Chemistry – Interlude 10

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Billy lifted the one of the vials of red liquid out of the rack and held it up, letting the fluorescent ceiling light shine through it.

Ivan flinched as the glass vial was lifted into the air, adjusting his lab coat with nervous fingers.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” said Billy. “It looks a little like a Cabernet Sauvignon, don’t you think?”

“It looks more like blood to me,” said Lily.

“Of course it looks like blood,” said Ivan. “The serum contains a hemoglobin-based oxygen carrier.”

He fixed her with a disdainful look. She returned the look, trying to make her glare as icy as she could, and Ivan broke eye contact, shrinking back behind the table.

When he looked back at her, she flashed him a pleasant smile, and felt a rush of satisfaction as he looked away again, his spindly little hand tightening into a fist.

Flimsy, breakable looking, and already half-bald at the young age of 26, Ivan reminded Lily of an egg. He was a small, scrawny man; his bald head was the only thing that saved him from being mistaken for a boy ten years his junior.

“The, uh…” Ivan paused for a moment, rattled, then regained his composure. “Sorry, um, the serum is very sensitive at the moment.”

“Sensitive meaning what?” said Lily.

“Meaning explosive,” said Ivan tersely.

Billy lowered the vial back onto the rack.

Lily was no scientist, but it seemed to her that Ivan should have been taking more precautions with a dangerous substance. Mona had been problematic for a number of reasons, but she had always insisted on precautions.

Lily thought about saying something, but decided against it. If this brat talked down to her again, she didn’t trust herself not to hurl the explosive serum across the room in a fit of rage and incinerate them all.

If Ivan blew himself up, they would hire more scientists. Preferably less annoying ones.

“How long until the serum is complete?” asked Billy.

“We’ll have it completed in a few weeks. A month, at the most.”

“Well?” said Billy. “Which is it? A month or a few weeks?”

His tone was light, and would have sounded friendly to someone who didn’t know better, but Lily knew her husband well enough to know his intent. He was challenging Ivan, reminding the kid that for all his fancy degrees, he wasn’t the one who was in charge here.

Lily was a good enough judge of people to know Billy’s approach wouldn’t work on Ivan. The brat wasn’t good enough at reading people to pick up on the subtle edge of venom in Billy’s cheerful tone.

“It’s impossible to know until we run more tests,” said Ivan.

The tense edge to Ivan’s voice sounded more annoyed than intimidated. Lily had been right, as usual. Ivan had likely interpreted the question as Billy not being smart enough to grasp his brilliant work.

Not that he’d done most of the work. He’d used Mona’s calculations, as well as her DNA, and claimed all of the credit. Lily wasn’t surprised. It was what men did. Let women do all the work and take all the credit.

Women at CPSI had to walk a fine line. They had to be mean enough not to get walked all over, but still be able to play nice when it made strategic sense.

Sleeping with the boss didn’t hurt either, but Mona wouldn’t have done that, and Lily would have made sure she suffered a worse fate than the Pit if she had. Billy wouldn’t have gone for her anyway. He only liked blondes.

A part of Lily had actually been rooting for Mona, though she’d have never admitted it to Billy. Mona had been ambitious, disciplined, competent, and mean when she had to be. A few times, Lily had even thought about befriending her, even though it was a laughable idea. It was almost funny to imagine the looks on her friends’ faces if she’d brought some foreign poor along to one of their ladies’ spa weekends.

Mona wouldn’t have been able to afford it anyway. Not with what Billy had paid her.

Billy had seen Mona as a tool to be used and discarded, but her potential had been far greater than that. Billy had thought he was stringing Mona along, keeping her in the dark, but Lily knew Mona had been smarter than that. She’d known she was being used; she’d known her worth, and known that it wasn’t being recognized. She’d been using them too in a way; first as a way of paying the bills, hanging onto her Green Card, and feeding those snot-nosed kids of hers, then as a way of manipulating the situation with Sarah.

Mona had never been particularly loyal to CPSI; she’d been shrewd enough to see through all Billy’s invitations to dinner, all the carefully calculated favors, all the proclamations she was the ‘daughter they never had’. More than that, she’d been far too self-assured to fall for the attempts at breaking down her self-esteem–the low pay, the subtle digs and criticism, the expertly concocted mixture of complicated work far above her pay grade and demeaningly menial tasks.

