Monday, 16 May 2022 20:00

So Not A Date (A Parents Day Incident)

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A Whateley Academy Tale

So Not A Date
(A Parents Day Incident)

by

null0trooper

Parents Day! A Whateley tradition devised to show families how their little monsters are settling in amidst the many challenges of an enriching academic environment. In some cases, the message is "See? Our buildings are still standing. Do you think you could do as well with that kid of yours for what you're paying?"

Benjamin Keeling's only visiting on a job. It's only a coincidence that he's visiting today, and it's not like he's checking up on anyone. Nope!


Friday, November 11, 2016,
Boston Logan Airport.

British Airways didn't have deputized air marshals on their flights. But, Benjamin Keeling had no doubt that the humorless young man with too-short hair, a desert tan, and a Remembrance Day poppy in his lapel sitting between him and everyone else on the aircraft could be just as lethal, if need be. The soldier's assignment couldn't have been made more apparent than when he followed Keeling to the head and back.

"Wouldn't you say that that looked somewhat odd?"

"Compared to the fact that no one else noticed, I'd think not, sir."

Benjamin himself hadn't ever followed on his client's heels that close. There was that one time. But, that was totally justified and he was sticking to this story. If the detail was meant to safeguard the courier case he was carrying, keeping it safe from Keeling himself would make sense.

"Good to know."

Not much else to do the whole flight but sleep, read, talk (nope!), or crank up the personal entertainment. Benjamin loaded up a new set of modded levels and got down to business, taking care not to activate his power gem. Most mechanics he knew of had only to hold or wear a gem to work it. No losing an eye and a chunk of your skull to one. Whatever's done is done, yeah?

Soon enough, it was time to shut down all electronic devices or pretend to.

"Might I offer an observation?"

"Sure!"

"Most lads your age do not use their destination airport and city as their game map."

"Huh. Needs more porn?"

The guy almost cracked a smile.

Benjamin not-explained, "I've got a set of skins that includes Lavinia McCerquesstitz, the MAC Queen of Aberdeen, that my Mother is never going to see." Not if I have to watch it. "The best thing is the game takes NPCs in ParaWatch exchange format. Worth everything I paid."

"If you say so."

Getting through Customs was tedious, not difficult. Playing courier on this leg of the trip meant that even the MCO couldn't hand off Keeling's luggage to the nearest pack of restless gorillas. It also didn't hurt that the customs agent recognized the chain of custody tag on his carry-on. That wasn't the only thing they recognized, but Benjamin waited until it was time to duck into the crowd to catch the Berlin puddle-jumper.

"I take it you've had dealings with Customs before?"

"Hardly, sir. I did nothing but report to the Consulate the details of their – shall we say misguided – performance. I'm sure you'd do the same."

More likely worse.

He was already in flight to Berlin when he realized that was what the guy had meant.


Afternoon,
Whateley Academy, New Hampshire.

Benjamin climbed out of the Academy-provided shuttle van at Kane Hall. New England in winter was brisk, windy, and maybe sunny enough to avoid being completely miserable. The weather forecasts for next week in London were that much warmer and greyer. Back in Kapalangpur, the South China Sea's northeastern monsoon would be pushing Kapala's ashfall out to sea. If it weren't for work, he'd be on the first plane home. He faked a smile for the driver. The driver waved and drove off with a promise to drop off the young man's luggage at the Guest Cottage.

He smoothed his dark blond hair over. How guys dealt with long hair, he'd never understand! He straightened his suit jacket as best he could and checked the time on his personal assistant wristband.

Close enough.

"Showtime!"

Going by the view from the entrance, the school's Security facilities took up much of the first floor. Floor space means budget. Budget means problems. The security force's grey paramilitary uniforms set Benjamin's teeth on edge. No reason. But, given all the sensors trying to perceive him, the place felt too much like a special weapons staging point. No bueno for a school. Benjamin walked up to the front desk anyway.

The desk sergeant growled, "Name, ID, and who sent you here for Detention without notifying us?"

Sodding prick.

"Keeling, Benjamin X., as it says in the small print." Benjamin handed over his UK MMID, adding, "I'm here on behalf of my employer, at Belvedere's request."

Ossifer Pruitt the Prick said, "Very funny. The campus server farm doesn't assign detentions. Try again."

"I'm also supposed to be escorted by Officer Yuki Takenaka. Perhaps you should page her?" If you can figure out how.

The gears in Pruitt's head ground for far too long. Finally, a woman's buzzsaw voice cut through the brain fog. "Hey, Pruitt! That's not a student. Not yet, anyway." The slight Filipina woman wore her hair braided up like a lady. Her coworkers had learned the hard way that her dark brown eyes, golden-brown skin, and crisp uniform hid a sarcastic, chromed-out demon at hand-to-hand.

Officer Pruitt looked the teen up and down. Now that he looked for the tells, he saw that Keeling wasn't actually wearing the school uniform. He must have discounted that because half the brats actively looked for an excuse not to wear their school uniform. The concealed body armor under the suit was well-fitted, but that also wasn't unusual. The courier case chained to his wrist was. Not too many students idly took visual inventory of the office's concealed cameras, either.

"So who's your 'employer', Mr. Keeling?" Whatever his other faults, Pruitt had been listening from the start. He'd even caught the accent as intended. "MI-6?"

"I never said that." Keeling pointed at Takenaka and other Security staff close by, "I even have witnesses."

That was not a denial.

"But... the Office of Artificial Intelligence happened to need an errand boy, so here I am."

That was still not a denial. Pruitt noticed that Takenaka wasn't adding her two cents to either story.

"In that case, let's get you signed in as a guest. Then I can hand you off to Officer Takenaka."

After Keeling left with Takenaka, Officer Pruitt ran a basic check of student records. Approved for Fall 2016, entry pended to Winter 2017 for "medical reasons". He was sponsored in part by Guardian Resources and Trading Company, which meant nothing to Pruitt. Apparently, Keeling was also sponsored by someone who could reach out and slap down his records query like a misbehaving puppy. There was one of those in every batch, wasn't there?


The Quad.

A safe distance and an angle out of line of the Kane Hall windows, Yuki asked her former boss, "When are you flying out?"

"Seven-thirty, Monday morning, British Airways out of Boston to Heathrow. I'm thinking I'll have to leave here Sunday, latest."

"I've got perimeter security for the alumni and families coming in. If you leave Sunday, I can drive you down and drop you off at whatever rattrap you've booked for overnight. It's not a hot zone, but too many people in the area know the school is here."

Attention does have a way of spilling over. Wait, what?

"What makes you think I've booked a night in some skeezy dive?"

