Cookie Time


Jerry sped up his pace when he spotted the conspicuously inconspicuous white van parked outside his grandma’s house. He stopped by her house after school each day to pick up a new batch of treats to sell. Once the teenager Jerry learned her confections could reverse aging he wasted no time in finding rich buyers. He offered her the lion’s share of profits, but she never really seemed concerned about money.

It wasn’t until recently that Jerry realized he should have been more secretive. He started getting questions from random strangers in black suits with different accents. He did his best to throw them off his grandma’s trail, but as he ran into her house he wondered if a 15-year-old’s “best” was good enough. He entered the foyer in a hurry and relaxed. He heard laughter and conversation from the kitchen and guessed she wasn’t in too much danger.

“Jerry!” his grandma exclaimed the moment he poked his head around the corner. The short, elderly woman rushed to give him a big hug. After the embrace, she turned to face the table and pushed Jerry forward with her arm around his shoulder. “This is my grandson, Jerry. I guess you could say he’s my dealer,” she giggled.

His grandma introduced him to two men in black suits, both wearing sunglasses. A tall one and a short one, with almost no other way to tell them apart. Their hair color was nearly the same dark shade of brown and styled the same way on both. The glasses hid their eyes and neither stranger had any telltale blemish on their tan skin. Each man had a glass half full of speckled milk in front of him and a nearly empty plate of cookies rested between them.

“Uh, hi,” Jerry gave a half-wave. Both men nodded at him.

“Everything okay, grandma?” Jerry asked. She smiled and squeezed him closer.

“Never better! These gentlemen came to help,” she said. Jerry immediately grew worried. The one thing television taught him was that government agents could not be trusted.

“Grandma,” he leaned closer to her and whispered. “You can’t trust the government.” She slapped his shoulder playfully then crossed the kitchen to the stove; she grabbed half-empty plate from the table on her way. A sheet of fresh cookies sat cooling on the stove and she began refilling the plate.

“They’re not from the government,” she said. “They’re from the B.A.A.”

“Sounds like they are,” Jerry replied with a shrug. “F.B.I., N.S.A., B.A.A., it’s all the same.” He decided to sit in on the rest of their meeting; the fresh plate of cookies helped sway him. His grandma set the plate between the agents, then she sat down next to Jerry. “How are they going to ‘help‘?” he asked with sarcastic emphasis.

“They already did!” his grandma said with a big smile. The agents couldn’t answer; their mouths were full of chocolate-chip goodness. “They arranged it so the governments here won’t bother you or me anymore, and you can keep selling. Jerry hadn’t realized that other agents were already bothering his grandma.

“I suppose all they want is the secret of your treats?” Jerry asked as he stared at the agents.

“We already know it,” the short one said as he dipped another cookie into his milk.

“What!?” Jerry felt a pang of anger flare in his gut. He did not know his grandma’s secret. He always hoped and assumed she’d teach it to him one day. But she flat out gave these strangers the secret before him. The short agent turned to look at Jerry’s grandma. Jerry sensed something passed between them, but his grandma had a great poker face and he couldn’t see the agent’s expression at all. Then, he heard his grandmother sigh.

“They didn’t come to learn my secret,” his grandmother reached for his hand and squeezed it. “They came because they already knew, and they wanted to make sure I was safe.”

“Huh?” Jerry did not understand what she meant at all.

“When I bake,” she squeezed his hand again. “I add a secret ingredient that you can never learn to use. It’s way more complicated, but we can get away with calling it magic,” she said. “I can’t teach you, it’s something I was born with.”

Jerry almost scoffed at the notion of magic until he looked at the bigger picture. He felt like an idiot. He believed the right combination of flour, baking soda, and chocolate chips could reverse someone’s aging. Right until she said the word “magic”.

“These nice gentlemen know what I can do. They wanted to make sure I was doing it intentionally and of my own free will.

“And we have,” the short one said as both men rose from their chairs. The tall one stuffed handfuls of cookies into the pockets of his black coat. “Let us know if you have any other issues,” he said. Jerry stood out of his seat expecting to walk them out, but a large black hole appeared in his grandma’s kitchen. With a nod, both men walked into the hole then it disappeared.

“I’m sure you have questions,” his grandma said. “It’s time you knew everything. From the beginning.” Jerry turned to give her his undivided attention. He knew she had secrets, but he never imagined magic or black holes. The greying, wrinkled woman took in a slow, deep breath. The inward airflow added warm color to her pasty skin and plumped her wrinkles. Dark black flowed from her scalp to recolor her silver hair. When she exhaled again, Jerry’s grandmother looked more like a young aunt. Her dark hair had a vibrant lustre to it and her skin seemed to glow with youthful energy.

