A few days later, Marlene chalked up her late night meeting with Oliver Masterson as a figment of her overactive imagination. ‘If they really needed me, they would’ve made contact with me already. And besides, what do I know about being a spook? And if I really wanted to, would I want to work for the bad guys? This Masterson cat made it sound as thought Section Seven (stupid name to begin with) was all shady and mysterious and shit. He came across like he was Wilson, Sydney’s own recruiter into SD-6, and we all know how that turned out,” she reassured herself for what seemed like the millionth time. All of the internal conversations Marlene had been having all began and ended the same way, with her turning down some lucrative anti-American spying deal with this black bag intelligence agency called Section Seven. Marlene had even gone as far as calling the numbers on ol’ Oliver’s card. The local land line number led to a nonexistent pet shop and the cell phone number led to a clock repair shop that had gone out of business years ago. Marlene felt like an ass. She realized that Section Seven was monitoring calls made to those voice mailboxes. She had fallen for the first rule a potential new recruit could ever violate: “if we say we’re gonna call you, we’ll call you.”
“Penny for your thoughts,” Noelle Rodriguez said, as a familiar wind blew her psychology textbook back a few pages. Marlene’s best friend grinned at her, as she slammed her hand down to prevent further windy upset to her textbook.
“Penny? How about a $20? I need gas for my car,” Marlene heaved, leaning her back on the broke down wooden table set up strategically away from the busy student center thoroughfare.
“I ain’t got a $20. I think I got a dollar though,” Noelle joked, looking over the question list and sighing. “Distract me, M. I’m tired of thinking. Speak now or I’ll implode,” her best friend demanded.
Marlene took in the traffic of skates, bikes, humans and cars, each going in a million directions, over the quad area that served as the center of the campus. ‘Such foolish people. They don’t realize people are willing to risk their lives so they can enjoy this kind of freedom,’ she thought, shaking her head sadly.
“You’re shaking your head. Are you talking to inner Marlene again?” Noelle guessed correctly with a goofy grin.
“I can’t help the fact that the conversations I have with my conscience are more real than with a typical human being. Well, save for you, N,” Marlene explained.
Noelle shook her own head, finally shutting her psych book long enough to take in the same scene Marlene was. Through their uneventful six year friendship, Noelle had learned quickly that Marlene was an extremely internal person and was not quick to share her secrets. If she needed the voice in her head to work out problems that normal people would voice, Noelle accepted that.
“What if someone came up to you and said you, and you alone, had the power to save the free world, but all you had to do was say yes. Would you?” Marlene spilled suddenly.
Noelle paused, not wanting to find out why her friend would ask such a thing. “No. I wouldn’t want that burden. On the other hand, if I were you and I had your brains, I’d probably say sure, why not?”
Marlene glanced at her. “What makes you say that?” she dared to ask.
“M,” Noelle said, in her no-nonsense voice. “What were you doing every night I wanted you to party with us, huh?”
Marlene blushed. “Studying Latin and game theory. But need I remind you, I barely graduated with our class!”
Noelle shook her head. “We all know why, Marlene. You were the victim of a pathetic education system. The material we were learning was beneath you, so you went ahead and taught yourself to speak three foreign languages. Well, five, but your mom taught you to speak Filipino when you were a kid, and you took French in school anyways,” Noelle finished up.
“Tagalog,” Marlene corrected her half-heartedly. But she knew that her best friend was right. Public school had lost its gilded shine when she entered the battleground known as high school. Life, by then, had also lost its glitter. Marlene was reduced to a stereotypical angst-y teen: suicidal, angry, hater of life and everything positive. Over time, and writing about it all (her therapy and now her major), she worked through her negative outlook on life and grew up. All of her life, Marlene was into random and unusual subjects. She had penchant for vampires, after reading an old book chronicling their history up until modern times and knew several ways how to kill them. As she grew older, her choice of topics to study became more sophisticated, such as cryptology and game theory. She was researching Nazi medical experiments for a presentation she was delivering in sophomore English class, and she came across them both. When Marlene set her sights on something, she devoured everything she could about it. She may not ever be tested on it in a school setting or even use it successfully in a real life situation, but if she absolutely had to, she could probably draft a plausible and logical situation using game theory. All of this comes with the territory of being a misguided child genius. Intelligent enough to be the smartest kid in class, but still too sub par for advance placement schools.
“How goes it ladies?” the warm voice of Josh Simmons careened into Marlene’s ear, breaking her train of thought.
“Hey Josh,” Noelle said turning back to her books on the Table (as they called their daily lunch spot).
“Hey,” Marlene called, half-heartedly following Noelle’s lead and resting her arms on the paint chipped wood.
“Guess what’s playing at the Garrison this week?” Josh asked tantalizingly.
“What?” the girls asked in unison.
“The Apartment!” he exclaimed, slamming his pudgy fists against the table and upsetting Marlene’s closed water bottle.
Noelle’s eyes nearly bugged out of her head. “Hear that M?” Noelle said excitedly, eager to get her friend’s mind off whatever she was thinking and pushing Marlene’s arm pointedly. “A young Shirley MacLaine!”
