The Temptress: Chapter 1A Chapter by Laura Marie Clark
Fletcher Rodriguez had a bad day the first time that he met Argyle Smithson. This chapter is relatively horror-free.
Fletcher Rodriguez had a system that he followed precisely to the letter every single morning. He had a system for lunchtimes, and he had a system for the night too. He also had a system for going to bed, a specified time to be sleeping and sleeping pills to help in case he failed to reach that target. He was a very organised man all things considered, so long as he followed the rules that he had put in place for himself, kept to the allotted amounts of time for each task and did not allow himself to become distracted. If anything happened that he had not planned for well in advance then the situation could quickly become very tricky and awkward for him, and Fletcher’s reactions would be uncontrollable and sporadic. Doing things on time was the first step towards doing them correctly.
That was why his dreams were such a nuisance to him. Anything could happen when a man was dreaming and when Fletcher was away in the land of nod all of the control that he had put in place to organise his life vanished. His dreams were often uncanny and they made no sense. They also tended to frighten him more than he was willing to admit to anyone else; waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night or early morning with a thunderous heartbeat was not a part of his routine. Whenever that happened his system for the following day was instantly ruined and it was guaranteed that said day would be a bad one.
So when on the morning of the 20th of March he woke up an hour earlier than he had planned with the image of skulls and contorted faces stuck in his mind, he resigned himself to another bad day and failed miserably to catch up on his missed hour of sleep.
That single hour was far less important than Fletcher’s mind made it out to be, but his organised structure still managed to fade away pretty soon in any case, and the nightmare was something that he could place the blame on. His breakfast was spoilt by burnt toast, despite the fact that he never changed the dial on the toaster from the number two setting and there was nobody else in the house to alter it either. He still felt groggy when he was getting ready for the day so he missed half of the morning news, and the bus to work was a full seven minutes late.
That was odd in itself, because the bus was never late. Fletcher had been working the same depressing job for four whole years now, just another way for him to stick to the same routine, and not once had he known this bus to pick him up late. The driver was so meticulous about ensuring that he made his stops on time, which was why Fletcher walked straight past the bus stop outside of his house and got on this bus instead. It was a little further for him to walk and it took him a little longer to get to work, but at least it was always on time. Now he was going to have to rush around in order to reach his booth on time, and that did not bode well with the methodical man.
An explanation was provided for the lateness of the bus as soon as he had stepped onto it. The usual driver was not there, instead replaced by a large and plump woman who added the word ‘love’ to the end of his fare and huffed at him that the regular driver was off sick when he asked where Bill was. Fletcher decided that he did not like either her voice or her attitude, took his ticket and went to sit down.
That was when he noticed that someone else was sitting in his seat. Fletcher always sat at the very front of the bus because then he was not faced with the back of a stranger’s head or a small and noisy child swinging their arms around before him, or worst of all someone who thought that they were quite welcome to turn around and begin a conversation with him. There was a short and mousey-haired man in his seat, an old lady in the opposite front seat. With a resigned sigh that was far too upset for someone in his situation, Fletcher sat down behind the younger man, staring determinedly out of the window for the entire journey and trying to ignore the movements of the person in front of him, there in the corner of his eye.
The stranger flicked through songs on their music player every few minutes, shuffling about in Fletcher’s seat as though they were unable to keep themselves still. Rapidly becoming annoyed with this impatient individual, Fletcher swapped seats at the next stop so that he was sat behind the old woman instead, ignoring the mousey-haired man for the rest of the journey.
When he did eventually get to work it went slowly. Fletcher did not have the best job in the world - in fact sitting at a desk and answering telephone calls from stupid and ignorant customers all day was probably one of the worst jobs that he could think of in terms of satisfaction - but at least he was employed and that was better than nothing at all. As long as he kept referring to it as an office job whenever someone asked him what he did for a living he could imagine that he was doing something that felt worthwhile. He supposed that one day he might rise up through the ranks and become a far more important individual to the company, but there were too many people who wanted the same thing and previous attempts to improve his position had been fruitless. He turned instead to his systematic control over his life to give it some structure and meaning.
Seventeen people were put through to him who had clearly never heard of the age old concept of switching their internet modem off and then back on again. Three more needed to be told to turn on their wireless connectivity before they could access the internet on their computers, and one woman wanted to know why the company was allowing her seventeen year old son to access porn sites. Fletcher had tried to explain to her that this was the internet they were talking about, that she could use parental control if she wanted, and when she had told him that the company should block access to those sites altogether he had become rather irritated and told her that lots of people watch pornography these days, so it was nothing to get her knickers in a twist about. She had demanded to be put through to the manager after Fletcher had told her that there was no need to censor the internet and remove something that was bound to make the lad feel good.
He lost count of how many other people rang up with different menial problems, all to complain to him that there was something wrong with their internet connections, none of them having any issues that could not be resolved over the phone. Fletcher often found himself thinking that if people would just take a moment to flick through their handbooks then they would discover that they could solve the issues themselves without ever having to call the company’s helpline, but then that had to be far too easy and nobody seemed to read a damn thing these days. They were all too keen to have someone else point out their idiocy for them.
