Friday, November 30, 2012
The waitress came by with a pot of coffee and Michael flipped his cup over without speaking. He sat hunched forward with his arms crossed on the tabletop, staring at the cracked burgundy vinyl behind my right shoulder and chewing the inside of his lower lip. He made no sign when the waitress asked if he knew what he wanted to eat. She raised an eyebrow and turned to me, so I ordered for both of us, keeping my voice low and watching in case he was listening. The waitress raised an eyebrow when I got to the end of the order, asked me to repeat the last item, then grinned, nodded and disappeared into the kitchen.
The restaurant was leaning towards being half-full, but it looked like it would take another hour before things got busy. I scooted to the center of the bench and put myself in Michael’s line of sight. He didn’t look up, so I pulled the folded envelope out of my back pocket and set it between us. “Explain.”
That got his attention. “I didn’t know they’d be there,” he said, seeming to notice his coffee for the first time. “I know you’re not his biggest fan.”
“That’s putting it mildly. I don’t think anybody -- ” I stopped myself. “Parker said something about changes at the company?”
That really got his attention. “Did he say anything specific?” he asked, sitting up straight. “Did he name names? What did he say?”
“Nothing, really. And no names, unless you count him calling me ‘Houston’ instead of Rachel. Which, I might add, is a violation of my current contract.” I crossed my arms and leaned in over my side of the table. “And while we’re on the subject, so’s that RED file you’ve got in the van.”
“I know,” Michael grimaced. He pushed his glasses onto his forehead and ground the heels of his palms into his eyes. “I know, I told him, I told White when he handed it to me. It didn’t do any good.” The hands came down, and he bent forward and literally thumped his forehead on the tabletop. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“Ew, Mike, that’s where the food goes. Get your face off it.”
“Make me.” His defiance was somewhat dampened -- and muffled -- by his posture. “That’s what everybody else does.”
I snorted. “No they don’t.”
He took a deep breath and let it out, holding it too long in between to really count as a sigh. “No, they don’t.” He turned his head sideways and looked up at me fish-eyed. “If it’s any consolation, I don’t want to do it either.”
“So turn it down,” I urged in a fierce (and admittedly unnecessary) whisper. I had to lean back slightly to keep from spitting in his ear. “Given the situation, if anyone has that prerogative, you do.”
The fish eye narrowed a little. “You’re just now asking that?” I shrugged wordlessly, and he peeled himself off the table and sat up. “This was a mistake. I shouldn’t have brought you along.”
Then why’d you drag me out of bed at four in the morning? “I’m glad to see you, too.”
“No, I mean -- ugh.” He rubbed his eyes again. “Have we ordered yet? Did I miss something?”
I shrugged again. “You were pretty zoned. I took care of it.”
He looked wary. “When you say ‘took care of it’--”
“I mean I did what I always do,” I replied, pushing the envelope to one side. “I made arrangements. It’s part of my job description.”
As if on cue, our waitress had returned with a loaded tray, and we both leaned back from the table to give her room. My stomach growled as she set down two plates of hash browns and eggs -- over-hard and scrambled, respectively -- followed by a glass of orange juice. Everything went to my side of the table. Michael stared, ignoring his own plate as it landed in front of him. “That’s ... a lot of food.”
I nodded and unwrapped my silverware from its paper napkin cocoon. “It is,” I said, and dug into the over-hard eggs. “Eat up, already.”
I waited, fork poised between plate and mouth, as Michael looked down at his breakfast. It took a moment -- first a pause and a sharp intake of breath, followed by a confused frown, followed by a heavy sigh and more eye rubbing. Eventually he took his glasses off, laid them on the table and sat back heavily in the booth. “Rachel, really?”
I pushed the plate closer to him, tilting it so the whipped cream clown face on the pancakes rocked from side to side. “You know you love it,” I grinned.
I held off on posting this for a few days because at first it was just a cover page and page or two of scene-setting, but now there's enough of the new chapter for a new reader to really dig their fingers in and decide if they want to go through the archive. (FYI, the answer to that is "they totally should".) Unsounded is back! It's got a zombie magician! It's got a horrible-yet-strangely-endearing little girl with a tail! It's got hunky, sometimes shirtless law enforcement officers running around everywhere! It's got giant dogs that people ride around like horses! It's got visions! And evil wizard guys! And a mystery! And huge flashy magic fights! Why are you even still here? Go! Read!
