MAXIMUM EXTRACTION, a Max Handle Short Story
From the mind of Eddrick Dejuan…
Great. Another day of waking up and having no clue where I am.
Startled, I roll over in the way-too-comfortable bed to see who the victim will be this time. It’s a man who looks to be about thirty-seven with a muscular build, dark hair, and blue eyes—attractive enough to make me smile.
“How did I get so lucky, Maxine?”
So he knows my name . . . what was his again? Steve? Jim? Mike? I have no clue, and at the moment, I don’t care. The events from last night began unfolding in my mind: the club, lots of drinks, back to his place, and some very noteworthy sex.
“Ready for round two?” I ask, with the sexiest voice I can muster in my half-awake state.
“Actually, I was hoping I could make you breakfast. I can whip up a mean omelet, and I would love to get to know you better.”
Normally, this would be my cue to make a quick exit, but I figure a little feigned interest for a repeat of last night’s events might be worth it. Plus, I love omelets.
“Sure, sounds great!”
“All right, I’ll get started,” he says, before kissing me on the forehead.
It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but I can fix that later. He puts his pants back on before exiting the room. Damn, I hope his wallet isn’t in there. Guess I will have to search for another ID. I check the side table. I find his passport: Daniel Myers, six feet three inches, 200 lb., and apparently very photogenic.
The house is huge and tastefully decorated with antique furniture and expensive artwork by various local artists. He must be very successful. Bonus. I make my way to the kitchen. Daniel is chopping up some fresh fruit, along with some vegetables, for the omelets. Beautiful, rich, and health conscious. I think I might play with him a bit longer than expected. There was some small talk about the weather and the usual get to know you type of questions. When he asks me about what I do for a living, I avoid the question by excusing myself to retrieve my phone. On the way back to the bedroom, I think back to the day my life changed and the months leading up to it.
One Year Ago
I was a junior associate at the law firm of Kaufman and Sherman. In the few months I had been there, they won every case I worked on. I was a rising star. Rumur has it, my bosses ,Ian Sherman and Samantha Kaufman, had been an item for about three years at the time I was hired. Ian was a beautiful specimen of a man: forty-two, six feet one inch, dark hair, blue eyes, and a body that filled my head with dirty thoughts on a daily basis. Samantha was forty—a fact she often lied about—with mousy brown hair, brown eyes, thin lips, and an athletic build. She had boobs that were too big for her body and pointed in different directions; they were clearly fake. A fact she also heavily denied. She was definitely a “butter face” (everything on her body was nice, but her face) and lucky to be with a man of Ian’s caliber.
I became Ian’s “right-hand man.” We were spending more and more time together. Often we would continue working well into the night, long after everyone else had left the building. It was during one of these nights that our relationship changed.
“Maxine, you are one of the most promising talents I have ever worked with.”
“Thank you, boss,” I say coyly.
“No, I really mean it. To work with such a beautiful and talented woman is an honor . . . do you realize how beautiful you are?”
I do realize but I decide to play ignorant to this fact. With tanned skin, dark alluring eyes, full lips, and a bright perfect smile to match, I have been told many times that I am breathtaking. It also helps that I inherited my mother’s curves. My only “shortcoming” is my height. At five feet two inches, it would be easy to let my body get out of hand, but the kickboxing class that I attend four times a week keeps my slender body firm.
“Oh, thank you. You’re so kind to me. Samantha is a lucky woman.” I give him a fake, shy smile. Ian moves closer to me, but I pretend to be too involved with the file I am reading to notice.
“Don’t worry about Samantha. She isn’t half the woman you are.”
A little cheesy, but flattering. “Then why are you still together?”
“She’s . . . convenient. You, on the other hand, are a dream.”
I close the file, look into his eyes, and say,” “You know, you really don’t have to try so hard. I feel the same way about you.”
He takes the hint right away. I inhale sharply as he reaches around the small of my back and pulls me against his body. As he gently strokes my cheek, my lips tingle with anticipation. He softly kisses my upper lip and then my lower. I am kissing him back passionately, while he gently pulls my hair.
