Vradin, Chapter Fifteen

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In the end, Jody swept into the room, shooed Tank out, and with a single look at my expression deduced my dilemma. Well, not all of it.

In a low voice, she muttered at me, “Girl, why have I not noticed how scanty your sexy clothes stock is? This is sad, child. Very, very sad. We shall have to go shopping, especially if you’re going to take Tank up on his ‘getting to know you’ challenge.”

“Yeah, well, I haven’t exactly been dating, so why would I put on sexy clothes?” I muttered back.

Jody paused and gave me a strange look. “But you’re out with Evan at least once a week. I thought you two were just being very low key.”

I blinked at Jody before dissolving into giggling laughter.

Evan Masters was my study buddy at school and we had a long standing coffee, well not really date, but something like that during which we compared notes on classes and kibitzed on each other’s homework. My social skills have been greatly improved by my work at Ladies Night, but even before that I would have made Evan look like a misfit nerd boy next to the party girl, at least on the social graces side of things. To top it all off, I was pretty sure Evan was crushing on William “Billy the Kid” Quincy, aka Knuckle Head. It was at least a man crush if it wasn’t a crush-crush.

Jody rolled her lips between her teeth and gave me a raised eyebrow. “That bad, huh?” she asked when I straightened up.

“Even if he wasn’t gayer than fagoted lace, I certainly would not touch that bundle of ineptitude with a ten foot pole and someone else’s naughty bits! Oh, hells no! I had to explain to him that I would not sit near him if he didn’t take a shower before he came to class because his B.O. made me gag! No! So not going there!”

Jody tipped her head to the side. “Then you haven’t dated at all in the entire time we’ve been roommates, have you?” The concept seemed to really puzzle her.

“When have I had time?” I countered.

She gave me that “you are an alien” look that she reserved for moments when I try talking her ear off about the latest video game releases, shiny tech toys, and the differences between operating systems, the short version being that they have different strengths and none are immune from criticism.

“Girl friend,” she said, breaking the word up into its component parts. “You — How does a luscious little short stack like yourself not have time to date? I mean, don’t the boys slip you their numbers at the club?”

I shrugged. “One, I get at least three or four phone numbers slipped to me a night, and I don’t know who they come from. Why would I call up a random stranger who doesn’t even have the guts to ask me to my face for a date? Two, the ones at the club who do ask outright are kind of slimy. I don’t want them touching me. At school, it’s like any guy who might be interesting is already dating someone. If they’re willing to get with me while they’re still with her, why the fuck would I want that?”

“What about Ruben?” she asked.

“That would be the Ruben who still asks me for your phone number on occasion?”

Jody frowned at that. “Don’t give it to him. He asked me all about you.”

“Slimy?” I asked.

“I guess. You seriously don’t date? Any one?” she asked, still not believing me.

I shrugged. Lowering my voice, I added, “Tank is the first guy I’ve wanted to date that was even in the realm of ‘might could happen’. I mean, the Twilight hunks don’t count, ya know!” I could tell by the disbelieving expression on her face that it still didn’t catch up to her that that meant I had never dated. My head hurt too much right then to keep trying to make that point. Time to re-direct. “What in the world should I pack?”

Jody gave me a narrow-eyed scrutiny, then ruffled through my drawers and the clothes hanging in the wardrobe. She threw a few things into the duffel before snagging me and the bag and hauling us into her room.

Three of her night gowns went into my bag, though calling them night gowns implies there was a lot more fabric to them than the reality would sustain.

“I am not wearing your undies, Jody. That’s– Just no.”

She shrugged and put the thongs back in her pantie drawer. Then she grabbed a few of her cleavage shirts, tossed them in the bag, and held one of her skirts up to my hips. “It’ll stretch. Damn, girl, but you have the kind of booty most girls would kill for.”

I blushed. “No, I’ve got a fat butt. It’s all the kicking Dad made me do.”

Jody laughed, but didn’t say anything more on the subject. However, more of her stretchy bottoms landed in my duffel.

We made a sweep through the bathroom. Working at Ladies Night meant I already had a much expanded make-up kit from my high school days, and still all my toiletries made it into a tool box style case.

I made sure there was deodorant in the case and snagged the mini cleansing kit I usually carried to the gym every morning before class. Yeah, it’s a compromise for me. I’m not in any of Dad’s classes anymore – we hadn’t been seeing eye to eye on a lot of things lately – but I liked staying in shape, especially since my shape started getting shown off between four and five nights a week. Not as shown off as Jody’s shape got shown, but, yeah, the drink server uniform did not leave much to the imagination.

Tank simply took our bags from us and allowed Carl to get the doors. I ended up leaving the kitch keys on the kitchen table and tucking the simple set into my pants pocket. Jody locked the door with her keys.

It felt like the sun should be breaking on the horizon, but the clock in Tank’s BMW (Jody was following us in her Caddy), the clock read right around 3 AM.

He told me, “It’s alright if you sleep.”

I leaned back into the heated seat and gave Tank a soft smile. “Why don’t you tell me a little about your work? I know you do a lot of paperwork at your home, but I had the impression you worked construction, not security.”

Tank nodded and said, “I do run Griswald Construction. My brother runs the security firm, and our cousin runs the security ‘consulting’ side of that branch. I doubt you’ll meet either of them any time soon. For one, all of the consulting contracts are out of the country, and while we have an office for the firm in Seattle, the main headquarters are in San Diego, which is where Larry prefers to live.”