"Benjie, I've met you."

"I'll have you know that the last time I was in London, I stayed at a very nice hotel!"

"Y'see, I'd like to believe you. Cross my heart, even. Except, I'm getting the feeling you didn't book it yourself. Did you?"

"Well, no, but that's not the point."

"That's exactly the point. Also, what the Hell is that in your ear?"

"It's called a scaffold. I got it for my birthday."

"Your parents got you an ear piercing?"

"Nah. Paid for it myself. Like it?"

"No. I don't. You do know it's a flashing neon sign that says, 'I don't have regeneration!' Right?"

"It's not like I can punt a Pontiac, either."

"At least you understand that much. Most of the students get by pretending to be too big or too much of a nobody to mess with, or they try not to stick out in any way."

"How does Max fit into that?"

"You have to ask? Like an eight-foot-tall sore thumb packed full of crazy." Yuki shook her head at some memory, then said to Benjamin, "You're actually planning on hiding in plain sight, aren't you?

"I get the impression that Jameson wants me to behave like a gentleman. It could happen! Besides, no one knows what I'm supposed to look like, so blending in should work."

"Let me tell you about the 'flag' system here before you try to pass yourself off as a human."


The Workshop, Tunnels under Whateley Academy.

Yuki led Benjamin into a set of tunnels under the school that could have come straight out of a sci-fi flick. There was even a section cordoned off with crime scene tape. It wasn't his crime scene, so he left it at that. Letting Yuki lead the way let him look around as best he could. It also let him be disappointed at not seeing someone familiar yet when they arrived at one of the many secure-access vaults.

Inside, there wasn't much of note. Industrial lighting above, flat-screen displays on the walls, a meeting table in the center, a desk terminal in the corner. Luckily, no elevator music. After a few seconds' wait, a middle-aged man spoke from one of the video displays.

"Mr. Keeling! I'm glad to meet you at last. I've heard so much about you recently."

Benjamin ducked his head and said, "Guilty as charged. I suppose you know Ms. Yuki Takenaka?"

"Only by reputation, I fear. Perhaps we can remedy that someday?"

"As long as you remember I'm not just some girl with a pretty interface."

"Perish the thought," Belvedere replied. "However, I do require some assistance. The equipment that Mr. Keeling has been carrying is sensitive in a number of ways."

"You mean the handcuff isn't just one of Benjie's kinks?"

"Duh. If it were, don't you think I'd use a model that I can't pick?"

"As it turns out, the installation does require certain tools and possibly certain skills. Allow me to open the access passage to my servers. I'm certain I can talk you both through what's needed."


Thirty minutes later.

Benjamin was shrugging on his jacket after leaving Belvedere's 'humble abode', making it a good time to stop.

Yuki said, "You weren't ever going to tell him that I manage some of my own repairs, were you?"

"Why should I? It's not like having cyberware makes you the class project! Besides, if he didn't know, he didn't need to know."

"Benjie. One thing you need to know about Staff and Security is that we can't help you if you leave us blindsided."

"But I don't know them! And why should they help me?"

Yuki could see the question in her friend's stricken face. How do I know they won't hurt me?

"It's part of what they, we, sign up for. That even goes for dirty dealers in Third Squad."

"But."

"If you don't know what you can say, get me or Max. Hell, call the folks you really work for! If you can't reach us, assume there is a real problem."

"That shit happens?"

"Benjie, some of these kids are Bad News, with or without powers. I mentioned the whole Neutrality deal on the way over? Some people outside see this place as a target, no holds barred."

"There were some nosy questions about my itinerary."

"So, yes. Stay on your toes, sure, but you gotta let some people in. I'll trust your judgment on that, but only if you try. Deal?"

"Deal."

"... I still don't like it."


Topside.

The main buildings that weren't ivy league gothic were... unique. That was the kindest word that came to mind for some. The semipostmodern skyscraper thrust into a small hill was unique. Yuki had to rub it in as they walked inside. Did the place have anything interesting to offer?

"This is Melville Cottage, where you and Max would have been assigned. All the fancy kids bunk here. Without you, they decided that reassignment was the better part of masochism."

"..."

"Stop grinding your teeth. The coffee shop is okay."

An elegant woman of a certain age appeared as if summoned. She asked, "Only okay?"

Benjamin recognized Staff when he saw them, so he said, "I could go for a fresh cup. Tanzanian AA, dark roasted with whole cardamom pods, shouldn't be too difficult." He shrugged as if it were something he was used to.

Concierge smiled warmly at the challenge.

"Let's see if we're that okay, shall we?" A diplomatic pause followed. "I'm Concierge — one of the House Parents for Melville Cottage. I couldn't help but overhear Ms. Takenaka mentioning that you were to be a student here?"

"That was my understanding. But, since I was injured back in September, it's all rescheduled for January. Maybe. I think I'm now supposed to be in Twain Cottage when I get here."

"I'm sure that Mr. Filbert will be happy to have you, Mister?"

"Keeling. Benjamin Keeling. Or Belfry, if we're going to be using codenames."

"There are security benefits to doing so, albeit at some social costs."

The coffee shop boasted wood paneling, complicated cappuccino machines, decorative burlap coffee bags, and extraneous copper and chrome. Sadly, a proper Turkish coffee was not to be had.


Twain Cottage.

Benjamin tried not to cringe at the eight-foot-tall ork bounding down the stairwell, three steps at a time, in his and Yuki's direction.

If he breaks his neck, I'm gonna kill him.

He settled for bracing himself for the not-quite bone-crushing hug.

"Benjamin, dude, long time no see! How're you doing? This calls for a party!"

Max looked too suspiciously happy to see Benjamin. Was Max's mane a shade too blue for normal hanging out? He'd have to get the names of those responsible. Until then?

"I'm fine, really. No need for a party, nope. None at all."

"You're just saying that. Back in a few minutes — got to check on reservations. While you're waiting, how about letting your so-called client know he's on the invite list too. Did you remember to bring a good suit?"

Reservations? In Boomfuk, New Hampstershire?

Benjamin slowly turned to Yuki.

"You are not getting out of this."

Yuki stared back at him, straight in the eye, and said, "Get out of it? Me? I'm breaking out the popcorn and beer. Guess whose parents are due in for the weekend?"

"Huh? Oh! I better check on him then, shouldn't I?"

"Keep working on that human impersonation."


Outside telephone line, Le Bistro.

"Pardon me, but did you say 'Mr. and Mrs. Raiford'?"

"Yes. The plus one would be our son, Peter, if that helps."

"Very good, ma'am. I see that we have you three reserved for a table with Misters Livingston, Keeling, and Mrs. Takenaka."

