The radio station antenna rose up from the zinc and tin roof in a circle of metal and electronic gear. Its attenuated shadow spilled out across the snowy lawn and parking lot. The logo of the network ad been etched onto the nearest wall could barely be made from the US interstate.
Part of the stucco material had peeled away from exposure from the elements. Inside, the cold was kept away by the heating/cooling system, which also suffered from lack of upkeep. The man whose job was to keep the night owl program running had swathed himself in several layers of clothing: a scarf that covered his nose and throat, and a wool cap on his head. He kept going because he needed a delicate touch on the disc player and it was cold. Placing another black disc onto the needle and pressed down on the play button. Soon the mellow tones of Old Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra filled up the silence of the recording room. The man leaned back in his rickety leather reclining chair and closed his eyes. "Only a few minutes to rest my eyes, then switch to jazz," he told himself.
Frank Parker twisted the steering wheel of the rental car left in his name. As usual Donavan had thought of everything. Planned for any and all eventualities, that was part of Donavan's job description. He hoped that the vehicle had been equipped with snow tires because the stretch of asphalt was slippery and not very well paved. He had only passed several other motorists on the road and most of those had been heading in the opposite direction, trailing campers or boats. Frank, while he appreciated Donavan's thoughtfulness in providing transportation to his final destination, he also wished he had thought to remember to ask for more specifics regarding the outcome of the mission. He recalled, with some disgust the incident when he had emerged from the sphere of the Backstep machine on a mission, and found himself surrounded by a crowd of admiring teenage girls. That was a disaster. Not just because it pt him in a difficult position from a personal standpoint, it was also a mission no-no. To make matters even worse the girls wanted to get involved in his mission. 'Who do they take me for, James Bond? Not like I can explain that I work for a branch of the U. S Government and we happen to have a time machine. I've been doing this for years and I even I can't believe it." Frank muttered under his breath, distracted from his less than cheerful thoughts by the bright light gleaming directly ahead. He gave the wheel a quick tug to the right and swerved out of the way of an oncoming car. Recovering, he was tempted to roll down the window and curse at the other motorist.
The rapid drop in the evening temperature decided him against such an action, and when he realized that he was nearing his destination, he checked his speed and turned into an unpaved stretch of gravel roadway into the parking lot of the radio station. "Not much to look at," he said aloud for the sake of hearing another human voice. "Hope this trip was worth it, because if my contact isn't here to meet me, so help me I'm turning around and heading for the nearest airport for a redeye trip back to D.C."
Meanwhile in D.C
Donavan leaned back in his leather swivel chair, fingers of both hands overlapping so that they formed a rough tent-like shape. A pen and a recently refilled cup of black coffee resting on the polished surface of his desk. Facing the desk where chairs reserved for other members of the program or authorized visitors when they came into his office. The chairs were comfortable and had arm rests. At the moment the two people who sat in those chairs, while comfortable, showed varying signs of tension. One man, one woman. "How's our boy, Olga?" Donavan asked, tapping the stem of his pen against the desktop. His beard and three piece suit combining to make him appear the model of urbane efficiency.
"He's on his way, Sir." Olga Vukuvich replied. "The last dispatch went off without a hitch."
"The usual shakes, rattle and roll," Bradley Tramalange chimed in, shaking his head, "One of these days I will find out what Parker's secret is. Hey, Donavan, any chance that you will let me go on one of the less-than dire missions?"
"Let me think about it," Donavan replied, a shadow of a fond smile for this line of logic barely perceptible under his trimmed white beard. Bradley every once or twice or month came up with a variety of plausible reasons why he should be allowed to Back step, and for his part Donavan had to shoot them down. It wasn't because he didn't trust Tramalange or he did not think him capable. On the contrary, it was just for the young man's safety. Parker was the best man for the job.
"Well," Bradley prompted.
"I have thought about it, and while you may have the necessary background, training and wherewithal, I can't allow it. In other words, not a snowflake's chance in hell. No offense." Donavan replied.
"He doesn't mean anything by it, Bradley," Olga stated, "It's just his way of saying, you are more valuable where you are."
"Hey, I can try, can't I?" Bradley replied.
"Speaking of snowflakes, the timing of the op could not have been better. We have a great deal to prepare if we are to have the events ready in time for his return, " Olga said.
"If I didn't know any better, I'd think you cared," Bradley joked.
"You don't know any better," Olga replied."
Bradley caught the subtle incline of Donavan's shoulders, a non verbal cue not to push the issue of Olga's and Frank Parker's relationship. If they wanted to keep the relationship strictly on a professional possibly platonic level, then let them. Bradley knew something more was going on between those two. No two adults argued as much as they did, 'At the rate they're going they must as well be the ole ball and chain, but again it's none of my business," Bradley thought, and shoved the possible scenarios and side bets to a back corner of his mind. "So when do we get started?" he asked aloud.
