Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Stupid reality, intruding on my Wanna-Try-Its.

So I was all pumped up because I got the idea to run the Mini this year, but then I did some trial exercises and a lot of soul searching and finally admitted that my feet would fall off if I tried to run or walk that distance. And it's not a matter of building muscles or cardio endurance, because I could train up and fix that. But my anterior talo-fibular tendons are mostly made of string now*, and I kinda don't want to be permanently crippled this early in the game. So I'm bummed about that. But I'm still going to keep pounding away at the gym. So, there's that.

* That's not an exaggeration. They're held together by about fifty stitches each. And they're not that big to begin with, so.

Monday, January 28, 2013

At least it's not the full Firefly this time.

So Young Justice and Green Lantern apparently get the axe, but Tom and Jerry get a whole new show and Johnny Freakin' Test is still going strong? Just to count off, that's 1) Generator Rex (shunted off to iTunes to die); 2) Sym-Bionic Titan (one season; cliffhanger ending); 3) Motorcity (at least it got a finale); 4) Tron: Uprising (still airing, but doomed); 5) Green Lantern: TAS (one season); 6) Young Justice (possible cliffhanger); and 7) Transformers: Prime (season three cut to 16 episodes). At least we still have Adventure Time and Phineas & Ferb. Hand to glob, it's enough to make me break things.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Fiction Friday: Terms & Conditions

Part 8 Part 9 Part 10

11. April, Part One

           RED stood for “Read, Execute, Destroy”. That the envelopes were themselves red was a coincidence, but it did make things easy to remember. If you mentioned a “RED job” or a “RED file”, everyone in the company knew exactly what you were talking about. They’d then remind you to stop talking about it.
           Protocol for most field jobs was simple. We would receive a sealed manila envelope -- sometimes hand-delivered, sometimes via dead drop -- which would be marked with a place (either a street address, map coordinates, or basic make-a-left-at-the-weird-tree directions), a date (or range of dates) and, occasionally, a specific time. Inside the envelope would be a short dossier on the asset to be retrieved, helpful information about available resources in the area, and any supplemental material unique to the job at hand. We would spend anywhere from an hour to a day doing recon and making plans, then call in to dispatch, check for any changes, and let them know we were on the clock. What we did from that point on was our business and ours alone. Headquarters didn’t want to hear from us unless the parameters for “complete” (as outlined in the dossier) were met, or unless things went really, drastically wrong.
           RED files came with a slightly different protocol, designed (it was whispered) by Parker himself. Regular jobs gave specific locations and were more fuzzy about the time frame. RED jobs were the other way around. All we knew upon receipt was to make sure we were in, say, Minneapolis at 4:02 p.m. on June 27. Where in the city wouldn’t matter, although downtown would be a safe bet. And then, at 4:02 p.m. on the dot, local time, one of us would get a call that told us to open the envelope. No call meant no assignment; we were to shred and burn the envelope unopened, discard our current phones and wait twenty-four hours before contacting the office for a new assignment. We burned three out of every five envelopes we received, and we always waited ninety minutes after the deadline, just in case. We weren’t about to get hauled out on the carpet because some dork of an intern back at HQ forgot that time zones were a thing.
