Empire’s Agent, pt.11

Second, awful, miserable Dayjob(TM) weekend prep.  Nine to four with no breaks, no lunch.  At four (1600), I curled up around some boxes of liter normal saline and fell asleep for maybe fifteen minutes.  Saw this and what I’ll write and post tomorrow.  Worked for another 90 minutes.

I tend to forget about the weather; I shouldn’t:  it can be a fantastic tool for advancing a story.  Especially a story where two people might just be falling for one another.

Since, for the vast majority of time we’ve been genetically ‘human,’ getting sick = dying, I think that caring for the sick is a special form of love we show one another.  I’d call it a subset of agape, but I drink more than I Greek.

My other task is to make two, minor, editorial changes to the 2nd edition of The Fourth Law.  After Createspace does their third and final review, it’ll be commercially available.  It will likely not be until the following weekend that I’ve everything fixed and uploaded onto Smashwords.  Following that, the 2nd edition of Echoes of Family Lost.  In May, “The Saga of Nichole5 – Part 1:  ‘Friend & Ally'”

It’s as if I’m an author…

The bartender was already in motion. His left hand scooped some ice into a highball glass as his right took the stopper from a bottle. ‘Brazos Whiskey,’ Arpad read from the now upside-down label. Now right side-up. A few steps to his right saw him come out from behind the bar and placing the glass onto a cork coaster on the table.

Arpad used the moment to see who’d come in. An older man, maybe early sixties. Short, wiry hair mostly white with a few black peppering. Jacket, tie, and slacks – just as Arpad – but woolen, not silk. Again, given what Texas was still emerging from, no surprise.

“Thanks, Tom,” the seated man said to the bartender.

“Of course… Mister Stephens.”

That did not escape Arpad, who turned back to the bar. Tom was about to use a different honorific, but changed his mind at the last moment.

“In town for your, um, usual reason?” Tom asked politely.

“By and large,” Stephens laughed, taking a drink. There was a rumble of thunder from up and outside.

“Going to be quite a storm,” the older man continued. “Real shame for anyone caught outside in it!”

Caught out…? Lily. On her bicycle.

Leaving the bottle before him uncorked and what he’d just poured abandoned, Arpad ran for the stairs. Less than ten seconds later Tom and Stephens heard a car’s engine turn over just as the rain began to hit the windows up at street level.

“That young man’s quick on the uptake,” Kyle Stephens observed, taking another drink.

“He told me he’d served as armored infantry. He did mention some town I’ve never heard of before” Tom brought his eyes from the marble stairs back to his older guest. “A spy?”

“Don’t rightly know!” The officer from the Intelligence Office of the Texas Ranger Division said. “Let’s all wait and see!”

“Of course, sir.” The bartender nodded at the table. “Another?”

 

Lights and wipers on, Arpad considered the mental map he’d made from his walk that morning. He rolled through a Stop sign, the wind buffeting the car. Must be fifty kph, he thought.

Coming around a corner onto a road to the southeast he saw a figure in blue with their head down pushing a bicycle against the wind and rain from their right. He gunned the motor and pulled the car to an abrupt stop just ahead of her, the passenger door on her side. He stepped out and pulled the trunk release in the same motion.

“Arpad! What a surprise!” She had to yell over the wind. Her smile seemed genuine but her eyes were obscured by the rain on her glasses.

He opened the passenger door and took a few quick steps to relieve her of the bicycle. As he set that into the trunk he was relieved to hear the *thunk!* as she closed her door. No way to close it completely, he stripped off his necktie and bound the trunk as closed as he could.

“Well, now!” he exclaimed, dropping into the driver’s seat. His coat was wet but her scrubs were soaked right though. She was also, obviously, cold. He turned on the car’s heater before pulling off toward her home at the orphanage.

His immediate mission complete, he was careful about the drive. It would not do to get in a traffic accident.

“You certainly proved correct about the storm. Lily.” He said.

