Thursday morning . . .
It’s early, and we’ve decided to put in a good days work at the new office. We’re removing plastic sheets, and pulling expensive things out of Styrofoam. There’s lots of stuff here that looks oatmeal-colored and deadly. Like, these computer bits and pieces could be used to make a nuclear weapon.
Ms. Josephine is on her way over so that we can make the final furniture arrangements. You see, Ricky had a ‘quiet room’ put in our office. Let me explain. We have a lot of space in this office. Several thousand square feet. So Ricky has this idea to put in one of those rooms where you can lock yourself in and nobody on earth can hear what you’re discussing.
Not the CIA.
Not the KGB.
Not satellites, nor Google.
Not ex-girlfriends, nor space aliens.
Nobody will be able to hear what we’re talking about. And that’s actually pretty reassuring if you consider that we have to eventually hunt down and murder 23 people. Sure, they’re pure evil, but the local authorities in the areas we will be doing our little missions might not see it like that.
Prosecutors and Judges don’t respect the God defense these days. So if you’re making plans to hunt and kill people, even evil incarnate, you have to be careful. And this quiet-room is our one place we can say anything we please without worrying about repercussions.
It’s basically a plastic box, big enough for about five or six of us to sit down at a small table. It’s surrounded by a combination of fiberglass sheets, with layers of some kinds of goo. I don’t know what kind, and the contractors were rather shy about divulging their process. Basically, the room is suspended by liquid and fiberglass layers.
It has it’s own oxygen supply, and there are no electricity lines running in or out. You can’t even use a cell phone in here. Everything is useless. It’s like a dead zone or something. And it even has some white-noise emitters that are fitted to the outer shell so that government hacks can’t use their gadgetry to pull vibrations off of the outer surface.
When I asked how much it cost, Ricky gave me a little whistle between his teeth, which means that it was expensive. Probably a level of expensive I can’t imagine.
Our research on ‘strange deaths’ will ensue once all of our computers are brought on-line. We’ll have the power of four supercomputers, all working together, searching for the footprints of evil. Ricky says we have enough computing power to run a space mission to Mars. And I don’t really know if that’s accurate, but it sounds good.
This office, our home away from Evil, it’s taking shape.
Ricky walks up to me, “Billtruck is coming.”
Who? I ask, handing him an off-white box that looks like you put small torpedoes in it. I have no freaking idea what this is.
He takes it, “Bill ‘the Truck’ Blackledge. My buddy from school. I hired him.”
You call him, the truck?
Ricky smiled, “He’s big, dude. Like a truck. He was going to play football but he messed up and got a thirteen-ninety on his SAT, so his dad bribed him to go to Med-school. He’s into forensic examination.”
And he’s going to work with us? At ALG?
“Yup. He was working for some fancy-pants hospital on the east coast, but he got bored. I offered him some excitement.”
What did you tell him? I ask, delivering a chrome machine from it’s bubble-wrap plastic womb. This thing has all sorts of ports and inputs all around it, and is even more perplexing than the last box.
“He knows we’re doing research, and that we may dabble into the paranormal.”
I look at Ricky, my shoulders slumping, “Dabble into the paranormal? He’s going to be doing more than dabbling, don’t you think? He’s going to think we’re a bunch of psychos the minute he catches wind of what we’re up to.”
“Relax, Jack,” Ricky assured me, “I got this. Billtruck is my man. He’s going to be an asset. You’ll see. And besides, skeptic or not, with the money I offered him he’ll help us hunt leprechauns if we ask him to.”
Just before I could say something clever Ms. Josephine ambled in. She’s wearing a dress with red and orange butterflies on it. In this office of sterile white and high-technology equipment, she looks out of place. Out of her element. But then, so do Ricky and I, so it’s par for the course.
She walks across the front of the large space and approaches us. She smiles and I immediately feel warmer, as if she added life to our place. She hands a old brown book to Ricky and he nods, studying the cover. It’s probably more of his witch doctor stuff. It’s all he reads anymore.
“Now,” she says as she gives us each a hug, “when is our new friend comin’ by?”
And like she can see the future, we hear a knock at the office door. Due to the whole, magnetic key-card entry system, Ricky jogs to the door, leaping over two large flat-screen monitors, and a black box he’s been referring to as the Organism.
The door opens and this huge guy, with short-cropped black hair and arms big enough to be confused for trees, walks in. They are about the same height, but Billtruck probably has about 150 pounds on Ricky.
Billtruck looks around, squinting his eyes at the equipment. He walks right past us, not being rude or anything, but as if he’s so consumed by the gear that he doesn’t notice us. As he’s pacing back and forth, checking out boxes and stickers on the different pieces of equipment, Ms. Josephine and I just smile curiously at each other.
