15 January 2010
By Curtis C. Chen
Johanna sees the sound of footsteps, and she panics. Dark blue, blotchy—they're boots, and it's a man wearing them. Can't be good.
Into the bathroom, open the toilet tank—oh, hell, just two more for the road—peel apart dripping wet plastic, pick out the little yellow lifesavers. Dry-swallow both in one gulp, drop the rest and flush. Scrape the lid back into place.
Knocking. Go to the front door, breathe, unlock the deadbolts. Standing outside is a fresh-faced ensign in service khakis. His heartbeat pulses dull red, almost twice a second.
Lieutenant Klaus? says the ensign, whose name tag reads ACKER. His green-blue syllables blossom like a false-color sat map.
Who wants to know? Johanna asks. Her own voice makes a purple tunnel around Acker's face.
VA outreach, Acker says, saluting. We're surveying veterans with synesthetic disorders. He holds up a digital notepad.
Bullshit, Johanna says. The VA doesn't make house calls.
Acker swallows, and his throat glows sickly urine yellow. May I come in, Lieutenant? This is a sensitive matter.
Johanna nods. Acker walks into the apartment. Johanna sticks her head outside, looks both ways down the hall, doesn't see a spotter. Can't be that important if greenhorn came alone.
She closes the door, folds her arms. So what is this really about, Ensign? The last word pulses in a blue halo.
Acker turns his notepad around. The screen glitters with a Naval Intelligence shield above a thumbscan box. I need to verify your identity first, ma'am.
Johanna's heart jumps, painting an orange haze over the pad. She's been waiting for this. Months now, suffering with constant noise in her ears, but she knew they had to approve the transfer. Someone with her experience, her skills? They had no choice!
She reaches for the notepad, smiles up at Acker, and freezes.
His hat. He's still wearing cover, indoors. She had the habit drilled out of her in boot camp—
He grabs her wrist, yanks her thumb toward the scanner. Johanna closes her fist, punches the pad away, slams her forehead into his nose. Before he hits the floor, she's already got her go-bag, pulling open the front door.
Two plainclothes police detectives block her way, one showing his badge, the other holding a revolver.
NYPD, says badge-cop, his voice a red mist shot through with orange streaks. Johanna Klaus, you are under arrest for possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell...
Behind her, Acker struggles to his feet, moaning yellow and green.
Told you that was a dumb idea, revolver-cop calls into the apartment.
Ma'am, I need to handcuff you, says badge-cop.
Johanna drops her bag and turns around. She knows the drill.
Damn, Andy, why do you always get the hot suspects?
The cuffs go on with a flashbulb clink. Jake, this woman was wounded in battle. Show some respect.
Oh, I definitely respect that.
Johanna sees a puff of pink, elbow hitting gut. She allows herself a tiny smile. That's not the drugs.
Photo: View from WWII Memorial in Washington, DC, June, 2008.