Best Show You Don't Know About

Best Show You Don't Know About
Leverage

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Chapters 9 & 10

Tomorrow is another work day for me where I will be working from 6 am until after midnight, with only an hour break to get from one job to the other. So, I have posted both Chapters 9 & 10 today.
I will continue posting chapters on Monday, May 2nd.

Chapter 10

CHAPTER 10


As they pulled out of the parking lot, Kate offered her hand to Jon’s two friends, even though she was driving.
“Hi, Stan and Greg.” She found their eyes in the rear view mirror and made eye contact with each of them as she said their names. “I am Kate Thompson. Since yesterday morning, I have been Jon’s trainer.”
“You got a job? That’s totally cool!” Greg mussed Jon’s hair.
“I kind’ve got a job,” Jon tried to downplay it. Then, as soon as the sentence was out of his mouth, a realization struck him. “If this is a job, Kate, do I get paid?”
Kate smiled and nodded. “Yes, Jon. Of course you get paid.”
“For training, too?”
“Yes, for training, too. You will be paid with a nice pretty blue paycheck- come on! There are a few things that we need to talk about, here!”
“Getting paid is pretty important, I would think,” Greg interjected.
Kate made eye contact with him again. Just from the look in her eyes, Greg knew what would be the safest choice to make.
Stan took his cue to speak up. “Hello, Kate Thompson. Pleased to meet you, officially, without having a physical confrontation with you. What are you a trainer of?”
“I am Jon’s trainer for the Agency.”
“Ok.” Stan took it in stride, but he obviously had no idea what that meant.
“To put it in easy terms, The Agency is a super secret break off of the CIA to go undercover and help stop incidents that could tear a community, the country, even the world apart. For a quick example, one thing that we were about one or two days behind was President Reagan’s assassination attempt. Those are the things we like to avoid.”
There was silence from the backseat. Until, as always, Greg had to break it. “Holy shit! You’re a spy!”
Jon looked at Kate and realized that she wasn’t about to save him. In fact, she had a smirk on her face. “Yes, Greg, I am in fact a holy shit spy!”
Kate took a hard left turn into a fast food parking lot. “We’re here!” She zoomed into a parking space, braked hard, turned off the car and jumped out. Jon followed suit since he was used to Kate’s fast pace. Stan and Greg followed behind by a few clicks, not sure if they were to join Jon & Kate or not.
Kate swooped through the front doors with Jon close behind her. Stan and Greg had just entered the establishment when they saw Kate meet up with a 50-ish male who looked a lot like a favorite uncle. He had white hair, a beer gut, and had an on the job kind of look, but underneath, it was easy to see that he was a man of good humor. She must’ve asked him what was going on because he launched into what seemed to be a description of the crime scene.
“The two victims were working behind the counter. It must’ve been a slow night because there is no evidence of any other diners in here when they got hit. No uneaten food or spilled shakes or drinks. The perp probably came through the front door you guys just came through. Victim one was shot point blank at his register. The perp probably came right up to the counter and fired. ”
Jon kept a safe distance from the victims. He didn’t need to see the blood just yet. Stan and Greg however, had been taken over by the cool fact of being beyond the yellow tape at a crime scene. They followed Kate closely as the older man led her back into the kitchen, probably her superior.
When Kate’s eyes enlarged and she put a fist up to her mouth, Jon knew it couldn’t be a pretty picture. Stan turned away quickly, and Greg stifled a vomiting episode and ran back past Jon and threw up in a corner. Jon braced himself and started making a slow path towards the actual crime scene.
A young kid, no more than 16, had been shot in his left eye. His right eye had a relaxed look to it. There were small drops of blood all over the counter and the register. Jon knew that behind the register had been a sign that read “No checks, please.’ Now, it was just a piece of paper that had been painted red with blood, brains, and skull. The kid was flat on the ground, arms at his side, in a pool of goopy red blood.
“This kid never knew what hit him,” Jon said under his breath.
“What was that?” Walter asked.
“He didn’t know what was coming. He didn’t know the guy had a gun. There are no defensive wounds. Even his right eye looks perfectly calm and still. He wasn’t expecting it.” Jon walked back around the counter, pretending to be the criminal. “The guy probably came in, made some small talk, was pretending to peruse the menu, was commenting about how the temperature has dropped, la, la, la, the clerk is annoyed that his easy night had been disrupted. He probably nodded and said yes or I know what you mean a few times, and at some point, BOOM! The gun goes off, and victim number one is on the floor dead.”
Kate and Walter exchanged glances.
“If this is victim one, where is victim two?” Jon asked.
“Back in the freezer,” Walter confirmed victim two’s existence.
The group followed him back. Jon and Greg were the last two in line. As Greg brought up the rear, he whispered to Jon. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to puke in the evidence.”
Jon smiled. “It’s cool. This is pretty disgusting, don’t get me wrong, but I was expecting it to be worse. Somehow, this almost seems like a movie set or something.”
“Oh my God,” Stan mumbled as he walked into the freezer. Now, it was Stan’s turn to race through the group and leave the immediate area.
Jon moved up quickly, wanting to know what had unnerved Stan so badly. Greg was understandable, but Stan….
The freezer was a complete mess. There were frozen hamburger patties all over the floor, hamburger buns thrown everywhere, chicken breasts and fish fillets scattered, several of the metal shelves were tipped against the back wall. Another young man, though not quite as young as victim one was lying on his back on the floor. His face was bloodied; his legs were underneath him as if he had fallen while trying to play limbo. There was a pool of frozen blood around his knees and his face. Two frozen hamburger buns were on the victim’s chest, but they looked different from the others. Jon took a few steps closer and put the puzzle together. He knew why Stan had run out of the room.
“His name is Jake Spencer,” Jon told Walter and Kate. “Stan knew him. He was on the basketball team.” Greg left the freezer to be with his other friend.
Kate put a gentle hand on Jon’s shoulder. “We know.”
Jon shrugged off the gesture and walked in and took an even closer look at the scene. “Jake’s face is bloody, but his shirt just has some spatter on it. What happened?”
“Mind if I ask you a question, Jon?” Walter asked.
“Go for it.” Jon didn’t avert his eyes. He was still studying the body.
“You’re pretty good at this. May I ask how you know so much about crime scenes?”
“My dad was a cop. I’ve been going to R-rated cop movies since I was 7. You pick stuff up quickly, if you pay attention to the good ones and forget about the crappy ones.”
Kate smiled and made a slight head gesture toward Jon while Walter was looking at her. He just smiled back and nodded his head. “We knew you were the right one for the job, Jon.”
Jon finally stopped looking at the body and locked eyes on Walter. “So, I’m the right one, huh? That’s great. Can you help me figure out what’s up with the blood?”
“Look at the legs again, Jon, smarty pants.” Walter used the name calling not to insult Jon, just to spur him forward.
“They’re torn up,” Jon commented. “Torn up. They almost look like meat themselves.” Jon paused and circulated the thought through his brain. “He was shot in the kneecaps.”
“Bingo.”
“There was a fight in here, but not out there. The registers weren’t touched, I assume, since they looked to be just fine. It wasn’t a robbery.”
“Keep going,” Kate encouraged him.
“Not a robbery.” Jon stood up and went back to the door of the freezer. “It wasn’t a robbery.” His eyes were darting all over the freezer looking for the one clue. “He was kneecapped, but not for money. What else would the perp want?” Jon walked back to the body and looked at Jake’s bloody face. “For there to be just blood spatter on the shirt, this didn’t happen until he was on the ground. Or…this put him on the ground!”
Jon walked back to the door of the freezer. “The criminal backs him into the freezer. Jake assumes it’s a normal fast food robbery, so he is expecting to just get locked in the freezer while the guy robs the place and leaves. For some reason, the criminal, turns his back, and Jake decides he’s going to fight back. He grabs stuff off of the shelves and throws it at him. He and the guy get into a frozen food fight, the gun must have gotten loose, and the criminal gets it back, and doesn’t want to kill Jake. He shoots him in the knees. Jake falls but is still upright by his arms or his ab muscles when the guy comes over and punches him in the face, knocking Jake out. The perp locks him in, realizes he’s done more than he wanted and leaves while Jake freezes in here.”
“Good try,” Kate nodded, “but not quite. Look closer.”
Jon looked the body up and down. He looked around at the freezer and all the frozen goods everywhere. On Jake’s head was a large bruise.
“The guy hit him over the head.”
“Okay,” Kate coaxed.
Jon kept looking and noticed a small trail of blood that led underneath a shelf that was still upright. Jon stood and walked over to the shelf. He stuck his hand out as he knelt down. “Kate, get me a bag or gloves or something. I’ve found something.”
Kate grabbed Jon a pair of plastic gloves from the wall dispenser and threw him a ripped apart bag that had held buns. “Here.”
Jon put on the gloves, leaned over and stuck his arm far under the shelving, when he pulled his arm back out, he was holding a wallet and something else.
Walter beamed. “I wondered where that was! We hadn’t totally processed the scene yet.”
Jon took the wallet and put in the plastic bag. Then, he stared at what was in his hand. It looked like a frozen quarter patty of meat. He brought it within eight inches of his face and just turned it over and examined it from all sides. Kate and Walter had strange looks on their faces. Then, on one of the turns, Jon saw something and realized what it was. He quickly put it in the bag and sealed it, tossing it to Kate.
“His tongue! The blood wasn’t just from a nose shot. That was his tongue! They cut out his tongue!” Jon stood up, stripped his gloves off, and threw them into the trashcan that was there in the freezer.
Stan and Greg had re-joined the group but were still standing several feet away from the freezer, but close enough to hear the conversation.
“The bastard knew Jake. This was personal. He shot his kneecaps as a warning shot and then he cuts out his tongue so he couldn’t talk! Okay, okay. Here we go.” Jon started pacing in front of Walter and Kate.
“This guy comes in, chats with Jake over the counter while looking at the menu or something. He shoots victim one out of nowhere. He never sees it coming. “ Jon took a quick walk out to the kitchen, brushing by his friends. “Buns! There are no buns out here! He realizes he needs buns, he tells his friend he’ll be right back. While Jake is in the freezer getting the buns, our shooter pops victim one. Jake hears the shot and starts coming out. Our guy blocks Jake’s exit. They talk for a while about something.
“Our guy doesn’t like Jake’s responses, so he hits Jake with the bag of frozen buns that Jake was trying to get. That’s not heavy enough, so our guy tries fries, chicken, and fish, which are probably not frozen in stacks quite like the beef. These guys are tussling, knocking shit over. Finally, the killer grabs a bag of hamburger and wallops Jake. Jake goes down, but not for long. He rushes the guy and gets his knees shot out to stop the attack-“ Jon stopped. “Why shoot out his knees? The friend must know that he’s a basketball player. That’s going to stop him from playing basketball.” Jon was silent. He finally shook his head and continued with his theory.
