Monday, August 12, 2013

On a lazy afternoon in Brooklyn

He sidled into my bar at about three that afternoon.  He always seemed to be sidling, that's what I thought was weird.  Never made a straight walk to anywhere; figured he was 4F during the war.  My drill sergeant would have had him peeling spuds till his fingers fell off for walking like that.  That's what I says to McCabe, I says, "Drill Sergeant Bankston would have had him peeling spuds till his fingers fell off."

He takes off his hat and sits next to McCabe.  Now McCabe, he's got a bum hand from a Nazi grenade, so he don't work much.  Tough to be a lathe operator with a bum hand, but what are you gonna do?  So McCabe don't work normal hours, but between his pension and his occasional work he gets by.  Anyway, as I said, he sat down next to McCabe, on McCabe's bum-hand side.  His left.  Little guy.  No, not McCabe, McCabe's a gorilla.  This guy I'm talking about.  Will you shut up and let me tell the story?

So the little guy sits there, next to McCabe, at the bar.  McCabe's drinking rock'n'rye, the little guy is just sitting there.  Ain't looking at me, or McCabe, or the TV.  Just kinda staring at the bottom of the back bar.  Nobody's sayin' nothin' but Vin Scully, and he wasn't saying a lot 'cause the Dodgers were down eight runs late.  Now, I been in this business a long time, I don't push my stuff on nobody.  I let them ask for it when they're good and ready.  Some guys walk in and start ordering, some just sit there looking at the peanuts on the bar for a little while, like this guy.  But he weren't looking at the peanuts, he was looking at the back bar, but kinda through it, you know?  Like he was looking at it and listening to something else at the same time.  Still, even when it's dead and there's only McCabe in the place, there's a limit, ya know?  I can't have him sitting there taking up space without buying nothing.  Them barstools get to be valuable property around five.

Just as I'm heading over to check on his deal, he finally looks up and around, notices McCabe.  Now McCabe, he don't like nobody bothering him when he's drinking.  "I don't like nobody bothering me when I'm drinking," he says to me once.  "I'm here to get drunk, not to bullshit, not to clown around, not to get laid.  If I got something to say I'll say it to you."  Saw him smack some joker with his good hand when the joker asked McCabe to pass the peanuts.  Anyways, he looks at McCabe, who's giving the little guy the cold shoulder.  Ya know how it is when you been married so long you can feel an argument brew in your wife?  I'm like that with the bar, I always know minutes before there's gonna be trouble.  So I goes over to where they were sitting and start cleaning ashtrays, hoping to keep the little guy from getting smacked into next week.

"Getcha something?" I asked the little guy.  "Shot anna beer?"

"Water," he says.  Water?  Not in my bar, I don't care how dead it is.

"Look, pal," I says, "Water don't cut it.  You want water, there's a fountain in the park, two blocks down the street.  Here, you get booze or you get out."  At this point McCabe starts playing with his change on the bar, making the silver sing.  I knew the next step would involve me calling the cops, so I grab the little guy by his lapel and, shall we say, guided him down to the other end of the bar.  He wasn't pleased, but he had no choice.

"Beer," I says, "or beat it.  Capeesh?"

He swallowed, hard, like he was trying to get a spoon of castor oil down his throat.  "Beer, then."  All this time, he's still looking at the bottom of the back bar.  He finally looks at me.  "And...pee-nuts?"  Says peanuts like he's never heard of the word.  It was then I noticed the earbud.

"What, you come into my bar listening to a transistor?"  Little guy's eyes get all wide, then he cocks his head and nods a little.

"Want to keep tabs on the Yankees game."  I let him go, shook my head, and went to the tap.  Some people, it's not worth it to argue.  Some are Catholic, some are Jewish, and you're born to it and have no choice in the matter.  There was about as much sense giving him grief about being a Yankee fan in Brooklyn as there was...well, with the whole thing, come to think of it, which was none.  Anyway, I get him his beer, and bring over the bowl of peanuts.

"Two bits."  He hands me a halfie and tells me to keep it.  That's more like it! I think to myself.  This guy's all right, even if he is staring at the back bar a lot.  I turned to check on McCabe, and just as I turn back, the beer and peanuts are gone.  I didn't even say two words to McCabe!  Anyways, he puts his hat back on and asks me one question:

"The bank.  The bank on the next block.  When do they close?"

I figure he's talking about the Columbia Savings Bank on the other side of the alley.  I tell him they're open 'til four.  He thanks me, sidles out like he sidled in.  Weirdest stuff happens here.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Quick Meeting

“GTT723.84.5894. Sergeant McCarthy reporting. Temporal dampeners functional, mission paradox potential nominal. Officer Kelly with me. Will update as mission unfolds, McCarthy out.”

