by Mark Finn
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Chapter Nine: Preparing to Lam

"Let me get this straight," said Lou Cansella, who taught Acting II and III, "your grandmother died last night of a brain tumor?"

Turk nodded, head down, tears streaming down his face.

"Mister Terkington, do you have any idea how many grandmothers, aunts, and parents die just before midterms and finals? It's a staggering number, let me assure you."

Turk sniffed. "Well, studies show that the baby boomers are dropping now like sheaves of wheat before the scythe. No offense," he said, looking up quickly.

"None taken," said Cansella. He looked at Fred Terkington, who was still crying, and was believably anguished. "You're not the first to cry in order to sell your story, either."

"But sir, I really-" Turk started.

"Shush, Mister Terkington, don't break character. Let's assume that I won't let you out of midterms for this funeral in, where are you from?"

"Chicago," Turk said. Actually, it's where Burt was from, but Turk was lost in the moment and grabbed the first distant city he could think of.

Cansella smiled. "Ah, 'Sweet Home.' Suppose I don't excuse you from midterms? What then?"

Turk wiped his nose. "With all due respect, Lou, I'm going, with or without your okay. I was just hoping you could reschedule my scene for Monday or later." He paused, and then added, "This is my family we're talking about. Mom needs me."

"Should I call your mother and pass on my condolences?" Cansella said casually.

It was a bluff, and Turk knew it. He answered without hesitation, "If you really want to. I can give you the number right now." He gestured at the phone on Cansella's desk.

Cansella squinted at Turk, sizing the situation up. "No," he said slowly. "I don't think that will be necessary. You'll be back on Monday, right?"

"Yes," Turk said, with just the right amount of bitterness in his voice.

"And you've talked to your acting partner?"

"Yes," he said again.

"Very well, let's say, then, that you and your partner meet me in the Performing Arts Center at..." he glanced at his schedule, "four-thirty. I'll see your scene last."

Turk nodded. "Thank you, Lou." He stood up.

"And Fred? You really ought to leave town. I'll be around this weekend, and if I see you here, I'll fail you."

"Understood," Turk said, trying hard not to smile. "This isn't a snow job, I promise."

"Enough," Lou said, "don't oversell the grief." He signed Turk's written request for a reschedule and dated it. "Now get out of here and let me work in peace."

"Thank you," said Turk, as he shut the door behind him.

Out in the hall, he grinned uncertainly. On one hand, he had pulled it off and gotten a reprieve. On the other hand, Lou didn't buy the crying for a second. But, Turk reasoned, Lou was the one who taught him out to find a sad memory and cry about it in the first place, so that made a little more sense. Since it was the only class he had to worry about, it made little difference, really, just as long as it got switched.

Turk considered his options. It was Wednesday, and that meant new comics in San Fran. On the other hand, he also had a list of things to do before he left town, the least of which was getting enough money for his share of the operating capital. That meant a phone call to mom and an excuse of some sort. He puzzled on it as he made his way back to the dorms.

Across campus, Burt was having far less luck getting his test schedule rearranged. His professors were sympathetic, but unyielding to Burt's request to reschedule on Friday. One professor suggested that Burt take the test early, and Burt had no choice but to do it. Thankfully, Burt understood calculus, and was able to at least finish the test with some confidence that he had made a good accounting of himself.

His Programming II professor, Bob Wansley, would not be deterred, however. "Sorry, Burt, but I've got to be on hand for you to take it, because you're going to program what I tell you to program."

"Can I take it now, then?" asked Burt. He was on a roll with that option.

"No," Wansley said, "I've got consulting off-campus today and tomorrow."

"What about taking it on Monday?" Burt tried, feeling desperate.

"Sorry, I only teach one Programming II class, and you're in it. Everything else is more advanced."

Burt put his hands on his knees and leaned forward. "Then I'll take the Programming III exam."

"Uh, Burt, you aren't really ready for that, I don't think."

"Look, Mister Wansley, I'm trying to work with you here. I have to go out of town on Friday. I'll be back on Monday. It's unavoidable."

"What is it?" said Wansley.

"It's personal. I can't tell you. But trust me, I have to go. So, what I'm saying is, if my options with you are taking a test that I may or may not get a passing grade on, or taking a flat-out zero, then I'll take door number one. Know what I mean?"

