Chip didn’t know what to expect when Lurlene sent him her address when he asked for it by text. He figured she didn’t still live in the nice house that her parents had lived in while the two of them were in high school, but he had just figured that she would maintain a certain level of cheerleaderly decorum in her housing choices. He was a bit surprised when his phone took him to a modest old farmhouse on the edge of the town but down by the river.
The house was close by an honest to goodness barn, which seemed surprising near a small town like this, but the original owner was probably some kind of hold-out who resisted selling off his farm to mid-century developers and kept stubbornly living there. Of course, nothing good lasts forever, so the principled or merely obstreperous old coot had probably died and his heirs were happy to find a local who was willing to take on such a millstone of a property. The roof on the barn looked new enough and Chip wondered how a hairdresser could afford the upkeep. Maybe Lurlene’s parents cared enough about the respectability of their offspring that they offered a monthly allowance or paid her mortgage or insurance.
With that uncharitable thought, Chip knocked nervously on Lurlene’s door. She probably wouldn’t want to help him with his predicament if she knew his musings about her earning potential so he tried to stuff the thoughts down and focus on the assistance he needed. Lurlene answered the door wearing a zip-up sweatshirt emblazoned with a brand name that Chip had never heard of. He couldn’t tell if it was an authentically fashionable brand splashed across the majority of the front of the sweater, or if it was a down-market imitation of the style of a fashionable brand that would have come from the local big box store a year or two after people on the coasts had stopped wearing sweatshirts with the front covered in branding. Chip’s fashion awareness was far too weak to tell the difference, but with the embarassing sting of his assumptions about her real estate acumen, Chip consciously chose to believe that Lurlene was wearing a quite-fashionable sweatshirt inside her daddy’s old farmhouse.
Lurlene grinned broadly as she pulled open the door and invited Chip inside with a step back and to the side.
“Hi sugar. What’d you finally call little, old me for? Did you feel the need for another ride in a real car?” Lurlene wasn’t chewing gum, but her tone made Chip feel as if she was smacking away at an eighth-grade pace anyways.
“No, I, uh, I don’t think I need a ride anywhere, but, uh, thanks. Can I, uh, come in?” Chip asked lamely since she had obviously invited him in already.
Lurlene gestured even more extravagantly for Chip to step past her into the wood-floored living area. The dark old pine floors were contrasted nicely with soft green and blue furnishings and surprisingly high ceilings. Chip faltered when trying to decide where to sit, unsure if his request would meet with more success if he were in an armchair, or if he could sit on the couch and bear sitting right next to Lurlene. At least she didn’t have heels and a tank top on! He chose the couch, not wanting to seem standoffish.
He needn’t have worried, since Lurlene didn’t sit down straight away, instead deploying her debutante manners and asking Chip if he would like something to drink. Chip nodded, suddenly parched enough that he couldn’t articulate a spoken response. She began listing the choices, “There’s beer, wine, …” and Chip just tried to nod as fast as he could to make a selection and hopefully get his power of speech back.
Lurlene turned to go through the wide opening into the brightly lit adjoining kitchen. Here the scuffed old floors of the living room transitioned to smooth, pale maple which nearly shone in the LED under-cabinet lighting. Chip was surprised to find that he had apparently ordered a beer as Lurlene took a mug out of the freezer and popped the top on a regional craft beer, one that Chip recognized not from his time in the midst of the Portland microbrew revolution, but from the brewery’s well-executed local marketing campaign.
As Lurlene poured, Chip reflected on the dramatic level of uncertainty that he had around asking Lurlene for this particular favor. He had no idea which side of the ideological spectrum she fell on. Her inherited social strata suggested a certain leaning toward the forces of resource extraction, but there was something in her tasteful decor and laughing eyes that hinted that perhaps she wasn’t as sociologically simple as Chip might have supposed during their shared childhoods. Then there was the question of the target of the favor.
