|Hannes Grobe, Alfred Wegenr Institute.|
Burgess stood up after the meeting and held up a hand to prevent the rapid out-flux of people from the room.
“What is it, Mister Burgess?”
He’d always been on thin ice with Gorman, but he had tenure and she observed certain limits.
“Yeah. Well. Suzie and I were attacked by motorcycle Ninjas this morning on our way to work. Luckily, with Suzie’s driving and my shooting, we managed to dissuade them.” He left the part about Tim’s out of the story.
What happened on the way to work stayed on the way to work but he was going to claim it as an expense anyway. A free cup of coffee, at almost any price, held its own logic.
“Oh, really.” As the staff settled into their chairs again, Gorman exchanged a significant look with Zed.
“So. It begins.” Zed frowned in contemplation.
“Any theories, Mister Burgess?”
“I think they might have been trying to kill us…or more likely me, as Suzie is new here and hasn’t had time to make too many enemies.”
“I’ve been here eight years.” Her voice was low but confident. “Most of that on overseas assignment. Otherwise we would have met before.”
Burgess was impressed, although he hoped he didn’t show it.
Gorman gave a tight nod.
“All right people, keep your heads up. You can go.” Her eyes stabbed Burgess and then with a softer look regarded Suzie. “Zed will brief you on your current assignment.”
“Mister Burgess, I would like to introduce you to your new partner, and I will tolerate no discussion on the matter. You and she will cooperate fully. No hazing, no pranks. No dumping her off twenty miles from home on a snowy night in Winnipeg. Got it?”
“Okay.” He knew when he was defeated.
It was his most charming trait, or so he had been told by Ludmilla Getonanov, the world-famous Russian secret agent, as old as the hills and wise before her time insofar as any mere woman could be said to be wise.
“Suzie Platonis is one of our best field agents. She has a great deal of experience, and I expect both of you to do your jobs with a professionalism that will do this department proud.” She stared at Burgess, willing him to comply. “Any questions?”
“No, ma’am.” So Suzie was of Greek descent then.
It helped to explain the Greek features…
“Then I leave you in Zed’s capable hands.” She got up and stalked out of the room without a backward glance, which with her thick neck and fuzzy pink basketball of a head wasn’t a good idea anyway.
That was one hell of a mouthful for a quiet Monday in southern Ontario but he let it lie as he had no wish to argue with the bitch.
“My eyes are a hundred and fifty megapixels. Arf! Arf! Guadalcanal.” The dog wagged its tail in melodramatic counterpoint to this foray.
“That’s nice.” Roscoe was just trying to be diplomatic.
So they were stuck with the dog, which bode someone no good, and it was probably him.
“All righty, then.” Zed’s lab was cluttered with the usual lovely bits and pieces of kit. They ducked under the spinning rotor blades and continued on to the back, carefully avoiding the hot jet exhaust and holding their hands over their ears.
Luckily there were several layers of security and an inner sanctum sanctorum to keep out the smell of burnt JP-4 and smoking ceiling tiles.
As they walked through to his personal bench, they were treated to the sight of all of the test subjects, fume hoods, bomb-assembly, cross-bows and all the usual apparatus and paraphernalia of the international spy game. The dog headed straight for a couch, hopping up on one end, even turning around twice, ramming its nose up its ass with an audible clunk, and pretending to sleep.
One man in particular caught Roscoe’s eye.
A slender young man with a face ravaged by abcesses and blood-red tumors, he seemed to move and then seize up in fits and starts, standing in place, starting off first on his left foot, and then the right, then going back to his original position.
“What…huh. Where was I—oh. Yes. No. Yes. No…” His hands lifted and then fell back to his side two or three times as the feet moved spasmodically but ineffectually.
“What up with that guy?” Suzie caught Roscoe’s eye and Zed turned to look.
“Oh, yes. There’s nothing sadder than a speedo with attention deficit disorder. But when he comes down a bit, he does a bang-up job of cleaning the place. If only we could get him to work during daylight hours…”
Roscoe nodded in comprehension.
“…the only thing worse is a crack-head with Turettes…” Apparently they couldn’t house-clean worth a shit as they needed both hands for crack-smoking and cost anything up to two grand a day from Molly Mutt’s, the well-known franchise which more usually employed the horizontally-challenged, as long as they had sufficient security clearance.
Since the only thing they read was Twilight, or Fifty Shades of Gey, that usually wasn’t much of a problem.
Roscoe wasn’t sure if that was a joke or not, but he laughed anyway as Zed kept going.
“Dang!” Zed stopped and Suzie almost rammed into him, and Roscoe made a point of ramming into her…she elbowed Roscoe and he stepped back.
“I’m going to miss Curves this week…again.” Suzie wondered who exactly cared what Zed did on his day off.
“Isn’t that for women?”
