TITLE: Smoke and Wait
GENRE: Urban Fantasy
Alexandra MacPherson has mixed feelings about being back from the field.
Info dump, telling, or showing? All the above?
I don't know why I'd convinced myself things would be different. Only months, not years, had passed since I'd been in the field office. The building smelled the same; the walls and carpets were infused with a damp and musty odor, courtesy of an inefficient HVAC system that could cool things down -- mostly -- but not dry them out. Someone had burned popcorn in the break room. My desk hadn't changed, either. A single, framed picture of Jack and Sophie sat front and center. Jack, just off the plane and still in uniform, holding Sophie for the first time.
I picked up the photo and dusted the glass with my shirt sleeve. Sophie's right foot was bare, a victim of those worthless baby socks that never stayed on. I used to find them everywhere. In the car seat. Under the car seat. On the floor mat, covered with safety glass from the right rear window. I chewed savagely at my bottom lip before shoving the frame into the corner of my desk and under a shelf where it would be less noticeable.
I was stupid with contradiction. I refused anything stronger than Tylenol in the hospital, trying to prevent a fall off that wagon I worked too hard to find. But then I called Jack, listened to Sophie's voice on a message I should have deleted years ago. Two bad habits that usually led me right to the cliff of Screw-It overlooking the valley of I-Don't-Give-A-S***-Anymore. I hadn't been there in a while, but apparently I was contemplating a visit.
I scrolled through the emails that bred during my absence. Out-of-office must not have meant what I thought it did. I flagged the few that looked important, but right click and delete became the order of the day.
At least a hundred offerings for continuing ed. Right click, delete. Weeks-expired coupons from Borders. Right click, delete. My father's administrative assistant needed to make reservations for Thanksgiving dinner, and was 2:00 p.m. at 1906 Longwood Gardens okay? Right click, delete.
Unbidden, the fingers of my left hand tapped a beaten strip of metal against my mouth. I dropped it when I realized what I was doing, but who was I kidding. Avoidance would never work. The ball chain holding Jack's tags had been around my neck since the day he gave them to me. I wore them on my wedding day instead of pearls. They were as much a part of my uniform as they'd been part of his. And if Sophie had been old enough to have a cell phone when she was killed, I'd call her, too.
I roughly crammed the contents of the case file on my desk into a manilla accordion folder and mashed it all into my messenger bag. "You ready to go?"