4 Aug 2017

The Devil You Know - Chapter 3

After a mission's abrupt end, Ione returns home and tries to deal with her regular life with her housemates, Karen and Diesel.
Ione woke up with a weight draped across her legs.  She pushed herself up off her stomach to try to roll over.  "Ugh.  Diesel, time to get up."  Half twisted, she shoved the blankets aside to take a look.  As she expected, the huge grey cat sprawled across her legs.  "Come on, kitten, I want up."  Ione pulled her left leg up.  Diesel slid into the newly created gap.  He let out a loud purr.  Ione let herself collapse back down on the bed.  "Be that way."  With effort, Ione inched her body towards the head of the bed, sliding her right leg out from under the cat.  Soon enough, she was able to climb out around him and get out of bed.  Diesel curled up one the tousled covers and fell back asleep.

After stretching, Ione changed for the day, exchanging her oversized t-shirt and sweat pants for a black tee, her faded jeans, and a fleece-lined grey sweater with the University of Waterloo's seal.  She gave Diesel's ears a scritch, then padded over to the laptop on her desk.  The machine beeped as it came out of hibernation.  Ione sat down, then opened her email.  Scanning through, she saw a number of messages from her sister, the subject lines growing more and more desperate.  Ione rolled her eyes; Amy was more used to instant feedback and couldn't understand why anyone would delay answering.  She figured there were a number of text messages waiting on her phone; checking, Ione was not surprised to find that she was right.

Setting aside her family, Ione started a different program, one that she had written.  The program searched for different anonymizing proxy servers to create an almost untraceable path to a web mail site.  After several seconds, an Opera browser window opened to let Ione sign into the site.  To her surprise and shock, a new email waited for her.  The email address was completely fictional and the subject line was left blank.  After making sure her anti-virus program was up to date, Ione opened the email and read it.  Her brows furrowed; one of Babbage's contacts was trying to find him.  Ione hesitated in responding.  She wondered if it would be best to let him think that she had perished in the explosion at the warehouse along with Babbage.  Ione closed the browser, then ran a second program, again of her own creation, to carefully destroy the path the early application had created.  She stared at the laptop's screen until the screen saver triggered.  "Screw it," she muttered.  "It's a mental health day.  I'm not working."

She stood up, grabbed the laptop, and walked downstairs.  Halfway down, she heard the thump of Diesel jumping off the bed.  He tore down the stairs, beating Ione to the bottom, then mewed.  "Yes, yes, treat time, I know.  What did you do with only Karen here?"  Diesel mewed again, dancing in front of Ione to encourage her to follow.  Ione continued into the kitchen and stopped at the drawers.  Diesel pawed at the drawer holding his treats.  "You're too clever, you know that?"  The cat purred in response.  Ione opened the drawer and grabbed a handful of treats.  With Diesel pawing at her hand, she set the morsels down in front of him.  The cat sniffed at the treats, then looked back up at Ione.  "That's what you're getting.  I don't know where Karen keeps hers."

Diesel bent down and started eating.  Ione backed away from the grey cat to look at what was on the counter.  The coffee pot had dregs, not enough for a full cup.  Ione shrugged.  "Looks like Karen forgot to leave treats for me," she said to Diesel.  "I think I deserve a fancy coffee this morning after everything I went through yesterday.  Something with pumpkin."

Ione walked through the living room to the front closet.  From it, she grabbed her heavy leather jacket and her helmet.  She slipped her laptop into a backpack, then hauled everything outside.  Karen's copper Fiat was gone, leaving space for Ione to remove the blue plastic tarp from her motorcycle.  Ione patted the red fuel tank of the old Kawasaki Vulcan; she had bought it second hand after moving into the house with Karen so that she had a way to get around when her housemate had the Fiat.  With the last warmth of Ottawa's Indian summer in the weather forecast, Ione wanted one final ride before having to store the Vulcan away for the winter.

The ride to the Bridgehead Roastery on Anderson just off Preston wasn't difficult, and the Vulcan was easier to find parking for than even Karen's Fiat.  Ione removed her helmet, smoothing her hair with her fingers, then entered the coffee shop.  The post-rush hour crowd was small, mostly university students taking advantage of afternoon classes to get homework done before having to go to the campus.  Ione had only one customer ahead of her before she could step up and place her order.  "Can I get a pumpkin spice latte and," she paused as she looked over the baked goods, "a chocolatine?"  The barista showed Ione where her latte would be made as he grabbed the pastry for her.  Ione took the plate with the chocolatine and shuffled down to wait for her drink.

The barista making her drink looked up.  "Rough day?" he asked.

"Rough week."  Ione switched her helmet from one hand to the other.

"Want to talk about it?"

"I'd love to.  Can't."

"Work problems, then?"

