Holding a cup of coffee in one hand and several folders in the other, he dragged his chair out from behind his desk and plopped down in to it.
Sipping the all important morning brew, he opened the first of the folders and read the summary on the front page. It was a minor matter, but something he’d need to deal with eventually. Some things just couldn’t be delegated to subordinates.
Glancing over at the ornate clock on his large oaken desk, he shook his head at the time. 7am. A later start than he would have liked; he’d probably have to work until midnight again.
“Oh hey,” she said sleepily. “You’re here.”
He looked up. “Mm?”
She lay on one of the two fine couches that adorned his office. Stretching, she yawned and rubbed her eyes. “Damn, what time is it?”
“Seven,” he said, returning to his reading.
“Oh for Christ’s sake,” she groused. “If I knew you’d be in this damn early, I wouldn’t have crashed here.”
He shrugged. “So go back to sleep.”
“Nah,” she said. “I need to talk to you. Can I have some of your coffee?”
He sighed. “Look, whoever you are-”
“Rachel,” she said.
“Hi Rachel. I’m very busy. I’ve only got an hour to finish this stuff before a bunch of meetings that last the rest of the day. It was a godlike feat just to get my own secretary to leave me alone for this hour. Now what do you want?”
“Well, that’s kind of complicated,” she said, sitting in a chair across the desk from him. “I think we can help each other.”
“Oh really? What’s a teen-ager going to do for me?”
“Good for you.”
She leaned back, putting her feet up on his desk. “Thing is, I have a super power.”
“This desk is an antique, you know,” he said.
“Oh I know what you’re thinking. I’m just some crazy girl off the street. But I really do have a power. Or something. Don’t know what you’d call it.”
“Seriously, it’s like two hundred years old. Get your feet off it.”
“I first noticed it back when I was a kid,” she continued, putting her hands behind her neck.
He groaned and put his file down.
“My parents were drunks. Both of them. They didn’t beat me or anything, but they were drunks. Lowlifes. You know?
“Anyway, Mom liked hard liquor at home. Dad was more of a social drunk, so he’d head down to the bar. Everyone liked him.
“He’d bring me along. He knew Mom would be passed out soon, and he figured a bar was safer for a ten year old girl than an apartment with no supervision. It was cool. I was kind of a mascot there.
“One time, the bar got raided by the cops for letting the local high school punks in without checking IDs. I was there at the time. Nobody cared about me being there, but they wrote up the bar for all the teen-agers. Technically, the cops should have written them up for me, too. That should have been a clue, but I was too young to pick up on it.”
“Pick up on what?” He interrupted.
“You’ll see,” she said.
He rolled his eyes.
“When I was twelve, Mom sent me to 7-11 to get her a bottle of dinner. I knew they wouldn’t sell me liquor, but she gave me candy money, too. So who was I to argue?
“When I got there, the place was being robbed. We lived in a pretty crappy neighborhood; it wasn’t that uncommon. A guy in a mask had the owner down on the floor, holding a shotgun to his head. The robber looked at me, then went back to threatening the shopkeeper.
“I said ‘Hey, mind if I take some booze?’ He just said ‘whatever’. So I did. And some candy, too. Then I left.”
“Huh,” he said. “You’re lucky he didn’t shoot you or take you hostage. Still not seeing a super power.”
“Hush,” she said. “When I was 14, I was in the best clique. No angst-filled high school years for me. I ended up friends with the most popular girls in school and dated the popular boys. It was awesome. Kids all over that school would have given anything to be in that group. You know what I did to get in? I sat at their table.
“Just, you know, at lunch time. I sat at their table and nobody told me not to. Eventually they started talking to me and got to like me. That sort of thing. Anyone else who got within a mile of the table got extreme bitch treatment if they were a girl, or massive wedgies if they were a boy.”
“So,” he said, folding his arms. “Your super power is to be popular?”
“Don’t be an ass,” she said. “Anyway, in high school, I wasn’t the Virgin Mary, you know? Around 16 I starting having my share of fun with the popular boys. Nothing outrageous. But a string of boyfriends during my junior and senior years.
