Burke set his jaw, rolling his shoulders back as he took a deep breath. Pressing his eyes closed, he shoved his emotions deep down, knowing they would only be used against him in the upcoming exchange. He was good at playing by the rules. No matter how much he hated it.
Knocking on the heavy door, Burke let his features fall into a well-practiced, neutral expression. A familiar voice called him in, but he knew better than to let Walt’s ease fool him into relaxing.
Burke knew why he had been summoned.
He stepped into the office, automatically taking a moment to scan the room. Sunlight filtered through the bullet-proof glass, flooding the space in a warm glow. Velvet curtains and an imposing oak desk hinted at old money.
“Boss,” Burke greeted, dipping his head in deference.
“Thank you for agreeing to see me on such short notice, Burke.”
Walt’s tone was so genial that Burke almost let his facade fall. Almost.
“The pleasure is all mine, boss,” Burke countered, praying this meeting wouldn’t last long. Both men knew the details. At best, this would be a castigation.
Leaning forward in his chair, Walt’s smile was thin, never reaching his eyes.
“I’m always disappointed when my men fail to carry out simple orders,” he mentioned, almost offhand.
Hanging his head, Burke was careful to keep his expression blank. This was, by far, the worst part of this job. The irony was almost humorous.
“I take full responsibility, sir.”
He wanted to be treated like a human, be allowed to explain. But none of that mattered to this cold, composed man in front of him. Boss asked for results, he got results. If he was displeased by someone’s performance, they were gone. Burke knew just how close to losing his job he was.
“I appreciate that, Burke. Look at me,” Walt ordered calmly.
Quietly awaiting his fate, Burke watched his boss for any indicator of what might come next.
“You’ve done well here.” Piercing Burke with his gaze, Walt’s expression turned calculating. “I am aware I have a reputation to uphold. However, with your discretion, I believe we might come to an agreement.”
“What sort of agreement are you suggesting, sir?” Burke asked, dying a little inside as he followed the expected script.
“I’m so glad you asked.” Walt rocked back in his chair, casually crossing one leg over his knee. “It seems my overall notoriety would suffer more with this job unfinished than it would if I were to follow my normal protocol and immediately terminate you.”
Burke ignored the warnings going off in his brain, well aware that Walt didn’t always refer to employment when he used that term.
“And, after checking your performance history, you do seem to be the best suited for this job, recent failure notwithstanding.” Walt tapped his chin thoughtfully. “Despite my reputation, I am a lenient and understanding employer.”
Taking a shallow breath, Burke forced down the urge to laugh.
He fought to keep his voice even. “Your wish is my command.”
“Ah, such unwavering loyalty is what got you here, Burke.” Walt sounded satisfied as he motioned toward the door. “You may leave, now. Don’t disappoint me, again.”
Walking quickly through the streets, Burke pushed down the resentment that burned inside of him. His desire to be loyal was quickly being overwhelmed with the desperation to be free.
He scowled at a passerby as he realized there would never be a way out. This was his life til whatever bitter end.