When Lily thought about it, the mistake had been Billy’s more than it had been Mona’s. He’d underestimated her; manipulating her into loyalty had never been a possibility. Something had been bound to come along and disrupt her fragile allegiance to the company. If it hadn’t been Sarah, it would have been something else.

Lily heard Billy talking, saying something about disrupting the boundaries of the human mind, and realized she’d gotten lost in her thoughts and missed some of the conversation.

It didn’t really matter; she knew the basics about the serum, and Billy would fill her in later. At least, he would if he didn’t want to sleep on the couch.

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Naomi leaned forward in her office chair. “Are you sure she was talking about the same Dominic?”

Yeah. Can we be sure it’s our Dominic?” Angelina yawned. “Sorry. It’s time for bed here.

Naomi wasn’t sure, but she thought it was past midnight in Italy. Angelina sounded much less peppy than usual and her sleepiness seemed to be making her accent more pronounced. Her webcam image was dark and grainy, and the light from her screen cast an odd glow over her face.

“No, I’m not sure.” Chelsea crossed her legs and rested an elbow on the arm of the chair she’d pulled up to the computer. “But it is weird. She said he was in Australia.”

Lachlan turned around from where he stood shirtless, brushing his teeth a few feet away from his webcam.

“Issa big countryesscuse me, he said with his mouth full of toothpaste. He leaned into a doorway, presumably one leading to a bathroom, and spit. “It’s not like there’s only one guy called Dominic here.”

“If it was just the name Dominic I’d chalk it up to coincidence but there was more,” said Chelsea. “She said his last name was Davis, which seems like it could be a mishearing of Davies.”

“Still, they’re both common names,” said Lachlan.

Angelina yawned again. “I think we need more informations.

“Information,” said Lachlan. “Not ‘informations’.”

“Sorry,” said Angelina. “I knew that. English is harder when I’m sleepy. I do more mistakes.”

Lachlan leaned forward, using his webcam image as a mirror as he ran a comb through his dirty blonde hair, which was sticking up in all directions. “So run along to bed and leave the grown-ups to talk.

Angelina made a face with her tongue stuck out. “I’m older than you.”

Lachlan rolled his eyes. “And clearly, you have the maturity to prove it.

“Be nice, Lachlan,” said Chelsea.

“Nah.” Lachlan turned away from the camera to rifle through one of his dresser drawers. “So assuming this guy was actually talking about the Dominic Davies, bassist extraordinaire and general legend, do you think this could have anything to do with our falconine friend?”

“Falconine?” Angelina rubbed her eyes. “I don’t know that word.”

“I’m not telling you what it means.” Lachlan selected a black band t-shirt and pulled it over his head.

“It just means falcon-like,” said Chelsea. “He’s talking about Falcon.”

“Thanks, C,” said Angelina. “Where is he, anyway?”

Naomi turned the webcam over to the couch where Falcon was fast asleep, tortilla chip bag still in his lap.

“He’s all jet-lagged out, it looks like,” she said.

“It might have something to do with Falcon, actually,” said Chelsea. “Mr. Clyde said someone in Brisbane, possibly Dominic, stole something from the company and brought it to the airport.”

“And Dominic’s friend just flew in from here to Naomi’s sleepy little neck of the woods,” Lachlan said. “I think I see where you’re going with this.”

“I wouldn’t call it sleepy,” said Chelsea. “Smaller than Brisbane or Toronto, maybe but it’s a big enough city.”

“Naomi’s lively and bustling neck of the woods, then,” said Lachlan. “I was under the impression that the point of this conversation was whether Naomi’s harboring a criminal, not the size of Naomi’s city of residence.”

Naomi glanced at Falcon again. He shifted in his sleep, sending a few chips falling onto the floor. Seeing him lying there snoring softly, it was hard to imagine him stealing from a multi-billion dollar business.

“You think Falcon’s a thief?” Naomi said. “And you think Dominic could be complicit?”

