Poker Run (a preview)

My sincere apologies to those who may have read some of what looks similar to this, from me, before. My Muse had placed them in a vase ready for their proper use at this time. This is a first draft of the beginning of the novel.

I use the technique of having each chapter being “owned” by one of the characters. That person’s thoughts are added in italics to the conversation. Does that work?

Warning: contains gratuitous use of the raw language use by millennials:

Poker Run

or, How To Outsmart a Blockchain  

Poker Run

Copyright © George Opacic 2020

Author:     George Opacic

Publisher:   Rutherford Press

For information, contact:

Rutherford Press,

PO Box 648

Qualicum Beach, BC, Canada V9K 1A0

info@rutherfordpress.ca

https://rutherfordpress.ca

Printed in the United States of America and Canada.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in whole or in part, materially or digitally, including photocopying, without the express written permission of the author or publisher.

ISBN # 978-1-988739-43-4

Chapters

Bored……………………………………………………………………………… 1

Simon & David & Joe……………………………………………………. 12

Love is War…………………………………………………………………… 28

FAST…………………………………………………………………………….. 51

Dark Ness…………………………………………………………………….. 58

1

Bored

Jesus! Just give me the short hairs!

“Ducinda… please. Forgive me for interrupting but I have to go to the can rather badly.” CEO Kevin Ynqardi smiles at his now very uncomfortable Senior Manager of Analytics Development, Ducinda White.

She is stopped in mid-sentence, mouth open, one hand caught pointing to a bright screen full of code, head half-turned toward her notoriously flaky boss.

“Kevin?”

“Yeah, sorry, Ducinda. Do you mind very much just giving us one sentence of the findings?” He twists uncomfortably in his seat.

Titters erupt at varying amplitudes from the other eight senior managers seated around the thick-glass elliptical table.

“Ah… right… Well, simply, the generative adversarial algorithm that I was, briefly, trying to explain, has run its course. Our scrum team has gone over the options and we have…”

“How much?” Kevin squirms again.

More titters.

Ducinda throws caution to the wind. “We need another two-and-a-half million…”

“Over what time period?”

“Three months.” Her shoulders sag as the bare reality is tabled without so much as a soft landing.

“It’ll take at least seven. You can have 5 million and I want reports every two weeks.” He drills past Ducinda’s pupils as she inhales sharply. “No more than half a page. One line per paragraph. Metrics to explain each assertion. If you use any trumperbolic shit you’ll be back to coding.”

Kevin smiles sweetly at her as he gets up. “There. That wasn’t hard, was it?”

At the glass door Kevin turns his head to the group. “You won’t need me for the rest of this, will you? All agreed? Good. Finish up. Wrap it tightly. Get it bloody-well DONE!”

He pushes on the exit palm-reader and the door slides open quickly.

Eagle among turkeys. Damnit. How the hell do I find some real spine! And creative brains!

He continues toward the glass-on-aluminum staircase and bounds up to the offices.

His phone buzzes. Slowing to a quick walk, Kevin reads a text then goes to a dozen emails that have piled up while he was in the meeting. Still climbing floors, he types a reply to the text.

“Ok,” mumbling as he palms through the door to his office level. “More gobbling from HR. I need a break.”

Kevin pulls his light-brown hair into place as he approaches his righthand-person, Leslee. The stand-upable desk is presently down and Leslee is hunched over his keyboard, seated on the very edge of his tan-leather chair.

“Kevin, did you text…”

“Yeah.”

“And you saw the notification from Justice…”

“Yeah.” Kevin palms his main door but only half-enters.

“Leslee…”

“Oh god. I hate that tone of yours.”

With a wry grin, “Distribute my workload, will you? Please?”

“For when?”

The only other raptor around here. A falcon. But definitely not a turkey.

Kevin smiles kindly, “A week. Can you give me a deciday?”

“Ten days!? Are you mad? This isn’t some mom-and-pop dime store operation, boss! What do you expect me to do – perform miracles?”

“Yes, please. Thank you, Leslee.” Kevin taps the edge of Leslee’s desk gently and enters his office, then sends over his shoulder, “Love you!” as the door zips closed.

Inside, Kevin stares blankly for a few precious minutes at the to-die-for view of the north shore mountains. His reverie is interrupted with Leslee’s coded beeps as the door bursts open.

Without turning, Kevin greets, “Sheila. Ever knock?” He continues staring at the window but now looks for the reflection of the Chair of the Board of Softdoc Inc., Sheila Hawkins.

Definitely a hawk. She won’t be caught traipsing down a fashion runway but people will turn to her first if something goes wrong. I just get the impossible tasks.

Leslee’s dark face shows in the reflection behind Sheila, shrugging his shoulders. The door zips closed, cutting off Leslee’s broad white grin.

“Kevin! Get your damn nose off that glass and turn around!”

He does turn with the intention of greeting his Chair with either a hug or at least a handshake, but she plops down into one of the comfortable chairs beside his bookcase. Sheila indicates the other chair with a firm wave. Kevin slips into it obediently.

Schoolmarm’s on the warpath. What’s got her shorts up her ass? And dressed for Tai Chi. Must have been interrupted.

Kevin reaches over to pat Sheila’s arm. “How many more millions can I make for you today, my dear?”

Sheila allows a smile to escape.

The way to her heart is through her purse.

Trying to get back to a severe expression, “I was at a meeting with old McKay…”

“I didn’t know he was into Tai Chi.”

“Kevin, the stock price over the last quarter has tanked.”