“Jake is down, our guy comes over and punches him as hard as he can in the face. Jake drops to the ground, unconscious. The killer decides he may as well get a little extra cash, but doesn’t want to rob the restaurant. He’s been here too long already. He takes the wallet out and takes Jake’s money. Then, he opens Jake’s mouth and cuts out his tongue, tossing it aside, knowing Jake won’t need it again. But why the buns on Jake’s body? The food fight happened before Jake hit the ground?”
The freezer was silent again Jon could hear his friends talking softly. Stan entered the freezer. He bent down over his friend’s corpse and looked at the buns, not looking at his friend’s contorted face. He picked up the buns and held them close to his face. He took his pinky and put it on the bun over to one side and swiped his pinky along it. He put his pinky in his mouth and tasted the residue.
“It’s a signal Kind of like the fish I the newspaper in The Godfather. They’re buttered. It means he’s toast.”
“Jake knew something. He knew something that he shouldn’t have known and he was killed for it. Was the kneecap shooting a sign? A signal? Was it about the basketball team?”
“Am I in trouble?” Stan asked.
“We don’t know,” Walter answered. “That’s why I told Kate to bring you into our little secret. We’ve been watching your team for the last few months of practices and training. We’ve heard rumors about things happening, but they are all very vague. What do you know, Stan?”
Stan was confused. “Nothing. I don’t know anything. We’ve been practicing since the end of July. We were sixth place in our conference last year. Some of our players drink and drive after we win. We have the game coming up with Cottonwood this week.” Stan stopped as his eyes teared up. “I don’t know anything, man. I just play. I don’t worry about anything other than playing my best. I just play.” He started crying silently.
“Walter, he doesn’t know anything. Leave him alone.” Jon defended his friend but kept it low key and hushed.
“I wish I could, Jon, but we need him. He knows the team. He knows what has been happening up until now. He may be in danger. We need his help!”
“And Greg?” Jon asked.
“Well,” Kate admitted, “we just figured it would be easier to bring the three of you in than just two. You three are never apart, so if you and Stan started shrugging off Greg, we knew there could be a lot more problems.”
Jon ran his fingers through his hair. “Not only do you screw up my life, you’re going to screw up theirs, too?”
Walter stepped up. “I think you’re misunderstanding us a bit, Jon. We just need their help. We are not recruiting them. But we need their help, especially Stan’s to get you in.”
Jon didn’t get it. “What do you mean? Stan has nothing to do with the Agency.”
Kate tried to soften the news. “No, but he is on the basketball team.”
“Okay, that’s true. So?” Jon’s eyes widened with realization. “No! You don’t mean- you can’t mean-!”
“We need you to go undercover on the basketball team, Jon.” Kate finally explained.
“I can’t! I don’t play basketball! Isn’t there someone else who can do this?”
“We were going to try to integrate a new player this week before this killing. This just gave us a prime opportunity and a real reason to push this assignment.”
“Who was the new player going to be? You must’ve had someone else in mind before I came on board!”
Walter stepped up. “We did. Chad Peterson. Then, you shot him.”
Greg couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “You shot a federal agent?”
Jon got defensive. “I didn’t mean to! It was an accident!”
Walter put out his hand and touched Jon’s elbow. “We know you didn’t mean to, but you did. Now, we need to do what we can. We need to improvise a bit. You are a new agent; you have a friend on the team. Since they won’t want to be a man short for the big game this weekend, he can introduce you to the coach as a clutch player, and bing, bang, boom, you’re on the team!”
Kate went to Stan. “I’m sorry that I had to hurt you today. You were a little out of control. And I am really sorry about your teammate, but we need your help, Stan. Can you get Jon onto the team?”
Stan shrugged. “I guess I can try. I can’t guarantee anything, but I’ll try.”
Walter shook Stan’s hand. “We’ll try to get a grass roots thing going and get the parents desperate to get another player to fill out the roster. That way, Mr. Cannon will light a fire under your coaches ass and we will just slip Jon right in.”
“Cool,” was Stan’s only reply.
Jon walked out of the freezer finally. Without a word, he walked past victim number one and up to the dining area. The group followed him. Jon plopped down into a booth and put his head in his hands. When he looked up, there was a half circle around him.
“I’m going undercover on the basketball team?”
Stan smiled and looked down at Jon. “You’re going undercover on the basketball team.”

Chapter 9

CHAPTER 9


The auditorium was packed with people. It seated about 2100 people and there was not an empty seat in the joint. The three small front rows were reserved for the contestants of the talent show, but most of the rest of the seats were filled with family and friends of the contestants. A good majority of the student body was not there because, really, how cool is it to spend after school hours watching a talent show?
Stan and Greg had already found their seats inside. They were just a few rows behind the contestants but way off to the left-hand side. Jon had remembered to return the music to the store for Aleisha’s mom and he had brought his sheet music for Gaspard de la nuit. He was now just waiting in the hall for Aleisha to show up so he could give her back the refund money. That was why he had set up this meeting, but he was also secretly hoping that he could get a little wish of good luck from her, too. Along with setting up that date, of course.
Jon was dressed in khaki slacks with a short sleeved white shirt. Not too formal, not too casual and he could move his arms in it as opposed to a full suit. He was rocking back and forth on the heels of his toes when he heard a familiar voice behind him. Not a very friendly familiar voice, either.
“Mr. Mills?”
He turned, already aware of what he would see.
“Mrs. Perry! How the hell are you?”
“I should ask you to refrain from the profanity, Jonathan.”
“You should ask me to refrain but you won’t. You see, I wasn’t swearing. I was merely asking about your place of residence.”
Mrs. Perry’s tongue went into her upper lip indicating that she wanted to retort very badly, but knew this was neither the time nor the place.
“I have been asked to remind you that you may not play the same piece of music as this morning. This time, you will be judged on how well you play and how much attention is paid to rests, beats per minute and that kind of thing. You were lucky to get in tonight. I wanted to boot you out, but Doc was so impressed by your dexterity that he felt you must be let in.”
Jon smiled. “I’m in and I fully intend to win.”
Mrs. Perry glared at Jon for just a moment, turned, and entered the auditorium.
“Hi, stranger,” came another voice from behind him.
He turned and saw what he had been waiting to see. Aleisha Madsen was standing behind him and looked radiant! Even though she was just wearing an orange T-shirt, a brown jacket over it and blue jeans, she still looked smashing. Maybe it was her beaming smile that made it all work.
“Thanks for coming! I, uh, wanted to make sure I got you the money back.” Jon reached into his pocket and clumsily pulled out the four dollar bills which had the change wrapped inside of the tangled mess. As he passed the money, he made sure that he didn’t actually touch Aleisha.
“Actually, Jon,” she smiled as she took the money, “I wouldn’t have missed seeing you perform again. This morning was very…interesting.” She grinned and showed her white teeth to Jon.
“That’s what I’ve heard.” He could feel himself getting red with embarrassment and anticipation again. “I was just wondering if tomorrow would be a good time to go to a movie. Look Who’s Talking is playing. I don’t know if you’d want to see a talking baby, but-“
“Tomorrow is perfect! However, I’ve been wanting to see the Tom Selleck movie? An Innocent Man? Would that be fine?”
“Totally fine! Especially if I can take you to my favorite theater that’s playing it.”
She nodded, bowed her head just a little and showed her teeth again.
“Great! That would be just great! I’ll pick you up at, say, six tomorrow night, and we can go get a bite to eat before the show?”
“I would like that.” She was enjoying watching him almost melt.
Stan poked his head out of the auditorium door. “Jon! I think they’re getting ready to start!”
Jon looked at Aleisha and was both happy and sad for the time to split up. “If nothing else, I’ll see you tomorrow in Katsilas’s class?”
“You know it!”
“Bye, Aleisha.” Jon turned and ran up the stairs to go in and take his seat.
Aleisha watched him go. She put up her hand and waved, even though she knew Jon would not see it. She happily skipped up the steps after him and found her seat as her heart fluttered.
Jon was not scheduled to go on stage until near the end. There were thirty finalists in the different categories and Jon was listed as number twenty-five. He was the last of the pianists, so he could see how he measured up.
The problem with the measuring up theory was that he had to stay awake for the twenty-four so-called talents that preceded him. After three talents, he was ready to call it quits. Even though the three front rows were small, and they were reserved for the contestants, he noticed friends and family of the remaining group slowly making their way into the seats. The chair beside Jon was vacant, so he wondered how close Aleisha was. He craned his neck and squinted through the dark to see if he could spot her.
As he was turned around, Jon felt someone take the empty seat next to him. Since he hadn’t spotted her yet, he turned around in resignation of just falling asleep. He was overjoyed however to catch a glimpse of a brown jacket as he turned back around.
“Good timing!” he whispered to Aleisha.
“Thanks. I figured that other people were doing it, moms, dads, boyfriends, and girlfriends. So, I thought we could be considered a couple since we have a date for tomorrow, right?”
Jon’s butterflies, which had been noticeably absent during his time with The Agency, reared up again when Aleisha even mentioned the word couple in reference to the two of them.
Jon and Aleisha made it through a ventriloquist who was so poor that by the end he didn’t even try to hide that his lips were moving. They were treated to a saxophonist playing a Kenny G song while his girlfriend ballet danced in a silhouhette against a blue light. Two different couple sang the Phantom of The Opera Duet. Neither one did it well. There were several pianists, one played The Man From Snowy River Theme, but they both seemed like second year piano students. One girl even tried a stand up comedy routine in French.
The new couple just made it through each one silently whispering to each other and hiding under coats to muffle their laughter. Jon made sure that even with all of the leaning over and whispering, he never touched Aleisha. It would’ve just seemed too weird. He did brush her hair away from her ear a time or two, but that was the extent. Aleisha quickly touched his arm once or twice to get his attention, but he would move it off of the arm of the chair under the pretense of getting closer to her.
Mrs. Perry had given them a few stern looks throughout the night, but they weren’t being overly rambunctious to warrant a tossing out of the assembly.
Finally, it was time for number twenty four to take the stage which meant Jon had to leave to go to the side of the stage to prepare. He raised his eyebrows in a ‘Here I go’ gesture. Aleisha smiled and gave him the thumbs up sign as he stood to exit the row.
It wasn’t until he was alone in the hallway headed to the stage door, that he realized that he had actually had a very fun time this evening. It had been awkward now and again, but all told, he wasn’t worried about saying anything too inappropriate, he hadn’t been concerned about whispering into Aleisha’s ear, it had almost seemed natural. Jon paused before he entered the stage and leaned against the brick corner of the alcove, enjoying this moment, before he got stressed out for the next ten minutes up on stage.