“I don’t know,” said Chelsea. “For all I know, this is all just one big coincidence. But this whole situation is just weird.”

“Falcon can’t be a thief,” said Angelina. “He’s super nice.”

“One can be nice and still be a thief.” Lachlan picked up a piece of toast that was lying on his desk and took a bite. “But I agree he doesn’t seem like the thieving kind. Nor does Dominic for that matter.”

“Yeah, Dominic’s too cute to be a thief,” said Angelina.

Naomi tried to suppress her eye-roll, and Lachlan didn’t bother suppressing his.

“Even putting Angelina’s impeccable logic aside, I’ve hung out with Dominic many times. He’s a great guy. I can’t see him being involved in embezzlement, or whatever this is.”

“Not embezzlement,” Naomi said. “They don’t work for the company and it doesn’t sound like it was money they stole.”

“Whatever,” Lachlan rolled his eyes again. “Close enough.”

“It’s worth mentioning the barista had some pretty damning stuff to say about the Clydes,” said Chelsea.

Lachlan took another bite of toast. “Damning stuff such as…?”

“They mistreat their employees,” said Chelsea, “and she even said she suspected they were involved in a murder. They may not be the victims here.”

“Falcon did say he was scared for his life,” Naomi said.

“Dominic and Falcon could be trying to stop these people from doing something corrupt or illegal,” said Lachlan.

“Exactly,” said Chelsea.

“It still doesn’t make sense, though,” Naomi said. “Why would Dominic and Falcon be involved at all?”

“I have a lot of questions too,” said Chelsea. “I can’t imagine we’ll get any answers unless we talk to Dominic or Falcon.”

“It’s only about 8 in the morning here, so Dominic is probably not awake yet but you could go ahead and send him a message now if you felt like it,” said Lachlan. “Speaking of which, this has been fascinating but I have to make like a falcon and fly away. It’s almost time for work in Lachlan-land.”

Lachlan disconnected from the video call.

“I should probably leave too,” said Angelina. “I’m so sleepy. Let me know what you find out?”

“Of course,” said Chelsea. “Good night, Angelina.”

“Good night, C. Good night, Naomi.” Angelina disconnected from the call.

Chelsea and Naomi looked over at Falcon sleeping on the couch, then looked at each other.

“Want to get started on that message to Dominic?” Chelsea said.



Dominic wasn’t sure how long he’d been awake. He had tried pacing around the room a few times throughout the night in an effort to calm his nerves but it had only made him feel worse. Now, he sat on the stained couch with his laptop on the coffee table in front of him, watching and waiting for a message.

He tapped the touch pad to make sure the monitor didn’t go to sleep, then got up and made his way to the kitchen. He opened the fridge and reached for a beer, then stopped as he noticed the light streaming in from behind the curtains. He glanced at the clock on the oven–7:55 AM. He shut the fridge and began brewing a pot of coffee.

“Mate, you look like utter shit.”

Dominic jumped, splashing a bit of water onto the floor. He turned to see Melanie standing in the kitchen doorway. Her blonde hair stuck up from her head at different angles and she had dark smudges beneath her eyes from yesterday’s mascara.

“Yeah.” Dominic poured the water into the coffee maker and pressed the button. It made a loud whining sound, then began to burble noisily as coffee dripped into the pot.

“You’re up early.” Melanie pulled a chair back from the kitchen table and took a seat, resting her feet on the table.

“I’m up late.” Dominic sat down beside her and rested his head in his hands. “Couldn’t sleep.”

“Yeah, I didn’t sleep much either.” Melanie leaned her head back and closed her eyes. “Then I heard you crashing around in the kitchen and figured I might as well get up.”

“Crashing? I was just making coffee.”

“Making coffee real loudly.” Melanie stretched her arms over her head and yawned.

“Sorry.” Dominic tried to stifle his own yawn. “Didn’t mean to wake you.”

“Any word from him?” said Melanie.

“Not yet,” said Dominic. “I’ve been watching the computer all night. He should be there by now.”

“I don’t know what you thought was gonna happen, Dom. You send him off to the other side of the fucking world, give him the name of some rando, and expect him to contact you right away?”

“You’re still mad at me.”