“As in, it has only risen three point eight percent over the previous quarter.”

“Right. What the hell’s going on? The atmosphere downstairs is, well, nice. You don’t get paid to keep this place contented like a herd of fucken milk-cows. They need to be tense! They need to be looking to conquer the world!” She spits it out. “Not looking like the offices of some fucken environmental NGO!”

She’s obviously never visited an environmental NGO!

Sheila gets up to take the advantage of height. “The stockholders are going to get mad as hell when they see the next financials!”

Kevin puts his fingers together delicately. “So, the eleven of us who own ninety-five percent of the stock…”

She points a finger to emphasize, “Ninety-ONE percent, NOW!”

“Sharing the wealth, my dear. The hard-working people around us in this money-factory do deserve a small part of the rewards.”

Unexpectedly to Kevin, that puts Sheila on the edge of red-faced outrage. “Sharing the wealth?! Are you out of your fucken HEAD?!” Sheila huffs several times, calming down with each puff. “Are you out of your fucken head? What do think this is – day care for, for, what did say once…? Turkeys?”

What comes around…

With an air of correctness, “My dear. Your unabashed appeal to the entitlement of the aristocracy does not become you. What is the root of your dissatisfaction? Is that little island across from Papeete too expensive this year? We can arrange…”

“Who told you about that? Damnit, Kevin! Is nothing private anymore?” She stomps away to the window. A Seabus crossing to the north shore takes her attention. She tries to parry with, “You still have that place in Samoa?”

Diversion. So, is this keeping up with the Joneses? My own diversion is in order…

“I have other interests, my dear. Trying to piece together the parts of a unique marketing campaign.”

“Like what? The last few years have pushed and blasted through all the boundaries. What else is there?”

Got me… Hmm… Oh. Games and gambling are always a good bet…

“A, ah, poker run.”

She turns to face Kevin. “That’s old hat. How can you pull that into this century?”

Hooked.

“Our people have come up with some pleasantly inventive ways of applying blockchain and even more advanced DLT – you are familiar with distributed ledger tech?”

Gives me time to think…

“Christ, Kevin. Do I look like a TeenyTwit?”

“Right. So, what I’m working on is a grand, ah, Rally… run by high profile, high power personalities… all using our DTL apps. The media’ll love it cause they can do their endless Breaking News shit, and it will need them to go to exotic places for the coverage.”

“Exotic places? How much is this going to…”

“Exotic for regular folks, like, ah, Whistler, Walla Walla…”

“You mean Bella Bella. Damn easterners.”

“Smella Smella – whatever. Around here. In fact, around the Island. Vancouver Island.” He gets up to pace as he thinks. “There’ll be stages of the Rally with each using different transportation modalities. Everyone gets the same thing for each Stage… The kicker is, it’s not just the old fashioned ’have to run each section at the right time’ Rally. There’ll be tough questions like, like Jeopardy at the end of each section and they get points for them as well as doing the driving. All run by our apps, and im-fucken-mutably recorded on our branded blockchain. Anyone in the world who registerscha-ching – gets a cryptokey to see where all the points are going. It’s going to take over the twitterverse and every other ‘verse there is!”

Gotta write that shit down. Damn I’m good on my feet! Leslee should have it recorded. Text him to confirm.

As he reaches for his phone Sheila yells at him, “Put your damn phone away!…”

He does.

“Ok, Kevin. Sounds interesting. Gonna have sailing and flying in it?”

Her pet topics, recently. This is right on!

“Second and third Stages. Finishing with a bike run to, ah, Victoria.”

A brief nod and Sheila rises slowly. “Keep me posted, Kevin. Sounds very interesting.”

As she exits, Leslee’s phone dings quietly. A quick glance and he gives a thumb’s up to Kevin before the door zips closed.

2

Simon & David & Joe

A sign in front of the bookstore says,

Book signing Today! Simon Linkenfelder! Buy his book: My Ups and Downs in the Olympics.

The line of eager young buyers stretches out the door.

Inside, seated at a small table is Simon Linkenfelder, himself: The Wonderful One, as every sportscaster will dutifully add. Despite being an Olympian and having suffered through hours of autograph signings, Simon is not at all used to greeting so many fans while in a suit, particularly for “his” literary production.

Ghostwriter agreement should have included her doing these signing thingys for me.

His wrist is getting sore from writing the purchaser’s name and one of several designated short phrases after “To…”

His publisher’s marketing person and his designated handler, a senior lady who must have done this thousands of times, wears a sincerely pasted smile as she assists by confirming that each book presented for signing was just purchased.

Without seeing the purchaser, other than as “The Next In Line”, Simon politely says, “Which name shall I make this out to?”

This purchaser, a shy man just into his twenties, smiles sheepishly. “To David, please. And can you add To Joe, as well? He’s my dad. Late dad.”

Simon writes as bidden and decides on phrase number two for David: Reach higher and hold on tight! Then something snaps Simon out of automaton mode. He looks up at the fellow. “David? Did your father own a novelty import store off Queen Street?”

A big grin forms on David’s face. “Yes. Yes he did… Passed away last year.” The grin disappears and David bows his head.

“Oh My God! David! It’s so good to see you! And I am very sorry about your dad. I was very fond of him.”

Scenes flash by in his mind. Row of stores beside the clanging red trolleys. Joe – likeable Joe – putting boxed trinkets into a larger box to make up the order for Simon’s sister. Joe looking impish as he holds up a thicker-than-life-like nine-inch pink dildo: “Would you like I should put a few of these in, Simon? Her customers will get a kick out of them!”