As the door to the parking lot opened, Jon knew the rest of his night had gone south.
Kate Thompson strolled through the door and looked happy to see Jon. “You haven’t gone on yet, have you?”
Jon mustered a smile. “Perfect. Just perfect,” he muttered. Louder, he said, “No. Not yet!”
“Good! I didn’t want to miss this!”
Jon was almost shocked. “Miss it? What do you mean, miss it?”
“I wanted to see you perform! You were so intense about it today, I figured that I couldn’t miss my trainee’s big night!”
“You’re my trainer, right?” Jon questioned.
“Yup. You know it.” Kate’s voice was way too cheerful. Jon didn’t like the sound of it at all.
“Kate, I don’t know how to break this to you, but you’re my trainer. You’re not my mother, my nanny, or my girlfriend. Thanks for coming, but I’m not sure that I feel comfortable with you being right here at this part of my life right now.” It was only after he had said it, that Jon realized the word girlfriend wasn’t that scary of a word after all.
Kate stood her ground but remained silent for a beat. “Okay, you got me.” Her shoulders sagged and her voice went back to being all business.
“Oh, shit,” Jon lowered his head and started shaking it.
“Two things that I came here for, Jon.”
Jon squeezed his eyes shut tightly and listened to the strange sound that emanated from somewhere deep inside his ear canal. He opened them and mustered the same fake smile that he had previously worn. “Number one?”
“A student of Taylorsville High was shot to death at a fast food restaurant just up the street.”
“And this matters to me because-?”
They could hear applause starting in the auditorium that meant Jon needed to get inside the stage door.
“We’ll get to the importance of that issue in a moment. But number two-“ Kate snatched Gaspard de la Nuit out of Jon’s hands and thrust another piece of music in its place, “-is to apologize for the last couple of days, I’m here to help you win the talent show. Come on!” Kate opened the stage door and for all semantical arguments aside, threw Jon into the backstage area.
“Kate-!” Jon started, but Kate was already strutting front and center in the spotlight. Jon hurried out to the piano. “Perfect.”
Stan and Greg had been slouched in their seats doing their own mocking of the proceedings. As Kate marched onto stage, their eyes widened, their mouths opened, and their butts slid straight back in their chairs. There was no need to look at each other or say anything. They both knew something was about to go down.
Aleisha also sat up straight and was a little confused by the turn of events. She was in the school choir. Why hadn’t Jon asked her to sing? And who was the girl- woman more accurately- standing up there? Aleisha had never seen her in the halls. Did she go to this school? Was this a legal part of the talent show?
Jon was busy finding the first page as Kate took the microphone out of its stand.
“Hi. The next contestant is Jonathan Mills. He will be playing the piano as I sing. The piece is entitled Short People by Randy Newman.”
Mrs. Perry stood up in her spot in the audience. She blocked the spotlight so that she was outlined clearly to Kate. “Excuse me, miss, but who are you?”
Kate looked at Mrs. Perry dead center at where her eyes should be in the dark shape in the spotlight. “I’m the singer.” She smiled triumphantly. Kate turned and nodded at Jon.
Jon was still scanning the music. He had heard the song once or twice during the novelty song days of Carter and Bammes and once or twice on The Dr. Demento Show, but to play it cold? As he was scanning, he realized that it wasn’t that difficult. He would’ve preferred not playing it for the first time at the finals of the talent show up on stage, but there were much worse pieces of music to have to play under the gun. He noticed Kate’s nod, so he flipped back to page one and started.
The piece was mostly a simple rhythm piece. It started with a three note chord on the right hand for four beats. Then, it brought in a single note on the left hand which then went to a much lower note and another very low note in quick succession also on the left hand while the right hand stayed on its own three note chord rhythm Jon got to play this specific bit four times at the exact same speed for eight bars.
After eight bars, the beats per minute changed and he now played the same pattern about one-third faster than he had been playing it before.. He was to keep this beat per minute for the rest of the song, he played this pattern at this speed for eight more bars and was surprised enough to jump ever so slightly when on the ninth bar, Kate started singing.
“Short people got no reason, short people got no reason, short people got no reason to liiiive.” Kate sang.
The down beats on the left hand came after every use of the word got.
She had a nice, raspy quality to her alto voice. The song was not high pitched at all. It was almost in a spoken tone with a few pitch changes and an actual holding of the note on live, but that didn’t matter. Kate’s voice had the sensual raspiness to it, but was also perfect pitch with a pleasing timbre. She had the depth of pipes and stage presence of Ethel Merman or Aretha Franklin. She not just sang on the stage, she seemed to prowl it. The audience was not ready for this kind of a performance at a high school talent show. There was an immediate stillness in the auditorium, yet an instant electricity at the same time.
Stan and Greg sat mesmerized, watching the red hair almost seem to take on a life of its own as Kate sang.
Jon almost missed the next beat pattern as Kate hit the last note on the phrase. It was so crystal clear and beautiful, he almost wanted to stop playing and watch the performance himself. Instead he caught himself, and kept playing. Since the piano part was pretty basic, he could feel himself loosening up and not being quite as tense. He started hitting the notes with purpose instead of just because they were on the paper. At the word live, Jon got to go down the scale with his left hand and he relished every note.
Kate continued singing. “They got little hands, little eyes, they walk around telling great big lies….”
Jon almost expected someone to stop them in this too politically correct world that they lived in. Talking about short people like that? That can’t be good for the Federation of Height Impaired Citizens, but, for some reason, Kate’s voice broke through what the words were saying.
“…they got little noses and tiny little teeth. They wear platform shoes on their nasty little feet, well I don’t want no short people, don’t want no short people, don’t want no short people ‘round here.”
It was time for Jon to just play a little bridging section. He was playing the right hand almost, but not quite, stacatto like, and was hitting the left hand notes with gusto, giving the song a bass kick. He looked ahead and saw that a change was coming. He prepared and flowed naturally into it as though he had played this song for years. The music almost turned into a schmaltzy message type song music, but Jon, knowing the genius that is Randy Newman, knew that it was as satirical as all get out. Words and music, both.
Kate sang as though she got the joke as well. “Short people are just the same as you and I, a fool such as I, all men are brothers until the day they die, it’s a wonderful world. “
As Kate sang the word world, Jon started back on his right hand rhythm, left hand bass. The down beats again came after the word ‘got’ each time.
“Short people got nobody, short people got nobody, short people got nobody to looooove.”
There was a whooping in the crowd and all of a sudden the audience started having fun with the song, too, not just listening to Kate sing.
“They got little baby legs, they stand so low, you got to pick them up just to say hello-“ Kate grinned as she sang that line and she got a whooping round of encouragement from all the tall friends ribbing their short companions.
“They got little cars that go beep beep beep, they got little voices going peep peep peep. They got grubby little fingers and dirty little minds-“ At this the audience went into catcalls as Kate reached down to her shirt’s neckline and ever so slightly tugged at it. “They’re gonna get’cha every time, well, I, don’t want no short people, don’t want no short people, don’t want no short people ‘round here.”
Next, it was Jon’s turn to improvize and jam. He was continuing to do the rhythm and bass boosts, but every four times he did it, he threw in extra notes either sliding up or down the scale, turning the three note bass kick into chords as he would go down, just making it his own. He played the cycle eight bars four times, jazzing it up each time.
The crowd got more and more wild as they got into Jon’s improv and Kate’s strutting around like a rock star, getting eye contact with boys near the front row and making suggestive hand motions. Stan and Greg stood up, and most of the audience followed their lead. Greg started whistling with his fingers in his mouth. Even girls were dancing in their seats to the rhythm Jon was providing while the guys were drooling over Kate.
Aleisha was enjoying the fact that it was easy to see that Jon was the audience favorite at least. She enjoyed watching him perform. She was giddy at the sight of watching him go from being a jumble of nerves to loosening up and rocking out. She grinned and clapped along with the rest of the audience. She joined Greg in the whistles with her fingers in her mouth. The difference was hers were aimed solely at Jon.
Mills saw the end of the song coming, but he could hear Kate not speaking into the microphone over the roar of the crowd. He knew she was speaking, but couldn’t make out a word. He kept his fingers playing the rhythm as he leaned over the music and shrugged while he mouthed the word “what?’
“Go back!” she yelled. “Go back to the top of the fourth page! Link it up and replay it till the end!”
When Jon was only playing his right hand, he quickly flipped back to page four. It was the start of the fake schmaltz. He nodded to Kate. She turned back around and started vamping the crowd once again. Jon found a perfect place to make the splice. He played one more eight bar round and then turned back, and started replaying the new bridge. Jon had memorized the music by this time so he just forgot looking at the page.
Kate started singing again, only this time really playing up each single word and instead of singing, almost growling into the mike.
“Short people are just the same as you and I, a fool such as I. All men are brothers until the day they die. It’s a wonderful world.” The crowd erupted again as Kate brought one leg up and thrust her chest out toward the audience. She had seen Tina Turner do it once and wanted to try it. It had worked.
Jon kept the rhythm going still and kept a strong bass presence but was throwing in extra notes all over the place and punching out the bass as hard as he possibly could on the old run down school piano.
“Short people got nobody, short people got nobody, short people got nobody to looooove!” Kate ground out each ‘nobody’.
“They got little baby legs, they staaaand so low, you got ta pick ‘em up just to saaaay hello. They got little cars that go beep beep beep.” Each of the beeps was a low rumbling stacatto bass note. “They got little voices going-“ Kate’s voice jumped an octave for the next two peep peeps and went to an amazingly high glass shattering, Mariah Carey note for the final peep..
Aleisha’s eyes widened to an unnatural state. “Damn!” she whispered.
“They got grubby little fingers and dirty little minds-“ Kate tugged on her neckline again, but this time really went for it. “They’re gonna get’cha every time, well, I, don’t want no short people, don’t want no short people, don’t want no short people ‘round here.”
Jon played through eight more bars and then ended in rousing fanfare, something that he imagined Billy Joel would play on his piano at the end of his last song in concert: a triumphant pounding bass chord on the last octave on the piano in unison with a pounding treble chord on the uppermost octave on the piano. As he played it, he stood up quickly and suddenly flinging the piano bench halfway across the stage with the forcefulness of it all and his hands went up in the air, as if he had just made a touchdown pass. He grabbed the mike that was on the piano. “I am Jonathan Mills and that was the amazing-“ he paused for a moment. Should he tell everyone Kate’s name? “The amazing Kate!” was his decided answer.