“Of course I’m still mad at you.” She opened her eyes and frowned at him. “What in fuck’s name were you thinking?”

“I didn’t have a choice, Mel. You know that.”

“No, I don’t know that. You didn’t bother discussing it with us. You just went ahead and made your rash decision without even talking to me or Jessica.”

“I didn’t have time to talk it out. They would’ve killed him, Mel. I had to protect him.”

Dominic felt someone flick the back of his head hard. “Ow! Fuck.”

He hadn’t even noticed Jessica coming in behind them. She had dark circles under her eyes and her shaggy, chin-length black hair was even shaggier than usual. She poured herself coffee, then sat across from them at the table. Melanie took her legs off the table and moved over a seat so they could all see each other.

“You’re still mad too, then,” Dominic signed.

“Yes. Obviously,” signed Jessica.

“Like I was telling Mel,” he signed, “I didn’t have a choice. I had to do something fast. I couldn’t let anything happen to him.”

“You didn’t have a fucking choice? Why was it your choice to make?” signed Melanie. “What about us? We should have all talked about this together and decided what to do.”

“What about him?” signed Jessica. “You–both of you–keep talking about him like he can’t make his own decisions. He’s not a child.

“You’re right,” signed Melanie. “I’m sorry. But my point still stands. Dom, you had no right to make that choice for him.”

“I didn’t make the choice for him. He wanted to go.”

“Did he? Did you actually ask him if he wanted to go?” signed Jessica.“Or did you just shove him in a car, take him to the airport, and tell him which plane to get on?”

“I was protecting him,” signed Dominic. “He never said he didn’t want to go.”

“It wasn’t your job to protect him,” signed Jessica. “Of course he didn’t say he didn’t want to go. He was scared and confused, he adores you, and he’s used to obeying orders without question. Did you even consider that?”

From the other room, the computer dinged. Dominic and Melanie jumped out of their chairs.

“What?” signed Jessica.

“Dominic just got a message,” signed Melanie.

Jessica jumped up and followed them into the living room. They sat on the sofa with Jessica in the middle, and Dominic and Melanie leaning in to see the screen.

Mail Center
Unread Messages (2)

From: Naomi Wada (Block User | Add to Friends)
To: Dominic Davies
Date: Tue 30/6/2009
Subject: Your friend

Hi Dominic,

I hope you are doing well. This is Naomi Wada. I assume you can guess why I’m writing you. I am really sorry to bother you so early in the morning but I didn’t know what else to do and I was hoping you could clear up a few things.

Falcon told me you said I could help him but I’m not entirely sure what he needs help with or why he’s here. We have a bit of a communication barrier, but based on what he’s told me I’m a bit concerned he may be in danger. I’d like to help your friend if I can, but I’m kind of at a loss here, so I’d appreciate it if you could provide some clarity.

Thank you,



To: Dominic Davies
CC: Melanie Graham; Jessica Thompson
Date: Tue 30/6/2009
Subject: I’m okay

It’s me. Just letting you know I’ve landed safely. Thanks for everything. Write back soon.



It was early enough in the night that there was still a faint purple glow on the horizon but the town of Palmer was already dark. Other than the airstrip, the only light came from a few scattered windows and porch lamps.

The darkness did nothing to ease the oppressive June heat. The air weighed down on Billy and Lily Clyde as they left the hangar and made their way home. A fish-scented sea breeze ruffled their clothes but provided little relief from the temperature.

“It’s good to be home.” Billy sighed and threw his shoulders back.

“It smells like shit and dead shrimp,” said Lily.

They walked the rest of the way to the mansion in silence. Lily climbed the steps to the porch and stopped to wait for Billy near the front door.

“Are you coming in?”

“I’m going to stop by the office and check on Sarah.”

Lily looked at the row of houses beyond the airstrip. Most of them were dark but a small yellow house had one illuminated window. “Looks like the light in her office is still on. Do you think she found anything?”

“I certainly hope so,” Billy turned toward the yellow house. “You go on in. I’ll let you know what I find.”


When Billy opened the door to Sarah’s office, she was so focused on her computer she didn’t notice him coming in. He knocked on the inside of the open door and she looked up.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t even see you, sir.”

