Mild Thoughts In My Mind 2
"So, I just talk to the door or?” Tom asked, standing at attention.
A sage nod from sensei Haq.
“There is no chance this room here contains the means to outfit someone in a sharp suit, specifically someone with a 34 waist, 34 inseam.” He put his hand on the handle, looking at Mr. Haq again. “That easy?”
“That easy, no way any of that is behind that door.”
Tom opened the door to see a brightly lit showroom of suits, smelling of fresh linens. A display of silk ties was on prominent display in front of the business’s sign.
-Welcome to 34/34- -if that ain’t you, hit the door!-
“Alright,” Tom said, smiling with the power he now knew he wielded. He wondered if agents got off time to experiment with the BONC, most likely not, but a man could dream. He began getting dressed as a child wandered over whipping a line of measuring tape back and forth.
“What you want, sirs? Need any help with the suits?” the kid asked, except it came out like zoots.
He was about to answer when Mr. Haq gripped Tom’s forearm hard and gave him a serious glare, so different from the casual smile he’d seen so far.
Message received, Tom thought as he rubbed his wrist. He didn’t know what fabric the shirt was made of, but he loved the feel of it on his skin.
“No, I’m just flabber gabber gasted, young man. How are there this many suits in here!? And all the same size!” Mr. Haq waved his hands in exaggerated surprise.
The child tailor laughed. “Bet you weren’t expecting that, huh? I got even more zoots, so many!” he paused for a moment, then frowned. “They're not all the same size, though. They’re not even close to all the same!” His voice grew thicker, slower. Tom’s shoes began sinking as the carpet churned like sand.
“That’s exactly what I’m saying!” Haq said, smiling wide as sweat rolled down the side of his face. “There’s no way they are all the same! I can’t believe that even the ashen stones of the charnel pits of Matta Hatta could put so many suits in one room!”
“Oh,” the child said, calming again. “I don’t like those words though, it’s gross words. You guys are gross. I’m gonna leave. I have zoot business to do. Big business, kapeesh?”
“I can’t believe how professional you are,” Mr. Haq said, gesturing for Tom to hurry and leave. He straightened the tie, checking his very fresh look in the mirror. He touched his face, it looked wrong, nose too big, chin too sharp. But of course, his ego was based on someone that looked different. He wasn’t really Tom at all. He looked like that other guy, personality sitting on a shelf somewhere.
“The hotel had no mirrors.” Tom said as Mr. Haq jerked him towards the door.
“Bad time for revelations, kid. Move!”
The walls flexed around them. Giant wall-sized mirrors came down like bombs into the racks of suits. A single rose burst through the carpet floor and began growing. The face of a bat was at the center of the blossom. The door slammed just as Tom was making eye contact.
“Fuck,” Mr. Haq said, catching his breath. “That was close.”
“Did I fuck up, do something wrong?”
“No, no, kid,” he said, waving a hand before returning it to his knee. “You did great, other than dragging ass at the end there. BONC actually manifesting into its rooms is exceedingly rare and must be handled delicately. Speak only in contradictions to the current state of things. I slipped up before you. I’m getting too old for this shit if I’m being honest. I might have to take a dance with the blue maiden soon.”
“Is that a metaphor or?” Tom said, touching his face. How had he not realized how wrong it felt before?
“No, but don’t worry about that now. You’re all dressed up and ready for your first assignment. I am certain this door isn’t a hallway leading to the FTA field office.” He dusted himself off, opening the door to a long hallway, one side wall to wall windows looking over a beach resort. The sweltering, salty heat hit Tom in the face, making the debonair grey suit feel scratchy.
Stepping through to the next room, Tom tapped the sign reflexively alongside side Mr. Haq. It looked like an indoor section of a zoo, large cells filled with pillows and blankets.
-The Culastro Social Club is not a good place to comfortably imprision world-eating abominations.-
“Huh,” Tom said, licking his lips as he read the sign. “Jumping right in on my first mission, huh? Handling world-eating abomination typically a rookie gig?”
Mr. Haq was waiting in front of one of the cells. He waved a hand down dismissingly. “This is Mickey Mouse stuff, kid. Drinking bleach kills you, but that doesn’t mean doing laundry is life-threatening.”
“And this is the abomination here?” Nestled in the blankets in the cell was a pretty young woman sleeping in silk PJs.
“Indeed, though she doesn’t know it. I won’t bore you with the prop sheet, better for you to go in blind actually but I will give a short summary to sate that curious mind of yours. Not too dissimilar to you, we’ve removed her ego and implanted one of a human woman. You know how hard it is to pack a hundred and twenty feet of dread worm into a 130-pound package?”
