"What's a pretty girl supposed to do to get a nice fella' like you to buy her a drink anyway?"
The man looked up from his pile of papers as a svelte woman slid onto the stool next to him.
"Drop the faux accent, maybe," he replied flatly.
"Just trying to fit in with the locals," she grinned at him unapologetically.
The man nodded to the bartender, "You heard the lady." Around them, the din of the bar drifted in and out: amiable chattering, peals of raucous laughter, the chinking of glass against glass, chairs scraping the floor, all overlaid with the twang of the latest country star piping through speakers set in the ceiling. Smoke hung like a noxious, toxic fog and alcohol perfumed the room.
Coke and whiskey, once propelled, slid itself neatly down the wooden counter to rest in front of the graceful woman, who lifted it to her lips and took a measured sip.
"Nicholas Blackwell," he offered, as a way of noncommittal response. The paperwork absorbed him again, and he turned his focus away from her. A few minutes passed in which neither interacted. Savannah looked over at him, dressed more for a boardroom than a Southwestern bar, white shirt neatly starched and pressed, tucked into black pants, and topped off with a black tie, Windsor knotted. Grey eyes intent, but not on her.
Monochromatic man. She grimaced a bit.
"Pay attention to me."
"No." Nicholas didn't even look up this time.
"You could have picked somewhere more suitable for work, you know."
"I like the atmosphere. It's all background noise."
"C'mon, you, are you here to have some fun on a Friday night—"
"No, certainly not, and I think that's pretty apparent." He cut her off, but she either didn't hear him or didn't care to.
'--or wallow there, in your corporate bullshit, increasing the profit margins of a huge, faceless corporation that doesn't give two shits about you, your wife, your 2.5 brats, and your purebred Golden Retriever, all while you slave away your non-refundable life so that they can see a bit of a return on Product Screw-You-Over #642?"
She winded down from her little diatribe and settled back more comfortably on the stool, visibly relaxing. The people in the bar paid them no heed and it was as if they existed within their own little bubble of space, present yet detached, as everyone went about their own business. A man wearing a plaid flannel shirt at the table behind them ordered some nachos, a group in the corner booth laughed happily as one of their own made rude hand gestures to the waitress, the music changed from country to yet more country, and still they sat, at once together and apart. A small pause followed.
"Are you quite done now?" Seeing her head bob, he continued, "Your argument is fallacious and thus I render it invalid on these counts: I am not married, I do not have children, or a dog for that matter. Now, if you'll excuse me."
Savannah only stared as he went back to what he'd been doing before: ignoring her.
"You're…unbelievable. Ridiculous. That's your new nickname. Ridicholous Nicholas."
He ignored her.
He ignored her.
Finally tiring of his nonchalance, she reached over and grabbed his tie. "Don't you ever have fun?" Holding the black silk firmly, she gave him a tug and a shake, lips quirking upward at seeing the erratic movement of his head.
"Don't you have any decency?" He pulled free of her grasp and glared at her.
"Nope." Smugly irritating smile.
Nicholas sighed and leaned back, pulling away from his self-imposed exile for the first time that night. The smile on Savannah's face widened at this sign of defeat.
"Let's dance," she said, and in one swift movement stood and simultaneously had her arm looped through his. He allowed himself to be led onto the dance floor, a silent and acquiescent dog following his master.
The throng of bodies closed in around them, moving in time to the strains of Tim McGraw, reeking of sweat and cigarettes. Savannah pulled close to Nicholas; threw her arms around his neck. He gingerly placed his hands on her waist. Tightly waved chestnut hair trailed her as they fumbled around other people and each other.
"Quit stepping on me!" She commanded up at him.
"If you could keep your rhythm, I wouldn't be!"
Maneuvering more carefully, she tilted her head up and stared at him. Nicholas bent down a bit, sensing an expectancy of sorts from her.
"Politics," came her voice.
"What about them?" A quizzical frown broke across his features.
"No deep-seated aversion to them, I presume?"
"None worth naming, excepting apathy, of course."
A Cheshire-grin made itself known on her face and the corners of her light brown eyes, almost amber, crinkled in response. Their bodies drew closer by a fraction.
Rather pretty, Nicholas caught himself thinking, but still annoying, as if to fix that small betrayal of his mind.
"So tell me then, does the name Eric Bardun ring any bells?" Another smirk, like it was a joke that only she knew. Which it probably was.
