Several days have passed. It’s March 12 and Stoney is onboard and learning the routine of Chicago Binary Investigations. Dave Taylor is due in later this week to meet with him as well. The first few days have been spent getting used to the data mining required for their mainstream customers. The system virtually runs itself. All the data miners have to do is correlate the information and share it with the customers. This leaves plenty of time for Stoney to study the configurations and learn the unique language that Gil created to perform most of the tasks.
“Gil, the more I work with this language, the more I like it. You’ve blended the best features of Python, C++, Java, Ruby and PHP and tied them together with this awesome GUI. This is sweet!”
“Thanks, Stoney. I wanted to get this started a couple of years ago when I was working for Umbrella Corporation, but they pretty much suppressed any individual thinking there. I kept getting assigned to do-nothing tasks at The Hive. It was pretty frustrating.”
“The Hive? How did you miss being there for the end of Raccoon City?”
“I almost didn’t. I had a couple of days off and a friend was visiting. She was driving back to the Chicago area and I hitched a ride with her. My car was in the shop, so I figured I could get a cheap flight back after playing tourist for a day or two. When the worst happened, I left everything I had and started anew. Pete had been trying to hire me away for a while, so with nowhere else to go, I ended up here. Now I wish I had taken him up on his offer sooner. As you’ve seen, the work is easy, so that left me with time to develop my language. The best part is that Pete doesn’t have a clause in our contracts that gives the company the sole rights to anything we create while we work here. All he gets is a paid-up-for-life license to use our creations.”
“Yeah, I saw that. I talked about it with my partner, Gary. We couldn’t believe Pete was so generous.”
“He takes care of us, that’s for sure. As for the language, I still haven’t decided what to do with it. If I put it on the market, I could make a bundle, but then it might hurt our profitability. It’s a double edged sword.”
“Wow, I hadn’t thought about that. I guess it does make a bit more sense to keep it in house.”
“Stoney, I don’t even have a name for it yet. Hehe.”
= = =
Today is Tuesday, so Jerry, Tim and I are going to the GSA meeting. We have our tasks assigned and we were sorted into teams to get things ready for the dance on Saturday. Today at the meeting, we had a guest. Ms. Hart, Jerry’s French teacher. Mr. Harper asked her if she would be a chaperone. After all, that is a French word. Hehe. She accepted and came to the meeting to introduce herself.
We had a few things to iron out, but nothing serious. Nate Shurr, the GSA moderator, had done this type of project before and he shepherded us along. Mr. Harper got the OK on our posters, fliers and email text, so that was out of the way a week ago. Not only did the school have some decorations left over from last year’s Saint Patrick’s Day Dance, but we also were allowed to purchase up to one hundred dollars of additional decorations. The meeting flew by and it was four o’clock before we knew it. As Tim and I were leaving with Jerry, Ms. Hart stopped us and asked us to let Uncle Pete know that she expected him to be at the dance with her. Tim and I laughed and said we would.
On the way out, Jerry started giggling and said that his cousin Danny, Mr. Harper, told his mom the same thing. I guess getting older doesn’t get you out of stuff. When we got outside, Mrs. LeBlanc was waiting for us.
“This March is a lot different than last March,” Jerry told us. “Last year spring started in February, and March had record high temperatures – like eight or ten days in a row with temperatures in the eighties!”
“Well, so much for global warming for this year,” Tim commented. “The thermometer on the school sign said it was twenty-two degrees.”
(Editor’s note: 80°F = 26.7°C and 22°F = -5.5°C)
“I guess they were right,” Mrs. Leblanc said, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.”
As we got in the car, we all turned our phones on and the three of them beeped with message notifications. Tim had one from Uncle Pete.
Don’t cook. I’m bringing pizza home.
“YES!” he shouted and then he showed me the message. “Uncle Pete is buying pizza!”
“Mom, can I eat at Tim and Mike’s house tonight?”
“Haha! No, you may not!”
= = =
Stoney already met Gil, Rolf, Pete and Pete’s secretary, Tanya Jefferson, so far. Frieda is out of town on a security job for one of the customers, but she’s due back in the office tomorrow morning.