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Know what I'd like to see? I'd like to see a fairy tale where the princess is smart and well-educated and has her own opinions, and maybe not everybody appreciates that but it's because they have their own issues, not because "ZOMG she's a gurl", and it's generally seen as a good thing because after all she's going to be running the country someday. And when she marries it's because she made a politically and financially advantageous arrangement with a guy she could stand to be around for more than two seconds, and while they do develop a relationship it takes several years and is based mostly on mutual respect and appreciation, and neither of them falls head-over-heels for a member of the household staff. And she uses her power, influence and substantial resources to accomplish her goals, most of which are political in nature and none of which involve a wicked uncle or an assassination attempt. And sure, there's maybe a time or two where she feels the constraints of her position, but she deals with it like a mature adult because she's secure enough in her identity that it doesn't really bother her, and she's also aware that duty and privilege go hand-in-hand, and she does enjoy the perks of her high station, and that's totally okay. And she definitely doesn't want to run off and be a peasant, not because she's ignorant of their lifestyle but because she's toured her country and seen it up close, and she knows better than to either dismiss or romanticize her subjects. And while she prepares to eventually take over and become ruler, it doesn't happen on screen because a coronation (just like a wedding) is the beginning of a story, not the happy ending of one.
There would definitely be at least one scene with a huge pimped-out ball gown that takes her like four hours and six helpers to get into, because pretty dresses and jewels are awesome. However, she will not complain about the required structural undergarments.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
I'm about 2/3-3/4 done with "Terms & Conditions" (looks like 18 chapters total, aren't you lucky). But that means I'm also at that super awesome stage where I'm starting to think about my next project, and then I get really super excited about it and outline the entire thing in about a day, and I get really super involved in developing the characters and their motivations and figuring out what happens to them and why and when, and then I get really super responsible and put it aside so I can sit on it and wait because if I start writing now T&C will never be finished.
(Parker is so dang scary you guys
like seriously you don't even know
and that's not even the worst of it.
You'll get one chapter a week and like it.)
Tee hee hee hee hee hee.
Monday, November 26, 2012
I must say this comic right here is eerily accurate, to the point where I'm tempted to check my apartment for hidden cameras when I get home tonight. Really the whole strip could be about my life except for when she makes references to Pokemon. I've never played Pokemon. But the stuff about her cat, yeah, it's pretty much spot on.
Friday, November 23, 2012
The view outside was turning from pitch black to fuzzy grey, but inside the van it was still too dark to do anything but talk. Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to be an option. Michael kept his hands at ten and two on the wheel and stared straight ahead at the road, barely moving and refusing to respond when spoken to. His coffee went cold and sat lonely and purposeless, sloshing forlornly next to my emptied cup. After an hour of near silence, I decided to address the silence head-on. “You’re awfully quiet.”
“This isn’t the first time I’ve been dragged out of bed at odd hours. I can get by.”
“No. Seriously,” he said flatly, and tapped his finger against his ear. “Go back. To sleep.”
My annoyance got the better of me. “I know the van is wired, Mike” I snapped. “I helped wire it.” He just shook his head, lips pressed tight together. I picked up his neglected coffee and took a sip. “If you don’t want to talk, just say so -- ”
Something in his voice made me take a closer look at him. Something in the set of his jaw made me wish I hadn’t. “Okay, fine,” I stage-whispered, and drank, leaving a dark lipstick print on the white lid of the cup. “We’ll talk later.” He dipped his chin in what experience told me was a nod, and I went back to staring out the window at a landscape I couldn’t even see.
My business card (back when I had one) called me a “transport/logistics expert”. If you asked, I would say my job was to plan and expedite the movement of client assets and personnel. I did a bunch of different things -- arranging pick-ups, tracking deliveries, keeping my colleagues abreast of events as they happened. There was a ton of paperwork and a lot of sitting on my rear, and I usually had the radio on in the background. I would tell you that I didn’t get out of the office that often, and that you didn’t want the boring details. Client confidentiality, and all that. I wasn’t paid enough to jeopardize AGATE’s reputation.
Of course, those boring details were that “office” translated to “the back of the van where all the monitors and blueprints and maps were”. That radio I listened to all day? It transmitted two ways. Michael and his sister did most of the active work, but my job was to be keep everything organized on our little expeditions. I planned routes, made sure we stayed clean and fed on the road and kept all the paperwork in order. There were some missteps at first, but I turned out to have a knack for playing mission control – hence, “Houston”.
Two weeks after graduation, I moved across the country and tried to settle in at AGATE. I say “tried” because the job was always changing -- one week we babysat a shipping container en route from the port of Los Angeles to Duluth, Minnesota; the next we turned around and drove to Yellowknife with fourteen cartons of “all you need to know is that it doesn’t explode that often” following us in a U-haul truck. The only real constant was that Michael did almost all of the driving. Rosie rode shotgun, and I sat in the back, making phone calls and navigating. Michael’s father ran his company by a strict set of operational rules, including one that clearly stated no personal phones and no GPS units on the job. Everything was worked out on paper maps; all communications happened by radio, or with burner phones that we swapped out weekly or as needed. No exceptions. The longer I worked for AGATE, the more it made sense.
