This week’s Friday Fiction is hosted by the talented Karlene Jacobsen @ her blog, Heart and Soul. Click here to read and share more great fiction!
Author’s Ramblings: Well, I’m later with this post than I’d like and I didn’t quite get to wrap up all the mystery around the printing shop and what happened, but I figured a few little twists+one explosion couldn’t hurt. ^_^ Enjoy this next installment! Rachel is finally putting together a few pieces of the puzzle…do you have it figured out? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you-what you think, how the story is going any other random bits of feedback. Have a great weekend! Cheers!
The ride into town was fun. Breakfast with Robbie was even more fun. But running errands for her Uncle was a whole new story. Rachel groaned when the cell phone rang. It was a short discussion, something about not being able to reach Calvin or Jeanette and if she could pick up the flyers herself, while keeping an eye out for them.
“Well that’s easily answered.” Rachel muttered, hooking the helmet on one side of the handle bar. Robbie had left after breakfast after giving directions to the printer place. Her gaze swept the tiny wooden building from base to rooftop. It was shabby and fading, at least in comparison to the local kinko’s back home, but the parking lot was packed. “Weird.” She mumbled, stepping over a clump of weeds happily in bloom from their crack in the pavement.
A dented brass bell tinkled over head as she gingerly pushed the white door inward. The paint was peeling around the frame, but the door itself was fine. Rachel stepped inside and did a double-take. In spite of the lousy parking outside, there were several different customers and the tiny printer shop was buzzing away.
Rachel slowly took her place in the long line up to the counter. Each person seemed to be holding a ticket, handing it over the counter to receive a neatly wrapped parcel in return. When her turn came forward, she offered a smile. “Hi-” The elderly proprietor held out a hand for her ticket. His name tag was a crooked piece of white laminated something, bearing the name ‘Brent’. “Um, I don’t have a ticket.” The fixed smile on his face wavered as the chattering seemed to pause. “I’m Thomas Banner’s niece, Rachel, he sent me to pick up a stack of-”
The man punched a few keys on the plastic register. “Seventy-nine dollars.” He said gruffly.
“Seventy-nine what?” Rachel couldn’t understand how he’d reached that figure. “Uh, could I see the flyers first?”
“They’re the same as they always are.” He didn’t budge from his position by the registers, the baleful, pale-blue eyes glaring back at her.
“Um. Sure…right. Uncle Thom didn’t tell me I had to pay anything.”
The man remained a stern statue.
Rachel sighed. “okay, fine.” She dug in her pocket for her wallet, her gaze skittering quickly over the counter. Her throat tickled as her eyes zeroed in on a tin of peppermint candies behind the counter. “Can you add a tin of mints, too?” The urge to cough was increasing as she tried to clear her throat, but couldn’t.
The white-haired head jerked upwards. “Need to see some ID.” He held out the hand again.
“For mints?” Rachel stared at him incredulously.
“You’re whose niece?” The man countered.
“Oh.” Rachel blushed, hurriedly yanking out her driver’s license. Her fingers fumbled with three plastic squares, a motorcycle license, gun permit and driver’s license. She handed the car license over, hoping he hadn’t noticed any of the others. If going by the legal age on her license, she shouldn’t have a gun permit. Her head throbbed faintly. The permit had been a gift from Ben, before his accidental ‘death’ in order to ensure she could protect herself.
He glanced at it, eyes narrowing. “Out of state?”
“I’m visiting.” She snatched the rectangle back, the moment, he ventured to return it. Cramming the rest of the cards back in the black wallet, she thumbed quickly through the bills. Her breath caught in her throat as she recounted the bills. “I don’t suppose you could cut the stack in half.” She gave a forced smile. “And I guess I’ll have to skip the mints. I don’t have enough cash on me to pay for that.”
“We take credit cards.” He retorted, unsmiling.
“I don’t believe in credit cards.” Rachel snapped the wallet shut, bills in hand. It was an easy excuse for the fact that she traveled light. At least in the cash department. Really light.
“How much are you short?” The new voice came from over her shoulder, as a familiar hand extended, a fifty-dollar bill in hand. “Here. This should cover it.”
“Mark?” Rachel squeaked, the moment his face came fully into view and registered within her brain. “W-what are-”
“She’ll take it.” Mark said smoothly, plucking the bills from her hand and adding it to the fifty as he tossed it on the counter. “And a pack of gum, spearmint.”
The scowl grew deeper, but the elderly Brent took the money, ringing up the purchase. It totaled at ninety-seven dollars and thirty-six cents.
“That’s not right!” Rachel sputtered. “How can the tax on seventy-nine dollars make it ninety-seven! What kind of math is that?”
