by Wallace W. Cass, Jr.
Part 1 appeared in issue 106.
The conversation lagged for the rest of the ride as they passed the Downtown District and rolled through the green gate that marked the start of the Residential District. A few minutes later, the cab pulled up in front of Parker’s building. Lambda Residence Complex was a broad, gear-shaped tan building with evenly spaced windows on each floor of its eight wings. The only outward thing that distinguished Lambda from the other identical buildings that surrounded it was its identification sign.
The cabbie reached up to the sun visor and pulled down a small business card. “My name’s Benny. If you need another ride somewhere, give me a call.”
Parker took the card and opened the passenger door. “Thanks, Benny; I’ll keep that in mind.” He closed the door and walked over to the sidewalk that bordered the complex. Benny waved and drove off. Parker tucked the card into his wallet and used his security key to open the large glass door to the main lobby.
A security guard wearing a blue blazer over a white shirt and grey slacks noticed him and looked up from the three video monitors mounted on top of his raised wooden desk. The tall guard wore his brown hair shaved smooth on the sides and back, leaving a narrow fringe that went from front to back. “Welcome back, Mr. Parker.”
Parker stopped and leaned over the desk to look at the security monitors. “Everything secure, Bill?”
“Slicker than hot oil, Sir.” Bill replied. “We had some problems with glitches trying to sneak in and sleep in the parking garage, but we took care of it. How was your trip?”
Parker yawned. “Tiring, Bill. The Sristi are ordered to the point of boredom. I had to pinch myself from time to time to stay awake during the conferences. You should take a vacation and go visit. It’s a beautiful planet.”
Bill shook his head and blinked his blue eyes. “I don’t think that would be possible, Sir. My power systems wouldn’t be compatible with Sristi power rechargers.” The lobby phone beeped. “One moment, Sir.” He answered the phone and spoke for several seconds. When he hung up, his expression was somber. “Mrs. Felder’s cat is stuck in the garbage chute again.” He stood. “I have to shut it all down before the animal gets turned into a cube. Excuse me.”
A bemused Parker watched as Bill left the desk and disappeared around a corner. “I’m glad I don’t have his job.” Shrugging, he left the desk and hopped the first free elevator to his apartment.
He found Halloway standing in front of his door, a portable computer cradled in her slender arms. She was dressed in a pale red blouse and blue jeans. He pulled out his door key and unlocked the brown faux-wood apartment door. “I thought you were going to call first.”
“I got impatient. Grant’s on a tear over the DOJ co-opting Dawes and I wanted out of the office as soon as possible.” She looked at the door. “Shall we go in or do you want to do this in the hallway?”
“I see you forgot breakfast.” Parker opened the door. “Make yourself comfortable while I put on some coffee.” He closed the door behind her and set his gun belt down the kitchen island countertop. “I haven’t gone shopping yet so I may not be able to offer much other than that.”
Halloway settled onto the plush black sofa and set up her computer on the glass coffee table. “Don’t worry about it. I ate before I came over.” She connected a small printer and began printing out a set of documents. “Grant wants us to start filing hardcopies of everything. Last week, someone opened a hypermail containing a logic bomb and it damned near wiped out our section of the network node. If there weren’t firewalls in place, we could have lost most of the Regional Network.” She looked around the large living room. “Is the rest of this place as big as this?”
Parker walked in and set a mug of hot coffee in of her. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was doing okay as an OPS Inspector.” He stared at the pictures on his wall. Most were of him in one kind of uniform or another: U.S. Navy, International Space Exploration Administration, OPS. He had come up through the ranks in all three organizations, but in his heart he felt empty. When he looked over at a picture of him standing next to a lovely dark-haired woman in a long blue evening gown, tears began to well up in his eyes.
Halloway swatted him on the left leg with the reports she pulled from the printer. “Would you like to sign these before you take the drive down Memory Lane?”
“Oh yes, yes of course.” He read the reports, and then signed them. He wiped his eyes. “Sorry, I still can’t look at her without wanting to cry. She was going to D.C. for a job interview. We were getting married the week after.”
“No one expected the Geminis to hit.” Halloway said. “Back then, they were predicting one big rock on a near-miss trajectory.”
Parker reached out and touched the picture. “Doesn’t make it right or fair.” He cleared his throat and reached into a pocket for a pen. “I still remember our last conversation like it was yesterday.” He signed the reports and handed them to her. “Anyway, that’s enough disclosure of my personal life. Are we finished here yet?”
Halloway passed each sheet of paper through a scanner port on the computer and nodded. “All done.” She took her hands from the keyboard. “Uh, John? I just finished my Field Qualifications so I was wondering if... well, if you wouldn’t mind... it’s just a small thing.”
He leaned over. “You want me to endorse your interoffice transfer to Field Section.” He shook his head. “The answer is no.”
“Well, why the hell not?”
Parker sighed. “Doing field work isn’t the same as pulling up data over the network. Something goes wrong out there, you don’t have a reset button to hit. Besides, someone as pretty as you would be hard-pressed to be taken seriously out there.”
Her voice rose. “I’m too pretty to be taken seriously? Wait a minute... you think I’m pretty?”
God, if you’re out there, kill me now. “Yes, I do.” Parker said. “Look, don’t take that out of context...”
She jumped up. “How can I not take that the wrong way? You’re saying that the way I look directly affects your judgment on my potential performance.”
