Seemed to Jim that Roberta had meant to startle Jack a bit, but Jack had missed it for his newspaper and whatever was on his mind. Gesturing to the departing Roberta and Philip, Jim said, "Should have seen that kid, mate, making like a crab walking sideways to perve her bottom first."
Jack made a half chuckle and shake of his head. "Not that he could miss much of it with those shorts of hers," he observed.
Jim chuckled and bellowed a ribald comment, "Damn those shorts. Cute, but damn it all the same. She's worked over to look her best in the buff and primed to show, not even sparing that arsehole. Or so uh, you can bet. Plastic Barbie look's popular these days. Kids these days, I tell you. So does he like showing her off, or is that her thing?"
"I think it's probably pretty complicated," Jack uncomfortably replied.
"Rather cryptic of you Jack," Jim observed with an arched brow.
Jack cut his eyes across to Jim over his cup and told him, "I can't say I'm an authority on either of them. John, he's his own man and she, she's from another planet."
"Pity she isn't," Jim declared. "We'd get funding like we'd never dreamed from men eager to get into space, eh?" He sipped his coffee a few moments and chuckled at a thought. "Oh I do hope she sports something shocking at the party, she just might dispel the tedium," he said. "As soon as you have a good look at the other guests you'll be desperate for diversion yourself. And if that doesn't enliven the scene, maybe the young lady or her fiance can trash the place. Say, gossip has it that she trashed her dress, one Payne spent a bundle on wasn't it, well before the place was trashed."
"Well um, that's what I heard too," Jack said and tried to keep a straight face looking at the paper as he recalled the dress and the incident, recollections of which were seeming to become more entertaining as time was passing. Shaking his head to himself he admitted, "He bought her another one that's even more interesting, at least in its original form."
"I'd bet John's been thrilled," Jim commented.
"Thrilled, yes," Jack agreed. "Of course if John is going to complain about what others might buy her, maybe he should consider finding something she likes and buying it for her himself."
"There's a thought," Jim agreed.
"He might blow it anyway," Jack rambled on. "For instance he bought her some pants a little while ago, but he must've picked them up at Pick'N'Save. She was fine with the color, sometimes I think she's colorblind, but wrong fit and fabric. Tore a leg near clean off doing something around the cabin. Don't think he took into account how athletic and flexible she is."
"You tell me, hm?" Jim teased and nudged Jack with his foot.
"Well uh," Jack said while scratching the back of his neck, "can't say I could."
Jim's brows furrowed tighter and he seemed to gaze at Jack as though worried about him. "Now don't tell me you haven't taken that bird for a test flight, hm?"
"Jim," Jack reproached Jim with a mixture of surprise and uncertainty.
"Don't get me wrong Jack," Jim explained, "I'm all admiration for your well deserved ethical reputation and I'm not implying she's a bad prospect for John. But if it's loyalty to John that you're sticking on, well it's noble sentiment but as far as I can tell that goes one way these days."
"But you just said that-" Jack began to argue.
"-Yes he's clear," Jim interrupted to reply. "Remember I wasn't one who was lining up against him," he pointed out. The background noise from the party dropped suddenly as he was speaking and left him feeling that he was talking a little too loud. Taking another sip of coffee, he settled a moment before continuing in a much quieter voice. "I didn't want to believe any of those charges. We're not talking about the IASA here. No, I'm talking about you. I'm talking about that whole incident with the Payne Adams, John and the exploding disco fishbowl."
"I suppose he could have handled that better," Jack allowed.
"I don't suppose he could've handled it worse," Jim nearly bellowed. Closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, he took a moment to compose himself from the frustration at the recent fiasco. "I'm sorry Jack, I just think about it and my blood pressure could run a steam train. Frankly I don't think you've told me everything, Jack. I don't know if you're trying to protect John or Roberta or both, but our old fashioned nobility is lost on these kids Jack, you'll just have to watch out for your own interests."
"Well...." Jack muttered.
"Well yes," Jim insisted. "That includes any aspect of your own life. She's a flirt, Roberta. A handful and a half. Let's not deny that. A good heart I'm thinking, likeable, more personality than a chameleon in a disco. And she's very aware that she's not married yet. If that's your son's fault, count that as another mistake. But there's flirting and then there's a liaison between two wise adults, which it seems to me is an option on your table. Let's not pretend she's being too subtle about it. Surely you notice the way she is toward you?"
"Yes," Jack assured him a bit affronted, "and I'm not about to take advantage."
"Take advantage?" Jim repeated in disbelief and wheezed a slight cough. "It seems to me she's genuine enough about you, Jack."
