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Stuff to Spy for
By Don Bruns
Oceanview PublishingCopyright © 2009 Don Bruns
All rights reserved.
Sarah Crumbly graduated from high school one year behind James and me. She was voted "most likely to succeed," and I was one of her fans. We'd gone out a couple of times, to a movie and a burger joint, and I thought she rocked. Cheerleader perfect, with legs that I dreamed about, but since she was an overachiever, I got left by the curb. I always thought about what might have happened with Sarah. And then I found her, about eight years later, and in a matter of days, I realized I was lucky the relationship had never gone any further.
I'm Skip Moore, and I'm basically an underachiever. I graduated, barely, from college, and I'm working for a security company in Carol City, Florida. Carol City is a rundown, poverty stricken urban community that has nothing to secure. So, you can imagine that the prospects are slim.
But the call came in from Synco Systems, and when I showed up there last Tuesday, Sarah met me at the front desk.
"My God. Skip?"
I stared at her for several seconds. Golden hair cut just under her cute ears and that picture-perfect figure right below her cute face.
"Skip, you're my security guy? You?"
"This is a surprise. I really should just show you around the building and tell you what we're looking for, but I'd like to catch up."
And right away, knowing that Em was expecting me for dinner tonight, knowing that Emily and I had worked out an arrangement that we would be somewhat exclusive, knowing that a permanent relationship was what I longed for, knowing that if Em found out she would kill me, I asked Sarah if she would be interested in having dinner.
She looked me right in the eyes, giving me an impish smile.
"Skip, so am I."
Damn. If she'd even hesitated, I would have remained true, but she didn't. She didn't hesitate a second.
Twenty minutes later she'd given me the rough layout. I'd followed her around like a puppy dog, her short skirt swishing over her perfect thighs, the high, shiny black heels highlighting her balancing act. And I'd tried to pay attention to business. The company wanted us to tear out their old security system and put a state-of-the-art system in place.
"One of our newest clients is demanding that we upgrade our security system. That's why you're here."
"Well, you've got a smart client." I had to agree with anyone who was putting a paycheck in my pocket.
"This client has something to do with the U.S. government, but I'm not sure exactly what."
Obviously, Sarah wasn't in on everything regarding the company.
Synco Systems — she was emphatic that it was pronounced Sin-co, not Sink-o — was a software company that designed protection systems for computer networks. It seems that every time someone developed a protection system for business networks, somebody else found a way to hack into that system. So it seemed to Sarah, and to me, that Synco Systems was in no danger of going out of business any time soon.
And, it seemed that way to my roommate and best friend, James.
"Skip, that's what I'm talking about." We were sitting on the tiny slab of stained concrete that passed for a patio behind our pitiful apartment. James swallowed a mouthful of beer and waved his brown bottle in the air. "Man, that's textbook smarts. Start a company that can never become obsolete. I mean, somebody hacks your system — well, you have to design a new system. And you know they'll hack that system eventually. And the next, and the next. So you just keep coming up with new systems, and you never, ever go out of business."
I'd seen it with my own eyes. "Pretty technical stuff, James. If they buy our security system for their building, it'll be the biggest sale I've ever made. Maybe the biggest sale in this part of the state. Seriously. And she thinks the demand is coming from someone associated with the United States government. So I'd say the odds are pretty good we get the job."
James lit a cigarette and blew a stream of yellow smoke across the way to the row of stucco gray apartments about fifteen feet from ours. It was a lovely view. We stared into their back bedroom windows and they could stare into ours. We got to see their overfilled garbage cans and they got to see ours. And to the right was a muddy ditch, about eight units down. I often told people we had a "water view." We didn't exactly live in squalor. I think squalor was a few steps up from how we lived.
"We'd be tearing out the old system and installing a bunch of stations and there would be motion detectors, sound sensors, door and window monitors, a camera monitor at minimum."
"How much, Skip?"
"How much is it going to cost them?"
"Well, I'm going to do an estimate on the number of sensors that we'd install, then Michael —"
"Michael the ass?"
"The same. My boss. He'll come out and check my work, and —"
"An estimate, son. Give this boy a bone. How much?"
"Tearing out the old system, installation of our new one, plus the first year of the contract, seventy-five thousand dollars."
James took another swallow and belched. "And you get how much of that, amigo?"
I didn't have any figuring to do. I'd pretty much been thinking about it since two o'clock in the afternoon. Pretty much been considering it for four solid hours. Pretty much spending it for the last three. That was after I'd gotten over the shock of realizing this could actually happen. "A little over eleven thousand dollars."
"Almost half of what you made all of last year, pard. Am I right?"
"Truck only cost twelve thousand."