Shaking his head out of the reverie, “Listen David, here’s my card. Call me, please. Later today. We can have a coffee after supper.”

David receives his signed book, places the card inside, then holds it close to his chest. “I’d love that, Simon. Sure. Can I text?”

“Of course! We’ll talk later. It’s really good to see you again!”

The rest of the lineup is a blur. All Simon can do is remember –  especially that time Joe confided that he was a secret agent

Yeah sure

For the Mossad and he had dearly wanted to fly, especially after the Yom Kippur War, but he had a heart condition that stopped him.

“Simon. You’re a pilot. I want for David to fly on his bar mitzva. Can you fly us someplace, so he can see what it’s like to be a bird in the air?”

“I’d love to, Joe. When…?”

“Next weekend. Can that be done? It would mean a great deal to me if you could do this thing.”

Markham Airport. Carrier landing. The Jeppsen said the main runway started from the edge of a cliff, and it was right on. Parked the plane – my good old white and blue Piper Clubwing – near the coffee shop. Joe and his son were outside the fence. Brought them around to my plane. Joe sat in the right-hand seat – co-pilot’s seat. I asked if David should sit up front but Joe was firm, “I need this, Simon.”

We headed for Lake Simcoe. Had to keep Joe’s heavy fingers off the dials and nav-com. “Joe.”

“WHAT? CAN’T HEAR.”

Adjusted his earphones. “Joe, why don’t you take the controls for a bit?”

“What!? I can’t fly!”

Showed him how to hold it straight-and-level in two axes. He was ham-handed. After a minute he gave me back control. “What does this do?” pointing at the Turn-and-Bank.

“It’s like a carpenter’s level. Tells me how much of a bank the airplane’s in, how level it is.” I put the plane into a thirty-degree left bank, adjusting with rudder pedals to stay straight. The Turn-and-Bank rolls to its midpoint.

Joe is fascinated. “David! See! We can see down past the wings!… Does it go further or will we fall out of the sky?”

“Sure. That was at 30. Here, this is 60 degrees.”

Joe strains in his harness, looking past me at what seems to be straight down to the ground, five thousand feet below. I hear a gurgle from David.

“David! You alright back there?”

A weak, “Yessir,” comes from the seat behind Joe.

Joe is excited. “Can it go the other way?”

“A right bank? Sure.” I more gently put my trusted Piper into a 60 degree right bank, fiddling a bit with the rudder pedals to keep it knife-edge. The view out their window is straight down.

Joe is turning red with excitement. “Isn’t that remarkable, David? Are you enjoying this airplane ride?”

A brief pause, a gulp, then, “Yes papa. Fun.”

“Good! Listen, Simon. Can you make it go up and down. Like a roller coaster?” He claps his hands in glee.

“Sure. Porpoising.” I ease into a dive and then pull up.

A sudden gurgle erupts as David nearly dumps his stomach down his dad’s back. Only the height of the seat saves Joe from the hot wet mess.

“David! Are you alright?” I turn to look but don’t want to see. “We’re heading around to Markham, Joe!”

Landed. Stopped. Joe climbs out and as he helps his son out of the back seat I say, “In piloting lingo, Joe, He what done it, cleans it.”

I come around to inspect the damage. David is wobbling toward the buildings.

Joe looks in to see what he has to do. Staring at the offensive mess he yells to David, “David! Come back here!”

A pale green David obediently returns.

Joe points at the floor where David did his thing. “David! You don’t chew your eggs!”

That was when Simon had to apologize profusely to the book purchaser into whose face he laughed loudly.

Simon meets up with David that evening at a local coffee shop on Main Street. The large room in the rear is full with individuals on their myriad devices, sipping occasionally from their favourite caffeinated beverage. With rare luck, a table for two is available in the middle of the room.

No outlets, otherwise, no seats.

David is reluctant to open up, at first. He listens with as much attention as he can muster while Simon answers the obligatory questions about the Olympics. A next-door listener fairly jumps out of his chair when he realizes this is the Simon Linkenfelder, The Wonderful One.

“Oh god! Simon! Linkenfelder! Pentathalon champion!”

Here we go.

With a polite smile, “Not quite champion, I’m afraid. Two silvers and a bronze. But if you don’t mind, please, I am here for a quiet talk with an old friend.” He half-nods to the fan, to obtain his acquiescence.

“Oh! Ah, yeah. Sure. Yeah. Go ahead. I’m sorry…”

“Thank…”

Quickly, “I was just wondering if you would mind autographing my, ah… anybody got a piece of paper?”

The fan searches desperately around until someone rips out a sheet of paper and hands it to him.

The fan almost trips on his table leg while retrieving the paper and again as he steps to Simon with it. Chuckles from a number of the others, along with many head shakes. Now everybody hunkers down to their devices, completely blind to their screens timing-out as they listen, heads averted, but with rapt attention to everything they can hear from Simon Linkenfelder, The Wonderful One.

He still has a Sharpie from the book signing and is about to ask “To whom should I sign this book”, but stops in time and just scribbles his signature-number-3 on the paper.

David is uncomfortable. He whispers, “I’m really sorry to drag you out into this public, public forum, Simon.”

Waving it off, “Not at all, David. My pleasure. Really… So tell me, if you don’t mind, David. How was your father in his last years?”

Very touchy topic, by his face.