“No.” Tom wrinkled his nose, looking at the woman’s neatly pedicured toes. She certainly didn’t look like an abomination.
“Kinda like growing a bonsai tree, but backwards and inside out. Not your concern, though. Your mission will be to deliver her to a small town in Kansas. Her implanted memories tell her she just finished college and met a nice guy online. She hired you as a personal assistant shortly after. You will take her to this guy and make sure they hit it off. Once they look set for gland-to-gland combat, you head back here.”
“How romantic, so is this guy another abomination like her?”
“Nope, meat and potato man like you and me, not an agent either. He just scored at the top of a test for reliability and faithfulness. He received a hefty inheritance from an uncle he never met recently, too. Quite the catch. Don’t want her out there ending up with a bad boy that might lead her on a path to self-discovery, somehow remember she’s an incomprehensible horror, bust out of her shell and start ravaging the countryside.”
“Huh, lucky guy,” Tom said.
“If you saw what those things look like when they aren’t gift wrapped, I doubt you’d still think so,” Mr. Haq said with a raised eyebrow.
“So, do I get a car or?”
“You’ve got a full tier Z agent loadout in the suit, all very intuitive. There’s a car in it, but only use it in case of emergencies. We’re still ironing out the kinks. This is a real low-profile job. The goal is to keep the sci-fi bullshit to a minimum. This will be your main tool.” He flicked out a black featureless credit card.
“Alright, how much money is on it?”
“All of it.” Mr. Haq said. “No limit, just don’t go buying a yacht and drawing attention to yourselves.”
“Right,” Tom said, taking the card with slow reverence. It was heavy. There was already a wallet in the pocket of the suit. The ID looked like him, at least what he actually looked like, but the name said Francis Warre. Mr. Haq chuckled as Tom slowly inserted the card.
“Now, we’ll send her out just after you. Meet her at the TGIFriday just before security at LAX in about an hour. She’ll be waiting for you and know what you look like,” Mr. Haq said.
“Right, but how do I get to LAX in an hour? We’re in Colorado, right?”
Mr. Haq mimed talking and opening a door.
“Shit, wow, okay. I guess I’m ready, then. Thank you for this opportunity, sir.”
“You were the best candidate for the job,” Mr. Haq said. “Oh and one last thing. Make sure you don’t drink the bleach, okay?”
Tom nodded, thinking on the meaning as he prepared to reverse psychology a sentient building child into teleporting him to a mid-range chain restaurant halfway across the country.
“This door has no chance of being a hallway that leads to a service door beside the TGIFriday at LAX.”
Tom breathed in and opened the door. A hallway leading to two doors rather than one awaited him. The door closed behind, followed by a click. He turned to see the child, BONC himself, dressed this time as a little waiter, apron covered in strange pins, most depicting angry or screaming faces.
So much for exceedingly rare. “Hey little, buddy,” Tom said, racking his brain, trying to remember what Mr. Haq had said.
“You know what’s through there?” the kid said with a devious grin. He was pushing one of those manual vacuums along the spotless floor. “You’ll never guess!”
“Well, I know it's certainly not a door to the TGIFriday outside of LAX.”
The kid cackled with delight, jumping up and down. “Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! That’s exactly what it is! You’re such a dummy!”
Tom carefully played the words over in his head before he spoke. “There can’t be two doors at the end of a hallway, that doesn’t make sense.”
“Hah!” BONC cackled, “Yuhuh, because there are two TGIFriday’s at LAX, one before and one after you take your stinkers off, dumb dumb. They are both there!”
“I don’t believe it,” Tom said with his best customer service voice, walking backwards towards the doors. “Even if that were the case, which I highly doubt, young man, I bet this door wouldn’t be the one before security.”
“It is!” the child said coldly. The doors slammed into each other as the wall rippled like liquid. Bad guess. As soon as they restabilized, Tom opened the door and dove through, kicking the door closed with a leg as the kid smiled at him through the crack.
“I am getting tired of that little fucker,” Tom said, straightening his tie as he stood.
“Pray tell, what little fucker are we up against?” A voice came from behind him. He jerked around. It was the woman, looking radiant in a floral sundress, jet black hair done up in a tricky braid.
“Just some little twerp back there, messing with me,” Tom said, giving his best lip-hidden awkward smile. “I didn’t expect you for another hour.”
“Well, I’m excited, what can I say? Now, come here,” she said, jumping in for a hug before he could object. He flinched, expecting super strength that wasn’t there. The smell of some coconutty shampoo hit him as her hair nestled just under his chin. She seemed…normal. “Sorry,” she said, pulling away. “Was that too much? I’m still getting used to this having an employee thing, very weird, Mr. Warre. Let me know if I’m being too friendly.”
