RSA – “Payback”

Apologies for the delay, folks! Yesterday happened to be the longest day in creation–or at least it seemed that way. Full steam from 5:00 a.m. to nearly 11:00 p.m. It’s any wonder I am up right now composing this thirteen hours later and with two hours of sleep…oh well!

Anyhow, this is another installment from the Recon Specialist Agency. I wrote this one a little before my birthday this year; Zora and I share similar sentiments about birthdays. Sadly I was stuck in bed on the day of my birth–stupid sinus infection. I think at some point you’ll see Zora doing the same thing to John…that’s going to be a blast to write 🙂

I am planning a meeting with my “panel” so you might get some John/Zora backstory–I can’t wait to see what results from that…

_____

 

Prelude

 

She stood in a defensive stance, hands crossed over her chest. Her voice was filled with ice as sharp as her stilettos when she spoke. “You rang?”

He flicked a glance at her as he tweaked the circuitry in his new invention. “End that with Master.”

She fumed. “Leave me alone, J. I am not in the mood.”

The dark-haired man sitting behind the desk in jeans and a blazer over a T-shirt that proclaimed, Warning, If Zombies Chase Us, I Am Tripping You raised an eyebrow as he put his current project aside. “You’ve been acting like more of a bitch than usual. I just wanted to know what was wrong.”

She beaned him with a glare. “Yeah, I’m on my period, Neanderthal.”

That got the desired wince out of him. He hated blood. She smiled. Fractionally. After a moment, he frowned at her. “No you’re not. There wasn’t any blood on my sheets this morning.”

That earned another glare. “I wasn’t even in your bed this morning, John. It must have been one of your backup hoes that you’re mixing me up with. And I oughta kick your ass for that.”

He guffawed. “The hell? I don’t let those dirty hoes in my bed. Those sheets are freakin’ Egyptian.” She cocked an eyebrow. “You’re supposed to laugh right there. It was a joke.”

“Yeah ‘cause the thought of you having hoes with your dorky ass is hilarious,” she quipped with an ungraceful snort. After her mirth passed, she griped, “Could we get this over with? You know how it looks when you call me in here like this.”

He rolled his eyes. “It’s not like I could bend you over the desk. Tends to be hard with the glass walls.”

“Like that would stop you.” He smirked. Yeah it wouldn’t. “Pervert.”

“I am trying to be serious here. Show some concern over you.” The more he stared at her, the less angry she became. In fact, she was starting to…fidget. “Is something going on that I should know about?”

“No. Not at all.” 

Insert bland stare here. “Don’t lie to me. I can make your life hell for lying to me. You’ve been treating everyone like shit for like a month, and Stella says you nearly killed Drake in the sparring ring with the new prototype I made for you. I know you want to be some badass vagina, but you will show some restraint with my inventions under my roof. Your coworkers are not sparring droids.”

Blink, blink. She put a hand to her chest. “Are you…scolding me, J?”

He leveled the sternest look he could manage upon her. “I am. And stop calling me J. The name is Andy.”

Pause. She guffawed so loud that the glass walls quivered. His face fell in complete shock. He watched as she stumbled to the door and let herself out, laughing so hard everyone turned to look at her, then at their esteemed boss, who looked like he had been poleaxed.

As the troops returned to their work, he could all but taste the acrid tang of mutiny in the air.

She was going to pay for that one.

 

 

I
That evening

 

“That bitch has no respect,” John groused into his glass of Guinness. “No respect at all.”

The Friday evening din at their regular bar nearly overshadowed their meager conversation and John had to raise his voice to be heard. Edward Dean, better known as Eddie, took a swig of his own beer. Beside him, Stella Stevens enjoyed a nice glass of wine and raised a perfectly sculpted eyebrow at their friend who seemed irritatingly angst-ridden and Rodney Dangerfield-esque for the evening.

“Yeah, I heard she was laughing her ass off when she left,” Stella said. “What did you say to her?” John told her. “And she laughed at that?” She shook her head in disbelief. “That bitch has balls.”

“Well, it doesn’t help Andy lets her get away with murder,” Eddie remarked. That earned a glare from John. “She’s a good recon agent with awesome instincts, but she has an insolent streak—one that Andy indulges.”

“I do not!” John protested. Eddie just gave him a bland stare. “I reprimand her on a regular basis. She has the wrong idea that she’s special or something, and there is nothing special about her.”

Eddie opened his mouth to say something, but Stella sent him a hard look. They weren’t supposed to know that tiny piece of information that John didn’t want them to know—and they weren’t going to reveal their knowing anytime soon. Eddie pursed his lips together and spoke on a slightly different course—one that wouldn’t get him in trouble with his best friend.

“Someone told me that she was having some kind of dinner party at her house tonight,” Eddie revealed.

“A dinner party?” John frowned. “Why is she having a dinner party?” And why wasn’t I invited?

“Word on the street is that it’s a special occasion.” Stella tapped her wineglass with a nail. “Apparently, it’s her birthday.” John’s face went slack with shock. How could he not have known this? “Maybe you should put in an appearance and score some cake and show her who’s boss.”

“Maybe that isn’t a good idea,” Eddie said primly.