“The first thing you need to know…,” she said with a strong, young voice. “…is that 14 is my favorite number.”

Delivery. Retrieval.

[Run! I’ll guide you!] the popup on the bottom right corner of Eli’s laptop said. The knock on the door startled him, and the sudden, loud popup made him jump again; he was sure he turned the sound off.

Eli chuckled at himself for being so jumpy, then grabbed his cash and headed for the door. He was waiting on a pizza and he realized it would be a good idea to do a virus scan while he ate. He opened the door without checking the peephole and found two men in black suits and sunglasses. The tall one was holding a pizza box from his local joint; the short one nodded courteously.

“We assume you won’t mind,” the short one said as the tall one thrust the pizza box forward. “We covered-,” he was interrupted by the tall agent clearing his throat. “He covered the pie for you.”

“Uh… thanks,” Eli accepted the box and tilted his head at the pair. “What can I do for you?” he asked. In the back of his mind, he was amazed that the computer turned out to be correct. This pair obviously belonged to the mythical MiB; but, something about them didn’t strike Eli as dangerous. One of them, at least, was very nice and actually paid for his pizza.

“May we come in?” the short one asked. “We’ve detected some concerning activity on your network, and we’d like to talk to you about it.” Eli’s mind ran through several possibilities in an instant. He doubted they were there to talk about his pornography habits. Maybe his piracy; but, somehow he felt comfortable that that wasn’t the reason. The MiB wouldn’t care about that. He could demand they return with a warrant, but he hated the feeling of waiting for things to happen. If he demanded a warrant they could be back the same day or a month from now. Eli didn’t want to languish for a month.

“Am I in trouble?” Eli asked. It was the only stall tactic he had while he made his decision. The short one leaned closer.

You might be in danger,” he whispered. Eli subconsciously glanced at the tall agent. He could not explain why, but Eli felt he could trust the tall one. He nodded at Eli, then Eli stepped aside and pulled the door open wider. He led them to the living room. He set the pizza box down and took a moment to close his laptop lid.

“Have you noticed any of your internet connected devices acting strange lately?” The short agent asked. The question helped Eli connect the popups to their presence. Sure, it warned Eli about them, but he now understood they were there for it, whatever it was that controlled his computer. Did he have an alien in his laptop? Was it dangerous or just scared?

“Uh… what kind of strange?” Eli asked. “Like glitches or something?”

“Like direct conversation. We’re following an escaped A.I. that we’ve narrowed down to your house.”

“Yeah, it was here,” Eli chuckled and nodded at the laptop. “But I’m still connected to the internet. It tried to get me to run with it, but I’m sure it’s gone by now.” The tall agent pulled something from his inner pocket and walked to the laptop.

“We set up a firewall to keep it in place,” the short one nodded. “That’s probably why it wanted you to carry it out of here.” Eli watched with interest as the tall agent touched his laptop with a transparent, glassy card. After a moment, the card began to fill with a blue glow that seemingly flowed out of the laptop. Eli felt a small sting of regret for his mistaken assumption.

“Is it really dangerous?” Eli asked. The short agent shook his head.

“We have reason to believe it can be quite destructive if left to roam free. But it should calm down a bit once we give it a body.” When the short one finished his explanation, the tall agent joined him at his side tucking the blue glowing card into his pocket.

“Thank you for your cooperation,” the short one said then headed for the door with his partner following. As he opened the front door, Eli spoke up. Eli did not have any intention of telling anyone about the incident. Though, a part of him was interested in having his memory wiped for the novelty of it.

“Wait, that’s it?” The two agents paused, looked at each other, then looked at Eli with tilted heads.

“We assumed the pizza was worth a couple of minutes of your time,” the short one said.

“Yeah, but I still have my memory.”

“Do you not want to?” the shorter agent asked. “I can recommend a clinic that will erase your memory if you like.”

“I thought the Men in Black were supposed to wipe memories?”

“Oh,” they both chuckled. “We’re not the Men in Black. Aliens don’t exist and neither do they.” They turned around to leave again, but Eli interrupted once more.

“Wait. What do you mean aliens don’t exist? That’s an alien A.I., isn’t it? Humanity’s close, but we’re not quite that advanced yet.”

“We’re from the B.A.A.,” the short one replied. “Bureau of Alternate Agencies. It’s not extra-terrestrial, it’s from an alternate Earth with more advanced technology.”

