Jon Chladek looked on helplessly as the hooker he'd picked up a few minutes before peeled out of the little piece of cloth that passed for her dress. He couldn't imagine how she got out of it that quickly -- there had to be some sort of hidden quick-release setup, but he couldn't see how it was done. Not that he cared, because any curiosity he may have had was washed away by the sight of the gal, who was wearing a white corset and fishnets, with no bra or panties. The white of the undergarments made them stand out in stark contrast against her dark black skin.
Just perfect, he thought. It was just how he liked his women -- dark black, short, shapely, and mostly undressed. "What's your name, honey?" he asked as she sidled over to him, the dark areolas and hard nipples on her firm and shapely breasts drawing his attention.
"Tonia," she smiled, reaching out to unbuckle his belt. "I'm going to give you a ride you won't forget," she continued in a sexy voice. "What do you want to do first? Your money, your choice."
"Do you do cowgirl?" he smiled.
"Honey," she said in a sultry voice as his pants fell to the floor, "I can do anything you ask and more than you can dream of. No kissing, though."
"Why no kissing?" he asked innocently, although he knew the answer as she pushed him back onto the bed.
"That's just not how it's done," Tonia replied lustily as the phone went off. Jon ignored it; he had better and more enjoyable things to do than let himself be bothered by some pushy salesman on the phone. While Tonia was getting him all turned on, the phone rang again and again.
Finally, the answering machine gave an awkward click. "You have reached 448-8466," they heard the mechanical, computerized voice say. "You have thirty seconds to identify yourself, and leave a number where you can be reached."
"Jon, Tanisha," they heard Stan Warshawski's voice say. "Quit fooling around with each other and pick up the phone. This is unbelievable."
"Oh, shit," Tanisha said, the mood ruined just that quickly. She'd been just about ready to impale herself on her husband. "Now what the hell?"
Jon's half-sister Crystal had once commented to a group on a river trip -- Jon and Tanisha were part of the group -- that from all evidence the two of them got way more sex than most people. Neither of them were likely to deny it; "way more" might have been an exaggeration, but in the years the two of them had been together neither had ever had any cause to complain about not enough. Variety is the spice of life, and they had plenty of variety. They liked mixing their sex with role playing, and "Tonia" was Tanisha's hooker persona, only shown to Jon while they were role playing sex games.
Sometimes the play got a little realistic; Jon had actually picked his wife up off the street a few minutes before, but that wasn't anything outrageous. They both worked with a woman who occasionally did a long weekend at a Nevada brothel; with her connivance, Tonia had once been picked out of a lineup there by Jon for an hour of very intense sex. You couldn't get much more real without it being real.
"Beats me," Jon said as Tanisha got off of him and reached for the bedside phone.
"Yeah, Stan, what is it?" she asked as her husband contemplated just how sexy his wife was in that outfit. Damn, that looked good. That corset really did look dynamite on her; so did the fishnet stockings and the spike hooker heels, all she was wearing. It was nice to be able to afford such stuff these days -- they'd gone years when it had been way beyond their budget.
"Turn on your TV, you won't believe this," Stan said. "My God."
"Just about any of them," Stan said. "We'll talk later, I've got other people to call." The phone abruptly clicked off.
Neither Jon nor Tanisha were much for watching TV in any form. It had probably been a month or more since they'd turned on their little portable, and if Jon recalled correctly, that had been to watch a porn tape -- not for the sake of enjoying it by itself, but to set the mood for a different set of roles. "He really sounded jacked up," Jon said, their fantasy just about evaporated. He was still seriously turned on -- that outfit she was wearing, at least what there was of it, was doing a number on him. A perfectly good buildup shot to hell.
"I suppose we'd better go see," she shrugged, making it clear from her tone of voice that she was no less disappointed than he was.
The TV was in what passed for their living room downstairs. Without bothering to get dressed any they headed down to it. In fact, Tanisha kicked off the high heels -- she didn't wear them enough to be comfortable with them going down stairs. That they were dressed for sex didn't matter; their curtains were drawn against the warm Phoenix afternoon sunlight. "I wonder what's got Stan so worked up," Tanisha said, all traces of Tonia gone now except for her clothes.
"I guess we'll find out," Jon shrugged as the picture and sound began to come up on the little TV.
