Put on Hold

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Patience is a virtue; that means not everyone has it.” -Unknown

Put on Hold

Kevin sat in his small brick box, completely bored by his prospects.  This had been his life for the past five years.  In front of him were six gas pump units and behind him were six more.  He sat in his little glass aquarium, four windows allowing every customer to see any movement that he made.  Even when the weather was nice, the giant roof that encapsulated the gas station kept him from feeling any element of nature, be it rain or sunshine.  Over the years, he had contemplated quitting every single day.  The problem was that he needed to stay here or his life would never get better.

Many a time he had tried to explain the situation to people, but he never thought that anyone would believe him.  It had all started in the hospital.  Numerous wires and tubes had been running from his body to different machines and displays.  The morphine drip had been cut down drastically since the operation.  His face had been a beaten mess of purple hues and aching muscles.  But what had bothered him the most were his legs.  The formerly perfect limbs which Kevin had spent years enjoying were numb.  Every now and then a phantom feeling had shot out for his attention.  Yet, when he had reached to scratch his foot or turn his legs, he hadn’t felt a thing.

The semi-truck had done a ruthlessly efficient job.  Kevin had been crossing the intersection; the white-light man calmly had glowed to convince him that all was safe.  Halfway across, Kevin had noticed the truck.  It had honked and the driver had waved maniacally.  For the fleeting moments that Kevin had glanced inside the driver’s cab, and from the police report that came later, it had been clear that the driver had lost control.  The truck couldn’t have stopped.  Kevin tried to get out of the street in time, but he hadn’t a chance.  The semi barreled through the intersection and slammed into the front of a delivery truck with Kevin pinned in the middle.

Every time that a medical professional or friend had stopped into Kevin’s room, they had expressed that it was a miracle to be alive.  No one else would have survived being caught between those two massive vehicles.  He was supposed to feel blessed that he had somehow lived.  His legs, not surprisingly, were another matter.

If his legs had once been two strong oak trees, they were now more akin to sawdust.  From his hips to his ankles, every single bone had been broken.  As Kevin overheard one doctor tell a nurse, “There isn’t a single piece of bone left that’s bigger than my finger.”

Kevin had to admit that the doctors had done their best.  Eight surgeries in three months served as proof that they had tried to help.  Still, the result was inevitable.  Kevin was not going to be able to use his legs ever again.  Kevin had just begun to process that truth when he received a stranger.

At first Kevin had thought the man was the hospital psychiatrist.  He had been told to expect one since he had clearly been through a traumatic experience.  But nothing about this man seemed reassuring.  Every aspect of the man, from his bolo-tie to the canary resting on his shoulder, was just a bit off.  His brown hair had a little too much grease in it and his fingers had a few too many veins visible.  When the man went to shut the door, Kevin sat up taller in his hospital bed.  The man then closed the blinds on the window and sat on the side of Kevin’s bed.

Kevin ran through the scene every day since it had happened.  The man had heard about the accident.  The man had pushed against Kevin’s legs.  Kevin, of course, hadn’t felt a thing.  It was the man who had shaken his head at the limp legs and uttered things like, “such a shame” and “if only there was a way”.  The man had then gone on to suggest that he could help.  Before Kevin could ask what he meant, the man had reached up and pulled the canary down in his fist.  Kevin had been shocked as he watched the man snap the bird’s leg.  Kevin still remembered the rage and his attempt to snatch the bird away and pummel this man in the face.  But the man had stood up too fast.  He had told Kevin that, “Despite what you have heard, everything that has been broken can now be fixed.”

Kevin had watched as the man pulled a syringe from his pocket.  He had placed the bird, limping about in pain, on Kevin’s bed.  He had then injected the bird with a shot and pulled the leg into its correct position.  Kevin had lain on his bed, confused, as he saw it happen.  The bird had chirped, tested its leg on top of the hospital’s bed sheets, then it had hopped about merrily until it flew to Kevin’s lap.  Kevin had been speechless.

The man had presented his case rapidly.  Certain groups had new technologies at their disposal.  There were ways to get a body’s genetic material to rewrite itself.  The man called it a “rebooting”.  Kevin was promised that he could have his legs back.  Kevin had been trembling with excitement, yet he had been wary about the man’s ethics.  “You didn’t have to hurt the bird”, he had said with his jaw set firm in anger.  The man had only shrugged and said something about, “having to prove it worked”.

That was how Kevin found himself in this gas station, day after day.  The man had given him a phone.  It was a typical, out of date cellular phone, but it only had one button.  Kevin had been told that he was in charge of this phone.  The man had gotten Kevin a job as the gas station attendant, but his real responsibility was guarding the phone.  Kevin had been instructed that every once in a great while, certain individuals would come and ask for the specific phone.  The phone only dialed the people that the man represented.  The phone was the only one encrypted to dial the number, so it was paramount that the phone be available to those that needed it.  And, as the man had warned, if Kevin ever tried to dial the number himself, the car wreck would look like a walk in the park compared to what they would do to him.

