“It’s a regular conference,” Dolls says. “The agents who were scheduled to attend are… indisposed.”
Nicole knows enough not to ask why. Working in Black Badge Division, the answer could be anything from influenza to demonic possession.
“I didn’t know there was a Bergdorf, Nevada,” Nicole says instead.
Dolls shrugs. “We’re the closest field office.”
Nicole can believe that.
“So why do you need us to go to this thing? Do we just walk around a conference of UFO freaks like Scully and Mulder or something?”
“The opposite of that,” Dolls says. “We need you to take notes on the attendees and the current theories. If anyone is getting too close to a Black Badge operation, we need to know so we can neutralize the situation.” Nicole raises an eyebrow and he shakes his head. “Strictly disinformation operations only. But we need eyes and ears on the ground to know what we need to be targeting.”
Waverly’s bouncing on her feet on the other side of the table. “That means you have to tell us about all the other stuff Black Badge is working on, right?”
“So how are we supposed to know what’s close and what’s not?” Waverly asks.
“You note down everything,” Dolls says. “General areas of interest. Anything that doesn’t track to online chatter and existing legends. Specific locations of sightings.”
Nicole listens as her plans for a romantic weekend with Waverly come crashing down. Since they rescued Waverly from the boundary curse and got Dolls back from Black Badge, Nicole's been stuck with training or Sheriff’s Department work every weekend. Wynonna and Doc are always around when they try to crash at the Homestead, and Nicole’s place is tiny and comes with the added bonus of the constant text messages Wynonna sends to check in whenever Waverly spends the night away from the protection of the bedrock at the Homestead.
Nicole needs this weekend with Waverly.
“So why can’t you go?” Nicole asks.
“My operational goals are here in Purgatory,” Dolls says. “Look. This is a rookie assignment. You two want to prove to Black Badge that you can be useful, this is the kind of thing you do.”
“You can count on us,” Waverly says. She actually looks excited.
Nicole looks over at her girlfriend and wonders if she’s lost the plot. It’s a weekend in Bergdorf, Nevada with a bunch of conspiracy theorists, not a trip to Paris.
“One condition,” Nicole says to Dolls. “I need someone to feed my cat.”
The motel where the conference is being held is just off a highway exit, slung low along the ground. There’s a gas station out front and an attached diner with no name. Across the road is a truck stop, and then there’s a whole lot of nothing in every direction.
Waverly parks the Jeep next to a battered Camry with a bumper sticker saying BIGFOOT SAW ME AND NOBODY BELIEVED HIM. A dry wind is blowing dust in from the desert, and Nicole’s skin feels parched before they make it inside.
Dolls gave them the go-ahead to skip most of the panel discussions, so they grab their badges from registration and head in to main hall, which is less of a hall and more of an overgrown boardroom with wood paneling on the walls. Most of the people in the room are dudes, many of them wearing oversized T-shirts with slogans like NESSIE LIVES and I BELIEVE.
The first booth they stop at has a display on demonic possession. Nicole reaches down to squeeze Waverly’s hand, and Waverly leans in for a moment, resting her head on Nicole’s shoulder. What happened at the boundary — it’s still a bit raw for both of them.
The guy behind the table gets excited when they walk up, though, and soon Waverly’s asking all sorts of questions. Where does he think demons come from? What are demons? How can they possess humans?
The next display is about lake monsters — “Champ is a dick,” the guy says, and while Nicole knows he’s talking about a lake monster from upstate New York, she can’t disagree.
UFOs, alien abductions, crop circles, the Chupacabra, a life-size model of Mothman — this place has it all, Nicole thinks, if your definition of all is a very weird one. Waverly insists on walking through all the tables, looking at every display, even the ones about the things Dolls said they could skip, like the one about leprechauns (“it might look suspicious if we only hit half the tables,” she whispers when Nicole asks about it).
The only thing they find that looks worrisome from the Black Badge perspective is a small display with grainy photographs of the crater at what used to be Maldito, New Mexico. Nicole knows a little about that — she’s probably not supposed to, but Wynonna told Waverly about it, and Waverly tells Nicole everything these days.
A few booths on, Waverly stops to listen while a man wearing a khaki hat and pocketed vest explains why Bigfoot is real but yetis aren’t. Something to do with hair sampling. Waverly keeps asking questions, even though she and Nicole both know that neither Bigfoot nor yetis, if they exist, have anything to do with Black Badge.
Nicole realizes something, as she watches Waverly get all excited about hair sample analysis. Her adorable, loving girlfriend — the one who reads eight dead languages and has a righteous anger streak the size of the Grand Canyon?
She loves all this paranormal garbage.
“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”
“What?” Waverly looks around them, but everybody else in the diner is focused on their tablets or their arguments with the other attendees. “Psssht. No.”
“Yeah you are,” Nicole says. She smiles. She didn’t expect to enjoy herself this weekend, but watching Waverly get all geeky about Mothman sightings and phantom kangaroos — it’s awesome.
“I’m not,” Waverly insists, but then someone behind them yells out Nessie would so beat Champ in a fight and Waverly gives in and smiles. “Fine,” she says. “I think this stuff is fun. Go ahead, made fun of me for being a total nerd.”
A totally adorable nerd, Nicole thinks. “Why didn’t you tell me you wanted to go? I wouldn’t have stuck Dolls with my cat.”
“Dolls will be fine,” Waverly says. “Nedley warned him that your cat hates dudes. Wynonna said she’d feed her for you this weekend.”
“Wynonna has the key to my place?” Nicole’s — not worried, exactly, but she’s wondering if they’re going to come back to find her little studio apartment has been wallpapered in Kevlar. Wynonna gets really protective of Waverly.
“It’ll be fine,” Waverly says. “Come on. Finish up your pie. We have a presentation on pyramid power in fifteen minutes, and I want to get someone to take our picture with that big stuffed murder-unicorn in the lobby.”
“It’s a horse,” Nicole says. She takes another bite of pie. “It's so obviously a horse. I think the horn is carved out of a broom handle.”
“We’re getting a picture. Me, my unicorn, and a horse wearing a broom handle for a horn.”
Waverly smiles, and Nicole knows that’s it — they’re getting a picture. Which Waverly will probably print and hide a copy of somewhere in Nicole’s apartment, so she comes across it when she’s not expecting it, like when she’s putting away her laundry or getting the cat litter out.
“We still need to plan out this afternoon's presentations,” Waverly says, putting the schedule down between them. “We have to hit the Maldito thing, but apart from that… how do you feel about mermaids?”
Nicole takes the last bite of her pie. Mermaids. It’s not something she’s ever thought about, but…. “Why not?”
Waverly makes a couple more notes on the schedule. “And then we need to check in with the hotel people.”
“Yeah.” Waverly folds the schedule and sticks it in her back pocket. “I don’t want them giving our room away to someone else. I got us the whirlpool suite.”
"This place has a Jacuzzi?"
"Correction: we have a Jacuzzi," Waverly says. "The TripAdvisor reviews said the whirlpool suite was the best-kept secret in Bergdorf, Nevada."
Somehow Nicole doesn't think Bergdorf, Nevada has that many secrets to keep, but she'll take it.
She pulls Waverly in and kisses her.
A private Jacuzzi, a diner with eight types of pie, and a girlfriend who’s having a blast — this weekend is looking up.