“Mmm, I like that,” I whisper in his ear. He pushes me up against the desk, his hands moving up the outside of my thighs. He flips me around, bending me over. I feel his hands slowly lift my skirt and slide my lace thong to the floor. From that point on, our raw, animal attraction for each other took over, and that night I had some of the most amazingly orgasmic sex of my life.
Our relationship continued in this manner for a while. But Samantha began noticing Ian looking at me with a sly smile or my giving Ian a flirty glance. It didn’t take her long to put the pieces together. I was getting ready to meet one of our top clients, David Arlexo from MedTech, when she approached me.
“Do you think I’m an idiot?” she asks.
“I don’t think I should answer that question.”
Her eyes narrow. “I know what you’ve been doing. You think you’re hot shit? You aren’t the first girl he’s been with, and he will drop you like the others. If you end it now, maybe you can keep your job.”
“Samantha, you know what your problem is? You’re a pathetic has-been, and worst of all, you’re boring. I can’t help it if he wants an upgrade,” I say, with a sickeningly sweet smile.
She fails to hide the reddening of her face and her hands shaking, but manages to regain her composure. “You know what I have that you never will?”
“No, enlighten me.”
“Ian.” With this, she smiles triumphantly. Clearly, she has no idea who she is messing with.
“Really? Well, I have a text that says differently. He has been thinking about leaving you for weeks. He was only with you out of pity anyway. Why would he want a washed up old lady when he could have a young, talented, beautiful, and fertile woman?”
This last shot hit her hard. Ian’s told me about their failed attempts to have a child together. I believe “bad eggs” was the term the doctor used. Of course, I can’t stand the thought of children; they are relationship-ruining, body-destroying parasites, so saying this with conviction required a bit of acting on my part. But neither Ian nor Samantha know my true feelings on this subject.
“You don’t believe me? Look for yourself.” I pull up the text and hand her my phone.
Her face turns white. She drops my phone, glares at me, and then walks away.
My words had a greater effect on her than I had realized because a few days later, she took some personal days to spend a few weeks at a resort spa. At least that’s what she told everyone. A week later, Ian’s attitude toward me began to change. I tried to pull him in, but he just stepped further and further away from me until I was no longer his right-hand woman—I was just another cog in the machine that was Kaufman and Sherman. There was a lot of speculative whispering around the office and a lot of closed doors. Three weeks after her absence began, I found out why.
Ian called me into his office. A spark of hope ignited in me, only to be smothered as soon as I walked into the room. Samantha was sitting across from him at his desk, wearing shades and a mask over her face.
“Sit down, Ms. Washington,” Ian says, motioning to the chair next to Samantha. Now he’s using my last name? Ouch. Reluctantly, I sit down.
“Go ahead, Sam, it’s okay,” says Ian.
I haven’t heard him call her that in months. I look at her contemptuously. Samantha slowly takes the shades and mask off her face. What I see next leaves me speechless. Her skin looks stretched to its breaking point, causing her eyes to curve in an unnatural manner. There were blisters covering her cheeks, and her once thin lips looked like two hot dogs on an orange. My mouth falls open.
“Sam wasn’t at a resort spa these last few weeks.”
Well, no shit.
“She went to a plastic surgeon, Dr. Liam Fischer, to get Botox and collagen injections. This is the result.”
I can’t stop staring at her face. “Wow . . . sorry, I don’t know what to say.”
“Save it. Don’t insult my intelligence by pretending to care,” she says. She is so bitter, I can almost see steam coming from her ears. Ian dismisses her comment and continues. “Needless to say, we’re suing him for all he’s worth.” His eyes are cold and steely, but now I realize it wasn’t directed at me. It was guilt. The same guilt I was feeling at this moment. It was our relationship that caused her to want to improve herself. Our relationship that had left her mangled and disfigured, first mentally and now physically.
“From now on, this is your top priority.”
Over the next few weeks, we discovered that there was an unidentified chemical component included in the Botox injections. After a little research, we found it originated from a chemical plant called Venustas in South Dakota. I was sent to personally investigate the plant, along with our client David Arlexo, who had agreed to let us borrow his chemistry expertise. Samantha insisted on coming along; maybe she was hoping that once they saw her face, the employees might sympathize with her and be more willing to talk—or maybe she just didn’t trust me.
