I hope you will enjoy an excerpt from Yearn to Fear by Chas Murrell…
Peter Esser’s office was a short walk from the lab space; she could see his office entrance through the Perspex of the lab’s double doors as she headed there. The end of the day was the best time, not many people about.
Peter sat at his desk and bade her come in, smiling at her. “How can I help you, Sarah? Do you bring news?”
Sarah closed the door behind her and sat in the same chair she did each time she suffered through a fortunately not too often visit. “Not quite. I want to talk about my contract.”
“I see, do you want more money?” he pre-empted, in a tone sounding like there was some genuine willingness to negotiate.
Well, she hadn’t seen that one coming, but didn’t suppose he was really willing to anyway. Not that it mattered. His was an extraordinary knack for keeping her off balance. “I don’t want more money,” she explained. “I want to be released from our agreement, please.” His poker face appeared. Sarah continued, “This is wrong for me, and it’s adversely affecting me, so I can’t continue with it.” He remained silent, so she kept going. “I know you might not be happy with what I’m saying, so I’m more than prepared to give you my word that all progress reports will still come through you.” She tried to make herself sound as conciliatory as possible.
Peter’s facial expression morphed into one she couldn’t decipher. He spoke quietly as he cocked his head towards her. “Thank you for explaining your position, Sarah. I think I understand and appreciate where you’re coming from.”
She thought he might actually think about it. “I know it’s a bit out of the blue so if that suits, can I leave it with you and come back tomorrow?” In truth, she only wanted to leave before her nervous tension gave out, and she projectile vomited all over his desk.
“That won’t be necessary,” he said with a dismissive wave of his left hand.
She cringed inside, here comes his answer …
Sarah had considered that, with a situation this delicate, Peter might pause and think about his words before speaking. Not so.
“You can’t. We’ve signed a contract and that’s that. You can’t renege because you’re suddenly identifying as an oversensitive Gen Y teenager.” He held up two lazy fingers and said, “Two years. We’re a couple of months in, you just need to sit tight like I said and go with it.” The poker face was back. “Is there anything else? I’m a busy man.” Emphasising ‘man’, while looking down at paperwork on his desk with pretend interest.
Sarah had thought some level of pushback was likely, but surely some possibility existed he would at least reconsider. Wrong again. His abruptness, his superiority, the pure dismissive arrogance of this ‘man’ cut her grass as low as anyone ever had. Attempting to process the psychological brick wall built in front of her, she had unintentionally remained in the chair.
“Are you still here? Go back to work, or have you forgotten the money you’re going to make from the opportunity I gifted you?” Not even bothering to look up, his condescension was total.
What a fucking charmer, Sarah thought in anger as she attempted to digest this latest rebuff. Gifted? Gifted has less than zero to do with his deal. This prick doesn’t have a benevolent bone in his entire piece-of- shit body. Not wanting to admit defeat so quickly, she tried to sound resolute. “I think we should try to reach an agreement. Negotiate.”
“Oh, you do, do you?” quipped Peter as his expression morphed again, and he met her gaze this time. His was not a good look. “You didn’t want to negotiate when I offered this contract, did you? You wanted a job here. I gave you this one, and you couldn’t believe it. You would have done anything at the time, don’t you remember? I bet you’d have fucked me if I’d stuck that little gem in the contract as well, wouldn’t you have, hmm?”
Sarah was so mad her teeth were grinding, and she cupped her clenched right fist into her left palm to prevent herself from striking out. He wasn’t just under her skin, this scumbag had dug way deeper now. Then, right then, Sarah’s anger wrestled the reins of self-control from her reason, and she made a mistake of mammoth proportions. “I’ll go to the CEO! She’ll be more than interested I’m sure. You’ll end up in some crappy police cell by nightfall!” She saw him raise his eyebrows, but little else in his expression changed, although his tone turned to one of sarcasm.
“Why would I be in trouble? I’m the victim here, not you.”
“You’re the fucking what?” she blurted. “How the flying fuck, do you work that out?”
Peter rose and took a casual stroll to a nearby filing cabinet, punching in a combination on the keypad. He turned towards her and mocked her with pious regret. “It’s my fault, I should have been stronger.” Continuing to pretend rather poorly, he said, “I shouldn’t have let you blackmail me like this.” He retrieved what she recognised as her original job application and started flicking through the pages.