Towards the end of each day, Pete and Gil met with Stoney to see what problems he might be having, and to critique him on his performance for the day. It’s always done in a constructive manner so as not to make the young man nervous. So far, Stoney is meeting or exceeding expectations.
“Stoney, you’re coming along well. And Gil said you’ve really taken to his language. To make sure you don’t get bored, tomorrow you’re getting an assignment that’ll take a bit of thinking to solve. Gil and I are both sure that you’re up to it. The critique is ending early today, so go ahead and take off. We’ll see you in the morning.”
“Thanks, Pete. Thanks, Gil. I’ve been having a ball here so far and I can’t wait to get in tomorrow and see what you have for me. Goodnight.”
After Stoney left, Pete looked at Gil and said, “Let’s give him that bastard assignment that’s been kicking our asses these last two weeks. I don’t expect him to solve it, but it’ll be interesting to see how he goes about it.”
“Geeze, Pete, that one’s been trying my patience. I hope he doesn’t end up hanging himself. Hehe.”
“Haha! No, Gil, it’s our job to keep him safe. I’m getting out of here. I’ll see you in the morning.”
= = =
When Tim and I arrived at home, we started our laptops and checked our email. Matt left a message for Tim saying he’d Skype at 4:30 CDT. I was surprised that he knew we went to daylight saving time already. Ed sent me a note saying that he was looking forward to the dance on Saturday. I smiled as I read it. I logged off and went to the kitchen to get the salad ready. Tim followed me out there with his laptop so he wouldn’t miss Matt’s call.
At 4:30 on the dot, Matt rang. Tim aimed his camera at the two of us and Matt asked, “Why aren’t you guys getting supper ready?”
“Uncle Pete is bringing pizza home for supper, so all we have to make is a salad,” Tim replied.
“It’s too bad I’m in London. I like pizza.”
“Hehe. Our friend Jerry tried to invite himself to supper, too. Unfortunately, his mom wouldn’t let him,” I said.
“Jerry sounds the intelligent sort.”
“I think you’d like him, Matt. He and I have gone on a few double dates over the last few months. He would have fit right in back in Raccoon City,” Tim told him.
“Is he straight, gay or bi?”
“Jerry is straight, but he’s in the GSA with us, too. His cousin Danny is one of the teachers at Lombard High School and he’s also the GSA faculty sponsor,” Tim said.
“That’s pretty cool. How many people are you expecting at the dance on Saturday?”
“We’re hoping for around five hundred. That’s what they had for the Halloween dance last October,” I told him.
“That’s a decent size.”
“Yeah,” Tim said, “the school has about two thousand students, so to get five hundred is pretty average. So Matt, do you have a girlfriend yet?”
He sighed. “Not yet, and with Mum keeping us under her thumb since Dad’s kidnapping, it’s a bit difficult getting away to talk with the girls.”
We talked with Matt for another twenty minutes or so and then he had to hang up so he could finish his homework. We said our goodbyes and Tim shut down his laptop and returned it to our room. When he came back to the kitchen, I ask if he thought Uncle Pete would let Ed stay the night.
“I don’t see why he wouldn’t. We have the guest room and all…”
“That’s another thing… Tim, could you sleep in the guest room if Ed gets to stay?”
“Sure. What’s a bro for? Maybe I’ll ask Jerry to stay as well.”
“But Jerry’s straight, Tim.”
“I know that! We stayed at each other’s house a gazillion times, so I know how it works, Mike. For Jerry and me, it’ll just be a sleepover.”
“Well I think we’re about to get our chance to ask. I hear Uncle Pete pulling up now. Let’s go help him with the pizza.”
In a matter of a few minutes, we had the pizza on the table with the salad and, since this was pizza, we used paper plates. Uncle Pete rushed off to get washed up and as we sat down, we gave him the message from Ms Hart.
“Are you sure you guys want me there as a chaperone?”
“Sure, Uncle Pete. We think you’ll have a great time, and you and Ms Hart are good friends, too. Right?”
“Yes, Mike. We went to school together in Raccoon City. We even went to a couple of dances with each other.”
“You guys dated? I thought you told us you had a boyfriend,” Tim said.