Two months in, I thought the job would kill me. My circadian rhythms were destroyed by the constant travel. Despite subsisting on road food, I was losing weight. Most of my belongings were in storage because I hadn’t had time to find a permanent residence. When I slept, it was either on the road or at the office (that “sleep through anything, anywhere” thing of mine really came into its own during this period). Commissions aside, the pay was average at best. My contract had a provision that I could quit any time I wanted, as long as I turned in my keys and signed an NDA before I left. When the thought occurred to me that I could walk away, no questions asked, I ignored it. I felt like crap, but I was having the time of my life.
They were quite a pair. Colin spoke like a native in three languages and knew all the swears in four more (he claimed his parents travelled a lot when he was young), and he could bluff his way through, into or out of just about anything. He was also pretty good at something that resembled tai chi, if tai chi involved chair legs and the occasional broken bottle. He was calm, methodical and the image of professional deportment when he was sober. He was very, very handsy when he was drunk.
Steph, on the other hand, smoked in the van, slandered our families as a form of affection and had to be bribed into wearing deodorant. She changed the color of her hair almost weekly, and admitted she didn’t remember its original hue. She spoke one language (poorly), lied well only when it didn’t matter, and couldn’t punch her way out of a paper bag (no muscle, and no follow-through at all). But the things she could do left us all wondering how she a) hadn’t yet spent time in federal prison and b) still had all her fingers. She decided we were friends right off the bat, and taught me how to play ratscrew (a card game like war, but with more rules). I liked her better than Colin, partly because of the cards, but mostly because she never tried to get a look down my shirt.
After a few successful runs, it was like they’d always been there. The five of us would hang out in the back of the van and play Uno when we weren’t busy (or we’d park the van, find a bar and play gin rummy with real gin). Michael and I had a running bet on how Steph and Colin had met each other in the first place, but they avoided the subject through an intense, unspoken mutual effort and always changed the subject when asked. By the time we realized we could pin them down and make them tell us, we were all close enough that it didn’t matter anymore.
Michael swung the wheel to the right, leaving the interstate and jerking me out of my reverie. “I’m hungry and I need to stretch my legs,” he said, more a statement of fact than an explanation as we trundled down an exit ramp and onto the surface streets. The dark cornfields had melted into dawn-lit suburbs while I was daydreaming. I could just make out the stress lines around Michael’s mouth in the easing darkness. “I hope you’re okay with stopping to eat.”
I suddenly realized I was ravenous. “Sure.”
Thursday, November 22, 2012
1 med. onion, sliced
2 c. mushrooms, cut in chunks
6-8 cups fresh (or frozen and thawed) green beans
1 package Trader Joe's portabella mushroom soup
2 1/2 c. french fried onions
Melt butter and saute onions and mushrooms in a skillet until mushrooms are cooked (6-8 minutes). Combine in large bowl with green beans (cut into bite-sized lengths) and one third of the fried onions. Thin soup with a couple tablespoons of water and add to mixture, stirring to coat. Place in casserole dish and sprinkle top with remaining fried onions. Bake in a preheated 375F oven for 30 minutes. Serve hot.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
I get the thinking behind traditional art thefts. That's not hard; art is valuable and (usually) relatively easy to steal, store and ship, and there will always be someone who's willing to buy a stolen painting and hide it away, content just in the knowledge that it's in their possession. I also understand, to a lesser degree, why archaeological sites get looted and the artifacts scattered to the wind -- particularly if it's in a place where the locals may not think much beyond "dude, I can get like a month's worth of food with the money from this useless old pot I found in the back forty, so let's go sell it ASAP".
But I do not understand people who destroy entire sites, deliberately and with malice-aforethought, just so they can presumably make a quick buck or two (thousand). I mean, it's like going to the Nazca Lines and thinking, "You know what? This would be a great place to go dirt biking. I should charge admission." It makes me sick to my stomach, like when I heard about that remarkably preserved Roman site in Turkey that was discovered after the government built a dam downstream. (Although even that was just a case of "whoops, that could have worked out better".) Bottom line, if you deliberately take destroy that which cannot ever be replaced, particularly if you do it for personal gain, you're a jerk. There's no two ways about it. And if you are that kind of person, a part of me hopes that for the rest of your life, every time you get into a car, you shut your hand in the door.