Brent rang the bell on the counter, waiting until the back door creaked open to show a sleepy, blond-haired boy. “Marty! Fetch the printings for the Banner fellow.”
The words seemed to spark the boy to life as he glanced at Rachel, then at Mark, before disappearing into the back room. When he returned, the sleepiness had faded from his expression and he handed over the brown stack of paper with a careful look. “You’re not Ally’s daughter.” He said matter-of-factly. “Allison McVain…who are you?”
“I’m Thom’s niece.” Rachel snapped, taking the paper-wrapped bundle from him. Her frustrated gaze zeroed in on his bicep. A barely visible flash of blue and brown. She nearly choked. He was Cobra. “I need a receipt.” She managed to say.
The young man immediately pushed in front of Brent and tapped a few keys. A faded slip of a receipt printed out and he smiled, the response superficial as he handed over the colorful slip of paper. “There you go. Thank you and come again.” His tone of voice hinted at the exact opposite, as he turned away.
“The gum?” Rachel repeated, darkly, taking the receipt and stuffing it in her coat pocket. “He ordered a pack of gum.” She jerked a finger in Mark’s direction. A look of amusement had settled over his face and his mouth twitched, but remained shut.
Marty reached backwards and pulled a pack of gum from the clear plastic shelf behind him and tossed it on the counter. “Anything else, Miss?” He asked, sarcastically.
“Yeah.” Rachel took the gum. “I have a few things I-”
Mark’s arm slid around her shoulders, pulling her close. “Rachel, dear.” His voice was steady and calculated, the endearment causing her to freeze long enough to listen to him. “Could you wait outside for me? I’ll be right along in just a moment.” He released her, giving a slight push towards the door. The mixed crowd parted at once and Rachel awkwardly shuffled forward. She hesitated at the doorway. “Go, now Rachel.”
She ducked her head, hurrying out through the door.
A breath of relief came through the moment her boots touched the cracked pavement. She was on her bike, package secured when she realized she was still carrying his pack of gum. She groaned. “No wonder he wanted me to stay. I took his gum.” The idea was silly, but there wasn’t much else to make sense to her frazzled brain, she carefully braced against the bike, checking her watch. Five minutes tops.
When he came out, she’d hand over the gum and leave before he could ask questions. Any questions.
Minutes ticked by. Painfully long as she fiddled with the keys, took the helmet on and off, smoothed her hair, played with the pack of gum, traced invisible shapes with her shoes and finally checked her watch. A mere ten minutes.
The door to the shop burst open and Mark seemed to literally fly through. “Move now!” He barked, in the same voice Ben did right before he told her what code emergency it was.
The helmet jammed on and the key turned.
“Scoot back.” Mark pushed in front of her, grabbing the handlebars.
Rachel winced as he jumpstarted the bike and squealed out of the parking lot. “My bike! My Bike!” She winced, holding on tight as the scenery blurred. The hair-raising ride continued for another long moment, in addition to several sharp, expert turns.
“You’d learn something if you’d keep your eyes open.” He murmured as they flew down the road.
“What if I don’t want to learn this?” Rachel protested. “You’d better not wreck my bike! It’s new! Robbie just brought it from Ben.”
“Who do you think authorized Ben to give it to you?”
Rachel mentally kicked herself for that one.
“Where are we going?”
“It’s called evasive maneuvers and I don’t have to think about what I’m doing, because my powers are doing most of it for me, so I can focus on more important things.” Mark neatly sidestepped the questions.
“I’m going to lose my breakfast.”
“Breakfast? Or your non-existent lunch?”
“We’re here.” The impossible bike slowed to a halt and came to an abrupt stop. Mark hurriedly dismounted, a white slip of paper now visible in his hand. He unwrapped it at once and quickly examined a scrap of paper, vaguely resembling a business card. A satisfied smirk registered on his face.
“What?” Rachel squinted at it.
He tucked it into a shirt pocket. “Can I have my gum back?”
“Gladly.” Rachel tossed the little white box over and slid forward.
“And the receipt.”
“The receipt?” She whined, but already had pulled it out. “Don’t tell me, you need it to balance your checkbook.”
“Something like that.” He took it, tucking it into his sleeve.
“You owe me gas.” She grumbled.
“You owe me fifty dollars.” He countered.
“Then we’re even.” She leaned forward, brushing dust from wherever her fingers could safely touch, glad to have the helmet off. “You can keep the stupid receipt. Where are we anyway? I couldn’t even see which turn-off you took!”