"Oh?"

"Is there a problem, ma'am?"

"I take it that Mr. Livingston made the arrangements himself?"

"It just so happens..."

"I must have forgotten about dear Maximillion's enthusiasms. No, no problems at all. We're still on for...?"

"Eight o'clock."

"Very well, we'll be looking forward to this evening's affair."


Gray Hats Row, Code Rats Warren, The Workshop.

Peter Raiford didn't have to check who'd sent the SMS on his phone. Not that he got many messages anyway, but there was precisely one person on the planet who'd think the word "Status?" counted as communication. The guy was supposed to be visiting the States for something. When was that? Calendar tab, calendar month...

Shit.

Today.

Worse yet, his parents would already be en route for Parents Day. When would they get here? When had he last shaved?

He sniffed under the collar of his wrinkled shirt. He wished he hadn't. Hopefully, no one else would pick up on the increased pheromones. Too late to wish the guy didn't affect him like that.

He typed back, "Signing off for a shit, shower, shave break. Why? Aren't you on a courier job?"

"Yep."

Wow. A truly Shakespearean text.

"Where is the job? The US isn't that small."

"Workshop."

Peter blinked a few times. No, the display still read the same.

"Which Workshop?"

"Whateley's. BTW, Belvedere says you're way overdue for a break. Max is counting on you being free for dinner. Coat and tie place."

What?

Peter got busy logging off and securing his workstation. He'd need to book it back to Emerson to have any chance of being presentable (but not too presentable!) when Benjamin, Max, and company come calling. What had he done to deserve this?


Guest Cottage, Whateley Academy.

As Peter walked up to the guest cottage lobby, he saw that Benjamin was staring. Great. He wasn't the only one, but, just great. Too late to claim he was sick anyway. Come to think of it, when was the last time he saw Benjamin wearing a suit and tie? Other than that one job right before school started, he couldn't think of one.

"C'mere."

Peter stopped two or three feet away, curious at what had the guy's attention. Benjamin stepped into his personal space and re-tied his tie for him. Then he stepped back, head cocked, either to appraise his work or count holdouts. Peter was too shocked to say anything. That was it. Shock! Comes with the burning cheeks and ears.

Yuki volunteered, "Say thanks to the nice boy, Petey. We wouldn't want people to think you're not housebroken."

"Thank— The hell? Of course I'm housebroken. I mean... What do I mean?"

Max rubbed his hands together and said, "Just about everybody is here! Good. I can't wait to see the looks on everyone's faces."

Something was terribly wrong. Peter couldn't put his finger on what he was forgetting, but...

"Peter! Darling, come give your mother a hug! It's been ages."

"Only two months, but she's a fast one."

Mom and Dad. That's what he was forgetting. Of course they'd be here by now. Maybe they could save him from?

A hug and a kiss later, Molly Raiford held Peter at arm's length for a matronly appraisal, "Look at you! All dressed up, and you're even wearing a tie properly. Thank you, Benjamin."

Said helper turned that odd shade of olive-brown he sometimes did.

"Mom, what makes you think I couldn't have tied it myself?"

"Peter, I'm not sure you can untie that knot without his help. Shall we go? My husband surely isn't the only one starving."

Finding out if Benjamin was good with other knots might be fun.

"Er, where are we going? There aren't that many nice places in Dunwich."

Molly explained, "Our family friend Max here arranged a suitable table at Le Bistro. The place must have opened after Butch and I graduated, sometime back in the Stone Age. I trust that one of you can lead the way?"

Max took that as his cue, "If you'll follow me and Ms. Takenaka, we have that all figured out."

Max took Yuki's arm. The Raifords followed suit. Peter almost fell for Benjamin holding out his arm but figured out the prank in time.


Le Bistro, Whateley Academy.

Livingston, Party of Six.

Their server, likely one of the exemplar upperclassmen, handed out the evening's menu. He amended it, saying, "Chef Yukihira has agreed to share his skills with us tonight. Depending on ingredients on hand, he says that anything within his repertoire may be considered on the menu."

Yuki's eyebrows knotted above a one-eyed squint.

"Max, why does that name sound familiar?"

"Remember that restaurant in Osaka that everyone liked?"

"The one that emptied out once the customers recognized your new friends as Yakuza?"

"They were fun guys once you got to know them. Anyway, when I was making the reservations, I remembered that place. So, I asked if their chef might be interested in some travel. You could call it a working vacation."

"I'll admit that that evening was a high point of the trip," said Benjamin. "So. Ordering. Who wants to start?"

Max grinned, ear to ear, tusks and all, before leaning forward, "So... Happy Sixteenth Birthday, buddy! You're up first!"

"..."

"..."

"What part of 'no presents' was unclear?"

"This isn't a present, it's a celebration!"

Judging by the amusement on everyone else's faces, Benjamin had clearly and deliberately been left in the dark on this point. In Peter's mind, seeing Benjamin completely at a loss for words almost made up for the tie thing.

"Well, then. Okay. I won't insult Yukihira-san by saying, 'surprise me'. Three of us do not eat pork and I can't handle dairy, but I remember his negiyaki and oshizushi fondly. Mrs. Raiford?"

"My husband and I are somewhat set in our ways, so the house specialty for us, and a bottle of wine to match — if that's available. Peter will be having whatever Chef Yukihira would be happy to create."

That was one hundred percent not what Peter wanted, but he'd get through it. Somehow.

"Y'know?" Yuki said, "Mrs. Raiford has the right idea. Yukihira-san makes a wonderful kitsune udon, but I will rely on his judgment as to what the house offers. Max?"

"A big platter of all different sushi and sashimi, some for everyone to try too! I know that's pretzels and beer simple, but that's how I roll!"

Benjamin either twitched or shook his head at that. Sitting right next to Peter meant he couldn't watch too closely without tipping off his father.


Roth, Party of Three.

"Good Lord, Jessica. Are those people bringing in what it looks like? And that slant! Damn, she looks like she's been ridden hard and put up wet."

"Daddy! Please don't cause a scene. It's just something you have to get used to."

"That's right, dear. They just can't help it if they turn out a bit wrong. Poor thing probably has to live on whatever it can get on the outside."


Livingston, Party In Progress.

A few tables over, Benjamin Keeling watched Max's mane flicker with splashes of yellow and black. Mr. Raiford's mouth set in a tense line, proving he also had exemplar-grade hearing.

<Kuromu, do we need to roll?>

<No, it's just assholes talking shit about me and Dance.>

"We're all professionals here," Molly 'Vaporware' Raiford said. "Speaking as an alum, I'd bet the situation is already being dealt with. You can stop scanning the security feeds, Peter."

