Jack considered himself to be fairly competent at conflict resolution. His skills in this field lay in his ability to aid conflicting parties in seeing eye to eye. That and, failing the diplomatic approach, in his talent for knocking them out when he couldn’t. That approach didn’t exactly work where his father was involved. In the case of Varnes Nair, conflict management consisted of turning around and leaving until you ran out of places to run to. As they traveled down to their next job, Jack found himself contemplating the choices that he had made over the last few days. All his decisions had been represented on a wooden board with pegs in it, but Jack felt like his last choice had taken him right off the edge of the board. Perhaps, when this job was over, another reading would help Jack figure the situation out. The road stretching on endlessly ahead of them combined with the familiarity of the smell of Stan’s cigar knocked Jack out for hours. The trip ended in a blur of waking and sleeping and staring out the window. Jack had never been to this resort, and though they had been given the address they didn’t know the name of the owner. The resort lay in a coastal part of Maryland where the ocean brought in cool breezes. It was apparently a place where politicians could relax and get away from the stresses of their various offices.
After an hour of driving around the most picturesque city Jack had ever seen, they finally found the resort they were looking for. It was called Hopeful Homes by the Sea, a somewhat ironic name under the current circumstances. After arriving at the front gate it took them a full half hour of driving along a suspiciously windy and picturesque driveway to hit the office. The drive down to the office was lined on both sides by immaculate arbor vitae. Jack sighed a bit with relief that these goblins were feral. The more intelligent type had a tendency to graffiti everything they found, sometimes with paint and sometimes with blood. The front office was a white building that stood three stories high. Most of the windows had clothes hanging out to dry, leaving Jack to assume that the majority of the residences had been cleared out with the arrival of goblins on the property.
“Wait here, Stanley. I’ll go see if they’ll accept our help or if we’re just wasting our time.” Jack hopped out of his seat and walked over to the front door of the office. He knocked twice before opening the door and stepping inside. The front of the office had four chairs lined on either side of a table that had all the latest boring magazines that waiting rooms have. Against the wall next to the door was a water cooler and a coat and hat rack that couldn’t possibly accommodate more than one or two coats before it collapsed from the sheer weight. The waiting room had around fourteen people in it, all directing their ire at a small plump woman on the far side of the room who stood behind the employee’s desk, gripping it tightly as though it were a shield.
“I told you before, we hired someone to take care of the goblin problem.” The woman seemed frazzled in the extreme. She wore a red one piece dress that would have seemed at home on a sitcom from the 1950’s. Her arms were tan to the point of being slightly baked and her glasses sat on her long black hair like they were used to being perched there.
“That’s what you said two weeks ago!” Jack located the crotchety one who had yelled that, “All of our things are just sitting in that bungalow and my wife needs clean…unmentionables.” The old man who had spoken was thin, balding and angry. Well, barring that last line for which he turned a bright red and looked at the floor causing Jack to stifle a laugh. He failed and in the sudden silence, the whole room looked right at him.
Jack decided to try and take advantage of the situation as best he could, “We were contacted about a cleaning job and…”
It was like a switch flipped. The woman smiled as big a smile as she could manage and she sauntered over to Jack, “My husband was expecting you, I’m Mrs. Miller.” She turned to her patrons, a slightly accusing look taking the place of her smile, but the joviality hadn’t lessened in the slightest, “Didn’t I tell you someone was coming? My husband never lets us down.” The small crowd laughed and started to disperse and Jack was suitably impressed. It’s no small feat to put a crowd down, make them laugh, reassure them and most importantly of all make sure that none of them use the dreaded word, “Refund” all in one go.
Jack found himself being forcibly dragged to the office by Mrs. Miller, who had not stopped talking since she had reached Jack. He could only assume that she was speaking English, but she was speaking it very quickly so that every sentence seemed to come out in one word. Since nothing she said seemed to require an answer from him, or even his understanding what she was saying, he just let her prattle on and followed her closely until they reached the office. Jack had to stop short and do a double take at the sight of her husband sitting in the office chair. The main office had interior blinds, which were down and closed which Jack had always taken as a universal sign of something having gone wrong, so he couldn’t have seen Mr. Miller before now. He had to check that Mrs. Miller had not somehow teleported into the chair, but she still maintained a firm grip on Jack’s arm.
Barring the length of hair, the bright red lipstick, and the extravagant moustache the man sitting in the chair could have been Mrs. Miller wearing a dapper tweed suit to combat the summer heat. He rose and his face morphed into the same peculiar smile, “The cleaners finally arrived! Thank you for bringing them in, dearest.” He sprang up from his desk in a manner that Jack would have thought impossible for a man of his plumpness. “Does he look good to you?”
Mrs. Miller nodded quickly, sending her curls flying around her hair in a messy halo, “He seems like he knows what he’s doing. He even has an unmarked van.”
Jack wasn’t entirely sure what that had to do with the quality of his cleaning, but they had known to send a message to his family, or his sister rather, so somebody here knew what was what. Jack had doubts about it being either one of the couple, “Oh, wonderful! So Jack, do you know what to expect? We’ve had a bit of an…”
“An infestation.” His wife finished his sentence for him, using the same tone of voice that she might use to conspiratorially whisper about a black sheep in the family. “We’re hoping that we can get rid of these goblins as soon as possible so that people can go back to their bungalows. We’re not really set up to take so many families into the main office building.”
Jack reached into his front pocket and pulled out a small pad of paper, “So do you know how many there are?”
“I’m fairly certain there were about thirty or forty, would you say dear?” Mrs. Miller pulled closer to her husband and to Jack’s mild surprise they seemed to merge together into one person wearing two outfits and with an extra head.
“Thirty or forty sounds about right, honey.” Mr. Miller rubbed his extensive, bushy mustache over his wife’s face.
Jack slowly backed out the office door and turned to the entrance, “We’ll get right on it, thirty or forty. Thank you for the job.” Jack reached the outside and took out a deep breath. Awkward love always took a certain amount of courage to deal with and Jack had run out of that a long time ago. Fixing his suit, he managed to get over to the van without too much trouble. Stan had pulled their two bags out and left them resting against its side.
“What’sa play, boss?”
“We’ll do this orthodox, no reason to get fancy for a tribe of feral goblins. Take the mallet and I’ll take my broom. Make sure to bring the bag and we’ll just try and send them to another place. No reason to kill them unless we have to.”
Jack fished his mop out of his bag, careful not to touch the mop head. The bag jangled slightly when Jack tossed it back into the rear of the van. Stan pulled his mallet from his gear and fished the Bag from the back of the van to Jack. The path from the office led further into the property and the bungalows. They were called bungalows, but in reality judging from the buildings Jack could see they were just minimalist cabins with large front porches and screens with curtains. They were painted a brilliant white and the minimalist aesthetic was completed by a lack of any wires leading to the cabins, barring one wire for electricity. The bushes and trees provided security and privacy and in the distance Jack could hear the waves crashing against the shore.
Jack took his jacket off and tossed it into the passenger seat of the van, “Better to get to work.” Jack started down the path to the left with his broom held in one hand. Under most circumstances, Jack expected his partner to follow behind at a distance and try and keep their presence to a minimum. Even so, Stan was a small walking earthquake in the underbrush, sounding like a small herd of bears trampling a Red Wood Tree. He tromped along behind Jack, swinging his mallet low over the ground.