Kevin thought about that meeting every day.  The phone sat underneath the keyboard of his register, constantly taunting him from out of sight.  Kevin felt his gaze falling to his wheelchair.  It was parked along the side wall of his booth since there was not enough room for it and the wall of cigarette packs.  Kevin constantly kept on an eye on the wheelchair partly because he didn’t want it stolen, and partly because it served as a reminder of why he was there.  Once in a while a couple of kids would try to steal his wheelchair, but so far Kevin had been able to scare them off.  What scared him was the thought of never getting his legs back.

Kevin wondered if the man could actually do what he had promised.  Maybe the bird had been some sort of trick; perhaps even a robot.  It wasn’t like Kevin had poked under the wing and examined the bird.  However, there had been two occasions that made Kevin believe the story he had been told.  Over the past five years, two different men had coming looking for the phone.  They had both run up, bleeding or worse, and demanded the phone.  Each time Kevin tried to point them towards the pay phone and each time they had shaken their heads.  “No”, they said with angry voices, “THE phone.”  Kevin had given them the phone and watched as they had run away yelling into the device.  One of the men looked like he had been shot in the chest and Kevin thought he had seen the other with a gun tucked into his belt.  The next day the man Kevin had met in the hospital had returned and handed Kevin a new phone.  He hadn’t said anything, hadn’t offered any answers, he had only dropped off the phone and walked away.  Kevin had banged on the window, had demanded to know how much longer he was supposed to be stuck in this tiny booth with his life on hold.  The man, no canary in tow, had walked away dismissing Kevin both times.

Kevin often considered his options.  He had sacrificed much for this lousy booth.  Weddings, dates, vacations; all had been put on hold as he had waited.  Maybe he should listen to all his friends and get fitted with prosthetics.  Kevin stiffened at the idea of losing his legs to two machines.  He wanted to run and jump again, but he didn’t want to lose half of his body to do it.  No matter how high-tech a machine was, it was still a chunk of foreign material to him.

More and more, the idea was growing on him.  Kevin was not made to sit in a tiny booth.  He was caught in the middle of some shady dealings that he had no control over.  He had no desire to be the operator that connected calls for some rather despicable individuals, no matter how important their “cause” was.  Kevin was tired of smelling like gasoline all day and every day.  He had long ago grown weary of selling cigarettes to people that were clearly addicted.  However, he wanted his legs back.

Kevin missed hiking.  He missed walking to work on nice days, “just because”.  How could he know when the man would decide Kevin had worked long enough?  What if the man decided to help Kevin out when he turned sixty and was no longer able to fully enjoy his legs?  How long was Kevin going to put his life on hold?  He didn’t know if he should have a little faith or if he needed to kick himself in the seat of his pants and get on with life.

Kevin wanted to be out in the world.  He didn’t want to be under the thumb of heartless thugs.  At the beginning of their arrangement, Kevin had been willing to wait.  That patience was eroding as Kevin considered all he was missing out on.  He started to think that when that third person eventually came for the phone, Kevin might not be there to hand it over.

The Best Part of Waking Up is Intrigue in Your Cup

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

The Best Part of Waking Up is Intrigue in Your Cup

It is surely easier to confess a murder over a cup of coffee than in front of a jury.” -Friedrich Durrenmatt

A tall man pulled open the glass door to the coffee shop and silently slid inside.  He quickly pressed himself against the wall and paused.  A few seconds later, his body angled towards the window without leaving his perch.  His neck craned for a better look.  He scanned the area for seconds and then darted back to his wall.  One could almost see him counting off the seconds before he moved.

The tall man glanced at his watch and waited a few more seconds.  He was dressed like many business people that bustled about the coffee shop.  While other men would change up their attire with polo shirts or a blue tie, the tall man had a uniform that he adhered to.  Every day that they baristas saw him, he always wore the same thing; black suit, white shirt, black tie, and black sunglasses.  These were no typical black sunglasses.  These were darkly tinted, motorcycle cop-dark glasses.  The lenses, much like the man himself, seemed impenetrable and determined.

Reaching inside his jacket, the tall man approached the register.  Although his head barely moved, one could sense that behind those shades he was taking in the scene.  His right hand remained near his inner left jacket pocket as he joined the line of coffee consumers.  The woman in front of him wished him good morning and he nodded to her.  He began to pull something from his pocket when he suddenly froze.  He cocked his head to one side.  The tall man placed his hand on the woman’s shoulder.

“Miss, did you hear that?”

“Hear what?”  She was immediately concerned.

“A noise”, he said as his voice trailed off.  A hint of suspicion crept into his tone.

“I don’t… that is, I don’t think so.”

“Hmm”, was all the tall man said.  His head scanned the room once more.  The arm hadn’t left his jacket pocket.  If anything, his right arm had tensed.  One got the impression that his senses were on full alert.  When the woman in front of him saw that it was her turn, she stuttered, and then nervously ordering her non-fat latte.  She hazarded one last look over her shoulder as she scurried to the other end of the store.

“Good morning, sir”, the barista said in her practiced-pleasant voice.  “What may I get for you today?”