"I wasn't!"

Butch 'Illustrated Man' Raiford chuckled at the transparent lie. "Unless the Workshop's lost its collective edge, it's what your crowd does."

"For the record, Dad, whether or not I was running text-to-speech on the open dispatch freqs, I was trying to get a translation on what was just said at this table. I think it was Chinese." Going by the look on Benjamin's face, Peter wasn't sure if he'd offended the guy or fallen for a verbal trap or something.

"Sure. Explain. Why Dispatch?"

"Because if someone does start trouble, there's always an uptick of message traffic. Some of that traffic may have valid location data, including exclusion zones and lockdowns." Peter shrugged and added, "Sometimes the real sitrep data goes out on the encrypted channels. The more difference between dispatch and tactical, the worse it's going down." He reluctantly put the minitablet away.

Mr. Raiford looked across the table, "And what do our two former police officers have to say about that?"

Peter startled, "I thought those were just temporary legends?"

Light danced in Yuki's eyes as she pointed to herself, "Former Kap-town Peedee." Pointing at Benjamin, she said, "I trained this total rookie on police procedures for his U.N. gig at the beginning of the year. That turned out about as well as expected."

"I still have the medal."

"You also still have the scar from—"

"How about we change the subject!"


"I wonder what's taking our server so long?"

"*ahem*."

Her parents missed it. However, Jessica Roth recognized the server's movie-star looks as a hint that he was a higher-level exemplar than she was.

He explained to Mr. Roth, "Chef Loncarovik had a distressing situation come up, unfortunately, requiring us to devise a new menu. We trust it will be suited to our guests' tastes."

"Well, then! What's good tonight?"

"Pansette de Gerzat is a lovely dish originating from central France. It is made of minced lamb, served with winter season vegetables. Might I recommend the Mousse de foie de canard au Porto as an appetizer?"

"That sounds great. Three all around!"

"Very good, sir."

"If you don't mind my asking, what do you serve a large fellow like that one over there? I'd imagine it difficult to make a profit on a fixed-price meal."

"On Chef Yukihira's line, the kitchen is preparing a fair amount of rice and noodles, possibly fish as well."

"Good to know! Thank you."


The first dishes came out. Garden salad and cheese breads for Peter's parents, a small bowl of soup for Yuki, a bowl of rice topped with sashimi-grade tuna and spices for Max. Peter and Benjamin got matching... onion pancakes? The server caught Benjamin poking at the negiyaki.

"Sir? Is there a problem?"

"No..." Benjamin poked again. "I'm just trying to figure out if I'm dreaming."

The guy had a point. Scallions, leeks, beef, eggs, soft dough, and a sauce that was neither and both soy and barbecue. If Peter could have this for breakfast, he might make a point to wake up for it.

"You don't eat breakfast?"

And, maybe he shouldn't have said that out loud, sitting next to his former guide-slash-bodyguard.

"I do! Just, not all the time."

That was Benjamin's stomach growling in response. Right?

For the main course, the Raifords' steaks were paired with dirty rice cooked with chorizo and lentils. Oshizushi turned out to be something like a multilayered pressed sushi. That rated its own platter of different varieties to sample, as did the sushi and sashimi, but interspersed with rice balls and some grilled octopus balls. Speaking of the last, three appeared on Peter's plate.

"You're the one that skipped breakfast. Eat up."

The rude people a few tables down left shortly after being served. Perhaps illness had something to do with that? No one cared, but the atmosphere improved as white noise generators and sound dampers were shut off. For Peter, the rest of the evening melted into a warm haze of conversation, desserts, and, eventually, 'good night' wishes. It was all complicated at one point by Benjamin slowly untying his tie and unbuttoning the top button of his shirt. The guy had a way of capturing one's gaze in one direction while doing something completely different elsewhere. Stewing in the updraft of his own pheromones, Peter would have gone along with damned near anything to keep from embarrassing himself.

Peter also could have done without Benjamin mussing up his hair right before he and Max dropped him off at Emerson Cottage. The warm haze in his head and rush of blood in his ears was something he wanted more of. But he didn't want that. The cute bastard clearly only saw him as a friend. Stimulus-adaptive shifting sucks.


Between Emerson and Twain Cottages.

Max said to Benjamin, "I'm surprised," Disappointed, actually. "You didn't escort 'Jack all the way to his room."

"Why? I'm sure he knows the way. That comment about breakfast makes me wonder how often he uses the room."

"And not how he uses it?"

"Dude, a lot of gadgeteers and devisors pull long hours on a big project or idea. The cafeteria even has pre-packed meals in case someone misses a meal or two. Not me, of course! I've got to keep this finely-tuned dancing machine in top condition!"

"Bullshit."

"What?"

"You do get distracted and skip meals."

"Since when? In case you haven't noticed, I have a healthy appetite. It comes with being taller than some people I could name."

"I'm still growing! And, besides, that's why we always pack a glucose monitor and Arctic rations in the loadout."

He notices and plans for that, but not how Icejack acts around him? Maybe they both got dropped on their heads as babies? That would explain so much.

"Anyhoo, what are you doing tomorrow? Heading out?"

"Nah. Sunday night in Boston, then over to London before heading home." After getting no answer, Benjamin continued, "I was thinking it would be good to get more of a feel for the place."

"I could pick you up after my run. Breakfast at the cafeteria, then see the sights."

"After you... You did say 'run'?"

"It was that or get roped into the Mongolian wrestling club. The guys are nice and all, but..."

"But you're a fine-tuned dancing machine."

"Exactly!"


Twain Cottage.

Where to go and how to get there: that was the question. No reason to trust Security with Yuki off for the evening! First order of business was to make sure GPS positioning was off-line. Inertial circuits would be good enough for the night. Next, he shifted his comm gear from the cellular network to the company's encrypted satellite channels. The guest pass, bugged three ways from Sunday, went into a mesh-lined jacket pocket. The stars and waxing moon shone as bright and cold as the night air was nippy. Benjamin Keeling cleared his mind and disappeared into the darkness beneath them.

Here, his friends were doing well and happy.

Without him.

Idiot.

Why wouldn't they be happier?

Needy.

His memories replayed a familiar sentiment, "Why couldn't you be like a normal mutant brat and burn the fuck out?"

Damn.


Early Saturday morning, November 12, 2016,
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy.

Max conducted his words with a french toast baguette as he explained, "...there's this thing they've put together, called 'Combat Finals'. It's like a pop quiz where we demonstrate we've learned to survive in the real world. You'd think that powers have an edge when you're playing a fifteen-minute show with a five-minute curtain call."