“Oh, Simon. He suffered so much. His heart. It was torture for him. The doctors kept saving him and it only meant more torture. My mother was never the same. She spent 24 hours a day slaving to ease his pain… I couldn’t… I was at uni, up in Prince George, when he finally passed. I borrowed a friend’s old diesel and just kept the pedal to the floor for eight hours when mother called.”

Simon consoled David by holding his hand.

Was that a sob I heard? From the cold-blue hair two tables over?

“I’m so sorry, David. So sorry.”

Nods from a few tables.

David looks up into Simon’s face. “Every time we talked, then, before he… He always smiled when he spoke about how he flew your airplane.” David reflects the smile. Then so quietly, others shouldn’t hear, “And, of course, the story got better each time. I went along with it. With his memories, as they changed. If you ever meet my mother, Simon, please swear that you’ll say it was you who threw up and papa had to land the plane? Please?”

David’s pleading face would have softened Caligula.

Or maybe not…

Whispering, “Sure. Of course. I will forever be indebted to your father for saving my life.” He nods, to fix that in his mind.

Another sob from the lady-of-blue-hair. Next table wipes her eyes as unobtrusively as she can.

Better write that into my Contacts.

“David. I’d like to put you in my Contacts. Here…” He taps his way to the app. “I’ll let you enter the info.”

Do I detect a few jealous scowls around me?

That is when Kevin Ynqardi’s text shows up, much to Simon’s astonished stare.

Who the hell is Kevin Ynqardi? And how did he get my personal number… I’ll check that out later.

As they are reminiscing, Simon’s marketing person/handler can be seen at the entrance to the rear hall. Simon is not quick enough to hide his face.

Damn. Thought I could be rid of her for tonight.

She strides over to their table. Simon rises to greet her. “Hi Mary. Why don’t you join us? This is an old family friend, David. David, Mary.”

Her permanent smile is now tired but she manages a civil greeting. “Hello David. Pleased to meet you. I hope you don’t mind the company of an old lady amongst all these young…” Then she notices the fan who has continued to pay rap attention to Simon and David.

Not too quietly, “Dirty Jap!”

David is shocked. The kind of shock such as having a rapier thrust into your heart.

Simon is not sure if he heard correctly. He peers at the fan.

The fan hears the comment and rises, not knowing what to do. He stands in place, only his lips opening and closing limply. Someone reaches out, offering to steady him.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see dribbles of blood come from his mouth.

The sweet, refined, elderly lady spits it out again in his direction. “Dirty Jap.”

The over half-century of hatred has not lost its venom.

Honestly, I was going to say to her: Mary, that is not civilized. That is not the way to speak to another person in this day-and-age. To a young man who was not even born in the century in which your father’s terrible torture occurred.

I was going to expand into the philosophical realm, to remind her that humanity’s tribes have, every one, been both victim and perpetrators of tragic wrongs throughout our profoundly slow march out of raw animalism. We no longer put to the sword the children of our new mates, as do lions on the Serengeti. We strive for reasoned, respectful discussion when disputes arise.

I was going to implore her to take the harder, more obscured, civilized path to a higher culture.

But no, this ninety-one year old relic stumbled away babbling to herself, deaf to the astonished intakes of breath around her; not hearing a few who said, That’s just a blind old bitch.

I expected her to go off, find a drink and a deep chair where she would sit, her encrusted mind spinning in ever tightening circles as the internal echo-chamber reverberates, finally with no further substance other than the simple-minded hatreds she and her tribe have been nurturing for so long.

I dearly wish I could have said all this to her, but I was struck dumb by polite society.

David and Simon can no longer speak. David gets up and walks slowly to the fan, who had sunk back into his chair.

“I am really, truly sorry for what that old woman said to you. It was totally inexcusable and I am mortified to have been present when she said it. You, in no way, deserve to have been treated like that.” He turns to leave the fan in peace, then quietly says, “Can I get you a refill?”

Still in shock, the fan summons a slight smile. “Thank you. Thank you, no. I couldn’t…” Then in a pleading tone, “I’m not even Japanese. What’s she on about? … Who the hell does she think she is?” He looks around at others who are staring; some nodding.

Still standing sideways, kindly, “A bitter old lady whose mind has been forever shaped by the trauma. That is her only view of the world, now. Nothing can be done for her.”

Shaped by trauma. A wise old kid. Maybe he recognizes the effects from home. I like him.

3

Love is War

Company cubicles, coming up to lunchtime.

Roselyn (Rosey), is a twenty-eight year old woman dressed in a fashionable short dress and tight sweater. Her colour choices today reflect the bright sunny days that have taken over for the summer. Her cubicle has pictures of places she had served in, while in JTF2. Rosie is lost in thought, staring at the pictures that contain no identifiable people or locations – only the landscapes.

And memories

From several cubicles away, her younger friend Elena, with a similarly coloured shirt, though in black yoga pants, comes to chat.

Rosey finishes typing and gets up.  She takes her purse, confirming that her phone is inside.  She and Elena head down the hall, close enough that they rub arms several times. With their outside arms, they both check for updates on their phones as they walk almost arm-in-arm toward the elevator. They have become good friends since Rosie’s first week here, a few months ago.

But first they need to hit the washroom together.

The cafeteria is loud with a hundred conversations. Pennants proclaim the monthly theme: South America.

Near Chiclayo, what was the name… Old Chapel of Jesus Eten. Peru is a world of its own. Old Spanish and so many local colloquialisms that a course in Spanish does not help at all. Swarthy stumpy local – nearly had to break the guy’s arm when he thought I’d just lay down like all his other girls. Ha! The look on his face!

