Updated: May 23, 2022
Donna and Jack are ready for their close-ups as fake-famous overnight sensations in order to expose who among several very popular social media influencers is passing U.S. state secrets to foreign agents.
How social is social media?
Well, that depends on who you are—and why you’re on it.
For example: if you want to show off the cake you’ve just baked, post it on Instagram.
(Word of caution: before posting, take a quick tour of the platform using such hashtags as #cake or #dessert or #sweets to make sure your culinary gem is staged and lit as appetizingly as Insta’s usual eye candy. Otherwise, no comment literally means “No comment.”)
Want to humble-brag on your children? Then Facebook is the platform for you! There, you can show off to your heart’s content. (Reality check: are your friends’ offspring even more accomplished? Whether the answer is a grudging “Yes” or a relieved “Hell, no...” be prepared to thumb-up the photos of their kids as well. Otherwise, they make give tit for tat. (Again, in this case, silence is not golden.)
Now, if you want to rant about the lousy disservice you received at some chain store, Twitter is where you post it. The store will certainly see it and reach out to you publicly—
But then follow up with nothing that resolves the problem. Why should it? Its one measly tweet was proof it feels your pain, right?
Which shows you just how antisocial media really is. Tweeting or posting—even creating a silly TikTok video—may give you a few seconds of satisfaction, but it tallies up to nothing of real worth, let alone satisfying actions.
Instead, get out on the street and wave at someone. Or knock on a neighbor’s door with that cake. Better yet, write a letter: to an old friend, enclosing those photos of your children.
The ripple effect may take your message much further, and the response you get back will mean much more to you.
Especially if it’s accompanied with a smile.
It’s two-thirty in the morning and I’d rather be anywhere but behind the counter at Granny Doo’s Diner on the desolate, godforsaken corner of US-395 and Searles Station Road.
In other words, I’m out in the middle of nowhere: the Mojave Desert to be exact, and fifteen miles as the crow flies to the Naval Air Weapons Station in China Lake, California.
Frankly, you won’t see any crows in this neck of the desert. They know better than to fly over the base, and for good reason: they’d get wiped out by an air fleet of F-16s programmed with Artificial Intelligence. Now, every maneuver—be it air combat, reconnaissance, mission planning, or logistics—is foolproof.
It’s DARPA tech wizardry at its finest.
And no other country has anything similar—
Which is why one of the base’s mechanics—a guy named Winston Pettigrew—put out feelers to the Chinese to see if they’d want an SD card containing our swarm warfare technology. Winston’s job is to load it onto the fleet’s cockpit computers. At some point, he downloaded the software.
Of course, China leaped at the chance to get its hands on it.
Luckily, our pals, the South Koreans, intercepted Winston’s coded negotiations. They handed it off to an asset who works for my employer—the US government-sanctioned black ops organization, Acme Industries—so that both South Korea and the US can claim no knowledge of foiling China’s scheme.
That’s where I come in. Winston arranged for the hand-off to take place here, at Granny Doo’s. When the time comes—tonight, in fact—I’ll be conducting some sleight of hand: swapping Winston’s card for one of our own, which is embedded with a trojan that will release faulty algorithms when the US deems fit, and crash China’s air fleet.
After Winston’s contacts go on their merry way with the wrong SD card, Jack and I will arrest the seller and destroy the card holding the stolen intel.
Rest her soul, Granny Doo is long gone—but not far off. Just to Palm Springs. With the payout of a seven-million-dollar Lotto ticket, she bought a mansion built in the middle of a whole lot of sand, and a few cabana boys to boot. She gifted the diner to her nephew, Bucky Doolittle, who is the diner’s short-order cook. When I applied for the waitressing job, Bucky—a sunburned sixty-something desert rat—looked me up and down (breast to thigh, anyway) and candidly declared, “You’ll do just fine as the overnight counter cutie. The shift begins at midnight and runs for eight hours. You’ll make ten bucks per, plus whatever tips you can wangle out of the tight-assed truckers who stop in here.”
“No, sir,” I said. “You’ll pay me minimum wage, just as the state mandates.”
To make my point, I smacked my bubble gum so hard that Bucky ducked. I suppose he thought one of the sixteen-wheelers rumbling down the road had popped a tire.
He must have liked my giggle—more than likely, he liked the way my breasts jiggled when I guffawed—because he grudgingly told me I had the gig.
He had no choice. No one else had applied. Acme made sure of that by scrubbing the job notice from the closest Craig’s List feed.
