I sneaked past Kellie’s desk while she was on the phone. Dr. Carbon’s door was open, so I stepped in. He was seated at his desk, and looked up when he heard (or sensed, I still wasn’t exactly sure what Dr. Carbon’s full capabilities were) me enter.
“Ah, Mike, thanks for coming so quickly,” he said.
I froze almost in mid-step. I’d interacted with Dr. Carbon quite often in my time with him, but I was sure I was just another faceless hireling to him, a name on a check or a jail roster whom the attorney had to bail out. If he knew my name, he probably had it in a file that he’d been reading just so he could address me properly before firing me. I had no idea what I’d done wrong, but to be called into a Vil’s office out of the blue… It wasn’t usually a pleasant experience from what I’d heard.
“Please, Mr. Williams, sit down,” Dr. Carbon said, pointing casually to one of the chairs in front of his desk.
I sat, wary of the chair being a trap, my mind visualizing webs or straps locking me in so he could tell me why he was about to toss me into a volcano. I have no idea why I was so paranoid, but the mind control incident had happened only a few days ago, and the Supes and Vils pretty much share the same information grapevine.
“Mike, the reason I know your name is because you’re a good worker.”
I froze again, this time in surprise that he might be able to read minds.
“The reason I’m an A-lister, Mike, is because I pay attention to details.”
I nodded, letting him know I respected him and enjoyed working for him because he paid attention to details enough to be an A-lister. At least I hoped that’s what my nod conveyed.
“A big part of the details,” he continued, “are the people working for me. I know most citizens and Supers only see you and your fellow associates as faceless goons, and too many of my own associates, the C-listers and below, make the same mistake. You’ve always done great work for me, and HR knows that any time your name comes up on the rotation, they are to do whatever it takes to get you back with us for another six months.
“And as an employee who is one of two on the HR list to get such special treatment, it means whenever I have a tough job, one that I dare not trust to anyone but someone I consider fully capable of successfully completing it, you and Washington are at the top of my list.”
I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t too surprised to hear Washington’s name. The guy scared the hell out of me, scared the hell out of most people, including the Vils he worked for. I tried to imagine what kind of scheme Dr. Carbon had cooked up that he had to call me in and praise me.
“Thank you, Dr. Carbon,” I said. “I always enjoy my stints with you.”
“The job I’ve got for you is a messy one, and it will tax your skills considerably.”
“Sure, I’ll give it my best shot. Do I have to beat up a Supe with an experimental fighting suit or something?”
Dr. Carbon laughed. “No, something much worse, I’m afraid.”
I didn’t like the sound of “much worse,” though his laugh didn’t make it seem like it could be all that bad. Maybe.
“No problem, Dr. Carbon. Tell me what you need done, and I’ll get on it.”
Dr. Carbon pointed to the phone on his desk.
“I need you to call Amazon and demand that they deliver my new superweapon in two days, and for free.”
I looked at him as if he were insane. I worried that I was the insane one, hallucinating in a cell somewhere that my boss, an A-list supervillain, was telling me to call an online retailer and demand they honor their Prime shipping agreement to deliver some kind of superweapon. I knew I was hallucinating by the fact that he said he’d purchased a superweapon from a popular online website.
“Uh…” I said, pinching myself. It hurt. “I’m to call Amazon and demand free two-day shipping on a… what?”
“A Rolston-Halichek Deuterium-Krypton Doom Laser, Model DKDL50G-XR4,” he said, as if it were two paperback books and a bag of coffee.
“A… Rolston-Halichek Deuterium-Krypton Doom Laser…” I said, beginning to believe that at some point while guarding the hallway, a new type of Supe had showed up and made us hallucinate. I bet I was rolling on the floor in the hallway, having an imaginary conversation with my boss about buying a laser that could burn a hole through the crust and mantle of the planet.
“Yes, and I just received an email from their customer service team saying they made a mistake, and they can’t honor the Prime shipping.”
“Aren’t those things like… six or seven tons?” I asked, apparently no longer surprised that I was having this conversation about buying doom lasers off the internet.
“Yes, of course.” Dr. Carbon waved a hand as if it wasn’t an important detail.
I had no choice but to agree. He didn’t find it strange that he’d been able to buy an outrageously expensive experimental weapon from the most popular shopping site in the country. If that wasn’t important, I guess it was less than trivial to worry about the shipping weight of a weapon capable of destroying entire countries—maybe the planet.
“Uh, Dr. Carbon, can I ask you why you bought an R-H Doom Laser from Amazon?”
He looked at me and smiled. “Because Fry’s was out of stock, Best Buy was on backorder, and Wal-Mart, thanks to their family-friendly values, doesn’t carry them.”
