Coop took the podium. In his larger-than-life Men in Black outfit, he was Tommy Lee Jones, circa 1997. In the interest of personal safety, he did not wear his glasses in the building. Glasses had a way of vanishing and suddenly reappearing at AO. He didn’t give a shit today, that accessory was all he had left.
Except the Neuralyzer, but he had doubts about that tool’s primary function. Coop didn’t recall either Tommy Lee Jones or Will Smith having any eight-inch neon green devices and Coop was working very hard on being his most authentic self. He wasn’t sure about the lab rat’s intentions. A man could get himself good and turned around in this place.
During his time of confinement with Margaret, he'd speculated on the likelihood of procuring a Neuralyzer. Margaret grinned, reached into an unsecured drawer, and handed him an eight-inch light saber. "Margaret, this looks like a neon green vibrator, no offense or anything." Margaret winked and told him not to point it at anyone unless he meant to use it. He tucked it into the back of his pants and eventually dumped the batteries; they were causing intermittent shorts that gave him buzz butt. He found it distracting.
Late Tuesday night, Coop was sitting on the tailgate of Frank’s F350, passing a bottle, looking at the stars, and debating the meaning of life. Coop maintained there was just one life that required examination. Everything else was fiction or the sort of agreement born of mass hysteria. Frank didn't argue, he laughed, and told Coop maybe his position was for the best.
Coop showed Frank his Neuralyzer and explained about the batteries. Frank kindly kept his mouth shut. Coop would work it out eventually and he didn't want to ruin the moment.
They'd just finished burning Coop's suit in the parking lot and he was running around in his socks and underwear pretending to be Chuck Yeager in his F-15 Eagle. Every time he came to the top of his circle, he made a loud booming sound and momentarily increased his speed. "I'm breaking the sound barrier, Frank! I'm doing it! Watch, Frank, you gotta see this, I'm flying, Frank, I'm flying!"
Dr. Evans briefly regretted having added a couple of Margaret's melted yellow chews to the vodka. If Coop didn't show any signs of psychosis, he figured they'd get him sorted out by morning. Part of 'sorted out' was going to involve getting clothes on the man. Dr. Evans kept a pressed white shirt and fresh tie in his closet, but no trousers; not that they’d fit anyway. Even if he had been able to button the shirt, sending Coop to the podium in a white shirt and socks wasn't necessarily the worst solution, assuming he stayed behind the podium.
There wasn't enough epoxy in the world to keep Cooper Anderson's feet glued to the floor. Coop was a pacer.
"Hey! Mr. Yeager, can I see you at the F350 for a debrief? Sooner is better."
Coop sent Mr. Yeager’s plane into a death spiral, bringing it belly side down in the middle of the circle. He got up and wandered toward the truck. "I got gravel in my belly, Frank. Think that's a problem?"
Frank shook his head, "No buddy, I don't think it's a problem at all. We can get you cleaned up inside."
"Yeah, that be cool. So now what? I already crashed Mr. Yeager’s plane. Do you think he’ll mind?"
"No, Coop, I don’t think he’d mind at all. Also, he’s been dead nearly two years. Hey! Don’t start crying now! He had a great life. Listen, Coop, I think now might be a good time to sort out your lack of clothing. I don't think we've got a dress code, so much as a bare minimum requirement, but pants and a shirt definitely fall into that category."
"I got pants on, Frank."
"Yes, Coop, you do, and for that, I am extraordinarily grateful. However, a pair of black socks and your tighty-whities aren't going to pass muster."
"Frank, could I just wear somebody's lab coat?"
"Not if you don't want to look like a pervert. But no worries, Coop, I got an idea. Let's go inside. Ready to go inside?"
"Sure thing, Frank, except what about my suit?"
"Coop. Have you seen your suit? We burned it. It's a pile of ash about twenty yards off the passenger side of the truck. You can have a look and say a prayer if it’d help. I got your glasses and your Neuralyzer though, so don't worry."
"Let's go. I have a solution. It might even improve your ratings."