Ione nodded.  "The way this week went, I'll be lucky if I have a job next week.  And it's only Thursday."

The barista grimaced with empathy.  "I'm sure that you'll keep your job.  Everyone has a rough patch from time to time."

Ione saw the warehouse explosion replay in her head.  "Not like this."

"I'm sure you did everything in your power to make things better."  The barista gave Ione a reassuring smile.

"I'm not sure."  Ione shrugged, then sighed.  "It's partially my fault everything happened.  I went beyond my job description and now . . .."  Ione trailed off as she fought back tears.

The barista walked out from behind the counter.  "It's okay," he soothed.  He hooked one arm around Ione's and picked up the pumpkin spice latte with his free hand.  "Come with me."  He led Ione to an empty seat on the padded bench away from the other customers in the coffee shop.  "Sit, please."  He helped Ione sit down without spilling a drop.  Setting down the latte and taking the plate with the pastry from Ione's hand to place it on the table, he sat down across from Ione.  "You're safe here, really."

Ione blinked back tears.  "I'm sorry."

"Don't be."  The barista held out his hand.  "I'm Ben."

Ione shook the offered hand.  "Ione."

Ben held on to Ione's hand, giving it a gentle pat.  "I'm here if you want to talk.  Even if you can't say much."

"Thanks."  Ione forced a smile.  "It's just," she paused, searching for the right word, "difficult.  Thanks to me, several people are dead."

"Oh, honey, don't think that."

"It's true, though.  If I hadn't looked into things, if I hadn't poked my nose into something I had no business checking, if I just kept my head down, they'd still be alive."

Ben switched seats to sit beside Ione.  "No one can know the future.  No one.  'Always in motion' and all that.  Not to mention wibbly and wobbly."

Ione laughed in spite of herself.  "Still--"

"I can tell you're a good person, Ione.  You didn't intend on people dying."

"The road to Hell is paved with good intentions."

"The road to Hell also requires hubris."  Ben gave Ione a quick hug.  "Mourn the loss of the people who died.  Don't take the blame for something out of your control.  If you were taking your great-grandmother out for a stroll and she got ran over by a runaway truck, would that be your fault, or the truck's?  You can't control everything."

Ione snuffled.  "It's not quite the same thing."

"Maybe.  Maybe not."  Ben stood up.  "I need to get back to work.  Think about what I said, though.  Don't take on the woes of the world if you don't deserve it."  He smiled, then returned behind the counter.

Ione watched as Ben went back to work, filling orders and sweeping up.  She sipped at her latte, enjoying the flavour of pumpkin, and nibbled on her chocolate filled pastry.  Leaning back, she remembered she still wore her backpack.  Ione shrugged out of it, then took out her laptop and phone.  The phone, a Samsung Galaxy, buzzed in her hand.  Ione fumbled with it, more out of surprise than anything else, before answering the call.  "Hello?"

"Sarah Ione Mackenzie, about time you answered your phone!"

Ione held the phone away from her ear until her sister stopped yelling.  "Ames, hi, fancy you calling me so early in the morning.  Aren't you at work?"

Amy lowered her voice.  "Why haven't you picked up before?  Have you even checked your messages?"

"I was out of town, for work.  What's up?"

"Mom's blood pressure."

Ione took another sip of her latte.  "Sounds like yours is, too."

"This isn't funny, Ione.  She tried calling you.  I tried calling you.  Didn't Karen tell you I called?"

"She did, yes, when I got in yesterday."

"Why didn't you call?"

Ione sighed.  "Jet lag.  I hadn't slept since 3am in Paris."

"Paris?  Ione, you were in Paris?  Why didn't you tell me you were going to Paris?"

"I told you I was going on a business trip."

"You never mentioned Paris!"

"You're yelling again.  I couldn't tell anyone before I left."

Ione heard Amy snort at the other end of the line.  "I bet you told Karen."

"Karen's different.  We share a house.  What's up?"

"Mom's planning Christmas already."

Ione leaned back in her seat.  "That's why you called?  Mom always jumps the gun.  She's a Christmas junkie.  She hums carols in the summer.  She named her computer Rudolf."

"She needs to know what your plans are, and asked me to ask you."

"I have no idea.  I'm still working on Hallowe'en.  I didn't know what I was doing for Thanksgiving last week until the week before."

"You tell Mom that, so she can get off my back about it."

"All right, all right, I will.  No need to bite my head off.  What are your plans?"

"I'm going to Mom and Dad's.  It'd be nice if we were all there."

"Oh, really?"  Ione leaned forward.  "And your boyfriend?"

"Him, too.  If you find one, I'm sure Mom and Dad would love to meet him.  Or her."

Ione pinched the bridge of her nose.  "Mom's trying to find out if I'm dating again, isn't she?"

