I had a lot of new things to get used to, and what’s what I spent a few days doing.
Like my body. I know you do, but I didn’t mean it in that sense. I’d strayed further from the shape I had been most comfortable in, and that caused some problems. For starters, I didn’t really move like a woman. I started to pick up on that.
I’ve been a woman before, but it’s been awhile. I just had to get back in the groove. Simply walking helped some; dancing did even more. I think poor Festus nearly exploded in his slacks when he walked in and saw me dancing around in a leotard. At least until he noticed the sickle in my hand and he dodged away from the metal weight flying toward his head, papers flying everywhere. He dove behind a tasteful sculpture of a nude woman that stood on a little stand by the door, knocking it over shattering off a staff the woman held in both hands.
“I’m sorry!” he yelled out.
I tugged on the chain and pulled the weight close, then tapped on the power button to the sound system remote. With Kaleida’s “Think,” no longer making it difficult to hear, he really should have stopped screaming like that. I walked over to the poor guy and tapped him on the shoulder with the flat of the sickle blade. “Hey, you ok down there? Because if you don’t stop soon- oh, nevermind. I see it. I hope you brought spare underwear to work today.”
He turned forehead-blood red. “You aren’t trying to kill me?”
I rolled my eyes, which looked almost normal. While I’m supposed to be blending in, I did make a concession to my nature and settled on blue-grey eyes clear as the waters off Paradise City. “Do I look like I’m trying to kill you?” I asked, kusarigama in my hands. Figuring I knew the answer already, I tossed the Japanese chain-sickle away. “You’re ok. I was just exercising. Getting properly settled in.”
“You were waving a knife around. Settled in? You had a knife. And, and, and, and a thing you threw at my head.”
“I didn’t throw it at you. I threw it near you. And I happen to like waving weapons around when I get to a new place. It makes me feel safe instead of alone and… vulnerable.” I lowered my voice at that word, overriding some of his panic with the idea that a woman felt vulnerable and lonely.
After a couple minutes, Festus calmed down enough to phone his assistant to bring him some new pants, boxers, socks, and shoes. “Nifty,” I said. “It’s nice to have a minion to do your bidding.” Carl’s no longer fit for that job now that he’s got a public persona unconnected to me, and I can’t have Moai fetching me things.
“That’s why I came here. I brought resumes.” He began gathering up his files, organizing them with only a quick glance. Well, there had to be some reason this guy got the job. That, and I guess Carl couldn’t find too many people in Human Resources with criminal records and the inclination to get back to HR. However he got him, at least Festus was on his game as I took a seat at the bar in my penthouse and he gave me a quick rundown of the candidates.
“My office went looking for the most desperate people we could find with quick job interviews. We cut those who We eliminated anyone with enough resources to pay their own way. These are the best of the most desperate.” Damn. They work fast, don’t they? He handed over five files. I grabbed one at random. “Let’s give this one a shot. It’ll help me get acquainted with the city, too.”
Hours later, as the sun painted the sky red in its departing throes, I stood outside a liquor store with Festus and a religious studies major. The applicant made idle chitchat with Festus about the latest Lootcrate, which made me wonder how easily I could throw together a similar service. Hero and villain memorabilia. T-shirts. Masks. Autographs. As long as I worked on my handwriting, I could probably handle at least twenty different people’s autographs myself.
Finally, Carl showed up with the masks. “I can’t believe you forgot them,” he said as he passed ski masks to Festus and the applicant. Then he picked up his baseball bat where it leaned against the wall next to us. “Are we ready?”
The applicant looked down at the pump-action shotgun he held in his hands. “I thought this was a test. I thought, like, you know, like Abraham and Isaac.”
I shook my head and pulled my balaclava down over my face, ignoring Carl’s stare. In order to further protect my identity, I padded the girls. My chest stuck out quite a bit more, and so did Carl’s eyes. He and Festus pulled on their own masks, leaving the student the odd man out. I told him, “The moral of that story wasn’t that he knew it was a test and everything would work out. Put your face on and let’s do this.”
He reluctantly donned the mask. “Now what?”
“Now, if we need them, code names.”
“Like Steve?” asked Festus.
I nodded, “That’s good. I’ll be Steve.” I nodded toward Carl, “He’ll be Nadia.” I pointed to Festus, “You can be Penetrode.” He opened his mouth to object, but I’d moved on to the other guy, “I don’t know your name. You’ll go by Festus.”
“That’s my name!”
“Not now, Festus,” I said to my head of HR. To the fake Festus, I said, “Ready?”
“No,” he looked over the gun, unfamiliar with it. I’d provided it to him, though it looked out of place with the weapons the rest of us had. Carl had a baseball bat, Festus a Swiss army knife, and I had a pair of cast iron skillets chained together at the handles.
“Do you want this job or not?” I demanded.
He shook his head. “I need the money, but…”
“But? Then kick some butt! This is the beginning of the school year, but you know what? It’ll go quick. Soon, you’ll be just another senior dumped off at your parents house with a degree qualifying you for the same kind of jobs a high school dropout can get, only with an extra forty grand in debt. You will die hungry, poor, alone, and unloved at the bottom of a ditch somewhere if you don’t become the success they all said you would inevitably be if only you got a degree. Is that what you want, or are you going to spend the rest of your life as some bank’s bottom bitch?”
“YAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!” he yelled, charging into the liquor store like a berserk madman. No booming shotgun blasts followed, just the three of us. Fake Festus had the elderly Asian cashier on the ground, holding him down with his plastic toy shotgun.