AO had a small gym on the first floor with two minimal locker rooms. Towels and laundry service were part of the package, assuming laundry was limited to the sweaty stuff. The sweaty stuff went in the bin with the towels. Labeling your sweaty stuff was encouraged, but most weeks they just sorted through clean shirts, shorts, and socks, and took what looked familiar.
When Frank flipped on the lights, he was hoping to find a bin full of clean laundry and a fresh stack of towels. Not so much. He looked around, opened, and closed a few locker doors, and said, "Coop, we're going on a treasure hunt." Coop followed Frank to a large canvas bin. They looked at the contents for a while and then Frank started digging. "Size XL, Coop?"
"Yeah, but just the shirt. Shorts are a medium."
Frank took a closer look at Coop and pulled out an XXL shirt and XL shorts.
"Frank, those smell pretty ripe."
"Totally, fixable, Coop. Totally fixable. I got a supersize can of industrial strength deodorant and I'm thinking if we take these things outside and roll 'em around in the grass, they'll smell a lot better."
"Won't they have grass stains?"
"Maybe a little. But you won't clear the room."
Coop didn't clear the room but most of the team moved back a couple seats. Laura's eyes were burning. Sam muttered something about checking on the boys, snatched the blanket off Jeffry and Marty, and rabbit holed. Dr. Evans took a seat a few down from Laura. Only Margaret and Christie stayed in front.
Christie wasn't likely to react to the stench, but she had her head in Margaret's lap and her thumb in her mouth. Margaret stayed seated and continued to stroke Christie's hair. Christie had awfully nice hair for something made of mud, but Christie had awfully nice everything, so maybe East River clay did have some unique properties. She made a mental note to ask Frank.
Frank wished he'd been more insistent about the shower. Coop was oblivious. He was wearing his MIB glasses and had the Neuralyzer right out there on the podium. Unfortunately, he’d reloaded the batteries. Just in case he needed to use it.
Coop coughed. "Great to see you all this morning! Everybody well rested? OK, good. We should be able to wrap this up before end of business and get back to work. Wouldn't that be something?"
Margaret threw Frank the Death Look and mouthed, "what the hell did you do to him?" Frank smiled and shrugged. Coop took a breath and began.
"I'd like to start this meeting with a very high-level summary of the most recent events. If you have any questions or additions, please let me know and I’ll get it on the board." Coop rifled through his bag and pulled out a green marker. Margaret hadn't left him much and he knew better than to use red. He turned to the board and started writing:
- Franklin's butterfly eyes: current status
- Franklin's unevaluated skill sets: list top to bottom, starting with most useful
- Samantha Franklin: Skill set evaluation and education track
- Jeffry Franklin: Compete workup
- Frank Evans: Dust mote galaxy update: Current status, impediments, and what's next
- Margaret Abegg: List of proposed publications
- Christie Abegg: Complete workup and evaluation: Are we utilizing Christie's talents properly?
- Marty the Analyst: Promote to lab tech?
- Webb: Regular updates; exec sum format
Coop exhaled loudly, shook himself off and snorted; he sounded like a bull moose this morning. He placed the marker in the whiteboard tray, inhaled, and turned around.
Marty shot up from the pile of toys, deposited himself between Laura and Dr. Evans, and raised his hand wildly.
"Yes, Marty, what can I do for you?"
"Oh, sir, I don't have a question, not at the moment, but I do have a last name and I don't care how you spell it just so long as it's there."
"OK, Marty, what's your last name?"
"Smythe, sir, my last name is Smythe."
Coop wrote: Smeyeth and raised an eyebrow. Marty shook his head. Coop smudged his first attempt off the board with the bottom of his t-shirt and wrote: Smithe.
"Close enough, sir!"
"Marty Smithe, did you also have a question?" Coop was positively charmed by the 'sir'.
"Not a question, sir, I'd just like to say working in the lab with Margaret would be a life altering event. My parents might shut up about my wasted education."
Coop looked at Frank, 'Is this kid's resume, complete with transcripts on file?"
"Coop, everything you'd ever want to know about that kid is in his file and up to date."
"So, kid, just out of curiosity, because I won’t be making a trip to the basement anytime this week, can you tell me what I'm going to find in your file?"