“I did… Greg Mueller. But you have to remember, I like girls, too. Besides, we had to put on a front so we wouldn’t be suspected. Greg also dated girls until he started college. We had no idea what would have happened if we had been outed in high school, and neither of us wanted to find out, either. Speaking of that, have any of your friends given you guys a hard time about being in the GSA?”
“Not so far, but we don’t really know if they’re aware of our involvement.”
“Mike, I’m sure some of them know, but if nothing has been said, it probably doesn’t matter to them.”
“That would be great. If only more people had that attitude.”
“I agree with Tim… but I guess we’ll find out for certain at the Saint Patrick’s Day Dance on Saturday.”
“Uncle Pete, how’s your new guy doing?” Tim asked to change the subject.
“Talk about Saint Patrick and your Irishmen, how much more Irish can you be than Stoney McGee? To answer your question, Tim, he doing just as well as Gil and I thought he would. Of course, he has a dual baccalaureate in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, so he’s definitely qualified for the position. In fact, tomorrow Gil is going to have him take on a project the he and I have been struggling with for the last couple of weeks. It’ll be interesting to see how he’ll go about it. We’re hoping he’ll give us a few new ideas on how to solve it.”
“That sounds like a dirty trick, Uncle Pete.”
“No, Mike, we’re not doing it to make him look bad. Gil and I have been getting our butts kicked and we want him to come in with a fresh perspective.”
“But what if he solves the problem and makes you guys look bad?”
“Tim, if the problem is solved, then Stoney will prove his worth to the team. If I only hire people who are not as smart as I am, what will any of us learn? We’re hoping that Stoney will do better than we did, but we kind of doubt that he will.” And with that, Uncle Pete got out another beer. Damn, that stuff tastes bad! I don’t know how he can drink it.
= = =
The next morning Tim and I woke up at the regular time and we could smell Uncle Pete’s coffee, but he was gone by the time we got to the kitchen.
“Tim, what would you think if your boss gave you a problem that he doubted that you could solve?”
“I think I’d be pissed if I found out. Maybe Uncle Pete and Gil won’t tell him that they couldn’t solve it. Look, if the problem has to be solved, and you have three guys who you think are qualified to work on it, why would you only have two of them work on it? That doesn’t sound right, either. And didn’t he say that Stoney has two degrees? I bet he’s qualified to work on it.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right. I wonder how long he’ll get to work on the problem.”
“We can ask Uncle Pete tonight when he gets home. Hey, are you and Ed going to ‘work on your project’ after school today?”
“Hehe. We were thinking about it, why?”
“I think I’m going to invite Jerry over to keep me company.”
“That’s cool. In fact, Ed lives near Jerry, so he could get a ride home when Mrs. LeBlanc picks him up.”
We finished our breakfast and made our lunches. Before we left, we checked our backpacks for books and homework. The weather was still too cold for me, but we made it to school without succumbing to frostbite. Hehe.
When we arrived, we stopped by our lockers and then went to see Ms Hart. We let her know that Uncle Pete would be there.
= = =
“Morning, Boss. Are you ready for the test?”
“Hey, Gil. Yeah. I’m hoping he doesn’t quit on us over this. Hehe. The boys said we were being mean to Stoney for doing this. I told them it was just a test for him and that he might know something that we don’t.”
“Well, he should be in any time now. He’s been getting in at about 7:45 every day.”
Gil had barely said that when the elevator arrived at the complex and Stoney, Frieda and Rolf got off.
“Welcome back, Frieda! I see you’ve met our newest employee.”
“Yes, Peter. Rolf introduced us on the way down. Where are you working, Brian?”
“I’ve been assigned to data mining, Frieda. So far, it’s been interesting. It’s a lot more challenging than my last position. I hope I don’t come to regret that. Hehe.”
“Don’t worry about it, Brian, you’ll do well.”
Frieda and Rolf walked to their lab and left Stoney with Pete and Gil.
“Gil, thanks for the heads-up about Frieda not using nicknames. I introduced myself as ‘Stoney’, but she already knew my first name.”
“Yeah, she’s like that. She still calls Pete’s boys Miguel and Timothy. They had her as their German teacher, so they were used to it.”
“Haha! That’s great. I think I can accept being called by the name I chose, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Gil, you and Pete said you had something for me to work on. You’ve got my curiosity up. Where is it and when can I start?”