"We still can't see Southern one-eleven from here," said a young woman speaking into a microphone on the screen. "Southern one-eleven is now on a long final approach for the main runway here at Keesler Air Force Base, still a few minutes out. From what we can make out over the emergency channel, things are proceeding normally. In case you're just joining us, Southern one-eleven out of Mexico City was hijacked about an hour ago. The passengers were able to regain control of the airplane, but the flight crew was severely injured in the attack. A woman business jet pilot who happened to be on board is now flying the airplane. We're told she's a very competent pilot but has never flown anything as big as this Airbus 300. Let's listen to some of the traffic over the emergency channel."
"Keesler, one-eleven," a familiar-sounding voice came through the speaker as the picture focused on a little portable radio with half a dozen microphones clustered around it. "Speed one four zero, localizer centered, coming up on the glide slope. Rate of descent now seven five zero. Runway in sight."
"Could not be better," a man replied. "We now show you eight miles out."
There were several seconds of silence. "They're a little over three minutes out," the young newscaster said into the microphone. "It's very hazy here today, and we haven't been able to pick the plane out ... oh, there it is!" On TV sets around the world, including the one in Jon and Tanisha's Phoenix living room, the scene changed to a tiny silver dot that rapidly grew closer. "If you didn't know better you'd think it was a normal landing," the young woman continued. "Neither Jennlynn Swift..."
"Holy shit!" both Jon and Tanisha yelled in unison. Jennlynn was their best friend, their sometime boss -- and the part-time prostitute who had set up their role playing at the Redlite Ranch Bordello in Nevada.
" ... nor Colonel Hadley in the tower here at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi sound excited in the slightest. Just very smooth, very professional, but they are both professionals, even though Swift has never flown an airplane of this size before..."
There were a few more exchanges, sounding very professional if a bit cryptic. "Inner marker," Jennlynn said as the aircraft was very close to the runway. The gear was now down, and they saw the nose rise a little as the wheels felt for the runway.
"Looking good," Colonel Hadley said. "Looking good ... almost there..."
With the Airbus' nose high, the main gear hit the runway, and the nose started to drop. They could see the airplane slow in what looked like a normal landing. In a few seconds, it was just taxiing down the runway. They could hear the microphone from the plane come on, and, over a background of cheers from the passengers, they heard Jennlynn say, "Keesler tower, Southern one-eleven. I'm a stranger here; you're going to have to tell me where to park this thing."
"Oh, brother," Jon said. "When the media finds out about Jennlynn's hobby, they are going to collectively shit!"
"That," Tanisha replied, "May be the understatement of the century."
Jon and Tanisha spent the next hour glued to the little portable television set, not even bothering to get any more clothes on in the process; Jennlynn was a friend, and for a long time she'd been almost their only friend. It was clear this was going to turn into trouble for her, and maybe trouble for them, too, by extension. They knew what it was like to feel uncomfortable in public, for they often felt that way themselves -- while their color difference may not have been an issue for them, it was for a lot of other people. Still, after the horror of the twin towers going down in New York the previous September, it was a good feeling to know the good guys had won one for once, and their friend had been a big part of it.
There wasn't much more to see for some time, except for repeated reruns of the same thing, interspersed with views of the plane sitting on the runway and vehicles clustered around as the passengers slowly filed off. Finally a network newscaster came on and said there was going to be a news conference with the principles in an hour or so, and until it started they were going to cut back to their regular coverage. "Well," the mostly unclad Jon said to his nearly equally unclad wife, "We might as well pick up where we left off."
"Yeah, sounds good to me," she smiled. "Let's just skip the role playing, though. I'm not sure I can get into that spirit again this afternoon."
"Me, either," Jon shrugged, and stirred to get up, made slightly more difficult in that he'd had his arm around his nearly nude wife for most of the past hour as they sat snuggled together on the couch. "Oh, well, it was fun while it lasted. We'll have to try it again sometime."
Jon lagged behind, to follow his wife up the stairs, mostly so he could have a good view of her bare butt, one of his most favorite views of her. The curve of black skin entranced him now, as it had done since the first time he'd seen it years before. It was round and firm, not too big, not too small -- a little too big for some, perhaps, but to Jon's Middle European tastes just about right. It was not the slender fanny of a skinny teenybopper, but just perfect as far as he was concerned, just like everything else about her.
