The Burnout.

burn out picture

A short story.

I’ve never understood how Jake could stay so calm on jobs like this. If it were me with both thumbs and forefingers, rolling and twisting the wires attached to four kilos of high grade explosive, I’d be crapping myself.

Seriously, the guy is unshakable. You could throw a rabid cat at him right now and he wouldn’t even flinch. Just watching him is giving me the shakes, luckily I’m just here to program the detonator.

With my talent for tech I could’ve been anything I wanted to be, but as some one once said, “Some people just want to watch the world burn”, and I’m one of them. Jake makes two. Not that that’s his real name but then I don’t look like a Gina; that’s  because I’m not.

We didn’t get the luxury of choosing our own work names, the agency does that for us. I would definitely not have gone with “Gina” if I’d had the choice, trust me.

This is fourth job this month that we’ve been assigned together,  which is a record by our standards. Two in Berlin, one in Rio and one in New York; the clients are busy having a blast this month. Pardon the pun.

It makes you wonder what exactly they’re planning to do with all the stuff we grab in the aftermath of our explosive efforts. It’s not the most sophisticated way to acquire information and items of value but it seems to work for them, whoever they are, and with each job comes a different grab; making it more interesting for us.

But this one… this one is weird. I mean really weird.

Where we were expecting to create a small diversion to give us the opportunity to grab a safe deposit box, building blue prints or my all time favourite, good old diamonds, this time we been given a live one. And I do mean live as in A-live.

Jake was really pissed when he contacted me for a pre- bomb briefing. Before we’d even sat down for coffee at our usual meeting spot he lost his shit.

“I don’t do live grabs. I thought that was understood when I signed up for these gigs.”

His forehead had turned a delightful shade of pink and his brown eyes, darker than usual, looked almost black. I’d never seen him this animated. I’ll be honest it did freak me out, but even I was worried about this latest bang and bust mission. It wasn’t going to be easy.

It took him just over a week to calm down, but he still spent the whole of our prep time sounding off about never working on live grabs because they were so unpredictable. But to look at him now everything seems to be as it should. It isn’t stopping the swirly feeling I have in the pit of my stomach though.

I shuffle my feet trying not to disturb the bag of tech gear between them. I can feel the swirliness begin to morph into anxiety so, I take some deep breaths while keeping my eyes fixed on Jake’s hands.

Suddenly I stop all movement.

Is it me or are Jake’s hands shaking?

My anxiety momentarily forgotten, I hold my last deep breath and focus solely on the calloused digits of his right hand. It’s but a fraction of second before I see it, a minute spasming of his right thumb, a definite twitch.

Shit.

This has never happened before and I should be wondering what the hell to do but, my brain takes over as I take a small step towards him.

“Hey Jake, are you feeling OK?”

As soon as the question hits him, Jake closes his eyes and a heart beat later opens them again.

“Yeah, I’m just fine.”

A second after that a bead of sweat slides down his forehead and rolls of the tip of his aquiline nose.

Jake never sweats.

This is bad.

“Erm…Jake honey, you’re sweating.”

It never ceases to amaze me how one simple innocuous sentence can open the flood gates to a deluge of crazy, and now, I find myself wishing I could grab my words and stuff them back down my throat as the meltdown before me begins.

Wild eyes shoot around the room, hands gesticulate like they’re being whipped around by a gale force wind, spit and words fly from an open mouth as the cool and collected man I usually associate with, is replaced by an incoherent mess.

Realisation hits me about just how little I know about my colleague of combustion. As professionals we’re not even allowed to shake hands, which we manage quite easily. No hugs or back pats.

Well…except for that one time in Vegas . That was a hell of a lot more than a hug or a pat on the back; but then we’d only just managed  to escape intact on that one. A rush of adrenaline can do funny things to a person, but not usually to Jake. That particular night earned him the nick name “The inani-mate.”  Trust me when I say that Jake never sweats, not even if you push his buttons, if you get what I mean.

But this is so far beyond the cold person I’ve worked with solidly for the last five years. This guy is a mess.

Getting a grip of myself, I stop my inner monologue just long enough to catch the gist of what Jake is saying.

” I mean this is wrong. What are they going to do with him? These people, the people we work for, they’re into some serious shit. They can’t do this, we’re talking about a life here. A LIFE! A SHITTING,WALKING, BREATHING, LIFE!”