He took forty five minutes off for lunch and went down to the local supermarket to get himself a sandwich and a drink. When he came back the manager directed Fletcher into her office, the two of them going over customer care and the fact that he should never offend anyone no matter how stupid their complaint sounded. The manager then went on to explain that she herself had wasted almost an hour of her time talking to the concerned mother of that porn addict, and by the end of the call had been completely fed up with the naïve woman on the other end. She had finally been able to put the phone down after explaining about parental control over certain adult sites, something that Fletcher had already done in any case but was obviously not good enough coming from someone of his position. That was after an eternity of the woman complaining that their internet service ‘means my son can access any website he wants to’.
The manager added that personally she felt sorry for the lad for having a mother who at seventeen seemed to think he should have no interest in sex, then sent Fletcher back to his booth to answer more calls about nonsense problems until five o’clock. At last then all of the telephone operators were finally allowed to trudge off home; as per usual Fletcher hung back so that he could catch the last lift, always the one that had the fewest people on. He could then stand in the corner facing the mirror so that there was no need for any of the others stragglers to make eye contact with him. After that there was the quick walk back down to the bus station and a ten minute wait for the bus that would take him home - if the lumpy driver could make it there on time, of course.
When the bus arrived (two minutes later than it should have), Fletcher had elbowed his way to the front of the queue so that he could claim his seat on the way back. As the bus was always busy at this time of day there was always the chance that a stranger would choose to sit down next to him, and from the amount of people climbing on he knew that he could fully anticipate it. What he did not expect was for that stranger to be the mousey-haired man from that morning.
‘Oh, hello!’ the man greeted him as though they were friends, far too cheerfully. ‘My name’s Argyle, Argyle Smithson. I saw you on here earlier.’
‘Fletcher Rodriguez,’ Fletcher replied, the words coming out almost as a grunt. He tried to sound unwelcoming, but apparently the man was oblivious to that.
‘Nice to meet you, Fletcher.’ They shook hands, Argyle’s grip a little too firm for Fletcher’s liking. ‘I’m new around these parts, first day you know. Not nearly as daunting as I had expected it to be, thank God. My own office, secretary, nice place, nice city. I saw we were both heading here from the same building, the same workplace, should have guessed by your uniform. How was your day?’
‘Not so great. I work in customer service. Not that good at it either. Telephone operator. Lots of complaints about nothing.’
‘Oh,’ Argyle sounded as though he was somewhat taken back by that. Perhaps he had expected that Fletcher would have a more important role in the company or was now uncertain whether he should talk about his own job. Whatever the case, he changed the subject swiftly. ‘Well, where do you live then? I’m down on Queen’s Avenue, don’t actually know anyone around here yet so I wouldn’t mind some company at all. I know, when do you take your lunch break during the day? I’m a big one on meeting new people.’
‘Half twelve ‘til quarter past one,’ Fletcher said. He was making no efforts to keep the conversation going, staring out of the window and watching Argyle’s reflection as the other man continued to ramble on. Fletcher thought that he could probably speak for England.
‘Well that fits in with my lunch break perfectly, I’m sure we could meet up sometime seen as we come and go on the same bus, after all we must live pretty close to one another. I wouldn’t mind at all if I was given some company when I have my lunch either, just like I said. I was also wondering what sports clubs there are around here - well, I was hoping to sign up to the local gym actually, but the one in town is rather expensive. I play a lot of football, oh just socially of course. Haven’t heard great things about the local team myself.’
Fletcher zoned out of the man’s incessant talking, having no desire to become involved in a discussion about a sport that he had no interest in. He did not ask for much in his life, but peace and quiet and being left alone by big mouthed chatterboxes were all things that he was quite keen on.
The other man was still talking when the bus reached Fletcher’s stop. Fletcher hoped that he had nodded and agreed at all of the right times, glad when he was able to move away from Argyle and depart the vehicle. A farewell was shouted at him through the window, almost like one a child might give when they were calling to their parents before heading off on a school trip, which he returned with a simple and more dignified wave. The bus drove off taking Argyle with it, much to the relief of Fletcher, the man sighing in his thanks before starting the walk back home.
Dinner consisted of the usual microwave meal. Fletcher did not know much about calories and nutrition and diets and he cared for them even less than that, but what he did know was enough to inform him that he never did his body much good. He was a relatively slim man who did very little exercise to keep himself that way, so he supposed that he had a high metabolism or whatever people were calling it. Unless he started to put on substantial amounts of weight there was absolutely no need for him to do anything to change that.
He ate in front of the television. The evening news was largely a repeat of the morning news with a little more information thrown in but Fletcher watched it anyway because that was another part of his daily routine, and he could at least try to get something right today.
Weekends were entirely different. Fletcher worked from nine until five on Monday to Friday, so the weekends were generally more flexible in terms of what he could do. He would get up two hours later than normal and have a different breakfast to the weekdays. Then he would shower and dress himself, watch the news, and on Saturdays spend long hours doing the housework; Sundays watch the television and go through his DVD collection. He always watched the same shows, because then he knew what he was getting. Watching new shows was unnecessary and he could get too caught up in the excitement of the next episode to concentrate fully on his work on Monday mornings. Anything extreme was a no go, anything frightening doubly so.
Nights were always the same regardless of what day of the week it was. He would not stay up past half ten because he was supposed to get nine hours sleep, and then he would take two sleeping pills and get himself comfortable, hoping that the bad dreams would not plague him.
Fletcher did not have any nightmares on the day that he had met Argyle, but he did dream about the pale woman with the yellow hair and the pink lips, the one who was perfect from him in every way both physically and mentally - save for the small problem of her non existence.
If there was one thing that was worse than the nightmares, it was her.
© 2012 Laura Marie Clark