ImageThe tall man took his hand from his pocket to reveal a manila envelope.  He slid the envelope across the tan countertop and looked straight at the woman.  The barista was certain that he was peering at her intently through his dark glasses.

“I was told you might be a source of… information.”  A great emphasis was placed on the last word.

“Well, I don’t know about that”, the woman responded.  “But I can tell you that nobody serves a product quite as fresh as we do.”

“Would you say that it is”, the tall man paused meaningfully.  “Bold?  Perhaps even, spicy?”

The barista nodded.  “Oh yes.  Why, there are certain men downtown; you may have heard of them?”

“I believe I have”, the tall man agreed.

“Right, I thought you had.  Well, the men downtown told us that our product was the finest they had ever tasted.  Even better than the product they had sampled in Nicaragua.”

“You don’t say…”  The tall man looked to the barista and saw her nod knowingly.  “Very well then, I’ll take what they usually get.”

“Right away, sir”, the barista said as she took the manila envelope from him.  “They’ll have it for you at the other end of the store.”

The tall man nodded, but stepped only a few feet to the right.  He lingered around the register, refusing to stand too close to the glass door.  He saw a group of three women come into the store, nodded to them, and changed his focus to the door that led to the staff-only area.  Customers, not even the tall man, never knew exactly who was lurking in the back room.  Really, at any time there could be any number of people mulling about back there, doing all manner of things.

“We have a non-fat latte”, the barista called from behind the bar.  “And here’s a bold coffee.”

That was the tall man’s cue.  He put one arm close to his jacket and tie, and then tumbled to the floor.  He rolled commando-style in front of the espresso machines and leapt up by the door.  He took the coffee, quickly jammed a stopper into the lid, and ran out the door full speed.

The woman customer stood there, her non-fat latte was momentarily forgotten as she felt her jaw go slack in astonishment.

“Don’t worry”, the barista from the register called out to her.  “He’s perfectly harmless.”

“Is he some sort of government agent?  Or a movie actor?  I mean, he could just be some crazy person.”

“We don’t really know”, replied the person behind the bar.  “We just figured that he likes his coffee bold and that he pays us in cash.  He puts the money in the envelope and treats the whole exchange like it is some film noir scene.”  The barista shrugged.  “He pays in full.”

“You don’t find it alarming?” the woman asked as she clutched her latte.  She wanted something to calm her nerves, and the warm drink in the paper cup was the closest she was going to get.

“We have all sorts of folks coming in here”, the barista said dismissively.  “At least he doesn’t hit on us.  If nothing else, it gives us a story to tell.”

Trade Secrets

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told.  Some will be fun, some will not.  Some will be great, some will be less so.  Some stories are true, some are merely possible.  This is one of them.

Trade Secrets

Benedict cursed as he lifted the bow in his hands.  What should have been a long and subtle curved c-shape was an elongated s-shape.  Instead of a collapsible bow he held in his hands a useless walking stick.  How were agents in field going to accomplish their missions without the proper equipment?

Pushing the button on the back of the belt buckle released the rigidness in the “bow” and it went back to being an ordinary belt.  That is, if ordinary belts had bowstrings hidden in their weaving.  This seemingly commonplace accessory formed the strong structure whenever an electric charge was sent through the fibers.  At least, that was the inventor’s theory.  He had already created a back brace that held a sheath of miniature arrows which could be worn underneath agents’ clothing.  The belt-bow was proving to be more difficult.  The narrow and pliable nature of a belt was proving to be a pain.  The fibers kept twisting and turning inside, realigning the innards of the belt into the s-shape.  Benedict set it aside to work on later.

His workshop, conveniently located eight stories underneath a government installation with a lovely view of cement walls and fluorescent lighting, was an endless array of gadgets and wiring.  Every once in a while a visitor would comment that he should at least ask for some paint or wallboard.  Benedict shrugged at these suggestions.  With the number of explosions, fires, and weapons being discharged, he had requested thicker concrete walls.  If any wall treatments were to be added, they would have to operate like ballistics gel.  The inventor only wanted to ply his trade without worrying about bringing the building crumbling down, never mind cracking plaster.

Benedict was not the fastest producing inventor that the government had on their payroll, but he was the most precise.  While other, newer scientists labored around him, Benedict remained unimpressed with their efforts.  He was the worker who had just turned forty, had a large bald spot on top of his head, and had never liked operating in the field. 

Ties; ties were what Benedict liked.  He thought there should be some amount of dignity when working at such an important trade.  For the first few years he had given up on this touch of professionalism as his ties had caught on fire many a time.  He had to admit that there was a certain amount of danger involved in trying to undo a tie while it flickered and flamed under napalm fire.  He wore clip-ons for a while, shuddering at how pedestrian the “convenience” was, but those were just as flammable (and rip-able, and shred-able, and look-what-got-caught-on-the-atomic-generator-able) as normal ties.  It wasn’t until he finally found a fabric that could exist in a frequency a bit outside of his dimension that he found a tie that couldn’t be destroyed.  The end result looked rather blurry at the right angle, however he reasoned that a tie that wasn’t fully in synch with reality couldn’t be damaged by that reality’s explosions.  Sadly, when he realized that the fabric was causing damage to the laws of physics, he had to abandon ties altogether for the sake of dimensional cohesion.  Benedict was always good at making those sacrifices for the bigger picture, and his supervisors appreciated that about him.