           When the call did come, we had seventy-two hours to locate, secure and deliver the asset, regardless of circumstances, legality or collateral damage. If we couldn’t get it to the transport team within the allotted time, we were to destroy it or render it inaccessible -- bury it at a construction site and watch it get covered with five feet of concrete the next morning; mail it to Colin’s aunt at her missionary outpost in Djibouti; or just burn down the building with the asset inside. They told us to be creative, and we were. It didn’t matter how we did it, so long as it got done. Upon completion, we would call and leave a message; then, when the call was returned and confirmation received, we would shred and burn the file and call it a night. Read, Execute, Destroy. It paid well. Parker was a creep and Ben was a weirdo, but it was still a step up. And no one could say it wasn’t exciting.
           And then one day in April, we got the call and opened the envelope and the asset to be retrieved was a 15-year-old girl.
           Michael immediately called Parker on his direct line and asked him what the hell was going on. Parker told us (Michael put his phone on speaker) that AGATE was adding a fourth “A” to their motto: Anyone. We were to do what we always did: Retrieve and secure the asset, and hand it off to the receiving team as indicated in the enclosed materials.
           And if we couldn’t secure the asset?
           Parker was confident that we would. He was also confident Michael wouldn’t let the company down. He was also very busy. He hung up before we could press the issue. Michael knew better than to try and call back.
           The file had the girl’s name (Margaret), her picture, the name and address of her school (some high-brow sleep-away dealie) and her class schedule. Through sheer dumb luck, it was only a few blocks from where we parked. Michael sent Rosemarie and Steph to scout out the school and stuck me in a nearby coffee shop with a laptop and one task: Find out everything I could about this girl that wasn’t in the dossier.
           Five hours later, I knew that Margaret (nickname: Maggie; favorite ice cream: chocolate; favorite band: Queen; favorite color: blue) was the subject of a custody dispute between two (formerly) married CEOs. Both were lawyered to the gills and the proceedings had been gridlocked for months. Recently, the (ex-)husband’s brakes had been cut; the authorities suspected the (ex-)wife, but couldn’t find hard evidence. Margaret boarded at the school, had a bodyguard detail and spent her weekends with her friends instead of her parents, which we all agreed was understandable given her circumstances. (I found most of this information through standard search engines and free public websites. Stay away from social media, kids.)
           Reading between the lines on the dossier, it was obvious one of the parents had contracted AGATE to slip through the hedge of lawyers so they could -- do what with her, exactly? Skip the country? Have a birthday party? Spend a weekend shopping? From what I could find, both parents had means and motive. The mother was apparently nutty enough to try it -- but based on the court reports, the father wasn’t much better. And we couldn’t know for sure that the client wasn’t actually one of their parents trying to extract a beloved granddaughter from the chaos.
           And how was this all supposed to go down, anyway? This was a far cry from jimmying a desk drawer to get to a stolen patent application. With the exception of one Benjamin Tobias Olivier, esq. (a tiny toy poodle who would not stop barking unless someone cradled him), we’d never had to recover an asset that might object to being recovered. And the dossier was specific that the handoff had to take place at a private hangar at the nearby international airport, which significantly upped the didn’t-feel-right factor. We sat in the van for close to two hours, talking it over and going around and around in circles. Steph wanted to charge in and rescue the girl, no questions asked. Rosemarie wanted to follow protocol and get the job done. I agreed with Steph, but with the proviso that discretion was in order. Colin thought we should flip a coin. Michael had us put it to a vote, but we deadlocked every time.
           And then Ben spoke up: Why didn’t we just ask the girl what she wanted to do?

