DL Shirey lives in Portland, Oregon, writing fiction, by and large, unless it's small. He has been caught flashing at Café Aphra, 365 Tomorrows, ZeroFlash, Fewer Than 500 and others listed at www.dlshirey.com.
"You right-handed or left?"
The woman jumped at the voice behind her. She had been concentrating on her work and would have been as easily startled had it been Ray or Yvonne, but the other technicians had left promptly at five. She took a deep breath and did a slow spin on the stool to face the man.
Why is he dressed like he works here? What is he up to? she thought. Her eyes darted from side to side as if in her mind she was flicking through a playbook, trying to decide how to handle this.
"I said, right-handed or left?"
It was Johnny Cimano, easy to recognize with his skinny frame and crazy-long arms. Usually, when seen on the street, he wore one of those cheap polyester off-the-rack jobs, with sleeves long enough to fit his monkey arms. But now he was ill-suited in one of the lab's white coats, the cuffs a good four inches above his hairy wrists.
"Right. Or left?" he demanded.
Johnny swiped the shaggy brown hair from his forehead and an idea lit his dark eyes. He picked up the nearest object, a dental casting, and examined the upper and lower plates balanced on his palm. The plaster teeth were close enough for him to kiss, but Johnny pulled back his lips in grim imitation. He turned his dead grin back to the woman.
Johnny coiled back to hurl the plaster jaws and snapped his elbow as he would a fastball. He didn't throw, but the momentum of the fake pitch unseated the two plates in Johnny's grip. They squirted from his fingers and fell to the ground like badly tossed dice, the lower jaw snapping in half.
He flinched a squint of regret, but Johnny got his question answered: the woman pulled up her left arm to shield her face.
"A lefty, okay. Boss wanted me to break the pinkie of your other hand, so not to affect your ability to settle your debts. When you do decide to make the next payment—and you will make the next payment—Boss wants to make sure you still have an income to do so."
Her platinum hair was almost as white as the lab coat sleeve she slowly pulled down from her face. Her eyes were streaked with creases of fear and expensive mascara. She had a fresh French manicure on the hand now resting on her breastbone. The white-tipped nail of the index finger pointed at the name embroidered on the jacket: Tamella.
"We can do this the easy way or the hard way," threatened Johnny.
Tamella placed both hands in her lap. Even under the duress of a surprise visit she sat like a lady; legs demurely crossed at the ankles, thighs pressed together and posture perfectly upright. It was from that position she raised gracefully off the workbench stool, splaying her fingers to smooth the fabric of her short, black skirt.
As she stood, the weighted pockets of her lab coat jingled. The six rings she wore when she wasn't at work shifted with the change in gravity. These were in her left pocket. The right contained a six-inch plaster alginate mixing spatula. She wished to God it was a Fahen knife, but she had to make due. She needed something dramatic.
Tamella flicked the spatula from her pocket, flipping it from one hand to the other, back and forth like a back-alley switchblade. She hoped the black handle, stainless shaft and blur of movement would hide the spatula's bland, round edge.
"I may lead with my left," she purred, "But this thing is ambidex..."
Johnny cut her off. "Okay, Tamella. The hard way."
To shield himself, Johnny grabbed what looked like a blue plastic layer cake: a lazy Susan with about fifty holes in the top to hold the delicate Dremel attachments that Tamella used to grind and buff and smooth the replicas of people's teeth.
"Not that. Please," she pleaded, "You want me to have a job, fine. But they'll fire me if you break my tools."
Johnny made a show out of returning it carefully. "Now you put the knife down."
When she swiped the blade through air, Johnny arched backwards and grabbed a clipboard instead. Tamella flipped the six-inch blade into her palm and wrapped her clear-coated nails into a fist.
"Throws just as good as it slices," she said.
When he saw that the mettle in her eyes didn't match the steel in her hand, Johnny smirked. His teeth were the same gray-white color as all the plaster casts grinning from the shelves around him.
"I don't believe you. I can see you're acting."
Tamella's hateful gaze melted. She lowered her eyes. Johnny lowered the clipboard.
"Really? I thought we were doing so good," she said, watching him shrug off the lab coat.
"I just didn't believe you would throw that knife at me," said Johnny, "The goal of improv is to commit fully, act in the now, be authentic,"
"That's what you teach in this acting class of yours? Sounds kinda lame."
"Come on, you'll see." Johnny motioned to the door. "I'll even take you for coffee after."
"Can't. Now that you've broken Mr. Jordan's mouth, I gotta come back and pour another casting."
"Oh, yeah. Sorry about that. I got caught up in the moment."