Sorry to Eat and Run
Standard Fanfic Disclaimer that wouldn't last ten seconds in a court of law. These aren't my characters. I'm just borrowing them for, um, uh, typing practice. Yeah, that's it, typing practice. They will be returned (relatively) undamaged to their original owners. No financial profit was, has been, or will be made off this story. It is a purely amateur work of fiction, originally published in the fanzine Of Dreams and Schemes #24. To help readers to visualize the characters, Alex Jagger was played by Doug Barr, Simon McKay by David Rappaport, Tillie Russell by Fran Russell, John McAllister by Lee Van Cleef, and Max Keller by Tim Van Patten.
Sorry to Eat and Run
The Wizard/The Master
Susan M. M.
Southern California, 1986
"We could have sent Tillie with a shopping list," Alex Jagger repeated. The CIC agent was a muscular, brown-haired man in his late twenties. His eyes continually scanned the drugstore, as if every customer at Long's was a potential threat.
"Alex, you can't wrap me up in cotton wool and stick me in a box on the top shelf of the closet to keep me safe," complained Dr. Simon McKay. He spoke with a slight British accent. "Troyan does not spend every waking minute plotting ways to get me."
Several customers turned to stare, then tried not to look as if they were staring. The mismatched pair did attract attention. Alex was tall, dark, and handsome. He wore a beige sports jacket to cover his Smith & Wesson. Simon was 3'11''. His sartorial preferences were eccentric, to say the least: red sneakers, green and yellow striped pants, and a royal blue shirt. A gray newsboy's cap covered unkempt red hair.
"Don't be so sure of that," Alex muttered. "And he's not the only one who'd like to get his hands on you. The Soviet Union, East Germany, Red China, even some of our own sunglasses and dark suits guys. Not all federal agents are ethical," Alex admitted.
Not everyone at the Pentagon had been sanguine about Simon's crisis of conscience; not everyone had accepted his right to give up a career as a weapons analyst and become a toymaker. Alex was more worried about a Black Ops unit of the SIA or the IADC abducting Simon than he was the KGB. Or possibly MI-6 – what if someone in Merrie Olde Englande thought Simon should be using his genius for queen and country, despite the fact he was a naturalized U. S. citizen?
"You left out Parker Brothers," Simon countered. "I'm more of a threat to Mattel than I am to Moscow. You worry too much." Suddenly, he turned his head; someone at the far end of the aisle caught his eye. "John? John McAllister?"
Alex's gaze followed. He'd seen the white-haired man a few minutes before, and dismissed him as harmless. A younger man stood beside him now, his grandson, perhaps, Alex guessed. The CIC agent gave the curly-haired man an automatic, instant profiling: brown hair, brown eyes, slightly shorter than the old man, perhaps 5'10" or 5'11", slim, wiry build, probably 170-180 pounds. Surfer dude. Not likely to be a threat unless Simon decided to sunbathe at the beach where this guy wanted to park his board.
Both men looked to see who called. The younger man's eyes widened at the sight of the Little Person in the loud clothes. There was a surprised expression on the old man's face for a moment, then his blue eyes shone with delight.
The inventor and the white-haired man walked toward each other. Their companions followed.
Simon extended his hand. McAllister reached down to shake it. "What are you doing in California? I thought you were permanently settled in Japan?"
"Family business," McAllister replied.
"John, this is my friend, Alex Jagger. Alex, John McAllister," Simon introduced them. He turned to the curly-haired man. "Simon McKay. And you're?"
"Hi, I'm Max Keller. You two know each other from Japan?"
Alex's hazel eyes lit up. Another piece of the puzzle. The reason the government insisted on a live-in bodyguard for Simon was because after he'd quit working for the Pentagon, he'd disappeared. For six years, no one – not the CIA, not MI-6, not the KGB – had seen hide nor hair of him. Then one day he'd simply reappeared in southern California, set up shop as a toymaker, and refused to say a word as to where he had been. The government didn't want that to happen again.
"Every Tuesday at the Tokyo Chess Club," McAllister explained. "I seldom enjoyed being defeated more."
"You mean there's someone who can beat you at chess?" Max asked disbelievingly.
"You gave me a good fight every time," Simon acknowledged. "Are you in town long? Do you have time to visit and catch up on old times?"
"C'mon, John, it's been what, four years? Five? Come to my place for dinner," Simon urged.
