Thanks for sticking with the story. Here is the final section.
I cock my head. I am positive that no one told her that. TS-SCI cleared or not, that information is not on any official reports. Hardesty would have his head handed to him if anyone knew he had spent taxpayer money on such a “fringe” activity as a psycho detector. He’s the only person I’ve ever told about the crazy magnet. He’s an idiot, but I would trust him with my life. I guess that makes me one too. “What makes you think I’ve been hired to evaluate you?” I ask. “I assume you’ve already gone through scrutiny.”
She shrugs. “Mostly the normal procedure. I answer questions, they talk to neighbors and family, lie detector, and so on.”
“If you had a history of mental illness, they would know it.”
“They know about my history with doctors. They just do not know what to make of it.” I pause, watching as she manages to convince a squirrel to eat a bit of cookie from her hand. “From breakfast,” she says, smiling.
I am smiling back, although it is not something I do on the job. Time to get serious. “Ms. Dark,” I start. It gets her attention right away – the smile evaporates. “I need to know where you learned about my role with the agency. It’s strictly need-to-know.”
She crouches a little, and whispers, like we’re suddenly in a spy movie. It’s cute enough I start to smile again, despite myself. “I am sorry … I did not know it was a secret. I can … read people, you might say.” My expression must have changed because she looked at me, her face drawing taut and continued to explain. “I do not know if it is the synesthesia, or the head injury, or God, or insanity, but what I see is not what the world sees.” She stops.
“I’m listening,” I say, speaking softer.
“Sometimes it is colors, as in your case. Other times, like Hardesty, it is more than one thing. When he eats, for instance, I smell sour milk. He is a bright, stinging red that makes my tongue itch, and the sound of his chewing makes my eyes water. It is very distasteful.”
“Yeah, it’s not much more pleasant to watch for me either.”
She nods. “It is rare that I take off my glasses, because what I see and feel is so strong, it overwhelms me. It is like having severe schizophrenia, I suppose, except I have the horror of being sane.” She gives a laugh that is devoid of any humor.
I sit quietly. I don’t really know how to respond.
“Imagine if you could see people for what they are, and not what they look like,” she says.
“Like what, for instance? What do I look like?”
Now I know she’s blushing.
“I won’t get angry, I promise,” I say. I’m intrigued now, and any pretense of professionalism is gone. This stuff is even better than a crazy magnet.
She looks at me, and for a moment, I’m certain her eyes are locked on mine. Don’t ask how I know, I can just feel them. “You have an aura about you. It is bright, and purple, like a star that gives off only violet and ultraviolet light. When I remove my glasses, it dances around you. Sometimes, when you speak softly, I cannot hear you over the crackling sound it makes.”
She looks down. “Oui, you know, like electricity.”
I have been feeling a bit of that over the past half hour.
“And …” she stops and looks in my direction. As the sun breaks through the clouds above, I can see her eyes in there, darting just above my dome. She turns, following some imaginary trail, and her eyes fix on an old lady in a wrinkled shirt, overcoat, and dirty blue skirt. From here, I can just make out the face, her yellowed teeth beaming in a sea of wrinkles. She’s lifting up her hemline, showing us, and the world, her clean, white panties. It’s Crazy Annie, fresh from the pharmacy at the corner.
“Friend of yours?” Dark asks.
I give a fake smile and wave at Annie. She waves back, drops her skirt, and walks off. “We’ve met,” I answer.
“The light I tell you about. It extended all the way to that unfortunate woman. You were bathing her in it. She is only yellow without you.” Dark shakes her head. “Yellow is such a sad color.”
So there it is. My first proof of the crazy magnet … of a sorts. I do something I never do. I tell her all about it – the long, crazy, history. In the middle, she’s in tears, but by the end, we’re both laughing hysterically. Then, as the clock rolls past noon, she starts in on her story. She tells me about the time when, at age thirteen, while walking along a narrow street from school, a drunk driver struck her. She tells me how she awoke in the hospital, weeks later, her hips twisted and leg shattered, her skull fractured, and her memory largely gone. Dark talks about the months of recovery, relearning to see, to read, and to walk, and the years of therapy, relearning everything else. Mostly, however, she tells me of waking up one frightening morning where sounds appear where once were colors, where music has a flavor, words a hue, and where love actually hurts. There are no points in her story where we’re laughing.
She tells me three times it’s okay to cry. By the second time, I start believing her. When she’s finished, I know more about her than anyone ever has. Pretty damned good interview, if I say so myself.
“So,” she says, standing up. She winces in pain as she rises. “How did I do?”
“You did great,” I say. It’s an honest assessment.
“Bravo! So you will take the job?”
Now I am confused. “What job?”
It’s Dark’s turn to act surprised. “Why, this was a job interview. Did not Mr. Hardesty tell you?” I shake my head no. “I need a partner for … for the thing I cannot discuss,” she says, watching as a crowd goes past. “Mr. Hardesty recommended you, but I insisted on interviewing you myself. He said you would likewise want to know if you could trust me in critical situations.”
That freaking snake. I was right.
But I can’t help laughing; it’s bloody funny. Here I am interviewing her, and all the while, she’s really interviewing me. I tell her my supposed role in our meeting and that it was Hardesty with the worries, not me. She joins me in laughter.
I say, “That explains the public meeting. He wanted to give us a chance to sniff each other out.”
Dark blushes again. “Chocolate, for the record.”
“Because of my skin color.” I’m smiling. Mostly, it’s because I like the way she says, “Sho-co-lat.”
“Oui, most likely. I am sorry.” She looks embarrassed, even hidden behind the big glasses. “It is not usually so literal.” I’m too busy laughing to answer. “I like you too,” she says, smiling now.
We start walking across the street to the metro, and she stops, wincing again. She rubs first her hip, then her thigh, and finally, her knee. “Sorry. I think it is the dampness in the air. They hurt if I sit too long.”
“That’s okay, I have the same issue with my knees.” Then, on impulse, I add, “I’m pretty good with massages, if you need some help.”
Real professional, Foss. Smooth too.
She smiles, releasing her knee. “No, merci. I will be fine.”
I suppose I should be happy she passed the crazy magnet test. Not as happy as you would expect, however.
She starts across the roundabout to the Dupont Circle Metro station. “Ask me again when we get to Cayman,” she says. “Perhaps by then, both our knees will need attention.”
I stop in the middle of the street at that response. I’m not sure if that was the crazy magnet kicking on again, but you know what? I couldn’t care less. I am going to like this new gig.