Rosie smiles as she takes in the smells of spicy dishes wafting around the room. People flow slowly along the hot-foods line then disperse quickly into the large, airy room.

Rosey and Elena chat while in the food line. Rosey hears a ding from her phone and opens it to see the notification. Quickly, she appears to look away, examining closely one of the food items, in the process moving her phone away from Elena’s view. She closes her phone without further action.

Someone else who’s looking for a broken arm. Or worse.

Elena notices the move. “Who’s that? Your secret lover?” Her smile is anticipatory.

Rosey wants to shrug it off, then offers a wry grin, “El, honey, it’s just a missile from Kenney, your current flame. He wants to do us both under the totems in Stanley Park.”

“HUH!” Elena snorts loudly enough to make heads turn. “If that dim-witted nerd ever had a sensuous thought in his linear mind, it’d melt the contents of his bald head down his double throat!”

Nearby people in the line smile but keep their attention on the food options and the upcoming server at the counter.

“So why do you still have coffee with him?”

“Good question. ‘Cause he pays for my lattes?… Naw. ‘Cause he’d probably go postal if I dumped him? Maybe… How do we get ourselves into this shit?” Elena shakes her head.

Have to take the idiot aside for a private word. Later. Elena is still so young.

Taking their orders on trays, the two divide their attention between looking for an open table and checking out who is sitting with whom. Rosey sees Elena’s bald supervisor wink at her as he holds his phone suggestively. She automatically steers the other way, bumping Elena’s tray.

“Hey! Take it easy, Rosey. You see someone over here?”

Deliberately walking away from the winker, “No. I remember I get a cold draft from the main entrance area.”

And I don’t want to make a stink in here. Supposed to be easing quietly back into civilized society. It’s so very tempting to go over to that stupid ape and put into his place – half-way through a wall.

A more peaceful pursuit catches Rosie’s eye. “Oh! Isn’t that Shannon with the new-hire from IT? Why don’t we go over to play cupid? Or something?” They both giggle as they weave their way to Shannon’s table.

It feels delightfully decadent and immature to act decadently and immaturely.

Elena gets there first and stands beside the IT guy. She notices his couple days of facial hair growth. “Hey Shannon! You’re looking particularly glowing today.” She winks at the IT guy, who blushes and puts his head down, chin nuzzling against his white golf-shirt.

Rosey takes up a flanking position. “Ohh, I love that pink sweater, don’t you Elena? The frills add just the right touch. And I don’t think it quite exceeds his royal arseness’ rules for exposure.”

The IT guy perks his head up, briefly taking in a full view of Elena’s fulsome breasts a few inches from his head, “Royal Arseness?” He pulls his eyes up very briefly to notice Elena’s hazel eyeshadow.

Shannon feels she must rein in her friends with a few words of her own. “Oh, they’re making fun of the department manager. You know him, Billy? And, by the way, these two lovely gossips are Elena and Rosey. Rosey is new, too.”

Yeah three months new, too-full-of-yourself bitch.

Shannon nods at each in turn while an embarrassed Billy almost raises his eyes again to acknowledge them. “Billy is our new expert in Security App Installations and Troubleshooting.”

Rosey grins down at Billy, “SAIP?”

Stupid acronyms is this joint, too?

A smile and another extended perusal of Elena’s best, “Yeah. Better than Password Parsing and Totalizing.” He continues to smile at all three for a minute until it becomes clear they do not get his joke.

Elena takes a stab, “PPT?”

“No no. Passpartoot. Get it?”

Rolled eyes all around.

A nerd. Yellow-Lab-cute but not a threat. Short term, anyway.

“Shannon, honey, you’ve got your work cut out for you.” Rosey gives Shannon the eye and steers Elena to an open table nearby.

Elena glances back over her shoulder at Billy, who is following her with his eyes. Elena tosses her mostly blonde hair with a free hand. Billy gets a jab in the ribs from Shannon’s sharp elbow.

Next morning in the cubicles, Billy enters the office area shyly. He is now clean shaven and wearing a medium blue button-up shirt and grey dress-slacks. He is carrying a small briefcase.

Rosey sees everything that moves.

Neutral party in camouflage. Interesting…

Elena sees him, too, and holds her gaze on him for a while, confirming it really is the same scruffy-looking Billy she saw in the cafeteria. He sees her and makes a bee-line for her desk, negotiating the obstacle course of low dividers and plants.

Billy’s trajectory doesn’t take an extended series of logistical analyses.

A smile forms as Rosey sees the deliberateness of his approach. Still working on her computer, she continues to track Billy, and Elena’s reaction.

Non-com entering the field the battle – drawn like a bear to honey. Watch out kid, your fingers could get burned.

Billy arrives at his target. “Hi. Ah… I, ah, I’m doing a security audit. Just a random audit. And, ah, I was wondering if you have a few minutes?”

“Oh, hi Billy. Well, like, ok. If you can give me a minute so’s I can finish this off?” She nods at a spreadsheet on her screen.

Nodding eagerly, too quickly, “Sure. Yeah, that’s fine. I’ll just, ah, wait…here.”

Later…

In the cafeteria, Shannon is sitting with Billy. She has on another fetching blouse that might well exceed his royal arseness’ specification for skin exposure. Billy is distracted, not listening attentively to Shannon’s opinion on the outlandish cost of rentals in the city.