No, there were plenty of reckless inventors around to make things complicated enough already.  Jet-cars were sent out to the field without enough practical testing.  The new multiple-degree scientists had claimed that everything would work perfectly, but they lacked the patience to put their designs to the test.  Yes, the car was capable of allowing an agent to escape at speeds of seven hundred miles per hour.  But they failed to realized that the amount of fuel that they equipped the car with, combined with the vehicle’s obscene consumption rate, meant that the seven seconds of travel were hardly worth the nine-figure price tag.  Stories like that were all too common around the laboratories.  Benedict liked to work slower.  He kept his ideas to himself until he was sure he had a workable device.  The nanites that he laced inside a napkin and then became embedded into furniture had been the greatest surveillance boon of the last fifty years.  It had taken Benedict thirty-two months to get them perfected, but he still got praise to this day for them.  Less exciting, but just important to his mind, were the earplugs that translated any language that was spoken within seventy feet of an agent.  No longer were Latin-speaking spies getting the drop on the agents; they knew what was being said at all times anywhere in the world.

Benedict once again turned to his crown jewel, his crowning achievement.  He had other projects he was working on.  However, this device was going to be the one that highlighted his career.  He had really outdone himself with this design.  He didn’t have all the bugs worked out.  He needed to rework some designs to incorporate new findings in quantum physics.  Benedict honestly didn’t think he would have a prototype for another ten years.  But, when he finished, he would have a cold fusion reactor that worked as a fedora. 

ImageBenedict was willing to wait.  He would keep at it.  One day he would have success with this invention, he knew it.  Provided, that is, that he didn’t blow up several city blocks in the process.  That would certainly reflect badly on him.  For now, he was content to mull over the possibilities of his design.  Today he just wanted to finally decide what color the hat should be.

Held Captive

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told.  Some will be fun, some will not.  Some will be great, some will be less so.  Some stories are true, some are merely possible.  This is one of them.

Held Captive

Charles Bullit knew that this line of work was supposed to be exciting, but as the gun pressed against his temple he started to think that there were better ways to spend the day.  With his capturer holding him in a tight headlock, his range of motion was quite limited.  He tried to keep his breathing somewhat steady while his eyes darted between the three players that were all attempting to control the scene the way they wanted.

First off there was the man with the gun to his head.  Bullit didn’t know what his motivation was or who he thought he was, but he knew that this fellow was a quite capable of being rough.  There had been no introductions made, the man had run up, grabbed him, and forced the gun on Bullit while the crowd stood by and watched.  Not knowing his name, and feeling that such pleasantries had long since gone out the window, Bullit had decided to refer to him as “Jerk”.

Standing on the other end of the mall’s courtyard was the man with a megaphone.  Most of his physical traits were obscured by the megaphone he seemed to keep in front of him at all times.  Bullit could tell that he was probably in his late 40’s.  He even had the spare-tire around his belly to compliment what was probably a bald patch underneath the black cap.  To finalize his attire, the megaphone-carrier wore a pair of sunglasses even though it was a fall day and the clouds were not letting up.  Mostly due to the megaphone that the man seemed to treat as an appendage, but also because of his rather unhelpful manner, Bullit figured he should be called “Loudmouth”.

ImageThen there was the only person that seemed to be trying to help.  The man standing about twenty feet away from Bullit and Jerk radiated confidence.  He had pulled a gun the moment that he had seen Bullit being taken and hadn’t taken his eyes off of Jerk the entire time.  He kept a safe distance, but his badge and the orders he barked out showed he knew exactly what he was doing.  Bullit could only assume this was the man that he was supposed to be meeting.  All things considered, Bullit could have written up much smoother ways for this meet-up to play out.  Regardless, Bullit kept his gaze mostly on his best shot of getting out of this, the man he decided was “Hero”.

Feeling that he wasn’t getting enough of Bullit’s attention, Jerk grabbed him tighter around the neck and half walked, half dragged his hostage backwards.  Hero followed very slowly, while Loudmouth called out, “This isn’t how this is supposed to go!  You know what we’re after, so just do it!”  Bullit could hear Jerk grunt and saw the man sneer out of the corner of his eye.  Without warning, he slid over to the left.  Bullit tried to turn to see where they were going, but that only caused Jerk to press his gun deeper into his temple.  Bullit quickly decided his curiosity wasn’t worth the migraine and gave Jerk the attention he seemed to want so badly.  Hero was side stepping, each foot quietly and confidently placed on the mall’s linoleum floor as he followed Jerk’s every move.

Bullit had felt like he could talk the situation out.  He waved his free arm and tried to get Loudmouth’s attention.  When he opened his mouth to speak, Loudmouth quickly interrupted him.

