A new message alert beeped on Saul’s phone. Tapping the code to unlock the screen, Saul read the text and grunted. Without a word, Saul pushed the recruit forward along the dimly lit hall. The recruit was shaking and stumbled, but Saul did not relent and dragged the prisoner the last few steps to a set of double doors.
“Stand up, will you. Pull yourself together.”
“Who is this guy I’m meeting? Is he really the butler?”
Saul shook his head and knocked on the door. Within moments the double doors swung open to reveal an elderly man wearing a tuxedo.
“Just in time for tea. Do come in,” the old man made a sweeping gesture with his arm and stepped to one side to allow the recruit to enter his apartment. Saul led the recruit into the dining room and forced him into a seat closest to the door.
The old man took the seat opposite the recruit but did not speak. Saul began serving tea, freshly cut slices of lemon on a serving dish.
“That will be all, Saul. Thank you.”
Saul gave a slight bow towards the old man and left. The recruit looked from his teacup to the old man.
“Who are you?”
“You may call me George. I’ve been a servant at Holden Farms all my life. I’ll instruct you in all aspects of being a servant. Cooking, cleaning, ironing, sewing, tending the horses and gardens, hosting invited guests, and most importantly, the specific needs of the master of Holden Farms.”
The recruit sipped the tea, a brow furrowed in concentration.
“You’re going to train me to be a butler? What about the killing, being an assassin part?”
George smiled and squeezed lemon slices into his tea.
“I don’t know how to tell you this. Saul was having some fun with you. I’m afraid there won’t be any revenge killing in your future. You’re fate is with me as a servant of Holden Farms. You’ll never leave this mansion again. Just like me.”
George sipped his tea and smiled again.
“I don’t understand.”
“Have a lemon cake. It will make you feel better.”
The recruit did as he was instructed, taking a small bite of the cake and waiting for George to explain.
“Due to your age and other factors, you’ve been selected as a personal servant to Miss Ella, provided you pass my training course.”
“What other factors?”
“You’re an orphan. No surviving relatives. Never married. No stable employment. In short, you fit the profile. Nobody will miss you.”
The recruit leaned back in his chair, rubbing a hand over his hair in nervous exasperation. “I guess that answers my question about what happens if I don’t want to be a butler.”
George nods and sips his tea before answering. “Indeed. No need to go into the grisly details. I’ll leave that to your imagination. But, know this, you best pass my butler school. Failure isn’t an option for you. Some don’t understand the core of what it means to be a servant. It’s more the list of duties you perform.”
The recruit ate more lemon cake and contemplated George’s words.
“Tell me what the core is if not the duties you have already mentioned.”
“Being a servant at Holden Farms means anticipating the needs of the master before she asks. You must become attuned to her moods, whims, and be able to discern how to meet all needs and expectations even when those specifics are not communicated. To be a butler here, you must dedicate your entire being to the happiness of the master.”
The recruit began to answer but stopped and sipped his tea.
“I guess the only thing I don’t understand is why my age. I’m only 22. I don’t have experience…”
George cut him off with a wave of his hand.
“Ella doesn’t want someone’s bad habits. Your age is for a reason. You can be molded into the servant she wants. Just remember the core principle. Make Ella happy and you’ll remain alive.”
George stood at the same moment Saul re-entered the room.
“Well, is he ready?” Saul asked, gesturing at the recruit.
“I can’t say for sure, my friend. But it will have to wait until later. We must prepare for the trial.”
“If there is a trial,” Saul interrupted.
“What happened?” the recruit asked, not understanding.
Saul grunted and glanced at George. Receiving no answer, he cleared his throat and returned his eyes to the recruit.
“The prisoner confessed.”
The recruit started to speak, but bells began to ring, filling the air around them with a tremendous noise. Saul grabbed the recruit by the upper arm and ushered him quickly down the hall towards the main ballroom.
“It’s time for a trial,” George said, smiling wide as he opened the doors.
The ballroom packed with the residents of Holden Farms. On the stage the bell rung and rung, the volume deafening as George and Saul led the recruit through the crowd. When the three reached the seats reserved for them, the doors slammed shut behind and all the lights went dark.