She shrugs, of all things, and says, “As a matter of fact there is.” Then she smiles, and it’s all rather peculiar. I’m trying to comprehend why someone would be so happy-go-lucky about apprehending me, or whatever is going on.
“Go on,” I say, tilting my head, feeling more annoyed than anything.
“Are you hungry?” she changes the subject. I quickly shake my head no, furrowing my eyes behind the sunglasses. That was actually a lie. Millie was right about the sugar crash.
“Are you going to tell me what the hell you want?” I fire back.
“Hey, relax. I’ll tell you everything, but can we do it over lunch? Please? Something tells me one granola bar just isn’t enough.” She pulls out the empty wrapper I had dropped on the ground.
“How the –”
“I saw you drop it, okay. Look, relax. I promise you’re not in any trouble. I have…” she paused for a second. “I have a job offer for you to consider, that’s all.”
“A… job? Really?”
“Yeah, I’m here to interview you. What, you thought your qualifiers were the only test you’d be taking today?”
“Oh my dear dear Sydney, what have you gotten yourself into?” she said while we pull up a chair to a window-side table at The Crust, my favorite restaurant in The Shell, New Country’s version of Main Street.
“Who are you?” I ask, sitting down across from her.
I look around the reasonably crowded restaurant to hide my intrigue. How did this person know The Crust was my favorite restaurant, besides the obvious fact that pizza is universally loved by everybody ever? Well, my guess is that either she or one of her operatives saw me in here a few times brooding the evenings away over a pint. I’m starting to get the impression she knows a lot about me.
This whole areas is named The Shell because, if you looking at it from above, roads of businesses, boutiques, and restaurants spread out of a central point like a sea shell – a bay scallop specifically. Though, if you’re being honest, that’s debatable. I’ve seen the view from above online, and it looks less like a mosaic and more like a mess. City planners got the bright idea to assign each row a varying color of green, and tried to force the business owners to decorate the roofs of the buildings with it. This is a good idea in theory, but they failed to anticipate that simply handing out RGB values for people to decorate with just doesn’t work. Some tried painting their roofs, and some tried ordering tarps (emblazoned with that ugly-ass New U logo) to cover the top. Some wisely just said screw it, R85, G148, B116 doesn’t fit with our brand.
The Crust is one of those places, all decked out in reds and golds without a trace of turtle-related insignia or putrid green paraphernalia. That’s probably why I like it so much. Though it does unfortunately fit into the obnoxious moniker of naming the downtown businesses “The” followed by any random noun tangentially related to the purpose of the operation. I spot several of them out the window. The Compendium, a discount textbook store, has a built-in coffee shop that nobody ever goes to. The Olive Cardigan, a boutique clothing store where all the preps shop at, is right across from The New You, a tux rental place and a copyright trainwreck waiting to happen. Then there is by far the most awkward one the bunch, The Wheel, a guinea pig cafe which allows you to pet the big furry almost-bunnies while eating over-priced finger foods. These are the types of New Country offerings you just can’t make up.
“My name is Val Glendale, and I’m really just here to talk to you.”
The waiter came to take our drink orders. I shall name him “Dude” because he’s tall, sandy blonde, has a slight accent, and is kind of cute. Hmm… actually he’s really cute now that I think about it. Val orders cherry coke “with a lime, please.”
That’s my favorite “non-booze” related drink. This stalking thing needs to stop.
“Thought I’d give it a try,” she quips while shrugging her shoulders.
“Water please,” I say. That sends Dude, scribbling on his notepad, immediately walking towards the kitchen. “Hey Dude,” I recall him in mid-stride, “add a lemon.” He pauses for a second before nodding his head and continuing to The Great Soda Palace or whatever ethereal realm waiters go to prepare drinks. I don’t know, I’ve never worked in a restaurant before.
“Are you spying on me?” I ask.
“I’m a recruiter, not a spy.” Val pulls out the same pocketbook she flashed earlier. “It’s my job to know everything about you. Besides, I much prefer the term,” she air quotes, “secret agent.” She laughs and I just sit there, feigning stoicism. Was I amused? Sure, but I wasn’t about to show her that.
Dude’s back in a flash with our drinks, causing Val to very quickly flip closed the badge in a panic. That answers one thing: Dude is most definitely not working with Val.
“Same difference, huh?” I ask if I should be concerned about the volume of things she knows about me. She just shrugs, and I find myself trusting her probably more than I should. She’s got this aloof attitude which makes her kind of charming. Besides, I’m intrigued.
“Technically,” she says, “I’m a Public Relations Advisor for the U.S. Advisory Committee on Historical and Societal Research.”
“That’s quite a mouthful,” I mention, trying to keep her off-balance.
“Yeah, I thought so too,” she pauses for a second to count on her fingers, “and ACHSR doesn’t make for a particularly compelling acronym. We actually tried CHASR, as in ‘chaser’ for a while, but decided it was kind of ominous.”
She meandered around telling me all the different possible permutations of acronyms that wouldn’t work before finally picking back up again with something interesting.
“That’s why we tend to go by our unofficial name.”
“And what’s that?” I ask.
“Sector Zero,” she replies.
A new section is released every Monday! Next week we’ll be finishing Chapter 2: “A Study in Bad Acronyms.” As always I welcome your feedback in the comments. 🙂