“That’s quite alright, dear.” Billy took a seat across from her at her desk. “I’ve told you you don’t have to work this late. Not anymore.”

“Yes, sir.” She turned away from her computer screens to look at him. “And I appreciate the thought. I really do. I’ve tried to relax, like you said I was allowed to do but it feels wrong. I wasn’t made for that.”

“I know, kiddo.” Billy nodded. “It’s part of what makes you so valuable to us.”

“About my being valuable–” Sarah began.

Billy sighed. He knew where this conversation was going.

“Sarah, I know what you’re going to say and I’m afraid it’s just not possible.”

Her face fell. “Sir, with all due respect, I can probably do the work of ten of your normal employees. I’m not asking for much, not even minimum wage. But don’t I deserve some compensation for everything I do?”

“It’s not about what you deserve. It’s more complicated than that.” Billy sighed again. “Listen, kiddo, running a business is complicated. There’s a lot of red tape involved. Lily and I are still working on figuring a way to compensate you for all your work, but it’s still out of the picture for the time being.”

“Someday, though?”

Billy nodded. “Someday.”


They were silent for a moment and Billy took pause as an opportunity to switch to a less difficult subject.

“So have you found anything?”

“Maybe,” said Sarah, turning one of her monitors in his direction. “I’ve looked at the flights leaving Brisbane Airport that correspond with the time Mr. Gibson saw the resource.”


“There were two flights to Melbourne, which I think we can safely rule out, given the resource originally came from there. There were also two to Sydney, one to Hobart, one to Perth, and one to Hervey Bay.”

“What about international flights?” said Billy.

“You think he could have left Australia?”

“I wouldn’t rule it out. This Dominic fellow could have given the resource his passport or something. It could be anywhere.”

“Let’s see.” Sarah scrolled down on one of her monitors. “There was one to Denpasar, one to Port Moresby, one to Vancouver, one to Charlotte, and two to LA.”

Billy frowned. “So it could be any of nine different places.”

“Yes, but I was able to narrow it down.”

“Really? How so? And more importantly, what was it narrowed down to?”

“I created a temporary email and messaged Dominic Davies impersonating the resource.” She smirked. “He wrote back almost right away. Too easy.”

“Well, don’t keep an old man in suspense. What did he say?”

“For one thing, the resource is calling himself Falcon now for some reason,” she said, “but more importantly, Dominic mentioned the resource was with someone named ‘Naomi Wada’.”

“Who?” said Billy.

“I’m getting to that,” said Sarah. “An online search for just the name ‘Naomi Wada’ turned up way too many people to be useful, but an online search for ‘Naomi Wada’ and ‘The Goldfish Technique’ only turned up one.”

“The Goldfish Technique, huh? I assume this is the rock band and not the sales technique.”

“You assume correctly,” said Sarah. “I found a Naomi Wada who talks about the band on her MySpace page. And guess where she lives?”

“Where?” said Billy.

“Charlotte, North Carolina.”

Billy nodded. “One of our nine possibilities. Good work, kiddo.”

“Thank you, sir.” Sarah smiled.

“So,” said Billy, “how would you feel about a little business trip?”

“I’d love that.”

“I’ll have Lily fly you to Charlotte tomorrow,” said Billy. “It’s a shame we didn’t figure this out sooner; I just flew in from there, you know.”

“I’m sorry, sir.” Sarah’s smile faltered a little.

“Oh, don’t be sorry, dear. You’ve done great work on this,” said Billy. “Hey, tell you what. You take care of this unpleasant little situation for us, and I’ll see about paying you a real wage.”

Sarah’s smile grew wider. “You really mean that?”

“Of course I do. It wouldn’t be much, of course–“

“That’s fine. I don’t need much. Oh, thank you, sir!”

Billy chuckled. “Don’t thank me yet, now. You still need to destroy the resource first.”

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“Hey, wait up!”

Chelsea jumped at the hand on her shoulder. She turned around to see the marketing intern she’d been sitting beside earlier. A dark-skinned boy in glasses and a button-up shirt stood behind the girl, wearing a bored expression. He was fidgeting with a bunch of small, spherical magnets, forming them into a cube shape.