“Billy! I asked what you think. I hate it when you just mumble ‘Um’ at everything I say!” She is annoyed with his wandering eyes today. “Are you ok?” She leans toward him, opening up her cleavage more suggestively. “You have something on your mind?”

When a slight jiggle doesn’t capture his attention she leans back and combs a hand through her hair.

Billy continues to scan the arriving staff. As Elena and Rosey enter the cafeteria, he sits up.

Shannon deduces the object of his focused attention. “Elena and Rosey. Is that who you’re looking for? Billy?”

“Ah, yeah. I, ah, had to do a security audit this morning on, on Elena’s computer. Wanted to see if it’s still working ok.”

Shannon gives a perfunctory wave at Rosey. The line moves quickly and Rosey and Elena make their way directly to Shannon’s table.

Action places. Battle lines are quickly established.

Elena takes the chair next to Billy as Rosey and Shannon pass pleasantries.

Billy puts his nose down and munches loudly through his salad. After a minute his throat gets a message through to his brain regarding the excessive heat of the two jalapeño peppers he guzzled. “OW! AH AH WATER!”

There is no water but Elena gives him her orange juice. He grabs it and downs it desperately even as Rosey is trying to say, “You really shouldn’t. Water makes it worse…”

Bread, you dork. Has to absorb the shit, not spread it around.

Billy’s face turns a bright red as he struggles to breathe between gulps.

Shannon sits back. “Serves you right for inhaling your food like that… Are you alright, Billy?”

Rosey breaks off some of her bread and offers it to him. Billy takes it in one gulp, swallowing rather than munching.

Rosey is still holding her fingers out after his grab. “You should let the bread absorb…”

He swallows it whole. He starts to cough and choke. After an ineffectual cough, with his face changing from red toward blue, Elena slaps his back, then again, harder. Billy coughs more productively, spraying large wet bits around the table.

Friendly fire. I’ll call for a stitcher if the casualty needs it.

Shannon recoils, pulling her hands away from the table, “Oo! Yuck. Billy!”

He’ll be ok, no thanks to the bitch.

Rosey wipes a few pieces from her shirt then starts to clean up the table as Billy has more controlled coughs into his hand. “Well, never mind the mess. Clean-up in aisle three. I guess we’re not finishing lunch today.” Concerned with Billy, “Are you ok now?”

Billy nods sheepishly, wipes his mouth, then has a couple more clearing coughs.  Elena has been holding him by his shoulders, all but enveloping his head in her bosom, giving a worried, motherly look.

Non-com is about to be in the line of fire.

Leaning forward, Shannon has noticed the support that Elena is giving him. She stands up and grabs his hand. “Come on honey. Let me take you to the washroom. We both need to clean up.” She flashes an angry glance at Elena. “If Elena hadn’t stuffed that bread down your throat you’d be alright.”

Elena is blindsided, “Huh? I didn’t…”

Really is a bitch.

Shannon shuffles Billy away.

Elena looks for support from Rosey, pleading, “I didn’t give him the bread.”

“Of course not. I did. It wasn’t the bread. It was the double dose of jalapeños. Don’t sweat it, El. Shannon is like that.”

“Well, why’d she accuse me…?”

“Listen, El. You were getting too close to her prize. You know that Billy’s family owns property in the west end?”

“Huh? What’s that got to do…?”

“Come on, kid. He was panting for you like a puppy. What do you expect her to do?”

“Like, besides not yelling at him for getting sick with those peppers? Poor guy. Didn’t think she was like that.”

Back at work, next morning.

Office noises – one-sided conversations with clients on the phone, chairs creaking – all under the bright lights of too many fluorescents and creeping bands of sunlight from wide windows on the south side.

Rosey stretches up from her chair and decides to take her mid-morning break. Elena joins her in the washroom.

As Rosey is washing her hands, Elena is in front of the mirror. This surprises Rosey.

“War paint?”

“What?”

“You usually leave that for the weekend battles.”

Elena is now self-conscious. She corrects a smudge with more powder on her left cheek. “Just… you know, being a little more presentable… Is it too much?”

“Don’t ask me, El. I’m not the target.”

“Huh? What do you mean?” Elena is getting agitated.

Step more carefully. She is now in full brainless mode.

“You look lovely, El. You really do.”

Elena calms down, checking her profile in the mirror.

It elicits a smile from Rosey. “Billy coming to do another security check?”

Elena stops, collects her accessories into her purse and asks testily, “So what if he is?”

Oops. Sorry.

“Nothing at all, dear. Nothing at all.”

As Elena turns to leave, Rosey can’t help mumbling to herself, “May the best woman win.”

At a bistro, that weekend…

Talk about brainless mode. Well, anyway, that’s what I need to do. Forget the real world.

Loud music, yelling conversations, lights flashing, gyrating dancers on the floor, small groups and twosomes more-or-less conversing at tables and on couches around the dance floor. Some are drinking, some are taking other forms of mind-altering chemicals. Much smiling and nodding.

Everybody is stoned one way or another.

Elena is dressed in a knock-out bright tangerine and neon blue combo that mostly contains her ample figure. Rosey is, in her own way, more subtly attractive in a light green and tan dress. They are both wearing high heels.

Elena’s heels look weaponized. God! I don’t know how long I’ll be able keep my feet in these things. A drink – a medicinal drink!

Occupying a white leather couch, their drinks are on a low table in front. An already empty glass sits behind Elena’s current drink. Elena is being unusually flamboyant with her arm gestures, attracting many appreciative glances and stares from nearby male dancers.