Gil handed Stoney a sheaf of paper and said, “Here’s the problem, but let’s get some coffee and Pete and I will explain what we want to do with it.”
“That sounds good to me. Let’s go.”
The three got their coffee and retired to one of the conference rooms. Gil started the PowerPoint presentation and within forty-five minutes, Stoney said he understood the requirements and was ready to start on the project.
The young man kept at the task all morning and only stopped long enough to get more coffee (including making a new pot) and to go to the toilet. At 11:45, he stepped into Gil’s office.
“Gil, I’m going to lunch. I’ll be back in about an hour…”
“That’s no problem. Just get back to work on the problem when you return.”
“Oh wait. You misunderstood me. I’ve solved the problem. When I get back, I’ll need another task.”
“Y-you did what? You solved the problem? Are you sure?”
“Oh yeah. It was a little difficult at the beginning, but then I figured out what I was doing wrong and now it’s a piece of cake.”
“Stoney, let me get Pete in here, OK? If you’ve solved the problem, I’m pretty sure that he’ll buy your lunch!”
“Aw, that’s OK, Gill, I can afford it.”
“Stoney, just let me call Pete in here before you go to lunch.”
Stoney shrugged and waited while Gil walked to Pete’s office. In less than a minute, Pete and Gil were almost running back to see Stoney.
“Stoney, Gil just told me you were finished with the problem that he gave you this morning. Is that right?”
“Uh, yes. You guys are making me nervous. What’s wrong?”
“Stoney, Gil and I have been going crazy for the last two weeks attempting to solve the problem that you said you finished already. We’re a bit skeptical.”
“Oh. I didn’t realize that. I can walk you guys through it and show you what I did and how I came to the solution, if you’d like.”
“Yes. We’d like.”
So Stoney walked Pete and Gil through all the steps he took. Thirty minutes later, the two men were dumbfounded. As it turned out, when they were working on it, they were taking what they thought were logical steps, but Stoney explained why that didn’t work for him and why he opted to sidestep their procedure, and to come up with the solution. Pete and Gil each double-checked Stoney’s work and they finally had to agree that he did it. He solved in about three hours what they had been working on, unsuccessfully, for two weeks.
“Stoney, let me buy your lunch. Where should we go? Pick an expensive place, you earned it.”
“Thanks, Pete, but I just wanted to go to Portillo’s for a beef and cheddar croissant.”
“Well, if I can’t talk you out of it, at least let me buy. Gil, you have your car here, don’t you?”
“Yep. Let’s go.”
= = =
At the end of the day, the four of us walked back to our house. Ed and I practiced our dancing while Tim and Jerry Skyped with Matt. After a bit, I led Ed to my bedroom and we locked the door.
Tim and Jerry finished talking with Matt and then they called Monica and Angie to let them know when they’d be picking them up. Jerry’s mom was driving them and Uncle Pete was driving Ed, me and our ‘girlfriends’, Megan and Amber.
When Ed and I were finished in the bedroom, I showed Ed the new toothbrush that I bought for him. We went into the bathroom and while Ed brushed his teeth, I swabbed his crotch. Then Ed washed my crotch as I brushed my teeth. Our timing was perfect. As we walked into the kitchen, we heard Mrs. LeBlanc pull up and sound her horn. I gave Ed a quick kiss goodbye and, when he and Jerry walked out, Tim and I waved to Mrs. LeBlanc from the door. As we walked back to the kitchen, I told Tim that Ed couldn’t stay over on Saturday night. His dad thinks he’s too old to do sleepovers.
Tim was cooking a sirloin roast. What I like about that is we get roast beef sandwiches for our lunches! I had the potatoes peeled and boiling in plenty of time to get them cooked and mashed before Uncle Pete got home. I knew how to use the electric mixer, but Tim had to put the milk and butter into the potatoes. I guess he didn’t trust me to do it. Hehe. Tonight we had pea pods and pearl onions to go with the roast beef and mashed potatoes. Tim was even making gravy from the pan drippings.
When Uncle Pete got home and washed up, I rushed around the kitchen, putting out the salad, the veggies and the potatoes and gravy, and Tim put the roast on the table for Uncle Pete to slice. Once we had our plates filled, Tim and I told Uncle Pete about our day, but what we really wanted to hear about was how Stoney did on his project.