"Home cooking?" Max spoke up. On the road they lived on a steady diet of fast food and sandwiches. Home cooking would be a welcome change. He asked McAllister, "How often do you run into a friend from the old country? We can spare a few hours from our search for a chance for you to visit."
"And a chance for you to fill those hollow legs of yours." McAllister's brusque tone didn't hide his obvious affection for the young man. "All right, Simon, you've twisted my arm. We'd be happy to join you for dinner."
"Great! Let me just call Tillie, make sure whatever she's got planned for tonight will stretch for five."
One snow-white eyebrow rose in inquiry. "Tillie? Is there a Mrs. McKay now?"
"No, haven't found the right girl yet. Tillie's my housekeeper." Simon reached into his trouser pocket and pulled out something plastic and rectangular.
Max stared curiously at the object. "Is that a mobile phone? I've never seen one that small before." It was smaller than the average paperback book, only six inches long, and just over four inches wide. It was no thicker than a deck of cards.
"My own design," Simon admitted modestly.
"Simon's a bit of a tinkerer," McAllister added.
"Toys, mostly. But this is no toy. If this prototype can be mass-produced economically enough, everyone could afford a pocket phone. Imagine being able to call an ambulance from the site of an accident. It could save countless lives," he predicted.
"Imagine every teenage girl with one surgically grafted to her ear. It could annoy countless parents," Alex retorted.
"I doubt they could be mass-produced cheaply enough for every teenybopper to afford one," Simon scoffed. "Let me call Tillie."
McAllister caught Alex's eye, then glanced a few feet down the aisle. Taking the hint, Alex stepped back a pace or two. McAllister followed.
"Plainclothes detective?" McAllister asked quietly.
"No," Alex replied, after a second's hesitation. "Why do you ask?"
"You're carrying," McAllister replied.
Alex hesitated a moment before admitting, "I'm a federal agent."
McAllister glanced at the Little Person, then back at Alex. "Dr. McKay's made more than toys."
Alex nodded, glad no further explanations were necessary. Without a word, both returned to Simon and Max.
Simon turned off the phone and slipped it back into his pocket. "Tillie's making shepherd's pie for dinner, but she says she'll toss a salad to go with, so there's enough to go around. Is that all right with everyone?"
"Sounds fine," Max agreed.
McAllister and Max talked a few minutes more. Simon wrote down his address and directions to his house, in case they were separated by traffic when following him home. All four paid for their purchases.
Not until they were in the parking lot, climbing into his black van, did Max turn to McAllister and ask, "What's shepherd's pie?"
The Wizard/The Master ~~ The Wizard/The Master
Simon met McAllister and Max at the door and eagerly ushered them in. "Come in, come in. I was afraid we lost you when that truck pulled in between us. Tillie's got everything ready."
A woman in her fifties stepped into the living room. Heavy-set, but not fat, her face showed years of living, much of it hard, but by the volume of laugh lines, not all. Like her employer, she was a redhead. Her hair was not yet touched by gray, being more of a carroty orange than Simon's hair, which was somewhere between chestnut and auburn.
"Tillie, I'd like you to meet a friend of mine, John McAllister, and his friend Max Keller," Simon introduced. "Tillie Russell, one of my oldest and dearest friends."
"For longer than either one of us cares to admit to," Tillie joked. She reached out her hand to shake McAllister's. "Any friend of Simon's is a friend of mine."
McAllister took her hand in his, but instead of shaking it, raised it to his lips. "I was just about to say the same thing."
Max glanced at the stunned – but pleased – expression on Tillie's weathered face. He gave a wry half-grin. He was used to his master's effect on the fairer sex, but the old man's charisma still left him amazed … and occasionally envious. "If I tried to get away with that, I'd look like a dork. But you …." Shaking his head ruefully, he shook Tillie's hand. "Pleased to meet you, Ms. Russell."
"Oh, just call me Tillie, everyone does." After one more flustered glance at McAllister, she continued, "Bathroom's that way, first door on the left, if you want to wash up before dinner."
The Wizard/The Master ~~ The Wizard/The Master
The salad was crisp and tasty: iceberg, romaine, and buttercrunch lettuce, mixed with spinach leaves, tomato wedges, and little coins of carrot and cucumbers.
"Got French, ranch, and Italian." Tillie pointed at the bottles of dressing on the table. "Help yourself to whichever you prefer." She turned to face McAllister. "So, you met my old shipmate in Japan?"
"I was working with Yamaguchi Toys at the time," Simon explained. "John and I met at the Tokyo Chess Club."
