“You’d think being in the French Quarter we could at least get some chicory coffee or a beignet.” Bill slumped down in his cramped seat, facing the monitors. “Here we are in the Big Easy, and all I’m getting is the big wedgie.”
I stood behind him with my headset on, half paying attention to his complaints but focused on the clock. We’d been holed up in the van setting up surveillance for Jackson’s appointment for two hours. Soon, Jackson would arrive on the streetcar for the eleven o’clock appointment with Dr. Faust. From the look of it, he was running late. “Bill, if we finish in time I’ll spin past Café du Monde, but right now our focus is Jackson and his safety.”
“If he ever decides to join us,” Bill griped but continued making notes to calibrate his mikes.
The local office lent us a tall profile van, which meant at five-foot-five I could stand in it, but the Bs seemed cramped and chose to sit at their stations most of the time. On the street side of the van sat Bob, Bill took the sidewalk side, and Barry was stationed outside, waist deep in an open manhole, pretending to fix something electrical.
“Did someone mention beignets?” Jackson’s voice crackled into my headset. “You better bring some back to the hotel if you stop.”
“Nice of you to join us, Jackson,” Bob said. “Cutting it a little close this time, aren’t you?”
I glanced at the clock again, knowing the time already—two minutes after eleven. Jackson couldn’t risk offending Dr. Faust by being late.
“Blame it on the streetcars.” Traffic noise in the background suggested he had left the streetcar, heading to Faust’s on foot. “Public transportation always takes longer than you plan.”
He sounded calm and charming. Everything that made him a good spy made me crazy. Shake it off, Grace. He’s got a job to do, and you’ve got to help him.
Bob turned on the camera’s feed now that Jackson was in range. The picture showed Jackson’s perspective walking past Barry and the van. He didn’t lose a step turning into the narrow passageway, through the courtyard gate, and to the green painted door.
Barry climbed back into the van and shut the rear door. “It’s show time.” He sat at his station, taking control over the chest microphone and Jackson’s earpiece’s audio. A putrid odor filled the cramped space.
“Oh, geez,” I moaned, sensing a problem right away.
“What is that smell?” Bob griped, wrinkling his nose.
Bill nudged Bob and pointed down at the lower part of Barry’s pants, soaked in a chunky, muddy mess. “Was it damp down in the manhole, Barry?”
“Yeah. So what?” Barry pulled one of his earphones to the side.
“You may have brought in more than rain run-off.” Bob wrinkled his nose and began pronounced mouth breathing.
“What?” Barry spun around in his chair, confused.
“You stink.” Bill had such a way with words.
“Should I go ahead and let them know I’m here, or wait until we’re done with the Febreze?” Jackson’s voice crackled over the speakers.
“I don’t think Febreze will cut it,” I muttered.
“It’s not my fault,” Barry moaned. “I lost the coin toss to go down there.”
“Bill uses a double-heads coin, idiot,” Bob snarked.
“Oh, hell,” Barry whined. “Can we just get this thing started? I’ll go burn these pants when we’re done.”
“Barry, it really smells,” Bob stated the obvious. “I’m going to get a sinus headache.”
“Hey, gang?” Jackson’s voice came through. “I need to get to my appointment with Dr. Faust. Can I make a suggestion?”
“Go for it,” Barry sighed, resigned.
“Give Q your pants.”
“What?” Barry and I said together.
“Q can hang them on the door outside. Then spray some Febreze, and let’s get this started.”
“Come on, Barry. Let’s drop those trousers,” Bill prodded. “We need to get going.”
I looked at the clock. Five past eleven. “Barry,” I pleaded. “Hand them over.”
“Fine!” Barry rose from his seat, kicked off his shoes, and started to unbuckle his belt. “But one of you is going to go into the hotel to get me some pants before I leave this van.”
“Attaboy,” Jackson encouraged from his microphone. “Tell me when we’re ready. I’m feeling conspicuous wandering around this private garden.”
Barry handed his wet pants to me, and I held them out from my body with his socks and shoes. The pants smelled pungent with a mixture of identifiable and unidentifiable scents. I opened the rear door, hung the pants on the latch with one of the belt-loops, and dropped the shoes on the stoop. Trying not to breathe until I shut the door, I turned around to see Barry standing in a pair of tighty-whities with his arms crossed in front of his reflective vest and a hard hat on his head.
I had to smile. At least he kept his safety gear on.
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