Shannon comes arm-in-arm with Billy as she leads him into the room. Her outfit is  bright, tight and revealing but she is on edge. Billy is not at all comfortable in this environment.

That black golf shirt and dark grey slacks might have been appropriate a generation ago, Patrick Swayze.

Billy looks around for a corner to hide in.

Poor guy. He needs a one-bum foxhole.

The crowd is more dense in front of Elena, so she does not notice Billy and Shannon right away. Her sensors, however, are in high tension so when she does catch a slight glimpse of Billy, Elena rises immediately. Bending back down to speak to Rosey, she has to hold her breasts under cover. Yelling, with a bit of a slur, “I’m going to resupply. Want another one yet?”

Recon done. The battle is engaged.

Shaking her head, Rosey shows her half-full glass. Elena downs her own drink with a glug and heads for where she last saw Billy.

There will be fireworks. Confirm the exits.

Meanwhile, Shannon’s defensive antennas are in tune. She has detected the gathered crowd, presumed it to be around Elena, and instinctively steers Billy to the far side of the bar area.

Getting the attention of a bartender, she yells, “Two red wines, please. Large glasses.”

As Shannon pays for the drinks, she is dismayed to discover that Elena is already zeroing in on Billy. Elena’s approach takes her, rather aggressively, through the dancers. One of the guys objects to Elena’s drunken bump and turns to yell at her. She bats her eyelashes and deflects his anger with an air kiss and a forward lean. Elena swings unsteadily past the now-smiling dancer to resume her attack.

Meanwhile, Shannon has moved with Billy into a defensive position behind a couch. She places Billy with his back to a large light fixture that blocks the path to the other end of the couch, then pats the top cushion for Billy to sit on. Positions established, she smiles down to greet the couch’s mostly-oblivious occupants. The wall, a meter and a half behind the couch, is mirrored so it affords good 360o visibility.

As Elena approaches the couch, Shannon pretends to ignore her, while tracking her movements in the mirror. Shannon continues to keep Billy occupied with random yelled questions.

From the other side of the room, Rosey has stood up to better reconnoitre. She sees that Billy is being overwhelmed by the mass of datapoints hitting every sensor.

Billy is breaking through the wire and about to enter the minefield.

All Billy perceives is Shannon’s flapping mouth. Billy falls into a panic attack and pushes past Shannon, through the dancers. He bumps into the previously bumped dancer who yells at him. Billy starts to put his hands up to his ears to shut the world out but receives a quick uppercut from the angry dancer. A nearby dancer, seeing the unfairness of the attack, tries to get between Billy and his attacker. The Good Samaritan has to duck another swing from the now enraged attacker, who believes a group is after him. Meanwhile, Billy is on the floor, crawling away desperately from the developing brawl.

Back at the couch, Shannon takes the opportunity to blindside a distracted Elena, sending her down onto the couch occupiers.

Rosey sees the punch and rushes over to her friend, narrowly avoiding the shoving dancers.

Just help El. No Rambo shit.

Getting to a woozy Elena, who is being petted in various parts of her body by the four people she landed on, Rosey starts yelling at Shannon as the music is turned off. “YOU” music off “BITCH!” Quieter, “You took a swing at her when she wasn’t looking! What’s got into you?”

The ambient noise, devoid of booming speakers, gets louder as everyone starts yelling at each other. This has the effect of encouraging the fights to go on. Some bystanders are commenting on the action. From a few plaintive voices, “Will you all please just calm down?”

Someone turns the lights on to a dazzling brightness. Lasers no longer flash. The uncomfortable exposure suddenly stops most of the aggressive shoving. People begin to exit the field of battle, then the dribble becomes a general push for the exit.

The crowd erupts onto the darker street, lit only by orange streetlights, prompting a few to carry on the grudges they had developed in the bistro. A siren is closing in …

Company cubicles, Monday.

Elena arrives off the elevator to start her day with a smile. Already there, Rosey greets her cautiously with a whisper.

“El, that bruise is fully covered up. Just saying. Your kiddy grin might start to wrinkle the makeup, though.”

What do you call the opposite of ptsd?

“Yes, a lovely day, isn’t it? And how are you doing this fine Monday morning, Rosey?”

She got it bad, masta.

“Elena? Is that you?” Rosey takes Elena’s hands to hold her down from floating up to cloud nine.

“Don’t be silly, Rosey. I didn’t put that much makeup on, did I?” Suddenly concerned, she reaches for her mirror.

“No no. I mean, like, you hate Mondays. Did Shannon give you a concussion or something?”

With a touch of bemusement, “Shannon? Shannon who?”

“Ok. So, do you remember Billy?”

Elena starts to melt into a sugary creampuff. “Oh, Billy’s fine. Just fine.”

She starts to focus on Rosey, “He called me Sunday morning. He was sooo sweet. Wanted to apologize and all that so I said, like, ‘Let’s do lunch and you can pay and tell me all about what happened last night’. He came out of his shell. Totally. He said all it takes to get him comfortable is to, like, have lunch at the Sylvia. So we stayed and had supper, too. He talked forever. All about his parents, who he adores, and about sailing. Do you know what a baggywrinkle is?”

“Huh?”

Elena eyes the stars dreamily, “Billy says it’s like a long mop-end that stops the chafing of a line next to a yard.”

Stifling a laugh, “Gotta remember that if my jeans get too tight.” Rosey looks up at the digital clock. “Off to work we go.”

