective clients, “solve problems.”
Francine shook her head. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have the money for whatever it is that you’re offering.”
Albert nodded, “We understand that, Ms. Stein, and that’s why we’re here. We help people who don’t have the means to help themselves. People who, uh…um…” he paused again, “are in need but have no means.”
Shane could see that Francine didn’t understand what was going on, and neither did Shane for that matter, but Shane wasn’t about to shut the door on them.
“Francine,” he said, “my name is Shane Lowe and we’re only here to help.” He shrugged. People loved shrugs. It humanized a salesperson to the customer. People don’t imagine someone shrugging who is trying to sell them something and the level of trust climbs just a little more. “Sometimes helping is just a matter of hearing your story. Would you mind if telling us what’s going on with Bruce?”
Francine’s mask fell away the moment Shane shrugged. Her face was suddenly filled with exhaustion and her shoulders sagged. She stepped back from the doorway and waved them in.
“Have a seat. Do you want anything to drink?”
They both declined and took a seat on her couch in the nearby living room. The room looked like a nuke had gone off. Newspapers, boxes, and all sorts of junk littered every surface. This wasn’t the house of a hoarder or a messy person.
This was the home of a person who was only barely keeping things together.
As if they had said yes to being brought refreshments, Francine brought in a tray with a pitcher of lemonade and three empty glasses. They had orange and red triangles on them in a fashion that made them look at least thirty years old.
She poured each of them a glass. The pitcher shook as she poured it, but she didn’t spill.
“Bruce was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer three years ago,” her voice wasn’t sad, but both men could hear the weariness in her voice. “I don’t know what you know about pancreatic cancer, but he will be dead before the week is over.” Francine sipped her lemonade and continued, “His life insurance will cover everything and give me some sort of income after. So, while I appreciate that you think you have something to offer me, you don’t.”
“I understand how you’re feeling, but I have access to resources that most people aren’t aware of.” Albert paused to open his binder and scribble some notes. Shane could make out what they were if he tilted his head, but he didn’t want to draw attention to whatever notes Albert might be writing. “What if I told you that, uh,” he stopped to find the words, or maybe the courage for the words, “we can cure Bruce and give you more time with him?”
Francine’s tired face turned cold. “Whatever you’re selling, I don’t want it. Get out.” She stood and walked to the door opening it.
Shane was only growing more confused. How had Albert expected this conversation to go?
“Wait,” Albert said as he stood and pulled out his phone. “Just a second,” he opened his phone. He tapped something and then said, “Cure Bruce.”
“I said get out.”
Albert looked nervous but didn’t move. Shane stood and started to move toward the door when a thud came from the back of the house.
Francine’s eyes went wide and she ran past Albert and Shane and into the back of the house. Shane looked up at the taller man and then toward where Francine had ran to.
“What’s going on?” Shane whispered at Albert.
Before Albert could answer, Francine walked back into the living room with an older gentleman behind her. She couldn’t take her eyes off of him as she wept and said, “How? How is this possible?”
Bruce, though pale and very thin, was smiling and seemed full of energy. He was wearing a faded set of blue pajamas. “What’s going on? I feel great.”
Albert took a step toward Francine and touched her shoulder. She jumped and tore her eyes away from her recently resurrected husband.
“Can we have a minute alone?”
She took a moment to understand what Albert was asking her and then nodded. Turning back to her husband, she said, “Bruce, would you mind going back to the bedroom.” Bruce raised his eyebrow at her and looked from Albert to Shane. “I’ll be right in, I’m just going to see these gentlemen out.”
When Bruce left, she spun on Albert.
“What is this? How did you do this?”
“Uh,” Albert started, “this is what we do at Perdition Investments.” He nodded toward where Bruce disappeared. “Unfortunately, Bruce’s new condition is only temporary.”
Shane was the first to react, “What?”
“Perdition Investments can do almost anything, but the unfortunate truth is that we can’t do anything for free.” Albert had crossed his arms and his binder over his chest as he spoke. “For his condition to be permanent, we’ll need you to sign our standard contract.”
