Worms was a small town. It was surprisingly sustainable for a town whose year-round population were artisans and craftmakers who had moved away from the high cost of living in Mainz and Strassel; and towards affordable studio space with community. And here Georgia had moved to Worms because of a clocktower and no particular need to live anywhere else.
Maybe Georgia was the inconsequential one.
Worms was a small town near enough large towns that most deliveries – paper products, mail, whatever it was her downstairs neighbour refilled his growler with – came by panel vans. Sometimes minivans. Big rigs were for gas, grocery stores, and that one bakery.
Still, it was easy to pinpoint the vans that weren’t mobile. Worms is a small town.
Georgia was sipping coffee and wearing sunglasses. She doesn’t put effort into this potential suave clandestine agent façade; that was somewhere between too cliché and entirely not her. Sometimes the aesthetic willed upon her, despite the striking lack of black and steel grey in her wardrobe.
The whole look, striding down the street with a sole parked vehicle, was interrupted by her phone.
“I wanted to follow up.”
Georgia sighed; loud, directly into the receiver. “Choi, this is my day off.”
“Which is why I’m following up now.”
“I’m–” not busy, just hunting down surveillance vans, “I’ll–” not call back, her day was going to be entirely too interesting to call back, “I. will. look. into. it,” she forced out. “Give me her number.”
“You not going to find it yourself?”
“You are a cheeky asshole, and I know you know what a waste of time that would be.”
“Fine, fine.” Choi hung up.
After a moment, Georgia’s phone blips with a text notification. She tries to tell herself she’ll remember to call, after her extremely interesting day. She knows this is a lie.
Like the lie of having any coffee left in her cup, but she takes a very disappointing swing any ways. The discontent slows her last strides to the van.
Georgia didn’t have the patience to compose a suave clandestine agent façade.
She could, however, lean against the side of the van and consult her empty cup. The sun was bright and the weather not crisp enough for the jacket she wore strictly for its cute waist. Her sunglasses threatened to fall off her nose as she looks down at the cup’s betrayal.
Inside the van, several people try to keep their voices down while arguing, but the vehicle doesn’t have much soundproofing.
As the rabble inside grew to be out of hand, Georgia raised a hand – accidentally waved at a pedestrian – and rapped her knuckles against the van body.
There was a scuffled inside until the person in charge lamented that standard operating procedures mandated they handle the situation. The back of the van opened and out clambered a young woman who looked sleep deprived, disgruntled about life and the existence of the sun at nine am, and as though she had gardener snakes rambling up her ankles. Her shoulders were hiked up, showing tea and sauce stains at the hem of her shirt which she would prefer not to be on display. While her knees knocked and her ankles shook, she tied her hair up in a high ponytail and did her best to grimace Georgia into leaving.
Behind her, after agitated hissing, the van door belatedly closes.
This person in charge jumps when the door slams; solidifying certainty of the brutal combination of high-strung sleep deprivation and an unrelenting stream of caffeine.
Georgia wondered if she had ever looked like her, before discovering full cups of coffee no longer existed.
“Well?” the young woman’s voice was grating. It was the stress.
“Oh, right.” Georgia takes a second to fumble her cup into its individual components and distribute them into their individual bins in the sidewalk receptacle. She fixed her appearance with a quick tug of her jacket before saying, “Thought I’d say good morning and all.”
The sun was too bright for the woman’s caffeine-ridden nerves, especially as she looked up at the mention of the time. It had been perhaps cruel for Georgia to point it out.
Georgia adds, “Seeing as you’ve been camping around town the last while,” and then, “There are actual campsites.”
“What do you want?”
Georgia smiled. She recognized just how short the other woman was, just how tiresome and hard life was for her and how she ultimately did not want to be doing this thing. Whether this thing was surveillance, or talking to Georgia. “Well–”
A phone blipped.
The woman from the van wore a plain, albeit stained shirt, and pants held up by a tactical belt with an assortment of components all bare and empty. She stared up at Georgia with dull, drained eyes.
Georgia jerked her cell phone out of her pocket. On the screen, Choi corrects his typo in the phone number with a short apology. She hastily shoves the device back in her pocket.
“Well,” Georgia tried again, with an anticipatory pause afterwards. “I know you’re not following me, because Finders don’t get surveilled – they get background checks and everything gets cleared. And then they hear about it and share a laugh around a proverbial water cooler.
“It’s all very quaint,” she muses.