Certainly at one point Lurlene had been biblically close (or so the rumor went) but Chip hadn’t followed the gossip from his hometown over the past decade to know whether that relationship had lasted well-on into the post-high school years or if it had fizzled shortly after graduation. The fact that she wasn’t tending Buck’s house and chasing his rug-rats around suggested at least that the two of them had not spent all of the intervening years in romantic attachment.
As Lurlene returned and put the beer down on a side table next to the couch, she pivoted in front of Chip and gleefully began to unzip her sweatshirt down the front. Chip’s strangled “gerp” was apparently enough impact for her because she paused with the zipper around her navel and a modest enough expanse of heather-gray tee-shirt exposed behind the lapels. She winked again as she curled up onto the couch next to Chip with her feet pulled kittenishly under her. Chip coughed, trying to clear his throat and get started with the questions he had tried to map out to figure out if it was a good idea to include Lurlene into the details of his plot.
She disarmed him completely by asking “What can I do to help you take down Buck Lemaire?”
Chip stammered, clearing his throat while his jaw hung open, which was altogether more embarassing than he expected. “Wait,” he managed, “how did you know that this was about Buck Lemaire?”
“Well, honey, you haven’t always been the most secretive boy detective. Half a dozen people saw you going over to his office and most of them didn’t know that you had no good reason to be over there like I did. They were just being gossipy like a herd of crows paying attention to the shiniest objects.”
“Wait, uh, am I a shiny object?”
Lurlene chuckled, “Not exactly. People always tend to pay attention to anything that is out of the ordinary. When you’ve been watching the same people on the same roads for your whole life, it catches your eye when someone knew does anything. They don’t mean any harm, they just can’t override their corvid programming.”
“So, does everybody know that I’m scheming against Buck?” Chip asked afraid.
“Oh no, I figured that all by my little old self. Ellen Suffolk was in for a trim and she told the story of some mining truck tearing around the country roads menacing innocent motorists and I figured you were about the most innocent one left around here.”
“But, uh, what does the driving habits of some random employee have to do with me?”
“Oh, Chip, you and I both know that wasn’t just any random employee. You know because you’re here and looking as scared as a meat chicken in the late fall. I know because Ellen told me about the license plate number that was a double palindrome and I knew right away whose truck it was.”
Chip couldn’t believe that there was a second person in Fredrickton who was tracking the license numbers of all the cars that passed by and he said as much, “You can’t know all the license numbers of the mining companies fleet of trucks too, can you?”
Lurlene chuckle again which seemed to be her default response any time that Chip was experiencing consternation. “I know that license plate because it parked in that driveway every day for half a year. Buck Lemaire drove his work truck down here when he was re-roofing the barn.”
Chip couldn’t quite follow the logic of hiring someone you disliked to do repair work around the house. His frown of confusion brought the expected giggle, but also the hoped-for explanation.
“That rotten piece of shit left me high and dry with half a roof when I wouldn’t sleep with him. He offered to help out on the place and I thought that he was finally growing up enough that we could go back to being friends, but no. He wanted some quid for his pro quo and I let him know that wasn’t how I thought friends exchanged favors. He said some very unkind things about me and my mother and father and hightailed it out of here in that very truck. I was so keyed up as he spun out that I don’t think I’ll ever forget that license plate screeching away in a cloud of dust.”
Chip didn’t know what to say. He obviously disapproved of Buck’s behavior, but he was also having trouble hiding the frisson of excitement at finding out that Lurlene was likely to come down on his side in this, as long as his side was opposite to Buck Lemaire’s side.
“So, you think that was Buck who tried to run me off the road that day? I guess I did really bad at pretending to be looking for a job when I went down there.” Chip frowned at his apparent investigatory incompetence.
“Oh, not necessarily,” Lurlene comforted him. “Buck’s still the kind of hothead who would attempt vehicular homicide if you gave him a bad day.” She smiled reassuringly. “So how are we going to get him?” she asked.