Even though he didn’t think it was possible, the crowd got even louder and had even more whistles and catcalls than there had been previously. He went to the front of the stage, stood on Kate’s left and grabbed her left hand.
“Why didn’t you tell me you could sing like that?” he muttered through the side of his mouth.
“You never asked,” was Kate’s reply. They raised their clenched hands together and as they brought them down, they bowed to their adoring fans. They raised their hands again and bowed a second time. Stomping of feet had started. They did the bow a third time and finally Kate tugged Jon off of the stage.
As they got behind the curtains, Jon pulled Kate to him and hugged her tight. His adrenalin was flowing at an all time high. As he let her go, he took a step back to admire her. “That was incredible. You were amazing!”
She was grinning widely. “You did a damn fine job, too, if I may say so my damn self, thank you!” She grabbed his hand and pulled him through the stage door into the hall. “Come on! We’ve got to go!”
Jon was puzzled. “What do you mean? We have to stay around and get the award. It’s only going to be another half hour or so. Come on, Kate! I’ve wanted to get a reaction like that up on stage ever since I was in seventh grade drama! Let me enjoy this!”
Kate was still smiling, but shaking her head. “You did an amazing job, Jon! I know you think that that was an easy piece, and, truth be told, it’s not that hard. But only someone with true talent could have pulled off all of the improv riffs and scales, and notes, and played it on the first time with a joy to match what I was doing onstage. You are on an adrenalin rush that you can identify that is different than the other recent adrenalin rushes, but I need you to come with me right now.
“I’ve actually been in the back row watching the entire show!” Kate continued. “There is no way that they can give the top prize to anyone but you! There are still five bits to go, but judging on the shit that has been up on that stage tonight, you don’t have anything to worry about! The award is yours and sewn up and in the bag! There will be a mutiny if they even try to play the whole ‘you must be present to win’ card, so I need you to trust me. I need you to come with me right now! Earlier this afternoon you told me that you were in. This is what being in means, Jon. It means letting go of personal wants and desires and doing what’s best for The Agency and the nation.”
In the matter of a few seconds, Jon’s face went from utter joy to total resignation. He took a deep cleansing breath. And let it out slowly. “You’re right, Kate. You’re right.” He took another deep breath. “Where are we going?”
“We are going to talk.” She started walking out of the building.
Jon put his hands up by his sides in a shrugging motion. He had a look of confusion on his face. “That didn’t really answer my question...” He started to follow her.
Several people started coming out of the doors as if they knew they had already seen the winner, so why stick around? Stan and Greg, however, had gone up on stage and followed Jon and Kate’s lead and gone out of the stage door. “Jon!” Stan called. They ran up to meet Jon.
Greg slapped his friend on the back. “That was great! You were great! She was great!”
Jon laughed at the enthusiasm. “Thanks, but I really gotta get going!” He motioned to the doors that Kate was already at.
“What’s up, Jon?” Stan asked. “Honestly, is everything on the up and up?”
“Yes, “ Jon answered. “Everything is on the up and up. I just need to go with her.”
“Aleisha was wanting to follow us, but she got stuck by the crowd. She should be out here any second.”
“I really can’t. I mean, I’ll be seeing her tomorrow night, anyways. We set up a date.”
This time, Greg gave Jon a surprisingly hard punch on the shoulder. “Good for you, stud!”
Kate came walking back up the hallway. “Jon, we really need to go!”
Jon put up his hand. “Okay, okay. I know, Kate. I just want to say goodbye.”
Kate grabbed Jon by the elbow. “Actually, they can come along.”
All three of the guy’s faces were awe struck. “Excuse me, miss?” Greg vocalized for the group.
“You can come along,” Kate repeated. “I was going to wait until tomorrow morning, but since the opportunity has presented itself, they may as well come right now. But, in order for them to come along right now, we must goooooooo.” Kate stretched out the last word as she tugged at Jon’s elbow again.
The trio followed Kate out to her car.
It took Aleisha several more minutes to make it out to the hall. She ran down the hall, calling Jon’s name. She even left the building and looked around at the parking lot and the street. She didn’t know it, but she watched as Kate’s Lumina pulled out of the school’s parking lot into traffic.
Aleisha’s grin faded into a frown as she buttoned up her brown jacket against the wind. She shoved her hands deep into her jacket pockets, lowered her head, and walked to her car, scuffing her shoes.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Chapter 8

CHAPTER 8


“You are one cocky son of a bitch! Did you know that?” Kate was fuming.
“I really don’t think my cockiness should enter into anything! What about the guns that were loaded with actual bullets? Who fell down on that job?”
Kate and Jon were in Jon’s front room arguing over the events of the last hour. They were both pacing back and forth in the small open square in the center of the room surrounded by a couch, 2 chairs, and a piano.
“The kid was carrying a loaded weapon! She was a split second away from blowing her head off!”
“And who was it that stopped that? Hmm. Who was that? I’m curious? “
“You may have stopped that! You are correct!”
“May have stopped that? May have stopped that?”
“But you didn’t follow directions, did you? It’s quite possible that that situation wouldn’t have happened if you would have just followed the goddamn directions that I gave you!”
“Oh, you gave me directions?”
“Yes, I gave you directions! I said that at some point in the meeting to slip in the part about secrecy. At some point! At some point, Jon!” As Kate was repeating herself, Jon started repeating the words ‘at some point’ along with her. “I did not say to just go in there and be a cocky little asshole like you had all the answers in the world and accuse him outright!”
“What does it matter how I did it? It was a training mission, Kate! It was a training mission! It was all an act anyway until real bullets were brought in!”
“You didn’t even know about the real bullets until after it was all over!”
Jon shook his head and threw his hands up in the air. “Who cares if I knew about them right away or not? I thought they were live bullets from the beginning! I didn’t know they were blanks until after I found out that it was a training exercise, and then I found out that they were real! Kind’ve like a large vicious circle!”
“Well, who cares about your vicious circle? Cynthia had an earpiece and could hear that you were already accusing her husband so she hurried faster than she probably should have to get back out to the table! If you hadn’t played Mister Big Cock Cowboy, maybe the incident wouldn’t have been so bad!”
“Look, we’re going around in circles here!”
“Are they vicious circles?” Kate mocked.
“May I just get a few words in edgewise?”
Jon could tell Kate was biting her cheek and pursing her lips just waiting for him to say the wrong thing.
“I have two major questions, here. May I ask them?” Jon asked, angry, but cautious, knowing that Kate was ready to pounce.
“Shoot.”
“Try not to use that phrase, please.” Kate glowered at him. Jon held up his hands as if in apology. “Sorry.” Kate backed off and sat on the couch.
“First,” Jon continued, “what was up with the guns?” Jon paused. He realized that Kate was ready for him to just tear into a rampage. “That was not rhetorical.”
“Those were guns that came out of The Agency’s gun cabinet. They all have a little piece of blue tape on them indicating that they should all be blank cartridges. Whoever filled them last is the one responsible.”
“Shouldn’t that be something to look into?”
“Walter assured me that he would.”
“Is he a paperwork kind of a guy? Will he research it?”
“Yes he will. Next question?”
“What is up Richard and Judith’s-“
“Cynthia’s.” Kate corrected.
“-Cynthia’s parenting skills? Why would you let your seven year old daughter watch you tape a gun to a toilet bowl and then leave her alone in the restroom whether the gun was filled with blanks or not? Doesn’t that seem just a little on this side of child endangerment to you?”
“I’m sure she thought that Alex was right behind her.”
“I’m sure she might have at one point! But what was she doing letting her daughter see that she had a gun in the first place? Doesn’t this strike you as bad parenting? Why is there even a husband and wife team working together at the Agency? Let alone on the same assignment? Let alone with their own kid?”
“Married couples comprise a very important kind of team at the Agency. There is a certain level of trust there that is more than ever comes with just arbitrarily assigned partners!”
“Okay, so they can trust and rely on each other more than just partners can, but why drag the kids into it? Was she even supposed to be there or was that another screwing of the pooch by The Agency today?”
“She was supposed to be there today, Jon. It was supposed to be a nice, happy family setting to show that he had gone and become a family man!”
“So, do all married couples bring their kids along on assignments?”
“Are you kidding me, Jon? Of course not! Just in this situation-“
“Where the kid almost got killed!”
“Okay, so that was a mistake! Are you happy? I’m admitting that it was a mistake!” Kate stood up again to defend her position.
“So, this wife of a married couple of Agents brings their kid along, right? It’s supposed to be a training mission. She lets her daughter watch her bring a gun to a restaurant and leave it in the restroom and then leaves without her daughter? Come on, Kate! She sat down! She didn’t just walk out of the bathroom without her daughter; she went to the table and sat down! Wouldn’t you think that after a few moments of sitting at the table she would realize that her daughter was missing?”
“Here’s where we go back to you being a cocky son of a bitch!”
“Fine! Let’s hear it!”
“If you hadn’t have accused Richard so damn soon, she wouldn’t have had to go into her role quite as quickly!”
“And now, here we go to another one of my points!”
“Shoot!”
“That’s exactly it! If the scenario had played out like it was supposed to, I would be shot, killed and dead at this precise moment! Richard would have come out of the bathroom, Godfathered me, if he was following the film precisely, shot me in the head with very little chance of my survival and been shocked as hell when I was dead and started bleeding! Jesus Christ, Kate, don’t you get it? The situation was very close to being deadly on so many accounts; it’s not funny! And this was a set up training situation? Maybe someone should look into the training program because right now- it sucks! It’s a wonder you have any Agents at all! I’m surprised anybody makes it through a year as an Agent, let alone training, without being wheeled out in a body bag!”
Kate took Jon’s last point like a punch in the stomach. She almost visibly winced and sat down in one of the recliners this time. It took a moment for her to get her voice back. “Okay, so the last couple of days have been rough,” Kate acquiesced.
“Rough? I’ve been kidnapped by a couple of goons from school, shot by a tranquilizer dart, almost shot and killed, stopped a seven year old from blowing her brains out and you call that a little rough?”
“Does challenging work better for your semantical argument?”
“Challenging? I don’t care about the semantics of it! I want to know that if I join the Agency that I won’t be killed by any stupid goof ups at the office! I need to know that I have a team that will back me up, and go to great lengths from making sure that I don’t get killed! That’s what I want!”
Kate was silent. Jon could see her eyes welling up. He took a step over to her.
“We made mistakes, okay?” She lashed out. Jon went back to his standing position. “We made mistakes. Nobody’s perfect! You have taken shit situations and turned them into sunny days! You made one real mistake. You shot Chad Peterson, but he’s doing fine. He was more of collateral damage than a mistake, truth be told. You’ve saved many lives. What do you want me to say? I’m sorry? That doesn’t quite seem to do it, Jon. You’ve only known about the Agency for a little over 24 hours and you’ve already saved at least thirty lives, probably more! Who knows what would have happened if the Suicide Squad of Stanley’s had made it up those stairs? Your life, probably several of the Agency’s diner’s agents lives.