Francine’s face returned to the look of distrust, but this time she was obviously weighing the options of having her husband back. The other shoe had dropped, and instead of being prepared to turn it down in an instant, she was torn.
Shane wasn’t so surprised by Bruce’s sudden turn around that he didn’t recognize what was going on. Albert might be timid and not a solid speaker, but he was good at his job.
Al had her right where he wanted her.
“How much?” Francine asked.
Albert unfolded his arms and shifted his feet. “Perdition Investments doesn’t work in conventional monetary units, opting to instead work in contracts for spiritual compensation.”
“Spiritual what?” Francine asked in almost a whisper.
“Souls,” Albert answered, this time without a hesitation. “Perdition Investments will give you anything you want in exchange for your soul.”
Francine laughed. “Is this a joke?”
Shane was dumbfounded but found his mind filled with the same question as he stared up at Albert.
“Uh, no. We recognize that you might not believe in your immortal soul,” Albert was obviously reading the company line, but his timid style made it sound original, “but the value of a contract is based on the value of what we believe in.”
Francine hugged herself. “I believe in my soul, I just…” she seemed flustered and confused, and Shane couldn’t blame her. “I don’t know what to believe.”
Albert nodded, “Belief is a confusing thing. Instead, we should look at the known variables.” He paused for only a second, seemingly finding his stride. “Would you do anything to have your husband back?”
Francine hesitated, obviously knowing where the line of questioning was going. Finally, she answered, “Of course I would.”
“That’s what marriage is, isn’t it?” Albert continued. Shane was mildly surprised, assuming that after Francine has said she would do anything to cure her husband that Al would have moved in with the close, but instead, he took it further. “The promise that you would sacrifice anything for each other. That promise is the thing that binds your souls together. True soulmates would save each other from…well…anywhere, err, I mean thing.”
Suddenly, Shane understood. Shane wasn’t certain what was going on, and he was fairly sure that all of this was fake, but either way, he thought he understood what narrative Albert was using. Albert was painting a story for her. Francine had admitted that she believed in the ‘soul’, so she would obviously be hesitant to give it up and potentially end up somewhere that Bruce would not for the rest of eternity.
His narrative had a hidden promise in it, though. Albert was saying that her husband’s love could save her soul, but he said it without ever saying it.
For all of his nervous demeanor, Albert was proving himself to be a damned good salesman.
Francine stared at Albert for a moment before her gaze shifted to Shane. After trying to get a read off of his face and failing, she returned her look to Albert.
“Can I have a minute to discuss it with Bruce?”
“Well,” Albert took in a breath, “part of the contract is that no one outside of the contract is allowed to know about the contract.”
“Bruce would be part of the contract,” Francine argued, “it’s about him.”
Albert shook his head, “It actually isn’t. We’re asking you to trade us your soul in exchange for something that you want. You get to label that ‘want’, but it has nothing to do with him. It’s your free will and your choice.” Albert continued, as if expecting Francine to continue bargaining with him on the subject. “It states very clearly in the contract that any sharing of the knowledge or details of the contract with anyone who isn’t either with Perdition Investments or is, in fact, yourself would void the contract, negating all effects.”
“That’s incredibly harsh, don’t you think?” Francine was annoyed. She was being told that she could have her husband back and in good health, but whenever anyone asked her how such a miraculous thing had occurred, she wouldn’t be able to answer the truth. “What am I supposed to say to him when he asks how?”
“That’s the easiest part,” Albert answered. “Do you know how I healed your husband?”
Francine could have mentioned Albert talking into his phone, or she could have mentioned the aformentioned contract, but instead, she recognized that Albert was giving her the broom with which to push all of today under the rug.
The older woman shook her head, “I have no idea how you did it.”
Albert smiled. “See? It’s easy. Get used to those words.” He clarified by stating it plainly. “Just say, “I have no idea. It’s a miracle,’ anytime someone asks.” He nodded. “Do that and you can have your husband back and healthy for the rest of his days.”
