Seclusion

Beginnings

Albert was a simple man, all his day required was a cup of coffee and 30 minutes to cope with the day. Today however, fate had decided to throw a wrench in his routine. It had started off simple enough. Get up, get dressed, and then head off to the law firm he worked at. Once he arrived however, he was immediately bombarded with questions, requests and demands. Trying to focus on the cases set out before him, he felt his resolve slowly fading. Looking around his office, he searched for something to focus on. Skimming past pictures of naval ships he had served on, awards he had received during his service, and a single faded picture of a brunette woman he had once loved, he still found no foci. A knock at his door shifted his attention from his search. The door opened revealing his boss Josh.

"Do you have those files from the Ms. Anderson case yet?" inquired Josh as he walked into the room. The poor overweight man looked like he had just run a marathon. Each breath was labored; his forehead had drops of moisture gathering. Poor bastard probably had to take the stairs again today.

"No sir, but if you just give me a couple of minutes I will have them prepared for you." Albert replied, trying to not stare at the fascinating example of poor fitness before him. That had been the one benefit to being in the military. Every day you worked, you had followed it up with some form of physical fitness. Now being a civilian, Albert had kept up his regime, wanting to still be able to run the six minute mile he was capable of since high school.

"Okay, just try to get them to me as soon as possible; I would like to get this case over with so we don't have to stay past 4:00 again. And get yourself some coffee; I know you navy boys can't work without it." And with that, Josh walked out of the office. Albert was left once more in complete silence; the old grandfather clock his mother had given him was the only thing in motion.

Gathering his bearings, Albert began typing away at the computer in front of him, still unsure of why he had picked this job. Sure the hours were great, the pay was easily six figures, and he got as much vacation time as he did in the military. But it lacked the excitement he had grown accustomed to in the navy. He could no longer look forward to range days, with the machine guns cutting a knife of death through the target area. No more foreign ports to drink at, hell he even missed the drills, putting on Kevlar vests and holding the m16 as he awaited orders. Now he was stuck in a suit and tie environment, his m16 traded for a computer, his range days exchanged for board meetings. This was the civilian life, and it was killing him slowly.

Getting up and going to the door, he reached for the handle. Jerking back as the door opened he caught a glimpse of pink. 'Oh god here we go again,' thought Albert as the door swung open to reveal Natalie. Natalie was an intern for the law firm, and seemed to think that flirting with everything that moved would get her a permanent position at the company.

"Ah Albert, I was just looking for you!" Said Natalie, with a smile that reminded Albert of the Cheshire cat from Alice in wonderland. She looked like she had just walked out of a bondage club, with a black leather skirt, a tight top made of latex, and piercings all over her face. Albert would wager that she had serious issues going through airport security with all the metal on her body. Hell the only reason she could dress like that and not get thrown out of the building was the fact that her father was one of the firm's top lawyers.

"You don't say? Well I was just on my way out to grab some coffee; I will talk with you once I get back." Albert said as he tried to move past her. He caught the scent of her perfume, and got dizzy from the fumes. If he struck a match right now, he bet she would spontaneously combust from all of the crap she had sprayed on her body.

"Care for some company then? I am about to crash and could use a nice caramel macchiato." Albert seriously doubted that she was even familiar with the drink. Sure he had seen her before with can after can of energy drinks, but never had he seen her with any form of coffee.

"Well I am going to Cara's, so you're welcome to join me if you want." Albert was sure that she would decline, and sure enough, Natalie wrinkled her nose at the proposition. There was no love lost between her and Cara. Everything Natalie was, Cara was the opposite. While Natalie looked like she had just walked out of a bondage club, Cara was dressed like she was about to go to church. While Natalie sat there living off of her dad's money and position, Cara had opened a coffee shop and dedicated her life to being dependent on no individual.

"Well I just remembered that Jake was wanting a report, so I will catch up with you later darling," and with that she walked out of the office, swinging her hips as she moved. Albert smiled at the attempt to seduce him, and closed the door behind him as he left.

Cara's coffee shop had an old school diner look to it, with booths outlining it, and a center table where all of the old men in town gathered to talk about their past for hours. Albert walked in, and was immediately hit with the scent of coffee beans and vanilla. Nodding to the old men as he walked over to his booth in the corner, he took a seat. He picked this particular booth because he could see everything in the room. It was an old trick he had picked up in the military. Some called it paranoia, but he knew it was only a matter of time before it would aid him. Relaxing in the vinyl cushioned booth, he caught a glimpse of red hair coming towards him.

"Ah I thought I smelled some shit, and here I thought someone left the bathroom door open again." Cara said as she sat down in the seat across from him. Her red hair shone in the rays of the sun, contrasting her pale skin. She was wearing a black apron, which clung to her small frame, almost like it had been vacuum sealed. Her voice was that of a southern belle, cutting through the monotonous pacific North West accents in the room.