I highly recommend you watch (listen? It's really just audio) to this stand-up routine by one John Mulaney, where he details a prank he and his friend pulled on an entire diner through creative use of a jukebox and the dulcet voice of Tom Jones. I also recommend you not enjoy it at your work station while on your break, because that's what I did, and I had to keep from laughing myself sick so I wouldn't disturb my coworkers, and I think I heard something go "pop" over my right lung and half an hour later it still sorta hurts. So, you know: Fair warning. But it's totally worth it.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Monday, November 19, 2012
It's like Stan McNormalguy, but without the excuse of bad weather
So while in conversation at the blogmeet yesterday, I had an epiphany and put words to an idea I've been trying to pin down for a long time. Namely, why it is that so many intelligent, competent people turn into oblivious, blithering idiots when they're behind the wheel: They see driving as an experience instead of an action. Instead of a moving object that they control, they see cars as a room where they sit while things happen around them. (And to be fair, with a modern car and an automatic gearbox, that's an easy thought to have.) I think this accounts for a lot of cell phone-related idiocy, as well; after all, they're "not doing anything", so they might as well talk to their friends or get some business done while they "wait". And the worst part is that until they have an accident, they're probably going to believe themselves to be good drivers. I readily admit that I used to think the same way; as dumb as this sounds, my perspective changed after I watched a racing movie with a lot of fancy fast drivin' and some ramp action, and it really drove the physics of it home. (Not the unrealistic ramp physics, the "driver as controller of an object in space" physics.) *cough*also I may have had a fender bender*cough* Unfortunately, it's not something that can be readily explained, and I know from experience that if you try, the other person is likely to just keep repeating "But I've never had an accident!" until you give up and go watch TV or something. I guess in the end there's nothing for it but to either insist on driving yourself, or to hold on and hope today's not the day you come face-to-face with Jesus. (Although it'd be kinda funny if you both showed up at the Pearly Gates, and St. Peter was all surprised to see you so early, and you just pointed at your friend and said "They were driving", and St. Peter just nodded like, "Yeah, okay, I gotcha" because that explained everything. I would laugh before I went inside.)
Sunday, November 18, 2012
Friday, November 16, 2012
“Bleaugh.” I raked my nails across my scalp and rubbed blearily at my face -- I had lines on my cheek and chin from using the sleeve of my corduroy jacket as a pillow. Just from the feel of things, I was pretty sure we’d crossed a state line already. My back was stiff and my mouth tasted like foot. “Sure, why not.”
“If you want to keep sleeping, that’s fine – ”
“Nope.” A little more awake now, I flipped down the visor and checked in the little mirror that my lipstick hadn’t smeared. “I’m good. We still using the company card for this stuff?”
“It’s in the glove compartment, same as always.” Michael hopped out and held the door for me while I retrieved the credit card and clambered across the seats to the driver’s side. “Enjoying yourself so far?”
“Ha,” I yawned, and punched him lightly in the shoulder. “Maybe.” He grinned, and I grinned back in spite of myself. “I guess field work never really gets completely out of your system. Sometimes, I kinda miss this old hunk of junk.”
“Can’t imagine why.” He shut the door behind me and slapped it with the flat of his hand. “Take your time gassing up. I’ve gotta head inside for a few minutes.”
“If you’re talking about the restrooms, I'll be right behind you.” I rounded the front of the van, fumbled the card into the slot on the pump and went to work on the van’s gas cap. Despite my tired, fumbly fingers, I managed to hit the right buttons and selected the lowest grade available (anything higher gave the van indigestion) and wrestled the nozzle into place. The spring sky was still chilly and full of stars, but the far eastern edge seemed to be thinking about turning pink sometime soon. I leaned against the van and let myself tare off into space. This would take a few minutes.
A smooth and toneless voice said, “Good morning, Houston.”
I was instantly alert for the second time in as many hours. Unfortunately, this time I couldn’t feign sleep to put off the coming conversation. “Parker,” I replied, standing up straight. The thought crossed my mind: Kick him in the balls and run away. I put it aside for the moment. “I did not expect to see you here.”
“Understandable. There have been a few changes since you left our full-time roster.” Parker was about fifty, wore a pressed grey suit, and had the kind of round, small-featured face you’d expect to see leering out of a van like ours. His hands were fleshy and very soft. He had an unsettling knack for showing up out of nowhere. He invariably brought bad news. “Changes for the better, I like to think. We have an assignment for you.”
Forward kick to the stomach, knee strike to the forehead, heel strike to the solar plexus when he goes down. My face stayed blank. “Michael’s handling my assignment,” I said, and glanced over at the convenience store. “He’ll be back in a minute.”
Parker smiled knowingly, and my arms broke out in goosebumps. “My associate is informing Michael as we speak. There is some after-hours work we need done in the area you will be visiting. It will not interfere with your other work. Of our employees in the region, you are the ideal asset.”
“Check your records, Parker. I’m not an employee anymore. I’m a consultant.”
“As you say. The details are enclosed.” Parker removed a sealed manila envelope from inside his jacket and held it out to me. A time and date were marked on the outside in red pen, with further directions written beneath in different handwriting. “We appreciate your cooperation, and you will be compensated appropriately for your time.”
Spray him with gasoline and set him on fire. The pump went “clunk” to tell me the tank was full. “Parker, I need that envelope like I need a hole in the head,” I said, hanging up the nozzle and screwing the gas cap back in place. “And if you’re here personally, that means there’s a better-than-average chance I’ll end up with one if I take it.” The pump spat out my receipt and I tore it away and stuffed it in my pocket. A quick glance showed Michael was still inside, standing at the register with White (Parker’s wingman; same suit, less hair, thinner build). He (Michael) looked tired. I took the envelope. “Parker, if I never see you again...”