"Quite a lot, sir, but the bottom line is I'm an astrophysicist which is apparently useless at AO. I have a BS in Astronomical Sciences, a Masters in the same and I was awarded my PhD in Astrophysics three years ago. What I make as an analyst barely covers my student loans and to be honest, it bores the shit out of me."
"Mr. Smith, then why the hell are you here?"
Before Marty could correct him, Margaret dumped Christie off her lap and shot out of her seat, wind milling her arms. "I'll take him Coop! I WILL TAKE THAT KID RIGHT NOW! Please. And it’s S-M-Y-T-H-E."
Coop looked at Marty who was enthusiastically bobbing his head up and down, turned to the whiteboard, and put a solid line through Marty's bullet. In smaller letters he wrote: Evans to process paperwork no later than tomorrow morning. "That's because I don't know if you can finish before Human Resources leaves for the day. And kid, I sure hope you know what you're getting into."
Marty Smythe didn't really give a shit; he was out of the data pit.
Coop was pleased with himself. One of nine off the list! Sam raised her hand and before Laura could smack it down, Coop said, "and what can I do for you, Ms. Franklin?"
"Mr. Anderson, sir, I'm wondering if you could clarify something for me."
"Sure, kid. Shoot."
"Well, before you started writing, you said you were going to list all of our open issues. Wait, it was recent events."
"Those aren't events, Mr. Anderson, they're people."
Coop turned back and studied the board. Having muttered his way through the remaining bullets, he shrugged and turned back to Sam. "Ms. Franklin, I believe I said, 'high level summary', no?"
"Maybe, but those aren't summaries, they're executables."
"An executable, sorry, action item."
"Don't you think that's going to cover everything we need to talk about?"
"It's your show, Mr. Anderson. Just as long as I get enough out of the week to submit a decent paper."
Dr. Evans stood up, "kid's homework assignment, Coop, nothing to worry about. Why don't we start at the top of your list?"
"Yeah, right. OK. So, this is what I had in mind. We go through this list, assign owners and timelines and then somebody puts a plan together. Anybody got a copy of Microsoft Project?"
Margaret bit her tongue. She stood up when she drew blood. "Coop. I want to get something straight before we go back to that list. You OK giving me the podium for a few minutes? I'm just gonna use the left side of your board, I'll erase it when I'm done."
Coop stepped down; Margaret walked through the fog and got her gag reflex under control before facing the room. She averted her eyes to avoid looking at the toy on the podium. "Team, I'm just gonna get it out on the table, high level, like Coop says, and then we're going to make some hard and fast decisions."
She turned to the board, wrote furiously for several minutes, and then stepped back. “Feel free to add anything I might have avoided.”
- Lens/Frame Prototype
- Data management
- Subject symptoms
- Unauthorized use of corneal implants
- Failure to properly track subject after checkout
- Dual comm implant breakdown
"Nothing? None of you have anything to say about this list? This is the list, right? Did I miss something of actual relevance?"
Coop stood back up, "May I?"
"Sure Coop, have at it." He took the marker back, but Margaret wasn't willing to relinquish the podium entirely. She stepped a couple feet to the left and pulled her lab coat up over her mouth and nose. Not particularly helpful, but at least it masked the gagging.
"Good list, Margaret, excellent insight. I'm just gonna put some names next to these, OK?"
"First bullet, who can compile the existing documentation and present a report at next week's team meeting? Action items will come out of that report. Margaret, put Frank's name right there."
Margaret smirked and wrote 'Frank' next to the first bullet.
"Great! Data management. Marty, I know I said I was sending you to Margaret, and I am, not to worry. However, if you could work with Christie to come up with a comprehensive report detailing the breakdown in the data lab that led to a couple egregious misses on Christie's part, that would be very helpful. We'll end up with a task force on that one. So, Margaret, if you could put Marty SMYTHE and Christie next to bullet two...perfect. Thank you. You know what, roll Subject symptoms under the data bullet.”
Margaret was making her own additions.
“That's three of six, what do you think, Sam? Are we getting somewhere?"