She takes Elena’s hand with some concern. “Listen, kid. I know you’re in a zone, but this place is not that zone. Wake up, or his Nibs’ll be standing over your desk. Ok?”

Still in dreamland, “Fine.”

That’s when Rosey gets the text from Kevin Ynqardi.

Who the hell is Kevin Ynqardi? And how did he get my personal number… I’ll check that out later.

4

FAST

“A year ago, working for the land south of the Great White North…”

Canada is not particularly great but they tell me it’s bigger than America (yeah, I’m American! Damn right!)
“I had a stroke. The stroke was a surprise, needles to say, and I guess more to my friends and family.”

The well-muscled former Navy Seal, Lawrence (Lance) Patrick is speaking as much to himself as to the cabbie. It was going to be an hour-and-a-half drive to downtown Vancouver, so Lance wanted to pass the time. He leans forward onto the front-passenger seat most of the way, speaking at the cabbie and keeping a close eye on the trip in from the Peace Arch Border Crossing. Fortunately, the cabbie doesn’t understand Lance’s accent very well so all he does is smile and nod at Lance in the mirror. It was going to be a treasure of a trip, even with a (legally, anyway) deadhead back to White Rock.

“Don’t drink more than a few glasses of beer a year and I’ve never smoked. So it seems the regular boxes of donuts from CreamyCrisp are the problem.”

Still are. But who’s to bloody-well know?

“Had the stroke on Monday, alone, while, ah, digging a deep hole.”

Entrenching in a snipper position in eastern ‘Ghan.

“That’s when, WHAM! It happened!”

The cabby is startled and stares in the mirror at his rough-looking passenger.

“Looking up from the, ah, floor, it was bloody frustrating that my whole left side had suddenly decided to go on strike. I used to climb ropes without a problem and now here I was in the dirt and I couldn’t even pull my damn body up to the, the top.

“Got bruises all over my back when I fell, then again when I crawled on my back to the sat-phone.”

Lance looks at the cabbie.

Shithead isn’t listening so it doesn’t really matter.

“Those bruises looked a lot worse later, ‘cause of the blood thinners they gave me – something called tPA.

“So there I am on my back, and I finally figured it must be a stroke. Me! How the hell do I get a friggen stroke? So then the only way to get help was to push on my back with my right arm and one live leg. I pushed against the shallow part where my phone was sitting up on top. With only one side working I pushed so friggen hard I scratched a bloody rut down my back against a rock. Couldn’t believe how goddamn hard it was!”

Still got no idea how I did it!

“Finally got high enough to reach the phone with my good hand. Called it in and it took almost as much trouble to tell the bastard on the other end that I was really having a friggen stroke!

“Then I had to flop back down without hitting my head, to, to get ready for the medevac to come.”

And find my weapon and get a signal light for the chopper to see my position as it flew overhead.

“The, ah, paramedics went through the stroke protocol.”

Every-friggen-stitcher I saw for a week goes over the same shit: “Where are You? How many fingers? Can you move this? Can you move that? I was ready to shoot the bastards!

“The the paramedics called it in right away. Some doc back in his office says, shoot him up with the wonder drug they took with them.”

Some kind of super blood thinner, I found out later. How the hell were they so sure it was the right kind of stroke? Found out later I would have bled to death from every pore in my head if it was the other kind of stroke… Well – better than a wheelchair.

“They evaced me and next thing I know there’s a crowd of doctors and nurses prodding and poking every part, and I mean every damn part of my body. Found out they cut open the main vein from my leg at my crotch and stuck in a filter to catch more of the little globs migrating up from the DVT. That’s deep vein thrombosis. Got that from flying around the world for years in the tiny seats they give you in airplanes.”

Jesus – maybe he is listening. Moving his legs like he has DVT.

“Gave me CAT scans and DOG scans and everything but frizzing my hair with x-rays.”

Gotcha. You’re smiling.

“As they wrapped me up on the operating table, the doc finished by saying, ‘Hold up your left arm and wave.’

“I did, and he says, ‘Take that picture! This guy’s the poster boy for what needs to be done right!’

“They kicked me out in a week. Nothing wrong with me after all that. Nothing. If those guys didn’t shoot me up with the super blood thinner by 2 to 3 hours I’d be in a wheelchair right now.”

Sent those stitchers a box of chocolates each – and a thousand dollars with it.

Lance smiles with the memory. “They didn’t want to say it was ‘cause of my years of airplane hours so they looked everywhere when I got back to Germany. HAH!”

The cabbies jumps and involuntarily swerves the car over the lane, then quickly corrects.

“What?”

“Haha! Sorry, man. Was just thinking about the young newbie who had to ultrasound my cojones!”

The cabbie looks quizzically in the mirror.

“My nuts! Here she is taking my nuts and rolling the ultrasound thing around each one! HAH!”

They both have a good laugh.

“And there was this guy in the hospital in Germany who was my chauffer in the hospital. He takes me on gurney rides through all the back halls to get from one station to another. The guy has enough shards of metal and tattoos poking out of every part of his body that I can see! He could’ve been the willing victim of a low-velocity hand grenade! Hah!… Great guy, though.”

That’s when Lance gets the text from Kevin Ynqardi.

Who the fuck is Kevin Ynqardi? And how did he get my burn-phone number. This is fucken weird.

Lance texts back forth a few times; then, “Cabbie? How far is Whistler?”

5

Dark Ness

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