Since setting the date, Winston has shown up a couple of times. Frankly, I think he chose the place because its lousy food ensures that he and his contact will be left the only ones in the joint. The first time he came in, he nursed a cup of coffee and took a bite of his pie and almost gagged.
My boss, Ryan Clancy, was so worried that Bucky’s rancid cardboard-crust pies would give Winston a case of the runs and that the traitor would choose another drop location that he begged me to bake homemade pies for the diner. At first, Bucky was reticent to take me up on my offer. But after I whipped up one of my apple pies and served it to him, he quickly changed his mind.
“It’s like heaven with a golden-brown crust,” he sighed.
“Is that a tear in your eye?” I asked.
He nodded, then honked his nose into a paper napkin. “What can I say? I’m sentimental.”
“Do you mean to tell me that Granny Doo’s pies were once this good?”
He snorted at that. “Nope. She always bought’em at Costco.”
I didn’t have the nerve to ask Bucky where he gets his pies.
The next time Winston showed up, I gave him a large wedge of my chocolate pecan on the house, just to assure him it was edible. I could tell by his shit-eating grin that he liked it.
Or maybe he appreciated the way my breasts peeked out from my push-up bra when I bent down to refill his coffee. Does it matter what keeps him coming back for more? Nah. Not when our national security is at risk.
Winston is here now. He walked in just an hour ago, scanned the diner, then took his usual seat: the third counter stool on the left. It’s the furthest away from the big screen TV hanging over the grill: a suggestion I made to Bucky on my second day at work. “It’ll keep the patrons in their stools,” I predicted.
He now grudgingly agreed I was right again.
The cheapskate jerry-rigged the TV with a rope that runs from the wall to a couple of unanchored ceiling hooks, so that it is tilted. “That way, the bar customers don’t get a crick in their necks,” Bucky explained.
“You’re asking for trouble with that set-up,” I countered. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the vibrations from one of the big rigs flying by this rickety shack send it crashing down on your head one of these days.”
Some twenty minutes ago, two truckers sauntered in before Winston. They’re sitting at the counter a few stools away, directly under the TV. They seem transfixed by a replay of the Giants pummeling the Dodgers.
A third trucker—my mission partner and husband, Jack—drove up after Winston. Jack now sports some chin scruff and a retro Salty Crew trucker’s cap that’s a bona fide for those who drive Mack Anthems tricked out with a 70-inch sleeper. Like me, he's also equipped with earbuds and contact lenses that allow us eyes and ears, controlled by the rest of our mission team, who are working out of the back of the Mack.
Acme’s ace tech op, Arnie Locklear, is monitoring the security cams I placed strategically throughout the diner while Bucky snored in the cot in the pantry. And our cutout-slash-cleaner-slash “save our asses best he can” operative, Abu Nagashahi, is doing reconnaissance while waiting to see if we’ll need any clean-ups on Aisle Five.
Arnie’s wife—Emma Honeycutt, who is also Acme’s ComInt director—is just an earbud away from the rest of us. In case something goes awry and takes us far afield, she’ll relay any SATCOM visuals, using the diner as Ground Zero.
Odds are that this mission will go as smoothly as the coffee I’m now serving: my own blend of Excelsa and Robusta. Bucky's been tickled pink that it’s a hit with patrons.
Jack took the last stool on the left, which is just two away from our target and the closest to the restrooms and the pantry. To keep Winston from suspecting us, other than placing his order for burgers, fries, and a Ginger Ale, Jack ignores me.
Frankly, I think he’s going a step too far. I mean, come on already. The only one who wouldn’t be leering at me in this much-too-tight waitress uniform would have to be a castrated monk.
A half-hour after Winston showed up, a couple—twentyish and glamping it in a tricked-out Silver Bullet Airstream—came in to shake the dust off their lean, tanned bodies before plopping down in one of the diner’s booths. After ordering coffee and a large order of fries, they’ve been charging their computers and phones on the diner’s new built-in USB charging stations and electrical outlet strips now built into every booth. Using our free WIFI, they’ve been uploading a stash of photos to the newest must-use social media platform, Pinstagram.
The chargers and outlets were also my idea. When I pointed out to Bucky that these amenities would encourage patrons to sit and nosh even longer—perhaps even make it a must-stop destination—he crowed with delight. “Well, aren’t you a little smartie pants!”
I smiled pretty, then gave Abu the order to install them. I figure that the best quid pro quo is hooking up Jack’s Mack to the diner’s power supply.
So far, none of the diner’s patrons have approached Winston, nor has he interacted with anyone. And yet, he’s as skittish as a peekapoo that’s been left on the shoulder of the expressway in the dark.