While the boy’s disinterested frown reminded Chelsea of Lachlan, the girl reminded her of a more clean-cut, blonde version of Angelina; she was beaming, apparently having already recovered from Mr. Clyde rebuffing her question.

“Sorry!” The girl giggled. “I didn’t mean to startle you. Cheslea, right?”

“That’s okay,” said Chelsea, “and yes, I’m Chelsea. What’s your name?”

“I’m Jen! And this is Sam! Say ‘hi’, Sam!”

“Hello.” Sam nodded at Chelsea, then stepped forward and extended a hand. “Are you in marketing with Jen?”

“IT, actually.” Chelsea shook his hand.

“Ah, IT.” Sam smirked. “The poor man’s electrical engineering. Well, it’s a step up from marketing, at least.”

“Sam! You’re being arrogant again. Bad Sam. Bad.” Jen mimed spraying him with a spray bottle as he rolled his eyes.

“It’s not rude if it’s true,” said Sam. “IT is for people who aren’t quite smart enough to be engineers. No offense intended, Chelsea.”

“Um, no offense taken,” Cheslea said, feeling a bit offended. “So, I assume you’re in engineering?”

“Electrical engineering.” Sam gave her a smug smile. “Naturally.”


“We were on our way to the cafe,” said Jen. “We were wondering if you wanted to get coffee with us?”

“Well, I’m getting coffee,” said Sam. “Jen will undoubtedly order some frilly mocha frappe monstrosity.”

Chelsea looked down at her phone. Naomi’s message had been concerning but she had said ‘no rush’ and Chelsea still had almost 45 minutes before she was allowed to clock out. It would be good to get to know some of the other interns and getting coffee would beat sitting at her desk worrying about the message.

“I’d love to,” Chelsea said, “but there’s something I need to do first. You guys go ahead and I’ll be right behind you.”

Jen waved as she and Sam stepped into the elevator. Chelsea waved back, then typed a message to Naomi.

What’s going on? Is everything okay?’



Billy Clyde put on his Panama hat as he entered the cafe, stopping to tip it at a pair of men in business suits leaving with their afternoon coffees. His driver was waiting outside to take him away to some tiny run-down air park almost half an hour away and he needed a caffeine boost before the long trip ahead of him.

It was ridiculous, he thought. The CPSI headquarters were so close to Charlotte Douglas Airport the jetliners overhead often made it difficult to hold a conversation outside. It would have been much easier for a private jet to take him home to Georgia, and he would have been able to stop for tacos at the airport, but his wife always insisted on picking him up in one of her silly little propeller planes. She never let him get tacos.

His cell phone rang and he pulled it out of his pocket and recognized the number immediately.

“If it isn’t my blushing bride,” he said. “I thought you weren’t supposed to use your cell phone at the air park. Did you miss me so much you couldn’t wait another half hour?”

We have a problem,” she said, her voice a distorted crackle on the cell phone speakers. Billy sighed. That awful air park had terrible cellular service.

“Well, hi to you too,” said Billy. “What’s this problem that’s so serious you can’t say ‘hello’ to your old husband?”

I just talked to Gus,” she said.

Billy watched a business jet longingly through the window as it whizzed through the sky. “Remind me who that is.”

“Gus Gibson.” He could hear the eye roll in her voice. “The old overseer in Melbourne.

“Ah, our old friend Gus. I haven’t talked to the fine folk in Melbourne in a minute,” he said. “Not since that unpleasantness in the data center last year.”

“It’s about the unpleasantness in the data center.

Billy felt a jolt of anxiety. He looked around to make sure no one was listening, then lowered his voice. “You don’t mean our little situation in Brisbane.”

He heard an unintelligible voice in the background, then heard his wife snap at the voice’s owner. “What do you mean I can’t talk on my cell phone here? This is a goddamn emergency! Do you have any idea who you’re dealing with? Do you have any idea how fucking easily I could end your sad little job with just a few phone calls?

As she continued to berate the poor sap who’d made the mistake of asking her to put her phone away, Billy took the opportunity to order his coffee and a blueberry muffin.