Ricky winks at us and then says, “Well, Billtruck, what do you think?”
The large genius joins us in the middle of the room, “This all new?”
Ricky nods, Yes.
Billtruck crosses his arms in front of his bulging chest, “And uh . . . it’s all what it says it is?”
The big guy scratches his chin as his eyes scan the large expanse. “So, what are we, like Ghostbusters?”
“No!” I say quickly. “Not like Ghostbusters. Paranormal investigators. We search for phenomenon, and try to solve or explain it.”
Ricky adds, “We look for rational explanations for seemingly supernatural events. And you’re going to run our Intelligence branch.”
“Right,” Billtruck says, studying all of us suspiciously.
There’s a long uncomfortable pause where nobody speaks. Just eyes glancing here and there.
Then his face softens and he laughs to himself. “Whatever, bro. You say it’s not like Ghostbusters . . . fine. That’s cool. But really, with the equipment you’ve purchased, we could probably find Atlantis, or whatever the hell else you might want.”
Ms. Josephine gives Billtruck the scolding eye, and he apologizes, “Oh, sorry.” He then extends his giant hand, “I’m Doctor Bill Blackledge, but everyone calls me Billtruck.”
I can’t imagine why, I said as he seemed to shatter all of the small bones in my right hand as we shook. He lets go and I try not to wince at the pain. He’s got retard strength.
He turns to Ms. Josephine, “And you must be the young lady who keeps us all in line.”
They shake hands and Ms. Josephine slowly turns his hand over and studies it like a mathematical equation. “You ’ave a good ’eart,” she says slowly, her fingers tracing his lifeline.
“I eat healthy,” Billtruck replies.
Looking at another wrinkle she says, “ . . . but you ’ave bad luck wit women. Married women.”
Half embarrassed, he shrugs, “The girls I like are usually . . . occupied.”
Ricky laughs, “Some things don’t change.”
Billtruck is the most unlikely addition to our team. A humongous, skeptical, intellectual who probably smashes beer cans on his forehead.
We took him back and showed him the quiet room, and then Ricky took him on a tour of the computer equipment. We spent the next two hours moving boxes back and forth. Monitors against that wall. Computer towers under there, routers on the rack near the servers. Flat-screens with their workstations.
I feel like we’re powering up the Enterprise or something. I can feel electrons bouncing around looking for somewhere to land. There is a silent hum to this office.
I’m sitting back, on a rolling black leather chair, just watching as Ricky and Billtruck connect plugs and communicate in some kind of foreign computer language they teach to smart people. I look over at Ms. Josephine and she’s delicately feeling part of the wall, as if it might be hot to the touch.
Sensing me as she always does, she turns and smiles. She makes me feel safe. This place, it’s ours. She belongs here just as much as the equipment. I wave for her to come over, which she does.
As Billtruck and Ricky are discussing something about a “ . . . ten-gig LAN . . . ” Ms. Josephine sits down in a chair beside me.
“What’s next, Jack?”
We wait for our first client, I guess.
“No,” she says. “I mean, in our quest for da Evils. What’s our next move?”
And right before I can answer there is this ringing sound that echoes throughout the entire office. All of us stop what we’re doing and turn towards the only phone in the place, and it can’t have been hooked-up for more than five minutes. Of course, it’s red, like something the President might have laying beside his bed at night. You know, the one used for ending the world.
It keeps ringing. We keep staring. Ringing. Staring.
Ms. Josephine heads towards the phone, and Ricky says, “I put an add in the Yellow Pages, but I didn’t think they’d have it printed this quick.”
Billtruck slaps Ricky in the shoulder, “The Internet, bro.”
Ms. Josephine looks at us, her hand on the receiver, as if to ask if she should answer it.
I Shake my head, No.
Billtruck shrugs, Whatever.
Ricky smiles, Sure.
“After Life Group,” Ms. Josephine says politely, “ . . . ’ow can I ’elp you?” And then she starts saying, “ . . . yes.
. . . alright.
. . . yes.
. . . and for ’ow long?
. . . I understand.
. . . give me dat address, please.”
She scribbles something down on a clean pad of note paper and then says, “We’ll come by tomorrow and see if we can ’elp.” She nods a couple of times and then says, “Very well den, goodbye.”
Putting down the phone, we’re all waiting with baited breath. You could cut the anticipation with a knife. A big knife. One of those big mean knives that Rambo uses.
“Well?” Ricky says, his mouth hanging open.
“We got our first client,” she says with a grin.
And I hear Billtruck quietly whistling the theme music from Ghostbusters.