"Well hello to you too, and here I thought customer service was a dead industry." Albert quipped, smiling as she poured him a cup of coffee.

"It is, no one had told me yet though so pretend you never heard it. So what is going on with you today?" Albert sighed and took a sip of the dark Columbian that was placed before him.

"Not much, just the same shit as yesterday. I almost brought your friend along with me today, she seemed so eager to talk with you." Cara's smile grew malicious for a brief second, if you didn't know her; you would have never caught it.

"Ah how the little fake bitch doing? Has the black eye finally healed yet?" Cara was of course referring to the fight she and Natalie had gotten into after Natalie had called her an inbred whore. It had almost resulted in a law suit from Natalie's father, but Albert was able to talk him down.

"Yes it has, but let's move on, how is the shop going?" Albert asked as he tried to divert the subject, not wanting to listen to a 30 minute rant. Cara sighed as she played with a lock of hair.

"Business is good for the coffee shop, but with the economy going down the drain I am running out of customers. If it keeps up, then I will only be serving the old farts and you. I wish Michelle hadn't up and left, we were so close to getting that lease in Seattle."

"Let's not talk about her okay?" Albert said as he polished off what was left in his cup. "Oh I'm sorry; I didn't mean to bring that up again." Cara said apologizing quickly. The mood grew solemn as Albert reflected on his former lover. Michelle had been perfect, a woman with only one fault, vanity. Everything in their relationship was great, almost like a Hollywood romance, until she decided she wanted an older, wealthier man. Running off, she left an empty apartment, and an engagement ring. After that Albert had almost given up on life.

"So anyway, awkward silence aside, I need to get back to helping customers. So take care of yourself." With that Cara made her way back to the register, leaving Albert to his thoughts.

An hour later, Albert was back in his office typing up the final page of the Ms. Anderson report. Poor Ms. Anderson was a widow living in a 5 bedroom house in the middle of the woods. It seemed the state wanted the house for some mineral deposits under the surface, but wasn't willing to pay the amount that she had requested. So instead they were attempting to seize the house under public domain laws. Ms. Anderson was willing to fight tooth and nail to keep the house her family had resided in for 60 years.

Finally finishing up the report, Albert made his way to Jake's office. Knocking on the door, he gained no response. He opened it to find Jake lying over his desk unconscious. Instinct kicked in, and Albert immediately raced over. First checking for a pulse, and finding none, he lifted Jake off of the desk and set him on the floor. Hollering out for someone to call 911, he began doing CPR. Training set in, and his surroundings faded away. The only sounds he heard were his voice counting with each compression. "One and Two and Three and Four," it became robotic almost. After about 500 or so compressions, and an unknown amount of breaths, he finally felt a pulse. Sighing with relief, he came back to reality just in time to see the paramedics come through the door.

"Not very bright individuals, assholes asked me the same damn questions fifty times," Albert grumbled as he stood around a couple of his coworkers. Jake had been sent to the hospital twenty minutes ago, with the initial diagnosis of a heart attack. Poor bastard.

"Cheer up man, you're a hero! Shit, you might even get a pay raise for that," said Charlie, one of the lawyers at the firm. Albert's face grew sour at the thought, picking Charlie up and slamming him against the wall.

"A pay raise? The man could have died in there, and you think I should get a pay raise for doing something that EVERY fucking human being should have the common decency to do?" Albert was furious; this is why he hated civilian life. They believed that they should be rewarded for every damned thing they did. You wipe your ass? You should get the keys to the city.

"Whoa calm down man, I was just saying you are a good man for doing what you did," said Charlie as Albert let go of him and backed up. Albert shifted his focus to some movement down the hall. It was Mike Henderson, the owner of the law firm, and he had an indescribable look on his face.

"Albert can you come into my office?" Mike asked as he opened his door. Albert nodded to his coworkers, and made his way inside. As he entered, Mike motioned for him to sit down. Relaxing in the black leather chair, Albert took a second to look around. The last time he had been in this office, it was his job interview. Nothing had changed since then, the walls still plain white and empty, the desk as clean as the day it was ordered. In fact only a family picture on the wall showed that the office belonged to someone. Mikes voice brought Albert back to reality.

"Two years ago you stepped into my office, a man just out of the service confused by the ease that this office had. I took a chance when I hired you, you see? Out of eight individuals, most of whom had higher degrees and more knowledge of the job, I picked you. Do you know why Albert?"

"No sir," Albert said, immediately sitting at attention. Mike laughed at the sudden shift in posture Albert was presenting.

"Relax son, this isn't a court martial, the reason I hired you instead of those pricks was because you had fire. You showed energy around you that permeates success and achievement. In two years, you went from a small time English major to the most successful report writer we have here. You don't know this, but all those case reports you write up don't go to small courts, we use your reports for Supreme Court hearings. Now the reason I called you in here was first to thank you for saving Jakes life. You did what few men have the capability to do. The second reason is that we now have to fill a position temporarily, and I think you are just the man for the job."