“You!  Do not say a word!  You’ve been warned!  We know what we’re doing, we’ve got this.  Just keep quiet or it’s all over!”

Bullit didn’t find those words terribly comforting.  Jerk grunted again and grumbled into Bullit’s ear.  “He’s right.  Keep your mouth shut and it’ll all be over soon.  Do what I tell you and you’ll be fine.  You mess this up for me and it’ll all go badly for you.  A few more minutes; that’s how long this’ll last.”

Bullit tried to nod along but found himself too worked up.  He looked to Hero with pleading eyes.  Hero looked at him and then cast a glance to Loudmouth.  Seeing the Mr. Megaphone wasn’t focused on him right now, Hero nodded confidently and for the briefest of seconds took one hand off the gun.  He raised it to his mouth, his index finger in front of his lips, and then returned his hand to his sidearm.  Bullit had gotten the message.  All three players in this game wanted him to keep his trap shut.

Screams echoed from behind Jerk and Bullit.  A few seconds later Bullit could see the baristas deserting the espresso stand that he and Jerk were approaching.  He had to give his captor some credit.  He no longer had his back exposed and could focus on the one-hundred and eighty degrees around them.  Bullit took in his environment, trying to find something that would help him out.  He knew that he wasn’t supposed to make any sudden moves, but he was growing tired of being treated like a bag of floor that was lugged and tossed around.

Loudmouth apparently figured out what Bullit was up to and protested in the only language he knew; shouting.  “Don’t even think about it!  Your job is to shut up and not throw any curve balls!  Be a good little hostage.”  Bullit wished very hard that he had a curve ball that he could throw.  At this point he’d aim it right for Loudmouth’s annoying face.

Suddenly, Hero leapt into action.  In one fluid movement he had sheathed his gun and ran full charge towards Jerk.  Jerk had been distracted by the outburst between Loudmouth and Bullit and Hero had taken advantage of it.  Bullit could feel Jerk’s eyes growing wide as Hero was only a few yards away.

“Stay back!  I will take this little punk out!  Stay back!”

Hero, almost within arms’ reach, took the situation under consideration.  Bullit knew that if he lunged just right, he could take out Jerk.  But Jerk was not in the mood to call it quits.  He pressed the gun even harder into Bullit’s face and moved so that his captive was directly between him and Hero.  He moved the gun to the base of Bullit’s skull and pointed it upwards.  With his other hand Jerk pulled at the hair on top of Bullit’s hard and pulled back sharply.  With that, Bullit had had enough.

“Okay.  Stop.”

Loudmouth threw his megaphone on the ground but Jerk refused to let go.  Bullit was done.  He stomped on Jerk’s foot, felt the grip on him loosen, and punched Jerk right in the jaw.

“What’re you doing?”  Hero was shocked and came running up.  He pushed Bullit roughly aside and knelt before Jerk.  “Hank, are you okay?”

“Larry, what’s happening?”  Jerk, or rather, Hank, was dazed.

“The freakin’ extra ruined the shot, that’s what happened”, Loudmouth answered as he walked up to the three of them.  “Kid, what do you think you’re doing?  We can’t use any of that.”

“Jerk here was getting a little too rough.  I know I’m just a walk on player, but what the sam hill, man?”

Hero, know known to Bullit as Larry, grabbed onto Bullit’s arm and pulled him aside.  Loudmouth went to check in on Hank and started muttering, “Never in my twenty-one years of directing…”

“Look kid”, Larry started.  “Do you know why you weren’t allowed to talk?”

“Because union rules say that if I say any lines then you have to pay me different.”

“Right.  So what makes you think if we don’t want to hear a word you say that we’re going to love you for changing the script?”

“I’m sorry”, Bullit said.  “But Jerk over there…”

“That ‘Jerk’ is Hank Stuffin.  He’s the second biggest name on this picture.  He made enough money last year to buy your house.  Ten times.  So you treat him with respect.  Now, you know who the biggest name on this picture is?”

Bullit didn’t, so he stayed quiet.

“Me.  This is my picture.  I’m tired of making romantic comedies.  This is my big action break.  Do you know how many chocolate shakes I’ve had to give up getting in shape for this role?  How many hours I’ve spent in the gym while some muscle-bound trainer yells at me?  And you’re going to come here and mess that all up for me?”

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to upset you, but the guy was getting rough.”

“What did you expect?”  Loudmouth came up, taking the sunglasses off for the first time so Bullit could see his eyes glaring a hole through him.

“I dunno, I thought I might get to drive a car or something.  Maybe ride on a bus that you guys were using.”

“Kid, what kind of spy movie takes place on a bus?”  Ludmouth yanked his hat off and threw it on the ground in disgust.  “Now get off my location.”

Bullit shrugged.  He could hear Loudmouth talk about having to reset and reshoot but he didn’t feel bad for what he had done.  They could have been nicer, he thought.  Charles Bullit walked off the set only too happy to leave the movie world behind him.