Part 12

I'd have him over for playtime in the evenings but my cat is under enough stress.

So I live in a kind of a duplex situation, and next door are four toy poodles (and one tiny toy). They all love me (and I love them!) but there's one in particular, name of Oliver, a beautiful shiny black creature, who has decided I'm his mother. He came from a neglectful/abusive home that didn't appreciate his sweet loving nature, so he's fairly insecure and needs lots of cuddles. Whenever I go over there I pick him up and cradle him, and he leans into my shoulder or puts his chin on my chest and looks up at me -- the doggy version of a hug. It's the sweetest thing ever. Only now he's gotten into the habit of going to the door to the shared garage (which is where I always come in when I pop over) and standing with his nose pressed against it because he wants to go see me, and it is heartbreakingly cute. The other dogs are always happy when I visit, but Oliver has decided that when I hold him, that's when he's really at home.

If I'm honest, it kinda makes me feel like a homewrecker. It's not like I don't have a fuzzbeast of my own waiting for me. It just sorta happened.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Fiction Friday: Terms & Conditions

Part 7 Part 8 Part 9

10. Rich Boy Blues

            I couldn’t tell which was clenched tighter: Michael’s teeth, or his hands on the steering wheel. He’d been like when we pulled away from the restaurant; when we got stuck for an hour in a construction zone midway around the bypass; and when we eventually left the interstate on the other side of the city and stopped for gas again. Michael got out without a word to handle the fill-up, moving like a jointed doll with overtight strings. I stayed in my seat, hemmed in by the broken passenger door, and plotted out our route to the coordinates on the back of my envelope. Judging by its weight, there weren’t that many pages inside – more than a dozen, less than twenty. That in itself was reassuring; the more information they gave us, the better we could plan and the less things tended to go south in a hurry.
            The van drank its fill and Michael climbed back up behind the wheel. We turned right onto the main road, headed west, but after about a hundred yards Michael made another, sharper right onto a narrow access road and rode it to the empty parking lot at its end. The only building within shouting distance was an empty strip mall, shadowed storefronts squatting behind square concrete pillars and a faded “For Lease” banner. With the van fully parked, with the engine grumbling behind the brittle plastic dashboard, it took a full fifteen seconds for him to relax enough to lower his arms and turn in his seat to talk to me. “Okay,” he said, and took a slow breath before continuing. “When’s the next turn?”
            “Not for a while.” I compared the instructions on the envelope to the map that lay partially unfolded across my knees. “Two towns from here on the state road, then a right and we head north.” I traced the route with my finger to show him. “And then we should end up ... here. East of God-Help-Us and south of The Sticks.” I frowned. “What the hell are we -- am I supposed to do in the middle of a bunch of empty fields?”
            Michael drummed his fingers on the gear shift. “I don’t know,” he said, staring at the odometer. It read thirty thousand and something, but only because there wasn’t a sixth dial for the one at the front. “I honestly don’t know.”
            He sat like that for close to a minute, gnawing the inside of his lip and frowning like someone trying to calculate a tip without writing anything down. I decided that was boring to watch. “You need to move the stick until the little letter D lights up,” I said, pointing to the indicator on the dashboard. “And then you push on the long skinny pedal and the engine goes vroom-vroom-vroom and we can get this done and I can go home.”
            Michael glared at me from the corner of his eye, then put both hands at the top of the steering wheel and rested his forehead on them. He could have been sleeping if it weren’t for the tendons standing out like guy wires at the base of his neck. Then he sat up, swore violently under his breath in Vietnamese (Colin’s legacy with the team, summed up right there in a single profane moment) and said, “Rosemarie’s in China because they would have frozen her out otherwise.”
            Here we go. “Who’s ‘they’?” I asked, a formality to keep the discussion going. I already knew the answer.
            “Funny.” Michael thumbed at a divot in the cheap molded vinyl of the steering wheel. “AGATE’s been everything since I was ten years old,” he said, dodging to the side instead of addressing things head-on. Typical Michael. “And I mean everything. Rosie and me, we didn’t even go to regular school. We had tutors and we hung out at the office all day, or we rode along on deliveries and stuff in the area. Fourteen years old, and I’d rather sit in on a planning meeting than go see a movie.” He laughed a little, and dug his nail into the vinyl. “That’s why we went to a state university instead of some private east coast campus -- Dad threatened to kick us out to fend for ourselves unless we could prove we made some friends on our own, outside our usual circles.” The digging became a gouge, carving out a trench that matched the furrow between his eyebrows. “And we wound up here, instead. You wound up here. You, and -- ” He choked, and stopped.
            The cavernous back section of the van yawned behind us, carrying only empty seats and a bank of cold screens and quiet speakers. Without looking, I could tell you every button and switch, every coffee stain and rip in the upholstery, every notch in the paint where I kept score in whatever game we happened to be playing that week. I could tell you the exact blue and white bicycle pattern on the five of hearts glued to the back left window. “Hey,” I offered softly. “It wasn’t all bad.”
            “Fifteen years!” he shouted, making me jump. “Almost two fucking decades I’ve been wanting to do exactly what I’m doing right now, I did everything right, I worked my ass off, all so I could sit in this stupid fucking van and watch everything and everyone I touch get broken.” His face was drained and white except for two red spots high on his cheekbones. A detached part of my brain noted that Rosemarie did the same thing when she got upset. The rest of my brain was emphatic that this was not the time for a study in shared traits. Michael pulled off his glasses with his right hand, ground the knuckles of his left into his forehead and shouted again, edging toward a scream: “Fuck!
            I had never before heard him speak that strongly in his native tongue, and it hit me like a punch to the sternum. Around us, last year’s dead, knee-high weeds marched in single file along the weathered cracks in the asphalt, paying little attention to the faded yellow grid laid out for them. Beneath the overhang, one of the storefronts had faded brown paper taped over its floor-to-ceiling windows. Somehow, that was more unsettling than the empty plate glass on either side.
            The map slid off my knees and nestled between my feet like an animal. I ignored it. “Parker told me things were changing, but he didn’t say how,” I said, carefully monitoring Michael’s reaction as I spoke. He didn’t say anything, just nodded behind his hand, his elbow planted at the bottom of the driver’s side window. I stepped carefully and proceeded. “He didn’t say what kind of changes.”
            Michael looked out from underneath his wrist, but not at me. I picked up the map, folded it crisply along its predefined creases and put it away neatly in the glove box. The red envelope stuck up from the console between us. I folded my hands atop its manila cousin in my lap and settled myself for a story.
            “Spill.”

