Friday, October 1, 2010
Derby Girls - Epilogue
Madame Secretary finally made it home, but some of her problems have followed her across the river.
The Secretary of Education’s office was on the twentieth floor of the new federal building. The glass elevators faced the spotlight, the dome a milky blue gray in the sunlight.
Beatrix traced the curve of the dome against the glass, her finger leaving a faint smudge behind. She felt the elevator settle to a stop and with a last look at the spotlight, turned and stepped out.
A low hum of muted sound filled the office, quiet calls, the clatter of keyboards and the muffled rustle of shoes on carpet.
"Madame Secretary, President McGinnis from La Salle University is waiting in the outer office," the receptionist said before she could duck around the front desk.
Beatrix looked back and saw Dee was pulling at her lower lip, getting lipstick on her fingers. She raised her eyebrows at the younger woman, her hand loose against the handle of her briefcase, the palm still sore and tight. Administrators had been flooding her office since the contact sport ban was lifted. Suddenly every school in the Americas had an ancient sporting tradition, facilities at the ready and a group of students eager to restore the Federation's glorious tradition of victory.
"He insisted he had an appointment and the records-"
Beatrix waved her off; aware that the younger woman was watching her hand, eyes widening curiously. "It's fine, Harold won't double book me," she said, casually putting her hand her pocket, the bandages crinkling.
She walked quickly down the corridor, passing offices and open cubicles, getting nods from her staff as she went. Ahead she could see her office door standing open and the tips of McGinnis’s polished shoes in the outer room. She ducked into the kitchen and through the back door of the break room. The maintenance corridor was painted gray and white over the concrete and the lights flickered along the exposed pipes, casting long shadows. She turned left, right and right again, smiling faintly. McGinnis would see her when she was ready for him.
She stumbled forward a step before she covered her surprise.
Harry didn't smile or look away but his implant spun slyly as she closed the space between them.
She allowed him to take her briefcase and accepted the cup of coffee he handed her. "What do we have this morning, Mr. Langley?" she asked crisply.
She watched his implant adjust as he accessed the updated office feed, his eyes hazy, his lips moving slightly. The bottom lip still showed a thick pink wedge of scar that made his mouth look lopsided.
Seconds passed and she waited, her stitches itching, watching his eyes. They snapped back into sharp focus once the download was complete. "9:00am, meeting with Dean Stanton from Notre Dame for a contact football license. 10:00am, meeting with the Center City parks council for football, basketball, and soccer licensing. 11:15am, conference call with the superintendents of schools for New York, Washington and Philadelphia regarding league permits. 1:00pm, lunch with the Secretary of Defense. 2:00pm, meeting with Dean Harding from Princeton for boxing and wrestling licenses. 3:00pm, meeting with President Landman from the University of Toronto for hockey and rugby licenses. 4:15pm, meeting Dean Cantor from Ohio State for soccer and contact football licenses."
"And the administrator from La Salle camping in my outer office?" she asked, amused to hear her lunch with Charlie listed as an official event in her day.
Harry shrugged; his expression serious. "I have him slated between your conference call and the Secretary of Defense. If you have time."
She smiled brightly and patted his shoulder. "Give me fifteen minutes then send Dean Stanton in," she said, thumbing the pad next to the door. It flashed blue and the lock clicked softly. She pushed the door open and accepted her briefcase with her bandaged hand.
"A package just came through security," Harry said before the door closed behind her.
Sitting squarely on her blotter was a box wrapped in battered brown paper and covered in authorization stamps. She tilted her head, frowning. She dropped her briefcase next to the desk and set her coffee in her inbox. She traced the stamps with one finger, exit authorizations from the EU, import authorizations for the Americas, border security, port security, gate passes, clearance from building security and in the center a German postmark. She hooked her fingers under the paper and pulled with both hands. It ripped away in pieces, the black box underneath scuffed and battered with yellow customs tape sealing the hastily cut edges. She plucked the ornamental letter opener from her blotter without looking away from the box and deftly slipped the blade between the layers of cardboard. The yellow tape parted with a faint zip. She let the letter opener fall and lifted the lid. Her eyes narrowed and she pulled the tissue paper away. It rattled in her fist as her hand tightened, fingers pressing painfully into her stitches. She relaxed her fingers one at a time until the paper fell on the floor. She stood, staring into the box, breathing in the smell of leather and rubber, flexing both hands until her jaw unclenched.
"Fillmore," she said, sitting in the guest chair with a sigh. She pulled the box onto her lap. The boots were bright red and the laces pure white. She lifted one out by the heel, biting the inside of her cheek when red wheels came free of the paper. She spun one with her finger. A message. They were her broken skates down to the bearings. She wondered if Lynx had described them to the security officer personally.
Without putting the boot down she reached across her desk and tapped the comm.
"Ma'am?" Harry answered immediately.
"Push back my 9:00am and send McGinnis in," she said, gently setting the boot in its nest of paper. It was such a waste. A perfect pair of skates hiding a tracker, a wire, a faulty axle, anything and everything knowing Fillmore.
There was the slightest pause and then, "Yes, ma'am. I'll send him in now."
She stood, cradling the box in her arms and circled her desk. The box fit neatly underneath and she turned her screen on and had her coffee held casually in one hand before the door opened. She didn't look up as McGinnis entered. She didn't trust herself not to smile. She already had a message ready. University administrators were selling their souls for the limited number of contact sport licenses. And McGinnis would only have to host a city derby league for his. Which would put the first legal derby match in twenty years directly across from Fillmore’s office.