“You have done great! We wanted you because we knew that you didn’t give in to authority figures easily. Hell, your feud with Mrs. Perry proves that. We wanted you because you think fast on your feet. We wanted you because you are a cocky little son of a bitch, in the best possible way. We wanted you because you don’t let fear get in your way. You let it help you and push you through the situation. You’re going to do great here, but you gotta trust us. You have to trust us that we will be there for you. You have to trust us, even if we haven’t done a good job yet, that we are here to protect you, the nation, the citizens, everyone! You don’t know us very well, so if it’s hard trusting us because of our mistakes at the beginning, maybe it’ll help if you know that we trust you.”
“I’m sure that you trust me, and I’m sure that you all try hard, but what assurance do I have that I will be safe?”
“We will not allow you to fail. We have recruited you so that you will succeed.” She paused. “ I won’t allow you to die. If I would have known that there was a problem today, I would’ve forced you to get back and I would have handled the disarming of Alex. I won’t allow you to fail.”
Jon shrugged off her sincerity. “But what assurance do I have?”
Kate looked up at him and looked deep into his eyes. “My word. You have my word.”
With the solemnity and determination in her voice, Jon knew that that was going to be enough. He nodded. “You got me, Kate. You got me. How do I sign up to be the next Agent?”
Kate stood up and walked over to him. She threw her arms around him and gave him a big hug. “Welcome to the Agency, Jon Mills!”
This was a different type of hug than she had given him in the stairwell. Jon had never been hugged this tightly by someone who was not directly related to him, so he was a little taken aback. He was amazed at how good her hair smelled, even after being in a diner for an hour this morning. He could feel a little wetness on his neck. He assumed it was from the tears that were now surely falling out of her blue eyes. Kate’s breath was warm and moist on the back of his neck. Jon got the chills and his hairs stood up on the back of his neck. He could feel her chest rising and falling as she cried silently. As her chest moved, he was able to feel her breasts against his body. It was a strange feeling. Not at all like he had imagined them to feel. Just this thought caused his face to get hot and red with embarrassment.
Jon had no idea of how to respond to this display. If he hugged her back, would she get the wrong impression? If he didn’t hug her, would she think that he was being an asshole? If he hugged her, did it mean that the teacher student relationship would take on a new meaning? If he didn’t hug her, would she think that he thought she was repulsive and weak for crying?
Should he kiss her? Is a kiss alright just to help someone calm down? Is a kiss always romantic? No, it's not always romantic, Jon reasoned. Parents kiss their kids and if it's romantic they get arrested. Or should. Is a romantic kiss different than an unromantic kiss? Is an unromantic kiss different than a kiss used for comfort? No, he decided. There were way too many problems with the kissing scenario, but the hugging- that was something he could do.
His arms went up to her back and he gave her a quick squeeze. He needed a way out of this awkward predicament. He tried humor. .“Where are the forms to fill out?”
Kate gave a small laugh and then sniffed. Jon was right. She had been crying. He dropped his arms to her waist. She still had a tight hold around his waist, but she leaned back to look at him again. Her eyes were very red and puffy. Her smiling lips still quivered with the end of her crying. Jon instantly regretted how hard he had been on her. “Kate-“ he started.
Just then, they heard a key in the front door. Kate stepped away from Jon and Jon used this chance to get as far away from Kate’s body as he could. The front door opened and Stan and Greg walked in. They started up the stairs of the split-level house and grabbed onto the black wrought iron railing as they looked into the front room. Kate and Jon were separated, but Jon’s friends had already noticed that there was still a sort of an interrupted intimate feeling that was hanging in the room. Their eyes fell immediately upon the major oddity in the room. A girl- a woman, actually, alone in the house with Jon as his parents were out of town.
“Jon?” Stan asked.
“Hi, guys! What’s up?” Jon asked non-chalantly.
“Let me guess, bud,” Greg quipped, “the dream is always the same?”
“We should ask you the same thing!” Stan said.
“I bet I know what’s up, Jon!” Greg continued his mini stand up routine.
Kate wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. “Thanks, Jon. I need to get going. I knew you would feel my pain at the fact that they actually made Howard the Duck.”
Stan was standing at the top of the stairs with Greg behind right behind him. “Aleisha wanted to come with us, Jon,” Stan warned. “Good thing she didn’t, huh?” Stan shook his head as he blocked Kate’s exit. “You move pretty fast. One moment you know nothing about women, the next day you get a date with Aleisha and have a little make out session with an older woman while your parents are away.”
Jon could feel his temper raise. “How dare you make those accusations, Stan? How dare you? You know nothing about what has happened the last two days!”
“I may not know exactly, but I know that she-“ he said the word she harshly and spit just slightly on Kate’s face, “has something to do with it.”
“Let her go, Stan. Let her walk down the stairs and leave. She has nothing to do with whatever you are angry at.”
Greg, after spending the last twenty seconds like a deer in headlights, came back to his senses and touched Stan’s arm to move it away from the railing. Stan shook him off.
“Stan, come on.” Greg was trying to talk his friend down.
“What are you doing, Stan?” Jon asked. “I’ve known you since we were in second grade. I have never known you to act like this.”
“Me? Act like this? I’ve known you to throw attitude, Mr. Mills! Now it’s my turn!”
“Don’t do this, Stan.” Jon warned. “Walk away. I can’t explain it, but you have to trust me.”
Stan advanced on Kate. “You were driven out of the school parking lot yesterday, Jon! We were scared to death for you! You disappeared and we had no explanation! You come to school this morning with some dumbass story that you were at the police station and got attacked by some guy who was embezzling funds from the drama club or something? What the hell kind of a story is that?”
Stan was slowly backing Kate into the kitchen. Greg was still back on the stairs. Jon was keeping a safe distance but watching every movement made and listening to every word and sound. Jon could tell that Stan was getting angrier, and he could tell that Kate was feeling threatened and was getting ready to take Stan out the equation.
“Kate!” Jon warned.
She looked over. Jon was patting the air and shaking his head as if to say to let it go. Kate arched her eyebrows. ‘Are you sure?’ she seemed to ask. Jon nodded.
“You didn’t go to the police station for that, did you, Jon?” Stan was talking to Jon but was staring at Kate.
“You’re right, Stan. I didn’t go to the police station for that.”
“This morning, you were obviously not in your right mind as you play that piece of music in one minute flat. It was pretty amazing, but something wasn’t right. I assumed you were thinking about Aleisha. Then, we see you being pulled out of school again for the second day in a row by her!”
“Actually, I didn’t meet her until an hour or so after I got taken out of school yesterday.”
“It doesn’t matter! I’ve been your friend for ten years and I won’t let you throw your life away on her! You’ve had a crush on Aleisha for far too long! Your parents trust you way too much! You’re too good of a guy to let her seduce you away from your friends and family who care about you!”
Kate couldn’t hold back any longer. “Seduce?”
Jon motioned again for her to cool off.
“Seduce?” Kate repeated. “I can’t tell you what’s been going on the last two days, Stan, but I can tell you it’s not what you’re thinking.”
“Then what is it?”
Kate narrowed her eyes and moved her face toward Stan. “Are you deaf? I just said that I couldn’t tell you.”
“If you’re not taking advantage of my friend, then what did we just interrupt? Why does it need to be kept secret?”
“There are things other than sex that need to be kept quiet.”
“Are you a thief of some sort?”
Kate snorted at the accusation. “Nope.”
“A private instructor? Aikido? Feng Shui? Line dancing?”
“Not even close.”
“Then what? What are you doing to my friend? He showed up hurt today! If you had anything to do with that, you’ll wish you had never met him!” He raised his hands up.
Jon could tell that he was not threatening her just talking with his hands, like Jon was very apt to do. But Stan had put Kate into a corner. Kate gave one last tilted head glance at Jon. Jon shook his head. Kate nodded and Jon knew that was the end of the discussion.
Kate grabbed both of Stan’s hands by the wrists. She brought her knee up into Stan’s groin and then crossed her own hands, which tied up Stan’s arms. She pulled as hard as she could on Stan’s wrists and bent him in half. Kate’s knee then connected with his face. She then whipped his arms apart and flung him to the ground on his back while doing so. She dropped to one knee and hit Stan in the chest with her elbow. He didn’t move.
Jon and Greg stood silently, barely breathing.
“Don’t worry,” Kate assured them as she stood up. “He’s knocked unconscious, not dead. He’ll be hurting when he wakes up in about twenty minutes, but he’ll be okay. Just remind him never to try that with me again.”
Jon walked over to Kate. “He didn’t mean to, Kate. He was just scared.”
Kate smiled. “I know. He’s a good friend. He was just protecting you, but I was just protecting myself. I can’t wait around any longer. I need to go back to the office. Apologize to him for me when he wakes up, will you?”
Kate patted Jon on the shoulder, limped down the stairs as if nothing had happened and out the door. Greg had given her plenty of leeway.
Jon felt as if his life had just been hit by a whirlwind for the millionth time in two days.
“Who was that woman?” Greg finally asked.
Jon smiled. “That was Kate Thompson. She’s a friend.” He recognized Greg’s incredulous look. “She’s a friend. Trust me.”
It took almost an hour for Stan to regain consciousness. In the intervening time, Jon and Greg had talked very unspecifically about the last two days while playing a game of 9- tile Scrabble. Greg had won by thirty-three points. Jon was slightly upset because Greg had built up from an ‘S’ on the outermost line of the board to hit the triple word score with the word excavate. As they were cleaning up the mess, Stan started moaning and moving. Jon left the rest of the game cleanup to Greg while he went and got a bag of ice for Stan.
Stan sat up in the middle of the kitchen and held his head with his right hand His left hand went down to his groin.
“Hey, man,” Jon sat next to him on the floor. ”How you feeling?”
Stan opened and closed his mouth several times. His right hand went to his jaw and then to his chest. “Been better.” Jon and Greg exchanged slightly amused grins. “What happened?”
Jon gave his friend the icepack. “You picked the wrong woman to mess with.”
Stan winced as the ice touched his jaw. “Obviously.”
The only sound for a while was Greg putting the game box back into its place in the game closet. He then joined his other two friends.
Jon broke the silence. “I honestly want to thank you, Stan. You stuck up for me. I appreciate that. I really do. You tried to stop me from making a big mistake.” He tenderly put his hand on Stan’s shoulder. “You were right. It probably didn’t look very good when you guys came in. And I know you’ve been worried and concerned about me. I know my cover story for yesterday sucked. But I promise. Everything is okay. I did get hurt yesterday and today has already been a hell of a day, but, all things considered, I’m okay.”