Wansley looked at Burt and saw that his jaw was set. Stubborn kid, he thought. Burt was wearing an REM t-shirt. "Just tell me, is it a concert? What?"

"Mister Wansley, I promise you, it's nothing like that. But seriously, if it wasn't really important, I wouldn't even be here."

Wansley sighed. "Okay, you can take the Programming III test." And I pray to god you don't think it's too easy, he thought to himself.

Burt smiled. "Thanks, Mister Wansley, really. You saved my ass."

"Don't be so sure," Wansley said.

Burt left Wansley's office and hustled back to his dorm room to check his e-mail.

D.J. watched his mother carefully as he ate his late breakfast. She was baffled, which was more or less her waking state. "So, wait, you're telling me that Justin wants you to go to an Instant Convention?" D.J.'s mother wiped her hands on her jeans.

"Yes, Mother," D.J. said, biting his lower lip, regretting the lie. This one may have been over the top, even for her.

"But, why is it in Phoenix? And why do you have to go?"

D.J.'s mind spun quickly, forming phrases at blinding speed. "Well, you see, it's a...managerial convention. Like what the distributors hold. It's part of my job now, to like, represent Comix Comix Comix at shows."

That did it. "Trade shows? Oh my," said his mother. "I guess it's time we started calling you the breadwinner around here," she said, smiling.

"Well, let's not jump to conclusions. But, in any case, Justin is taking care of the hotel, but I will need some traveling money."

Mom frowned. "Can't he just advance it out of your pay?"

"No! I mean, for, you know, tax purposes, he needs receipts and stuff. For me, too."

"Oh," said his mother, "I see." She really didn't. "How much are we talking about, here?"

D.J. took a deep breath. The trap was baited, and the quarry was inside. Now, to spring it before she bolted. "I'm not sure. This is a little different." He paused for just a second, then said, "Why don't I take Dad's credit card, the one we use for traveling and vacations?"

His mother started to say yes, but stopped herself just in time. "You know your father is fanatical about that credit card. I don't know..."

"Mom, tell you what: I doubt the trip will cost me more than a hundred bucks or so. Why don't I take the card, and then I can pay the account back after the trip? Twenty-five bucks a week ought to put the account back to full in one month."

It was solid, rock solid reasoning, and his mother couldn't help but look at her little entrepreneur with pride. "Oh, all right, but D.J., listen to me. Don't buy comics with it. Your father pores over those statements every month, and he'll know if you get crazy."

"Mom," he scoffed, "please, this is business. I'm going there as a company representative, not some fanboy."

His mother smiled again, and went to the cookie jar, where the family savings were kept. In the bottom of the pile of bills was a thin wallet, with several credit cards tucked inside. She opened the wallet up and took out a blue and silver VISA card. "I'm serious, D.J. Be careful. Use your best judgment."

"I will, Mom. I promise," D.J. said, taking the card from her. "Listen, I've got a lot to do. We leave on Friday. So, I'm going to go to work, then I'll be unavailable for a while."

"You'll be home for dinner, right?"

"Well, duh. Of course." D.J. bolted out the door and headed for the bus stop. During his lunch break, he would take the VISA to the ATM across the street from the store and make a cash advance. The maximum that could be taken off this particular card at any one time was two hundred and fifty dollars, the exact amount he needed for the heist. There wasn't a hint of remorse in D.J.'s heart for the petty crime he was about to commit. He knew in his heart that when they returned with the forbidden modules, he could pay back his parents in a week. Now all he had to do was convince Justin to let him use his one sick day of the year on Friday.

For the past five months, Larry had been working tech support for Renaissance Technical Systems, a software company that sold business packages to other companies. Their best-selling product was a program called File-Right Plus, which was an industry standard. Larry was intimately familiar with the software, as he had been designing character sheets and game master forms with it for years. He passed their tests with flying colors and was made a level two tech in two months. Now, with formal training under his belt, he was on the fast track to become a team manager inside of six months.

Larry walked into the office of his supervisor, Andrew Marino, and announced, "Andy, I'm going to be sick on Thursday and Friday."

Marino looked up with no trace of surprise on his face. "Do tell."

"Yes. How much leave do I have left?" Larry sat down in the padded chair in front of the desk.

Marino tapped his keyboard a few times. "None," he said simply.

"Oh. Okay, what about personal days?"