The employees were surprisingly courteous. They answered all our questions with a smile and took us around every dark corner of the plant. We entered the large vault where they kept the experimental compound. They claimed that the compound had not been officially released and that Dr. Fischer had obtained it illegally. I was just asking our guide, Edward, about their security procedures when a man with a strange looking gun burst through the wall to the vault.
Samantha immediately pulls a police-issued Taser out of her purse, a token from one of our many clients, no doubt, and uses it on the would-be attacker. He drops the gun and begins to convulse, but he doesn’t fall to the ground. She gives him another dose. His convulsions stop.
“Just kidding,” he says with a smirk. There are visible electrical currents coursing along the outside of his body. His eyes begin to glow a bright, fiery blue. Samantha continues to zap him. It seems to have no negative effect on him, but rather, it seems to be energizing him in some way. “Samantha, stop!” I yell.
As he lifts his hand, I instinctively knock Samantha to the ground, falling on top of her. As I roll over onto my back, I see what looks like a lightning strike extend from the attacker’s hand. He walks over to Samantha and me. He stares at us for a moment. I glare back at him, my eyes unwavering. He quickly spins around and zaps Edward with the electricity from his hand. As I try to crawl to safety, another man dressed all in black, like Catwoman, rushes past me and knocks me over, causing my head to hit the concrete floor. Then, as I started to lose consciousness, I see him vanish before my eyes.
For the next few days, I had a recurring dream. I am walking in an unknown facility when a man approaches me and knocks me unconscious. In the dream, I wake up strapped to a bed in a white room. There is a man standing next to me. His face is indistinguishable. “Max,” he says, “don’t fight it. We need your help.” Although I am still strapped to the bed, I am overtaken by a sense of calm, as if everything is happening exactly the way it is supposed to.
Back at Kaufman and Sherman, there’s a knock on my office door. Before I can say, “come in,” David Arlexo walks into my office.
“Hey, sorry to intrude.”
“Oh, hello, Mr. Arlexo. Have a seat.”
“So how’s the case going?”
“What case? Dr. Fischer is nowhere to be found, and the mysterious chemical seems to have disappeared as well. Courtesy of the unusual intruder, no doubt.”
“I see. How unfortunate. How are you doing?”
“A lot better than Edward; he died this morning. I’ll be all right; it was just a little concussion.” Then it hits me. He doesn’t have a scratch on him. Where was David the whole time we were being attacked?
“I know things happened pretty fast, but I don’t remember seeing you after that freak appeared.”
“I slipped out to get help while you and Samantha were on the floor. Sorry to leave you like that. Do you have any idea who they were?”
Who they were? If he left after Samantha and I were on the ground, then there is no way he could have seen the other man, and that information was not released to the press. Maybe it was a slip of the tongue. Still, I feel uneasy.
I stand up, place my hands on my desk, and study him. “No, but I’m sure we’ll figure it out soon. Have a good day, Mr. Arlexo.”
He pulls a card out of his wallet. “Okay. Here is my card. Feel free to contact me when you need my help.”
After he leaves, I think about what he said. When I need his help. So cocky.
“Maxine, can we talk?” Ian’s words snap me out of my daydream. I was thinking about the dream that haunts me every night. But last night’s dream was different. The man standing next to me at the bed seemed less blurry, like I could almost make out his features. Oh well.
“Sure,” I say, “let’s do that.”
“Um, let’s go into my office.” I can tell by his tone that he doesn’t want to talk about the case. It’s nice to hear him use my first name again. We walk into his office, and he locks the door behind him.
“I know I’ve been elusive lately. The whole thing with Samantha has made me feel . . .”
“I get it. I’ve felt it too. But we can’t let it destroy what we have. I know how badly you want children. You would have left her regardless of whether or not we ever got together.” I say this as I move closer to him and begin stroking his cheek with the back of my hand. Now I am sitting in his lap with my arms wrapped around him.
“I love you, Ian. You know that. We can still help her get the justice she deserves, but we can’t let her bad choices ruin our relationship.” He looks at me skeptically, but I can tell he is listening.
“It’s not your fault that she didn’t do enough research. She could have had any surgeon, but she chose him. It’s normal to feel a sense of guilt, but you can’t let that cloud your judgment. You are too good a man for that.” Ian must have liked what I said because for the first time since Samantha took her sabbatical, we made love.