Stan looked at Jon. “Has she hurt you?”
Jon smiled and shook his head. “No.”
“Have you and she, you know-?”
Jon smiled bigger and shook his head more vigorously. “No, we haven’t had sexual relations if that’s what you’re asking. I will say that we have been very closely involved while working on things that she needed my help on, but nothing quite that close.” Jon emphasized the word ‘that’. “I will admit that she is a very striking woman, to put it mildly, but that I will be true to Aleisha, who I have yet to date. Can you still be monogamous to someone you haven’t dated yet?”
Greg piped in with his two cents. “I think so. As long as you do what you feel is right, I think the rest is just words.”
Another silence while Stan nursed his wounds. Again, Jon took the initiative. “I really wish I could tell you guys what’s going on, but just trust me that it’s nothing bad or illegal. Kate is a good, honorable person. In her line of work, she asked for my help and I have obliged.”
Stan again looked at Jon with slightly narrowed eyes. “She’s not an escort, is she?”
Jon gave a grinning glower and gave Stan a friendly tap on the shoulder. Stan winced. “Sorry.”
Greg stood up and went to the phone. “It’s just past noon. Anybody want pizza?”
Jon stood up. “Count me in. My parents are buying!”
“Right on!” Stan said from the floor as he slouched back down into a prone position and put the icebag on his crotch.
“Get two extra large combo pizzas, Greg!” Jon called out from his parent’s room as he retrieved the seventy dollars from his dad’s drawer.
“No, no, no!” Greg countered. “I don’t like green peppers! They give me heartburn!”
Jon re-entered the kitchen. “You old man!” he chided. “Fine. One extra large combo, one extra large carnivore combo.”
“That works!” Greg smiled as he dialed the number.
Stan stood up slowly and wobbled slightly as he gripped the kitchen counter for support. “Why do you get heartburn from green peppers and not from sausage, bacon, and pepperoni?”
“My stomach doesn’t like rabbit food?” Greg answered as his attention went to the other end, which had clearly been picked up.
Jon walked over to Stan. “You sure you’re okay?”
“She walloped me good.”
Jon grinned. “Yes, she most certainly did.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Stan asked Jon.
Jon thought for a minute and slowly nodded his head. “Yes. I’ve never been better in my life.” He looked at Stan. “Not when I have such good friends who look out for me”
Jon knew that Stan would regret his encounter with Kate when he had to go to basketball practice in just a few short hours.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Chapter 7

This is a long one.


CHAPTER 7


“I have a life, Kate! I would like to be able to live it!” Jon was on a tirade as Kate pulled out of the school parking lot.
“Jon, I hate to break this wonderful little illusion that you have going for yourself, but there are a few things more important than whether or not you make it into the finals for the talent show tonight!” Kate was using her finger to pinpoint every few words on the dashboard as she was driving down the road.
“A few things more important? For who? For the Agency? Let’s go to final jeopardy for just a few moments, may we please? This high school senior has yet to officially sign on to the big, secret government entity known as the Agency! Hmm. Who is Jonathan Edward Mills, Alex? Good hell, Kate! I saved YOUR ass yesterday! I didn’t go because of some weird obligation that I felt to anyone at The Agency!”
“You weren’t given papers to sign before you went up in the building?”
“Papers? What the hell do papers have to do with anything? Do you really think we were sitting down there conducting business negotiations while being shot at?”
“Well, the U.S. Government usually needs permission to get you fake ID’s before anything is processed…”
“Forget the ID’s for just a moment or two, shall we? Let’s focus our argument here on the fact that I have yet to say yes to any of this shit!”
Kate turned her attention away from the road. “When you went up in that building yesterday, that was officially under Agency jurisdiction. By doing so, you must either be an A) agent of the aforementioned Agency or B) a really dumb fu-“
“Watch the road!”
Kate slammed on her brakes as she came dangerously close to the bumper of a car stopped at a red light. In a very conversational manner, she said, “Thanks.” There was a period of silence in the car as they both took deep breaths. The light turned green, and Kate laid on the horn. “Come on, it’s green! Can we move it a little more, please?” She then turned her conversational attention back to Jon while keeping her eyes on the road. “Slow down, wait a minute here, huckleberry. By going up in that building, you went ahead and basically said, without speech or signature, that you would be a part of the Agency!”
“How does that constitute an agreement of any sort?”
“If you go into a construction area without a helmet and get hurt, if the company has a sign that says Hard Hat Area, then you can’t sue them because they gave you warning about what may happen!”
“So to become a construction worker, I just need to enter into a construction site, and that means that I have agreed to become part of their company? Listen to your logic, here, Kate. It’s not smelling very good!”
“So, do you not want to become an Agent?”
“I never said that!”
“Do you want to be an agent?”
“I never said that either! All I am saying is that I would like to be able to have enough of a life and enough space, so that I can make up my own mind! If you want to talk about an extreme lifestyle that started with me being in the hospital less than 6 hours after I supposedly started work, I would say that the Agency is obligated to give me a little breathing room!”
“The U.S. Government respectfully wishes that they could do you the honor of giving you the time needed, but guess what? Security comes first and they need you, now!”
“Why me? Why today?”
“Oh, so now you want to start talking about why I had to drag you out of school? That should have been the first thing out of your mouth!”
“Now that I’m asking, do you really think that is a good time to reprimand me?”
The energy in the car changed almost simultaneously. “Good point. The reason we need you today, Jon, is because you are a neutral party.” Kate explained.
“Neutral? Like Switzerland, neutral? I’m not sure if I have enough knowledge to stop a world war or something like that…”
“Not quite. One of our agents has quit recently to spend more time with his family. He had a few close calls earlier this year and wanted to get out of the business. We think he is giving information about us over to a third party.”
“Third party? What are we talking about here? FBI, CIA, North Korea?”
“We don’t know. But, technically, the CIA would not be third party since we are financed by the same money that they are, but that’s neither here nor there. We don’t know. With you being a new recruit-“
“Watch the semantics, Kate!”
“Fine. With the possibility of you being a possible new recruit, we-“
“We who?”
“Bender, Chad, and I.”
“Continue.”
“We feel that you will be of no threat to this ex-agent so that he will feel safe with you in a meeting to discuss Agency terms. At some point in this meeting, we would like you to slip in the part about the privacy of all of this and see what his reaction is.” Kate paused.
“But what, Kate? It sounds like a but.”
“But if you feel any hostility or if a gun is brought into play, you must take him down.”
“Take him down?” Jon knew what this meant, but he paused to find the right words to restate his suspicions. “ You mean kill him, don’t you, Kate?”
“Yes, Jon. I do mean kill him.”
Jon was very sobered by the response. “What are the chances?”
“Of what, specifically?”
“That he might be selling out to a third party, that he might be a rogue agent, that I may have to kill him?”
“I wish I had some way to gauge that. I don’t know. I can’t tell you. All I can tell you is that Bob was a great friend and co-worker. That’s why neither Bender, Chad, nor myself want to do it. We have way too much invested in this. We wouldn’t be able to let our instincts guide us. We might think, just for a moment, that friendship is more important and that could cost one of us our lives.”
Jon didn’t say anything for a minute. “I think I like the arguing part better, Kate. That didn’t have anywhere near the repercussions of the later part of this discussion.”
Kate was pulling the car into a strip mall. “I know, Jon.” She pulled into a parking stall next to the road, about as far from any of the stores as possible. “The meeting has already been set up. It’s at the Dee’s Restaurant over there. The party name is Bender; we didn’t want last names for either you or him. Just go in and a waitress will seat you. The ex-agent’s name is Richard. Got it?”
Jon was staring straight down into his lap. “Yup. I got it.”
“You don’t need to sound like the last survivor of a worldwide plague. You could be a bit more cheerful.”
“A man may be coming in to have his last breakfast with me. I wasn’t expecting that two hours ago.”
Kate turned to Jon. “I know, but, if we, the Agency generally and you and I specifically, don’t do anything about this man, who knows what might come because of it? Many of our, and by this I mean just the United States in general, many of our foreign operatives may be kidnapped, ambushed, killed. The security risk of our nation may be at stake, here. You’re the one who might be able to end this in the most peaceful way imaginable. I know that this is quite possibly the worst of all bad situations to put you in, but with the moxie you showed yesterday, I can’t think of anyone better.”
Jon still stared straight into his lap. “Can I get arrested for indecent exposure of my moxie?” he weakly joked.
“You can do it, Jon.” Kate reached into a brown paper bag that was in the back seat. She pulled out a gun. “This is a Colt .357. I assume you’ve shot a gun before?”
“Yeah. All the time. I love taking AK-47’s out and hunting those really dangerous ducks in the pond. You never know. They may leak all of our national security to the Russian mallards.”
“Careful, Jon,” Kate warned. “Honestly, do you know how to handle a weapon?”
Jon looked at Kate in the eyes for the first time since Kate had told him about this mission. “Yes. My dad, as part of his benefits of being a highway patrolman, gets three thousand rounds of ammunition a year so that he can target practice. About every other year, we go out to the salt flats and shoot at cans, bottles, whatever garbage we take out there.” He paused. “I know how to shoot.”
“Take it.”
Jon stared at the gun that was weighing heavily in Kate’s hands.
“Take it, Jon.” Kate’s voice was stern yet caring. “I refuse to let you take a step in there without being properly armed.”
Jon didn’t move a muscle. He kept staring at the gun.
“Hopefully you won’t have to use it. Just take it and be prepared.”
Jon reached out and Kate slipped the heavy piece into his hands. Jon shook his head. “I’m not going to use it, but I am planning on being prepared.” He slid forward in the seat and slipped the gun into his back waistband. He then pulled his T-shirt out and covered the bulge.
“I’m here for you, Jon. There is a bug that has been planted underneath the table. We went in an hour ago and got the manager’s permission. I will be right out here listening to the conversation. If you need backup, you will get it.”
“I hear their Denver omelet is really tasty,” Jon muttered as he opened the door.
“Did you hear what I said, Jon? Did it register?”
Jon looked up at Kate as he put his hand on the top of the passenger’s side door. “10-4, Kate.” He slammed the door and started across the parking lot.
Each step Jon took, it felt like his chest was tightening and his head seemed to be getting lighter. Each taken parking stall represented another person in the diner who might be dead in just a few minutes. These people came here for breakfast and they may be the ones to be toast, he thought.
As Jon entered the restaurant, he looked around slowly. His chest loosened a bit and his light-headedness went away. He could now see the situation clearly. It seemed like a perfectly normal morning at the local neighborhood diner. All ages were represented, both sexes, all economic backgrounds, and, maybe even a communist killer, Jon mused.