“Yeah!” He gave no other explanation, but that thirty-minute circuit was doing wonders for the cellulite in his inner thighs.
These days it was like he couldn’t walk in corduroy pants without announcing it from half a mile away. If the truth be told, it was the same even without the pants.
Suzie grabbed Roscoe’s arm and led him to the back, and a big long bench in front of Zed’s palatial cubicle, where he kept his tea kettle and a box of stale old water biscuits, which Roscoe had never understood. What in the hell was a water biscuit? But he was afraid to ask as he might get an actual explanation. And with Zed that wasn’t always a good idea.
“Okay, here’s your exploding IUD.” This was for Suzie’s benefit. “And Roscoe, your anti-personnel suppositories. Hmn, hmn, hmn.”
He issued them their plastic cards pre-loaded with a million each in expense money.
Zed opened up another package. Those anti-personnel suppositories were known to blow the balls off a charging rhino at a hundred paces, and had been invented by an admirer of rock star Ted Nougat.
This reminded Roscoe that there was in fact something sadder than a speedo with ADD—and that was a fan of Ted Nougat.
Suzie’s eye was caught by the long window where in behind the Ouija girls sat at their boards, with blank looks on their faces trying to prognosticate just how much the bourgeoisie would take in the matter of declining incomes and an inability to retire before the age of ninety.
“So about this assignment.” Roscoe was impatient to get out of the office.
“Oh, yes. Well, it’s very simple, actually. The pop singer known as Twila, that’s the one with the underwear…”
Roscoe nodded vigourously.
“I’m a big fan.”
Suzie gave him a look.
“No, seriously, any woman that parades around on stage with midgets and clowns is a friend of mine. In their underwear, I mean…”
“I didn’t know she did that.”
“I think he is referring to the band.” Zed held up a hand. “But that’s not important right now.”
The sound of a power drill came from not far away and a lot of screaming.
Zed sighed inaudibly and beckoned them to come into his cubicle, which smelled rather strangely of hair gel, which was a bit weird as Zed was as bald as a cucumber.
The door closed with a firm click and they huddled uncomfortably close as he went on with the briefing from two inches away.
Suzie grunted and gave him a jab. Roscoe took his left foot off of her toes.
“Anyway, her daddy is King of the Maruba people in sub-Saharan Africa. And he wants her back. She’s gone into hiding, and it’s our job to find her and return her to her people.”
“Oh, really.” An overseas assignment!
“Yes, she ran away and came to America as a very young girl. As you know, she made it big, and now she has a billion fans all over the world. Not all of them are fake Twitter accounts. They can’t be.” Zed plugged in Suzie’s data-pad and loaded it up with full briefing notes. “I guess she doesn’t want to go back, not even to be given away in marriage to another warlord.”
“What about this other warlord?”
Zed regarded Suzie with respect. Even Roscoe picked up on that.
“Well, it seems he’s got a piss-pot full of oil, too.”
“Go on.” That sounded intelligent.
“The young lady in question heard daddy was looking for her. A couple of his minions tried to grab her off the street…Rodeo Drive, actually. She’s gone into hiding.”
Just what the doctor ordered, if only there were any doctors available in Ontario since the government had clamped down on backseat dispensaries in cabs run by unlicensed doctors from other countries, most of whom were practically useless due to the execrable accents some of them affected in an effort to get you to trust them...
“So, ah, the prophecy must be fulfilled. You know?”
Suzie’s shoulders slumped. All these damned prophecies. It was a sign of the times they lived in.
Roscoe didn’t know and didn’t care as Zed always provided them with something on paper, the edible kind, which, while it bound you up pretty good, would give them something to read on the plane. And something to eat.
“Yeah, but why?” Suzie’s question was a good one, and if there had been room, he might have been tempted to kick himself.
“Oil, my dear, oil. He says if he doesn’t get her back, he’s going to open up the taps and cut the price, thereby making our oil sands prohibitively expensive to subsidize.”
“Ah. Of course.” The federal government of which they were a part would have no choice but to gouge the money out of the hides of the disabled, the mentally ill, and the working poor women of Tim Horton’s and while Roscoe could see the justice in that, there was always the possibility of social upheaval as many of them were the children of the middle class whose blind, mindless self-delusion wouldn’t last forever.
The truth was he’d lied his way through the psych assessments, every six months or so since his first day of employment. He could cheerfully admit that to himself in an unguarded moment.
There were a few more items of interest, including several gallons of body paint, a g-string for both of them and an old pickup truck to be mailed on ahead, and right about then the freaking dog came in and cocked a leg and they all piled out of the cubicle rather than get their expensive shoes wet with whatever was going to come out of there.
“He opened that door up himself!”
“Read the manual when you get a chance, please, Mister Burgess.” Zed sighed deeply because he probably wouldn’t.