"Hmm…the current city mayor…term's about to end…I believe he's up for re-election? I never fail to see less than fifty of those idiotic little cardboard signs waving to me on my way to work."
"A-yep. Now tell me: What do you think about him?"
Nicholas spun her deftly, out of the way of another couple, and pulled her back to him.
"Er…well, I'm not especially conversant on politics, as the aforementioned apathy regarding the subject would indicate."
Upon hearing this statement, her eyebrows shot up incredulously, and she crowed, "Listen to the words you're using, man! Just what century are you from anyway? 'Conversant?' 'Indicate?" 'Aforementioned?' Who the hell talks like that?" A derisive snort ended her minute invective. Nicholas only shrugged in response.
"Writers, scholars, and the pretentious."
"And which of those do you fall under?"
"Firmly ensconced with the pretentious," and it was his turn to smirk. This earned him a rolling of the eyes.
"Ridicholas Nicholas," she said, "Without forcing me to rely too heavily on any sort of reference, tell me your personal opinion of Mayor Bardun."
Grasping her firmly about the waist, he dipped her, hearing her laugh at the spontaneity of the movement. She twirled, letting her brown-gold hair fan out behind her in an arc. Bystanders, some wearing boots and ten-gallon hats, clapped and whistled appreciatively.
"Well, he seems ineffectual at best," he conceded. Savannah snorted.
"If only," grimacing as the words left her mouth, "If only."
The song ended, and arm in arm, they proceeded back to their seats at the bar. Behind them, another dance started, this time without them. Savannah punched him playfully in the arm when it looked like Nicholas was about to take up his sheaf of papers again.
"Put down that ball and chain for a while, will you, and just listen to me!"
"What is it now?" he sighed.
"How 'bout we go and watch the esteemed Mayor Bardun's re-election speech next Friday? I'll meet you at your place and we'll go from there."
"How droll," the sarcasm apparent in his voice.
"Well, that wasn't exactly an outright refusal," Savannah laughed.
As soon as he opened the door, Nicholas was met with barely a "Hello" before he was being pulled roughly outside. The gravel pathway led them past neat but neglected bushes, and eventually opened up to the driveway. An unfamiliar car sat parked next to his own, and two people stood waiting for them; they waved casually as Nicholas and Savannah approached.
"Nice," the shorter one said as his companion nodded in agreement.
"He's the one I told you about—the one I met at that bar the other night."
"Right, right. Dark hair, dark eyes, and dressed--"
"Like a toady," the other man finished for him. Savannah stuck out her tongue at the both of them and turned back to Nicholas.
"These two clowns are respectively, Nate Shryock," the shorter man bowed flamboyantly, adding in a sweeping flourish with his arms as Savannah introduced the pair, "and Bobby Craig," his taller, strawberry-blond companion nodded politely. "This is Nicholas." Nate strolled over languidly, almost strutting, and placed a hand on Nicholas, who tensed perceptibly.
"Oh, Savvy," he purred, "you didn't tell me he was such a catch." Fingers trailed down Nicholas' shirt; down, down, down. "Can I call you Nicky?" By now, he was leering openly, visibly delighting in Nicholas' discomfort.
"Dammit, you," Savannah said, ripping his hand away, "I'm pretty sure Nicky's not gay, and besides, you're already taken." This only made him smile more, and Bobby rolled his eyes at the group.
"Sav, you didn't tell him about us, did you?" The tone was gentle in its accusation. "He probably thought this was going to be some sort of a date."
"Well…I guess I didn't mention that there were going to be other people along for the ride, specifically…" she trailed off sheepishly.
"Hnn. Interesting. I'm assuming that you didn't really tell him what the 'ride' entailed either."
"Hey, that's not fair!"
Bobby allowed a pause to follow her indignant outburst, then raised an eyebrow at her in a silent Oh really? The silence dragged on for only a few seconds before she slumped her shoulders in an almost petulant gesture.
"…No, I didn't."
Nicholas cleared his throat, stopping the argument and drawing attention to himself.
"I'm afraid," he began hesitantly, "that if we don't leave now, we will be fairly late."
The car sped down a stretch of highway, passing slower vehicles where it could, and generally averaging a good twenty miles above the speed limit whenever possible. All four had piled into Nicholas' Prius; Savannah in the front passenger's seat, Bobby and Nate in the back. The conversation from the driveway had continued, Nicholas' demand for clarification had seen to that.