“May I help you?” a waitress looked slightly annoyed at Jon.
Jon snapped out of his thoughts. “Sorry?”
“Just one today?” she tried another tactic.
Jon looked at her name badge and smiled at her warmly. “Actually, Sally, I have a party who may already be here. The name is Bender?”
The name alone seemed to warm Sally the waitress right up. “Yes, sir. This way.” She motioned with her hand to Jon’s left and he followed her to the furthest booth from the front door. There was already a man in his early forties seated at the table reading a newspaper. Sally motioned for Jon to take a seat on the man’s left. Jon did so.
“May I get you anything to drink, sir?” Sally asked Jon.
“This is going to sound silly, Sally, but may I get a chocolate milkshake this early in the morning?”
“Not silly at all sir. Would you like a cherry on top?”
Jon didn’t know if she realized that she was playing the S game with him, but he decided to continue. “That would be scrumptious, Sally.” Jon beamed at her.
“Sure thing. See you in a split second,” she told him.
“Sayonara,” Jon grinned and nodded at her as she walked toward the kitchen.
The man at the booth grinned at this exchange as he lowered the paper. “Jon, I presume?”
Jon extended his hand. “Richard?”
The man seemed a little taken aback. “Bob, actually.”
Jon made a face. “I’m sorry, Bob. I thought Kate said I was meeting with a Richard.”
Bob didn’t blink an eye. “That explains it. I love Kate to death, but she’s horrible at names.” Bob laughed.
Jon picked up his water glass. “Is that right? Horrible with names. Imagine that.” Jon felt around with his free hand underneath the table until he found the bug. He tapped it lightly with his finger. “I’ll have to mention that to her at some point.”
Bob took a long drink of his coffee.
Jon set his water glass down with a surprising amount of force. “Let’s cut the shit, shall we, Bob?”
In her car, Kate’s jaw dropped. “What are you doing, Jon?”
Bob almost choked on his hot drink. “Excuse me?”
“Cut. The. Shit.” Jon enunciated each word. “If you’re as good as Kate says, you know why you’re here. You know why I’m here. Why do we need to dance around in circles like an old couple slow dancing in a nursing home rec room at 2 in the afternoon?” Jon lowered his voice and leaned into Bob. “The Agency thinks you’re selling secrets to a third party. Are you?”
“Mr. Mills, I find that to be a highly upsetting accusation…”
Jon’s gaze never wavered. “Are? You?”
Jon stared at Bob who made not another peep.
“Parlez -vous English, Bob? Are you selling secrets to a third party?”
“Well, Jon, it’s very difficult to say-“
Jon cut him off. “Not difficult at all, Bob. You either are-“ Jon held up his left hand, “Or you’re not.” He held up his right hand to make the point. “Sell you secrets?”
“You can’t just ask me things like that!” Bob objected.
“Oh, trust me, Bob, I can and I will. Again, as I’m sure you know-“ Jon’s right hand disappeared under the table, “- Kate is listening to every word that goes on.” He had pried the bug off the table bottom and flung it into the middle of the sugar packets on the table. “What’s going on, Bob?” Jon sat back in his chair and stared directly at Bob.
Bob didn’t look at Jon for a good thirty-second time span. His eyes darted around the restaurant. “Mr. Mills, you have to understand-“
“What do I have to understand, Bob?”
“My family is very important to me and my wife and child are in the restroom at the moment, and I can’t have you making these allegations when they are here.”
As if on cue, a woman walked out of the bathroom and sat down next to Bob. “I see your friend finally made it,” she observed.
Bob smiled a nervous smile. “This is Jon.”
The woman extended her hand. “Hi, Jon. My husband never introduces me. I am Judith.”
Jon only shook her hand to be polite. “Hi.” His eyes bored into Bob.
“Are you going to tell her, Bob, or am I going to be forced to?”
“Mr. Mills, you must understand….”
“I hate to be rude, Judith, but The Agency seems to think that your husband is a spy for another organization and is selling those secrets and jeopardizing the entire country. Isn’t that right-“ Jon paused dramatically, ”-Bob?”
This time, Judith’s gaze never wavered on Jon. “I am quite aware of that, Jon.” She emphasized his name just as Jon had done to her husband’s. “In fact, I’m the one who set up the deal with the so called third party. I made the initial contact and sold the initial secrets. If you’re looking for a bogeyman, I’m him. After Bob found out, I blackmailed him. Obviously, if the Agency found the leak, they’d blame him, and since he is a family man who quit when we needed the money…. I think you can understand my need for a second income.” She smiled icily at Jon.
Sally the waitress returned with Jon’s shake. “There ya go, hun. Anything else?”
Jon never broke eye contact with Judith. “That should do it. This is more of a business dealing than a business lunch.”
Sally sensed the awkwardness at the table. “If you decide to get anything else, please let me know. I’ll just leave your ticket right here on the table and you can pay it up front when you’re ready.”
Jon picked the cherry out of the whipped cream and ate it as he kept staring at Judith. “That would be fine, sally. Thanks a lot.” Sally had already left the table.
“And, thanks for your confession, Judith.” He emphasized the second syllable of her name this time. “Something you didn’t notice while you were in the bathroom is that this place has been bugged. If you would like to take a nice look at the sugar packets, you will see that Kate Thompson has heard and recorded everything you just said, so there will be no more blackmailing. Bob is off the hook, and you just placed yourself neatly on it.” The front door to the restaurant opened and Kate strode in and started toward the table. “I’ve already had one hell of a week. I’ve already stopped a sniper attack in downtown Salt Lake, given an oral report, been in the hospital, been shot by a tranquilizer gun, tried out for a talent show, and gotten a date with a girl I’ve had a crush on for many years, and it’s only Tuesday. I would really appreciate it if you would just go with Ms. Thompson out to her car where she will cuff you and take you back to the Agency. Bob and I will follow behind you.”
Kate had reached the table now and was motioning for Judith to stand up.
Bob started to cry. “It was my fault. I quit before discussing it with her. She was just trying to help the family. Keep us living like we’re used to living.” Kate made a silent hand motion for Judith to stand again.
Jon slid down in a more comfortable position in his seat. “Sorry, Bob. Your wife is a manipulative bitch who is selling secrets to a third party that we have yet to name. Who is it, Judith?”
“I don’t need to tell you that.” Judith looked up at Kate.
“Come on, Judith. Both of my cases this week have been easy. They’ve followed the Bond formula. You push just a bit, and the villain spills his guts. Come on, Judith! Spill it! You already were stupid and confessed with a microphone face up on the table. Now that you’re busted, just put in the final piece of the puzzle.
Judith’s eyes widened and she turned toward the restrooms. Jon looked at Bob who was also looking to his right at the bathroom area. Jon’s gaze followed theirs. A seven-year-old girl was walking toward the table with a gun.
Jon exhaled strongly. “You have got to be shitting me!” he muttered.
Jon saw Kate’s right hand reach for her holster. “Kate!” he said in a commanding yet gentle tone. “You pull your gun, this restaurant’s clientele freaks out. There are tables over there near the restroom. It’s a miracle no one else has noticed this. If people start losing it, they may bump the kid and do more damage, so don’t even think about unholstering your weapon.” Kate’s hand moved away from her gun.
Jon grinned sarcastically at Judith. “Let me guess. Your kid?” Judith was muttering something to Bob. “There are no more secrets here, Judith. What were you saying?”
Bob spoke for his wife. “She said that Alex must have watched her hide the gun.”
Jon pointed to the kid who unbelievably had attracted no attention by walking towards her parent’s table with a gun “Alex?”
Bob nodded. “Yes. Short for Alexandra.”
“And Judith hid the gun?”
Bob continued nodding which by now almost seemed like a nervous tic. “Yes. If you were here for the reason we suspected, I was supposed to go into the bathroom and grab the gun. I couldn’t have had it on me in case you asked to frisk me.”
Now it was Jon’s jaw that almost dropped to the floor. “You were going to Godfather me? Drop the gun, keep the cannoli?” He turned to Kate. “Unbelievable!”
Jon slowly stood up with his hands clasped behind his back. Nonchalantly, he reached behind his shirt, as if reaching for his wallet, pulled out his Colt firearm and laid it gently on the table. “Kate, do the same, please.” Kate gave him an ‘are you nuts?’ stare, but complied with his wishes. “I’m going to give you another chance if you really want to take it. These guns will stay on this table as I walk away. If you wish, feel free to shoot me. Just be aware that I am going to try to make your daughter safe. You kill me, you may kill your daughter.” Jon locked eyes with Kate. “Trust me, Kate. I have tons of movies at my house. Who do you think baby-sits all the young cousins at family parties? I could quote The Jungle Book all the way through if you want me to. I know kids. I don’t need the gun. Take my place in the booth, please.”
“Jon, if we lose you or anyone else-“
“Don’t worry. Just make a noise if either of them go for the guns so that I have enough time to see my life flash before my eyes.” Kate took her seat. Jon looked at Bob again. “She’ll answer to Alex?”
“Yes.” Bob stopped nodding.
“Okay.” Jon turned his attention to the small girl who had stopped and was staring at the weapon in her hand. “Hey, Alex!” He called in a slightly higher pitched voice. Alex looked up at her name. Jon smiled at her and kept the smile on his face while he addressed everyone around them with a louder tone. “Ladies and gentlemen, please just listen to me for a moment. I want to make sure that everyone in here is safe. If you are close enough to see the restroom doors, please just quietly and calmly make your way to the front doors. As you make your exit, you may notice a small girl named Alex holding a gun that her mommy daddy let her play with!” He turned his attention fully back to Alex. “Didn’t they, Alex?” He returned to addressing the diners. “Do not alarm her in any way. The safety of everyone is better if you just calmly and orderly make your way out of the building! I will disarm the child in a safe manner, but we need to assure your safety first. Thank you."
Jon was amazed at how calm everyone acted. Several older women were a little jerky in their movements as they put on their coats and grabbed their purses, but no one jostled little Alex or invaded her space. Jon watched carefully as the final patron left the restaurant. “Judith, I assume the gun is loaded. Yes?”
Judith and Bob were clutching each other in fear. Neither responded to Jon’s query.
“Is the gun loaded, Judith?” Jon pressed.
Judith took in several deep heaving chestfuls of air, barely controlling her sobbing. “Yes. Yes it is.”
For the first time, Alex started holding the gun menacingly. The seven-year-old waved it in front of her, emulating the heroes on television. She closed one eye and squinted as if getting something in her sights.
“Hey, Alex! I’m Jon! What’cha doing?”
Alex smiled a big grin. “I’ve got a gun!” she said proudly.