The next day, on my way to work, I missed a call from Ian: Hi Max. I’m sorry, but I don’t think things are going to work out between us. I know you probably don’t want to see me right now, so I will be out of the office today. I hope you can understand. Click.
I replay the message in disbelief, hoping that I misunderstood. Did he really just break up with me over voicemail?
When I arrive at the office, Samantha is waiting for me at the entrance to the building.
“Maxine. Come to my office. Now!”
I’m still in a daze from the voicemail, so I stay silent as we walk to her office. She closes the door behind us—never a good sign.
“You’re fired,” she says. “I have already notified your clients, so pack you things. I expect you to be out of the building by 10 a.m. If not, I will have security escort you out.”
You have got to be kidding me. “On what grounds?”
“You fabricated evidence. You claimed to have seen a second assailant, but there is no evidence that another person existed. Because I’m not a coldhearted bitch, I am not pressing charges.” She says this with a smirk.
Did I imagine the whole thing? No. I couldn’t have. “But I saved your life!” I yell. She just looks at me like I am out of my mind. “Can I ask you one question? Why didn’t you fire me when you first found out about me and Ian?”
“Because I wanted you to feel the pain of having him dump your young, fertile ass for a pathetic, old, washed-up lady. You’ve lost, Maxine. Now get the hell out of my office and out of my law firm.”
I look at her damaged face—I hope for the last time—and say, “I may have lost, but you definitely did not win.”
That night, I have my dream again. The mystery man is next to the bed. “Max, don’t fight it. We need your help.” This time, his face comes into focus. It is David Arlexo. He is smiling at me. Then, I wake up. I think I might be losing my mind.
I decide to call Arlexo’s office and make an appointment to see him. The receptionist’s voice sounds familiar, but I am too preoccupied to care. Traffic was heavy. A few curse words and cutoffs later, I arrive ten minutes late for my appointment. I enter the building and rush to the receptionist’s desk. He is typing away with his head down.
“Excuse me, but I have an appointment with Mr. Arlexo. It was supposed to be at 11 a.m., but I’m a little late.” I reel back when he looks up at me—it’s the same electricity guy who attacked us at Venustas.
He stands up from his chair. “It’s okay, Ms. Washington, I’m not here to hurt you. I’m here to help.” David appears from around the corner, wearing the same warm smile he has in my dreams.
“What the hell is going on here?” I shout, feeling bewildered.
“It’s okay. He works for me. I’ll explain everything. Come with me.”
My head tells me to run, but my instincts tell me to follow him. My instincts rarely lead me astray, and I hope this is no exception. I give the receptionist one last wary glance and follow Arlexo into his office.
“Sorry about that. His name is Richard Chan. He gets a little riled up at times, but he’s a hard worker.”
“Let me guess; you had him steal the chemical to use here, and you’re hoping I won’t tell the authorities,” I say with disdain.
“No, not quite,” he chuckles. “I want to offer you a job.”
My jaw drops.“You can’t be serious!”
“Actually, I am very serious. We’ve been watching you for some time now. We could use someone with your talents. How have you been sleeping?”
This question takes me off guard. “Um, fine I guess.”
“Maxine, we are not just a chemical lab. MedTech is just a cover for what we really do. We are a government-subsidized agency that deals with people like Richard—people who have special abilities—by helping them adjust to the world around them. Sometimes it’s something simple like job placement, but it can be as complex as helping them control their abilities. We had one of our telepaths send you the dreams to help guide you to us.”
“But why did you steal the chemical?”
“It was too much of a risk. We couldn’t have it get into the wrong hands, like Dr. Fischer.”
“And what about Edward?”
“Edward had to be eliminated. He was responsible for giving Dr. Fischer the copy of the chemical compound. Richard was never going to hurt you. He may have given you a little shock to knock you unconscious, but there was no permanent damage.”
“Gee, thanks,” I say sarcastically. “So I really did see that guy disappear. How did he do that? Are you going to tell me that you invented a teleport system?” Now it’s my turn to chuckle.
“No, nothing like that. It was just Eric; you’ll run into him later, but trust me, he won’t remember you.”