Part 11

People would burn our albums, but not for the usual reasons.

When I finally assemble my symphonic post-metal acoustic zydeco ensemble*, our first album will be called "Their Sophomore Effort". Our second album will be called "Their Greatest Hits, Volume 2". Our third will be called "Their Self-Titled Debut". The songs will have names like "Track 9" (second on the album) and "Here's An Oldie But A Goodie" and "And That Was The Latest From".

The band's name will be Sulky McPitypants and the Slut Monkeys. We will dress like cowboys and never swear in public.

* Yeah, I know, I said "assemble" and "ensemble" in the same sentence. It's Friday.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Arrrrrrrrrrrgh, updated.

I went to Autozone like Og suggested (thanks Og!) and had a nice young man do a charge test on my poor cranky car. Turns out the battery is all topped, and his gadget didn't find anything wrong with the starter or the alternator. Which means (he did admit he was spitballing here) it could be a problem with the sparkplugs, or a sensor connected to the sparkplugs, or a sensor in some other part of the engine, or any one of a number of other things. (He didn't try to talk down to me, which was refreshing -- just gave it to me straight in layman's terms.) So I still don't know what's wrong, but I do know several things that most likely aren't wrong, and failure is still a result, so at least I have that.

Also I just found out "Alphas" was canceled.

*teeth clenched* Life is awesome.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Arrrrrrrrrrrgh.

Remember how my car wouldn't start unless I had everything (radio, lights, fan) turned off? And then I had the battery changed and that made everything fine again?

Except it didn't, and now I'm back to where I was before. I did in fact need a new battery, but that hasn't solved the problem of "no dammit please I've been holding down the key for 15 seconds already why won't you just turn over I am going to be late to work oh wait the radio's on" *click* *wait* *rrrrr-rr-br-brammm* "oh thank God." I have no idea what's wrong. Could there a fault in the electrical system somewhere? Is it going to burst into flames next time I go to the grocery store? Is this going to be hella expensive? Probably; my car's so small even minor repairs take forever because they have to take half the engine apart just to reach the area of concern. And hella expensive means, well, hella expensive. And I really don't want to try and ride my bike everywhere this time of year. It could be done, sure, but it would suck eggs and be a giant pain in the ass and I'd have to get a big ol' duffel bag to haul around my laundry. (Although I admit that now I'm starting to brainstorm how that would work, and the puzzle of it kind of intrigues me.)

Life is awesome.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

It's been twelve hours and I'm still not completely relaxed.

So last night TCM had a one-hour master class thing with Robert Zemeckis, and after that they showed "What Lies Beneath". I sorta remembered seeing commercials for it and being sorta interested when it came out, so I sat myself down and set my phone on mute and watched it. It's an homage to Hitchcock where Michelle Pfeiffer is married to Harrison Ford, and their house might be haunted or she might be going crazy (or both), and hot damn is it tense. The camera work, the atmosphere, the music, the slooooow burn and subtle reveals, the truly excellent jump scares -- it all just works. First time a movie's ever had me so on edge that when the credits rolled I just stared at the screen and thought, "Holy shit that was scary. I am a better person for having the pee scared out of me for two hours." I usually turn out the lights when I really want to enjoy a movie. I am so, so, SO glad I didn't this time. Also my cat curled up and went to sleep in my lap about halfway through, and the presence of a fuzzbeast does a lot to ameliorate the effects of a scary movie, but still. I don't know when I was last so genuinely freaked out (I'm not counting those commercials for "Mama"*). I had to find an episode of Phineas and Ferb before I could think about going to bed.