“Indeed,” Parker replied drily. “Enjoy your trip, Houston.”
Hand to God, if you call me that again I will kill you. “Sure. ‘Enjoy’.” I crammed the envelope in my back pocket and stalked into the little store, refusing to look back. I passed Michael on his way out, carrying two coffees balanced atop several more of the sealed envelopes. He did his best to hide the stack with his arm, but I caught a glimpse as we both turned to edge through the doorway. Most were plain manila, just like mine. The third one down was red.
He didn’t make eye contact, just nodded and headed toward the van. It took White brushing past me to make me realize I was still standing in the doorway, staring after him. Pulling my jacket closed, I pivoted into the store and let the door close behind me. The adrenaline rush of dealing with Parker dropped away and let me feel the early hour and the short night of sleep. I had a sudden rush of worry about CatForShort.
“’Scuse me,” I called to the attendant. “Which way are the restrooms?”
Yesterday after work I stopped by the grocery story because I needed supplies for to make a delicious pumpkin pie next week, and anyway I'm out of shortening.
I pulled into a parking space and sat for a minute because I wanted to hear the end of the song on the radio. And it took a minute, because the song wasn't even half over when I pulled in, so I started looking around at the other cars in the parking lot.
And then I noticed it. A white Pontiac Solstice with a personalized license plate (and it was a very obnoxious, macho plate, too), parked in a handicapped spot. And it wasn't even parked well; the right tires were fully over the line and the whole thing was cattywhompus. And that macho plate did not have a little wheelchair on it.
My suspicious were roused. I looked closer; there was no tag hanging from the rearview mirror, either. The song finished and I got out, but instead of going into the store I approached the car. Perhaps, I thought to myself, the driver has a temporary permit displayed on his dashboard. Perhaps, I thought, he dropped a weight at the gym and has to wear a cast on his foot for six weeks, and his doctor wrote him a note so he could park here. Perhaps my suspicions are unfounded.
They were not. There was no placard. There was nothing, not a mark or a sign or anything, anywhere on that car that gave it permission to be parked in that spot. This made me angry. My dad is handicapped; has been since before I was born. I know all to well how he and others like him rely on those parking spaces to make their lives easier. So I decided to do something about it.
First, I looked around, checking that the car's owner wasn't coming out of the store right at that moment. Then I went to the sidewalk (for safety) and took out the pad of paper and pen that I always carry. And I wrote "Stupidity is not a handicap. Park elsewhere." And I tore it off and stuck it under his windshield wiper. And I went into the store.
I always wanted to do that.
Next time, his tire stems are forfeit.
Yesterday was a good day.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
Hooray! Kris Straub has a new comic called "Broodhollow". This one has a horror theme, so fair warning: It's only been going for about a month and it's already creepin' me right out. He's, uh, he's really good at that sort of thing. Go check it out!
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
There may in fact come a day when I don't stop and say to myself, "Hot damn, I could just take my money and buy nothing but toaster strudels if I wanted", but I hope it doesn't come soon. I'm certainly doing my best to make sure it doesn't.
Monday, November 12, 2012
Here's to Grandpa Jude, Uncle Rod, Aunt Cathy, Uncle John, Uncle Richard, Great Aunt Frances, Grandpa John (RIP) and especially my cousin Tim, who's currently taking turns with the neighbor boys, seeing who can blow the most sand out of the sandbox. You all volunteered to be less safe so I could be more so. I'll do my best not to waste it. Thanks.
Things I learned over the weekend:
-- Skyfall is awesome. The Hobbit is going to be awesome. Iron Man 3 is going to be AWESOME.
-- Fringe season 5 is basically one long love letter to the long-term fans, the ones who have been watching since episode one. Last Friday's episode had me pointing at the TV and shouting "HoMaGawd it's that thing! And that thing! And the glyphs! AAAAAAH!" Glyphs! Kinder Observer! Evil Walter, oh noes! And it was awesome. Also: PETER WAT R U DOING. PETER THAT'S UR BRAIN. PETER U NEED THAT.
-- I went to the movie theater inside the mall, which means I dropped by the Lego store on my way out, and I have decided I won't stop until all of my desk at work is covered in Lego. There are worse ways I could
waste company time spend my ten-minute breaks, yeah that's it, breaks.
-- When I moved into my current living space, the bedroom was being used to storage so the apartment was set up as a studio. But now all the stuff in storage has been moved and I have a real bedroom again for the first time in, like, three years. It kinda feels a little weird, to be honest. Changes the whole dynamic of the space and how I use it. Also I spent all day Sunday moving furniture so my muscles are sore. But now I have room for a craft table! Yay!
-- Tam is awesome and has a problem and you, yes YOU can help fix it! And also there are even prizes, but you don't need to be bribed into helping someone, do you? Nah, of course not. You're cool.