His wife finished with the unfortunate employee and returned to the conversation slightly out of breath.

“I do mean the situation in Brisbane,” she said. “Only the situation’s not really in Brisbane anymore. That’s the problem.”

“You mean the resource isn’t there anymore?” he said. “Then where on earth is it?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Gus saw someone bring it to Brisbane Airport, and he hasn’t seen it since. It could be anywhere in Australia by now. Maybe even the world.”

“Well, golly, that is a problem.” Billy took the coffee cup and muffin from the girl at the counter. “Thank you, dear–Do we know who brought it to the airport?”

“Gus said he wasn’t able to see the driver of the van through the window, but I have my suspicions.”



Chelsea checked her phone as she waited for her iced coffee.

“Who’re you texting?” Jen leaned on a bar stool and sipped her frappe.

“Oh, I’m just waiting for a message from a friend.”

“A boy friend?” Jen smiled and quirked her eyebrows.

“No, just my friend Naomi,” said Chelsea. “I got kind of a weird text from her during Mr. Clyde’s presentation and I’m a little worried.”

“Oh no,” said Jen. “I’m sorry. Do you need to go home?”

“I don’t think so. I wouldn’t be allowed to clock out yet anyway.” Chelsea paused to take her drink from the barista and thank her. “She said there wasn’t any rush but something weird happened and she wanted me to come over after work.”

“That is weird. I hope everything’s alright.”

“Is Jen bothering you?” Sam sauntered toward them, sipping from a cardboard coffee cup. He had fashioned his magnets into a bracelet and was wearing them on his wrist.

“Oh, no, no, not at all,” said Chelsea. “We were just talking.”

“Don’t tell me you drink iced coffee.” Sam pointed to her cup. “That’s an abomination. Coffee is meant to be hot.”

“I do prefer hot coffee actually, but I couldn’t possibly drink anything hot in this weather. Especially when I have to wear these long slacks.” Chelsea tugged at her pants leg.

“You could wear a dress.” Jen put her drink down on the counter and twirled, causing her dress to billow out around her. “They’re pretty!”

Sam rolled his eyes.

“I tried that on my first day,” said Chelsea. “They told me I had to cover the tattoo on my leg because it was ‘unprofessional’.”

“Aw,” Jen picked her drink back up and took a long sip. “That’s too bad.”

“Can we see it?” said Sam. “The tattoo?”

Chelsea put her drink on the counter and pulled up her right pants leg to show off her tattoo–a stylized goldfish. Waves of water wound around her calf behind it as though the fish was swimming up her leg.

“It’s real pretty,” said Jen. “A lot of tattoos look trashy, but that’s beautiful.”

Sam nodded. “Yeah, it’s actually quite well done.”

“Thanks,” said Chelsea.

“Does the fish mean anything,” said Jen, “if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Oh, no, I don’t mind at all,” said Chelsea. “I got a goldfish because of my favorite band. They’re called The Goldfish Technique.”

“I’ve never heard of them so they can’t be very good,” said Sam.

“They are good,” Chelsea said, trying to sound less annoyed than she felt. “A lot of great artists start out unknown.”

“Whatever.” Sam shrugged.

“The Goldfish Technique?” said Jen. “As in the sales technique?”

“I don’t know,” said Chelsea. “Probably. I didn’t know it was a sales technique, though. I thought it was just a random name.”

“Yeah, it’s a sales technique where you scare the crap out of your customer and then they buy whatever you’re selling,” said Jen. “I learned about it last week when we had to do this sales training thingy.”

“Why’s it called the goldfish technique?” Sam sipped his coffee.

“Basically, when you give a sales pitch you put a poster of something random like a goldfish behind you.” Jen stirred her drink with her straw. “You tell them a story of what horrible thing will supposedly happen if they don’t buy your product. Then at the end, you tie it into the goldfish somehow.”

“So something like ‘if you don’t buy our product, you’ll go out of business and then you’ll lose all your money and have to subsist eating goldfish out of a pond to survive?” said Sam.

“Yep, something like that,” said Jen.

“Doesn’t sound like a very nice technique,” said Chelsea.

