Read Along: Paradise Palms: Chapter 7
The sun had started to go down when Lin saw Patty’s car pull up next to Sam’s trailer. She’d called Mrs. Bilkins and knew that Sam had been taken in for questioning, and that Casper Jasper had died, but none of that was of a major concern to her. She had more pressing matters. Mainly, what had been going on with the drop in power and connectivity to the servers? Sure the backups in Canada had taken the load for those few minutes, but why had she been dropped?
Tracking the log history hadn’t taken long at all and now she had installed a system alarm that would notify her if power dropped. Thirty-five times in the past two months, and nothing prior to that. Strange.
She stood in her walk-in closet. The trailer had three bedrooms and with that she’d converted into a large master bathroom that led off of the main bedroom. This, of course, was done with Casper and Sam’s help. They’d also installed the closet system into the final bedroom for her as well. She may live in a trailer park, but she wasn’t going to live like a peasant.
The closet was filled with a large array of clothing all hung by color and size, including the shoe rack. She’d ordered everything online and kept up with the latest of fashions. The only problem was that she rarely left the house and she was always wearing jeans and t-shirts. Sure, she could get dressed up and do her make-up and all that, but why bother? No one ever saw her. The only time she ever dressed up was when she had a scheduled video conference. Those had trickled off to once per year. She wondered why she even bothered with so many clothes at this point.
With a sigh, she picked out a simple black dress. At least with black she wouldn’t have to worry too much about her makeup. To match, she picked out a pair of black sandals with a small bow that went over the big toe. She hated shoes. Why she had over a hundred pair was beyond her. When she got online, things seemed to purchase themselves. With nearly unlimited funds and nothing to spend them on, shopping was almost like a drug for her.
After a shower and getting dressed, Lin Pza Pza sat in her living and waited. She’d called Tiger Lily Smith nearly eight hours ago, and she should be there at any time. Tiger Lily had been hired by the government and maintained watch over the servers in Canada. They’d checked many things remotely, but Lin didn’t want to chance a phone tap and have their conversations monitored. Working for the government had made her excessively paranoid. She just wanted Tiger Lily, someone she’d never met in person, to show up so they could talk.
From the window of her living room she could see that Patty, Girlfriend, and Sam still stood in the driveway talking. Sam must’ve been really shaken up after finding the body. Sam was a good man and didn’t need something like that in his life. Lin wondered if she should get a vacation for him and Girlfriend. It wouldn’t be difficult as they were such simple people. They’d be happy with a nice hotel in Duluth probably. She started to get up, but stopped when a black, four-door Lexus pulled into her driveway, its windows tinted so dark she couldn’t see inside.
The woman who got out stood nearly six feet tall with the high heels. Lin, standing only five foot one with her flats, felt intimidated immediately and thought about running to put on a pair of heels herself. She felt her eye twitch. She wasn’t going to let a tall woman carrying an alligator skin briefcase — possibly a Gucci — push her around.
Why was she suddenly so defensive? This had to be Tiger Lily. Even though they’d never met in person Lin knew this woman. The tight, dark-gray business suit, the fiercely pulled back hair, the stark white face with large, brown eyes. Tiger Lily had spent years in the service of the government and it showed. Lin felt inadequate just seeing the woman’s distinctive aura.
Tiger Lily Smith had quite an impressive résumé, that included ten years of service dedicated to computer intelligence for the government. Lin had read it over twice before and had just re-read it before the woman arrived. Tracking terrorists through the swarm of e-mail in and out of the country, Tiger Lily hacked servers of major countries that posed a threat and determining their level of potential success and if the United States should step in. She had residences in fifteen different countries and clearances for anything she could ever need to see.
Even so, they’d hit it off almost instantly. Tiger Lily, despite all her background, was well grounded in reality. Lin found her an easy person to talk to over the phone, but meeting her in person, that was something completely different.
Lin answered the door before Tiger Lily knocked. “Tiger Lily Smith?”
“Lin Pza Pza, I presume.” Tiger Lily sounded much different in person, her voice deeper and more resonant.
“Come on in.”
“Don’t give me that,” Tiger Lily said, sounding annoyed. Lin swallowed hard. Tiger Lily set down her brief case and lunged forward, wrapping her arms around Lin. Lin sucked in air and held her breath. She hadn’t hugged anyone since she was twelve. That was just before she filed for emancipation from her parents. Her whole body tensed with the enthusiastic effort Tiger Lily put into the hug. She did her best to bring up her arms, encased by Tiger Lily’s, and pat the woman on the back.
“It’s so great to see you,” Tiger Lily said, thankfully releasing Lin.
“Um, yes. I didn’t know what to expect. I’m glad you came. Can I get you something to drink?” Lin asked as she stepped aside and motioned for Tiger Lily to enter.
“Oh, what do you have? I’m not very picky. Anything you’ve got that’s cold. You don’t happen to have beer do you? No, of course. I’m sorry I asked that. Just anything you’ve got that’s cold will be just fine. I’m rambling, aren’t I?”