"I'll pass. No lead time jobs never work out."

"They don't see it that way. What if you're out shopping and Dr. Diabolik goes on a rampage?"

Benjamin scowled, trying to picture how that could ever happen. Him, shopping, and Dr. Diabolik were three things that didn't go together. "Then I'm already fucked. Run, mingle with the crowd since he rarely kills civilians, find cover and fade."

"But, see, he's looking for you. Well, probably not you, but imagine if your only special ability was for making cool gear, and you're getting zero time to prep for the oncoming threat."

"I do have my will on file. HR insisted. By the way, I'm a 'No Code' if anyone calls you about that."

"Dude. Really? Let's aim for something a little bit less drastic than certain death."

"Fine. But you're sweating bullets over a gig that's rigged against you. Wouldn't it be faster and easier if you standardized your components in the first place? This one's a CPU. This one's memory, comms, energy focus, energy generation, power, yadda, yadda. Hook them up as needed on a backplane or a barrel. Maybe shape the connectors so you can't shove a few thousand volts up your own ass?

... Better yet, make the casings look like jewels. That way, your death ray projector looks like cheap street bling, not a weapon. It works for mages in the business. Or, how about: 'Oooh, look! He's throwing confetti! Ah, shit! It's nanites coated in neurotoxin."

Max stared at his brilliant son of a bitch friend.

"When were you going to get around to suggesting that?"

"Oh, come on. It's kind of obvious, isn't it? The problems are all in the details and design. You're the one good at that shit. Me? As long as it's close enough to work, I'm cool." To emphasize the point, Benjamin knuckle-walked a coin into an L-shaped juggling pattern. That pattern had taken all summer to get just right. He added two more to show off how much he'd kept at it. "I figured that if you could, in the immense free time we had between jobs, you would already be doing that."

"Easy for you to say. You can pull just about anything out of your ass."

"It's only fast for the things I've practiced. You think the school would be okay with me playing with stuff I haven't been able to get a pattern off yet?"

"Pfft. When you take "Introduction to Superpowers", that's going to be your homework. Like, how long can you keep things stable?"

"One to five seconds? Eh. Much longer gives me a massive headache."

"Headache? Have you told anyone about that?"

"It's no big deal."

Strike 'brilliant', make that 'freaking idiotic'.

"What would you practice with?"

"I dunno. Plastic explosive? Going poof would be the best failsafe ever."

For someone with his history, that part made a scary sort of sense. Max waved at some familiar faces entering the cafeteria. Saved by the rents! Of the three, hubby was the only one with a morning person spring in his step. Wife and son looked like they'd prefer the sun had a snooze button. Heh. He'd been sure there was only one reason Icejack had been waking up before noon on summer vacation. Said reason was busy schooling his own puppy-dog enthusiasm into a practiced nonchalance.

Three, two, one.

"I'll be back. I just gotta hit the head, recycle some coffee."

Max sighed at the mixed signals. Then he rescued the untouched french toast getting cold on his friend's plate.


Peter's parents got to the table first after going through the breakfast lines.

"Don't worry about Petey," Molly said. "He's more worried about how uncool it is to be seen with his parents than meeting with his absolutely-not-a-crush."

"The one who absolutely isn't hiding in the bathroom?"

"Anyone other than our son would have seen through that tactic already."

Said son was praying that his parents wouldn't try setting him up with Keeling. Sure, he liked guys, but he was pretty sure that if there were a Bro Code, hot straight guys were not on the menu. Any straight guys! Damn it. He tried the mental trick of imagining sitting on a block of ice on his frustrations on the way to his doom.

Why couldn't his folks have nemeses to avoid like normal people?

Luckily, everyone at the table was busy eating and not talking. Benjamin pointed to the empty seat next to him. Four-sided table, five-seat crowding, fine. If only his leg wasn't so warm...

"Mr. and Mrs. Raiford, you've been around the block a few times—"

"You could say that."

Peter groaned and maturely stuck his fingers in his ears. Thanks, Dad. No one wants to hear about their parents doing that. People are eating!

"How common is it for campus recruiters to try hitting people up at like ten or so-ish o'clock?"

"Not too common, but I hear the Russians will try anything once."

"Mom! Jeez!"

"I doubt Jesus had much to do with it." Aside to the non-family members, Molly said, "Peter never was big on Sunday School."

Max called dibs on the abandoned waffle as Peter stormed away from the table.

"So, kiddo, what kind of pension plan were they offering?"


Late morning.

Benjamin Keeling.

Whatever a Devisor Lab class involved, there'd been no BOOMs yet today. So, as far as Max was involved, so far, so good. Peter's family was doing off-campus bonding time. Unless Yuki needed him for something, if anyone needed him, he was free to scope out the facilities. He wouldn't admit it, but no matter how much time he'd spent at the Detroit MCO offices as a kid, he still wasn't used to flying people who could bench Pontiacs.

This was probably not the best place to mention he still knew half the private phone numbers.

No matter how much fun it would be.

He could touch base with the Syndicate's POC. What with civilians everywhere, disreputable strangers had to be expected. He had his "Cutler" identification with him, so it was just a matter of placing a call to arrange the meeting. After that, there had to be something interesting in this place!


Semiramis Chibany.

Sahar was pleased to see that Avsel was coming out of her shell and adapting so well. Perhaps she was a bit proud of the girl as well? Mr. Dunne had confirmed that the boy that she'd been asked to smuggle out of Darfur was also adapting to his new life. Well, newest life, if Australia counted. Beyond old memories, hostile house mothers, and two-headed pups, what else could her old alma mater throw at her? Dickinson Cottage should still be where she left it.

Other things weren't.

Take, for example, the man ahead of her walking toward either Dickinson or Whitman. He was overdressed for the weather but looking far better than the last time Sahar had last seen him. That time he'd been laid up in a black clinic hidden under an office building in the South Pacific. Before that, she'd had dinner with him in Dar es Salaam. Both times, he'd paid. Back to the present, Semi. Hatred for the autumn chill aside, he wasn't exactly Dickinson or Whitman material.

There had been an interesting time they'd both questioned if he was Whateley material.


Friday evening, July 8, 2016,
The Waterfront, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Benjamin Keeling looked out across Msasani Bay for a short eternity, drinking in both the view and his tonic water. The words he knew failed to paint the contrast between being here where coconut palms grew in the salted sea air and that cursed desert he'd finally won free of. The city itself wasn't much of an "abode of peace", but it was good enough for now. Tonight he would wait for the dark-haired beauty he'd invited to dinner and maybe a dance. That'll teach her about giving a private number to shady people like him. Tomorrow, he'd be headed home before the MCO's fellow travelers learned he'd been here. Messages delivered, and all that rot.