"I didn't say she wasn't sincere," Jack said.
"Then where do you get this advantage stuff?" Jim asked. "That's no innocent child, unaware of what's going on. You don't have any advantage to take," he said sternly over the rim of his cup.
Jack almost started to argue, but was hamstrung with the memory of having wanted to say something similar to John at one point. To be in this situation himself baffled him.
"What are you doing but depriving yourself?" Jim asked as he set his empty cup of coffee down. "If you'd said 'I'm keeping clear of that muck' that's one thing. That's just good sense. I understand your not wanting complications, but you make it sound as if you were in some kind of superior moral position for turning her down. Sparing her feelings? Are you sure turning her down doesn't bother her more? She's an adult, making it clear she wouldn't mind some peace with a little on the side, old man."
"I'm not sure I appreciate your assuming that much," Jack bristled.
"Come off it, man," Jim clipped. "What I see is a lonely old man stuck worrying about his fatally flawed son, and a stick of sweet dynamite there with an unfortunate hangup on said fatally flawed son and who also likes you and doesn't exactly find you unattractive. I really don't think you're going to find another thing quite like that anywhere."
"Flawed maybe," Jack cut back in, "I wouldn't say fatally."
"No you wouldn't," Jim agreed and argued, "As much as I've been proud of your son in the past, you can't deny he's slightly different these days. I'd like to know why, it's just that I trust you enough so far to leave it as his business. For what it's worth I hope you're right. Maybe the girl and yourself understand things I don't, but there's something about him anymore that troubles me." Jim tapped his finger on the table and stood up.
Jack was going to argue, but decided to keep his tongue. Besides which he was fully aware that John wasn't exactly the same.
Jim stood over Jack at the side of the table, tossed a few bills on the table for his coffee and a tip, took a breath and a sigh and told him, "I apologize for making assumptions, but I'm more concerned with you than him and I just hate to think of you as a lonely old man. You don't deserve that. I'm not suggesting you should remarry, hell I'm close enough to lonely and I'm married. It's not my business anyway. Well I'll just say that and mind my business from there. You chew on that and I'll see you or not, with or without company, at the party tomorrow night." Jim nodded as if dismissing a subordinate and walked from the table.
A dance party was underway in a conference room, possibly to try distracting guests from the trouble that seemed to be brewing between the prospective bride and groom. As Philip and Bob approached the conference room turned disco, Philip asked, "Do you like dancing?"
"I can be hard to stop," Bob told him.
The young man nearest the door to the conference room didn't seem to know what to make of Bob, he just stared over her as they approached and answered Philip's query to join the party with an absent, "Sure." Meanwhile Bob had brazenly walked right past both men and into the room.
A huge area partially clogged with clumps of humans stretched out before Bob. From boring white panels on the ceiling to the polished floors, it looked alot like many shops she had been seeing, except for the nice views from floor to ceiling windows on two sides. Typically nice with humans behaving self consciously. Some cheap attempts at decorating were hastily stuck or taped around the ceiling and beams. A bunch of foldable tables and odd items were hidden in plain view along the wall behind her. The main feature seemed to be along the other wall, where a DJ was blaring incongruous synthetic dance music from a booth rimmed with sound gear and a long series of foldable tables were covered with an impersonal looking bounty of unnatural things.
"I'm Philip Classens," Philip pridefully introduced himself to the unconcerned attendant. Gesturing to thin air he continued, "And this is Roberta Chev-" Finally he noticed she wasn't sticking beside him and he quickly looked around. The moment he saw her, about twenty feet away facing away from him and watching the room, his jaw clenched and his temper flared. Philip was not used to being embarrassed. A rude snicker from the attendant didn't help Philip's temper. But watching the way she swayed to the beat with her striking body and outfit his slighted pride was replaced by eager desire. Seconds later he was at her side and trying to ask her to dance through the incredible noise from the DJ.
His voice didn't seem to be heard, but she understood his hand gestures toward the floor. She sneered at first and seemed unsure if she wanted to dance, which left him completely confused. A few moments and hand gestures later she accepted and Philip immediately led her into a dance away from the DJ. For Philip's part it didn't take him a minute to decide that this Roberta was the hottest girl ever and he was thrilled to be dancing with her. So much so that it was kind of difficult to mind the blood flow. Unfortunately it was also very hard to talk over the unsubtle but not exactly romantic garbage spewing from the DJ's speakers at ear damaging volumes. "Seem a bit loud to you?!" he managed to shout.
Roberta was taking things with great humor and flippantly said, "I just thought all human- I thought every one didn't hear very well!"