Get back to work!
Friday, November 09, 2012
2. Get In
We all hated the van, the ugly, smelly, noisy van, but dammit it was our van. A wallowing, rusted-out, blue- and white-paneled monstrosity, its mere presence on a suburban street was enough to prompt calls to the local police. Everyone on the team had taken a turn trying name it. Colin came up with “Big Blue”, but even he agreed that it was boring and it didn’t stick. Ben was (reluctantly) voted down on “The Murdermobile” and its various permutations. Steph wanted to call it “Free Candy”, which we all liked but management vetoed. My only contribution was “El Chupacabra”, suggested after a more southern assignment, but Rosemarie couldn’t pronounce it. By the time we split up, it was just “the Van”.
And now it was squatting by the dumpster in the alley behind my apartment building, smirking at me like I had just made a bet with it and lost. The main street was empty, of course -- some cities never sleep, but my little midwestern suburb wasn’t one of them. “Mike, you promised,” I groaned, and turned up the collar on my jacket. He was right, it was cold outside. “You said we were done with the van after last time.”
Michael shook his head. “I know, and I’m sorry,” he replied, obviously not sorry at all. “At least you don’t have to sit in the back anymore. Humor me? Oh,” he added, unlocking the driver’s side door and holding it open, “you’ll have to climb across. The other side won’t open.”
“I think that’s bingo on the ‘broken parts’ card, then,” I muttered, hopping up and scrambling over the center console. The interior reeked of air freshener and rubbing alcohol, with a sharp underlying scent I didn’t remember and couldn’t quite place. Tangy and metallic, it smelled like a battery tastes when you touch it to your tongue. It made me uneasy. Michael was right, though; I finally got to ride shotgun. I checked; there was still a bingo card stuck on the dashboard. “Remember when Steph made these up?”
“Yeah, she still owes me a drink for my win last year.” There was break between that sentence and the next, half a second’s pause, just long enough to notice. “Fat chance I’ll ever get it now.” Michael jumped up into the driver’s seat, buckled his seat belt and turned the key. The engine turned over with a grumpy cough, and he patted the steering wheel. “Good times, good times.”
“You’d think with our budget, we could have kept this beast in better working order,” I said, fastening my own seat belt and bracing against the dashboard as the transmission grudgingly shifted into reverse. “I guess that’s business for you. Not that I’m blaming your dad or anything. I suppose I could have done something --”
“It’s fine. Rosie was in charge of maintenance, anyway, and she’s always more interested in the gadgety stuff than boring things like oil changes.” Michael spun the wheel one-handed as we exited the alley and wrestled the gear lever down from “R” to “D”. The silver streetlights caught his glasses, opaquing the lenses. “She’s running the new branch in Asia, did you know that? Took Colin with her.”
“Figures. He’s a natural for foreign jobs.”
“She says it’s really nice. Lots of room for expansion.”
“Well, good for her.” I yawned wide, cracking my jaw. “How long until our first stop? An hour?”
“Closer to two.” The engine jerked, then settled as he pressed the accelerator.
“Then wake me up when we get there,” I said, fumbling for the lever that would recline my seat. “I’m going back to sleep.”
The ride smoothed out once we hit the interstate, and I quickly drifted off. For all its myriad faults (and despite the ever-changing odor), the van was sort of comfortable. Ugly as sin on the outside, sure, but the company sprung for decent seats and cupholders when they first retrofitted the interior. We could fit all six of us with ease, provided two didn’t mind staying in the back with the equipment. We usually drew straws or roshambo’d for it. Michael almost always drove.
Michael’s business card called him a “project coordinator” for a his father’s business, a company called AGATE. If you asked him, he would say they provided shipping and postal service for both professional and private clients. If pressed, he would explain that the bulk of AGATE’s business dealt with sensitive and high-value items, and that discretion was a key part of the job. You would then understand why he couldn’t go into any more detail.
Their motto, printed opposite Michael’s contact information, was “Anytime. Anywhere. Anything.” They worked strictly on a referral basis. If you called and asked about their international overnight rates, they would politely direct you to the nearest post office and hang up the phone. In reality, shipping was the least of their services. I met Michael’s sister Rosemarie in college when we roomed together my sophomore year. She in turn introduced me to her older brother, who shared my major. My senior year, they invited me and two others to come with them to Milan for spring break. We stayed in a villa, did a little sightseeing and shopping and took in the nightlife. It was quite a nice vacation. Our fourth day there, Michael asked me to come along while he ran an errand for his father at a hotel across town. We rented a scooter and I rode behind him, navigating as we went from a city map he provided me. I never did see what Michael did at the hotel, but he went in with a manila envelope and came out with a plain brown box, both unmarked. On the way back he “accidentally” took a wrong turn, then “accidentally” knocked the map out of my hands and into the gutter. I had to get us back by memory through unfamiliar streets. He refused to slow down when I asked, saying the ride was more fun at speed.