Josh grinned, happy with their reactions. “And a young Jack Lemmon and Fred MacMurray!” he added.
“We’ll go! When?” Noelle asked happily. If there was one thing that united them as friends, other than anime, it was classic movies. Marlene was a huge fan of Billy Wilder’s and the Apartment was at the top of her list.
“Friday at six,” Josh said, sitting down and ripping open the tuna fish sandwich he had just bought and a vending machine bottle of Pepsi.
“Oh,” Noelle’s face fell. “I’m working until nine that night. Aw man,” she pouted.
“Ha ha!” Marlene laughed like Nelson from the Simpsons. “I can still go!”
Josh grinned. “Cool. I’ll pick you up at five. We’ll get something to eat before,” said Josh, watching her expression.
“I can’t. I got a class until 5:30. But I can meet you right before,” she offered, taking in the people scene again.
“Okay,” he said, looking slightly put out. Marlene didn’t notice. She had already descended back into her spook-powered funk.
After a quiet week of class after class, an anime marathon and lunches with her best friends, driving Lily to and from her various extra-curricular activities, and other menial moments that were supposed to give her life a purpose, Marlene had all but forgotten her meeting with Oliver. In fact, she was beginning to think it was someone’s idea of a sick joke. Dress up some random guy like a government suit, give him a business card, and plant an idea so fantastic as to fool a gullible young woman. Marlene kept having to remind herself of that because it was too unreal. But she was tired of over thinking. Fran and Baxter were waiting for her at the Garrison Theater. Josh was milling around outside of the old-fashioned classic movie palace, restored by generous anonymous donations.
“Hey!” she called warmly, tucking her keys into her shoulder bag.
“Hey!” Josh said eagerly. Marlene shivered against the all-too-familiar cold and asked, “Did you buy the tickets already?”
Josh nodded. “Duh,” he joked, waving them in her face.
“Allez-y!” she told him cheerily, walking towards the entrance.
“Geez Marlene, what have I told you? Just ‘cause I’m French doesn’t mean you have to speak it around me!” Josh teased her while she laughed at the top of her lungs.
Marlene quickly became lost in the finely executed thread of storytelling that was Billy Wilder’s trademark. So when her Motorola began bumping “Smooth Criminal,” she jumped, feeling a bit stupid she forgot to put it on silent. Dipping her thin fingers into her bag, she pulled the 7120 out. It was flashing a number she didn’t recognize.
“Who is it?” Josh whispered, tearing his eyes away from the screen briefly.
“I don’t know,” Marlene said, staring at it.
“Excuse me!” someone yelled rudely behind them. “Can you shut that off please?” Marlene hesitated for another second.
“Hey! Shut up!” Josh yelled over his shoulder.
“You shut up!” the voice replied shrilly, as Marlene unfolded the phone and pressed it to her ear.
“Okay! Are we in grade school again?” Josh screamed, raising himself up on his arms to glare at the rabble-rouser, as they continued their war of words over the seats.
“Sounds bloody noisy in there,” Oliver’s familiar voice said cheerfully. “Meet me in the lobby?” Marlene’s heart plummeted into her stomach.
“Christ, the nerve of some people,” Josh said conspiratorially, before noticing the look on Marlene’s face. His argument ended when another patron had alerted one of the ushers to the loudmouth who had started the shouting match. “What’s up?” Marlene shook her head soundlessly.
“Tell him it’s your mom calling. Your grandfather is sick and you have to leave right away,” Oliver instructed. The line went dead. Marlene nodded into the phone.
“My Grandpa Tony is sick. It’s my mom and she says we have to leave for the Bay tonight,” Marlene said, sounding slightly put-out, hoping her acting skills would be convincing enough. She hadn’t used them since her last performance in high school.
Josh’s smile faded. “But the movie’s not even halfway done yet,” he complained, “but it’s your grandpa.” He seemed a little put-out about the call.
Marlene looked at him with a mock sadness and said, “I’m sorry. Look, I’ll make it up to you when I get back, ‘kay? I gotta go. Thanks Josh!” she said, trying to make a smooth exit, which was difficult because she was trying to haul her coat, put her cell in the purse she was trying to close, and climb over several pairs of people’s legs. She cursed the moment she had chosen the middle of the busy theater to enjoy the movie. Dressed as a casual civilian in jeans, a t-shirt, and a white parka, Oliver’s smile greeted a harried-feeling Marlene.
“Grandpa’s waiting for us,” he said readily, without a hint of the British accent that she had replayed over and over in her mind. Marlene played along and smiled.
“Let’s go,” she said gesturing, leading the way into the parking lot.
“We’ll take your car,” Oliver said from the corner of his mouth, while they made their way to the downtown parking garage. Marlene quickly moved to her car on the third level. She wasn’t sure if it would be okay for her to speak, so she chose not to. Oliver dutifully walked by her side, glancing at every person they encountered.
“Just drive as if you were going to San Francisco,” he instructed her.