It was in that relaxed mood that Sahar Chibany found the newly-former police sergeant. It was a far better condition than he'd been in when he called her from Nyala. For one thing, he wasn't bleeding from a gunshot wound. For another, she didn't need to tamper with witnesses' memories of two shots and black blood. Benjamin surprised her by standing up to greet her and helping her with her chair. He let her take the lead ordering. All in her own time.

Over the grilled changu, she brought up business. "I assume you'd be happy to know that the Malual family was granted expedited visas by the Australian government."

Sahar mentioned that as if it didn't matter either way, but she knew how much it mattered to both of them. "Lukas will be attending school in the States. There's a boarding school I know of that specializes in teaching certain people how to best use their abilities."

Benjamin swallowed a bite of his boerewors. "Good. That's far better than what could have happened."

Red-ringed eyes met jade-green.

Sahar blinked first. "That school happens to also have openings in Security for those who qualify."

Benjamin sighed. There were worse opportunities— if he wanted to go into community policing as something other than a convenient cover.

"Wouldn't they require at least a high school diploma?"

"Of course, but your record..." Sahar frowned. Of course, there has to be a catch.

This was beginning to feel like one of Chaka's chi-awakening classes. The answer was right in front of her, unless it wasn't.

Benjamin held a scarlet passport out to her, open to the first page. The date of birth made no sense whatsoever.

"You—"

"... wouldn't likely pass the interview, would I?"

She shook her head and let the mild sarcasm pass for humor. Now that she knew to think about it, her host did look considerably younger than she'd thought. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, with mother's ruin for a chaser.

"No. The Chief of Security would be unhappy with both of us. What does your local paperwork say?"

According to the identity card flashed before her, Benjamin Keeling was still the twenty-five-year-old immigrant sitting across the table.

Considering where he sat on certain shit lists, she'd put a word in a couple of ears the next time she was in New Hampshire anyway.


< Oy, Sergeant Keeling! Those are the women's dorms up ahead! >

Keeling turned. < There's always some catch, isn't there! > he said with a smile. < How are you today, my friend? >

Sahar switched from Arabic to English before his accent could give her a headache. "Avoiding some of the people who'd never use sadiqi to describe me. What are you really up to?"

"Their loss." A shrug and a smirk went with saying, "Checking in with my dark side, assuming she's still available."

Business? After only a couple of months to heal?

"Available, not free?"

"Only courtesies come free. Let me guess: you were a Dickinson resident?"

"That is not the usual phrase. Not for me, nor for the others in Dickinson."

Benjamin's face betrayed some of the ideas he had about what that could be.

"I guess I'll hear it in good time when I get here."

"There should be an arrow somewhere to tell you that you are here." Sahar wondered if that was that what it would take for good advice to sink in.

"You're doing it again."

"What?"

"Overthinking things. Besides, payback takes time. Without the intel you got, it would be a long, long time."

"Intel which I pulled from your head!"

Ethics violations and all. Wait. Payback?

Sahar all but spat out, "You're being sent here as bait."

"The best bait is the bait you catch fresh, young, and full of charm."

"Too bad all they have is you."

"Way to stoke a poor guy's ego!"


Elspeth Plimsoll.

Of all people, Adolph Stein should have known better than to go along with the girl's plan! Insanity must run in the family. Then again, given that man's family, it surely gallops. Not that she was opposed to breaking the Saumer boy's tiny little world, but they could have picked a better place and time for their reveal. Speaking of tiny worlds, did Cutler know for whom he'd just opened the door?

"Good morning, Sahar, Cutler."

"Today's supposed to be the day for code names, isn't it," Benjamin Keeling neé Matthew Groenwald confirmed. "I need to take a few minutes of your time, but my friend," He looked to Chibany, "I believe she could use a guide around the old stomping grounds?"

"I do know my way, but that is not how things are done."

"With or without gratuity?"

Elspeth stiffly pointed out, "I should think you will find out that we are not all so mercenary here. Sahar, I presume you remember the way to Mrs. Selkirk's office, should you be pleased to renew your acquaintance. Miss Tarkisian! Unless you've something better to do, please hold down the fort while I catch up with this gentleman over a cup of tea."

"Of course, Ms. Plimsoll!"

To be fair, the girl had only just wandered into range for being volunteered. Life was rarely ever fair. Best the children learn that sooner than later.

Back in her apartment/office, and the formalities of serving tea being observed, Elspeth got down to brass tacks.

"I trust that you don't expect whatever status you enjoy in our organization to carry forward into your scholastic career."

Cutler, or Matthew Groenwald, per his original birth certificate, set his cup on the saucer.

"Beg pardon, but how do the two situations compare? My primary assignment is to learn what I can from the variety of resources provided by Whateley."

"In which case, I'd advise you that my own assignment is to act as liaison and guide for prospects. That comes second only to the security and guidance of those entrusted to me by the school."

"All the responsibility of a forward posting, but none of the – well, minimal – support? I don't envy you."

I know who and what I see when I look in the mirror, boy. Do you?

"The job has its perks, as well as its own challenges. The children will have their school days. I provide the benefit of greater experience and observe how it's used. Speaking to the matter of resources, will you be needing the usual opportunities afforded to sponsored students?"

Cutler's delay in responding was telling.

"I would need to research the cast and crew for such shows before committing."

"I will forward such details as I may to your account."

"The usual fees?"

"Waived."

"I insist. My scholastic sponsors wish to compete."

Of course they would. "And they are?"

"As Foreign as any Office gets. You know that. Speaking of support," Cutler let the open question trail off.

"Bids would be requested through appropriate channels, lest Neutrality be compromised. My predecessor's approach was more... cavalier. However, given their track record, they could afford to be."

"Some nights, I wish my track record was less improvised."

"Doyle Medical Center hires nothing but professionals. I've seen enough of your entrance package to recommend taking advantage of that."

"I will be doing so."

The correct response, uncoached. Only sixteen. Then again...

"Neither you, Ms. Chibany, my former team, my real parents, nor my supervisor would have it otherwise. Shall we cut the crap?"

"Let's. It's been tedious enough."

"I'm here for academic training, on the advice of experts. Your position is absolutely not my objective. We good?" Cutler drained the remainder of his cup.

"Completely. Let's not leave Sister Secret unattended much longer. Today is chaotic enough."


Adolf Stein.

The last thing Adolf wanted to hear from Dierdre-now-Elspeth after the Saumer debrief became the first thing he heard on the way out.

"I look forward to future meetings, Mister Groenwald."

"If circumstances permit, so do I."