“Guys, Stoney was fantastic! He got in at 7:45 and Gil spent forty-five minutes explaining the problem to him. So that meant he started working on it around 8:30. At 11:45, he said he was going to lunch and that he’d need a new project when he returned! Gil couldn’t believe it! He came to me and I couldn’t believe it, either! We spent the next thirty minutes having Stoney tell us what he did and why he did it that way. It was perfect! He had done in three hours what Gil and I couldn’t do in two weeks! Guys, I think I’m going to adopt him. Hehe.”
“Ummm… does that mean we get a larger bed?”
“No, Tim. Stoney already has a boyfriend. I think his name is Gary Klein.”
We continued eating and talking and then I remembered something. “Uncle Pete, can you give Ed, me and our dates a ride to the dance on Saturday?”
“Sure, but you know I have to be there early, right?”
“That’s OK, Uncle Pete. So do I, and the two girls.”
“Sounds good. How is Ed getting here?”
“He’ll be riding with Mrs. LeBlanc. She’s a chaperone, too.”
“OK, so she’s taking Tim and Jerry and I’m taking you and Ed, right?”
“You got it.”
“No problem. Let me know if anything changes, OK?”
= = =
“Gary, you’re not going to believe what happened today! You know that project that I told you about yesterday?”
“Well, I finished it in three hours.”
“That’s not the best part. I did in three hours what Pete and Gil had been working on for two freaking weeks! They couldn’t believe I was finished. They had me talk them through my solution and then they each double-checked it. It was great! I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing!”
“Stoney, that’s fantastic!”
“I just hope I didn’t piss them off when I did it so quickly.”
“I doubt that you did. They were just a bit incredulous because you finished so quickly. You said they double-checked your work, so they know you did it right. I wouldn’t worry about stepping on any toes, as long as you don’t gloat. Now enough of the shop talk and get over here and kiss me.”
= = =
The next morning, Pete introduced Stoney to Dave Taylor. When Dave shook Stoney’s hand, something strange happened… he couldn’t get a read on him. He shrugged it off and started his spiel.
“Stoney, I run an organization called P.A.I.N. That stands for Psychics Against Injustice Now. We have small groups of psychics strategically placed around the country. Our mission is to use our powers to help people who can’t help themselves. Most recently, a college student was caught with a kilo of marijuana and charged with possession with intent to sell. We were able to find out what really happened and get the man off. We also got the real culprit charged and he most likely will be doing hard time for his crimes.
“If you check the Internet or the news media, you won’t find a word about us being involved there, but the college student is able to worry about how he’ll do on his exams, rather than worry about what the jury will do.”
“Dave, that sounds great, but how can I help with stuff like that?”
“Stoney, you have a power. From what I’ve read about the incident, it’s either super strength, invulnerability, or possibly both. Whatever it is, as a member of a team, you could do a lot to assist others. Would you be interested in doing something like this?”
“Hehe… I’m really not a cape and tights kinda guy, Dave. I’m an engineer.”
“Haha! Don’t worry. All you need is your everyday-clothes. You’ve already demonstrated a willingness to assist others when you helped that mother and child a week or so ago. You also showed that you didn’t want to be in the limelight by leaving without taking any credit for your actions. You see, we don’t want people to know when we’re involved and we definitely don’t want people to know we have powers that they don’t. But we’re not a secret organization. We have a website and if we are asked, we tell others that can read minds and do other things with our minds.
“That is usually enough to get others to think we’re a bunch of harmless kooks. That’s the reputation we want. We hide in plain sight. ‘Oh, it’s the nut-jobs from PAIN. They’re harmless.’ Those are the comments that tell us we’re doing our jobs. But when the time comes, we launch into action and correct problems.
“Stoney, I’d like you to consider my offer. If you have any questions, here’s my card. Other than when I’m flying, I can get my calls, texts and messages. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks. Think about my offer. I’ll ask for your decision when I return.”
“Thanks, Dave. I’ll give it serious consideration.”
When Stoney went back to work, Dave met with Pete in his office.
“Pete, I can’t read Stoney.”