Albert then did something that Shane hadn’t expected. The deal was essentially closed, they just required a signed contract from Francine. Instead of getting that signed contract, Albert directed her back toward her rejuvinated husband.
“Why don’t you go visit with your husband for a few minutes while I explain to my friend how I’ll draw up the contract.”
Francine said nothing. She turned away and shuffled toward the back of the house.
Shane was finally free from whatever pretense they had been operating under.
“What the hell was that about?” Shane waved a hand toward where Francine had disappeared. He was whispering, but only barely. “Is the husband in on this with you?”
“What? No,” Albert laughed. “Nobody’s ‘in on it’ with me. This is what we do.”
“You trade people for their souls?” Shane wasn’t sure what he believed in, but he certainly wasn’t going to buy whatever Albert was trying to sell him. “You find people who are down on their luck and trade them their souls for whatever they want? Bullshit.”
Albert frowned at Shane’s profanity. “How else do you explain what just happened here?”
“I already told you, the husband is in on it. Obviously, he reached out to you to help him get out of…something. He paid you, and you staged this elaborate mystical intervention to help his wife buy whatever part in it you might have had.”
Albert shook his head. “Souls have intrinsic wish value. Some have more than others, but they all have some value. The idea is to get people to agree to give up their souls for far less than their wish value is worth.”
“Why?” Shane demanded.
“Gross profit,” Albert shot back. “We don’t get paid in the conventional sense. We get a percentage of the wish power deposited into our accounts. That wish energy can be used for anything. If you need money, food, cars, or the ability to fly, then you can use the wish power to get it.”
Shane’s mind was reeling. He still didn’t believe Albert, but he was beginning to think Albert was insane. “Prove it.”
“What?” Albert was confused.
“Prove it,” Shane repeated. “I’m assuming your phone is how you access that wish energy? Make a wish, something ridiculous, that will prove to me that,” he circled his hand above his head, “all of this is real.”
Albert resorted to his nervous demeanor again, but brought out his phone. He mumbled something about saving up, but swiped to unlock the phone anyway. It was a standard Android model that everyone seemed to have these days. He opened an app that’s icon was a light gray. In the center was of the gray square was a white flame. The screen that opened up had four lines of text.
Report a Problem.
“Just, uh, select ‘Make a Wish,’ and speak your wish.”
Shane took the proffered phone and tapped the ‘Make a Wish’ button. The screen was replaced with the picture of a microphone that pulsed in time with the ambient noises in the room.
“I wish for the sky to turn green and the grass to turn blue.”
“Oh, come on,” Albert grabbed at the phone, but Shane pulled it out of his reach. “That’s two wishes in one. It’s going to cost more.”
The words of Shane’s wish were converted to text on the screen. Two buttons joined them. They read ‘confirm’ and ‘cancel.’
Shane pressed ‘confirm’ and tossed the phone to Albert who caught it frowning. Shane walked to the window as Francine came in.
The sky was blue and the grass was green.
“I’ll do it,” Francine said.
“Great,” Albert was suddenly filled with an energy that didn’t reflect anything that had happened to him or Shane in Francine’s absence. He tapped a few things on his phone’s screen and then turned it so that the screen was facing Francine.
“Some things,” Albert explained, “haven’t changed since the old days. Once you’re done reviewing the contract, all you need to do is put your finger over the headphone jack,” he pointed at the proper place on the edge of the phone. “Just hold your finger there until you feel a pinch.”
She looked at him with a twist of fear in her eyes, but got over it. The reality of the situation, as she believed it, was dire, but she couldn’t deny that her husband was definitely healthier.
Whether the sky was blue or green, Shane couldn’t deny it either.
Francine put her finger over the headphone jack and flinched, but when she pulled her finger away she handed the phone back to Albert with finality.
It was done.
“Now get out of my house.”
Francine didn’t even lead the way. She simply stated her demand and both Shane and Albert stepped out the small home and walked back to the car.
As Shane climbed into the passenger side, he asked, “Well, a sucker’s born everyday.”
Albert answered by pointing up and out the window.
Shane looked up just in time to catch the sky shift in color. It turned green.