jashyr: skull (horror)
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Title: You Don't Have to be Crazy Dead to Work Here (But It Helps).
Part: 11/22
Author: Jashyr
Genre: Horror/Black Comedy
Word Count: 50,000
Disclaimer: These characters are mine. They live in my head and make me do crazy things like entering NaNoWriMo...
Rating: PG-13? Probably.
Warnings: Some gore. Written for NaNoWriMo last year and while it has been re-edited the punctuation police are still looking at it suspiciously.

Chapter Eleven

Burning Down the House

After the debacle about Piers possibly knowing about the crash, by the time Raj arrived home he had decided not to tell the others about the biohazard gear until he’d actually figured out why it was there. After some prompting about ‘the workmen taking the mick by dressing up in fancy dress to moon at the security cameras’ Piers admitted that the workmen had declared that they were worried about asbestos in the ceiling tiles as it had been found in other offices on the estate. Not quite happy but a little mollified, Raj went back to moping around trying to find a way into the CCTV footage which had mysteriously stopped allowing him admin access several months ago but to no avail. After four days, on the morning of the 25th anniversary party, he just decided to give up before someone caught him. As it was both Kim and Nat had walked past his desk at incredibly inopportune times and were convinced he was trying to spy on Holt and April’s affair – a situation they gave full support to.

Later in the afternoon he was finally getting engrossed in one of his favourite projects – monitoring the other employees’ web access for any dodgy sites when Piers came thundering into the office, “OK, ladies and gents. Time to go home and get your glad rags on. Get out of here the lot of you. The food is being delivered to the meeting rooms at seven thirty so if you want to be first in the queue for it be back sharpish.”

Cheers resounded across the room as the department started packing up their things, getting ready to leave. Heading out en masse they all started on their way home to get dressed up for the night of partying ahead of them - all except for Nat. He got in his car like the rest and pretended to fiddle with the stereo while the others drove off. Switching the engine back off he got out and opened the boot to fish out the perfectly pressed black dinner jacket, dress trousers and the whitest shirt he’d ever bought. Terrified of getting dog hair all over the suit if he went home to change he’d done the sensible thing and brought it into work so he could be free of the feeling that his nice new suit was covered in golden Labrador hair. Heading back across to the office he keyed in an access code for the server room and changed in the cramped conditions.

Of the people actually going home Hella got there first, her isolated little cottage up in the moors had been the closest she could find to the bleak, desolate beauty of her childhood home in the Swedish countryside. There was a slight chill in the air so she switched the oven on in the kitchen and went to fetch the beautiful red satin ball gown she’d rented for the occasion while the ground floor heated up. Changing quickly, she wrapped a faux fur stole around her shoulders and pouted at herself in the living room mirror before dissolving into fits of laughter. Happily she grabbed her dress handbag and phoned for a taxi to take her on the lonely trip back across the moors to the office.

 Next home was Shona, though only by luck and a cleverly planned route. She’d switched on the radio just before leaving the car park and heard the last few notes on the local traffic news which warned of a massive traffic jam down her usual route home. Switching to the route that went past the airport and added an extra mile or so onto her journey but with the major benefit of missing the worst of the traffic. Arriving home she fretted over having to stay on her feet in the massively impractical shoes that went with the dress she’d bought for the occasion then settled for flatter, more sensible shoes. Heading out before she could change her mind she walked down to the main road to hail a cab.

Liam arrived back at his parent’s house to the warmth of central heating and the smell of a roast dinner in the oven. It was so tantalising he almost wished he wasn’t going out for food. At the noise of the front door closing his mother wandered out of the kitchen in a classic designer gown and a pink fluffy apron making Liam stare for a second before smirking a little. “Oh, it’s just you, love. Your dad and I thought it might be nice to invite a few friends over for dinner seeing as you're out on your work’s do. Try not to wake us up when you come in tonight would you, hon?” She patted he cheek and hustled back into the kitchen as the smell appeared more and more delicious with every passing second. His willpower starting to fade Liam hurried upstairs to his room to remove himself from temptation and to get changed before the cab arrived.

Kim, having picked up her younger daughter from her grandparents' house, got home a respectable forth, her route having taken her away from the traffic bottleneck. She was greeted with the sight of her elder daughter attempting to do her art homework using poster paints which were smeared all over the kitchen table, her son firmly glued to his games console with ‘Road Race 2050: Extreme Rides’ and her husband snoring quietly on the sofa. “Tian fuhn di fu!” she muttered under her breath and woke up her husband by grabbing his belt and rolling him off the sofa onto the floor. As he woke with a start she laid into him about the state he’d allowed the kids to wreck upon the house. “Chwen Ju!, Yo hwa kwai suo. Juh shi suh mo go dong shi? Byen dah ta muhn dug bai jo go lai. Dohn luh ma!” Stomping upstairs to get changed she wondered why she even bothered relying on her family to behave themselves out of her presence. Rushing down a few minutes later she rounded on her husband who was guiltily mopping up poster paint from the kitchen floor. “Fan ger tze. Rung tse song di ching dai wuo tzo!” Then she was out of the door leaving him to mop up before she was roped into helping.