“Well, uh,” Chip stammered, not sure how to explain his plan. “Well, we’re going to, I mean, I guess you’re going to, put something in his office building to help us see what’s on his computer.”
“Cool,” Lurlene chirped, “like steganography?”
Chip couldn’t have been more surprised if Lurlene had asked him whether he would be using an 8 or 16-bit microcontroller. “How do you know about steganography?”
“I get Netflix recommendations from a couple gamer kids when I cut their hair. There’s some great documentaries out there on this stuff, you know.”
Chip wasn’t sure that her definition of “this stuff” was the same as his, but he just nodded to be on the safe side. “No, no steganography. That’s way too low-bandwidth for the stuff we’re hoping to see. I mean, you could hope to suck out someone’s encryption key over the course of a couple hours or days, but it’d take us until next year to get the contents of a minute of video and he’d have to watch the thing over and over again for us to sense the fields coming from the monitor.
“No, this is going to be decidedly less documentary-worthy. We’re going to plug something in to the network and talk directly to his computer. We’re going to make it an offer it can’t refuse.” Chip glanced up at Lurlene to see if she had caught the ancient movie reference and he gave a little smile back when he saw that she had grinned, perhaps a bit malevolently.
“All right, let’s go then!” She stood up and headed for the front door, snatching her keys from the table on her way out. Chip protested, but he was too late, she was out the door and into the yard already. Chip jumped up from the couch and ran to intercept her. She was already heading across the lawn with a significant sway to her step and some seriously movie-star bounce to her well-styled locks. She headed right down to the old barn and began to slide back a wooden door that slid aside on a grey metal track.
By the time Chip caught up with her, she had the door open and was on her way to the driver’s door of the red Corvette which she had parked nose out in the surprisingly tidy garage that the barn had been converted into.
“Ooh, I can’t wait to stick it to that pig. Just wait til he gets a load of this! He won’t know what hit him in his network!” And with that, she flipped the zipper down the rest of the way and toassed the sweatshirt back off her shoulders. What had looked like a modest tee shirt was anything but. The sleeves and back had been cut away so that a wide expanse of creamy flesh was bare from the side of her chest around to the small of her back where the shirt swung loosely above the curve of her lower back into the opposing curve of her extremely lower back. The sides and straps of her black lacy bra were easily visible and the sly shock of so much revelation from a garment as traditionally demure as the tee shirt only heightened the effect.
Chip knew that Lurlene hadn’t even turned her charm knob up past one, and he was already frozen in place. He couldn’t imagine what Buck was going to be facing when she hit him in that confined attic office space. But that wasn’t going to be any time soon because Chip managed to gurgle “Wait, Lurlene, I’m not ready yet.”
She stopped in mid twirl and her body took its sweet time arranging all of its parts back to having the same angular velocity. Her eyes flared briefly with anger at Chip’s interruption of her dreamt-of revenge. “What do you mean you aren’t ready? Isn’t this the way that the scene is supposed to go? You come over here with the gadget and I get all tarted up to go drop it on him?”
Chip gulped a bit at her acid tone. “I guess I didn’t see that part in the script,” he apologized. “I haven’t gotten all of the parts I need yet. I’ve still got a day or two before I’ll have it built up and debugged. It’s not like I can go through a couple of iterations on this, I’ve got to get it right the first time.”
Lurlene bristled but began to stand down from the door handle that she was had been clenching. “Can’t we just do the montage now, where you geek out and I gaze adoringly over your shoulder? It shouldn’t take more than 30 seconds tops to get through that to my part.”
Chip couldn’t tell at first if she was joking with him or if all those Netflix suggestions she had been getting had cracked her connection to consensus reality. Then she flashed her traditional grin at Chip’s confusion about her mental fitness and threw on a wink to deepen his confusion and the joy it seemed to bring her.
“Just kidding, sport. I know it’ll take a couple hours of gazing adoringly over your shoulder.”