James was speaking of his $12,000 investment in a used box truck. We'd gone into the moving business with that truck and almost gotten ourselves killed. Then, we'd turned the truck into a small kitchen, selling food to the believers at a salvation crusade put on by the Reverend Preston Cashdollar. And again, we'd almost gotten ourselves killed. He was talking about that truck. "What are you getting at, James?"
"Not getting at anything, brother. Just noting. If we ever decided to get a fleet of trucks, you could almost —"
"I'm just saying —"
He is always saying. "No box truck." Maybe retire one of the college loans, pay the one-month back rent we still owed, and maybe buy a case of imported beer. The cheap stuff we'd been buying at Gas and Grocery, the rickety little carryout we go to in Carol City, was starting to get a little rank.
"Skip, I want you to think about it. We always talked about a fleet of trucks and —"
"You talked about a fleet of trucks, James."
He threw up his hands. "Okay, amigo. But don't discount it."
"James, I don't have the sale yet. Synco Systems is interested. That's all there is at this moment."
"Are they shopping it around?"
There was the rub. If they were just getting quotes, I'd actually have to sell. I'd have to go through the script book and make an argument for my company. That's when my job became tedious.
I had forgotten to ask her. I was so surprised that Sarah was my contact, I'd forgotten to ask. It's supposed to be a standard question when we visit a business. "Are you shopping for a system anywhere else? Can I ask where? Oh, XYZ? That's a fine company. Can I show you why our system makes more sense? You see, we offer terms, and we can install in one week and — and —" and on and on. It's all in the sales manual that I've only skimmed once in a while. It's really quite lame.
"I'm thinkin', pardner, you meeting up with Sarah. What are the chances? It's got to be more than just coincidence. Maybe it's the Lord's will."
"I don't think he had anything to do with it." James had taken to throwing the phrase around ever since we worked the reverend Preston Cashdollar's revival tent meeting several months ago. James wasn't a religious guy, so it had sarcastic overtones.
"Seriously, Skip. Maybe this was meant to be."
I'd been thinking the same thing. Something really good comes into your life, like me seeing Sarah again, and it's followed by something else that's really good, like maybe selling a $75,000 security system. And on top of that, they say good things come in threes. I was anxious to see what the next thing would be. I found out, and it looked great. But, as I mentioned before, it backfired. It actually got me killed.CHAPTER 2
I didn't tell James about dinner. I actually lied to him and told him I had to meet with Michael and go over figures to quote the job for Synco Systems. And I didn't tell Em about dinner. I lied to her as well. It didn't feel right, even though I was sure nothing was going to happen between Sarah and me, but I lied nevertheless.
And I lied to Sarah. When she asked me if I was seeing anyone, when she asked me if I'd ever been serious with anyone, and when she asked me if I'd ever considered being a father. I answered no to every question. I can't explain why I denied the truth. But I did. I lied to her, and those innocent white lies came back to haunt me in a way I never would have dreamed of.
It was at this time, when she asked me those questions, I realized she was either very interested in my life, or she was leading up to a story about her own life. You know how it is when you want to introduce a topic about yourself, so you start asking the other person if they've ever thought about or considered something, then you turn it around and talk about yourself? Well, it turned out, she needed to spill the story of her life. Just as well. My life sucks. Always has, probably always will.
"I'm very serious about someone, Skip."
We were sitting on the patio of Barton G's restaurant, having the Garden Sea Bass with pickled ginger and a variety of vegetables, including the flash-fried asparagus. It was more than I could afford but what the hell. With a little luck, I was going to pocket eleven thousand dollars in a very short period of time, and eventually I could afford this fancy place. For a brief time.
"It didn't start off that way."
I nodded. This was my second glass of wine, and I was feeling a little tipsy already. I could drink six beers without much effect, but I was trying to impress Sarah, and wine seemed more sophisticated. The problem was a couple glasses of wine could knock me out.
"We met through a ..." she hesitated, "a dating service." She folded her hands in front of her. Her golden hair hung in ringlets around her face, and I briefly glanced down at her low-cut blouse.
"A lot of people use dating services. This was an Internet dating service?" She needed a service? Every guy in the world would fall down and worship this girl.
She hesitated, searching my face with her big blue eyes. "It wasn't quite like that."
"What was it like?" I held a finger up and motioned to our waiter. "Do you have Blue Moon beer?" He rolled his eyes, then glanced at Sarah's cleavage. Well, it was there for the viewing.
"I suppose the gentleman wants an orange slice?"
"No, thank you." I shook my head. You always put an orange slice on a Blue Moon, and I really liked having an orange slice, but I didn't like this guy's attitude. I showed him.
