A Simple Task
A short story that was written in response to a challenge. Comments, criticisms welcomed.
Cecil P. Hofstadter was sitting at his desk, quietly completing the work reports for the last week. Mostly it had been straightforward and completely routine. He needed to keep on top of the paperwork. He had always known that paperwork had a beauty and a precision all of its own. It could not be left to chance, nor completed in a sloppy fashion, that way lay ruin and madness. He had once allowed his personal accounts to slip for several days and the trauma of locating the resultant discrepancy had haunted him ever since. Some people thought that worrying over small amounts was a sign of neurosis but he knew better. Look after the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves, he always thought. Although of course, he looked after the pounds as well.
Paperwork and routine that was what he lived his life by. Each day had its own special tasks. Each task its own allotted time. It was just these Fridays. The Fridays for the last three and a half months had been ‘different’, ‘difficult’ and ‘disruptive’.
He hunched over his paperwork, hiding his head and hoping things would be better on this Friday, quieter, no disruption.
Even when he heard the thunder of four thousand hooves clattering through his consciousness, he prayed that they would just clatter on past.
But of course, they didn’t.
He hadn’t been able to stop it. He had tried. He had complained. His manager had dismissed his complaints as irrelevant. He was here to do a job. And besides, a thousand horses were good for the roses. And it was only for another two and a half months. Surely he could manage for two and a half more months.
He had actually complained to the client. Not that had any effect. He’d explained that horses yes and their riders too were not allowed. No effect. He’d complained about the weapons, the swords and daggers and bows and arrows and lances and all of the paraphernalia they carried with them. No effect.
Three weeks ago he’d actually been driven to a full-blown rant. Swearing and gesticulating (he didn’t swear and he certainly never gesticulated). He’d practically, almost, very nearly been driven to lay a hand on the client. That did have an effect. It ended badly. They’d only just been able to get the bloodstains out of the carpet. It had been lucky that he hadn’t actually struck the client. Despite what management could have done he felt sure that management would have been the least of his worries.
The thunder of hooves slowed and changed to a more random milling about sort of sound. There was very little sound of voices, just horses. And the occasional clink as of metal on metal. They waited, outside.
Cecil P. Hofstadter sighed. He put down his pen and picked up the clipboard. The tasks for the day were listed, neatly down the left side of the paper clipped to it. On the right side were the locations to be visited. He looked at it and sighed again. He picked up the pen again and stored it above his right ear, the left ear still hadn’t healed properly from the ‘rant’ incident.
He re-read the list then took his pen from above his ear and looked at it carefully. He put the clipboard down on his desk, put the pen down next to it and slowly walked the six feet to the office door. He donned the high visibility vest hanging behind it. Then he started to look around the office for a second high visibility vest for the client. He knew if there was one there he’d see it. Because it had high visibility. He couldn’t see one, but he looked anyway. He knew that there was a pack of new high visibility vests in the store cupboard. He ignored them as he looked, unsuccessfully for a used one in his tiny office.
Still the horses waited outside, patiently with just the occasional snort but now with the rather more frequent clink of metal on metal. And someone was sharpening a knife. He knew that sound. He knew that sound only too well.
Finally, he gave up. He knew he’d been stalling, putting off the inevitable. He took one of the new high visibility vests out of the cupboard, picked up his clipboard and his pen and went and stood behind the door.
There wasn’t a knock on the door. There was never a knock on the door. Mr Khan never asked for admittance. Cedric pulled the door open and almost felt himself bowing at the squat figure that waited outside. “Oh, there you are, Si… er, Mister Khan.” Management had been most insistent on him not calling the clients, ‘Sir’. Not even this one. And Cedric P. Hofstadter always tried to follow management procedures. If only management would back him when he tried to enforce the rules relating to weapons. And bodyguards.
The sound, the smell, even the feel of all of the horses outside was intimidating. It was meant to be intimidating. Not just to him, but to anyone. It didn’t take a horde of a thousand Mongol warriors sworn to protect their chieftain to intimidate him. Just that same warrior chieftain could do that. All on his own.
It wasn’t the daggers and the two swords. Not even the human knuckle joints that made up a rather unattractive necklace. No. Mr Khan could intimidate on his own, just with a glance or a frown. Cedric P. Hofstadter didn’t want to see that frown. Again. Especially he didn’t want to cause the frown nor become the focus of it. Again.
He hadn’t been able to discourage Mr Khan from bringing his swords, any more than he’d been able to prevent the hordes of bodyguards from appearing each week. Despite the havoc they’d wrought on the neatly trimmed lawn,
“Well,” he started again. “I see you’ve still got your ‘friends’ with you. And your er, swords and daggers and the erm, erm, the whip.” Mr Khan tensed. The bodyguards shuffled closer. Cedric stepped back. He stepped back again. “Not that that’s a problem. Of course not. No. No. Not at all. It’s nothing really.” Mr Khan relaxed. The bodyguards didn’t move. “We have a simple task for you. I think you’ll like this one. We’ve had a problem with vandals in the town centre…”
He didn’t have a chance to finish. Mr Khan gave a great shout that was, with huge excitement immediately taken up by his bodyguards. In the great furore Cedric could not make out a great deal, just the word, ’Vandals’.
Mr Khan leapt on to his horse and the whole horde wheeled to the left and set off along the bus lane down towards the town centre.
Cedric P. Hofstadter stood and watched them gallop off before, still clutching the high visibility vest he turned back to his office to complete more paperwork. Community Service Orders didn’t use to be like this.