"You were shipmates?" Max peered at Simon, who was far too short for the navy. "Did you meet on a cruise?"
Tillie and Simon both laughed. "Me? A cruise ship passenger? Oh, no, I was ship's cook on the freighter where Simon was cabin boy," she said.
"I've known Tillie since I was eight," Simon added. "She was a second mother."
"I thought ships stopped having cabin boys a hundred years ago." Max poured a generous helping of dressing onto his salad.
"When my parents realized I was never going to grow big, they decided I'd need to grow up, and fast. So they apprenticed me onto a tramp freighter when I was seven. When the other kids were going down slides and kicking a ball, I was sailing from Liverpool to Singapore, fetching and carrying every mile of the way." Simon saw the disapproving expression on Tillie's face, and the surprised one on Max's. He gave a mental shrug. He'd long been familiar with Tillie's opinion of his parents' decision. It was a long time ago, and they'd meant well. "Anyhow, that's probably why I became a toymaker."
Max's left eyebrow rose. He didn't see the connection.
Alex took pity on his obvious confusion. "When it comes to childhood, Simon's theory is 'better late than never'."
"What about you, Mr. McAllister?" Alex asked. "What were you doing at the Tokyo Chess Club?"
"Playing chess," McAllister quipped, his blue eyes twinkling mischievously
"Surely you didn't go to Japan just to play chess," Alex persisted. "Were you a journalist, an exporter, a diplomat, a missionary, what?"
"A pilot. I went to Japan in WWII, as part of the Army Air Corps. Until last year, I never got around to leaving."
"An American pilot couldn't have been too welcome in Japan in the Forties," Tillie guessed.
"Nope, not at first," McAllister admitted ruefully. "But I supported myself by giving English lessons, and I studied the language, the history, the culture. Eventually, they got used to me. I've lived there so long that now I dream in Japanese at night."
"I thought you taught martial arts?" Simon speared a tomato wedge with his fork.
"I started studying martial arts as part of studying the culture. After a few years, I found I was teaching martial arts as much as I was learning, and the English lessons were dwindling down to a very minor sideline."
"Oh? What sort of martial arts? Karate? Judo? What?" Alex asked.
"A little of everything." McAllister shot a warning glance at Max to keep his mouth shut. Simon and his friends – especially his federal agent friend – didn't need to know that McAllister was a ninja. "That was delicious, Tillie."
"Glad you liked it. Everybody 'bout done with salad and ready for the main course?" She turned from one man to another; they all nodded. She went to the kitchen and fetched back a pie pan piled high with a yellow topping.
Simon took an appreciative sniff. "Smells wonderful, Tillie."
"Sure does," Alex agreed.
McAllister and Max nodded, their mouths watering at the tantalizing scent.
Tillie cut the shepherd's pie into five thick slices. She put each on a plate and passed them around. McAllister, Simon, and Alex started digging in before she even sat back down. Max took a careful look at his, like a geologist examining rock strata. At the bottom, a thick layer of ground meat, then a thin layer of peas and carrots. On top of the vegetables was a thick, fluffy layer of mashed potatoes, and the whole thing was covered with melted cheese.
Max took a bite. It was delicious, still warm but not hot enough to burn his tongue. "Why do they call it shepherd's pie if it's made with ground beef?"
Simon snorted. "You ever try to buy mutton in a US grocery store?"
"I imagine it was mutton or lamb originally," Tillie allowed, "but every recipe I've ever seen has called for ground beef. Although I do have a friend who combines ground beef and ground turkey. Less cholesterol, she says."
Simon took a sip of water. "Have you been in the States long, John?"
McAllister finished chewing before he answered. "Several months."
Simon and Alex traded puzzled looks. There was a bitterness to McAllister's tone, a bitterness he didn't bother to try to hide.
"You don't like it here back in the USA?" Alex asked.
"Oh, I like it fine. I just … expected to have finished what I came here to do long before this." The old man returned his attention to his food.
"You said 'family business' brought you here. I thought you were getting reacquainted with your grandson?" Alex pointed his fork at Max.
"Oh, no, I'm not his grandson," Max said.
"He's no relation, just a friend," McAllister replied simultaneously.
"Chaffeur," Max corrected under his breath.
"More than that," McAllister parried.
"You said something about sparing a few hours from your search," Simon remembered. "Just what are you searching for?"
McAllister considered a moment, then told him. "My daughter."