“Okay,” I said, as if that explained everything. “So, they’ll ship it, but they won’t ship it for free and in two days?”
“I’m not paying their outrageous shipping fees. The device weighs seven and a quarter tons. You don’t even want to know how much they want to ship it.”
“But, aren’t the DKDL50G’s something like $125,000,000? What’s a few thousand extra?”
Dr. Carbon looked at me with a sly grin, as if he’d cheated at a poker game and won a huge pot.
“I got it for a buck under a hundred million,” he said, the pride in his voice surprising me—though I suppose it shouldn’t have.
Vils are known for being deal hunters. In fact, they’re the worst kind of shoppers. While on assignment for DX-79, I’d had to accompany him to the big tech surplus warehouse to buy some parts for a gravity wave generator device. It had taken the damn robot almost four hours to decide between two identical power regulators. I thought maybe he’d glitched, but he was doing a looping spectral analysis of each unit. Then one time I ended up behind Enjii at the Food Mart one night. Of course, it was ten in the evening, and there was only one cashier alive on the planet, and of course, Enjii held up the line because he had at least two handfuls of coupons.
The poor checkout girl… she deserves props for not having a complete meltdown while being scared out of her wits by a well-known Vil who began to grow more and more enraged as her register rejected at least half of the coupons. The manager… that guy should have been a supervisor in the union. He rushed right out of the office and gave Enjii a verbal lashing that would have made my mother proud. Even after losing his eyebrows to Enjii’s temper, he shamed the Vil to the point Enjii apologized to not only the cashier, but the rest of us in line who had been waiting.
“Okay,” I said. “You got a steal of a deal on it. Why not just pay the extra to get it shipped?”
“Mike, they want $200,000 to ship it!”
“All right,” I said, not understanding what the big deal was. He paid a hundred million for the thing, right?
“I’m not paying that! Besides, they say three weeks delivery, since they’ll have to make sure the roads are clear up to the blast doors of the complex.”
“Why so much to ship, then? It seems like they could put it on a tractor-trailer and get it here in a couple of days at the most. I mean, we’re in northern Oregon, and they’ll be delivering from what? The Seattle area? It’s not like they’d have to deliver it all the way to the main base in Arizona.”
“See, this is why I like you, Mike. You know where you are, and you know what’s going on. But to answer your question, they claim because it’s a doomsday weapon, and because it’s a delicate piece of advanced technology, they have to cover their own asses. And make a profit, no doubt.”
I sighed. “Are you sure it had the Prime Shipping logo on it when you added it to your cart?” I decided to just accept that no one was going to raise an alarm that a doomsday laser had been sold to a supervillain by a very popular, very public website.
“Yes, yes,” he said, as if he’d explained these details to others a million times already. “I even made sure as I was finishing my checkout. It had the ‘order by tonight at 6PM to get it free on Friday’ option checked. I could have done the one-day shipping for $12,000…” He sounded regretful.
“All right,” I said. “I’ll call them up and see what I can do.”
“I know you’ll take care of this, Mike,” he said, coming around the desk and clapping me on the shoulder. “Because if you don’t, it’s into the volcano or the alligator pit for you.”
My eyes got round until I saw the wink and the gleam in his eyes, followed by a laugh as he left the office. I chuckled, appreciating the man for having a sense of humor. It was a rare commodity in a superhero, and though it was common in supervillains, it was a toss-up as to which type of humor a particular Vil had. A big chunk of them had psychotic personalities, so their humor bordered on the disturbing, the sickness inside them driving them on to create more and greater chaos to further their weird fantasies.
Others were so geeky that no one other than Randy usually understood their jokes and pop culture references. If you have to explain the purpose of building a Trans-Oscillating Gender Refabrication Unit, the joke probably wasn’t that funny. Guys like that can’t just say “Gender Bender Gun” or something funny. They have to always to use the long technical name.
A few were like Dr. Carbon, though I didn’t know his sense of humor on such a personal level before today. I guess I should have known he’d be an all right guy by the fact Washington seemed to make him laugh regularly (even though Washington might laugh twice in an entire year, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard the guy make a joke in the years I’ve worked with him).
I reached toward the phone when I heard footsteps behind me. I turned to see Kellie standing in the doorway, giving me a look that made me feel like a slab of meat.
“So, I hear you’ll be hanging out for a little while today?” she asked, licking her lips.
“Uh, I have to make an important call for Dr. Carbon,” I said, beginning to panic. I had completely forgotten about Kellie and my rule of not being alone with her.
“From what it sounds like,” she said, sauntering into the office, purposely swaying her hips back and forth, “it’s going to be a long, stressful call.”