Sarah pushed her vegetables around the plate with her fork, never looking at me. "I'm telling you this, Skip, because you may do work for our company."
I couldn't figure out why her love life would affect my business.
"This guy was — is — married."
"You knew?" I was hoping her answer was no.
"It didn't matter."
"What didn't matter?"
"Whether he was married."
"Sarah, you're losing me."
She hesitated, picking up a spear of the crispy asparagus, biting off the head. There was something very sensual about the act. Sensual, and scary at the same time. "It's not important, okay. The thing is, I'm seeing him."
"And how does this affect me?"
"Sandler is the president of our company."
"I know, I know. If you're going to date, you may as well start at the top."
"Sarah, how does this affect my job?"
"I'm your contact, Skip. You and I will be working very closely together. If Sandy likes you, you'll get the job and everything will go smoothly."
"If he doesn't like me?"
"He'll like you."
"Then it's all good."
"He'll like you because you're my new boyfriend."
Man, I had stepped into it. She asked if I was seeing anyone. She asked if I was serious about someone and if I'd ever considered being a father. And now this? Talk about an awkward moment.
"Sarah, we went out a couple of times, but —"
"Sandy's wife thinks he's having an affair."
"And?" She'd just told me he was. With her. And now she wanted me to be her boyfriend?
"She's not certain. If she finds out for sure, she'll destroy him."
"Look, Sarah, I really want this job. I need this job, but what am I getting into?"
Sarah reached across the white linen-covered table and grasped my hand. "Carol Conroy's father owns Synco Systems. So it becomes a real problem." She squeezed my fingers tightly.
"Your beer, sir." An orange slice was stuck in the opening of the bottle. I said nothing. The waiter lingered, taking another look.
"Sarah. You're making no sense. I'd really like to help you here, but —"
"Carol Conroy is Sandy's wife. If she can prove that he's having an affair, she'll have her father fire him. She'll destroy Sandy's career. Can't you see that?"
I couldn't see anything. I had no idea where this was going, but that eleven thousand dollar commission was looking less and less attractive.
"Skip, I'll make it very simple for you. I need a boyfriend. I need someone who, at least for now, appears to be my significant other. If you can do that, if you can keep Carol Conroy from suspecting that I'm having an affair with her husband, you've got the job. Sandy will hire you tomorrow. And there will even be a bonus for you. Now, how's that?"
A bonus? My ears perked up. Maybe pretending to be her boyfriend wasn't so bad. Of course, I'd have to figure out how to present this to Em. God, Em would never understand this, much less agree to it. "What happens when the job is done? You can't keep trotting me out the rest of your life."
"Sandy is in line for a huge bonus. So big he can start his own company. So big, he may never have to work again. So big, Skip, that Sandy and I can do just about anything we want to do. Go anywhere we want to go. Once he gets the bonus, he can walk out on his wife." She finally released my hands, and a big smile covered her cute face. "Skip, we're looking at property in the south of France. Can you imagine that? The south of France."
She took a deep breath and settled back into her chair. Sipping her cosmopolitan, she looked directly into my eyes. "You and I will have a pretend relationship, Skip. And it's only for a couple of months at the most. And you aren't seeing anyone, so what do you say?"
I had no idea what to say. I took a swallow of Blue Moon beer, trying to buy a little time.
"There's a bonus, Skip. How does ten thousand dollars sound?"
I choked on the beer, spitting it all over the table.CHAPTER 3
"And there's no sex?" Clearly James was disappointed.
I'd come clean on the dinner with Sarah. Of course, he wanted to know every detail.
"Come on, James. Would I even be interested?"
James looked at me, shaking his head.
"Hey, man, keep your eyes on the road."
He slowly shifted his gaze to the road ahead of us. The rickety box truck chugged along, occasionally coughing and spewing puffs of black, brown, and gray smoke. The old girl burned oil, and we'd never had enough money to fix the problem. The problem being, the truck was old, and if we were going to use a truck as a way to produce income, we needed a new truck. In our current fiscal crisis, even a newer truck would suffice.
"A make-believe girlfriend. It's very strange, amigo." James pursed his lips, and affected a frown on his face. He squinted his eyes as if he was assessing the situation. I wished I'd never mentioned it.
"Actually, it's a make-believe boyfriend, James. She's the one who has to pretend. Pretend that I'm her boyfriend until this Sandy character gets his big paycheck. Then, it's off to France, or wherever they're going. It's all just a joke." He'd beat it to death. I know exactly how his mind works.
"This paycheck —"
"Must be a monster. She said he'd never have to work again. They could do anything they wanted."
Excerpted from Stuff to Spy for by Don Bruns. Copyright © 2009 Don Bruns. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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