“I didn’t think so either.” Jen frowned. “I was like ‘what happened to catching more flies with honey than vinegar?’ and the training lady just laughed at me.”

“Wait.” Sam laughed. “You said that? You actually raised your hand and said that in the training session? What, were you channeling the spirit of my grandma?”

Jen swatted his arm lightly. “Don’t you laugh at me too! And your grandma’s alive. I’ve met her.”

“I’ve never heard that expression but I think I agree with it,” said Chelsea. “I don’t know anything about sales, but I wouldn’t want to buy from someone who tried to scare me.”

“Me neither,” said Sam. “Corny old lady expressions aside, only a sucker would fall for something like that.”

“That technique is a really big thing in this company apparently,” said Jen. “The training lady said you don’t make any sales by being nice and friendly.”

“That’s silly,” said Chelsea. “What are you supposed to be, mean and unfriendly? I can’t imagine you’d get many sales like that either.”

“I don’t know. If you haven’t noticed, this company’s not real big on being nice.” Jen shrugged. “Especially if their founder and CEO is any indication.”

“Yeah, that really wasn’t very nice of him to dismiss your question like that,” said Chelsea. “I thought it was a good question.”

“If you think he’s mean, you should meet his wife,” the barista chimed in. “There was a guy who worked with me in the cafe last year who got her coffee order wrong. She gathered all the cafe employees together so she could fire him in front of us.”

“Wow,” said Jen. “Is she even allowed to do that? She doesn’t actually work here, does she?”

“As far as anyone’s concerned, she has as much power as Mr. Clyde. Maybe more,” said the barista. “Lily van Vleet Clyde is pretty notorious among the dining staff now.”

“Wait,” said Chelsea. “Her name is Lily?”

“Yeah,” said Sam. “So?”

“And her husband’s name is Billy? They’re Lily and Billy? Seriously?” said Chelsea. “Is that on purpose? That’s got to be on purpose.”

“No, they went by Lily and Billy before they got married.” The barista sprayed something on the counter, then wiped it with a cloth. “My manager worked here back when they were both married to other people and messing around on their spouses. She said they weren’t exactly subtle about it because they knew no one would dare say anything.”

“What happened to their spouses?” said Sam.

“Lily’s late husband died in a mysterious light aircraft accident. Or so-called accident, anyway,” the barista said. “Her stepdaughter was on the plane too.”

Jen covered her mouth with her hand. “You mean she…?”

“Killed them?” The barista shrugged. “I wouldn’t be surprised. The guy was an experienced pilot and apparently they never figured out why he crashed or even found the wreckage. He left her a whole bunch of money too. I’m not saying she did it but it is suspicious.”

“If I were Mr. Clyde, I’d be pretty nervous,” said Sam.

“Nah, I think Mr. Clyde was in on it too. He divorced his then-wife and married Lily right after it happened.”

“How do you know all this?” said Jen.

“Us dining staff are basically invisible to executives,” said the barista. “We overhear some wild shit.”

Sam leaned both his elbows on the counter. “Like what?”

The barista adjusted her glasses. “I just told you the wildest thing I’ve heard. I hear other stuff I’m not supposed to but none of it is as… interesting as what I just told you.”

“Well, it is a pretty high bar,” said Sam.

“I wouldn’t call that interesting so much as horrible,” said Jen.

“It can be both.” Sam tilted his head back to take a final sip of his coffee, then tossed the cup into a trash can.

“Mr. Clyde was in here talking on the phone just before you three showed up, actually,” said the barista. “I don’t know what he was talking about but he kept lowering his voice and looking around like he didn’t want anyone listening in.”

“What was he saying?” said Sam.

“Sam!” Jen nudged him with her elbow. “That’s none of our business.”

Sam shrugged. “As an engineer, I have a natural curiosity.”

“He was saying someone took something from the company in Australia and sent it somewhere on a plane.” The barista leaned down to shoo a fly out of the pastry display case. “He said something about goldfish too; maybe it was that technique you were talking about. I didn’t really understand it.”

“Did he say what was taken?” said Sam.

“No, but he mentioned the guy he thought took it. Someone called Dominic… Davis, I think?”

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