Jonas is in the Quirk & Dagger offices, but still isn’t sure what’s going on. Who is the Fat Lady, and why does she still believe he’s Agent Brook?
The Fat Lady and Babe rushed me through a bunch of paperwork. None of it made a whole bunch of sense; they were convinced I was super-spy Jonas Brook despite my protests. The Fat Lady told me I would understand soon enough.
For those who think I’m being an insensitive jerk by calling her the Fat Lady, I’m absolutely not. Okay, sure, maybe I’m a little chauvinistic. A little. I mean, it’s not like I think chicks aren’t as awesome as guys – much to the contrary, chicks are awesome – just that sometimes I say things that come across as a little sexist. Like giving people names like Babe. But the Fat Lady, that’s a whole different story. She came right out and said it’s what she should be called, so don’t get on my case if I just do what I’m told.
Anyway, they had me go into a little room and strip down. After stuffing my clothes into a dumbwaiter, a fresh-scented mist filled the room. Little beads of liquid clung to my skin. It tickled at first, but after a few moments it began to sting. My eyes went wide like saucers and I shouted for help, but the Fat Lady’s voice filled the room.
“Calm down, Agent. It’s the standard cleaning process,” she said.
“What the heck is going on?” I yelled, still panicking.
“It’s just nanotech scrubbers, Brook. We need to make sure you didn’t bring in any surveillance devices.”
“What’s it going to take for you to believe I’m not who you think I am?” I asked. Something in the air changed, like a high-pressure system filling the room. The air itself was crushing me. It made my skin crawl. Literally. The dermal layer of my arm warped like waves traveling from wrist to elbow and beyond as if it was being blown by a high-powered hand dryer in some public restroom. Not just my arm, my whole body. But there was no wind in the room, no blowing, no whirling.
Then a door opened on the far end of the room with a soft hiss! revealing a closet full of jumpsuits, all in forest green like Babe’s. The sound these doors made was more like the ones in Star Wars than in Star Trek, a sudden rush of pneumatic cylinders compressing as the panel simply vanished, opening a portal to another room.
“What’s it going to take for you to believe you aren’t who you think you are?” the Fat Lady parroted me.
I pondered for a moment then answered, “A corporate charge account, some tech toys, and a slick car? Maybe an Aston-Martin?”
When she didn’t respond, I figured the answer was no.
The jumpsuit fit like a glove – someone else’s glove; a little loose in spots, a little tight in others – but wasn’t too uncomfortable. Another door slid open with the same hiss! and I stepped through into a long, white hallway. A green light flickered on under the slick translucent layer of the opposite wall, an arrow pointing to the right. I turned and followed it and another lit up just past it. One after another, they led me past half a dozen doors until another one slid open.
I stepped into the room, kind of an understated little lounge with a huge TV hanging on one end and a white leather couch against the opposing wall. Under the television stood a cabinet, its doors unopened. No pictures, no decorations at all in the room, just another door straight out from the one where I’d entered. Beside it was a little round screen, no bigger than a quarter. Now, I’ve seen enough super-spy movies to know a biometric scanner when I see one, and this was definitely a biometric scanner. I pressed my thumb to the black circle and the door unlatched and swung open.
That was different. I was just getting used to feeling like I was on the Death Star. In fact, I half expected there to be another conference table in the next room, with Darth Vader sitting at its head.
Instead I found a bed. Babe sat at its edge, the top half of her jumpsuit pushed down to her waist revealing an equally snug white t-shirt.
Maybe this super-spy thing wasn’t a bad idea after all.
She stood and strode toward me, her hips rocking back and forth with each step. A playful smile teased up one corner of her mouth. One hand reached out and pressed flat against my chest.
The other cocked back for a punch.
“Whoa, wait!” I exclaimed, flinching.
She stopped and both hands dropped to her sides. Her eyes narrowed as she studied me, and after a few moments she began to shake her head. “No,” she muttered. “No, no, no, no…”
“What? What’s wrong?”
“You’re not him, are you? You’re not Agent Brook.” She took a step back, staring at me, examining me. “How the heck..? You look just like him. Sound just like him.”
I chuckled. “How’d you figure it out?”
“Joe was never such a wuss.”
A frown tugged the corners of my mouth downward. Me, a wuss? Okay, maybe. I mean, I hadn’t been in a fight since the ninth grade, and that was just with some kid who called for a time out the first time I socked him in the gut. Conflict wasn’t my thing, not unless it was on a digital battlefield. Those guys you see online all the time, the standard Internet Tough Guy™ who thinks he’s badass just ’cause he has a great kill/death ratio? Yeah, I’m not one of ’em.
“Okay, so what next?” I asked.
“Next? The Fat Lady thinks you’re him.” She turned away and took a couple steps, then wheeled back on the balls of her feet. “You’re going to have to be him. You’ll have to be Agent Jonas Brook.”