Caught in a Lie

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Caught in a Lie

“You realize you’re killing us, right?  We’re going to die, along with who knows how many others, and it’s entirely your fault.”

“Wait a second there, boss.  You’re the one who got us in this mess in the first place.  How is any of this my fault?”

“Why don’t you just untie me?”

“Uh, no”, Jones said to the man in the chair across from him.  He looked to the window to see if any help was on its way.  His gaze was met by the darkness of early morning.  The garbage men had finished their nightly pickups hours ago and the newspaper deliveries had yet to begin.  The raccoons and dogs might be strolling for early morning feasts, but they were unlikely to be much help.  It was just Jones and Drake.

“I told you”, Drake responded in an annoyed tone.  “I had to block all calls from getting out of this building.  That includes the GPS locator they imbedded in your neck.  You’re off their radar.  You could be anywhere in a four block radius.  There’s no way they find this specific hotel room in fifteen minutes.  Untie me, let me get us out of here, and then you can go back to whatever menial task you were assigned.”

Jones turned his attention back to Drake and walked closer to him.  His feet slipped and slid in his loose shoes.  Jones stood three feet away and was about to stare Drake down face-to-face, mano-a-mano.  Then he remembered the close-combat training they had both gone through and he thought twice.  Backing up, putting a solid ten feet between them, Jones put on his best growl and demanded, “Shut.  Up.”

Drake only laughed at him.  The man was easily in his early fifties; that much Moe knew.  Yet if even a few of the stories that Jones had heard were true, this legend was as capable as they came.  Drake’s close-cut hair had gone entirely grey long ago, and deep creases lined his mouth and eyes.  Those that had been brave enough to get close; and there were few, whispered that there was a long scar underneath his chin.  Word had it that Drake had allowed himself to be taken in place of hostages.  Then the assailant had held a butcher’s knife to Drake’s throat. If the tale was to be believed, he had then disarmed the man in charge, freed himself of his grip, and subdued the five other men in the room.  Jones had wanted to believe the epic when he was going through training and as stories were shared over cups of coffee.  But now he started hoping that all the exaggerations were just that.

“Look”, Jones started off, hoping his new approach would work.  “You know how this goes.  I’ve been tasked with defusing the situation.  You have a bomb hooked up to the timer…”

“Which keeps ticking while you keep talking”, Drake noted.

“…and I’m here solely to stop the explosion.  If I can somehow convince you to turn yourself in, then that’s just great.  However, I have no problem convincing you to work with me.  You want this to go the painful way, then so be it.”

“You’re going to have to work on that whole ‘convincing’ thing, Jones.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means that any ‘extreme measures’ you wanted to enact on me would hurt you more than me.  You’ve probably never tortured anyone.  You might throw up all over your nice new combat boots.”

“You’re so sure of that, aren’t you?”  Jones could hear in his voice that he wasn’t being nearly as threatening as he was trying to be.

“Jones…”, Drake said with a sigh.  “You play chess, right?”

“Chess?  What does that…” Jones started to ask as he felt himself sweat every time he looked at the LED counter.  The pesky numbers kept getting lower and lower while Jones’ heart beat faster and faster.

“Don’t look at the clock”, Drake stated in an oddly calm tone.  “Look at me.  Focus on your objective.  Do you play chess?”

“Not really”, Jones admitted.  “I mean, maybe with my niece, but she’s eight.  Well, eight and a half, according to her.

“Okay, so you’re no pro.  You know how the game ends though, don’t you?”


“Checkmate”, Drake answered.  And do you know why they call it ‘checkmate’?

“I… I don’t know”, Jones stuttered as he tried to stop his hands from shaking.  “Maybe the loser has checked all their exits for any mates that might offer him help?”


“What?” he shouted out of frustration.

“That’s just stupid.  Mates?  What, you think Chess was invented by the prisoners sent to Australia?  Did you read some children’s book about kangaroos that deftly moved pawns around the board while they put knights in their pouches as the joeys looked on curiously?  Come on now.”

“Look, I just think you should disarm the bomb.  Then we can talk about whatever you want.”

“Untie me, and then we’ll talk.”

“I’m not untying you!”

“Then we’re back to the topic at hand.”

“The only topic is you shutting of that bomb before I get desperate and take action!”

“I think you’re already desperate.  Unless, of course, the armpits of your shirt were always that color.  No, I think we’ll talk about whatever I feel like.”

“Why won’t you just turn of the bomb before we’re blown up?  Are you that crazy?  That suicidal?”

“Checkmate comes from the Arabic, shãh-mãt.  Guess what that means.  Go ahead, prove you’re smart.”

“No.  I won’t play your games.”

“Games?  Chess?  Well aren’t you clever”, Drake commented.  “How ‘bout I just tell you, then?”

“How about you agree to disarm the bomb!”

“It means, ‘the king is dead’.  That’s what you’ve got here, Jones.  You’re dead.  You, me, everybody in the building.  We’re all dead.  Unless you do what I want.”

“I still don’t get why you’re doing this.”

“That’s it?”  Drake shook his head.  “Understanding ‘why’ is more important to you than the little clock with five minutes left?”

