Read Dirt Nap (A Marnie Baranuik “Between the Files” Story) Online
Authors: A.J. Aalto
“In your kook-pie imagination,” he said, “sometimes I think you’re pretty fucking great, Snickerdoodle.”
I was suddenly far too aware of Chapel’s shadow in my peripheral vision, lingering at the window to my office; that window was open, and though I doubted Gary was spying intentionally, I chose my words carefully.
“Is that what you’re gonna write in your report, Agent Batten?” I called, amazed at the steadiness of my own voice. “That on the quarry job, I was a professional team player, and pretty fucking great?”
Batten snort-laughed. “You ain’t a professional anything,” he said, “and my compliments are an off-the-record deal.”
He stuck one leg in the car then decided he had more to say. His mouth worked around it for a good ten seconds; it was so startling to see the blend of sincerity and insecurity cross Kill-Notch Batten’s face that my knees turned to jelly.
He’s going to admit to being very nearly smitten.
My heart lurched into my throat.
Or not entirely exhausted by me. Or something less-than-insulting.
I made an attempt at looking casual by propping my hip on the porch post and smiling expectantly, brows lifted. For good measure, I uncrossed my arms, and mentally thanked the Dark Lady that I’d be watching Chapel’s body language lessons.
After jawing the air ineffectually, he looked exasperated and baffled at his own inability to speak, and jabbed a thick, indicting finger through the air at me.
I cupped my hands around my mouth and called, “In my imagination, you just called me a superhero!”
He closed his eyes and shook his head tiredly. Getting into the truck, he pulled away without his usual grit-spitting peel-out. I watched the SUV disappear behind the trees.
Not my imagination. Not my imagination at all.
“Well, that’s not good,” I murmured under my breath, feeling that it was good
, really good
, but only in that secret place where this swell of excitement could do no harm.
Chapel poked his head out the door. The Blue Sense stirred to report that my boss was pleased and not at all surprised to see me alive and in one piece. He opened his mouth to speak, but before he could get a word out, I said, “That was my monster relocation job, not Batten’s.
Chapel blinked at me from behind tortoiseshell glasses. “Okay,” he said, giving an easygoing smile that said he was content to believe my version of it.
His acceptance made my mouth work around all the other complaints I had, which one by one disappeared unspoken, no longer needed. Now that he’d calmly popped my rage-balloon, I felt like a dumbass. Chapel lifted his eyebrows and waited to see if I had anything else to say on the matter. When I didn’t, he tipped his phone at me.
“I just had a call from Mr. Le Pique’s lawyers, claiming you caused the destruction of an excavator? Le Pique Consolidated is wondering who’s going to pay for it.”
That bloated motherfucker!
“The stonecoat did that before I even got there,” I said. “He’d have done a lot worse if I hadn’t risked my neck to get him out of the quarry and into a new den.”
“Right.” Chapel nodded once, as if that was final.
“Do I need a lawyer?” I asked. “I hate lawyers. Wait. I wasn’t in charge, remember? Batten was in charge, just like he said. Also, didn’t I quit yesterday? I quit every day, so probably I don’t even work for you anymore.”
Chapel smiled benevolently, as if to say, “
,” and went back inside.
I swept the yard with my gaze, looking for suggestions on what to do next. The aspens were silent on the subject, and the birds squawked lecherously. Ajax, Harry’s debt vulture, stirred in the dark green boughs of a pine, feathers ruffled. The steadfast company of the sun would keep my closest adviser pinned down in his casket until dusk. The quiet expectations of my boss, once again a blur behind window glass, suggested I should carry on, one foot in front of the other, exactly as I had done the day before. I would promise to do my best. At the very least, I could promise not to do my worst.
I stretched my weary bones, felt my tender scalp with tentative fingers, and winced. Three hours in jail. Bumps, bruises, a near-admission of affection, credit for a job well done, and a possible lawsuit. In other words, an average Thursday.
“No good deed goes unpunished, Ajax,” I said with a rueful smile, straightening Harry’s dried cornstalks, fiddling until they looked straight. “Which would be less aggravating? Hiring a lawyer, or buying Le Pique a new excavator?”
Ajax kept his opinions to himself. I went inside, and called to order a pizza.
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