"Mister Groenwald" was average in build for his height, tanned but pale skin, sun-lightened blond hair. But, when he turned, those celadon blue eyes... Verdammt! The impression lasted only a moment before being replaced by that of someone younger, shorter, still pale under makeup, and green-eyed. Cutler? That maniac was projected to be here today. What was he thinking, that one of Eugen's brood would be here, sporting a pierced ear and surrounded by obvious mutants? Margit would be thinking he was going senile!

No. She'd introduce the boy to Lillian as one of her cousins, just to watch the explosion.

Ms. Plimsoll called out to an approaching Parents Day guest, "Ah! Sahar! Did you have a good visit?"

The CIA esper. Maftiah!

"Well enough, Ms. Plimsoll. Thank you for asking."

Adolph cleared his throat. "Pardon me, Ms. Plimsoll? Our conference is over, for now." Should he hope that Erica and Saumer had not heard that surname? Of course not.

"Very good, Mr. Stein." Butter wouldn't have melted in Ms. Plimsoll's mouth. "Are there any other issues to address?"

"No, no. For a moment, your guest reminded me of someone I've known. That is all."


Semiramis Chibany.

Sahar would have to thank Plimsoll, Stein, or both for this ill-timed meeting. Preferably untraceably. Thanks to the illegal psychic surgery she'd been asked to perform on him, she knew exactly why Benjamin went by 'Matthew Groenwald' on Syndicate jobs. It wasn't for love of his birth family. However, if the girl at the door was as close to the new Green Cross as they looked, maybe Plimsoll had a reason to rip off the bandages. Perhaps. Otherwise, even Tansy bloody Walcutt hadn't been that much of a bitch.

For now? She calmly stepped in, saying, "Then you'll understand why my friend here will be attending Whateley next term under a different name. Like other students."

Keeling had used the f-word first. He could deal with it. When had friendship stopped being a lie? Sensei Chandler was likely to blame. A relentless extrovert, she'd enjoy shouldering it.

"It's hardly the same thing."

"No, Mr. Stein, it could be worse."

And, knowing the boy as well as she did, he was about to make it at least that much worse.

"Fair enough. We could be talking about that psycho hose-beast Danielle von Groenwald. No relation, by the way. For one thing, the family dropped the 'von' during the First World War."

Erica replied, "The psycho hose-beast is my mother."

There were sound reasons why his employers didn't let him talk to people outside of work.

Keeling interjected, "I can put you in touch with some excellent solicitors! Custody or emancipation, whichever is best."

Not! Helping.

Stein said, "She wouldn't be here if that were an issue. My family also has access to legal representation."

"My mistake then," Benjamin said. Miming "call me"? No wonder so many people wanted to kill the jerkass.

"I'd try to explain where he's going with that, but I gave up lost causes for Lent."

"I'm aware of a certain penchant for high-risk, low gain ventures. While his family is not Danielle's new one, there are too many similarities for some to speak of and others to ignore." He asked Benjamin, "What is your actual mission?"

If the bunny boy's eyes got any larger, they'd match his rabbit-furred ears. Probably a freshman.

I wonder if he knows just how deep he's gotten himself?

After a moment spent on revisions, Benjamin said, "The Crown recognizes that all God's children may need traveling shoes. Who am I not to help them those as best as I can?"


Mdme. Prudhomme's office, Schuster Hall.

Left again to his own devices, and knowing the teachers would all be on-hand for the Parents Day event, Benjamin ended up making an appointment to see his future advisor. No time like the present!

"Mr. Keeling, a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance. Please, do sit down." Mdme. Prudhomme pointed to a chair in front of her desk and sat down.

Benjamin sat as directed, saying, "Thank you for seeing me on short notice."

"For the current term, it would be late. But for the winter term, it's as good a time as any. I suppose you're wondering why you've been assigned to the European students' advisor."

"Er, yes. I've spent less time on the continent than you'd think."

"Perhaps. Perhaps not. In any case, you come at a disadvantage. Professor Wang – our advisor for Asian students and faculty sponsor to the Pan-Asia student club – is an excellent teacher. However, she is ill-disposed toward certain, shall we say, outside influences. The administration feels, and I agree, that we need not provoke her with a bicultural British citizen."

"I guess that could be awkward?"

"Trop gênant. So, here we are. We expect students to take at least five courses during the Fall and Spring terms, as is usual for American high schools. The Winter term is peculiar to Whateley in that it lasts seven weeks and serves a dual purpose. For some students, it is a chance to make up failed courses. For other students, assuming they meet the prerequisites, it is an opportunity to take advanced electives. Half the time means double the class length and much more homework, so it is best to limit oneself to three courses. Are you following me so far?"

"I don't suppose many of those advanced electives are open to me?"

Mdme. Prudhomme shook her head. "In all honesty, no. You must catch up to your peers in English and mathematics. Therefore, you need to pass the first semesters of English and Algebra so you can take the matching sections in the spring. The third class is more of a well-recommended elective. If available, that would be "Introduction to Psychic Disciplines"."

"I'm rated as a manifestor."

"With sufficient work, all of us can develop psychic talents and study magic. Not all special abilities derive from mutation. For example, one might come into possession of an object that amplifies latent talents. Wouldn't it be best to know how such things work?"

"I... think I see your point."

"I thought you would. Assuming all goes well this coming term, you should also take Powers Theory and Powers Lab in the Spring. Pay no mind to the silly name: "Introduction to Superpowers". That, in conjunction with "Basic Martial Arts" and "Costuming I" will give you a chance to perform well in the Spring Combat Finals. We can revisit your schedule in February when you're more settled in."

"I've had some training in silat. How would that play in your basics course?"

"I can arrange for placement testing once you arrive on campus. Madame Genevive Beaumont teaches karate and kendo, but I suspect she knows savate as well."

"That could be cool!"

Finally, she felt something other than underreaction from the young man!

"I trust that you'll find many other things equally cool. Learning to be open to new experiences is a desirable skill. For example, we like to schedule a semester of home economics for our students who may not be used to domestic tasks."

Benjamin's eyes sparkled, just for a moment. "Mom calls those < actions to be performed without unnecessary speech. >"

Not many students so casually paraphrased Lao Tzu without mangling the meaning. But, no, she couldn't...

"Mr. Keeling, I would take far too much joy in watching you drive a certain instructor insane. Aside from Chinese, are there other languages you need placement testing in?"

"Malay. I know some Swahili and Arabic, but less than I should."

"Very good. Most of the school's special-interest and activities clubs will be on hiatus during the Winter Term. However, keep an eye out for what may interest you once Spring rolls around. Any questions?"