Jones looked to the table covered in wires and bricks labeled “C-4” and felt his head nodding.  He paused, took a deep breath, and tried to look confidently at Drake.  “Maybe, just maybe, I think that if we can come to some sort of a disagreement we can all walk away from this with what we want.”

Drake burst out laughing.  “I like that, Jones.  I do.  I mean, there’s no way it’s going to happen.  My task is to take you out and this building.  Yours is to take me in and keep the building in one piece.  I don’t know if you realize, but that’s the textbook example of ‘mutually exclusive’.”

“How about you just tell me who tasked you with this job?  Who’s giving the orders on this?”

“My superiors”, Drake answered.

“Your superiors”, Jones replied.  “But you’ve clearly gone rogue.”

“Funny, they said the same thing about you.”

“What?”  Jones couldn’t believe Drake was trying this tactic.  “I’m supposed to believe that the agency sent you to take me in?”

“It would seem a lot more plausible if you were the one sitting in this chair and I was the one standing over you.  I have to admit, you’re not as green as I thought.  I mean, drugging the coffee?  That was smart.  I really didn’t think you’d go that route.  Of course, I didn’t think you would tie up me with your shoelaces either.  That one’s new.”

“Well what was I supposed to do?”

“I don’t know.  I figured; a kid like you, you’d try to meet me at the door dressed as a bellhop and zap me with a tranq gun.”

Jones felt silent as he felt his eyes sneak a peek towards the hallway.

Drake looked at Jones, thought for a moment, and then rolled his eyes.  “You’re kidding me.”

“I thought the direct approach would work.”

“Wait, so you knew you were taking on a senior agent.  One with decades more experience than yourself, and you’re telling me that your back-up plan was to be covert?  You really thought taking me face on was the best idea?  That being smart should be plan B?”

“Well it would have taken you by surprise”, Jones said.

“Not as much as you would have needed it to.  Well, now I just have to know”, Drake prompted.


“Why didn’t you go through with your oh-so-well-thought-out plan?”

“I couldn’t find one of the hats”, Jones said quietly.

“That’s it?”

“We were trained to strive for authenticity, weren’t we?”


“That’s what I was trying to do!  Bellhops in this hotel wear the little hat!”

“Kid, that’s just sad.  I take it all back.  You’re even greener than I thought.”

“I am not!”  Jones realized as soon as he had retorted just how sad he sounded.

“With skills like yours, I’m not surprised the agency secretly dismissed you.”

“Hold on, you think I’m not working for the agency anymore?”  Jones was shocked.  “First you call me a rogue, now you think I’ve been dismissed?”

“Well, not technically.  See, the agency wants you to think that you’re still working for them so that you’ll feed your side bad information.  That’s the thing about double agents; they can be used to dupe both sides.”

“I’m not the double agent, you are!”

“Uh huh.”  Drake tilted his head towards the bomb.  “Clock’s still ticking by the way.”

Jones walked towards the clock and gave up all hope of containing the sweat that was now pouring down his forehead.  Worrying even more that he would escape this alive, he attempted to muster up the last of his resolve and turned to Drake.

“Ahhh, crud.”  Jones looked at the lone chair in the room and found that Drake was no longer seated there.  He swung around quickly, but not fast enough to stop the massive arm from grabbing him around the neck.  Jones reached up to pull the arm away, but that left his kidneys exposed and Drake pummeled the right one with a fierce intensity.  Jones fell to the floor in pain and felt Drake’s boot dig in between his shoulder blades.

“It’s not bragging to tell you that I could have escaped at any time, right?  I mean, you’ve figured that out by now, yes?  Oh, and by the way?  There’s a reason you don’t tie people up with shoelaces.  C’mon, kid.  Maybe try something like rope?  It’s just a little bit stronger.”

Jones moaned in consent.

“Great.  Glad we cleared that up.  Now I’m through being patient.  You’re a rogue.  You are, for some unknown reason, in charge of security in this facility.  All your little rogue pals skip in here, rest up for another long trek of causing trouble, and then skip back out.  So why don’t you just go ahead and tell me who’s in charge.  Really, that’s all I want to know.  Then we can go back to you getting the snot knocked out of you.  By me, in case that was unclear.”

“I’m not a rogue agent”, Jones managed to say.  “I was tasked with bringing you in.”

“Terrific.  You say I’m a rogue, you say you’re a rogue; we’re just a bunch of guys who can’t be trusted.  Even so, answer me this one, Jones.”  Drake paused and let the anticipation build.  “Why would the agency send someone as completely fresh as you to bring in someone…. well, someone like me.”

“They said the older agents had too much loyalty to you.”

“Loyalty?”  Drake sneered at the response.  “Son, these folks have loyalty to the job first, then to each other.  Why, the kinds of things I’ve seen these agents do to each other would frost your…”

A silence fell over the room.  Jones looked over to the clock and watched it ticking down to the one minute mark.  He couldn’t understand what was going on.

