If Creepy Writer Man recognizes who we are, he doesn’t let onto it.
As he shakes my hand he says, “Yes, are you here about the internship? I’m afraid I’ve already hired a chap, you see, so if you could just allow Ms. Fulson to escort you out…”
Ms. Fulson harrumphs behind us. I laugh a little, tinny laugh, throwing my head back, and say, “Don’t be ridiculous, Mr. Smith. Or do you prefer to go by Booker? Or Book? Bookie? Book-boy? I find in my professional life, it helps to have my underlings call me by a nickname, in order to establish an air of humanity. Hence, Mary. My real name is Mariana Donna Dory Delilah Jackson—how drab is that?”
Beside me Rose chokes on her ghostly spit. Randy doesn’t blink an eye. A twitch goes off in Mr. Smith’s jaw. I extricate my hand from his sweaty grip and smile the most radiant smile I can manage without seeming like I don’t take him seriously.
—I have a bad tendency of bursting into laughter at inappropriate occasions. Which might be part of the reason the US government is now convinced I was on something when I ran over their pesky diplomat.
When Mr. Smith doesn’t respond, I raise my eyebrows and ask, “Book-boy?”
“Oh, oh, yes,” he says. “I apologize, my dear, I’m just trying to figure out how to respond to your delightful… uh, speech. You may address me as Mr. Smith, thank you.” He glances over my head at the secretary, his lips set in a stern frown that is impossible to read, and then his eyes come back to rest on me. “How may I help you… uh, Mary, was it?”
“Yes. Yes, Mary. As in Mariana Donna Dory Delilah Jackson of Dust to Diamonds Enterprises. Surely you know who I am?”
Mr. Smith’s eyes seem to glaze over for a second as he thinks, trying to decide whether it is beneficial or not for him to act like he knows me, his forehead glistening even more than before under the room’s soft yellow mood lights. I can feel Randy and Rose holding their breath behind me—although that’s a fairly common reaction on Rose’s part. Then Mr. Smith gives a sharp nod, looks me up and down once, and says in an even tone, “Yes. Yes. Of course, Ms. Jackson.”
“Please,” I say, rolling my eyes with a flourish. “Ms. Jackson is my grandmother. And Mariana is my mother. Call me Mary. I beg you.”
“Yes, well…” It’s obvious Book-boy still doesn’t know how to deal with me—which is exactly how I want him.
“My associate and I—” I indicate to Randy “—are here to talk to you about an article you released in the paper yesterday. You talked about one such Javier Boulevard and how he prevented a jewel heist from occurring, and—”
“Yes, yes, very well. I know what my own article says.” Mr. Smith waves away my explanation like I’m daft or something.
I mean stupid. Like he thinks I’m stupid. Awful Brits.
“Good, then may we step into your office to discuss this article that everyone in the room happens to know about?” I sweep my arms wide and Ms. Fulson coughs. Before Mr. Smith has a chance to try turning us away again, I grab Randy’s arm and march quickly up the hall the reporter came from five minutes ago. Rose catches up to walk beside us, and Book-boy to The Rescue walks behind.
“The key,” I whisper to Rose, “is maintaining control. Give them an opportunity to direct the interaction, you lose that control, and you lose the ability to gain anything from the conversation.” Louder, I call back to Mr. Smith, “Delightful office space, Book-boy. Did you design it yourself?”
“Nuh-nuh-no—I’m not that high up in the newspaper hierarchy.”
I arch an eyebrow at Rose like, See? Randy shakes his head at me, glaring. I stick my tongue out.
“Sorry I’m so brilliant at my job, you awful thief,” I whisper under my breath. “Manage to steal anything from the office yet, or are you waiting for me to just hand you a hundred bucks?”
“Does that nasty secretary’s paperweight count?”
I narrow my eyes. “You did not.”
“No,” says Rose, “he definitely did.” There’s a note of admiration to her voice. “While your circus antics kept Ms. Fulson captivated, he slid it right off her desk. It’s only a wooden piece—they must not pay her well—but it is indeed now stolen.”
One side of my mouth twitches up in a grin that I quickly force away as I turn back to Randy. “Rose says you’re bluffing.”
“What?” They say it in unison.
“Excuse me, Ms.… well, Mary,” Mr. Smith interrupts us.
“Yes?” I stop walking and turn back to face him, popping a hip. My skirt is uncomfortably short, but what’cha gonna do when your only business clothes came out of a children’s Halloween catalogue. Darn PWNBEIBER, not paying me enough for real clothes.
“May I ask what you and your associate are speaking so intensely together about?” He steeples his fingers and leans towards me, as if we’re sharing secrets. His skin is pale in contrast with his dark grey, Italian-made suit.
“No, of course not,” I say, tone weary. I rub my temples with one hand and place the other on my hip. I level my eyes at him. “It’s private diamond industry business matters, you see. Quite boring, actually. It has nothing to do with your delightful office and the article we have come to discuss today.”
“How did you even get in here?”
I open my mouth to answer, but before I can get a single syllable out, Randy steps in front of me, blocking my view with all six-foot-something of his lanky frame, and says, “I do believe we will be asking the questions today, Mr. Smith.”
“His name is Book-boy,” I mutter. Randy jabs me in the stomach. “Well sorry, you ungrateful street-urchin-waiting-to-happen. You’re supposed to be a talented thief—how many meals do you think that paperweight’s going to buy you? Go become a newsie or something.”
I glance around Randy’s side to find Mr. Smith looking between the two of us like he can’t decide whether we have gone crazy, or he has. Rose stands off to the side of the hall, laughing hysterically for some reason I cannot comprehend. Thank God nobody but me can hear her.
—Or at least, that’s what I think until Booker Smith glances over his shoulder to make sure we are out of earshot and eyesight of that baboon he calls his secretary, then looks straight at Rose and says, “My dear lady, I beg your pardon for not introducing myself sooner. It is the greatest of honors to finally meet you. You must be Rose.”