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Andreas sighed. It was Saturday, and he hated having to go into the office on weekends.

Why now, of all times? It was his daughter's birthday. There was a party that afternoon, one where he'd be the master of ceremonies for Sally. He had to be there.

But the call had been insistent: extra work had been sent in from head office. His second in command, falling ill with a cold, had begged off sick and told Andreas that he'd have to leave soon, and then who'd be in charge?

Ah, the joys of being the boss. It was nice having a team who had to listen to you, do as you said, but it came with a price at times. If he didn't step in and make sure the order was dealt with promptly, it’d be his head that HQ would want. They were always prompt and efficient, and they expected branch offices to be the same.

He started up his car and eased out into the road. The motorway was running smoothly at this time of the day, the traffic always light on a weekend.

It was going to be a lovely day for a birthday party. The sun was out, the early afternoon warm but not too hot. It was already getting on past lunch time, and Sally's guests, mostly her friends from school and her pony club, would be arriving soon. What a waste, to be stuck inside.

Andreas jammed on the horn as a car cut sharply in front, let it sound out long and loud. It didn't make the other driver look around, but at least it gave him the chance to vent his frustration.

He sighed and turned off at the side ramp leading to his office. Andreas drove on and it gradually came into sight: an ugly building with thick walls, few windows and no particular distinguishing features, sitting in the middle of a big empty lot, just part of one more industrial estate. He'd seen plenty of these in the course of his career.

He thought once more about his daughter. Sally was a lovely kid, just about to turn twelve. A little too talkative at times, usually polite and quietly spoken, but just starting to grow up - to realise what the world was really like, and, occasionally, to question what was going on around her and ask why it was so.

She idolized him, and he her. She'd be disappointed if her father wasn't there for such a big day.

Still, work was work. A government job was a good one in these times: stable, safe, well paid, and generally regular hours. Without it, he'd never been able to afford to give his wife her long lunches, or his daughter her riding lessons and expensive private school education.

And besides, he noted wryly, he'd had the chance to meet a lot of people from many different walks of life, talk to them and hear their stories.

Andreas stepped into the office. As was to be expected, the building was largely quiet, which always made his job easier. He spoke briefly to his deputy and gave him some lozenges for his throat; they jointly signed the necessary paperwork, and then Andreas told him to go home and rest up. He stepped into the reception area and introduced himself to the newly arrived delivery parcel.

It was a vicar, his wife and their daughter. The good pastor had been just a little too outspoken in his last few sermons, and one of the parishioners had taken it upon herself to ring up and advise the police. So here they stood now, facing Andreas, confusion and the first elements of some panic creeping into their faces.

He tried to calm them down. "If you co-operate with us, follow instructions, answer all our questions, then I'm sure we can get this finished for you soon enough."

The reverend was in his mid-thirties, earnest but confused. So was his wife. Both of them firmly denied any problem, which in itself was a problem: it would probably take time to extract an admission and public retraction.

Andreas sighed again. “I guess I’ll have to talk to your daughter first.”

He called over two of the junior clerks, young enthusiastic recruits just starting out. "If you could be so kind as to escort our guests to their new accommodation." The wife to one cell, the pastor in another far away. He'd found over the years that a quiet, calm tone was often more effective than any threats or bluster.

He watched them walk off down the hall, then turned to the girl. "What's your name?"

"Rebecca, sir," she said quietly, looking down at the ground, a little shy and certainly scared.

"And how old are you?"

"I’ve just turned twelve, sir." She looked up hopefully. "It was my birthday this week."

He smiled warmly at her. “That must have been nice for you.” She nodded back, warily.

Twelve. Just starting to grow up - to realise what the world was really like, and, occasionally, to question what was going on around her and ask why it was so.

He'd have to make sure she learnt not to ask too many questions.

Andrea felt a surge of pity for her as he picked up the electrodes and ordered her handcuffed.

"Well, I'll make this quick for you, then."

He looked on benignly as his staff marched her to a nearby cell, and hoped she’d not try to outlast the pain that was coming. She certainly didn’t look like the resistant type.

Early Saturday afternoon, and he was back in the office, once more at work. At least he was getting some overtime – and maybe, just maybe, he thought, I might still get back in time for the party.

Michael is based in Australia’s so-called “bush capital,” Canberra; his works have previously appeared in a number of flash fiction forums and publications.



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