Empire’s Agent, pt.(7)

Back on track.  I re-re-read what I’d re-read yesterday.  I’m just a middle-aged hack, but FFS, that was awful!  Was I really drunk enough to write that?

I didn’t even bother editing it:  deleted.  Let’s try again.  Sure:  dashing Arpad is something of a player; nothing at all wrong with that.  Has he a history?  Well, lookie here…!

[Personal aside:  thought about this all morning.  Left phone upstairs in pharmacy while I went to eat lunch in ground floor cafeteria.  Rather than troll news sites, I spent the next forty-ish minutes thinking about this story.  Bits.  Pieces.  Glimpses.  Pic…

What?  Oh:  “picnic.”  My imagination opened like a carpet.  Arpad owes Lily a lunch at her hospital, but after that… they’re going to go on a little date… how, why, where… don’t bother me:  I’m writing!]

Arpad awoke, as always, a few minutes before the alarm on his mobile. Given his dream and state of physical agitation, a cool if not cold shower was in order.

I’ve had plenty of women, he thought fleetingly of Constance, in the Foreign Office Signals Unit, who’d been in his bed a week before he left for this mission. Slovenian, she’d eyes nearly as Oriental as… He turned the shower’s hot water knob off as he finished rinsing.

Why her? The towels were laundered but small and worn. She might speak American English and have had their citizenship, but she’s not White and would never fit into the Empire…

He paused, stepping into his slacks, that he’d thought that far ahead.

No, he thought, I’m not in love with her. She’s just an exotic animal in the zoo that is the post-United States.

Knotting his tie, he regarded his laptop and briefcase in the mirror’s reflexion.

This mission is about the AIs, not her. She’s a means, not the end.

Not one to lie to himself, Arpad paused as he swept his suit coat on.

If it was so easy for me to think I like her, did she do that the machines, too? How? Why?

He looked out the third story window. This morning he would be about the town to learn about her. At lunch, he would use that to learn about them. Making sure his Walther was secure he closed the door behind him.

A copper got him an old map of the city from a young woman behind the hotel’s counter. She too obviously wanted to talk with him so he first ignored her then immediately asked her number. If he needed a woman later he message her.

“That map’s pre-Breakup! Over ten years old!” She’d called as he walked away. “Lots of changes – !”

Why hadn’t anyone bothered to make a new one in so much time?

Before the hotel, a few minutes before eight in the morning, he looked about new normal of downtown Waxahachie: besides all the bicycles goods were moved half and half by lorries and horse-drawn wagons.

They’ve oil aplenty! Their deepwater ports are open! Can they not get transport vehicles for some unknown reason?!

What very few idle men there were took note of the stranger in town. Of them, about half did something with their mobiles.

I should have pumped the girl behind the desk, he thought, for more information before starting out.

From his walk back last night he knew the orphanage was to the southeast. Going there now would be a provocation. The hospital where Barrett – Lily, he corrected – worked, was to the east. Fixing the Baroque looking courthouse to his left as a centerpoint, he did what he’d done in so many other unfamiliar cities: spiral his way out and take in what he could.

Just after eleven he’d come across the Catholic Church and Primary School of Saint Joseph’s. The growing map in his mind put Mort’s ten minutes away and the hospital twenty from there. Enough time to drop in.

The late-October air was once again cool, but the sun strong and warm. He’d kept his gait fast enough to cover ground but not so much that he’d attract notice. Well: more notice. He wondered what the men and women were texting when they jerked their eyes away from him on the streets.

The church was, he thought, one step away from being a Protestant barn: a simple rectangular layout, cheap and narrow stained glass windows and only Saints Joseph and Mary flanking the crucifix on the far wall. Raised in the Faith by his grandmother in Budapest, he’d walked away from all that when he decided to be a teenage thug. Joining the Hungarian Army hadn’t disabused him of his apostasy; what happened over the next six years did.

He genuflected when he walked in.

Seems completely empty.

Arpad walked slowly down the center aisle, his right hand brushing the obviously very old pews. He stopped three back from the front, genuflected again, and sat.

I’ve just less than thirty minutes, he thought, closing his eyes.

…his commander’s team had caught up to the cell that had stolen the Black Madonna. In an abandoned Uniate church on the fringe of L’vov… He’d dove at the Semite holding the atomic: American neo-con or Muslim terrorist… was there a difference anymore? shooting, knowing he was about be incinerated…

“Son… son!” A hand on his shoulder.

“Egan?” Where was he? Oh. “Yes. My apologies, Father. I dozed off in your church!”

Holding Arpad’s left shoulder with his great right hand Father Ramler gave a reassuring squeeze before standing to his… Arpad kept looking up… over two meter height.

“I’m used to the kids yelling in the church when they shouldn’t; your voice was a surprise,” the priest said.

Yelling?

“My apologies, again, Father.” Arpad stood. “I am a visitor to your nation and city… I…”

He waved about.

“Wanted to pray before meeting a friend!”

The priest’s eyes looked down the distance between theirs.

“Ah! You’re the young man interested in Lily!”

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