“Safe, for the moment.” He chuckled. “But hardly even.” He tore open the package and drew out two sticks. “Gum?” She stared at him incredulously. He shrugged. “Suit yourself.” One stick was unwrapped and he chewed quietly for a moment. “You still owe me.” The gum wrapper was crumpled beneath two fingers. “Didn’t you realize what was going on in there? What were you doing there, correction, what were you doing waltzing into a Cobra establishment alone?”
“Picking up flyers for my uncle.” The words were forced through her teeth. “Like I told him.”
“Right then?” His head tilted to the side. “I would normally be inclined to believe you, but you’ll have to understand the coincidence is simply too much.” He paused. “It took a considerable amount of time, money and planning for what you just happened to interrupt in there. I don’t think I can overlook that.” His sky blue eyes flared a darker shade. “You could make it up to though…I’ve got a an engagement Thursday night. Dinner at eight, wear something nice.” A soft purple glow began to shine upwards from his feet.
He half-smiled, handing over a plastic card. “Here…consider this a bonus.”
“Yes, take it.”
Rachel slid off the bike, walking over to take the card. She looked from it to him, completely missing the moment. “Exactly what are we talking about he-”
“Don’t ever be caught in a situation where you can’t afford to pay for something.” His eyes softened. “That’s your expense card from now on. It’ll be refilled as needed.”
“Refilled as in how much?” Rachel turned the card over.
“Enough.” He said quietly. “Dinner, at eight. Thursday. Don’t be late.” The purple glow shot straight up as his physical body converted to the pure energy his powers bound him to, before streaking upwards into the sky, disappearing with a soft flash.
Rachel stared upwards after him. “Meet you where?” She grumped, turning back to her bike and slowly sliding the helmet on. It took her several more minutes to realize she didn’t know where she was or how to get back to where she’d been. “No wonder he wanted me to keep my eyes open.” She muttered.
The most she could remember was a left turn to enter, therefore a right turn to exit. Her mind whirled as the return trip was considerably slower than before.
The day began which such promise…
The taunt echoed in her mind as she slowed to a stop, pulling over to the shoulder of the road. “The second time in two days.” She mumbled, there was something nagging too hard in the very back of her mind. “The second time…I don’t get it.” She reached for her cellphone and began dialing the necessary number. Ben’s. It rang several times, then kicked over to his voicemail.
She sighed. “Great. Now I’m really stuck. Uh, hi, Ben? It’s Rachel, obviously, um, I gave Mark a ride and now I don’t know where I’m at…” There was a loud beep and the phone cut off.
Rachel stared at it. It began to beep and glow all at once. Her eyes grew wide and without a second thought, she chucked it over one shoulder as far as she could, and kick started the bike, streaking down the road.
The explosion behind her was cause for another groan.
Several gusts of wind scattered dust, debris and other random matter when it had all settled down, Rachel slowed a bit to take in the new surroundings. “So much for my phone.” She scowled. “So much for a whole lot of other things.”
* * * * *
“You shouldn’t have called him, Rachel.” Mark frowned as the security screen flickered with the sudden surge of his emotions.
Now there would be complications.
He sighed. “Cherry?”
The sour-faced assistant appeared almost at once. “Yes, sir?”
“Where’s that scrap of paper I asked you to dissect?”
“Here, sir.” She lifted a flat, oblong, white gem from a black cord around her neck. As she held it up, a golden spark traveled through it. Mark held out his hand and an imaged materialized within the gem, trickling out into his open palm.
“Thank you, Cherry. Nothing more, for the moment, please check the alerts and let me know when I can sign that final draft for the mercenary department.” He scowled. “and make sure it makes sense before I do?”
“Yes sir, anything else, sir?”
“No. That’ll be all.” He turned away, as she exited the room. Drawing the specimen from the printshop, he painstakingly compared it to the scrap of paper retrieved by Rachel. He frowned. Surely the most obvious clue had to be within those two pieces, but yet the answer eluded him.
Leaving the surveillance area, he headed for his private office. Within the safe walls, he placed both pieces of paper in sterile containers, storing them in the safe for later perusal. Slumping in the desk chair, he tried to focus.
The printshop was quite obviously a popular pick and drop stop, under the Cobras protection. He frowned. Rachel hadn’t realized that. It’d been risky enough to slip into the shop unnoticed, and to freeze all motion, thought and time while he searched for the necessary information. Upon retrieval, new Cobras had begun to port in, suspicious when all activity had frozen in their busy little shop.
He almost smiled. A dangerous as a position she’d been in, it had been good to have Rachel there. Her bike had provided a convenient getaway and he’d also gained a dinner companion in the process.
The smile slowly smoothed itself out.
All in all, a most productive day.
© Sara Harricharan