Plus it was written by none other than Clark Gregg, aka Agent Coulson. So that was awesome.




*Seriously though "Mama" can go to heck and I kinda hope Guillermo del Toro steps on a lego. (Not really. "Pacific Rim" looks awesome.)

Friday, January 11, 2013

Fiction Friday: Terms & Conditions

Part 6 Part 7 Part 8

9. Family Dynamics

            Six months after graduation, I turned out to be really good at reading building schematics and giving accurate directions to people hanging upside down in air vents. I wasn’t the only one who progressed, either. Colin was a prodigy at getting passwords and sweet-talking keycards away from people who really should have known better than to give them out. Stephanie did things with wire cutters and blasting caps that qualified as works of art. At our request, she took before-and-after pictures, but the exact techniques remained a mystery (knowing how the rabbit got into the hat takes all the fun out of magic). Rosemarie showed a real talent for deciding which wire bypassed the alarm system and which one summoned the police when cut. And Michael spent more and more time in the van with me, doodling on the margins of his checklists, listening in as things played out and getting more involved as he got more comfortable with his job.
            I said earlier that Michael tended to lose his head when things didn’t go according to plan -- a better description would be “cracked like a mallard egg in a metal press”. The weird part was, he did fine when it was just him out in the field. He could think on his feet with the best of them, provided the only feet on the ground were his own. But add another person into the mix, and the decision-making part of his brain turned to mush. (Personally, I think he had deep-seated insecurities about being responsible for the safety of others, possibly stemming from some childhood trauma, but I only took Psych 101 for an easy A, so what do I know?)
            Whatever the reason, if you put one more person in the operation, one more link in the chain, he stayed cool, even if the entire show went pear-shaped. I was his personal buffer zone, his seven-second delay that gave him just enough time and distance to think clearly. I was also authorized to ignore his orders if they were obviously wrong, which was a plus. Likewise, having Michael there watching over my shoulder made it easier for me to play my role in our operations. If I shielded him from the stress of dealing with minutiae, he kept the larger pressures off my back. I turned the wheel, but he plotted our course and told me where to steer. And by the time we realized we had progressed and could do our work well on our own, we also realized we didn’t particularly want to. Intimate conversations over cheap liquor proved the rest of the gang felt the same way.
            We fit into our roles like they’d been scripted and cast, and we honed our skills down to a science. Events started to blur together -- every city looks the same when viewed over tapped CCTV feeds. We nailed it down to a routine: Roll in, do the job, stash the van somewhere and proceed get indecently drunk on the company’s dime. Whoever was least hung over the next morning would call in, report the mission complete and pick up the next assignment. To this day, I associate early phone calls with headaches and the minty-fresh taste of pink bismuth straight from the bottle.
            We received our status upgrade in September of that year. We spent October through January stretching our legs, running from one coast to the other. In March, we made the trip five times in four weeks. The record still stands within the company.
            July, in Memphis, we all got matching tattoos -- the five of hearts with our call signs around the pips. After a little thought, I put mine on my shoulder blade. Rosemarie wouldn’t tell us where hers wound up. Colin’s went on his left bicep like a sailor’s tattoo, below an ironic heart that said “Mother”.
            November, we spent the Thanksgiving holiday on the beach in southern California, working on our tans and waiting for the right time to break into a major motion picture studio. You will never hear that story.
            The next May, Colin and Steph learned that if you’re going to sneak off for some personal fun time, you could find a better hiding place than a vehicle loaded with surveillance equipment. The video had more than five million views in less than two weeks. Colin tattooed the URL on his right shoulder, beneath the legend “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.” Steph took a less enthusiastic view of it and tried to smother us all in our sleep. Michael and I were docked a week’s pay for the security breach. It was worth it.
            The September after that, we rode out a hurricane in someone else’s house. The owner wasn’t home at the time. We put everything back the way we found it, replaced a window that had broken, cleaned up the yard before we decamped, and left a nice note and a thank-you gift on the kitchen table. Then we talked our way into the owner’s downtown office suite and took four sealed files from the floor safe behind the desk. Per our instructions, we left a note there, too. It wasn’t quite as nice.
            The February after that, Parker and White joined AGATE and started handing out red envelopes.
            Out of all the teams AGATE kept in the field, Parker chose us to pioneer the project. I’m sure the fact that our team leads were the boss’ only children had nothing to do with that decision. I’m sure their questions about Parker’s role in the company and their father’s plans for the future had no influence on our team being picked for the trial run of such a dangerous assignment. And I’m sure Parker thought hiring a new member for our team without telling us would be just a lovely surprise. I’m sure Parker wished he could have been there to see Ben hand-deliver that first envelope and introduce himself, just to see the looks on our faces. I’m sure he would have laughed his ass off, if he ever actually laughed.
            Ben was ten years older than us and had a haircut that suggested, but did not confirm, military service. He was quiet and polite and did his work well, and he scared the shit out of us. Even Steph shut up when he talked. We couldn’t put a finger on exactly what gave us the heebie-jeebies, but the fact that he was Parker’s hand-picked man was enough for me. And he didn’t ride in the van with the rest of us when we traveled; he just showed up at our destination, Even when we hadn’t told him where we’d be, even when we didn’t decide where to set up base until we got there, he’d find us before we had time to feed the meter. He didn’t go drinking after, either, just slipped away and then reappeared in the morning with hot coffee and bagels and phoned home while we struggled to stay upright and form coherent sentences. He never raised his voice, he never drew his weapon and he never swore. He never even jaywalked.
            He’s the reason I started carrying a knife. At least he had the decency, when I worked up the guts to ask, to teach me how to use it.