"No, ma'am. Until I get my bearings, I'd rather take things one term at a time."

"Then I look forward to seeing you in January. Until then, bonne chance!"

"You too. < Take care of yourself. >"


Twain Cottage.

The rest of the day went mostly as expected, without explosions. The buffet food provided by the Crystal Hall cafeteria could put most North American restaurants to shame. The catch was to look for the smaller prepped entrees behind the bulk items left in easy reach of hungry teens. That made sense, given how much some mutants had to eat. Hanging with Max's Twain classmates, Benjamin tried to joke about fiber and how much bigger the plumbing had to be.

One of the guys took the idea seriously. "Dude, someone asks about that in every Powers Theory class. If regen or healing isn't pulling protein and iron to bank against for your next injury, energy and physical powers are burning the rest to cee-oh-two and water."

"Oh. I hadn't thought of that."

"What do you do?"

"Manifestor, mainly, but I'm learning about chi."

"What are you doing about your anorexia?"

"My what?"

"Seriously, dude? Under that ballistic vest, you're skinny as a rail. Either you aren't eating enough, or you're playing the poke and puke game."

"I have more room to grow. That's all."

Max finally said, "Guys, lay off. Benjamin here does eat. He just burns it off in his own way... Not that way! That's gross."

Another guy chimed in with, "You're right about getting some fiber. Zephyr's such a tightass around normies he probably chips the porcelain when he does relax enough to shit."


Putter Inn, Boston, Massachusetts.

Boston mugged the Holiday Sunday traffic, leaving nothing but jam all the way into the deserted parts of town. By the time the school's van rolled into the hotel parking lot, both driver and passenger were ready to get out and help push. The doctors who'd bolted working arms and legs onto a Sergeant Takenaka's stumps hadn't thought to remove the human parts of her gut feelings. Even on those, something about the bricked and mortared place made her skin crawl like an(y) Arkham back alley.

"Well, here we are. From the looks of it, I'll bet this was a real swinging place back in Ben Franklin's times."

"I've seen worse."

"Before, or after, the shelling stopped?"

Despite Yuki's complaints, Benjamin didn't always choose the cheapest digs he could find. But why pay top dollar for a room to sleep in alone? Who's he supposed to be impressing, his dreams? The nightmares should be paying him a steady rent! Sometimes, he looked for a place in an area where he could brush up on some of his skills and training. Sometimes, once in a while, he got a feeling that this place or that was where he was, or was not, supposed to be staying. The sullen, fish-eyed desk clerk did nothing to raise or lower suspicions. That could be a good-ish sign. Not being able to remember if the clerk had an actual nose would disturb his nightmares.

Back at the van, Benjamin said, "I've got room 404. Don't laugh."

"Nope. Not laughing," Yuki lied. "Get a different room."

"Now you're just being superstitious."

It would have been nice if the place had an elevator or concrete stairs, but they got to Room 404 easily enough. Inside, the place had a smell. Mostly peroxide and bleach, but there was an organic side to it as well. Something about it was newer than either the Victorian, acid green wallpaper or the Colonial reproduction furniture.

"Benjie. We are leaving. Now."

"It could be a rat."

"If this place were legit, they'd have had exterminators all over it."

"Before I go complaining over nothing, let's see if we can find out if it's last week's room service?"

Just in case there was a liquifying rat, Benjamin pulled out a pair of gloves and a flashlight from his carry-on. That, he left near the door with Yuki before killing the lights.

The retrofitted bathroom reeked of chlorine. Eyes tearing, Benjamin backed out.

"What did you find?"

"Bathroom needs more air in the chlorine supply," he said as he hurried deeper into the room to open the windows. No luck there. They could have been painted shut back in the Taft Administration.

Yuki did not say, "I was wondering when you'd come."

"Sorry. I must have the wrong room."

"I could make it the right room. For you."

The windows weren't fucking opening.

"So rude! Don't you like what you see? I can tell it's not your first time."

Feminine hands snaked around Benjamin's waist. Was it suddenly hot and stuffy in here? He couldn't breathe. He turned, expecting... He didn't know what he expected. Maybe more clothing on the naked woman tugging at his belt, pulling him back to bed? Less blood? It wasn't his time of the month. And doing that just wasn't happening.

"I got me a banknote or ten that says 'you go now.'"

"Liar. That'll cost you extra."

Benjamin opened his wallet and pulled out two ten-thousand pound banknotes, crisp as the day they were printed.

"A deal's a deal, lady. See you in Hell."

Cold hands disappeared with the banknotes in hand.

"Benjie! What the fuck are you doing?"

"Buying my way out of this," he said. Looking around, there weren't many places to stow a body that wouldn't be found. "Gloves. Look under the bed."

"It's one of those pedestal jobs. No way to push something under it."

"Then we pull the mattress and box springs before calling it in."

"What? I thought you thought it was a rat?"

"An expensive one."

Under the mattress was just a set of box springs and a cheap piece of plywood. Under the plywood was a problem that called for decamping to the parking lot for a good cell signal.

Yuki drawled, "You know, I may not be an expert."

"Good. Because an expert is just someone you've paid to lie to you."

"I thought that was a contractor."

"Depends on the business you're in and how much you've overpaid to hear what you want to hear."

"Back to the business at hand. I think she was pregnant. Too big without silicone."

"She was alone, hungry for money. With luck, they might find her baby."

"How would you, of all people, know that? By the way, what the everlasting fuck were you digging for in your wallet?"

"I always keep some stray Hell's Bank banknotes in my wallet."

Yuki just stared at him.

"And a couple of condoms! Bloody Hell, woman. I'm not reckless!"

"You just keep telling yourself that. One day it might come true."

The witness interviews went well enough until the Boston P.D. dragged in their police artist. Next, the CSI unit's on-call psychic had to have a word or twenty. Whateley Academy sprung their Officer Takenaka on the promise that she'd be available for future depositions. Then, Benjamin had to call the office back home just so he could catch his flight to London on time. Just getting a clean connection was its own exercise in 'hurry up and wait'. Then, for some strange reasons involving a minor, the police department called his parents! The only other people the department didn't call to cross-check some randon concern might have been Interpol.

The upshot of the whole incident was that he ended up with a police escort to his flight and an assurance he'd find time to sleep on the airplane.

"Waaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh!"

They lied.


Additional Info

  • Story Arc: Kapalangpur Nights
  • Number in Arc: 2
  • Story Part (ie: Part 1): 0
  • In-universe Timestamp: Friday, 11 November 2016
Read 1173 times Last modified on Tuesday, 28 June 2022 06:46
null0trooper

Whatever it is that I am definitely innocent of, I can explain.

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