The woman squinted at Georgia from her squat position and wriggling calves. “Sounds like,”
she chirps doubtfully.
“So you’re either here to figure out why I’m here, which is not so civil, and pretty self-centred of me–”
Georgia cleared her throat, emphatically. “Or there’s something marginally interesting enough for the two of you to be here. Maybe it’s not even why I am.”
Everything about the young woman changed drastically. The snakes up her legs agitated, the split ends around her forehead stood upright, and she looked as though someone had shoved an ice block at her gut.
“This has been good,” Georgia declared.
The woman from the van looked ready to screech that this had been anything but good.
She managed to keep everything down, including her breakfast of leftovers, while Georgia suggested they never do this ever again. Georgia then smiles all-too politely and strides down the street the way she had come.
The woman stayed standing still on the curbside so long after Georgia left that the van doors opened questioningly. She shook out her fists, her tight knuckles aching at the release.
Georgia had just informed her of a situation – a second surveillance van – that was a new problem. She already had enough problems. She was never going to sleep if she didn’t learn how to delegate problems to the others in the van.
It wasn’t until she was secure inside the vehicle before she shrieked, but the van didn’t have much soundproofing and the noise made a passerby jump.
There were two coffee runs between the confrontations of van one and van two. Georgia had originally planned a single cup of dark roast on the meander to the second van.
The meander was a failure, the van had moved from where it had been spotted that morning. Her initial approach to finding it was to continue the meander; a tremendous mistake, as no real effort was put in and only resulted in time wasted.
She then exercised some real energy into locating the vehicle, and had been narrowing down solutions when lunchtime rolled around and reminded her that these activities were much more fruitful with something solid in her stomach. Her second coffee run involved a meal and four more ounces of medium roast than she would have ordered if it weren’t for the chilly afternoon.
It also involved several work calls and setting up office in the coffee shop for a good thirty minutes while clearing up deadlines and new project guides. And then confirming deadline and project guides.
There was a moment, while discovering her four extra ounces were already gone, that she worried the cube van had slipped away from her efforts again. She discarded the cup into its individual components and distributed them into their individual bins in a sidewalk receptacle, before rounding the street corner with the van just ten metres ahead.
The corners of the cube van shook, following a thud inside.
Georgia was already smiling. She waved at no particular part of the van.
The two people inside watched her do this, watched her walk towards them, had watched her since she stood on the corner at the recycling bins. They had watched her beeline straight for them, scaring them out of their seats. With some remaining professionalism, they filed out of the van with some remaining confidence and purpose. “Mx. Bagwasi,” one of them greeted.
Georgia decided to call them Right and Left, just to keep her profiles of the two separate in her head. Right was short, round, Iranian, and Georgia wasn’t sure she could take him in a fight. Left looked something like a lamppost had an affair with a fish during a torrid, rainy night.
Left had been the one to greet her, Right had nodded his head quietly and simply.
“Mystery Van,” Georgia responded, upbeat; which may have been the excess of coffee. “How is surveilling?”
Left was clearly upset that this conversation was happening in the open. Right just wanted to end the liability that was the conversation as immediately as possible.
Georgia tilted her head up, a little ‘ah ha’ as she no longer regretted opening with the mystery of the mystery van being a mystery to her. Now it wasn’t. “Do you take readings on Wednesdays?”
The two bristled.
“I’m not asking for your data,” she assured. “Or, well, I am. I don’t want your data, I’m sure. I just have a personal project.”
Right folded his arms over his chest.
“So long as you’re not here to figure out why I’m here, and you’re clearly not surveilling me,” since, once again, that was not something that happened, “and I’ve already taken to the notion we’re not on the same track…” She trailed off, Right and Left followed her train of thought to where it ended and spent the rest of the time staring at her wholly unimpressed. “Then I guess there are no issues here and we’re fine.”
Georgia grinned when she said fine, this was unnecessary.
For all its unsettling effect, neither Right nor Left were unsettled. Not until they concluded their short conversation with the woman and filed back into their cube van, where they broke composition enough to fly through data sheets in a panic. They did not break composition long enough to radio command; breaking mission guidelines and effectively ending the operation.
In the shower of graphs, surrounded by panels of dials and blinking lights, Left and Right found themselves. They straightened their lapels, decided each other’s lapels were still a little off, and then straightened each other’s lapels to their own standards.
Having established some modicum of order, they took to reorganizing the hurricane of papers without a single word.