Parker put his hands on his hips. “Look at yourself. I made one minor observation and you’re ready for war. This is what I’m talking about. You’re easily baited, highly emotional, and prone to flights of temper. That in itself is enough to get you or your partner killed in the field. How do I make a recommendation when I know you have those traits?”
“You’re right.” She sank back to the couch and took a sip of coffee. “It’s just that I’ve wanted to work where the action was for so long, I could taste it.” She looked up at him. “Can you help me with this?”
“I’m no psych tech, but I can try.” He replied. He went to the kitchen and poured himself a cup of coffee. “Two things to remember, Chelle. The first is always to keep your emotions in check and the second is to stop romanticizing the job. Most of the time, our biggest enemy is boredom.”
She nodded and finished her coffee. “How come you don’t have a new partner?”
Parker wasn’t expecting the question. “My last partner went rogue, the one before that got killed. Grant probably wants to cut down on the paperwork.”
“Very funny,” she said, hitting the transmit key on her computer. “I’m being serious.”
“I work better alone.” Parker drank his coffee. “It suits my disposition.”
“If I applied to be your partner, would you accept?” She asked. “I could learn a lot from you.”
“Oh, all right,” he said. “I’ll give you a recommendation for Field Operative status. Don’t let it get out that I let you badger me into it.”
She smiled and packed up the computer. “Thanks, John, I mean that. I’ll make you proud of me.”
“I certainly hope so,” Parker said. “Because I’m giving you my endorsement on the condition that I oversee your first ninety days of field work. If I don’t feel you’re cutting it, you’re going back to Case File Research.”
“Fair enough.” She stood, picking up the computer. “I better get going. A whole day off doesn’t come around very often and I have a dinner date tonight.”
Parker watched her leave and shook his head. Halloway was a good worker, great at operating computers and gathering information. How would she do in the field? He locked the door after her and went back to the sofa.
“Television on.” He said, reaching for the remote that lay on the coffee table. When he found a program that interested him, he stretched out and watched as long as his eyes would stay open.
Three hours later, he was awakened by a honey-flavored masculine voice coming from his television. His eyes opened to see the polished face of Senator Marvin McKeen in one of the politician’s customary photo-op poses at the Congressional Podium. Parker didn’t know McKeen, but it was common knowledge that the leader of the Oversight Committee had presidential aspirations and was campaigning on an anti-Sristi platform. Still, the Senator had a great tailor judging by the fit of his tan suit.
McKeen stabbed at the air with a manicured finger. “We can no longer afford the luxury of regarding our Sristi allies as beneficent saviors. For ten years, they have been among us and have made only the tiniest part of their vast reclamation technology available to us. They have made promise after promise and according to their original Reclamation Proposal of November 2100.” He slipped on a pair of spectacles and began to read from a data pad: “A state of atmospheric restoration equal or greater than fifty percent shall be attained by no later than the middle of the Earth Year 2110.” He looked up into the camera, his brown eyes fixed and determined. “This has not happened yet. The best estimates from orbital sampling have only yielded about a fifteen percent improvement.” He put down the data pad and walked in front of the podium. “My fellow citizens of America and Earth at large, when the Sristi first appeared in our skies, they offered their help and only asked for a small quantity of our native silicon in payment. I intend to...”
“Television off.” Parker said. He rolled over to face the back of the sofa. “I’m going back to sleep.”
His telephone rang, destroying his attempt to sleep. He sat up and scowled. “It’s a damned conspiracy.” He reached over and picked it up. “Parker here.”
“We have a problem, John.” Grant’s voice was angry. “Dawes escaped custody this morning.”
“How the hell did that happen?”
“The details are sketchy. There was a disturbance at the detention center and in the confusion she managed to make her escape. I need you to track her down.”
Parker yawned. “Not my problem, Captain. The DOJ lost her. Make them get her back. I’m on vacation, remember? My only priorities are to see how fat and lazy I can become by watching too much television, eating too much food, and trying to catch up on my sleep.”
“Damn it, John, this is serious. If anyone can find Dawes, you can.”
“I’m not the only agent working for OPS.” Parker replied. “I went for three years nonstop to catch Dawes and in the space of a few hours, the DOJ has managed to lose her. You’ll pardon me if I’m not all that eager to jump back on the horse. Sorry, Captain, not this time.”
He hung up the phone and lay back down. Troubling thoughts of Madelyne Dawes nagged at him. Why would a decorated officer such as she turn her back on everything she swore to uphold without warning? He never got an answer to that one little question. He stared at the beige ceiling for a long time.
His telephone rang again, this time with the double ring that he preset long ago for emergency calls. He snatched up the device and held it to his ear. “I told you that I was on vacation. How much clearer do I need to be?”
He recognized the voice immediately. “Dawes? Where are you?”
“I can’t tell you that yet.” Her breathing was quick and labored. “I need your help.”
“What you need is a lawyer.” He said. My first real vacation in a long time and this happens, he thought. “Go down to the local OPS office and turn yourself in.”
“No, I can’t do that. I’m not safe.” He heard a sanitation drone pass by in the background. “John, you’re the only person I can trust.”
“Don’t be, it’s not a compliment.” Her voice faltered. “John, I need you.”
“Oh all right,” He swore. “Where are you?”
“I’m in front of the Flat Trap Cafe.” She said. “Please hurry.”
Parker slammed the phone down. “Damn it, even when I’m on vacation, I’m at work.” He strapped on his duty belt and left the apartment.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2003 by Wallace W. Cass, Jr.