“Functional, hah!” Behind me, Kelly was on his knees, still heaving from having passed through the portal. “Christ, Sarge, why can't they make a tab for timesickness?”

“The eggheads in the lab explained it to me a while ago. Seems your body knows it's not supposed to be here, despite you thinking everything's fine. Drugs can't fix it. Everybody responds differently; me, I'm going to be bound up for a couple of days.”

“*hurk* Thanks for the visual, Sarge.”

We found ourselves in a large, warehouse-like building, a couple of nhajers in size. Everything of value had been removed long ago, but the building hadn't been demolished yet – records indicated it was set to go in a week's time. The walls still had traces of blue and yellow paint that hadn't been refreshed in years. A perfect spot for a rendezvous: plenty of cover, no prying eyes, very little paradox potential.

“Go check the door, Mike. She's supposed to be here shortly, and I want to be sure she wasn't followed.”

Kelly nodded and headed to one of the sets of doors. As he reached them, he commed me: “On her way, Sarge. Nobody in the truck, no other vehicles, no signs of copters.”

“Good. Lead her here, then. And be nice to her: she's gone through a lot, and she's not done yet.”

I could hear her breathing the moment she came through the door. The recon-suit she was wearing carried twice the weight as a normal person, and she had had trouble carrying it during training. The brass thought her labored breath made the disguise a little more realistic.

As she and Kelly got to me, she pressed a button on her abdomen, and the facemask and head of the suit slid in to the back of her neck. She coughed as she saluted.

“Officer Zetterberg reporting. Thanks for giving me a breather from that thing, Sarge. The last three weeks have been hell!”

“Not a problem, Tina. How's the stakeout going?”

“Sarge, it's a wonder we survived this time. These word, they're...they're...”

“Vita-Snack?” Kelly offered her.

“Dear God, yes!” She tore open the wrapper and ate like someone who had been marooned for six months.

“Back to the you think you've been spotted?”

“*hrmf?*” Zetterberg looked at me with her mouth full. “No, I don't think so,” she swallowed. “They're far too concerned with their own problems to notice that I might be a little different. The training films helped a lot, but weren't enough. I've had to ad-lib quite a bit.”

This wasn't exactly according to plan or the book, but the mid-level bozos who wrote both don't understand that things are different in the field than they are in a comfortable pod. The high-end eggheads once told me that it didn't matter, since everything has already happened and played out the way it should anyway. “Don't worry about it. As long as they don't suspect you're not really her...”

“Oh no. The older ones are dealing with boyfriend issues, the man has been neutralized by the antipheromones. As long as I keep making these disgusting meals for the little one, and pumping her head full of garbage, she'll do anything I say.”

That was a relief. I didn't care about the others; the little girl was the mission.

Kelly broke in to my thoughts. “Where are we keeping the mother?”

“Right here.” I pressed the temporal flux control on my belt, and a transparent box appeared. On it were the standard three panels: one for the stasis field, one for the temporal flux, one for the memory implantation device. In the box was a woman.

“I haven't seen one of these since the Academy,” said Kelly. “Same setup? She's stuck in there in stasis, getting fed all of Tina's experiences?”

“Yep. While in stasis, she senses nothing, doesn't age, doesn't move forward in time. The temporal flux keeps her milliseconds behind current time, so she can't be found without the key.” I patted the flux control. “As far as they're concerned, Tina, you're Mama June until we let her out of there.”

Zetterberg made a face. “I hate these people, and Christ I hate the food. If I have to make and eat 'sketti' one more time...” She shuddered. “Are you sure that I need to witness this?”

“We have to get an accurate time for the judges, one credible, certified witness, and a recording of the event. We figure it will all go down in a couple of days, and then you can come home and get out of that fatsuit.”

“Not a moment too soon. Right now I'm living for the 20 minutes I get to spend in the shower. Thank God this thing is self-cleaning.” She pushed the button in her abdomen again, and the helmet-mask slid up over her head. “HOW'M AH LOOKIN' NOW? HOT AS HELL! WHOO!”

I winced. Good thing the mask had a translator calibrated to Mama June's...unique dialect and vocabulary. While I watched her and Kelly go back to the door, I made my report.

“GTT723.84.5975. McCarthy reporting. Contact made with Zetterberg, stakeout is go. Locals suspect nothing wrong, and we should have audio and video evidence shortly, as well as eyewitness testimony. McCarthy out.” I clicked off the reporter and turned to Kelly. “Let's go home.”

“Think it'll work, Sarge? Think we'll have enough evidence for the judges to act on?”

“We have to, Mike. If Honey Boo-Boo dies before that 100th episode, it's all over. The Great Push-back won't happen, and all of art and culture will consist of laughing at the dumber and less fortunate. Nothing uplifting. Nothing inspiring. A culture based on a high-school boys locker room, forever.”