Teasers & Deleted Scenes
Franconia, VA, July 25, 2012
Arthur Tan walked through the front door of his condo with his messenger bag and two big paper sacks, calling in his best Ricky Ricardo, "Lucy! I'm home!"
Naima was the first into the hall, helpfully clarifying, "Amma! Baba's home!" as she hurtled toward him with their Beagle at her heels. He managed to set his bags on the side table just before thirty-two pounds of everything nice knocked the breath out of him.
Catching her in his arms, he said, "Hey, Pirate. Did you and Bartleby have a great day?" Then, still holding her, he stooped to scratch Bartleby behind the ears.
As Naima nodded solemnly, Padma came from their bedroom, already changed from her work clothes into turquoise capris and a white T-shirt. She looked at the bags and said, "I see the hunting was good, mighty provider."
He grinned and stood with Naima still in his arms. "Tonight's a taste-off for the adults. For the warm-up act, spring rolls versus satay. For the main event, potatoes and mock duck versus massaman curry versus spicy chicken with basil versus calamari pad Thai. And for an encore bout, sticky rice with mangoes versus green tea ice cream. To drink, your choice of ginger apple cider or Singha."
Padma said, "There'll be enough leftovers for two meals, at least. Which is not a complaint."
Arthur rubbed his nose against his daughter's and added, "And for somebody extra-special, there's the traditional Thai pirate dish." He reached into one bag and pulled out a Happy Meal box.
Naima clapped. "Yay!"
Padma glanced at him and said, a little too politely, "Naima, would you like to watch Spongebob while we get dinner ready?"
Arthur thought, Busted. Padma was speaking the secret adult language in which the tone, not the words, mattered. Her message could not be clearer: She knew he had something to say. He had hoped it could wait until after Naima's bedtime. Which, he realized now, had been wishful thinking at its most naive.
He carried the food into the kitchen and began setting the table for three. The Spongebob theme song began in Naima's room, and then Padma walked into the dining nook, saying, "You never told me you were Greek."
"That's racist." He smiled.
She didn't. "Tell it to the Trojans. What are you trying to buy?"
"You know I love you."
"Yes, and you know I love you, and while Spongebob can keep Naima entertained for hours, I'd really like to eat soon."
"I've been offered a job."
"Back in the bomb squad?"
Padma was so still that he was afraid to say more, but after a moment, he added, "And more important."
"You said 'offered'."
"Which means you don't have to take it."
He nodded again.
"Will it help your career if you take it?"
"Maybe. Maybe not. No one says taking it is a fast track to Hawaii."
"But you really want to take it."
He nodded because that seemed to work better than words could.
"What is it?"
"I'm not supposed to tell you."
She laughed, a snort that would have seemed disdainful to a stranger. "Somebody doesn't know you."
"Maybe. SSA Falkner said I wasn't supposed to tell you. She didn't say I couldn't tell you."
"You know how Nick Fury recruited superheroes to fight unimaginable threats?"
This time her laugh was pure delight. "Captain America, you're never going to convince me you've been asked to join the Avengers."
He felt himself blush. "Uh, it's more like S.H.I.E.L.D."
"And Falkner is Nick Fury?"
"Maybe the analogy isn't very good."
With no smile at all, Padma said, "Was Daphne Worth Agent Coulson?"
"I don't know if the ACTF is the FBI's most dangerous unit, but there's field work, weird hours, and risk."
"Can someone else do it?"
"They didn't offer it to anyone else."
He would never understand how she could go so quickly from being mad to pressing her lips against his in a firm, tongueless kiss that was more intimate than any sexual kiss could be.
She pushed him back. "Threats like terrorists?"
"Threats like something I really shouldn't tell a journalist."
"Off the record stays off the record."
"Okay." So he told her all he had seen and heard, and he watched her expressions change from "You're joking" to "You're crazy or I am" to "This is real and fucked up and terrifying."
She said, "You can't do this."
He nodded. "I know."
"They can get someone else."
"Sure," he agreed, and kept looking into her eyes.
She glanced down, twisted a long lock of hair by her right ear, then looked toward Naima's room. He thought, I am going to have a solid, conventional fibbie career. There's a lot to be said for that.
She met his gaze and said softly, "Okay."
He started to nod, then realized he had failed to hear what was meant in the language of tone. "Okay, I'm not taking the job, or okay, I am?"
"Promise you won't be a hero. Wait. Promise you won't be a stupid hero. Naima needs her father."
He smiled. "I'm planning to be around to see the Pirate graduate from a great university and start her life with someone I will never completely believe deserves her."
"If Falkner had said you couldn't tell me, would you've told me anyway?"
"No." As her frown reappeared, he realized that this time, the failure in the language of tone had been his. He added, "I wouldn't have told you. And I wouldn't have taken the job."
"You think she knew that?"
He stared at Padma, then said, "Huh. Maybe Falkner is Nick Fury."
Padma smiled slightly. "I'll get the Pirate. Finish setting the table, Agent Hill."