Why would that be? Certainly, it’s not about the money. Half of Winston’s crypto-cash payment has already been transferred into his designated account. (Not really; Arnie hacked and then jacked it).
I’m now pulling three fresh-baked pies out of the oven behind the diner’s counter: an apple with a lattice crust, a cherry, and a pecan. The fragrant smell of hot fruit and baked crust wafts through the air. Noses quiver. One of the truckers is drooling. While the pies cool, I saunter over to each patron and offer refills from the fresh pot of coffee in my hand. I’m not surprised that everyone has a pie request. I suppose they’re anxious to cut the grease left in their guts by Bucky’s cheeseburgers.
One of the truckers at the counter wants cherry. The other goes for pecan. The Glamping Gal wants an apple slice, while Glamping Guy requests a cherry.
Winston wants apple.
Jack requests a slice of the cherry pie, for good reason: when Winston’s guest appears, I’ll deliver Jack’s pie to Winston, which will give me an excuse for a little sleight-of-hand. If I’m successful, I’ll have swapped Winston’s SD card with the one in my apron pocket.
Except for Jack and Winston, I’ve just set the other patrons’ pie slices and tabs in front of them when the front door chimes. A tall block of a man wearing a cowboy hat looks around, then takes a stool two away from Winston, on his right.
Suddenly, I hear Emma’s voice in my ear. I wish I could say she’s coming in loud and clear, but she’s not.
Jack is frowning. Apparently, he’s also trying to make out what she’s saying through all the static.
I keep my eye on Winston. I know Jack is doing the same. If this is when the handoff takes place, we can’t afford to be distracted.
Cowboy takes off his ten-gallon and places it on the stool beside Winston. “That pecan pie sure smells good, ma’am! How ’bout a piece of that with some java?” His drawl is as thick as molasses and just as sweet.
I’m glad he doesn’t want a burger instead. Bucky has snuck out back to call Granny Doo and plead with her for a loan since the wad he bet on the Dodgers looks like it’ll wipe him out.
I grin coyly at Cowboy. “Be right with you, mister,” I say, as I cut Jack a slice of cherry
Then I cut of wedge of apple for Winston—
But I give it to Jack instead.
Winston is too busy eyeing Cowboy to notice I haven’t handed him his pie of choice. A moment later, Cowboy nonchalantly asks him: “Isn’t the Ridgecrest Gun Range around here somewhere?”
Nervously, Winston mutters, “East of here, on Brown Road. The other side of three-ninety-five, at the junction.” He then reaches into his pocket. He’s palming something:
An SD card.
So, that was the passcode.
I must turn my back as I cut Cowboy’s slice of pecan pie. But I’m facing a mirrored wall, so I still see Winston as he slips the card under the rim of the plate in front of him.
At that moment, Jack stands up and leans over toward Winston, the apple pie plate in his hand. “Hey, dude, I think this pie was meant for you, and you got mine instead.”
In a flash, I pull the trojan-laden SD card from my pocket. Turning around, I coo, “Goodness, you’re right! So sorry!” With a giggle and a smile, I take Winston’s plate—and the card under it—and hand them to Jack.
Even before the plate of apple pie is placed on the counter, I’ve slipped the trojan-embedded SD card under it.
Winston is suspicious enough to slide his new plate over about an inch. Satisfied that the card is still there, he waits until I turn back around to cut a piece of the pecan before he slips it under the man’s hat.
“Coffee too, please, ma’m,” Cowboy’s command comes with a chuckle. He’s playing it cool: flirting, taking his time.
Not too long, I hope. I’ve had enough of hellhole diners and the desert. I’m ready to wrap up this mission and home to my nice, warm bed—with Jack.
Oh, darn, the coffee pot is empty. I’ll need to open a new bag of my coffee mix. I crouch down and open a bottom drawer, where it’s kept. Before I can stand up. I hear Winston give a long sigh of relief—
Make that his last gasp as his life drains out of him as a bullet propels him facedown into his apple pie. His arms dangle over the counter, slapping me on the head.
I hear the whisper of a suppressor. The next thing I know, Cowboy’s brains splatter the grill. He too flops onto the counter. I swallow hard so as not to gag when I see what’s seeping out of the gaping hole in his head.
Through the convex security mirror hanging in the corner, I watch as the glamping couple move toward the counter. Each sports a Sig Sauer.
The whisper of their guns’ suppressors comes a second before the death grunts of the two truckers who’d been watching the baseball game. They too slump onto the counter, victims of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Oh my God—
Where is Jack?
© 2021 Josie Brown. All rights reserved.
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