"It's been three months, Ione.  Time to get back in the game."

"How much is Mom bribing you to find out about my love life?"

"Bribe is such an ugly word."

"How much, Ames?"  Ione's eyes narrowed.

"A quilt."  Ione could hear the wince in her sister's tone.

"That's it?  That's all she offered?"

"Hey, I worked her up from a wall hanging.  And I got to choose the design."

Ione chuckled.  "She'd have made a quilt for you anyway, Ames.  I asked her to make one based on my LARPing.  She should be half done embroidering the medieval knights.  You should have held out for something else."

"Just call Mom, okay?  She needs to know soon."

"I will.  I need to go."

"Okay.  Are you going to be home tonight?  I need to drop by."

"I should be.  What's up?"

"I'll tell you in person.  See you tonight.  Bye!"

"Bye."  Ione stabbed the end call key on her phone.  She shook her head in disbelief, then downed the remains of her latte.  After cleaning up after herself, she polished off her chocolate pastry and left, returning to her Kawasaki.

The sun beamed down, warming Ione.  The leaves on the trees shone gold and red, giving new colour to the street.  Ione put her helmet on, knowing where she wanted to go.  She got on her Vulcan and gave it a kickstart.  The motorcycle roared to life.  Ione pulled out into traffic.  She navigated her way north towards the Ottawa River and the Sir John A. MacDonald parkway that ran alongside it.  The trees provided a colour guard for her ride, matching the red of her Vulcan with golds, yellows, and reds.  Ione took in the sights, enjoying the hues.  The fresh air invigorated her.

At Carling, Ione eased the motorcycle into the heavy traffic while keeping an eye out for a place where she could turn around to head back the way she came on the Parkway.  She took advantage of the parking lot at Lincoln Fields Shopping Centre to reverse her direction and return to the Parkway.  As she opened the Vulcan's throttle, she noticed a silver car perform a U-turn behind her.  Ione slipped on to the off-ramp to the Parkway, keeping her speed steady.  She slowed for the light that allowed buses to leave the Parkway to enter the transit station.  Ione checked her rear view mirrors.  The same silver car that had made the U-turn was a few cars behind her.  Already chiding herself mentally for thinking that the car was related to what had happened in Paris, Ione still opened the throttle full when the light turned green.

The Vulcan's engine roared.  Ione shot past cars still struggling to accelerate.  She heard at least one angry beep aimed at her but ignored it.  In her mirrors, she saw the silver car try to get through the traffic.  Ione shot past the speed limit; even if the silver car wasn't related to the events in Paris, it still sent signals that it wasn't friendly to her.  The Parkway, while colourful, wasn't good for losing a pursuer.  There were few intersections; the first one, Woodroffe Avenue, would send Ione into a part of town she didn't know well enough.  The next was for OCTranspo buses only.  Island Park Drive would get Ione into a neighbourhood she knew, but she would have to keep a good distance from the car until then.

The silver car finally found space to dart out to get around the traffic.  It regained lost ground as Ione zipped past Woodroffe.  Ione increased her speed.  Cars became blurs as she zipped by them.  She used the Vulcan's size to pass between cars where the silver sedan could not.  As she rounded the curve near Island Park, red and blue lights flashed in the Kawasaki's mirrors.  A siren blared twice, a signal for her to pull over.  Ione checked her mirrors; a Ford Crown Victoria in the livery of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Crown was behind her, its lights on.  With a sigh of relief, Ione eased her motorcycle to a stop along the curb.  The Mountie's cruiser pulled up behind her.  Ione removed her helmet and brought out her license and registration for the constable approaching.

The constable loomed over her, looking down at her through his sunglasses.  "Do you know how fast you were going?"

"Yes, sir."  Ione kept her tone contrite.  "Too fast."  She handed her license to the constable.

"Not to mention the dangerous driving."  The constable glanced at Ione's license.  "Passing between cars?  Really?"  He brought out his ticket book and started writing.  "No explanation?"

Ione watched as the silver car drove by.  "I thought I was being followed, sir."

The constable arched an eyebrow.  "Followed.  Never heard that one before."

"I might have been wrong."

"Might?"  The constable finished his writing, then tore the sheet off his pad.  Folding the paper in half lengthwise, he handed it and her license to Ione.  "Try to follow the speed limit, Ms Mackenzie."

"I will, sir.  Thank you, sir."  Ione shoved her license back into her jacket pocket, then folded the ticket so it would fit with it.

The constable returned to his cruiser.  Ione kick-started the Vulcan and slowly accelerated to the speed limit.  The silver sedan was nowhere to be seen.

Next Week:

"You didn't get this out, did you, Diesel?"
"Can we say I have a bad feeling about something tonight?"
"You have a date!"
"How was your day off?"

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