"We're doing what now?" His grip on the steering wheel tightened and he glanced at the couple through the rearview mirror.
"We're going to destroy Mayor Bardun," Bobby replied calmly. Nate leaned against him and smiled cheekily at the mirror.
"Right, I heard that part," Nicholas bit out, "but say the part that makes it less insane."
The car was void of sound for a few telling moments. Savannah studied the passing surroundings intently while Nate and Bobby held hands and stared out of the windows, at each other, and at Savannah, in turn. Everyone looked at everything but Nicholas.
"We don't want him to be re-elected," Savannah eventually piped up.
"The man's inept, clearly, but is that any grounds to devastate him so utterly? And result in our potential arrest? I'm not sure you're prioritizing properly," said while grinding his teeth slightly.
"Obviously it's not just that," she said weakly.
"Of course not," Bobby intervened, "he just kisses babies."
"Most politicians do that sort of thing for positive publicity."
Nate gave the mirror, Nicholas by extension, a piercing glare. "Kisses them with tongue."
"Ah." Another silence ensued. He sighed and used his left hand to rub his temple. "As good a cause as ever, it seems."
The tension that had existed between them immediately lifted. They settled down more comfortably and gave themselves over to their own private thoughts. It wouldn't be long now until they reached the site of the address. Nicholas pressed down on the accelerator imperceptibly.
They reached their destination well in time to acquire suitable seats; however, Bobby insisted that Nicholas park at least a block away. He pulled up to a meter, and stopped the car.
"Alright, before we go," Savannah motioned the group to lean in, "let's all make sure we know what the hell we're doing."
Nicholas muttered under his breath, "I don't know if that could help this group," but not indistinctly enough, as Savannah turned and punched him on the upper arm. It earned him a mock-hostile grimace from Nate.
"Quiet, you. Anyway, we're gonna bust in—"
"This isn't a James Bond movie, Savvy."
Savannah threw a glare in Nate's direction and frowned. "Does everyone need to cut in? Bobby?" The expectant look she gave him was half-joking, half-angry. Bobby raised his arms up in a sign of submissiveness and made small, sardonic calming noises at her.
"Asshole," was what he got for his troubles. "Anyway, Nicholas, give me your keys." She stuck out her hand.
"Just do it." Nicholas took the keys and handed them to Savannah, who passed them on to Bobby. "You have get-away duty," she stated matter-of-factly.
"Um," said Nicholas.
"Nate'll go in and do whatever he needs to do; me and Nicky will go in after to make sure nothing happens. Who knows, we may need to make a break for it and run our asses out of there." Her smile was a reckless one.
"This is true," Nate added. He reached under the seat in front of him and pulled out a battered, black leather bag.
"Is everybody clear on what's going to happen?" Not even waiting for a response, she made to exit the vehicle.
"If I may object, I'm not so sure I'm comfortable with the idea of leaving my car keys with someone else," Nicholas demurred. "Why don't I take get-away duty instead?" There was a small pause in which Savannah took to consider his proposition, looking at him as she did so.
"Only good can come of this," he muttered, and got out of the car.
They snuck in trough a back door as discreetly as they could. Nervous tics abounded, though each person tried to act as unconcerned, and thus unsuspicious, as possible. Nicholas walked a bit stiffly, shoulders set, focused forward. Ambling as quietly as possible behind him was Savannah, a forced smirk on her face, though every passing shadow and small noise caused her to tense suddenly.
"How do you document real-life when real-life's getting more like fiction each daaaay?" Nate mumble-sang. This innocent burst of song startled Savannah so much that she stumbled and fell onto Nicholas. He stifled a yelp and whirled around, pushing Savannah back and into Nate.
"Oomph," he gasped, "Darling, you should know more than anyone else that I'm not interested in women. Please don't throw yourself at me; the only thing that can happen is that one of us will get hurt." He looked at her sadly.
That was enough for Savannah. She raised a clenched fist and shook it menacingly in his face. "So help me, Nathaniel Paul Shryock, if I hear one more, one more, line from a Broadway musical out of you, I will rip out your vocal chords to ensure our collective safety."
"Both of you, get going," Nicholas snapped as best he could in a whisper, "Let's just pretend he's mentally incapacitated if anyone should discover our merry troupe."