“One time, I was with my boyfriend when his mom came home unexpectedly. I should point out she was a hard-core Christian who thought her boy was a perfect angel. We were ‘busy’ when she got home so we didn’t notice till she opened the bedroom door. All we had time to do was throw a blanket over ourselves.
“There we were, both of us in his bed, staring back at her. Know what she did? She told us she’d gotten Chinese take-out and headed back downstairs. Weirdest experience of my life, up to that point.”
“She probably didn’t know how to react,” he speculated. “I bet her son caught hell for it later.”
“Nope. She never minded me being there. I could come over any time I wanted. Till I dumped him. He was a loser, trust me.
“I barely graduated from high school. No college would take me and it wasn’t like I could pay for it anyway. Mom and Dad figured I was ready to join the real world and stop being a drain on them. So I got a job waitressing. Then I lost it because I was an unreliable smart-ass who never showed up for work. That was the beginning of my ‘homelessness’ career.
“It wasn’t too bad. I would do short-term jobs from time to time and I lived in a tent. Anyway, one day it was raining buckets and the wind was like 40 miles an hour. The tent rode off in to the sunset. So now I was in a downpour and had no tent.
“I decided I was going to get out of the damn rain no matter what. I’d break in to the first house I saw and surrender to whoever was in it. I’d be out of the rain right away, then the cops would come take me to a nice dry cell.
“So that’s what I did. I wasn’t quiet or subtle. I bashed in a window with a garbage can, scraped the shards out of the way with the lid, then climbed in.
“I stumbled through the dark living room on to a couch and waited. About ten seconds later, the lights came on. A terrified-looking man with a baseball bat stared at me from the doorway, his wife peeking out from behind him.
“Once they saw me, they both let out a heavy sigh of relief and went back to bed.”
“Wait,” he said. “What?”
“That makes no sense.”
“Right,” she nodded.
“Did you know them from before or something?”
“Nope. First time we’d ever met. Can I continue?”
“Uh, sure, ok.”
“So anyway, I stayed at their house for weeks and they never complained. They even chatted with me. I can’t say we became friends, in fact I could tell they resented me being there. But they never kicked me out.
“That’s when I started to realize something. I’d never been kicked out. Of anywhere. Ever.
“I decided to put it to the test. Something small to start with. I went to a bank. There was a line. I walked right to the front of it. Nobody complained. I just cut in front of like 20 people, everyone was fine with it. All right, on to Phase 2.
“They had a security door where the tellers could go in and out. I waited by it, then followed one of the tellers when they buzzed her in. Nobody cared! I even said ‘hi’ to everyone and introduced myself.
“So I grabbed a handful of money from one of the drawers. ‘Hey, what the hell are you doing?’ someone said. ‘Oh, my bad’ I said, putting the money back. ‘I’m new.’ Then everyone was happy again.”
“Seriously?” He asked.
“Cause it sounds like bullshit,” he said suspiciously.
“I did some more tests over the next few days. As far as I can tell, everywhere I go, everyone thinks I’m supposed to be there.”
“Yup,” he said. “Definitely smelling the bullshit now.”
“But it’s not a free ride. People think I’m supposed to be there, but I can only get away with doing things they expect. I stole some drugs from a pharmacy, just to see if I could. I walked right behind the counter, got an empty pill container, and filled it with Valium. The pharmacists didn’t give me a second look. People who are supposed to be there are expected to fill pill bottles. But people at a bank are not expected to grab handfuls of cash. See?”
“See? No. Smell? Yes.”
“I figure I could work for you.”
“See what I did there?” He pointed out, “I was talking about smelling the bullshit.”
“I need money. Give me a job with a good salary. I’ll spy for you.”
“Whoever you want! I’m sure you’ve got all kinds of people you’d like to spy on. I could just go wherever they are and sit quietly. Maybe take notes. Whatever you want.”
He sighed. “If your delusion really were true, then yes, I could use someone like you,” he agreed. “But come on. You expect me to believe you can waltz in to high security areas, past countless guards? And that you can chat with people there and they won’t know anything’s wrong? Can you provide any proof? Anything at all?”
She leaned forward. “I don’t know, Mr. President. You tell me.”