I was feeling kind of slow, but even so the hesitation in labeling his cousin’s work “consulting” was pretty blatant. “What kind of security consulting are we talking about?”

Tank scrunched up his nose, then sighed. “Mostly armed defense contracts, some special courier protection. Most of the contracts for that require a fair amount of discretion, so there’s not much I can tell you, details wise.”

I paused to let that sink in. It sounded like mercenary work to me. “You mean like that Carter group?” I eventually asked, naming the only mercenary company I could think of – and only because I had caught a news story about them being a big part of this whole human rights SNAFU in Iraq.

Tank sneered. “Not like those screw ups! Nah, most of the guys contracting with the Pentagon are actually private militaries headed up by good old boys who put in their twenty plus and are looking for a way to stay in the business of war without losing their cherry retirement. Griswald Security is a smaller operation because the family decided that quality matters a hell of a lot more than quantity — which is what a lot of the private military operations try to trade on. They guarantee so many bodies will show up to the start of the contract, but those firms are not the people you call on when you need to make sure that the job is done well and without incident. G.S.I., on the other hand, is first on that list.”

This was obviously a hot button topic for Tank, because he continued. “G.S.I. is very discerning in who we hire, not just weapons qualifications, but experience and proven judgment. Our salaries are top dollar because our people are worth it. We never contract for a set number of people to show up. We contract that the job gets done and gets done without creating an international incident. G.S.I only takes defense-only contracts, and we, unlike most of your rent-a-soldier operations, will not fire the first shot. And the job will still get done, without screwing it up.”

We paused for the turn signal to get on the freeway.

“Those rent-a-soldiers? Yeah, I’m not saying that you won’t find quality personnel in their ops, but the majority are wash outs who couldn’t or wouldn’t hold their own in a national army or on a police force. Hell, some of them are barely legally old enough to vote. So you end up with the main bulk of your force being those wash outs and young idiots who lack the judgment, the experience, or the plain damned common sense not to think it’s glamorous or some stupid idiot thing like that to tote a big, pretty looking gun around and act like a tough.”

Holding up his thumb and forefinger with an inch or so between them, he said, “They are that close to being mercenaries.”

I blinked at that. The light turned for us and we accelerated on to the freeway. I asked, “What’s the difference?”

“Legally, a hell of a lot,” Tank said. “Practically, eh, depends on what your working definition of a mercenary is. I mean, if it’s just taking money to fight another person’s battles, that wipes out the line between civil armies and mercenaries. So, from the legal point of view, private military and private security companies are defense contractors. They are companies that have jumped through all the hoops to operate in a purely defensive manner — armed, but defensive — on behalf of a particular nation. Mercenaries, on the hand, are explicitly banned under a whole host of international treaties because mercs are private individuals or groups that are paid for offensive actions. By definition, a mercenary is a criminal under the laws that result from those international treaties.”

“Why? I mean, if you’re going to hire someone to run around with a gun in a nation’s name, why make the distinction?” I asked.

“You like knowing that the police aren’t just going to blow your head off because they’re under trained, high strung, high stress, and only give a shit about the dollars in their paycheck? Some people will pretty it up and call it human rights, but in the end its the accountability factor. A government employee is more responsible to the people of his nation than he is to the guy signing his paycheck. So far, a private militant has only been held accountable to the person signing his paycheck.”

I ah-hahed and settled myself deeper into the seat. Tank had a very nice ride. “So, if you run Griswald Construction, why do you talk about G.S.I. like you run it, too?” I asked, curious.

Tank shifted in his seat, glancing at me with a sheepish smile. “We rotate. I meant it about the companies being in the family. G.S.I. can be very high stress, very immediate. Running that particular firm means giving it all of your life for the tenure. I handed the reins over to Larry last year, and took up G.G.C.I. There’s a winery in Napa Valley, very small time, mostly run as a hobbiest affair, and a forest management company in Oregon and Idaho, along with a few other concerns that aren’t quite fully fleshed out yet. My younger brother Paul is very much a serial entrepreneur, and more often than not he sells off his start ups.”

“Now, that sounds kind of … A.D.D.,” I said. I had this picture in my head of a gawky teenager running around, getting everyone to go to one party, deciding he wasn’t going, so he started getting more people to go to this other party, and the whole thing amused me. I’m not sure why, but it still kind of does.

Tank laughed at my A.D.D. comment, and said, “Paul’s been called that, and he can act like he’s been distracted by something shiny, but it’s a ruse. He’s hyper intelligent, and I think he’s actually a little addicted to the start up process. That whole cycle can be very frenetic, and every success is a kind of a high, every set back a new twist in the puzzle of making the vision of your enterprise come together. Once the company is stable and thriving, he’s figured out the big puzzle and he’s done with it.”

We spent the rest of the trip talking about the personalities of his brothers (four in all) and cousins (I lost count). I did notice that Tank did not mention any sisters or female cousins.

I asked about it as we turned on to his block. He sighed, a heavy sad sound. “I had a sister. She … she died. Young, just learning how to walk. Griswalds don’t seem to have many daughters. I have three uncles still living, and one aunt, and of all my cousins, only one was a daughter, but she died in her crib.”

I reached out and laid my hand on his thigh. “Oh my goodness, that’s so sad!”

He covered my hand with his and squeezed. “It is what it is. We’re here. Let me get your door.”

He was out and around the car while I was still figuring out where the seat belt button had disappeared to.