In retrospect, we were probably being followed. Michael never mentioned that little excursion, but about a week later I found another unmarked manila envelope in my bookbag. Inside were three thousand dollars in fifties and a phone number, with a note saying I did well and should contact him if I wanted to make that kind of money on a regular basis. I was broke and bored and had no idea what to do after graduation. Of course I called.
Today's Real Life Comics is a strangely personal (and timely) reminder that my Rule 63 Spider Jerusalem* cosplay is going to take a lot more work than I initially planned. I envision many hours of hot glue and jewelry pliers in my future.
*Yes, you read that right. No, I'm not going to shave my head. Yes, it's going to be awesome.
Wednesday, November 07, 2012
Tuesday, November 06, 2012
The polls in my fair state opened at 6 a.m. today. I set my alarm for quarter-'til, made it there by twenty after and was back home inside of an hour. There was a line, but it moved quickly. I usually get up around 7:30, so I am currently sucking down my third coffee of the morning. I regret nothing. I also wore the reddest shirt and the reddest lipstick I own, as is my tradition on election days. And I would've worn my red shoes except I didn't think ahead and wore them yesterday, and my grandpa always said to let your shoes air out for a day before wearing them again so's you don't get trench foot. He had a lot of good advice, my grandpa.
So now I'm killing time at work (by doing some actual work, no less) and checking in on news sites like they're about to announce the lottery numbers. Which, in a way, they kind of are. I quit hoping for a sane outcome several months ago, but I'm still interested in which brand of crazy gets voted in today. I may or may not drink my emergency beer tonight. Depends on how I feel and what the news says when I get back from the coin-op laundry, I guess. Note to self: Remove Death Cab from tomorrow's playlist, regardless.
NEED MOAR COFFEE.
Friday, November 02, 2012
Because when the sliding glass door to my balcony went from “locked” to “unlocked” at 3:38 a.m. in the morning, I was instantly awake.
The soft, metallic click of the lock reached through the night noises outside my studio apartment and struck me like my own name said across a crowded, hostile room. I lay still in my twin bed, the red numbers on the alarm clock staring at me, and watched the door glide open behind the vertical blinds. A blurry silhouette stepped through the gap and closed the door, shutting out the crickets in the courtyard below and the hum of a single car in the street outside. CatForShort, curled up in the crook of my arm, twitched her ears and the tip of her tail but didn’t wake. I took deep, even breaths to mimic sleep.
The shape moved across the studio to the kitchenette, glanced inside the bathroom -- deep, even breaths -- and moved on to the corner I called my office.
A dim oval of yellow light went before it, running across the hardwood floors and over the edge of the new rug I had splurged on two weeks ago. The light and its attendant follower stopped at my desk, backlit by the streetlight glowing through the curtains. I saw a hand reach out and touch my laptop, then pause. A second subtle click sounded as he opened the computer. Blue light from the screen outlined a short mop of ash-blonde hair, wire-framed glasses above sharp cheekbones, and a small semi-automatic pistol in a masculine right hand. With a long finger, the intruder began to peck out my password.
That’s enough of that. I reached for the pepper spray under the mattress, propped myself up on my elbow, pushed the cat off the bed and said, “Mike, what the hell are you doing?”
Michael yelped, froze, hesitated, and spun on his toes to face me. “Rachel!” He slammed the laptop closed as an afterthought, dousing the glow from the screen, so I reached up and switched on my bedside lamp. We squinted at each other in the sudden illumination for a long minute, and he stuffed the pistol in his jacket pocket and said, “You’re awake!”
I put the pepper spray back where I found it. “And you promised you’d stay off my computer.” I ran my hand over my face and sat up, holding the covers up to my shoulders. “And also that you’d call before you just waltzed in again.”
“I did promise that.” He hung his head a little and grinned at me, blue eyes strangely bright over the top of his glasses. CatForShort wandered over and began winding around his ankles in a figure eight, meowing and scraping her jaw over the seams in his jeans. “Although I always thought of the balcony climb as more of a foxtrot.”
It’s too early for this. “What -- ” I stopped for a tremendous yawn “ -- ever. You’re in my apartment. Why?”
The grin became strained. “My dad has a job for you.”
“Of course he does.” I flopped back on the pillows, then swung my legs over the side of the mattress and reached for my robe. “Give me thirty minutes.”
“I can give you ten.”
“I’ll need twenty.”
Locked in the bathroom, I shook the wrinkles out of yesterday’s jeans and pulled my ass-kicking bra out of the clothes hamper. Serves me right for putting off the laundry so long. At least I had a clean shirt that wasn’t covered in cat hair. I was short on time and sleepy; my hair went into a plain ponytail, thick and low and straight at the base of my skull. Makeup was limited to a smudge of grey eyeliner and a swipe of red that felt more like war paint than lipstick. I decided against earrings. I took my sweet time looking for my shoes.