Another keystroke. "None." Marino smiled. "If you want to take Thursday and Friday off, it'll have to be with no pay."

"I see," said Larry.

"Do you?" Marino tapped the edge of his desk with a pencil. "I don't know that you get it, Larry. Everyone above me thinks you're some kind of miracle worker. Everyone in your group thinks you're weird, but smart. I'm the only one who thinks you're a jerk-off."

"I understand that, Andy. And I think you're grossly overpaid for what you do, but there's not much I can do about it."

Marino smiled. "Yes, but where I have power over you is in my ability to recommend you for a team manager position. Without my say-so, you won't move up."

In all honesty, Larry wasn't too concerned with moving up. He was making thirty eight thousand dollars a year, almost twice what he was making at the candy factory. He could stand to stay at thirty eight thou, especially since he was bringing back half a million dollars' worth of contraband role-playing game material on Sunday. Nevertheless, he wanted to keep his job. He liked it, strangely. It was the first time he'd ever really liked a job.

"Okay, Andy, I'll take the hit. And I'll buckle down after this, too, I swear."

"That would be a really smart thing, Larry, because, I'll tell you straight, there's a lot of people on the street right now who can do what you do, and will do it for less money."

"I understand. If I don't come back on Monday, you can start interviewing them. Deal?"

Andy turned back to his computer screen. "I wouldn't be to flippant, if I were you, Larry. I might just take you up on that."

Larry said nothing as he walked out of the office. He should have just quit, he thought. It's not like this plan was going to fail.

Next Chapter

Chapter One: The Navel Adventures of Larry Croft
Chapter Two: 1123 Miles to Tempe
Chapter Three: Enter the String
Chapter Four: The Waiting is the Hardest Part
Chapter Five: Rutlege's Story
Chapter Six: The Plot Thickens
Chapter Seven: The Fifth Man is Revealed
Chapter Eight: It's a DRY Heat
Chapter Nine: Preparing to Lam
Chapter Ten: The Mislaid Plans of Mouse and Man
Chapter Eleven: The Danger of Talking to God
Chapter Twelve: Anchors Aweigh, Let's Go Men
Chapter Thirteen: The End is Near
Chapter Fourteen: Roll to Hit
Chapter Fifteen: Six Feet of Beef Stick for the Soul
Chapter Sixteen: Hello, My Name is Indio, California
Chapter Seventeen: Threadgill Takes Charge
Chapter Eighteen: The Players on the Other Side
Chapter Nineteen: On the Road to Perdition
Chapter Twenty: Welcome to Tempe
Chapter Twenty-One: The Game is Afoot
Chapter Twenty-Two: Should Have Known Better
Chapter Twenty-Three: Test-Run at the Waffle House
Chapter Twenty-Four: The Supply Run
Chapter Twenty-Five: The Backhoe
Chapter Twenty-Six: A Frank Discussion
Chapter Twenty-Seven: A Brief History of Larry's Van
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Go Speed Racer, Go
Chapter Twenty-Nine: The Owner of the Thumbscrews
Chapter Thirty: Brain Teasers
Chapter Thirty-One: Frick and Frack Check In
Chapter Thirty-Two: Scouting
Chapter Thirty-Three: The Stakeout
Chapter Thirty-Four: The Food Fight
Chapter Thirty-Five: Time to Dig
Chapter Thirty-Six: Deep in the Night
Chapter Thirty-Seven: Paydirt
Chapter Thirty-Eight: The Phallus of Ebon Keep
Chapter Thirty-Nine: Otto and Stacy Make Good
Chapter Forty: Thieves in the Night
Chapter Forty-One: Critical Failure
Chapter Forty-Two: Downtown
Chapter Forty-Three: The Hoosegow
Chapter Forty-Four: An Emergency Breakfast
Chapter Forty-Five: Two Early Phone Calls
Chapter Forty-Six: Threadgill Meets the Gang
Chapter Forty-Seven: Back to the Van
Chapter Forty-Eight: Five Days Later
Table of Contents

About the Author

Mark Finn is the author of Blood & Thunder: the Life and Art of Robert E. Howard, which was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. He also writes excellent short stories, essays, articles, and reviews. In addition to his regular gig at the Vernon Plaza Theater, he can be found intermittently on The Clockwork Storybook blog and RevolutionSF, holding court or damning with faint praise.