His ability to throw her off balance had set a new benchmark. Mystified, she barely heard herself say, “What?”
“Oh yes,” Peter said. “As I’ll tell the detectives,” he continued skimming her application, “I should have realised reading her application she would be trouble. Yes, here it is, and I quote, ‘I am eager to start and will aggressively pursue any developments which present, as far as possible with all vigour. I will do whatever it takes to achieve every success possible’, unquote. And apparently, so you did. This, coupled with me being the unsuspecting victim of a honey trap. Like I said, I should have been stronger.” He mocked her unashamedly.
“Honey trap? What fucking honey trap!?!” With zero idea of what he was talking about, and thrown headlong off balance once again, she tried to regain the initiative. She played what she thought was her trump card. “You can say what you like, but you can’t lie your way around the contract though, you dumb fucker.” She did notice this comment register, and, emboldened. “You gave me a fucking copy with your signature. I’m paying you money every month!! For fuck’s sake. You’re in it up to your neck!” She spat the words out in disgust and triumph, staring at him. If he were worried in the slightest, he sure as hell didn’t show it. It was more like what? It was more like … supreme confidence. He’s more confident than ever now. How the fuck does that work?
Peter started again, “Are you telling me after everything you’ve been told, you still don’t get what’s gone on here? I thought you’d be smart enough to understand. This isn’t a difficult jigsaw. Perhaps I should connect a few more pieces, so you can move on with your life for the next two years, hmm?” She didn’t move or say anything. He took that to be a yes. “Tell me, Sarah, where did the unsigned copies of the contract come from?”
Mystified yet again she replied, “You gave me them on a USB.”
“Yes, well that may be your memory of it, but it certainly isn’t mine, the physical evidence reveals something altogether different. With a little help from some technical associates, the contract file itself shows it was created on your computer, and in support of this fact, also printed on your printer. I first saw the contract when you forced me to sign it as the jaws of your honey trap sprang shut. Look at the way the contract’s written. Peter doesn’t demand Sarah pay up. The legal style reads as if you’re the one making the demands, not me. Like I said, I’m the victim.” Peter enjoyed her confusion profusely and added almost comically, “You wicked wench.”
She felt herself deflating. “But you’re extorting me, I’m paying you extortion money!” It was more a plea than anything. She realised she was done, he would have worked this out as well. As far as legs to stand on went, sitting down would be a necessity for quite some time.
“For god’s sake, woman!” he exclaimed in frustration, “your money is paid to me for ongoing services rendered. You’re bribing me. You’re paying me to keep quiet now you have the PM spot. You’re paying me to provide you with everything and anything you request. Haven’t you noticed how quickly you get what’s requisitioned with no questions asked? I’m on your payroll. You’re paying me, to remind me who’s boss and that you have the power. Need I go on?”
“No … No need.” She resigned herself to abject surrender as her addled mind caught up slowly. “Let me guess, you didn’t speak at my house so I couldn’t record you. The written instructions provided a guarantee no evidence would exist that might conflict with your version of events.”
“Thank heavens. Finally. Correct.”
“The bag you brought in had a bug scanner in it. You used it on your house tour to make sure no hidden cameras or recording devices were present.”
“Now you’re getting it.” He paused. “Go on, ask me the one question you couldn’t fathom about my visit that night.”
He’s gloating? Sarah hesitated in total defeat. “I’m not sure I really want to know.”
His composure was of the mighty conqueror standing over a vanquished foe.
“I trashed your bed before I made a quiet little video on my phone with the messed-up bed in the background. I spoke so remorsefully. Oh god, please forgive me for what I allowed her to do to me. I should have been stronger, blah blah blah. After all, I was being weighed down by guilt instead of basking in the afterglow of our union. Just more proof of how you manipulated me. Would you like a copy of the video for your Facebook page?” he asked as if there were actually somewhere in time and space anywhere in the universe where that question would be funny. “Look, Sarah,” he said in a conciliatory tone, as if another person had just stepped into his shoes, “Hang in there, I’ll be retired soon. It will all be over before you know it, you’ll be 600K richer, if not $2.6M richer if you hit pay dirt. Deals don’t get better than this, now focus on the benefits you’re getting, NOT THIS SHIT!”
Sarah stood in a semi-zombie-like state and with a single minute disbelieving shake of her head, resigned herself to her fate.
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