Lin looked at Tiger Lily, puzzled. “Yes.” She’d never done that on any of their calls. She always came across as so professional. The woman looked the same, but this bubbly personality had Lin confused.
“I’m sorry. You see, I know that all our calls are recorded. I doubt anyone ever looks at them, but I just want to make sure if they ever do, they see the person I want them to. I’m so glad you asked me to come down. I’ve been cramped up there in Canada for too long. I mean, I know someone has to be there, but I’m really more of a people person and prefer to be out in the field. You probably guessed that. So when I don’t talk to anyone for a long time, I ramble. I’m doing it again, aren’t I?”
Lin nodded as she led Tiger Lily to the kitchen and got them each a bubble tea.
“Oh well. We’ve got a lot to talk about.” Tiger Lily took the offered drink and downed half of it before coming up for breath. “I tell you, the police in the States are much easier to detect than they are in Canada. I mean, seriously, do they ever turn their radar off? I was able to do nearly a hundred the entire way here.”
Lin wanted to pout, but she had to come up with something. “Julie, from the Sandy Bar you passed coming in, and I go out for rides in her Charger sometimes. It’s great going fast, isn’t it?” That was a lie, Lin barely knew Julie. Why did she feel the need to be defensive to Tiger Lily? They were friends.
“Hey, are you tense or something? Do you have somewhere I can change? I brought my normal work clothes with me. When I’m at the house and just watching over the servers, I like to just kick off my shoes and relax. You know, just put on a t-shirt and a pair of shorts. I always feel so stiff when I’m wearing this suit.”
“You mean, you don’t always dress like that?”
“Lin, seriously? I mean, you always look good when we have a video call. Do you always look like that? Like this? I know you don’t leave you home much, so I doubt you get all dressed up just for yourself. Come on, a girl has to let her hair down once in a while, doesn’t she?”
“Oh, thank goodness. I thought you were going to be all stiff and professional and stuff.” Lin finally let out a sigh of relief. So Tiger Lily was a normal person. Smart, but normal. That was something Lin could relate to.
Tiger Lily kicked off her shoes and picked them up. “Lead the way. Why don’t we get changed and do some work? I think you’ve got quite a conundrum and we need to get this resolved.”
“Come on. Let me show you this place. I’ve only got one bedroom, but it’s still a cozy place.”
Lin showed Tiger Lily the rest of the trailer. She nodded her approval with everything she saw and asked few questions. Lin let her use the bathroom to change. While Tiger Lily was in there, Lin went into the closet and changed into a Misfits t-shirt and cotton mini-skirt. When she was putting back on her flip-flops, Tiger Lily showed up in the doorway with her hair down about her shoulders and wearing a too-small Cramps shirt that showed her flat belly — she had a pierced belly button with a bright-blue stone in it — and a pair of very tight white shorts that left nothing to the imagination as it hugged all her curves. Lin blushed slightly. She wasn’t sure why, but seeing a woman wearing shorts like that, she just felt uncomfortable. Like she shouldn’t be looking, but couldn’t help but look. Had she really kept herself so isolated? She never did have the experience of going to gym class and showering with all the other girls. She never had a boyfriend. Suddenly seeing someone, even if it was a woman, nearly exposed caused her to freeze up. Slowly she looked up into Tiger Lily’s smiling face. Did she even notice that Lin had stared?
“That is so much better. I have to get all dressed up when I’m driving in case I get pulled over. The police look at you with a lot more respect if you flash ID and look the part. Hopefully, if you stick with the job long enough, you’ll get the rush of overriding police authority. They hate it, but it’s so cool to tell them when you’re taking over a case. I remember one time I was on to a terrorist and the police had arrested the man and seized all his computer equipment. Before they could haul him and the gear away, I stepped in and took all the equipment. Someone else came and took the guy away, but I was the one in charge. Oh, that was so cool to do. The cop was all ‘This is my jurisdiction’ and I told him, ‘This is a government case and I supersede your jurisdiction.’ He didn’t like that at all.”
Lin smiled and laughed a nervous laugh. She hadn’t even heard half of what Tiger Lily said. She was just glad that the conversation hadn’t shifted to the stare. “Yeah, one day. Maybe you can even teach me to drive. I’ve never even driven a car.”
“Really? I was wondering why there wasn’t a car in the driveway. You know there are programs where they can send someone to teach you to drive or you can fly there and learn. Probably better if someone came here. If you want, later we can drive around the neighborhood. I don’t think you can get going fast enough to hit anything. That’d be fun, driving around here after everyone goes to sleep.”
“That would be fun. Perhaps after we go analyze the data and talk about what’s happening. I know the servers in Canada can handle the load if we need to disconnect or if it happens by itself.”
“Well then. Let’s get to work. I hope you have an extra chair. I’m not sitting in your lap.”
They laughed. Lin really liked Tiger Lily and was thankful she was here, as if the older sister she wished she’d had had just shown up and taken her in. Lin allowed herself to relax.