“I’ve been here awhile,” she said softly, looking out the passenger-side window.

“Something wrong? Besides being soaking wet, of course!”

She turned back to return his smile, crossing her arms across her chest.

“It… it’s been a long time since I was in a car, or truck, down this road.” He watched her right hand rub just below her stomach. “Memories are funny things, right? Ah-choo!”

She’d just enough time to get her left arm up to sneeze into her sleeve.

“Sound as if you need a bath when you get home!”

Her head rotated back to the window.

Stepped on another mine.

“My flat just has a shower,” he heard her whisper.

Signaling, he turned left into the Saint Joseph’s Home for Children’s small parking lot. A battered pickup truck was alone in the far corner. A white subcompact just off from the door to the office and her room upstairs. A light was on in a room on the ground floor to the left of the main door. As he parked next to the white car he caught her gaze sliding back forward.

“Thanks for the drive, Arpad.” Her hand moved to the door release.

“Wait!” he called, pointing at the car’s front window. Wave after wave of rain poured down as the sedan was rocking in the wind.

“For what?” she retorted. “An umbrella wouldn’t last seconds in this…”

She watched him doff his suit coat and toss it onto her. She heard his door open.

“Coming ‘round!”

“Wait!” she yelled, echoing him, too late. She was about to pull the coat off of her head when her door opened with a blast of wind and water. For someone who didn’t look like a bodybuilder he’d effortlessly picked her up.

“There!” With a bang as he kicked the door shut with his foot he set Lily onto her feet. She lifted and peeked from under his coat.

He was soaking wet, water dripping from his dark brown hair past his careful, Hungarian eyes. That were fixed on her.

“Uh…” was all she could manage at that moment.

“Lily!” The sharp, carrying voice of the orphanage’s Director, Carol Lanning, came from her office. She took the coat off of her head but carried it with her the few steps.

“Ma’am! Sorry I’m late!”

“Ne’er mahnd thay-at!” Her West Texas accent worsened whenever she was agitated. “Jus’ look at you-uns! Git up un chainged for you-un catch the death of cold! Oh!”

The last word was as Arpad came to stand just outside the doorway behind Lily. He watched the older woman with what might be the largest nose he’d ever seen pry her left hand away from a large teacup as she stood. She put her left arm about Lily and turned her about while she extended her right hand to him.

“You-uns must be that thar’ young man that got our kids all fired up ‘bout Europe! Ahm Carol Lanning!”

“Mrs. Lanning,” he’d noted her rings, “a pleasure! I am Arpad Rigó, a minor functionary in the Empire’s bureaucracy. I’ve – ”

“Achoo!” Lily, again into her left sleeve.

“Ah don’ me-an to impose, mister Reegoo,” Carol said, stepping back and replacing his wet left arm over Lily’s shoulder for her dry, “but see mah Assistant Director upstars to her place, so’s she’s can get dried off!”

Focusing very hard on her dialect, Arpad was fairly sure he’d understood her. A nod seemed safest.

“I’ll… I’ll b- be f-fine…!” Lily tried.

“Thay-ats it! You-un already shivering! I cain’t drive home in this, so’s I’ll see to the kids for dinner – ”

The crack of lightning was close enough to shake the building. The lights flickered but stayed on.

“Ah… CHOO! Guh teh kahn hoo!” Unintelligible now, Arpad took a handkerchief from his back pocket, wrung out what water he could, and pressed it to Lily’s face.

“Eeee-uh!” she tried.

“Blow!” he ordered.

She did. Productively. Looking at the mess he didn’t consider the cost when Lanning pointed at a trash can in the corner. He tossed it away. She gave them both a tiny push toward the stairs up. About to take the first, he felt her hesitate.

Never taken a guy to my room; not even Sean. She thought. Her shakes began again and she felt him lead her up. She shook more, but not from the cold, as she leaned closer, into him.

 

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