“Should we be worried?”
“I don’t know. It’s never happened before. But enough shop talk. I keep coming to Chicago, why don’t you and the boys come to Tucson? I’m sure that Glenn and his friend Mike would love it.”
“You know, I think I can fit that in. I have to go to Bluffdale and check things out, so a side trip to Tucson should be fun.” Pete checked his calendar. “I have meetings on June 19 and 20, so we should arrive on the evening of the 20th… that’s a Thursday. I can stay until Wednesday, the 26th. How does that fit your schedule?”
“That’s prefect,” Dave said as he checked the calendar on his phone.
= = =
When Stoney got home, Gary saw that he was anxious about something.
“What’s bothering you, Stoney?”
“I met a telepath today. I had trouble blocking him, but I made it.”
“That’s strange. What did the guy want?”
“He wanted me to volunteer for an organization called P.A.I.N.”
“I’ve heard of them. Are they credible?”
“They seem to be, but when I block someone else, I block myself as well. I couldn’t read him either.”
“At least they don’t have a clue about me.”
“No… not yet,” Stoney agreed.
= = =
The rest of the week flew by. Thursday was the last meeting before the dance, but we all had to be at school on Saturday afternoon to decorate. Mr Harper was going to stay in the gym while the rest of us went home and got dressed for the dance. It looked like everything was falling in place.
Mrs. LeBlanc showed up on time and Tim traded places in the car with Ed. Ed and I got in Uncle Pete’s car and we were off to pick up the girls. Megan and Angie looked hot! Yeah, I know. I’m gay, I get it, but I can still tell when girls look hot, can’t I? And they were hot!
We were among the first to arrive. The girls and I showed Ed where everything was set up and then we waited for the dance to begin. Once it did and the DJ got the music going, we danced with our dates, but we were in a square. Going around the square it was boy, girl, boy, girl. All I had to do was turn towards Ed and I was dancing with him. Likewise, Megan was facing Angie, so they were dancing with each other, too. This was great for the fast dances, but we had the slow dances covered, too.
The lights in the gym had been dimmed to provide the proper mood, so no one seemed to notice when we slid behind the DJ’s booth. Ed went in dancing with Megan and I was dancing with Amber, but as soon as we slipped behind the drapes, we changed partners. Now we were dancing with our true partners. Behind the drapes was a lot darker than on the other side of them, and once you were enveloped in the darkness, it took a few moments for your eyes to adjust to the dimmer lighting. This turned into an advantage when one couple came back there. Mr. Harper came back there with one of the Math teachers, Mr. Gannon. The four of us saw them right away. They were wrapped in each other’s arms and kissing as though it was the last time they would see each other.
Unfortunately, they started getting louder. Soon we were all getting nervous. That’s when Amber said in a low voice, “If you guys don’t keep your voices down, you’re going to fuck it up for all of us.”
The two teachers froze. “Oh my god!”
“Oh chill, dammit. You’re safe. We won’t turn you in. Just hold the noise down.”
Mr. Harper’s eyes were starting to adjust and he couldn’t help but giggle when he saw who we were. He whispered to his boyfriend, “It’s cool, Jimmy. Let’s just be quiet.”
We all finished our dance and traded kisses with our loved ones, and then we stealthily exited the area. We went back there several more times, as the slower songs were played. We even saw Mr. Harper and Mr. Gannon a couple more times. I don’t think that we were the only ones who noticed them. I looked around the gym and I saw Ms Hart pointing towards Mr. Harper, and she and Uncle Pete were chuckling. Hehe.
Have you ever noticed how time just seems to race when you’re enjoying yourself? That’s what was happening here. It seemed as though eleven o’clock got here way too soon. Since our group was running the dance, we had to make sure that everyone left and then we left, while Mr. Harper and Mr. Gannon locked the place up.
Uncle Pete was a good sport and drove the girls home. He patiently waited while we kissed our dates goodnight for effect. Megan even applied fresh lipstick before she kissed Ed goodnight. After we dropped Ed off, we got home about 12:15. Tim was already home. Uncle Pete said to get to bed at a reasonable time and he drove off. We assumed that he was meeting with Ms Hart.
When I walked into the house, Tim was waiting for me. We retired to the shower…