She came to a stop behind my chair. Her fingers began massaging my shoulders, and while I had to admit it did relieve some of the stress of my day, it made me squidgy inside, as if my sister was touching me in a seductive way.
“How about we do it right here on Dr. Carbon’s desk?” she whispered into my ear.
I jumped up and backed away from her, but my butt ran into the wall after two steps. I began to sweat profusely when she licked her lips again. Her expression promised that I wasn’t going to get out of what was coming next as she took a step toward me.
“Ah, I forgot my comm,” Dr. Carbon said, walking into the office. He stopped, giving the two of us a strange look. “Ms. Brown, do be a doll and let Mr. Williams perform his task. It is of the utmost importance.”
“I was just bringing him the number he needed to call, Dr. Carbon,” she said, but looked at me, her eyes still full of mischief.
She thrust a piece of paper toward me. I looked down and saw a toll-free number, and what I was sure said “Amazon” under two of her fingers. I reached down to take it from her, and just as my fingers touched it, she flipped it over. Her phone number was on the back, along with a dirty little picture of the act she apparently looked forward to engaging in with me. I took the paper from her quickly, stuffing it into my jumpsuit pocket just as Dr. Carbon walked past us. He reached into a desk drawer, grabbed his comm, held it up as if to check it to make sure it was really a comm, gave me a nod of his head, then gently guided Kellie out of the office by her elbow.
I let out a heavy breath. I picked up the phone and held it to my ear, but didn’t dial for almost half a minute while I did my best to calm down. The woman was a cougar, and more for the fact she liked to play with her prey before devouring them than the “sexy older woman” definition popular with the kids.
I pulled the slip of paper from my pocket and dialed the number, then waited the requisite seventeen minutes before finally getting a customer service rep. I prayed that English was his first language.
“Hello! Thank you for contacting Amazon Customer Support! My name is Todd, and I’ll do whatever I can to help you resolve your issue!”
I wondered if Todd was sitting in a cell somewhere, two guards silently threatening him with bodily harm if he didn’t have enough cheer and joy in his voice when helping a customer.
“Hi, Todd. I’ve got a problem with an item’s shipment status that needs to be fixed,” I said.
Since no one else seemed to be concerned that a death-ray was about to change hands, I wouldn’t be either.
“Sure, I can take care of that for you,” came the reply from Cheery Todd. “May I have your name and Amazon account number?”
“Sure,” I said, rattling off my name and Dr. Carbon’s Amazon info.
“Thank you, Mr. Williams. Give me just a moment to pull up that information.”
I waited, still envisioning two hooded guards tapping billy clubs or bamboo canes as a warning to Cheery Todd that he best hurry up and sound like talking to me was the equivalent of talking to God.
“Okay, Mr. Williams, I have it right here. It looks like a Dr. Carbon ordered the Rolston-Halichek Deuterium-Krypton Doom Laser, model DKDL50G-XR4.”
“Yep, that’s it,” I said, as if he’d just told me Dr. Carbon had ordered cat litter.
“Okay, let’s see…” he said, trailing off as he read the notes from whoever had sent Dr. Carbon the shipping rejection had written on the account. “Ah, I see. It seems there was a mistake on our part.”
“Sure, that happens,” I said. I’d ordered thousands of items from a large number of online retailers, and every once in a while, packages or orders got screwed up.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Williams, but I’m afraid Amazon cannot honor the Prime Shipping guarantee for this item.”
“That’s the thing,” I said, feeling myself enter what I called Internet Lawyer Mode. “When the item was ordered, it had the Prime logo on it. More importantly, the purchase confirmation verified that the item qualified for Prime shipping at checkout.”
“I realize that, Mr. Williams, but I’m afraid that in this case, we simply can’t honor Prime shipping.”
“Why not?” I asked, trying to keep frustration out of my voice.
“Well, the notes don’t say, but I’m guessing from the product description, it has to do with the item being a superweapon that uses nuclear fuel.”
“Well, Mr. Williams,” he said, sounding flustered, as if I should already know the answer, “it is a doomsday weapon, and again, it uses uranium and plutonium to power its core output stage.”
“So, let me get this straight,” I said, finally unable to take it anymore. “You guys will sell a nuclear-fueled doomsday laser that can punch holes into the core of the planet, and you’ll sell it to someone you have to know is considered a supervillain—one of the top members of the League of Power—but you won’t honor a two-day free shipping guarantee?”
“Mr. Williams, Amazon sells millions of items across the globe on a daily basis. While we try to police our affiliates and even our own warehouse stock, we certainly wouldn’t carry an item that is considered illegal or extremely deadly.”