Once again he marveled at how lucky he was to have her, that the winds of chance had brought them together, because once they'd gotten together they'd stuck like high-quality glue. The two of them spent most of their time together, on the job and off, and both of them liked it that way just fine, thank you. Despite coming from two very different backgrounds -- or perhaps partly because of it -- they preferred to be together and soon got uncomfortable if they were apart too long. The standing joke around their office was that to see one without the other was to know there was a bathroom involved. The longest time they'd been apart in years had come the previous May, when Tanisha had twisted an ankle slightly while on a raft trip down the Grand Canyon, and had stayed back at the raft while Jon had gone on a hike for a couple hours.
Most people who knew them at all well -- and there weren't many -- said that despite his being Swedish and Middle European white, and she about as dark as anyone with her West African background could be, Jon and Tanisha were the closest married couple they'd ever seen. There were those who suspected the two of them read each other's minds. Jon didn't think that, but knew the two of them tended to think in parallel, a lot alike. Often they only had to confirm that the other one was thinking pretty much the same thing. He wasn't sure why that was, or even how he knew it, he just knew, and that was that.
In only moments they were on the bed, the one quality piece of furniture in their cramped townhouse in a huge development not far from their office. And then he felt Tanisha's legs around him, felt the fishnet stockings pressing up against his legs, and he ceased thinking about much else, other than the fact they were together, and doing what they both wanted to do.
They'd had all the good intentions in the world of catching the news conference, but time got away from them. Neither of them was looking at the clock on the bed stand, for neither of them cared very much about what it said. As it always was at this moment, their attention was totally on each other, not on the time passing, or on much of anything else. So, once again they were a little surprised when the answering machine next to the bed went off with its strident mechanical message. They heard Stan's voice again: "Hey, did you kids catch that news conference? Wasn't it something?"
"What news conference?" Tanisha said, then with an "Oh shit!" realized what time it was as she reached for the phone -- it was easier for her since she happened to be the one on top at that moment. "No, Stan," she said into the phone, "We got, uh, preoccupied, and I guess we must have missed it."
"Yeah, right," she could hear the chuckle in Stan's voice. She wasn't fooling him for an instant, and she knew it. Stan had the two of them pretty well typed, after all. Stan Warshawski was their ultimate boss, the senior shareholder of Lambdatron, the company they worked for -- the title equated to president or chief executive officer or something like that, but at Lambdatron a lot of things weren't quite like they were anywhere else. Lambdatron was a very innovative research and development firm located in Tempe, but also a very iconoclastic one, a haven for brilliant people who didn't fit the common molds -- people like Jennlynn, or like Jon and Tanisha, for that matter. Coming to Lambdatron had been about the best move of their lives, other than the one they made when they found each other.
Tanisha sort of squirmed around to lay her sweaty body down next to her husband's equally sweaty one, and got the phone between them so they could both hear Stan's voice. "So, what happened?" she asked.
"Well, the press conference was going pretty good," Stan told them. "Then some little blonde vampire of a reporter had to bring up the Redlite Ranch. Jennlynn just about bit her head off. I mean, it was just about cold enough to reverse global warming."
Both Jon and Tanisha shared a grin at that one. While Jennlynn could be warm and friendly if she was in the mood to be -- and she almost always was with them -- she had a bitchy side that was legendary around Lambdatron. Intrusion into her personal affairs was one sure way to bring it out in spades -- Jennlynn would talk about her personal life if she wanted to, but only if she was the one who wanted to. "Boy, I'm sorry I missed that," Tanisha giggled. "I'll bet that got her fur ruffled up a bit."
"Oh, it got better," Stan snickered. "So then, that little blonde twit decided to take a stab at Jennlynn through this missionary pilot who had been in the right seat of the airliner with her. I have to give him credit -- he didn't raise his voice, he didn't use one bad word, he was nice and friendly, and he just cut that stupid little shit to ribbons. I mean that dumb broad must have felt small enough to walk under someone's instep when she left. God, I hate the kind of reporter who thinks it's their duty to find a hero's feet made of clay, as if it was any of her damn business in the first place."
"Fortunately we don't see a lot of that," Jon sighed. "I mean, there's a reason why Tanisha and I don't watch much TV."
"This is one time you should have watched a little more of it," Stan sighed. "Believe it or not, there's more to life than engineering and each other. Look, kids, we've got a problem. You know that Jennlynn was on her way to the NSME conference in Chicago, don't you?"