He’s ranting about the grab and he looks now as if he hasn’t slept in weeks. Jeez, when was the last time he took a day off? Come to think of it I’ve been burning the candle at both ends, and in the middle, myself this last few months, but then Manolo Blahniks don’t buy themselves. If he’s burning out, then that means it won’t be long before I join him. Damn I need a vacation.

I’m rooted to the spot now, no longer aware of my own breathing as my mouth takes control and my brain struggles to catch up.

” It’s OK,” I soothe, palms held up in the universal gesture of placation.

Why do people do that? I’m sure no situation was ever completely diffused simply because someone decided to show the world their palms; but, I mentally digress as my mouth plows on,” maybe we can skip the drop off and disappear some where? Just me and you and…” I scrabble around in my brain for the live grab’s name, “…Ben.”

Bingo! I knew the name was there somewhere.

But wait a minute. What did I just say?

Jake stops his melt down shuffle at the same time my brain catches up with my mouth’s decision. Great, I just handed in my resignation without actually setting foot in the office. Oh well, I’m down the rabbit hole now and Jake seems to have pulled himself together; he’s wiping his palms on his jeans and nodding in my direction.

” Yeah, yeah, that seems like a good plan. I mean you and me, we get on OK, don’t we Gina?”

” Yeah!” I enthuse, while my brain murmurs, “but if I’m going to run away with you maybe I should re-think that nick name of yours. You’re clearly a lot more animate than I gave you credit for.”

The next forty five minutes swirl by in a blur of explosion, flames, white lab coats and running feet as Jake and I complete the grab. I neglected to hook up the live feed to the detonator so our clients can’t see our handy work or the softly slumbering form of Ben tucked into Jake’s lab coat.

Jake clings tightly to my hand through the whole thing. That’s another thing Jake doesn’t do. Or never did. Until now.

I’m all too aware of the feel of his palm against mine as we run and I like it. It makes me smile as we race past the scores of white coated laboratory workers, streaming from the smoking and crumbling research facility and tumble into Jake’s car; stashing the still comatose Ben on the back seat.

The tall buildings and endless supply of coffee shops flash by the window as Jake takes us out of the city and onto one of the winding back roads up to the mountains. He never rushes or drives erratically when we leave a job,  he believes it is by the far the simplest way to get caught. I guess he’s right, but having never been stupid enough to get caught I can’t really say.

Looking at his handsome face, brow creased in concentration, it’s weird to think he was melting down not an hour ago. The bags are still under his eyes though and he has that fried look. It can happen to the best of us. Just last month there was a rumour going around the office that one of the top operatives had burnt out and set fire to his own house. We all laughed at the time, but it doesn’t seem so funny now.

Gravel crunches under the car’s tyres as Jake pulls into a familiar picnic spot just off the road.  We’ve opened all of the car windows to let the air in and I can hear the crinkle of the upholstery as Ben shuffles and murmurs on the back seat.

Boy is it going to be interesting when he wakes up, but for now everything is a comfortable quiet.

Jake takes the be-smutted lab coats over to the picnic barbecue spot and sets light to them. Perched on the bonnet of the car I watch as his muscular frame ripples under his shirt. I think there are definitely worse people I could give up my job for and I’ve always lived by the seat of my pants so what the hell, why stop now.

He turns and smirks at me as he catches me eyeing him up. I smile back. Normally I’d have a witty word or three lined up but I think my brain is jet lagged or something as I have nothing to say. It wouldn’t have done much good if I had either as Ben picks that moment to lets us both know he’s awake.

Springing up from the seat, he throws both paws over the sill of the open window. His tail is wagging in circles like a propeller as he emits a yipping sound in Jake’s direction.

I double over in hysterics, the events of the day finally piling themselves on top of me. This is just too ridiculous. A shadow falls across my legs, and Jake appears next to me.

” What’s so funny?” He smiles. God, he is far better looking than I realised but before my brain runs away with me the gentleman asked me a question, I should really answer.

” Who’d’ve thought you’d burn out over a dog?”

His smile intensifies, picking out little creases beside his eyes.

” Yeah, well, I guess it’s my second weakness.”

His second weakness?

I know, I probably shouldn’t but my mouth asks before I can stop it.

” Oh yeah, what’s your first?” It’s hard to keep the laughter from my voice but his face suddenly becomes serious.

” You.”

Suddenly the world stops and I tumble further down that rabbit sized hole.

Oh hell.

Now I really need to change that nick name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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