“We convinced him his encounter with you was a dream. We invited him to come see us, soon.”
“Wow, this place looks so normal. It’s hard to believe you do all that here.”
“Well, you haven’t really seen it yet. This is only a third of the building. The other ten stories are underground.”
He nods his head. After a few moments of thoughtful silence, I speak again: “What exactly do you want me to do here?”
“Glad you asked. As I said earlier, we’ve been watching you for a while now. Your negotiation skills are second to none. You are highly intelligent, manipulative, and have good instincts. Also, you have something that can’t be taught:compassion. You put up a tough exterior, but I know when it comes down to it, you would put yourself in danger to save a fellow human being, regardless of your feelings for him or her.”
“Oh please,” I snicker.
“You don’t fool me. You tried to save Ms. Kaufman, someone I know you despise, when you could have just let her be zapped. We want you to be one of our handlers. We want you to extract information for us from the bad guys. We will train you in combat techniques and familiarize you with our devices. Plus, it comes with an excellentsalary and a benefits package.” He says the last part with a huge grin on his face, and then he pauses, giving me a chance to take it all in. “We’re one of the good guys, Max. So, what do you say?”
Maybe it’s the stress I’ve been under lately that’s clouding my judgment, or maybe they have someone controlling my mind, but I can’t help but feel this is the right thing to do, and in some ways, like it was meant to be.
“I may be crazy, but yes, I would love to join the agency,” I say with a smile.
He extends his hand. “Welcome to the agency, Maxine. I’m sure you’ll be able to ‘handle’ anything we send your way.”
I check under the covers for my phone. No luck. Hmm, maybe it’s under the bed. I get down on all fours to check. A flashback from last night makes me smile. My phone is there, but when I reach for it, I notice a box farther under the bed. Deciding to snoop a little bit, I pull it out and look at the contents. There are more passports—all with different names. The photo in one of the passports is of a man with blond hair and brown eyes; his name is Liam Fischer. Why does that sound familiar?
“Maxine, how did you become a handler?” Daniel is standing behind me. His voice sounds different now. Does he have an accent? Is it German, perhaps?
I turn around and jump up from the floor. “Who are you?”
“You still don’t know? Perhaps you are not as good as I have heard.” He says this with an eerie calm.
“It’s you! Dr. Fischer! You’re the one who butchered Samantha’s face!” His hair and eyes are a different color, but it is definitely him. He’s wearing contacts! I must have been too drunk to notice.
He claps his hands in mock approval. “Yes, you finally figured me out. That was an unfortunate event; just an experiment gone wrong, really.”
“You monster!” I am livid and am furious at myself for allowing him to fool me. He is standing between me and the door. I glance quickly around the room looking for another way out.
“Blah, blah, blah. What now? You want to turn me in? Well, I have no intention of letting that happen. You shouldn’t be so nosy, Maxine. We could have had a wonderful day together. Maybe we still can.”
He grins and then lunges at me, knocking me back into the bed. He quickly gets on top of me, pinning my body. He brings both arms over my head and holds them together by my wrists with one hand. With his other hand he reaches in his pocket and produces the knife he was using earlier to prepare breakfast. Before he has a chance to use it, I quickly and forcefully lift my knee. It lands on his groin just hard enough to make him loosen his grip on my wrist. I free my hands, grab the clock from the side table, and hit him with it on the side of his head. He instinctively lifts his hands to his head, dropping the knife on the bed in the process. I hit him repeatedly before he passes out on top of me. I shove him to the floor and pick up the knife. I don’t want to take any chances. A heavy sigh of relief escapes from my lips as I retrieve my phone to call the agency for backup. Did that really just happen? I manage to make the call before I start crying and collapse to the floor.
Everyone claps when I walk into the agency. David is there, his usual smile brighter than normal.
“Maxine! How you holding up?”
“I’m a little shaken up, but I’m okay. This just brought back a lot of unwanted memories. All the training . . . I should have known.”
“I understand. It’s different when you’re actually in the field. But you handled it. ‘Max Handle’ has a ring to it, doesn’t it?”
We laugh and joke until my tension’s gone, until I feel like I can breathe again. Max Handle. I like that.