The italic handwriting was inked on the far wall in giant lettering. It took up pretty much the entire space and was readable from almost everywhere on the open-plan office floor.
It read: ‘Remember you are D.U.S.T. and unto Dust you shall return.’ The D.U.S.T. logo was painted underneath, a Celtic cross made from wicker that reminded me of an old sheriff’s badge and compass.
As I stood in the doorway on the morning of my first day, I became aware of the general hum of office activity: the buzz of an air conditioning unit, phones ringing and being answered, the ‘blink-blink-blunk’ noise of a flickering, malfunctioning ceiling light, somebody cursing at a photocopier. A thick fug of cigarette smoke hung in the atmosphere about 12 inches above the heads of the workers bent over the clunky, beige IBM computers.
“Good morning, I’m here to see Frank?” I said to the friendly-looking receptionist. “My name is Wilfred Mehmet. Today’s my first day. He should be expecting me.”
“Ah yes, Wilfred, of course. Welcome to D.U.S.T. Frank’s office is over there on your right. Just go ahead and let yourself in.”
I nodded a thank you and wandered over to the office door I hadn’t noticed upon arrival. Stencilled on the frosted glass door was ‘ST. F of ASSISI. C’MON IN!’
Upon opening the door a fresh (stale) waft of blue cigar smoke filtered out and a gruff voice barked “Don’t you people ever fucking knock?”
A mumbled apology escaped my lips. It was entirely one octave higher in pitch than I would’ve wanted. As far as first impressions go, it was lame. Dammit.
I cleared my throat. “Apologies, sir. Wilfred Mehmet, reporting for first day of duty, sir.”
“Har, I’m just messing with you, Mehmet. Pull up a pew.”
Frank didn’t look anything like the icon I’d grown up with. Here was a sturdy man with a warm, cragged face and glinting blue eyes. They say you should never meet your heroes but I liked him immediately.
“Tell me, what do you know about D.U.S.T.?”
“I am fully up to speed, sir. D.U.S.T. is – I mean you guys are – I mean, we are – the Department of Universal Saints and Theologians, dedicated to helping good Catholics around the world with simple, run-of-the-mill, everyday problems.”
“Yah, yah, you go that right.” He coughed a rumbly wheeze that rattled around his chest long after the coughing stopped.
“I see from your file you’re some kind of social media whizz. Is that correct?”
“Sir, yes sir, graduated top of my class with an MSc and PhD from Harvard, specialising in cat pics, sir.”
The phone on his desk chirruped loudly and a blue light flashed off and on. He picked up the receiver; grunted: “Mmm hmmm, yah yah yah, okay, we’re on it.”
He stood up from his chair, put on his blazer and made for the door.
“Forgive me, Mehmet, I gotta rush. We got a Code Blue. Some guy in Kenosha, Wisconsin can’t find his car keys and is due to leave his daughter to the airport in 30 minutes. I gotta get St Anthony on this right away and his head of department can’t find him. It’s fucking typical of that guy. Anyway, Janine out front will show you to your desk.”
He stopped at the door and turned back, “Before I go, if I were to say to you that…in terms of patron saints of this and that we’re really scraping the barrel right now, what would you say?”
“I’d say I’ve got a meme for that, sir.”
“Bingo. Right answer. That’s the kinda attitude I like, Mehmet. You’ll do well, son. Now…let’s go to work.”