Part 10

Monday, January 07, 2013

There is no such thing as too much Lego.

-- So for the automotive issues I mentioned last week, turns out it really was just the battr'y on its way to status: Tango Uniform. It cost much less than I was prepared to pay. I took some of the leftovers and went on a shopping spree. I bought cat food and used copies of Maus I & II and a larger Lego set than usual and like ten pairs of knee socks. It was a good day.

-- Fun fact about knee socks: If they have a pattern knitted into them, there might be places where the threads just go straight across on the inside and don't form part of the weave. And in those places, the socks don't stretch. And if you have nice shapely calves like I do, you might have to turn the socks inside out, pull them over your hand like it's a darning egg and go after those threads with a pair of scissors so you can wear them without cutting off the circulation to your feet. The upside: Teal leopard print all the way down to my toes.

-- I'm still mad at whoever stole that piece of Lego off my desk a week or so ago.

-- I swear I put on five pounds over the holidays, but now I'm back to my routine and I'm going to literally work my ass off, so I'm not too upset about it. Although personally I think my ass is fantastic at any size. (Opinions on the subject may vary, as opinions are wont to do. Luckily for me, when they vary, they're wrong.)

-- "Terms & Conditions" will wrap up on March 15. After that it will be collected in handy e-book form. And maybe handy dead-tree form. After that is "Weather Man". Do try to contain your excitement.

-- I have discovered that if one's cat is feeling contrary and refuses to cuddle, all one need do is crank the thermostat down a few degrees and leave it there for a few hours. Sure, it gets a little chilly, but said cat will be all up in one's business by the end of the evening, until one is annoyed that it won't stop cuddling. And unfortunately there's nothing for that but to get the spray bottle.

-- I need moar Lego.

It has come to my attention

that my current copy-and-paste-straight-from-Word technique for the Fiction Friday posts is causing formatting trouble with the RSS feed. In my defense, I didn't even realize I had one until a kind reader brought it up. Anyhoo, I'll be playing with it this week and hopefully I'll get the problem sorted by Friday, but it will probably mean the layout will change a little in subsequent installments. With any luck, there will be no interruption to your regularly scheduled programming.

