We sat, mouths ajar and silent heavy. Then, Rebecca burst, as anyone knowing her could predict. The wave of barely contained fury washed over me.
“You can’t do that.” It was a strong statement said with a tone to which “you’re wrong” wasn’t a desirable answer; it held promises of an uncomfortable outcome.
“Sure I can!”
Rebecca’s skin turned a few shades darker. Daniel’s jaw was clenched. I didn’t need to be a psychic to figure out there was a hasty mental back and forth between them. Casey looked pale as someone who had just been backhanded. In fact, “bitch slapped” seemed more appropriate a term for the unequivocal demotion. Amidst all that, I didn’t know how I felt; I had been through too much of a rollercoaster this week.
I was stunned. I was numbed. Probably safe to say I didn’t take this so well.
A few seconds passed. When Daniel spoke, his British accent was a smidgen sharper than usual.
“Aaron, with all due respect, as director of this agency I expect to have a word to say about my agents’ assignment. You couldn’t possibly hope that this politically incorrect approach wouldn’t raise protests.”
The liaison’s face closed on a hard expression. I noticed a slight curve at the corner of Casey and Rebecca’s mouth. Daniel had a few years of age and experience on Aaron. The later hated nothing more than to be reminded of it.
“Now hear my plea, or rather my recommendations, so we can devise the best possible solution.”
Aaron signalled Daniel to go on. I hated power plays.
“I don’t think Agent Parker is suited for public performances. She has no experience.”
I nodded nervously. My palms were sweating. That’s how much I hate to speak in front of a crowd.
“That’s precisely the point. The public wants to see the person behind the curtain. Not the trained speaker but the normal human being who was doing his job. It’s a success story, our patriotic version of the American dream.”
“Casey is patriotic, I spoke with a waver in the voice. And he was an agent before.”
“Mister Lang won’t have your charming awkwardness and freshness. He’s a past figure. You are the future.”
Bitch slapping again.
“Why don’t you send the commanding officer on site for the operation?”
Daniel actively worked to find a solution that would please everybody. I sure hoped it was possible.
“The officer means nothing the reader community. No. It’s time to reinforce PSI’s value. We have telepath spokespersons. We need a psychic. We need a hero. Agent Parker’s involvement is required.”
I saw the resolve in Daniel’s eyes before he spoke and my heart sunk.
“I concede this point. Agent Lowe will remain on stand-by until Agent Parker’s return.”
“Pull the best telepath off the floor?”
“Agent Lowe might have stellar performances, she is flawed when it comes to adaptability. She won’t be nearly as productive for the first couple of months with a new partner. Surely, Agent Parker won’t be away that long.”
“I don’t know. It depends how long it takes for the whole thing to blow over.”
“There wasn’t any actual explosion. The media should move on quickly.” Casey cut in with his usual composure. He needed to reaffirm his knowledge of public relations.
“We’ll want to retain their attention as long as possible. Plus, after that circus is over, there are the interrogations, the trial…”
“Interrogations?” I was truly puzzled. Testifying in court as an expert was part of my job description – a part I hated. Being part of the interrogation of a felon wasn’t. Telepath were hired for that job.
“Yes! Apparently, we can’t find an Arabic-speaking telepath on our payroll. You’ll log in, or whatever you guys call it, on the interrogation assistant’s mind and translate.”
“I’ll be interrogation assistant then, Rebecca hammered.”
Aaron’s jaw dropped this time. He hadn’t thought of that possibility.
“We already have agents in place. Why should we pay you full time plus travel expenses for that small task?”
“Dear Aaron, we have already agreed to one of your requests, Daniel reminded. It’s only good negotiations that you give in to one of ours. Besides, with her army training, Agent Lowe is fit for bodyguard detail, which Agent Parker is sure to need.”
Anti-reader groups. As a public figure, I could become a target. My tension increased. This assignment was going to be harsher than any dive.
Aaron pondered his options for a few seconds and nodded. Our arguments were sound. He oozed frustration. He didn’t talk as we left his office. Daniel stayed behind, most likely for an argument about the correct procedures for agent’s assignment.
“I’m sorry we couldn’t save your job, I murmured to Casey as I took his arm.” We needed each other’s support.
“Well, I traded incursions in the lions’ den for delightful company. I think I’ll survive.”
The cheerfulness of his tone didn’t reach his eyes. He worked so hard to become the PSI’s poster boy. In fifteen minutes, it was ripped away from him and thrust upon someone who didn’t want any of it.
Rebecca had her serious face on. She received the better hand; her desire was to serve her country and honour our friendship. The psychic investigations had so far been the best way for her to achieve both. If there was another way to do it, it was fine for her. Though she wasn’t flexible in her allegiance, job descriptions meant little to her.
She didn’t rejoice because she felt for us.
“Can you drive us home Casey or should I call Cass and I a cab?”
“I’ll take you. It’s almost on the way. Do we also share the cab to the airport?”
“It’ll buy us a little bit of time to pack if we each take a different cab, I answered.”
The ride home had been a silent one. I ran around to pack what I needed. Only when I sat in the cab did I think about my flowers. They withered, alone on my desk.
And on Aaron’s side table.