As promised in yesterday’s post, here is a bit from the short story “Crazy Magnet,” in which our narrator Foster “Foss” Cain meets his future partner Jeanne Dark for the very first time, at a Starbucks in Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C. Dark is being introduced to Foss by his Government contact (actually a bureaucrat, a Contracting Officer’s Technical Representative) named Hardesty. It will be fun to add in details from how government contracting actually works. That’s my day job, and I know the process pretty well. I’m looking forward to showing how stuff actually works, which is far less sexy (and funnier) than how it looks in the movies.
Oh, in case you didn’t know, my writing is often funny. The covers to The Stream series look “dark” but the books are not.
Well, back to the subject at hand. Meet Dark, as seen by Foss.
As Hardesty zooms through the shop – he’s pretty nimble for a guy his size – I see this bronze beauty come in. She’s roughly five foot six, brown hair that’s blond on the ends, with the blond hair swept forward and framing her face. She’s got a perma-tan, it appears, like she lives in a tanning salon, or maybe on some French Riviera beach. It’s early June, and the weather’s still nice in D.C., if a bit overcast, so she’s wearing a loose-fitting white top and green capris. Not exactly business attire, but not casual either. Stylish. As she works her way through the crowd, I finally get a good look at her face. It’s pretty, what I can see of it. I reckon she’s about thirty, thirty-one, with a triangular face, high cheek bones, nice lips in some brick red color, and huge sunglasses that look like pilots’ shades, except they are tinted brown or gold. She’s slender, only about an ounce or two above skinny, to be honest.
Then I see the cane; Ms. Sunglasses is Dark. She’s not limping, not really, but you can tell the cane is bearing some of the weight of her right hip. It is an ebony cane with a brass handle in the shape of a goose. My first instinct is to rush over to help her, under the guise of introducing myself, as she’s walking so slowly it’s almost painful to watch. Something tells me to hold back, though. This is a business meeting, and implying that your new client is helpless is a good way not to get paid. Besides, there is something about her demeanor … like she’s creeping along on purpose.
I stand, thinking maybe it’s me she’s looking for. I’m not too hard to miss, standing. I go about six-four, and I’m kind of built like a linebacker on steroids (like there’s another kind). She looks right at me, nods, and then keeps walking in her deliberate, let’s scan the whole room sort of way. After about sixty seconds, she makes it from the front door to my table.
“Hello,” she says, “I am Jeanne Dark.” Her voice is soft, with a distinct, but muted French accent. If this weren’t business, I’d be wondering how that accent sounds in between moans.
Damn. I guess I just wondered anyway.
“Purple,” she says, before I can even open my mouth.
“Excuse me?” I say. I mean, yeah, I’m pretty dark-skinned, but I’m not exactly the color of tar at midnight, much less purple. That’s insulting bordering on racism, and I’m not real clear which side of the border it’s on. I am deliberating whether I want to deal with that or just let it slide, when I notice she’s not really looking at me. It is more as if she is looking around me.
“I’ve never seen purple before,” she says. “It’s very pretty.”
Okay, I’ve already got her pegged as at least eccentric. This should be interesting. I offer my hand. “Foster Cain, Ms. Dark.”
“You can call me Jeanne, or just Dark.” She takes my hand, switching the cane to her left so deftly that I didn’t even notice her doing it. Her handshake is all soft and ladylike, and she sits. She makes no move to take off those glasses. They are so dark I can’t even see her eyes, much less determine their color, or whether they are bugging out like a psycho-zombie slasher. “My eyes are brown,” she says, while turning her head toward Hardesty who’s now returning with two cups of coffee and a Danish.
“Excuse me?” I say, for the second time. I heard her. It just caught me off-guard, her reading me like that. I’m the reader; she’s the readee.
Get with the program, lady.
She turns toward me, and finally looks me in the face. She smiles. I like it. “You were wondering what color my eyes are. They are brown.”
I smile back. “And how did you know that?”
“Because, you are a man. Men always wonder about whatever part of a woman they cannot see.” I can tell she’s looking at my suit and tie. “Plus, you are a gentleman, and so I know you would not wonder about any other parts.”
I either just got put in my place, or flirted with. Maybe both. I’m glad I’m melanin-enriched, or else I’d be blushing like a teenage girl. The magnet is working, but I’m not sure if it’s working on her, or on me.
Later, Dark explains her gift:
She’s looking at me again, sipping her coffee, and smiling.
“You take your coffee black?” I ask.
“Yes. I don’t like the colors when you add sugar and cream.” She makes a face.
Alarms are ringing in my head. “Colors?” I ask.
She smiles. “Oui.”
I actually wait ten seconds, giving her enough time to get uncomfortable and begin filling in the blanks. She does neither. “You going to explain what you mean about colors?” I ask. Point one to her.
“Sugar is bright yellow in my head, like the sun. Cream feels like gravel in my ears, a buzzing, like a mosquito-sized headache, and is gray. You add the two to a strong French roast, and your lovely brown coffee is the color of vomit.” She sips her coffee; I put mine down. “I don’t like seeing vomit when I drink. Do you?”
I agree that I do not. We pause for another fifteen seconds while I wait for her to explain the previous explanation. Point two to her. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. You mean the color of the coffee bothers you?”
She looks serious this time, shaking her head. “No, I am a … how you say, synesthete.”
It takes a few seconds for the word to register; then I get it. “You see colors,” I say. I shake my head; that is too simplistic an explanation. “I mean, your senses combine.” I have heard of it, but have never met a synesthete before. That alone would explain why a conservative government agency would be a little hinky about hiring her.
“Oui. But it is more than that and less than that. I have what is considered to be an extreme form. I do not precisely see the colors. Instead, as I sip the coffee, for instance, my brain reacts as though the colors are there.” She dips her pinkie in the small vial of cream Hardesty left, and inserts it into her mouth. Very. Slowly. Part of me wants to be her pinkie. “Even with my eyes closed, it tastes gray. Not very pleasant.”
There is another pause where I catch myself staring at her pinky. She catches me too and lowers her head, pretending not to smile.