"Yeah, sure," Tanisha said. "She likes doing the booth-bunny thing once in a while."
"I don't think she'll be quite as crazy about it after that press conference," Stan sighed. "I have this vision of customers not being able to get to the booth because of all the press surrounding her, and then having her get pissed off and turn into the ice bitch from hell."
"Uh, yeah," Jon giggled. "That wouldn't be pretty."
"Right," Stan said. "Not only would Jennlynn be likely to tear some reporter's throat out with her bare nails, it wouldn't look very good for Lambdatron. Bad publicity in the general press is one thing, but bad press at the National Society of Mechanical Engineers' annual conference is something different. There's only one thing I can think of to do. I don't want to do it but I don't see any other choice. Get packed up, you two. You're going to have to fill in for her."
"But, Stan... " Jon protested.
"I know you don't want to go to Chicago," Stan told him. "And I don't blame you, since you've got a damn good reason to not want to go there. Believe it or not, Jon, I don't want to send the two of you, but right at the moment you're the only people who can go. We don't have anyone else available with the kind of mechanical engineering background the two of you have. There aren't a lot of possibilities in the first place, believe me; everyone else qualified is tied up so tight that I can't bust them loose for a show that starts at nine o'clock tomorrow morning. I know you two are busy, but right at the moment you've got a slack spot until we get word back on the latest systems test."
Tanisha bit her lip. Like Stan had said, there was a darn good reason why Jon didn't want to go to Chicago, but she and Jon owed Stan and Lambdatron an awful lot, too. She looked over at Jon with a resigned but unhappy look and said, "Look, Stan, You know how much I don't like to be separated from Jon, but I'll go by myself if I have to."
Tanisha half expected some wisecrack about the world coming to an end, but again, Stan surprised her. "Tanisha," he said quietly, "Are you sure?"
"No," Jon replied in a tone of resignation, "Stan, I'll go."
"Jon," Tanisha said softly, ignoring the fact that the phone receiver lay between her and her husband. "It's OK. I'll manage."
"No, honey," he shook his head, "If Jennlynn has the courage to face that crowd of reporters like Stan said she did, then I ought to be able to find the courage somewhere to face my father."
"I know it's not going to be easy for you, Jon," Stan's voice came from the phone lying between the two of them, "But I really appreciate it."
"I have to take the risk sometime," Jon replied unenthusiastically. "I mean, I know it's one of those sooner-or-later things, but I was really hoping for later. Much later. But I guess I have to face up to it."
"Who knows?" Stan said, "He might not even show up."
"That's the one mitigating thing I can think of," Jon sighed. "I don't know about the last five years, but as far as I know, he hadn't been going to the NSME shows much before then, so there's a chance he might be giving it a pass."
"Then there's a chance you might get away with it without him being the wiser. And look, both of you -- if you're not wearing your company name tags, Tanisha keeps her show credentials face down, and you two can keep your hands off of each other, you might be able to fake your way through a meeting anyway."
"Yeah, there is that," Jon said. "But if it fails, well, it fails. I just hope there's going to be some security close by."
"I hadn't planned on anything special," Stan said. "That conference is closed to the general public anyway, society members only, so there's not much need for security. Look, I haven't even thought about how I'm going to get the two of you there. The show opens at nine Central time, so you need to be there a little early. Angela's already there; she called earlier and said she has the booth set up, so there's that much. The hell of it is the way security has everything with the airlines balled up, I'm guessing if I sent you to the airport right now you might not get there by commercial airline by tomorrow morning, anyway. Probably the smart thing for me to do is to call Mike Hanneman and have him roll out Skyhook. It'll be more expensive, but he'll get you there on time."
"Probably a smart move," Jon agreed. "I don't even want to think about what a rat race the airlines have gotten to be since 9/11."
"No shit," Stan agreed. "Look, I'll call Mike and get something worked out. No matter how you cut it, it's going to be a short night. Get your stuff packed and then go to bed."
"Stan," Tanisha giggled, "We are in bed."
"Hell, I mean get some sleep," Stan snorted, but with a chuckle in his voice. "You know, you really can do that in bed, too."
"Believe it or not, we've been known to do it once in a while," Tanisha snickered.
"When?" Stan laughed. "Look, as soon as I get something worked out with Mike, I'll get back with you."