“You're fine…” he said, realizing he’d forgotten to ask a very important question. He was feeling a little lightheaded. Maybe the continental BONC express took something out of you. He wondered why Mr. Haq didn’t have him meet her in Kansas instead. Why start this little fake journey early? Maybe she needed some time to finish cooking or whatever. Sure didn’t seem like it, though.
“No luggage?” she said, frowning.
“Nah, I like to travel light. Besides, I find myself in need of a new wardrobe. I’ll do a little shopping once we get there,” he gestured to take her suitcase.
“Oh wow, yeah, personal assistant,” she laughed nervously and pushed the suitcase towards him. “I got our tickets, too. So weird. People might think I’m famous.”
“It’s not all it's cracked up to be,” Tom said, realizing that was wrong to say on two levels. He peeped down at her ticket, Maria Overton.
“You’re funny, I’m glad we’re getting along. I was afraid you would be, I don’t know. You seemed almost kinda sad in your picture. Sorry, I’m rambling.”
“What can I say, Maria? Just not very photogenic, I guess,” Tom said with a shrug.
“Yeah, okay Mr. tailored suit. You look like you crawled off the cover of Men’s Health.” She craned her neck around as she spoke. “I think our gate’s over there.”
“We haven’t even gone through security yet. I do like this suit.” He took a moment to admire it again then back at her. “You look good, too. Very…summery.”
“Oh thank you, sir. Tucker’s gonna meet us at the airport so I wanted to make a good first impression. Wanna know a secret?” She leaned over conspiratorially.
“Sure,” he said immediately. Several inappropriate possibilities for what her secret might be flashed through his mind. He pushed them out. Professional, he thought. One rule, don’t drink the bleach.
“I’ve never been on a plane before? Isn’t that crazy? Probably the only girl my age in LA.”
“A distinct possibility.” Tom smiled and steered her towards security.
The machines picked up nothing from his suit despite what felt like a bandolier of gadget-filled pockets down the jacket lining.
They chatted as they waited at the gate, an hour going by before he realized it. Despite confessing she was a little nervous about the takeoff, she fell asleep against his shoulder seconds after sitting down on the plane.
He watched the sun strike the clouds from above as the pilot leveled off. It almost took his breath away. Had he ever flown before? He thought he had, but were those just false memories, Tom memories? Did his old self have a girlfriend? Did he ever have a girl rest her head on his shoulder like this? No and no probably, if they only hired those who’d never be missed.
The whole day had been a rollercoaster, without a free moment for Tom to process the unbelievable turn of events. He had woken up that morning inas a receptionist and now he was what, an ego copy secret agent, operating out of a supernatural hotel that was also a child? Saying it didn’t seem real felt like an understatement.
“Newlyweds?” a smiling older woman asked as she walked down the aisle. Tom politely shook his head and tried to rest himself. He might not get another chance. Could he sleep inside the BONC? He didn’t think so. Even if he didn’t see him, that kid would be watching him, cackling little brat.
Tom jarred awake which in turn, jarred Maria awake. A few people were clapping for some odd reason, others standing and gathering items from the overhead.
“Are we there?” Maria asked, voice cracking in a very endearing way. “You make a very fine pillow, Mr. Warre. I'm surprised that wasn’t on your resume.”
“Full of surprises, that’s me.” He gave her another of his hidden lip smiles. “And I think we are.”
“Showtime!” She said with a bright eye shake of her head. He tried not to let the wink she gave him playback through his mind. He was not successful. Why, for God’s sake did they have to make her beautiful and charming? Did the TLO just like showing off?
The airport was so small, he was surprised it even had direct connections with LAX.
“Can I ask you something?” Maria asked, pulling on his arm as they walked through the short terminal. “Something kind of serious?”
“All ears,” Tom said. “Wouldn’t be a very good assistant if I said no.”
“Right,” she said, breathing out and rolling her shoulders. “If I had second thoughts about all this, the online dating thing I mean, Tucker. If I called it off, just went back home and said I changed my mind, would that make me a bad person?”
No, Tom wanted to say. “Maybe,” he forced out. “At least give the guy a chance. What if he’s your soulmate and you never realize it.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right. I’ll have to add therapist to my resume revision recommendation as well.” She gave him a lipless smile of her own. “I’m pretty sure that’s him over there, in the plaid shirt.”
Tom saw the kind-looking guy and recognized him instantly. He was the last customer, guest rather, Tom had helped that morning, wanted a cactus for his room, a real eclectic, Ray Bradbury one.
As Maria ran to greet him, Tom stood wondering what the hell that could mean.