I should have put this up months ago. My apologies.
The following morning, I was at my desk, blue-penciling some reports. Actually, I was using a red ink pen, but you get the idea. The phone rang, I picked it up.
“This is Rebecca,” I said.
“This is Shirley. The Boss wants to see you, forthwith.”
“On the way,” I said and hung up. There is only one ‘Shirley’ in the company, and that’s the boss’s executive assistant. Everyone other Shirley has to also use their last names. ‘Forthwith’, a long time ago, was NYPD-speak for ‘right the fuck now’. It had spread throughout the security industry.
I put on my office blazer and headed for the elevator bank. The executive offices are on the eighth floor of the office building that THI, Inc. occupies. I pushed the up button. When the elevator came, I got on the car, held my fob next to the sensor, and pushed the button for the eighth floor. Supposedly, if one doesn’t have a need to go to the 8th floor, the elevator won’t go there, but I’ve never tried that out. They pay me well enough to make me not want to test the boundaries.
The eighth floor was nicer, of course. The pictures on the wall were either limited-edition photographic prints or real paintings. The carpeting was of higher grade and the lighting was friendlier. They weren’t trying to imply that the company was made of low-rent private dicks out of a thirties’ noir flick. THI was a serious player in the security industry, an industry that had grown dramatically with the influx of homeland-security money following the 9-11 attacks. I’d been working for them for quite awhile, now.
I came around a corner to where the Boss’s office was. His name was Samuel Hawkins. He and his partner had formed the company twenty or so years back, when they combined their practices. I’d never met the partner.
A secretary was sitting at a desk outside of the office. I didn’t know her name, but she saw me and picked up her phone to announce me. She listened, hung up, and told me to take a seat. Which I did.
Five minutes later, she told me to go in. I did. The Boss has a corner office, of course, with windows that overlooked the northern Virginia countryside. There was a slight tint to them from a coating that was both reflective to the outside and shatter-resistant. Mr. Hawkins stood up from his desk, came around and shook hands.
“Nice to see you, Becca. You still take a little cream in your coffee,” he asked.
“Sure do, Boss.”
Mr. Hawkins was in his sixties, and, at six feet even, had probably shrunk an inch or two from his prime. He kept himself in shape and he had a slim automatic pistol on his belt. It looked like a pre-plastic Smith, but I didn’t ask. He spun the phone on his desk around, pushed a button, and instructed his secretary to bring both he and I coffee.
“Come, sit,” he said, and motioned me to a corner of his office. There were three overstuffed brown leather chairs around a low table. A credenza was alongside the wall, with another phone. I took a seat and noticed that there was a file folder on the table.
“How’s your hip these days,” he asked.
“OK, mostly,” I said. “It does a pretty good job of forecasting the weather.” I had been on a security detail when the escort car that I was riding had been t-boned by a truck to open the ball on an ambush/assassination attempt. The assassination failed, no thanks to me, for the crash had damn near killed me.
The secretary came in, set up the coffee and, with a nod towards the door from Mr. Hawkins, she left. I had heard that he, or his executive assistant, rotated his secretaries to prevent additional office politics.
“Would you mind going out for a little field work,” he asked. “It would be investigative, not protection work. And there would be travel, within CONUS.”
I sipped some of my coffee. “Is this an order or an ask?”
“An ask. Purely voluntary. You’re medically off field status.”
“Did they say what I’d be investigating, Boss?”
“No. They’ll fly you to a briefing and then they’ll make their pitch. You’ll be paid for a week to go hear them out and decide. Transportation each way.” He opened the folder, took out a sheet of paper, and handed to me.
The sheet was what was known as the “deal sheet”. The customer was ETGT&E Enterprises, a Nevada corporation. They didn’t give the location, but they described it as “mainly indoors, light industrial and associated office, temperate climate.” There was a notation for a contract bonus, termination fee, and a line that said “no weapons”.
I glanced at Mr. Hawkins. “What’s this ‘contract bonus’ and ‘termination fee’ mean?”
“It means that they want the option to hire you and they’ll pay us a hefty fee if they do.”
“No guns, huh.”
The Boss smiled. “You know the company line on that.”
I did. If the customer wanted us to come unarmed, we brought two guns. I read further, the duration was up to one month. That wasn’t a problem. My bills all came to work. The arrangement was that on a trip, they’d be paid by the company and then what was personal would be settled up afterwards. My pay was direct-deposit, my condo fees, mortgage and utilities were on an autopay.
“It says ‘travel TBD’?”
He took out another sheet and handed it to me. “You’re to be at Signature at Dulles at ten tomorrow. Come in around eight and park your car here, I’ll have a driver run you out there.”
“So, to sum up: I don’t know how long I’ll be gone, where I’m going or what I’ll be doing when I get there,” I said.
“Normal field rates,” I asked.
The Boss shook his head. “No, they’re paying extra for giving us the mushroom treatment. Quadruple the normal rate.”
My eyes probably widened at that. “I’ll bring an extra gun and body armor.”
“Probably a good idea.” He moved to get out of the chair, and so did I. “Good luck, Becca,” he said, sticking out his hand.
“Morituri te salutamus,” I said.
“Let’s hope not,” he said.