“Uh, Drake?”  Jones couldn’t take the quiet any longer.  “You want to tell me what’s going on here?  I mean… what with you apparently winning and the bomb ticking.  If you’re really who you say you are then you won’t blow us both up, right?  Buddy?  Comrade?”

“It’s Dodson, isn’t it?  You were given this task by Dodson.”

“How could you know…”

“I need you to think back.  Like, back to the beginning of your training up until today.  Have you ever done something to make Dodson mad?”

“What?”  Jones was utterly confused.  “What the sam hill does that have to do with anything?”

“Just answer the question”, Drake replied with an eerie calm in his voice.  “Have you ever, either accidentally or on purpose, done something that Dodson got annoyed at?”

“No.  I mean, I haven’t even seen him since I moved up in the program.”

“But way back then.  Those few months he was in charge of the recruits until he got moved into my office.  Did you make any mistakes around him?”

“No.  Okay, there was that one time I drank his coffee.  That was just a stupid little thing, though.”

“That’s it.”  Drake took his foot off Jones and marched over to the bomb.  “That”, he said putting his hand on an electrical plug, “is the answer to all this.”  With a triumphant look on his face, Drake held the plug and quickly jerked it out of the outlet.  Upon seeing the LED display turn black, Jones scrambled to his feet.

“Are you kidding me?  All I had to do was unplug the stupid thing?  That’s it?”

“Yeah”, Drake said as he looked at his creation with pride.  “I always like to make things as simple as possible.  You weren’t going to be looking for a cord anytime soon, right?  And you would have just assumed I’d have some sort of short-term back-up; right?”

“That’s what you should have done…” Jones trailed off.

“Exactly.  Which is why I didn’t.”

“So Dodson just set this whole thing up?  Neither of us is a turncoat?”

“That’s how it looks”, Drake admitted.  “Dodson has this thing about getting even.  It makes him a great agent in the field, but it pretty much makes him the biggest, pettiest jerk to work with.”

“All this because I drank his coffee?”

“He’s real particular about his morning dose of java.  He has to have it just so.  Priss.”

“And what about you”, Jones asked, still in complete disbelief.  “What could you possibly done to warrant all of this?”

“I kinda dented his car.”

“Oh man”, Jones replied.  “He loves that car.”

“I know.  That’s why I did it”, Drake said with a grin.  “He was on my nerves that morning.”

“How big of a dent are we talking about?”

“How big is his front passenger door?”


“Seriously.  I can be kind of a jerk too.  I’m just more upfront about it.”

“I still can’t believe he put us through all of this just to get even.”

“Would you rather he went all loopy and locked your office supplies in the vending machine?”

“No”, Jones said.  He was relieved that the conversation had turned much less dire.  “That thing is impossible.”

“I know, it ate all my change when I first started.”

“And it won’t take pennies”, Jones chimed in.

“Hold on”, Drake said as he put his hand up.  “Your big complaint is that it won’t take pennies?  Since when do vending machines ever take pennies?”

“Okay, they don’t.  But this one should.”

“What, pray tell, makes this vending machine so special?”

“We’re in a government agency.”

“Granted”, Drake replied.

“C’mon, it’s government issued-currency in a government building.  The stupid thing should help me get rid of all these pennies I have lying around.”

“You are a strange one, Jones.”  Drake moved towards the door and motioned for Jones to follow.  “Let’s just get back to the bosses and make sure we’ve got this all sorted out.  Y’know, now that you’re not a double agent, a terrorist, or some guy calling me for political donations on my day off.”

“Fine.  Sounds just dandy to me.”

“You don’t feel like you’re betraying your mission?  You are leading a suspected ne’er-do-well into a place with government secrets.”

“Hey, my job was just to get the bomb turned off and bring you in.”  Jones shrugged.  “The way I see it, I’m getting exactly what I want.”

“And I’m going to go see your boss.  It simply turns out that he’s also my boss.  So I guess we both made out like bandits.  Plus, since this evil-headquarters doesn’t exist, I’ve wiped it out without doing a lick of work.  I like that kind of assignment.”

“I’d call them to tell them we’re coming, but I assume all the phones are blocked?”

“Oh, that”, Drake said.  “Yeah, it’ll take me a few minutes to power down my cellular jammer.  Just use the room phone.”

Jones stared in disbelief.  “Room phone?”

“Yeah, I like to always have one working phone in case I need to call for back up or something like that.  My little gizmo only blocks wireless calls.  The phone should work just fine.”


“What can I say, I like to keep things interesting”, Drake replied.

“Why don’t you call them?  I don’t even know how to explain all this.

“Fair enough”, Drake said as he started to dial.  “And hey, no hard feelings, right?  We were both just doing our jobs.  Or at least we thought we were.”

“No, we’re good”, Jones said.  He watched the other agent dial up a number and confer over the phone for a few moments.  His retelling of it was pitch-perfect and he could hear the voice on the other end laughing along with Drake as they enjoyed the good prank.  Jones knew only two things for sure.  One, that everything they said about Drake was true.  And two, none of his friends would ever believe a word of it.

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