Stella scoffed. “Like hell. I think it’s a brilliant one. That’s what she gets for not respecting his authority. After this, she won’t have any choice but to respect him.”

“Yeah, but there are better ways to set someone straight. Especially since he’s had like five beers since we got here. He’s gonna do something stupid and get in trouble.”

Stella looked at John with hawk eyes. “Andy, can you walk in a straight line?”

John shrugged. “I mean, probably.” He drained his glass.

Eddie shook his head. “I don’t believe it. He’s lying.” He watched as John took out his wallet. “You’re not going to Zora’s house to embarrass her. Leave it alone, Andy. Dock her pay or something. Or fire her.”

“No,” John disagreed, throwing a bill on the table. “Stella’s right. She messes with my reputation, I mess with hers.” He replaced his wallet and stalked off, a plan formulating in his head.

“Make sure to get it on video!” Stella called after him. Eddie gave her a reproachful look and she merely tossed her luxurious hair over her shoulder in a gesture of defiance.

 

 

Meanwhile…

 

So yes, if you were wondering, something was up with Zora Scott.

If you were to ask, she would shrug and say nothing or mind your own damn business. If you were John Anderson Leath asking, she would lie and say she was on her period. (That usually worked, but it was becoming a bit trite.) But if anyone at the Recon Specialist Agency had been paying attention, they would have noticed Zora’s attitude worsening in a crescendo. And today was the accent note.

It was the middle of July. For most, this particular block of the year meant nothing more than time spent poolside with a bimini. For Zora Neale Scott, it was a dreaded time—her birthday.

Unlike her contemporaries, the coming of her birthday brought dismay, not excitement. A day where she was the spotlight, the center of attention. A day where she was the butt of getting-old jokes, the recipient of too-sweet cake and sloppy kisses from relatives.

She would’ve taken a month-long sojourn to Spain if it wouldn’t have sent up red flags to the wrong people.

She stood in her kitchen, flushed in the face and wishing for a sleeping pill, and checked on the asparagus that her mother was cooking on the stovetop. She was antsy, wanting to do something to keep her mind off of her impending doom. She knew there was frosted angel food somewhere. She just wasn’t able to find it.

Zanelle Scott, her big sister, sauntered into the kitchen then. The air about her was decidedly smug. Zora couldn’t blame her. It wasn’t her birthday again—not for another six months.

“Having fun, sister boo?” Zanelle teased.

Zora grumbled. “I think an episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills would be better than this.” Before Zanelle could comment, her doorbell rang. She sighed. “It’s my house, I’ll get it.”

“Who knows? It could be a birthday surprise.”

Zora smirked. “Only if it’s Henry Cavill in a Speedo would it be a worthy birthday surprise.”

It was a shame, she thought later, that it was not Henry Cavill standing on her doorstep. In fact, she would have taken any alternative over what was actually there.

Zora could do nothing but gape.

“Guess who’s here for dinner?” John Anderson Leath declared, holding up two bottles like award statues.

The gape turned into a glare. And she slammed the door in his face.

A second passed. The doorbell rang again. Zora growled.

Mama Scott frowned as she came around the corner, hearing the sound of the bell. “Zora, aren’t you going to answer the door?”

Zora grumbled something under her breath that was best left unheard. Grudgingly she opened the door again. John was still standing there grinning like a serial killer. Without preamble, a curly-haired streak came zipping out of the living room and ran into John. Thrown off balance—and drunk to boot, he stumbled and fell off of the porch.

A moment later, a woman with light brown hair appeared, slate-green eyes wide as she took in the scene. “Leila?!”

The pretty child grinned impishly at her mama. “Look, Mama! He hurt himself. I should help him.”

Zora grinned, too, but malice was in her eyes. “Yes sweet pea, you can help him all you want.”

Embarrassed, Leila’s mother ushered her to the bathroom to wash her hands for dinner. John appeared then, brandishing unbroken bottles. “No need,” he assured them. “I am quite all right.” He gave Zora a pointed look. “I decided to stop by and check out your dinner party since you mentioned it.”

Zora, smile fixed in place, said through her teeth, “I don’t recall mentioning it to you.”

“Word travels.” He grinned at Mama Scott. “You must be Zora’s mother. Wonderful to finally meet you.”

Mama Scott, who was well versed in the art of politeness, responded, “Yes…and you are, again?”

“John Anderson Leath,” John introduced himself. “But you can call me Andy. Zora works for me.”

A male voice radiated from the kitchen. “That’s the sonofabitch who nearly got her arrested and killed.”

Zora sighed, not wanting to be reminded of Nathaniel Cole’s debauchery (especially in front of her mother who was given a watered-down version that didn’t supply names—including John Anderson Leath). “Could we not talk about that?”

Winston Monroe, dishtowel in hand, stuck his head out of the kitchen. “If that asshole is here, we will be talking about it if I got something to say about it.”

“Winston,” Mama Scott admonished. Winston disappeared back into the kitchen, muttering irritably under his breath. Curious—and a mite suspicious—she turned to John. “Dinner is almost ready. We were just about to sit down if you would like to join us.”