“Yes, you do, don’t ya?” Jon took a cautious step closer to Alex. He felt like Indiana Jones in the temple at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark. If he squinted, Jon could almost make the carpet look like the moss covered stones in the Idol Room.
Alex started playing with the gun. Jon took a deep breath and froze. The little girl gripped the gun by its barrel and put the butt on the floor. Using it like a cane, Alex lowered herself to the floor with the help of the gun. After she was seated, she kept hold of the barrel and was still using it as a play toy, this time using the butt as the barrel, with the actual barrel pointed at her chest.
“Guns are kinda cool, aren’t they, Alex?” Jon took another baby step.
“Yea,” Alex absent mindedly answered Jon. She was more interested at pointing the butt down the aisle.
“Do you know that they are used for all kinds of things?” Baby step.
“Yea.” Alex straightened her arms and aimed. She was looking down the barrel.
Jon could hear stiffening in the booth behind him. He took another step. “Some people use them to hunt animals for meat.” Jon’s voice sounded as if he were teaching the alphabet to a bunch of kindergartners. Another step.
“Jon,” Kate’s voice came from behind him.
“What?” Jon answered in the same sickeningly sweet voice, but kept his eyes on Alex. He took another step. Alex started fidgeting with the gun even more, almost losing her grip on the barrel.
“Just get the gun away from her!”
“Kate, in order for her to shoot the gun, the trigger must be pulled.” Jon took another step.
As if on cue, Alex finally found her grip by putting her two thumbs into the trigger casing. One thumb was behind the trigger, one in front.
“Oh, Jon, you mean like that?” Kate’s sarcasm dripped through the statement.
Jon glanced behind him momentarily and flashed a fake grin. He turned back to Alex. “Wow! That is a pretty nice one! Where did you find it?” Step number 8.
Alex didn’t answer. She was still fidgeting with her thumbs in the trigger to try to find a comfortable position to hold it. Jon took another step.
“Where did you find that cool gun. Alex?” Jon used the child’s name to try to regain her attention. It worked. She looked up at Jon again. “The bathroom.”
Jon stepped again. “In the bathroom?” Jon made a funny face. “That seems like a silly place to find a gun. Alex.”
She was looking at Jon and giggled. He came even closer to her. Jon guessed that he was just over halfway to her from when he had started out. He had maybe another 6 or seven steps until he would be within reach of the weapon.
“Do you usually find guns in bathrooms, Alex?” Jon stepped closer.
It was Alex’s turn to make a funny face. She scrunched it up as if just finishing a lemon. “No!”
“Only a few more steps, Jon, and then jump on her!” Kate’s voice caused Jon to tense up even more.
Jon stopped in the middle of taking another step and turned his head. “Kate, if I make any sudden moves, this child may get scared, move one thumb and cause the other to pull the trigger. How about we just keep moving?” Jon put his finger up to his lips. He finished the step.
“Alex?” Jon turned his attention back to the child. “Do you play with guns often?”
“My mom won’t let me.”
Jon took another baby step. He was now within about five feet of the little girl. He could take the chance, but he still felt a little far away. He stepped closer.
“That’s a good thing, Alex. Guns are bad to play with. Because they can hurt the animals, they can also hurt people. Especially kids.” He got closer. If Jon leaned over as far as he possibly he could have, it might have been possible to grab the gun, but he was still just far enough away that he wouldn’t have another chance if something went wrong. He needed to wait a few more moments.
Alex’s arms were getting tired. She lowered them to her lap and took her left thumb out from behind the trigger.
“Oh, shit,” Jon exhaled.
. Alex looked up at him. Her body tensed. “Don’t say that! My mommy says that’s a bad word. She doesn’t like me to play with bad people!”
Jon took a step toward her. “Okay, I’m sorry! Scout’s honor, I won’t say bad words again!” He brought up his hands and made the scout symbol. Jon noticed that in her tenseness, her thumb had closed in on the trigger. The hammer was not back far, but it was no longer resting in a safe way against the body of the gun.
“What is your favorite kind of animal, Alex?” Jon asked her as he took another step. Two more and he would be within grabbing distance.
“I like lions!” She got a big grin on her face and she bounced on her butt just a little. Her thumb tightened even more on the trigger. This time, Jon saw the hammer start to cock back into firing position.
Jon took a step and leaned down towards her. “Can I tell you a secret, Alex?”
The child had the barrel only a few inches away from her chin. Jon could see that her little thumb was now trying to pull the trigger, just to keep hold of her toy. Jon was crouched down in front of her now and the hammer was almost all the way back. The chambers were starting to rotate and the bullet chamber was getting into position. There was a deafening silence in the almost abandoned restaurant except for the muffled tears of two frightened parents.
Jon’s right hand reached out for the child’s hands. The hammer was now fully back and the chamber had rotated. Jon’s thumb slipped into the empty area between the hammer and the gun as the hammer came forward and pinched his thumb. Jon winced and released a sigh of relief. “I like lions, too, Alex. They’re pretty cool. But don’t tell anyone that, okay?” Jon’s left hand cradled the firearm and his left thumb pulled back the hammer just enough to release his right thumb. He then gently put the hammer back into place as he slipped it behind his back and put it in his left side waistband.
Shaking his right hand a bit to compensate for the pinching of his thumb, he reached around Alex and took her into his arms. Very carefully, he stood up, picking up Alex and turning around. What he saw as he was walking back to the table surprised him.
Kate, Bob, and Judith had large smiles on their faces Kate started a groundswell of applause for Jon as she stood up. Most of the diners had come back into the restaurant, headed down the aisle toward Jon and Alex. Walter Bender was entering the front doors with Jerry right behind him.
“Kate? What the hell is going on?” Bob and Judith had slid out from their positions of the booth and Judith reached out, patted Jon on the back, and slid her daughter in her arms. “No way, Judith! You don’t get Alex back!” Jon started to grab for the child.
“It’s okay, Jon!” Kate reached up and slowly pulled his arms away from Judith and Alex. “It’s okay. Everything’s okay. You passed! It was a set up and you passed!”
Jon was bewildered. “It was a set up?” His jaw dropped. “It was a set up? The second one in two days?” He repeated. The crowd of well wishers were surrounding Jon and patting him, applauding, and all grinning.
Walter Bender broke through to get to Jon. “Congratulations! You are the newest Agency member if you want it!”
“It was a set up?” Jon’s voice rose as he turned to Bender. “A set up? A kid has a gun and it’s a set up? What kind of shitty training mission is this?”
Walter held up his hands. The crowd quieted down. “It’s okay, Jon. It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. Things are just fine. Again, as seems to be the case with you, things went a little out of control, but everything is, and was going to be, just fine, no matter what.”
Jon looked at Kate who was still positively beaming. “I understood every word he said, but the whole phrase meant nothing to me.”
Bender put his hand on Jon’s elbow. “You hit the nail on the head, Jon. Richard was going to Godfather you, as you put it.”
“Richard?” Jon asked.
Bob put out his hand. “Richard Meloni. Fellow Agent. Pleasure to meet you.”
The pieces started fitting together in Jon’s brain. “Richard.” He said it as if it were a fact he had known since grade school. He turned to Kate. “You called him Richard in the car. That’s why I was surprised when his name was Bob.” The pieces were falling together. “You called him Richard in the car.”
Kate smiled. “I was hoping you hadn’t picked up on that.”
“And Bob over here, or Richard, or whatever your name is-“ Richard smiled as Jon looked at him, “Called me Mr. Mills when we had a reservation under your name Bender just to keep last names out of it.”
Walter nodded. “I picked up on that. Hoping you wouldn’t.”
Jon just shook his head. “Not until just now.” Jon looked around again. “I assume, then-“ Jon continued, “-that all the clients and staff were Agents?”
Walter nodded. “Agents and family members, yes. Everyone at the tables in this section were agents. Everyone on the other side, family, just in case.”
“Just in case it went out of control. Which it did.” Jon turned to Kate. “What was supposed to happen?”
Judith stuck her hand through the melee. “Hi. I’m Cynthia Meloni. Richard’s real life wife and an Agent, too.”
“Pleased to meet you, Cynthia.” Jon was still trying to figure out the major piece of the puzzle. “What are you so happy about, Cynthia? Your child had a gun. I had a gun. I was instructed to kill here today. Weren’t you a little afraid?”
The smile disappeared quickly from Cynthia’s face, but it returned immediately. “For a moment there, yes I was quite afraid. But then, I realized that no matter what, everything was going to be okay.”
“How? After I put my gun on the table, Alex still had hers.”
“But she couldn’t have hurt anybody with it. Her gun was empty. Yours had blanks. It didn’t matter.”
Jon was stunned. “It was empty?” The crowd started walking back toward the front of the restaurant to chat. They left the group alone.
Richard joined the exposition. “It wouldn’t have done any good to even have blanks in the gun I was supposed to have. If it had gotten to the point where I had to fire it, if it wasn’t live ammo, you’d know that a round hadn’t come out of the gun. If I tried to fire a warning shot, no damage would have been done with a blank or an empty chamber, just the sound. If I would have pretended to shoot you, you may have pissed your pants, but you wouldn’t have been shot and you would’ve known that seconds later. It didn’t make sense to have any rounds in it.”
“But my gun-?”
Kate answered this one. “We needed blanks to at least make you think you would have shot something if it had come down to that. You needed to believe that you had fired your weapon. The charade would have fallen as soon as you realized you didn’t have live rounds, but that was the test. Then, you go and make the gutsier decision to not use your gun at all.”
“But it was a kid-“
“You jumped on Richard too fast. We all figured you would try to just finesse everything into the conversation. Instead you jumped right on it and didn’t give him time to get to the bathroom and get the gun. The story that we were going to give you did come out. It was going to be ‘Judith’ who was the double agent. At that time, Bob would excuse himself and come back with the gun. Simple as that. You jumped the gun, as it were, and Alex grabbed the gun.”
“The empty gun.”
Walter grabbed Jon’s gun off the table and put out his hand. “Give me Alex’s gun, Jon.”
Jon reached back with his left hand and retrieved the gun from his waistband. He handed it over.
“Empty. See?” Walter pulled the trigger. A shot rang out and Jon’s melted milkshake splattered all over the diner.
The foyer of Agents and family all went to the ground as the glass fell back to earth. Jon, Kate, Richard, and Cynthia all turned with widened eyes to Walter. Alex started crying.
Kate got a strange look on her face. “What the hell?” She picked up her gun off the table and took what had been Jon’s gun out of Walter’s hands. She cocked them both and pointed them straight up. She fired. Two rounds hit the ceiling and she was sprayed with disintegrating insulation and ceiling tiles.
“Oops,” was all Walter could say.