"Trust me," Olga smiled.
"Two words in the English language that I might live to regret," Bradley.
"And that is why you do get to go back," Olga smoothly replied.
Scene 4 Encounter
Frank pulled into the nearest parking lot, turned the key in the ignition, and pulled out the keys, then opened the door, locking it behind him. Out of both instinct and habit, he turned in 360 degree circle, making sure he had not been followed. No one.
Frank walked up to the front door of the radio station, and could faintly make out the mellow tones of Old Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra. "I don't know much about music, but I know what I like," Frank muttered, tugging on the door handle. Not locked, not a good sign. Either some had left it open on purpose, or his contact was extremely careless. Frank felt underneath the fabric of his heavy winter coat and was reassured by the outline and heft of his gun. He entered the building glancing around the interior to note the placement of a reception area, a waiting room, restrooms off to the side, an elevator, and stair case that lead up to the upper floors. Opting for the stairs, Frank took the steps two at a time, happy that the steps were brand new and did not creak or give way under his weight. Following the strains of the music, Frank made for the recording studio down the hall and the second to last to the left.
Scene 5 Confrontation "if the fates allow.. We will be together for the holidays…''
Frank reached the studio B, the red "ON AIR" light blinking steadily like those lava lamps that Bradley had once given him as a birthday present. "Never could understand why anyone would want a light that's contained inside a bubble case."
"You'd be surprised," a man's tenor voice echoed in the room. His contact, Frank assumed. "I'm here."
"I've been waiting," the other responded. "Took you long enough," he continued in what sounded like hurt and injured tones. As if Frank's arrival had been set for a certain time and that time had elapsed. "Should I call you Mr. Parker or Frank?"
"How do you know my name?" Frank demanded.
"It was on the package I received last night. I've been here, running the show and waiting for you to arrive. By the way, you're late." Not that I mind, you know. I'm something of a night owl, otherwise I wouldn't be running the show in the wee hours."
"Why is your code name spin doctor?" Frank asked. Of all the questions this odd duck could have prompted, this seemed the easiest to begin with. There was something not quite right with this mission op, and the fact that Spin Doctor, alias Will Pierce had the upper hand bothered him more than he was willing to admit.
"Isn't it obvious? I keep the music playing at all hours of the day, even during holidays. I probably know every artist to ever put out a holiday CD," Pierce proudly stated.
"That's not what I heard."
"Okay, if you must know. Geez, Parker, it wouldn't kill you to lighten. They call me spin doctor because I've done occasional freelance work to put out good PR for your outfit."
"You give good press to a DC based operation?" Frank wondered.
"Yeah, that's why you're here? Am I right? I mean, I do get a certain cut for more work."
"You think I'm here to deliver your paycheck?" Frank could not believe this crazy old coot.
"That is why they sent you?" Pierce wondered.
"I was expecting something else."
"Okay, I put that package somewhere around here," Pierce muttered, "There's wine in the cabinet to your left, feel free to help yourself."
"I don't drink, not when I'm working," Frank all but growled.
"Probably a good policy," Pierce, "One I should emulate. All right, here it is," Pierce reappeared from a back room where he had gone to search for the mentioned package. It was a cardboard box, with a the white bar coded FedEx shipping label on the top. Frank took a second to peek inside and saw that the package contained beribboned and glossy paper boxes with paper nametags attached to them. "What the hell am I supposed to do with these?" Looking closely, he realized that the name on the boxes belonged to him and his colleagues.
"Take them and make sure they reach their proper recipients. After that, they're out of my hands. The sooner you take them, the sooner I can head home and sleep in. Pierce glanced down at his wristwatch, I'd wish you good evening, but it's already morning. "Hey, Mr. Grouch, Happy Holidays, and I am outta here," Pierce waved a hand in Frank's general direction and tiptoed out of the studio and down the stairs leaving Frank holding the box of gifts.
Scene 6 Conclusion
"This was all a setup?" Parker demanded of red head who leaned up against the desk of the meeting room with a smug look on her face. She seemed to be having difficulty in keeping a satisfied smile from escaping her control and let her guard drop. "If the fates allow."
"What does that mean?" Frank demanded, arms folded across his chest.
"Something I heard once, back in the old days. There was an tradition among people in countries that endured very harsh, cold winters. During the holidays friends and would gather together to celebrate. And if the fates allowed everyone would make it and make it home again."
"You sent me on an alleged mission, so you could me out of the way long enough to plan a surprise yuletide party?" Frank sputtered, the cold air making his breath plume in a cloud around his face.
"Got it in one," Olga smiled.
"Frank, my boy," Donavan said, "Not everything we do around here is a matter of critical national security." "So, what now?"
"Sit down. Make yourself comfortable," Donavan replied. "May I pour you some eggnog?