Pete, who lived the furthest away of all the department, would have been surprised to learn that he wasn’t the last home after battling with the rush hour traffic for over an hour. Arriving home at last he opened the door to have a large, black cat apparently appear from nowhere and entwine itself around his legs. He reached down to stroke it while closing the door and it meowed at him insistently. “All right furball,” he told the cat firmly. “I’ll go get the food.” Throwing his coat over the back of the sofa from the doorway of the living room he headed into the kitchen and opened a tin of cat food that the black feline set about devouring. Calling a taxi firm he knew would take over fifteen minutes to reach his house he took out his dinner suit, suddenly feeling foolish for having hired something so expensive for a work dinner. Mustering his courage by thinking up ways he could claim it was a perfectly normally priced rental suit, he was only halfway through getting changed when the taxi arrived to take him back to the office.

On any normal day Raj would have had the second shortest journey home but today wasn’t a normal day by any stretch of the imagination. Less than two miles from his house the traffic slowed down to a crawl then stopped completely. Raj could hear the honking of horns and the bang of fireworks in the distance. He couldn’t see any sparkling lights in the sky from where he was sat so he rolled down the window to see if he could get a better idea of where the celebrations that were holding up the traffic happened to be. As soon as the window opened he was assaulted by the smell of burning wood. The sounds no longer reminded him of fireworks but more of miniature explosions. He flicked on the radio to see if he could tune into the local traffic news and the report that awaited him made him sink his head into his hands.

“This is traffic and travel, with BBC Radio West Yorkshire. The A65 has been closed by the junction of Leeds Road and Ghyll Beck due to a warehouse fire in the Guisley Industrial Estate. Listeners are reporting massive tailbacks and police are advising all motorists to seek alternative routes.” Raj groaned. Parts of the Guisley Industrial Estate were adjacent to his back garden. With his luck he’d get home just in time to see his house burn down.

After quite a few minutes of stopping and starting he spied his salvation – the car park of The Dog And Duck public house, a pub that had tried to go upmarket by doing Sunday lunches and installing quite a significant amount of space for its patrons to park in. It was also on the far end of a footpath that led around the back of the industrial estate and was used on regular occasions by Raj as a shortcut home from the gym. He eventually pulled in, parked up and started the long trek across the footpath that had once been well kept but which was now shabby and full of broken bottles.

Getting closer to the area with the fire Raj could only see the glow over the roofs of the other units but could feel the heat as if he was standing right next to a bonfire. The ash and soot was tickling the back of his throat and he really hoped he’d shut all his house’s windows before he'd left for work that morning otherwise the house would smell of wood smoke for days.

Passing over the sty at the end of the footpath he was confronted by several of the housing estate youths who were sitting on the back wall of a house in the next row to Raj’s, they were passing round a bottle of cut price cider and watching the fire fighting effort with great amusement. As Raj passed they glowered, making him jumpy, but he didn’t meet their confrontational gazes and they turned their attentions back to far more amusing spectacle of the fire brigade attempting to manoeuvre a mobile crane over the area ablaze.

Finally reaching his house he did a quick circuit of the little end-terrace building to check for any damage. Eventually satisfied that none of the exploding debris had headed its way he went inside and half collapsed onto the sofa. Knowing he was going to be late anyway he made himself a relaxing cup of tea before sitting down for a few minutes to catch his breath as well as the local news reports of the fire. As the local BBC outside broadcast team reported that the fire was under control he went upstairs to change and desperately think of the best place to catch a taxi back to work.

Piers never made it home conscious. A few steps from the front door of his luxuriously furnished house he was distracted by a black BMW that screeched to a halt blocking in his driveway. Two big burley men and a large, muscular woman jumped out and wrestled him to the ground – the woman stuffing a rag soaked with a noxious liquid that Piers couldn’t identify into his mouth before he could cry out. As he fell unconcious he felt one of his assailants rummaging around in his jacket pocket for his house keys. Then nothing at all.

Lifting Piers carefully into the house, then going back to rake over the gravel of the front driveway, the three Reapmore security agents carefully went about their work to the best of their highly competent abilities. A bath was run, the house was untidied to a sufficient level to suggest a disturbed state of mind and a suicide note, explaining how the loss of Piers’ colleague had affected him deeply, was left on the kitchen table. Manhandling the still form into the bathtub, the security agents perfunctorily slit his wrists will a level of precision that they knew would fool only the most dedicated of law enforcement officers. The messy bits of the job over, they located Pier’s home computer in the study and, with a few well placed words of Sumerian mumbled by the smaller of the two men, “zar re es na in eme a du, ghi gi ak un mi gub ul a. A ul gub mi un ak gi ghi, du a eme in na es re zar“, the computer happily logged them on to check out the safeguards Piers had put in place to try to avoid this very situation. A few minutes later the evidence that had been so carefully concealed had been recovered and the computer was completely wiped with a quick, “ur ni shar inim, ku aga umbin. Umbin aga ku, inim shar ni ur“. With a last quick look around the three security agents left, slipping out into the night as if they’d never been there.

Barbara Tait didn't get home either. Instead of heading towards her apartment in the city centre she kept driving until she reached the main motorway turnoff, then took the route towards Manchester - driving quickly but not at a speed that would attract attention from the police. Reaching the airport she parked up and took a suitcase out of the boot before heading for the checkout desk. Stopping only to send a email via her Blackberry, for the first time in months Barbara smiled.
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September 2010

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