Bob stopped dancing and went over to the DJ, a large man smothered in black clothing and tattoos roosting in a small space behind a half-circle table and racks of equipment and towers of speakers on either side. While she looked over the bandanna on his head and impressive array of jewelry spread around either ear, she asked, "Could ya make it a little less too loud?"
The DJ looked up to her with a jaded sneer. "I hate these f*ckin' weddings," he said and turned it up.
"Yeah everyone's so lame," she sarcastically agreed. Bob looked over her shoulder, first to the left, then to the right. The few glancing her way were more interested in her arse and talking and laughing about her with their partners, not closely watching what she was doing. So she reached over the counter, plucked up his little bottle of Jack Daniels and held it over the laptop center of his operations with one hand and plucked up his lighter next to his crack pipe with the other. Cheerfully she asked, "Would you like an accident?"
"What the f*ck?" the DJ asked and told her, "F*ck off, bitch!"
She couldn't hear him but she read his expression. "Was that yeah?" she brightly asked. Delightedly, she poured out the Jack Daniels, knocked over a bunch of drinks sitting on the upper sides of the booth for good measure and put the lighter to it. As it started going up he barged around to the side of the booth to attack her. A casually placed foot tripped him up. Bob went down over and beside him, looking as though she meant to help him. Blocking the view of her hand she grabbed a hand full of his hair and used it to smack his head into the wooden floor hard enough to leave him dazed or unconscious. "Hey somebody!" Bob yelled over the suddenly stuttering playback of music, "Hey help!"
A huge crowd was there an instant later as they were beginning to see and hear the results of the fire engulfing the DJ booth. Some guys helped Bob to her feet and one, who might have been an employee, asked the inevitable question, "What the hell is going on?"
"I don't know," Bob claimed, "I was- was coming to request a song and he- he just went crazy! Arms everywhere! Then he seemed to lose it and fell out, like you see."
"Yeah," Philip appeared near Bob to confirm with a long look at her, "we wanted to request 'Oo La La'."
"Yeah," Bob echoed. "Why that happened, I don't- what's that?" she asked as she stood, drawing herself and everyone else's attention to the crack pipe.
Only smoke remained of the fire and a man working on the mess observed, "Figures. Looks like he knocked over some drinks while he was freaking out, hit the smoldering pipe and boom. Then he went out."
As most of the people started talking among themselves, the guy that looked like an employee assured everyone they would take care of the mess. In an attempt to salvage the salvage party, the staff started some music playing on the conference room sound system within moments. The crowd drifted back onto the dance area in clumps. Philip and Bob drifted into the milling crowd to dance and Philip told her, "That was pretty ballsy of you. That guy was probably a dangerous thug."
"Women have nerve too," Bob pointed out, "but you never hear, 'that was very ovarian of you', now do you." Apart from her typical flippant reaction, she also looked thoughtfully in the direction of the DJ's ruins and noticed that she had managed to rush into action without thinking again and she really shouldn't be taking any risks here. It also made her more appreciative of the support and she told Philip, "Hey. Thanks for ah...."
"Aiding and abetting your criminal behavior?" Philip asked with a surprisingly wicked smile.
"Well, well I didn't mean-"
"-I don't blame you," Philip reassured the alarmed Bob. "That guy is a walking mass of defined aggression. I might not have set his gear on fire, knocked him cold on the floor and set him up for a trip up the creek, but I'd be lying if I told you I mind that somebody else did."
Bob smiled and drew close to him. "What's this 'Oh Lala'?"
"Oo La La? Seriously?" Philip seemed surprised to have to explain. "Pop song. I forget when it came out but I'm surprised you missed it. You'd love it. It's a dance track, real hot," he explained. Meanwhile his hand, sliding down her left buttock and feeling at her explained what was really on his mind. "Remind me, I'll get the CD for you, it's in my car."
Just as she was trying to think of some conversation, she turned her head to one side at a growing amount of noise and saw humans flooding into one side of the conference room. At the front center of the oncoming torrent of female humans was the would-be bride. Bob's hair pricked as her radar for trouble registered that she was about to be in deep dren. Sure enough all attention seemed to be on her. Bob took a step back to put Philip between herself and the bride, who called, "There she is!"
Philip moved out of the way, not exactly a surprise to Bob. "What? Me?" Bob asked and pointed to herself.
The would-be bride was livid and went on the offensive as she closed in on Bob. "How dare you come here, right before our wedding, flaunting your skinny arse in front of my fiancée! You sl*t!"