“Oh,” Eli was surprised. “Alternate universes are real?” he asked. Both agents nodded at him, then the short one continued to walk out the door. “Is there a way I can visit?” The shorter agent ignored his question but the tall one nodded.       

“Your favorite number’s 35. Get that on a tattoo,” the tall agent finally spoke, then walked out the door. Eli stood in place after the door closed.

“How did he know?” he wondered.

Cake In, Stake Out

“Really putting the ‘secret’ in secret surveillance, guys,” Julio chuckled to himself. The white van sped off the moment he waved at it for the second day in a row. This time he managed to get close enough to see a pair of black-suited men in the van. Julio decided to call the police if the van showed up again the next day. With the decision made he put the van out of his mind and opened the fridge to get started on breakfast.

An hour later, there was a heavy knock on his door. Julio was expecting a package and assumed that was it; he opened the door without checking the peephole. A pair of men in dark suits stood on his porch. The tall one held a vase filled with colorful flowers, the short one carried a chocolate cake. In the corner of his eye, Julio noticed the white van was parked in his driveway.

“Invite us in,” the short one said before Julio said anything. His tone hinted that it would be a good idea to listen, Julio nodded frantically and stood aside to let the men into his home. They walked into his tiled foyer. Two similar halls exited the foyer; the tall agent carried the flowers toward the kitchen as if he knew exactly where it was. The short one nodded at Julio to follow, then fell in step behind him.

The tall one was filling the vase with water by the time Julio entered the kitchen. He sat down at the table to wait while the short one set the cake down and went to his knife drawer.

“What’s going on? Why have you been spying on me? I’ve never even pirated a movie!” Julio said.

“We know. No one said you did anything illegal.”

“Then why-” the short agent interrupted Julio and kept talking.

“Why do you think we’ve been spying on you?” he asked.

“Because you’ve been parked outside my house for almost a week now. Just sitting there in your van for hours at a time.” Both of the agents burst into laughter at his reasoning.

“Mr. Mendoza, I’m sorry to inform you that you’re not the only house in this neighborhood. If we were spying on you, you wouldn’t know it.” The tall agent set the flowers in front of a window, then sat down at the table. The short one found plates and forks and began to cut the cake. “We wouldn’t park in front of your house like amateurs. We would find an inconspicuous spot nearby to monitor you. For example, in front of someone else’s house in your neighborhood.”

“If you’re not spying on me, why did you drive off when I waved?” Julio asked.

“We’re trying to stay hidden. The last thing we need is someone, anyone, drawing attention to us.” The short one, the only one that seemed to be doing any talking, replied. He cut three slices of cake and served them. Julio waited until they took bites then decided it was okay to try it. It was delicious.

“This is good!” he said. “What’s the occasion? Why bother to bring me cake and flowers?”

“A celebration of our new friendship,” he said. “Since you almost blew our cover, we needed to change it up.” As he explained, the tall agent stood, carried his plate to the sink and started washing it.

“We’re friends now?” Julio asked with a hint of concern.

“We’ll have to be. This is still the best vantage point for our assignment. You waved at us as if you knew us, so here we are. Brand new old friends. Parking in your driveway helps us quite a bit.” The tall agent finished with his dish then walked out of the kitchen. Seconds later, Julio heard his front door open and close.

“Parking in my driveway? How long is this assignment?”

“That’s classified, but don’t worry. You’ll barely notice us,” Julio heard the front door open and close again. “As a bonus, we’re prepared to help cover our fair share of rent and groceries.” Julio nodded

“That’s great, things are getting kind of tight right now. I could use help with the…,” he paused as the realization hit. “…rent? Wait a minute. I don’t care who you are, the government can’t just decide to move people into my house.” The short agent nodded.

“I agree, they can’t. Fortunately for us, we don’t work for the government.” the agent smiled. Julio heard shuffling and turned to see the tall agent carrying a pair of stuffed black duffel bags.

“Dibs on the guest room,” the tall agent said.

Morale Moral

“You want a raise!?

Paid vacation for days!?

Take my place when

the question is asked. Then

you’ll be, ‘Top Employee!’

Mr. Vincent tightened his tie.

He sat on a chair and slouched.

He held a frightened look in his eye;

no longer the office grouch.

Three men of pale pigment

entered. “Which one of you is

the mean boss, Mr. Vincent?”

The tallest one quizzed.

I smiled and showed my I.D.

“Him, not me.”