Zanelle appeared and took the wine bottles. “I mean, he brought liquor so I’m down.”

John grinned that creepy serial killer smile again. “Yes, I would be happy to.” He wrapped an arm around Zora’s shoulders. “Give me the spot next to this one.”

Zora tried to smile, but it looked like she was going to attack instead.

 

 At the dinner table…

 Mama Scott was shrewd enough to seat Zora inbetween Winston and her little sister Zandra, who sullenly picked through her dinner. She wasn’t sure about this person who had shown up on her daughter’s doorstep, so she placed him at the other end of the table where she could look him in the eye. Zanelle sat across from her little sister Zandra while ZJ, their baby brother had the spot to John’s right. Faye and Leila sat next to Mama Scott.

“This is a lovely dinner,” John remarked. “I don’t think I’ve ever had asparagus this good.”

“If I’d’ve know you were coming I woulda put cyanide in it,” Winston muttered. Zora nudged him not-too-subtly. Zandra snickered.

“I don’t like asparagus,” ZJ remarked. “You can have mine if you want.”

“No he cannot,” Mama Scott said sternly. ZJ deflated. “So what is it that you do?” Zora’s mother asked John, a dubious note to her voice. “Zora has never…mentioned you.”

Zora squirmed under her mother’s heavy gaze.

John considered this a humming moment. In the silence, utensils clanked on plates. He gave a long explanation about what he did for his father’s company, making it comprehensible to his audience. Zanelle sipped wine and looked intrigued.

He paused for effect while he cut a bite of steak as the others processed this. “Oh yeah. And I’m also screwing your daughter.” The grin he wore after this explanation punctuated it perfectly.

Crickets. Zora’s eyes nearly exploded.

Sensing her will to maim, Zandra slid the knife away from her sister. Shaking his head, Winston slid it back.

Frowning, ZJ turned to John. “But Zora is not a nail! How would you screw her?”

“Yeah how?” added little Leila.

Zanelle choked on her rice. Zora snapped out of her stupor and stood. She reached out and grabbed John by his collar as her mother told her to calm down. Faye was admonishing her own child as she told Zora, “Stop being so mean to him!”

“Outside, now!” Zora snapped as she dragged him out by the collar. There was a lot of cursing and banging. Faye sighed and covered her daughter’s ears.

“If you kill his ass, I got shovels!” Winston called after her. Mama Scott gave him a reproachful look. He merely shrugged and ate his asparagus.

 

 

Outside…

 

“You motherfucking asshole!” Zora ranted. “I ought to take your testicles with my bare hands!”

John faced her calmly with his hands over his chest. “Problem, babe?”

Zora’s response sounded like the jagged lovechild of a scream and a growl. John just stared serenely.

“How dare you come into my house and make me out to be some sort of fornicating whore? And in front of my mother? My little brother and my goddaughter?”

Silence.

“Payback’s a bitch ain’t it?” John asked.

Zora’s eyes nearly exploded again.

“Payback?” Zora spat. “You came here on my birthday to embarrass me for payback?!” Fed up, she struck out with a fist and clipped him on the temple. He caught her fist before it could do anymore damage.

“Yes, I did,” John answered testily. “And to teach you a lesson. You need to show me some respect, Zora. You may be…I mean, we may be…”

“Screwing each other?” Zora offered blandly.

“Yeah, whatever,” John resumed hastily. “But that doesn’t mean that you can walk all over me when we’re at work. I’m the boss, you know. And how my workers regard me assures whether or not they trust me to lead them. When you undermine my authority, it makes me look like a bullshit leader.”

Zora groaned, her anger draining. “Dammit…”

He released her hand. “You see that I’m right, don’t you?”

“You’re not wrong,” Zora contended. “But you’re not right either.” She placed her hands on her hips. “You can’t walk all over me either, John. Just because you’re the boss doesn’t mean you can put footprints on my back. Respect is mutual.”

“I guess you’re not wrong either,” John admitted grudgingly. “Maybe we both need to work at it.”

“Damn straight.” She glanced at her front door. “But in the meantime, you need to go apologize to my mama before she gets the edge weapons.”

 

 

That Monday…

The agents and scientists of the RSA gathered in the conference room Monday morning. There was a distinct buzz in the air. All eyes were on Andy Leath and Zora Scott. Everyone wondered what they would say or do next.

The answer came when, in the middle of a tech briefing, John lifted his head and said, “Ms. Scott?”

Everyone looked to Zora.

Zora looked at him calmly. “Yes, Andy?”

“Could you get me a coffee please?”

The group barely managed to stifle a gasp. Oh shit! What was going to happen next? Was she going to issue a fuck you, get it yourself or pour the hot liquid on his lap or atop his head?

With rapt attention, the employees watched as Zora rose and smoothly retrieved his coffee. She held it for a moment, standing over him. Ah, this is it! they all thought.

They were disappointed when Zora merely handed it to him.

After he took a sip, she asked, “Is it satisfactory, sir?”

“Indeed,” he replied, and she regained her seat.

There was a change in the air then. John Anderson Leath had regained his greatness, and yes it felt so good.

John grinned into his cup. “Result,” he murmured.

 

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