"What? I didn't stare at my arse," Bob snapped back, "he did! I don't know who any of you are, I came here for the restaurant on my own and 'm here because I was getting lousy service 'cause some wedding party's packing the place." The would-be bride was taken aback slightly by Bob's boldness and moved back a step when Bob coolly met her challenging glare and moved into her space. Sensing some progress Bob pressed on, "But it's lucky for you I'm here, or you would've found him watching arse after your wedding. Yeah?"
A mixed chorus of mostly negative sounds and opinions came from the members of the wedding party now gathered all around, but Bob's defense scored a knockout punch to the one that mattered. The would-be bride crumpled, her face in her hand, and she began to withdraw with a few sympathetic friends. Seeing what looked like a manager approaching, Bob decided to delay being kicked out and slid over along side the would-be bride. "Hey ah," Bob told the would-be bride as friendly as possible, "it's just ah, he's only a male, doesn't mean he's a bad guy, you know. I'm really sorry being in the middle of all this, ah maybe.... where is he? Maybe you should talk to him. Or better, maybe me."
"You!?" the would-be bride nearly shouted.
Shrugging with one shoulder, Bob suggested, "If you really want to know what he'd do. But if you don't, just take a chance either way and live with it."
A woman who might have been the mother of the would-be bride spoke out, "I've never heard, no I never imagined such a crass, insolent-!"
The would-be bride however took a long look at Bob, interrupted the woman and quietly said, "He's outside behind the patio."
Bob glanced over the interested or outraged faces all around and brightly said, "Excuse me," before walking from the crowd.
"You! You've caused me enough trouble!" the groom told Bob when she stepped out onto the grounds by a porch where the groom and fifty of his closest friends had taken themselves to sulk.
After taking a look behind herself Bob pointed to herself and asked, "Me? Who are you?"
"Ted Milleon," an older, red faced and well juiced man introduced the groom as. Bob had the impression she was supposed to have heard of the name. She also had the impression the man was the father of the groom. Not too kindly he added, "Supposed to be a newlywed about now."
"Congratulations," she said.
"Oh gimme a break...." the older man asked the sky and walked away.
"I should probably thank you," the would-be groom told her, his hands on his hips. A tall, very tanned man with a wild mane of hair half dyed blond flagging in the breeze and a white suit and amber sunglasses, Ted seemed stylish to her and she smiled appreciatively as he approached. "I could've been put through hell with a wife blowing off on every casual glance I take."
"But you'd rather," Bob pointed out, her eyes squinted a little. A romantic at heart, she figured Ted, who intended to get married, even if she had immediate doubts about the long term success.
Ted almost thought his mind was being read. "What?"
"I don't know why," Bob said, "but don't you?"
"Hell no I don't," Ted insisted, but he was realizing he was blowing smoke. "You're reading people's minds now huh?" he asked, gesturing the others to go away and leading her along away from the club house. "You're psychic? Before I ask you to leave, perhaps I should ask for some stock tips."
"It's not your place," Bob confidently shrugged off his threat, "and why stock tips? Like you have all that much money?"
"Sure," he insisted, but there was a hint of fear in his eyes.
"Ah," Bob said and nodded. That had just been a hunch, that he'd hired the DJ with a drug deal and was likely not very secure financially. "It doesn't matter to me," she told him with a shrug. "Gossipers might be disappointed, but I didn't come here with or for you."
Ted stopped to rest with an arm up against a tree they had just passed beneath and suggested, "But you might leave with someone else."
Looking up at the stylish, somewhat roguish and somewhat romantic man, Bob was tempted to a little erring of her own. Beside the fact that she really did care that it would hurt John if he ever knew, she just didn't want to be the disaster in the life of this human or the would-be bride. "Maybe not that quickly," she told him and fought to smother her smile.
"Crap," General Morrison swore as he raised the hood of his old and currently dead Holden. Almost immediately he saw that the clamps of his battery cables were corroded and he supposed, "That could explain it, genius."
Grumbling to himself at every step, Jim walked to the trunk and searched around among a bunch of car parts and tools and goods related to half-finished gardening projects for something to try cleaning the battery clamps and terminals with. When he finally came up with a brush and can of soda, his ruddy scowl finally cheered. "Here we go," he said and started for the front.
Some commotion caught his attention and he paused on his way. A tall man in a white suit, who Jim guessed was the would-be groom, was dramatically pleading for the would-be bride near a window to the side of the club house. "Stella," Jim could hear the man plead, "don't turn me away! I swear there is no other my heart."
"This moment," Jim muttered to himself and returned to working on the battery connections.