“Penetrode, get the money from the til. Just pull the drawer if you have to, and look for a change bag or something under the counter,” I ordered. Real Festus hesitated, wary of the struggle taking place at his feet, before getting to his duties behind the counter.
To Carl, I said, “Nadia, get yourself some beer, and me some of that Irish cream stuff I like. Oh, and check if they have any brandy.” He nodded and got to it.
“Oh my god!” Penetrode said, then lifted up an AK-style rifle the cashier had been reaching for.
“Leave the gun, take the cannoli,” I advised him. He looked at me. “Toss the bullets and leave it. Grab the money instead.” He popped the magazine out and threw it out the open door before opening the register drawer.
I checked the front door, then the back. There, I saw a little old Korean lady sneaking up on the front with another AK. I stood by the door so that when she stepped out, her performance as an ambusher was widely panned. With a crack of cast iron on wrist bones, the rifle dropped and I kicked it away. Then I grabbed the handle of one pan and spun the other into her face, knocking her back through the door with a wet crack. Both Festuses looked at me. “She tried to catch us offguard, but it just didn’t pan out,” I told them.
I swear, with guns like that, I wonder if we robbed a North Korean liquor store.
Nonetheless, we’d done about all we came there to do. Carl grabbed the booze and Festus the got most of the money. I followed them out. Fake Festus was a bit slower, heading up the rear. Then a shot rang out and his mask looked like his face just shat his brains into it. Behind him, the old Korean man held his AK. Without the mag, it clicked impotently, having used its one chambered round.
I held out my hand to Festus, “Gonna need that knife. Swap it to corkscrew.”
Later, back at the penthouse, the entire enterprise had upset Festus enough to seek out fresh pants from his assistant. I feel this is going to become something of a thing the more I work with him. “I don’t think I can go on these for you anymore, Miss Mortenson,” he told me, head in his hands. “He died.” He dropped the other Festus’s file into a trashcan.
“Uhhh, people do that,” Carl said.
“Yep. Just make sure you right that he didn’t get the job before his mysterious death by natural causes,” I advised Festus.
I pantomimed shooting myself in the head with a gun, “It’s natural to die when shot in the head.” Carl nodded along as I continued, “If anything, it’d be unnatural to get shot in the head and not die. Oh, that reminds me. Nobody with powers.”
Festus looked down at the remaining files in front of him and tossed another in the can. “Noted.”
Yeah, the remaining two didn’t do quite so well on their tests. In fact, the review process turned out to be quite hilarious and fatal for both of them. Well, hilarious to me. The second guy got a bit overzealous at the armored car. I’d have given him an “A” for effort, except he tried to run off on his own with all the money and died when a passerby got him in the head hard with a cast iron skillet. Yes, a passerby. I promise. I told the third guy to steal a toy from a baby and a nearby cop mistook him for a molester.
By process of elimination, the fourth person would have been the natural selection for the job, but I still gave her a test. I didn’t take Carl with me, either. These little things were just as much about getting comfortable as the dancing. Except this one involved making sure I could still carry bags of cash out of a bank, and testing my new assistant’s driving skill.
Alarms screaming behind me, I ran out of the small credit union, duffel bags hanging on my shoulders. I’d asked the last applicant to pick me up in front there for her interview. Remember, you’re only insane if you’re poor. If you’re rich, you’re eccentric.
I pulled open the passenger door of her cheap two-door and tossed the bags in the back. She screamed when I forced my way in, which is only natural your first crime. I pulled off the mask and smiled, “Hey there, sugar. I’m Ms. Mortenson. If you want to be my assistant, you’d better drive NOW!”
She stomped on the gas, sending us squealing down the street with sirens approaching. I pointed to the side, “Take this next right so they don’t spot us.”
“That’s-!” she started to say. I grabbed the wheel and spun it to the right, sending us down the stairs into a subway station, flying over the turnstiles. Frantically trying to control the machine, she put on the brakes and wound up skidding, just stopping us from smacking into a train departing the station.
“So, where do you see yourself in five years?” I asked her. She didn’t give me an answer, instead spinning out and sending us out onto the tracks after the subway left.
I pulled a clipboard and pen out from one duffel bag. “Good answer. What drew you to our company?”
“Money!” She yelled, speeding down the tracks, surrounded by roaring. We bumped along there in ways that had to be bad for the car.
“Hmm, interesting answer…how do you feel about that train coming up behind us?”
“SHIT!” she yelled. Then we were out of the dark and next to a platform. That was fast.
“Good news, this is our stop. Be a dear and grab the bags?”
“This is my car!” she complained, turning to look at me as the car slowed to a bumpy stop. She caught a glance of the lights behind us on their approach and grabbed the bags. I followed, scribbling on the clipboard, as we climbed onto the subway platform. She didn’t seem to catch that I kept on going while she stayed behind to watch. Passing the last part of the test, she finally realized that it would be bad idea to be too close when one giant piece of metal crashed into a smaller piece of metal. I was waiting for her at the top of the stairs as metal screeched and people screamed.
“Are you insane?!” she yelled. That’ll be something to work on. That volume level is not conducive to a corporate structure.
Still, I turned around the clipboard, revealing a number that would more cover student loans for pretty much every college but the Ivy League. “I’m eccentric. Want the job?”
…Yeah, I told Festus to keep the applications coming.