"Yep. Mr. Anderson, you're doing just fine. So, what about the next three?"
"There are no next three. Those are TS bullets."
"And we're going to document the events using a bunch of big words and vague references and then we're going to stick 'em in a file somewhere. Probably the basement if I can pull it off."
"That's it?! Mr. Anderson, that was some seriously bad shit! Jeffry and I came within an inch from being orphans."
"I'm sorry, Sam. That was insensitive of me. I guess what I'm trying to say is we know what we did. We can document the shit out of it but the only thing that’s going to stop it from happening again is, well, a bunch of things, but I'd rather work out those details as they come up. In team meetings."
Dr. Evans stood up again. "Coop. You seem to have dragged an elephant into the room with you. Would you care to share?"
There seemed to be something very interesting on the floor between Coop’s shoeless feet. He bent down and picked a piece of lint off one of his black socks.
"Coop, man, come on, dude. Does last night mean nothing to you?"
"Low blow, bro."
"Don't say that. You sound like an idiot. And yes, that was slightly below the belt."
"I get it. Your feelings are hurt. I'm sorry, man."
Nobody noticed Christie until Christie was already doing a little dance behind the podium, singing her little Christie song: "Coop's got a secret! Coop's got a secret, and I can hear it in his brain! Go ahead, Coop, spit out your version and then we'll check it against mine."
"Right. So, I got a call from Delta this morning. I was expecting to be recalled, effective immediately, but that's not what happened."
Christie continued doing her little dance and said, "Spit out the rest, Coooooop, spit out the rest!"
Frank felt bad. Most of this was his doing. As of last night, Mr. Anderson's Men in Black days were over. Delta communicated through Dr. Webb who was supposed to communicate through Frank, which made no sense at all. Frank took the message, grabbed a couple of lemon chews from the lab and liberated Laura’s bottle of vodka. He meant to get the guy drunk and break it to him in the parking lot, but somehow, they got on the subject of Coop's perceived inability to be taken seriously without the black suit.
Coop was dubious about lighting uncontained fires, but it did sound like fun. Coop could use some fun; he was sure of it. Frank pointed to a spot about twenty yards from the truck and commanded him to strip down to his socks and shorts. Everything in a pile, sprinkle liberally with vodka, and hold a lighter to a shirt sleeve until it catches.
Coop had a little more yellow laced vodka, sat down on the tailgate, and cried. Good a time as any, Frank decided.
It didn't take much. There really isn't much to say when you've been replaced and expect to hand your badge over in the morning. Frank let Coop cry it out and then made him an offer. He didn't expect Coop to accept, he was just hoping the guy might feel a little better. He didn't expect Coop to feel THAT much better.
Coop was elated. He celebrated his joy by borrowing Chuck Yeager's kick ass plane and repeatedly breaking the sound barrier. He stopped once to ask Frank when he could start. Frank told him he'd start first thing in the morning and would be expected to lead the team meeting, which was no longer Mr. Cooper Anderson's Inquisition.
"So, the inquisition is dead? No more witch hunt?"
"Nope. No more witch hunt, Coop. Too many meetings are counterproductive. You'll get two hours of the teams' time a week. My suggestion would be two separate sixty-minute meetings, but that's your call."
"Wait. Are you hiring me? Do I work for you?"
"No one works for me, Coop, not technically. Everybody on this team reports directly to Dr. Webb."
"But no one ever sees Dr. Webb."
"So, I'm gonna work for you. What's my title?"
"Gonna have to think about that, Coop."
“Can I be a Thought Leader?”
Frank paused and thought through the ramifications of either answer. He settled on maybe; Coop accepted a ‘maybe’ a lot better than Margaret would have.
"OK, how 'bout my mission? What's my mission?"
"Oh, that's easy, Mr. Anderson. Your mission is to keep your team out of orange jumpsuits without destroying productivity."
"That's cool, Frank. I like it."
"There's one other thing."
"Your replacement will be here in the morning. Also, your problem."
"I can still keep the Neuralyzer, right?"
"Oh, dude, I wouldn't have it any other way."