Twenty minutes to the second (by my watch, anyway), I emerged to find Michael half-asleep in front of my silent TV with the cat curled into a purring black-and-white ball in his lap. “Ready,” I said, and prodded him in the knee with my toe. “Do I need to bring anything?”
Michael cracked one eye open at me. “Whaddyoumean?” He reflexively scratched CatForShort between the ears, and the purring got louder.
“Like, can I just bring my wallet on this one, or do I need my bag? Tools? Batteries? Blacklight? Anything?”
“Oh. No. Nothing.” Michael levered himself out of the armchair, stretched his arms above his head and shook himself like a dog coming out of the rain. CatForShort grumbled and stalked off to the kitchenette, highly insulted at being dumped on the floor for the second time in half an hour. “You won’t be -- you shouldn’t need anything on this one.”
I patted my pockets: wallet; knife; lipstick; keys. My phone stayed behind; Michael would have a new one for me if I needed it. “Where are we going, anyway?” I asked, checking the cat’s food and water dish. “How much kibble should I put out?”
Michael glanced over. “It’s only a day, maybe two. Somebody’ll be around to feed her if it comes to that. You should bring a jacket.” He gestured to his own, a well-worn wool shell with a heather-grey hood. “It’s pretty chilly outside.”
I was already rooting in the coat closet by the front door. “Are we driving or flying?” I asked. He hesitated. I had one arm in my jacket and one hand on the doorknob, but I waited for him to answer before I finished either action. “Well?”
“Uh...” Michael stuffed his hands in the pockets of his jeans and rocked forward on his toes. “We’re driving, but...”
“Oh, Lord.” I knew that look: Equal portions of distaste, embarrassment and chagrin, all mixed together with a strange kind of sheepish pride layered over the top. I’d seen the same look on men who owned scruffy, ill-behaved and completely loyal and loving dogs. He smiled a little and looked away, and I cringed. “Not the Van.”
I have come to the conclusion that life is like a hiking trip through the mountains and our beliefs are like the backpack you carry on that trip. Everybody gets one handed to them at the start of things, ostensibly full of everything they'll need. But eventually, you'll have to get something out to solve a problem, which is why it's so important to stop early on and unpack and examine everything. You may have been told already what's in the bag, but until you get in there up to your elbows in trail mix and bandaids, you're not going to be able to really use any of it. And you'll probably find there are things you don't need or want to carry, and they will be discarded; there are things missing that you have to locate and pack yourself; and there are things in the bottom of the bag that will be pleasant (or unpleasant) surprises.
And sometimes there's chocolate. Yay!
Some people go the entire trip without ever getting past the first layer of stuff in their bag. Some people dump the whole thing out at the beginning and start from scratch, picking up things they find as they go. Some people pick up bags packed by other people and carry them unexamined, and they can become very angry when they're told they should at least take a peek to see what's really in there. Some people are so attached to the contents of their particular bags that they refuse to let go of anything, even if it's dragging them down or proved to be useless. And some people spend so much time unpacking and repacking that they forget to put the bag back on their shoulders and start walking in the first place. Ideally, we'd all take regular breaks on the trail and have big "let's see what you brought" unpacking parties -- unfortunately, these usually end in tears. But the important thing is to at least glance in the bag once in a while and take inventory, just so you know what's there and why. Otherwise you'll be digging around in a panic when the rain comes, looking for your tarp and firestarter and maybe finding out you never actually packed them in the first place.
Just don't forget the chocolate.
Thursday, November 01, 2012
Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), the title is not a repeat of my first words upon awakening. I spent Halloween night holding a flashlight while my godmother's handyman did emergency surgery on her koi-less koi pond. I rounded out my night with a PBS documentary on Machu Picchu (it wasn't aliens) and a hot shower. There were no trick-or-treaters. Such is my fabulously exotic life. My cat did spend most of the evening running a hard reset on her nervous system, which meant tearing from one end of the apartment to the other and leaping from the floor to the back of a recliner in one fluid motion, then reversing and repeating the process. She also tried to eat my socks while I was wearing them. She is a strange cat. I have accepted this.
Work was more fun, at least -- I dressed as Oswin Oswald (it's a Doctor Who thing), complete with souffle (it's a costume and lunch!) and I got a fair amount of candy trick-or-treating through the cubicles. My department came in a close second in the cube decorating contest, which was awesome because I helped. Snoopy was a big hit, which pleases me because my fingertips are still sore from all that sewing.
But now that's all over and done with and it's officially November, which is the cause of my disoriented state. It's not supposed to be only two months 'til the end of the year. Last I checked, it was July outside. It's not supposed to be this cold already!
In other news, Tam is having some troubles of the doctory kind, and could use some well wishes. Spare a thought for her if you can; waiting for biopsy results is just a bucket of fun.
Finally, Fiction Friday starts tomorrow at noon. Hope to see you there!