The client was waiting for SMS on a narrow stretch of rocky beach that ran alongside Dallas Road. Other areas of the winding beachside street were popular tourist destinations, with trails and cliffs and beautiful ocean views, but for this meeting the client had chosen a segment of the beach that was less busy, better to hold a private conversation of this nature.
Like a good animal rights hippie, the man was dressed entirely in synthetic fabrics and was munching on a carrot stick. As SMS crossed the sand and logs that separated them, he saw a seagull swoop down and perch on a rock fifteen feet away from the man, eyeing the carrot sticks. The man watched it like a cornered dog. For someone who apparently cared so much about wildlife, he didn’t appear to have an especially close connection with it.
The client was still staring nervously at the seagull when SMS said, “Hello.”
The man jumped. “Oh!”
SMS extended his hand. “Shawn Scott.”
The hippie had a handshake like wilted celery. “Um, Sunrise McCrery.”
SMS handed McCrery a folder. “Here’s your team. We had some extra manpower, so we upgraded you to a team of four at no extra charge.”
McCrery’s hands were wobbling a bit as he opened the folder and flipped through the papers, but there was a determined glint in his eyes. He was a wet noodle of a man, but he really seemed to care about freeing this tiger, for some reason SMS couldn’t fathom. Maybe McCrery needed to prove something to himself.
SMS waited for a few minutes as McCrery scanned through the information he’d been given.
“Um?” said the client.
“You have a question?”
McCrery cleared his throat. “I, um, I realize this may be an odd request…”
“We get plenty of those,” SMS assured him.
“This, um, the Baconmancer…”
One of Ian’s stupid nicknames. It had begun as a way to keep his employees’ real names a secret when they were doing illicit work, and then it had turned into an outlet for Innis’s poorly developed sense of humour.
“What about him?” SMS said. “It’s all in there. He makes bacon appear out of thin air, cooked any way you like. It’s good bacon.”
“Um, I’m sure it is, for people who like that sort of thing.” McCrery put enough vehemence into those words to startle the seagull, which had hopped closer and had been just about to snag a chunk of carrot. “But you see, I’m a vegan, and I’m not sure, um, I’m not sure I’d be comfortable working with, um, a pig murderer, you see.”
“Oh, don’t worry at all,” SMS reassured him. “He’s never hurt a pig in his life. I’m completely serious when I say his bacon appears out of thin air. It’s… call it synthetic bacon, if it helps. Besides, he doesn’t eat the stuff, either. A lifetime of overexposure to bacon has turned him off pork I think.”
McCrery twisted his mouth up as he thought it over. “I see,” he said. “Well, I suppose he will be fairly useful for, um, for luring the target out of its cage, um, I suppose.”
“A keen tactical insight,” offered SMS.
McCrery perked up a bit at the compliment.
“I’ll have the group meet you at midnight along the highway to Sooke,” SMS continued. “The spot is marked out on a map in the folder. As far as their abilities go, use them in whatever way seems necessary. If nothing else, they’ll do what they’re told, and they can do their share of heavy lifting. Well, except for the Arm-Loss Kid. His arms tend to detach at inopportune times.”
“Don’t worry; he can reattach them. But it’s a hassle. Best to let him drive or something, I’d say.”
“If you have any trouble, give me a call. You have my number.” SMS turned and walked back to his car. Along the way, he sent a text to each of the team members, confirming the time and location for the start of the job. One by one they texted back to check in and confirm that they had received the details. SMS felt the arrival and departure of each message as a tickle at the tip of his ear lobe, and “read” the incoming texts as if they were being projected onto the back of his eyes. Then he mentally filed each one away for recall later, a wrinkle to his ability that had proved useful on more than one occasion. He couldn’t hold on to the messages indefinitely—some informal testing as a teenager had suggested he could keep about 50 of the most recent messages in his mental archives at a time—but it didn’t take any effort to save the texts, and it was a lot more reliable than his normal memory.
Kevin Cox, the Baconmancer, checked in first. He’d always been an eager one, and the most reliable of this sorry bunch. Andy Button, the Arm-Loss Kid, confirmed next. Sarah “Captain Cobbler” Chipman let SMS know she was ready to go, and followed up her first text with a couple more that effusively described just how excited she was to try out her newest pair of specialty shoes, which she’d been developing for the past three months. Thrilling. Maybe they’d be more useful than the steel-toed high heels she’d debuted for her last assignment. But probably not.
SMS had worked with Mick Munch enough times to know he wouldn’t likely get a text in return without some additional prompting, so he texted Button, who lived on the same street: “talked to munch today?”
“no. want me to check on him”
SMS hopped into his car and pulled back on to Dallas Road, pointing himself west towards the neighbourhood of Esquimalt, where he had an errand to run before he went back to the office. Not surprisingly, he still hadn’t heard a response from either Mick Munch or Andy Button by the time he arrived at a nondescript little strip mall fifteen minutes later. There were only two other cars in the parking lot.
“so, find him?” SMS messaged to Button as he got out of his car.
“sry i was looking for my left arm. it came off this morning and rolled under the bed. going now”
SMS rolled his eyes. If that man’s head wasn’t attached to his own shoulders… Well, actually it wouldn’t be all that weird, given how his arms worked. But still.
One of the businesses in the strip mall was a pet store called Pet Stop. It was an apt name, since SMS had never seen anyone actually purchase any of the animals that were for sale. The dingy exterior lacked any of the cheerfulness that people usually associate with pet stores. Even the window shopping didn’t have much to offer: one of the cages was empty, recently vacated by some very unhappy little dog, judging by the filthy, soggy sawdust and the bone-shaped price tag with four dwindling prices that had been crossed out and reduced over time. In the window on the other side of the entrance three scraggly kittens were pawing at the glass and mewling forlornly, while a fourth lay on its back staring at the ceiling, its tail twitching occasionally as if dreaming of a better place.
SMS hummed, “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I’ll love ya, tomorrow…” as he pushed inside. He stopped and poked a couple of fingers through the kittens’ cage. The kittens romped over one another, scrambling to lick at him. “Hang in there, little guys. Little orphan Annie eventually found someone to love. You will, too.”
The tiny feline eyes stared up at him imploringly.
“Sorry,” said SMS. “I’m not the one for you. But I’ll tell you what…” He peeked around a stack of boxes at the man behind the counter, a skinny Latin man in his early thirties wearing a blue vest and a name tag. The man was distractedly tidying something on a shelf.
SMS slipped a box of catnip off of a rack, cracked it open, and tossed a small handful into the cage. “Knock yourselves out, kids,” he told the kittens, before closing the box and placing it back on the rack.
A text finally came in from Munch: “her”
“you mean here?”
“ya im here”
Munch was a certifiable idiot. An idiot who could transform himself in the blink of an eye into a medium-sized chunk of drywall, in which state he gained several points of IQ by virtue of not being able to speak. What was that thing Abraham Lincoln said about being thought a fool?
SMS sent back, “did you read my message?”
“yeah i will be ther. is it tonite”
SMS sighed. “yes. that’s why the message says tonight.”
Well that had been an encouraging exchange. It was probably a 50-50 proposition that the man would show up tonight at all. But if Munch no-showed, SMS wouldn’t have to pay him, and it wasn’t like he was an essential component of the team or anything, so SMS decided to let it go. Munch wasn’t worth the stress.
What SMS did need to worry about right now was the far more important conversation he was about to have.
SMS sauntered nonchalantly past a stack of grungy aquariums, picked up a book about dog grooming and pretended to read the back cover for a moment, and finally stepped up to the front counter.
“Hey, Miguel,” he said to the man in the blue vest. “How’s business?”