They calmed and slunk down the halls, plushy carpeted and ornately decorated with painting of old, dead people. Chandeliers hung from the high ceilings, casting a soft, muted light on their surroundings. Passing heavy oak doors and turning down various hallways, sometimes Nate would pause in thought. Inevitably, though, they would continue shuffling down the halls. Security guards passed in front of them once or twice, but they always made enough noise to warn the group, would dodge into an adjacent hallway and freeze in the shadows.
After an indeterminable amount of time, Nate finally stopped them in front of a set of large, double doors.
"In here," he whispered, a little pointlessly. A pair of latex gloves materialized out of his pocket and he pulled them on. Grasping one of the handles with his free hand, he cracked the door open minutely and peeked in. Then he opened it further, motioned to Savannah and Nicholas to follow. They entered, and he set the bag on the ground.
The room was filled with wires and that ran across all dimensions of the room, disappearing into walls and behind computers. A few monitors sat on desks, lighting the room with their artificial glow.
"The presentation room, where Mayor Bardun is giving his speech is above this room," Nate explained, "The computers here are hooked up to a data projector upstairs that will display a series of photographs onto a screen behind him." He patted his bag affectionately. "And that is where we come in."
"You know, this whole turn of events seems highly improbable," Nicholas mused, "How do you know so much anyway?"
"Why do you think I made Bobby the get-away?" Savannah asked, rhetorically. "It would be in his best interest to not be seen. He works here as the Chief Information Officer."
Sitting himself down next to a tower, Nate pulled a laptop out of his bag. "Here we are," he murmured and produced a cable to hook up the two computers. "Lucky for us, Bobby disabled all the protection on this particular network and told me exactly where to put these little presents for out dear mayor." He powered on his laptop, and once both systems were connected, proceeded to upload several megabytes of files into a folder.
"Bobby sounds like a conveniently placed deus ex-machina," remarked Nicholas.
"You know that's impossible, Ridicholas Nicholas," Savannah chided playfully. Nicholas shrugged.
"What are you uploading there, anyway?"
For the first time since their introduction, Nicholas saw pure, sincere displeasure cross Nate's usual jocular demeanor.
"Child pornography," spatting the word out as if it were bitter poison, "all featuring our dear Mayor himself." A low growl issued from his throat. "It's disgusting. Repulsive." A hush descended on them. Savannah bit her lip and looked at the ground.
"And before you ask," he started, "Bobby hacked into Bardun's personal computer for these."
Deus ex-machina, Nicholas thought privately.
They half-ran out of the building, throwing caution to the wind. Bobby saw them dashing towards him and had the car started in preparation. Savannah and Nate reclaimed their seats, but Nicholas went around to the driver's side, opened the door and pulled Bobby out. "I'm driving," he said as way of greeting and closed the door behind him.
He pealed out, barely adhering to the city speed limits. All of them save Bobby were shaking with what they had just undertaken.
"Quick, someone turn on the radio," Bobby exclaimed. Savannah reached over and pushed the button, adjusting the dial until it picked up a news station. They fell silent, anticipating.
"—and to demonstrate my unyielding loyalty to this city and its citizens, my supporters would like to present this slideshow of accomplishments achieved during my term that they have painstakingly assembled."
And then all they heard were screams emanating from the radio and above it all, ex-Mayor Eric Bardun's hysterical "OH MY GOD!" Savannah clicked the radio off and sat back, a satisfied grin stretching across her features.
A cheer went up from the backseat, and then fell into hushed calm. Nicholas glanced back, then forward as quickly as possible. Nate and Bobby were locking lips furiously, and grabbing at each other like crazed maniacs.
"So what now, Ridicky Nicky?" Savannah looked over at him and stuck her tongue out.
"Let's just drive until we end up in another state," he replied. "Also, I believe you owe me a date, one without the passionate two in the back. Hey! HEY! KEEP THOSE PANTS ON!" A muffled "Sorry" was all that he got.
"Another state, huh? What about work?"
"I'll be back in time. It is, after all, the weekend. Why did you pull me into your little entourage's shenaniganery, anyway?"
She shrugged at him. "You looked like you needed some fun, stoic sir. A little exposure to life's greater pleasures; Aerostars, free Wafflehouse, cut off jean shorts, Colt 45, and Hanson backstage passes, for instance."
He smiled and she leaned over to kiss him on the cheek.
Wafflehouse, cut off jean shorts, Colt 45, and Hanson backstage
--line courtesy of Eddie Strohmaier