“A chainsaw could be considered extremely deadly,” I argued, my irritation at Todd’s cheery attitude beginning to seep through.
“Be that as it may, Mr. Williams, this item does not qualify for Prime shipping. For that I do apologize, and I am authorized to offer you one hundred dollars in gift codes to use at Amazon.com as a way to say we appreciate you as a valued customer and we’re disappointed that we couldn’t resolve this situation to your satisfaction.”
“Hold on,” I said. Growled, actually. “You’re gonna offer me a hundred bucks in gift cards after we bought a $100,000,000 product? What’s your cut of that, anyway? Even at a couple percent, that’s a few million bucks.”
“I’m not privy to that information, Mr. Williams. If the gift cards are not satisfactory, I can escalate this to a supervisor.”
“No,” I said. “Tell you what. How about this? You just go ahead and ship that item to us, and we’ll pay the shipping costs.”
“Very good, Mr. Williams! I’d be happy to take care of that for you, and once again, my sincerest apologies for the mix-up!”
“No problem,” I said, leaning back in my boss’s chair. “I’ll make sure Dr. Carbon knows that Seattle is the first city to be destroyed by our shiny, brand-new DKDL50G-XR4 Doom Laser. By then, I’m sure one of the other supervillains will have found out where you work, maybe even live, and we can test out our new laser a couple more times. Just to make sure it works properly before our return period expires.”
The silence was heavy, almost to the point I thought I could hear gears clicking and whirring in Todd’s cheery head.
“I bet the residents of the Puget Sound would be really grateful that they didn’t have to flee a massive lava flow,” I added helpfully. “Or possibly a new volcano forming right next to the airport.”
“I… I believe you are correct, Mr. Williams,” he said in a shaky voice.
“I mean,” I continued, “it’s not like the mayor will give you a ribbon and the key to the city, but, you know, you’ll sleep good at night knowing that thanks to you, some other city gets held for ransom, possibly even destroyed, all because of your dedication and your willingness to do whatever it takes to make sure a loyal customer is satisfied.”
“Yes, yes,” he said, the sound of frantic clicking in the background making me smile. “Nothing wrong with being an anonymous good Samaritan.”
“Exactly, Todd!” I said, emulating his cheeriness.
“Okay, I have you scheduled for a delivery on the nineteenth. Will that work for you?”
“Todd…” I said, making sure he heard the disappointment in my voice. “Come on, that’s not the two-day Prime shipping that I’m used to, nor what we paid for.”
“But… that’s the earliest we can contract a semi to haul the equipment.”
“Sorry, Todd. Bzzzt. No go.”
“Mr. Williams… I’m not sure what else I can do!”
“It’s Amazon!” I said, almost shouting. “You guys have armies of robots and trucks and planes and warehouse workers. I know somewhere in your asset pool you have a couple of heavy helicopters. I’m thinking that with a couple of Sikorsky types, you could have the thing delivered in two days easy. In fact, with a chopper, you could drop it right inside the complex where we need it. It will kill two birds with one laser, pardon my pun.”
More furious clicking on his keyboard filled the comm, until he cleared his throat.
“Okay, Mr. Williams!” It seemed he’d found his cheer again. “I’ve got your Rolston-Halichek Deuterium-Krypton Doom Laser, model DKDL50G-XR4, scheduled for an airlift delivery to…” he paused while looking up the address. “To The Fortress of No Return, atop Mt. Jefferson.”
He read off the GPS coordinates and I confirmed them. I twirled one of Dr. Carbon’s pens around in my fingers for a few minutes while Cheery Todd finished up the delivery confirmation.
“Ooookay, Mr. Williams!” he practically gushed in my ear. “Delivery will be Friday by 6:00 PM. I’m glad that I could help you resolve your issue, and that you have decided to not hold for ransom or destroy Seattle. Is there anything else I can help you with this afternoon?”
“No, I think that about covers it, Todd,” I said.
I thanked him for his help, and he thanked me once again for not destroying his city, him, or his company before hanging up.
I put the phone back in its cradle and scribbled a note to Dr. Carbon, letting him know that his superweapon would be delivered on time. I shook my head, put the pen on the desk, then creeped to the door. I listened for a few seconds, hearing only the soft, generic sounds of light adult contemporary music and the click-clack of acrylic nails as they worked a keyboard.
I peeked my head out, looked around like a wild animal that had escaped its cage, then tiptoed down the hallway until I made it to the main door of the executive wing, breathing a heavy sigh of relief after the door clicked shut behind me. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and headed back to my post, hoping Dave had forgotten about my new, college-aged girlfriend. Knowing Dave, he’d spent the entire time I was gone thinking up hundreds of ways to irritate and annoy me about it.