That is all.

Edit: I believe I fixed the problem. We'll find out out Friday.

Friday, January 04, 2013

If this is nirvana, somebody goofed

I'm having an interesting time with my writing in that I'm super duper excited to work on it and I'm having loads of fun, but I'm also super duper convinced that it sucks like a Dyson and no one in their right mind would ever read this dreck, but I'm also super duper sure that I don't care, because see point A. It's kinda like going bankrupt and losing all your worldly possessions in a fire and realizing this means you're now free to do anything.

Also I kinda got over the hurdle of constantly needing outside confirmation for my efforts, so that helps.

Hey lookit that, it's lunchtime.

Fiction Friday: Terms & Conditions

Part 5  Part 6 Part 7

8. Contact With The Enemy

           When I came back from the payphone, the shabby green sedan from the gas station had arrived and was parked outside the restaurant.
           “Dammit.” Michael let the blinds fall and took one more stab at the remains of the pancake, then pushed the half-empty plate away. “I didn’t think they’d follow us.”
           I risked a peek out the window to confirm and felt my own appetite wither. “This is seriously not kosher.”
           The envelope had been pushed to one side when the food arrived, and it had stayed jammed up against the condiment rack while we ate. Now Michael pulled it to him and flipped it face-up so he could reread the instructions. “Do you know what’s in here?”
           I shook my head. “No. Do you?”
           “No.” He weighed it in his hand, frowned and checked out the window again. “But I have a pretty good idea what’s in mine.” Something settled in his expression, a floating idea that put down roots and became a decision. He didn’t seem happy about it. “Okay, okay. Confession time. I didn’t -- ” He paused and took a sip of coffee to fill the space, then studied the tabletop between us. “I didn’t actually have a job for you to do when I picked you up this morning.”
           I thought of my warm bed and my neglected cat at home and almost dumped my own coffee over his head. “I beg your pardon?”
           “You heard me. I lied. There isn’t -- wasn’t -- anything the company wanted you for.” The admission came with both a cringe of embarrassment and a slump of relief. “I’m sorry. I honestly didn’t think they’d give you something for real. And I certainly didn’t expect him to show up in person.”
           “Huh.” I sat back in the booth, considering whether this revelation was worth my getting angry again. “So why bring me at all, then?”
           “I’ve been on the road for almost a month now -- most of that in a crappy rental car -- and I was in the area, and I thought some company would be nice.” He was suddenly very focused on cleaning his glasses with the edge of his shirt. “Your company.”
           “Oh, for -- couldn’t you have gotten Ben? He’s still active and he’s in this area.”
           Michael shook his head, looking irritated and a little scared. “Ben’s been AWOL for the better part of three weeks.”
           “He’s -- three weeks?!” I was suddenly aware of the large window to my right, and of the open space and clear lines of sight beyond it. Heads went up around the restaurant and turned toward me, and I lowered my voice. “Should I be worried?”
           “No.” Michael shook his head again. “I don’t think so. And we’ve got more pressing matters to deal with, anyway.”
           The green sedan lurked at the corner of my vision. I decided that yes, I was still angry after all. “So what do we do now?”
          Michael set down his glasses and picked up my envelope. “I’ll take the assignment, for one thing,” he said, studying the instructions. “I’d offer to run you home beforehand, but there’s no time. They want it done by noon.”
           I crossed my arms and looked away. “Plus there’s the matter of that other assignment.”
           “That too.” Michael put his glasses back on and looked over his shoulder, then leaned in. “Okay, listen,” he said quietly. “How much cash do you have on you?”
           “Not a lot. I’ve got my debit card with me -- ”
           “That’ll work. Here’s the deal: I’m going to go up front and pay the check. Wait for me to finish, then go in the women’s restroom and count to forty. I’ll go out to the van and ‘notice’ Parker and White -- ”
           That brought me out of my seat. “What? No!”
           “ -- and you sneak out through the back and lay low somewhere. Once I’ve gotten rid of them, I’ll come back around to get you, and then I’ll take you to the bus station or the airport or wherever you need to go. Sound good?”
           “Mike -- !”
           “Rachel, I made a promise to you: No more RED jobs, not even as a ride-along. I intend to keep that promise. I don’t care who’s giving the orders now.” He stood up and stuffed the envelope inside his jacket. “Ready?”
           I stared at him. “Holy cow, you’re serious. You really don’t care.” I drained my coffee and nodded. “Ready.”
           I didn’t often leave the van to do leg work, but the few times it happened, I kept my eyes open and I learned a lot. One lesson was that a purposeful gait and a determined expression are often all you need to access areas normally off-limits to the general public. Just walking quickly and saying “Sorry, can’t talk now” once got Rosemarie and me backstage at a major music festival, and a “borrowed” badge and a clipboard got us into a headliners’ tour bus. The job was either to recover or to plant photos of a semi-famous young woman in a state of undress on the bassist’s phone. Given the parties involved, it could have gone either way. But none of that is my point. My point is that compared to bluffing event security, an understaffed restaurant kitchen at the start of the breakfast rush was a piece of cake.
           Right up until I stuck my head out the back door and saw Parker waiting for me.
           He stood by the dumpster in his damned immaculate suit, inspecting his damned immaculate fingernails and humming a soft, tuneless melody. I pushed the door all the way open, my hand splayed flat against the painted metal, and he looked up, smiling a little like he was pleasantly surprised to see me.
           Flying elbow right to that smug mouth, then run like hell. I stood in the doorway for what had to be close to a minute, wondering if I really had it in me to beat someone’s face out of shape with just my fists and maybe the heel of my shoe. Then Parker shifted his weight onto his toes, patent leather wingtips creaking, and tapped the face of his watch. “You’re on the clock, H-- ”
           I slammed the door shut before he could finish. “Not your clock,” I muttered. “Not again. Not ever again.” I counted my breaths until my hands stopped shaking and went to find Michael.

