By James Robert Smith
She picked up the office phone immediately. She had an old style with handset and cord. Why? She had wondered that often, and couldn’t think of any reason for it, other than nostalgia. And it wasn’t nostalgia from her own youth, because by the time she had been born almost no one used that kind of clumsy contraption anymore. The instrument rang once before she had it to her ear.
“Loraine Gaskins,” she said. She hadn’t even bothered to glance at the ID pad to see who was calling her this early, and now that she did she realized that the readout was blank. Damn. That meant only one thing.
“Dr. Gaskins,” the voice on the other end told her. She recognized him instantly with some distaste. She only spoke to him occasionally and generally when her time with the Agent was going to be either cancelled or curtailed. “This is Mills, over at the Service,” he told her. As if there was only one government service of any importance and he was gainfully employed directing the local branch.
“Yes, Mr. Mills. I recognize your voice.” She tried to speak through clamped jaws, but it wasn’t coming off too well. She always made certain that she had cleared her schedule of all other matters on days when she was going to counsel her superman, and now she knew that he would not show. “I take it my morning appointment will not be kept?”
“I’m afraid that it is so,” Mills told her. She could imagine his dark features in a Spartan office somewhere in a tower some miles distant. The IDS never marked their headquarters or their mobile offices. It was all strictly secret, even if their most prominent members were there for everyone to see. Of course, that had always been the plan. What good was it to have Enhanced Humans around to protect the population if the people couldn’t see them?
She found herself twirling the plastic cord on the handset around her left index finger. She knew that she shouldn’t do that; the material was growing ever more stressed and prone to tangle because of it. But she couldn’t help herself.
“No chance to rescheduling later today?” she asked, hopefully.
Mills actually chuckled on his end. “I’m afraid not, Dr. Gaskins.”
“A bad situation? Like the one he faced yesterday?” Without looking, she stepped back until she felt her bare calves meet her office chair and then she settled into it with a barely repressed sigh. The Agent was gold to her. She never failed to be both mystified and impressed by her interviews with him.
“You know I can’t comment on such things.” She imagined his dark face again, uncomfortable with even the idea of sharing classified information. “I’m sure Agent 67 will tell you about his work when he can make another appointment.”
“And that would be?”
“That would be telling, Dr. Gaskins, and you know we don’t do that sort of thing.”
She hated Mills. He seemed to enjoy monopolizing the Agent’s time.
“Very well,” she finally said. “But, Mills,” she added, afraid that he would suddenly cut the connection.
“I’ll still be available. If, by some chance, the appointment could be rescheduled today.” She winced, wishing she hadn’t said it as soon as the words had left her mouth. Sometimes she acted like a lovelorn schoolgirl when it came to her patient. Like so many involved with that man, she had been hired specifically and exclusively to minister to only the Agent.
“Of course, Dr. Gaskins,” Mills said. She could see him grinning at her on the other end, wherever that was. He had perfectly straight, perfectly symmetrical, perfectly white teeth, she recalled. All thirty-two of them flawless. And all bared in amusement at her silly performance. “You’ll receive a prompt when you need to get in touch with Agent 67,” he told her.
And then the line did go dead and there was no longer a chance to speak, to negotiate, to beg.
“Shit,” she said.
Ten miles from Gaskins Mills looked across his own desk and addressed one of his junior agents. Small “a” agent. Not the big guy. Not the one who counted most. Not the walking, talking, take-no-prisoners bonafide super-human Agent. This was just a regular field associate new to the area. William Tanger, two months out of college. A good kid with a good attitude and a simple education in Criminal Law.
“What’s so funny?” the man asked, a bemused expression on a young face seemingly cut from flesh someone had molded to be obviously Germanic. To Mills, the kid looked like that Nazi soldier who climbed out of the Tiger tank in that Clint Eastwood comedy from his grandfather’s days.
“Just the psychologist who sees Agent 67,” Mills said. “You’ll meet her at some point, so it’s no harm for me to tell you about her. I have to write my reports on her, just as she has to turn in her notes about our resident superman.” He cleared his throat and tried to wipe the grin from his face. “It’s just that she has some real issues with him.”
“What? She doesn’t like him? I’ve always heard that there’s something worked into their genetic string that creates…I don’t know…some kind of positive charisma, or something. Isn’t that true about them?” The kid was genuinely puzzled.
“Far from it, Tanger,” Mills said. He brushed some lint from his otherwise spotless dark blue suit. The fabric was, in fact, so dark blue as to be almost black. “I mean, yes to your second question. All Agents are imminently likable. But as for Gaksins...she’s actually hooked on him some way.”
The kid made a sophomoric motion with his right index finger and the “O” shape he’d made with his left hand.
“Hell, no,” Mills exclaimed. “You’d better believe that would never happen. Not only does Gaskins know better, but they cook these Agents up to be Boy Scouts. I swear to Almighty God they do no wrong. Their only purpose on this Earth is to protect us.” Mills motioned, pointing back and forth between Tanger and himself. “We are the end-all and be-all of their existences. You need to keep that in mind. Agents are here to protect us and to do the right thing where we’re concerned.”
Tanger was nodding. “Then what’s her problem?”
Mills smiled. “Don’t get me wrong. She might not bang the Agent…but I can guarantee you that she would if she could. My bet is that she’s as wet as a towel in a steam room every time he goes in for one of their gab sessions.”
“Oh,” Tanger said.
“Well, that’s enough of that. I’m sure you’ll meet her someday, so forget I said anything. She’s pretty damned good at her job and she’ll be able to spell your personality into a perfect single paragraph when you finally do meet her. And that’ll all be from you just walking into the room.
“I see,” Tanger replied. He made a fluttering motion with his hands. “It’s all forgotten. Gaskins who?”
“Good man,” Mills said. The director stood then, towering over his desk, towering over his junior associate, and suddenly all but blotting out the big painting of his wife and son that hung on the wall behind him. “We’ve got work to do.”
Looking like the college lineman he once was, Director Erwin Mills walked across the room, opened the door for his new trainee, and allowed the youth to precede him through the exit. “We’ve got to head to where the action is going to be.”
“Will it be a sure thing, then?” Tanger looked up at his hulking boss.
“Yes, it will. You will get to see Agent 67 in full, monster-killing action. There will be much bloody violence and absolutely no prisoners taken.”
“None?” the kid asked. He’d been told earlier that they needed to hang onto a few for questions and live dissection.