"And what position is that sir?" Albert asked with anticipation in his voice. Mike opened a drawer behind his desk and pulled out a large manila file.

"Jake was supposed to go inspect the home of Ms. Anderson, and also watch it for her while she went on vacation. Now due to Jakes accident, we don't have anyone available to do that job. I would like you to take the job, and in return you will be given an increased salary for the next year. This isn't a reward for saving Jake's life, it's an evaluation of your skills outside of this office. If you complete the job, you will come back as a senior advisor for our lawyers, which I must say pays a lot more then you make now."

Albert froze for a second, his thoughts racing around in his head. He looked back at all he had done for the past two years, and couldn't believe that he was being offered such a premier opportunity. "How long will this job take sir?"

"You will start the job on Friday, and it will continue on for two weeks. During that time, I want you to look around and see if there is any reason what so ever that we should cancel our contract with Ms. Anderson." With that Mike slid the file over to Albert. Picking it up, Albert began flipping through it, taking a second to memorize key words on each paper. It didn't take too long, as Albert was the one who wrote the preliminary report.

"Very well sir, I will accept the job on the condition that I am provided transportation to the house."

"Excellent, we were going to give you one of the company cars anyway. Now one final piece of advice for you. Ms. Anderson is getting up there in age, and hasn't maintained the upkeep as much as a house this size needs, so I recommend bringing a can of bug spray, and maybe some mouse traps." Mike laughed, and Albert rolled his eyes. There was always a catch to any good offer.

"I will keep that in mind sir, now if you excuse me I will be going home to back," Albert said as he left the office, Mike's laughter permeating the air.

Unsure of what to pack for the trip, Albert made his way across the street to the coffee shop. As he entered Cara ran up to him, her red hair flowing behind her. "Well if it isn't the big damned hero himself, why don't you give me a little CPR also?" Cara said as she hugged him, her petite body pressing up against his. For a second he was almost willing to take her up on the offer.

"Yeah yeah, who told you about that?" Albert inquired as he made his way towards his booth. As he got closer to it he saw a sign above that read "SEAT FOR HEROS ONLY." Groaning he sat down.

"You like it? Your coworker Alice came in with it and asked where you sit." Cara said in between gasps of laughter. Placing a mug in front of him, she poured the coffee. "So what is new besides bouts of heroics?"

"Not much, just got offered a case of my own, and if I survive I get a promotion." Cara gasped before jumping back into his arms. Why was she so affectionate all of a sudden?

"That's great! I am so jealous of you. So tell me, what is this case they have you working on?" She asked as they sat down in the booth. Every few seconds Albert noticed that her foot would make contact with his leg.

"Are you okay Cara? You seem kind of excited right now," he asked with a little worry in his voice. Her eyes made contact with his, and she blushed.

"Yes, I just made a new blend of coffee, with three shots of espresso in it. I am really jittery right now. Sorry for worrying you." She said as she readjusted herself on the seat. Albert laughed, and looked at her.

"Well be careful with that, I don't want to deal with another heart attack today." Cara pouted, her green eyes glimmering with amusement. Both fell into a peaceful silence for a minute before Cara asked about the case again. "I have to go play watchdog with an old lady's house while she is on vacation. After that I will come back as a senior advisor for the firm."

"Well that's awesome, be sure to take some pictures for me. I have to get back to work, so text me when you come back." With one final hug, she walked away. Albert sat there for a while reflecting on the day. He was excited for this new opportunity, but felt that there was more to the case than just watchdog duty. If that was what the old lady had wanted, they would have sent one of the interns to do the job. Albert felt that there was more to the case.

Albert finished his coffee, and made his way outside. The Pacific Northwest was wrought with rain, so he made sure to stay under overhead roofs as long as possible. His apartment was five blocks from the coffee shop, precariously placed on top of an old venue that had went out of business several years ago. The neighborhood was quiet, a place for college students who refused the dorm life, and professionals who wanted to be close to their jobs. As Albert climbed up the stairs, he took a breath of the sea breeze air. That had been one of the deciding factors between this apartment, and one over in the Capitol Hill district. Albert had always loved fresh air.

Opening the door to his apartment, Albert stepped inside. Sitcoms would state that this was when you proclaimed "honey I am home!" but there was no one inside to answer back. His apartment was mostly empty, with only a cold cup of coffee on the table and a newspaper from a week ago. Kicking off his shoes, Albert made his way over to the sofa. Grabbing the remote he flipped on the T.V. and switched the channel to the news. He lay there for a minute, gathering his thoughts, before looking at the screen. There was a report on about a chemical plant explosion that happened a week ago. No one had been injured, but a cloud of fumes had gotten into the atmosphere. Scientists claimed that it was non-toxic, but safety groups were up in arms about the incident. Flipping the channel, Albert settled on a baseball game, before closing his eyes. Soon he found himself drifting off to sleep.