(To be continued)  

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Meet the new year, actually much different from the old year

-- So instead of snuggling up in my jimjams and watching the new Green Lantern episode this Saturday, I get to take my car to the shop and spend an hour or two praying it just needs a new battery. I'm 90% sure that's all it is. The other 10% is keeping me up at night.

-- The Saturday after that, I get to spend the morning taking my cat in to have her teeth cleaned. She will not be happy. The upside is that a) she'll be healthier for it, and b) she'll be too groggy from the anesthetic to chase me down and try to hamstring me like an antelope. (This is an actual concern in my day-to-day life. She's a pretty hefty cat.)

-- The way the woman behaves in those "Are ya thirsty, Angus?" commercials leads me to believe that Angus is probably tied up in a closet somewhere, and that his friends and family have been looking for him for at least a week.

-- Fiction Friday returns this week with Chapter 8: "Contact With The Enemy". I don't know about you guys, but I'm having tons of fun with this project. And I start writing the next one next week! (But you won't see it until March, because them's the rules and also I am not a machine, you guys.) Yay, accomplishments!

-- It's always good to stay open-minded and be willing to try and rebuild relationships. But it's also good to recognize when it would take too much of yourself to do so. Draw the line, close the door, pack your bags, do whatever it is you have to do. Don't listen when they tell you it's all in your head, and don't look back. "We'd be happy if only you'd cooperate" is rarely an accurate assessment of the situation.

-- The Doctor Who Christmas special was super awesome and I am crazy excited to see where the back half of season 7 goes. I kinda want a new version of Clara/Oswin to come at the beginning and die at the end of every episode, just so we can get fan art of her comparing notes with Rory. Also if Oswin is involved with the Fields of Trenzalor I will probably have a stroke.

-- I turn 30 this year, although not for a good long while, and it's got me all soul-searchy and stuff. On the other hand, I pay my bills on time and I keep myself and my living space clean; that's all I'm going to let anyone ask of me. And remember: You're never too old to enjoy those chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs. You get double-bonus points if you make a forest out of your broccoli and march them through it to the slopes of Mount Mashed Potatoes.

-- Try not to wear yourselves out too soon, folks. We've got 363 more days to go.