“It’s the most amazing thing, Roy!” Maes bubbled.
Roy sighed into the receiver, pulling a stack of files toward him. “This better not be about your wife, Hughes!”
“How can I talk about anything else? Have you ever seen a more amazing woman?”
Did Maes really just sit at the phone bank and babble like this all the time? The man had no shame. At least Roy had his own private phone.
“You should have seen her at midnight, looking so elegant even if the baby’s kicks woke her up.”
Roy perked up hearing the word ‘midnight.’ That meant he needed to be listening to the thick webs of words his friend was capable of stringing together at high speed. He put a tablet next to the stack of paperwork so he could write down the code words he parsed from Maes’s seemingly pedestrian and oft times inane blathering. “You know this is a military line, Hughes. You really should get off of it now. I’m trying to work.”
“What? Does Hawkeye have a gun to your head, making you sign paperwork?” Maes sounded far too delighted at that.
Roy snorted. Maes wasn’t too far from wrong. He started signing things without reading. He trusted his men enough to know that if anything actually needed his attention, they would have pointed it out. Otherwise it would all be in order, just waiting for his crabbed signature. One day, he would learn to write well again, but years of trying to take notes while his alchemy master spouted off every bit as fast as Maes had resulted in tiny, sloppy scribbles instead of the florid script his aunt had instilled in him as a child. “You do know my lieutenant, don’t you, Hughes? If you keep me from my duties, she might just shoot you.”
“She won’t deny you a little time on the phone so long as that pen of yours doesn’t stop. So anyway, you should see my darling Gracia now, Roy. She’s practically glowing and her belly is getting so big! Both of ours are, and our feet, swollen. Can you believe it? We both have a craving for bacon and onions all the time.”
“I can believe you’re insane enough to think you’re pregnant, too,” Roy said, writing down two words on the tablet. He wondered if Maes had made up all of that just to deliver part of his message or if he was really just as pregnant-looking as his wife. Well, if any man would bodily participate in the pregnancy process, it would be Maes. If he started crying for no reason or ranting that no one found him attractive any more because he was so fat, Roy would take a train to Central and fry him. He just wouldn’t tell his sisters because they probably wouldn’t find his discomfort with those things very enlightened.
Woven into tales of Gracia’s unbelievable beauty, independence, mood swings and thinly veiled suggestions of increased sexual desire and prowess, was a message, a disturbing one. The young lieutenant colonel knew he’d have to pass this on to Grumman and assemble his team. He could have his ‘sister,’ Gwen, double check some of these facts if Grumman wanted. She ran a bar for the Madam in East City.
Hearing someone in the doorway, Roy saw Riza out of the corner of his eye. He studied her until she caught him doing it and frowned. “Are you done talking yet, Maes? Hawkeye is in the doorway.”
“Is she coming to shoot you for being lazy?” Maes laughed.
“Lazy? I’m working. You’re the one wasting my time talking about nonsense,” Roy huffed.
“Hawkeye won’t mind me talking about my beautiful wife, Roy. She’s a romantic.”
“In your dreams.” Roy snorted.
“You need to get yourself a wife then you won’t be Hawkeye’s problem any more. You’d have all the reason you need to get your work done on time and get home to your lovely lady.” Maes really liked jamming the knife in deep sometimes.
Roy sighed. “Now you’re just getting delusional.” He put his pen down. ‘Get yourself a wife,’ was code for ‘you have all the facts now.’ “Goodbye, Hughes. Go waddle off and put your swollen feet up and choke on your bacon and onions,” he said and Riza’s eyebrows rose quizzically.
“You are so mean. You know you can’t wait to see pictures of Gracia glowing. Bye.”
Roy put the phone back in the cradle and looked up at Riza. “Problem, Hawkeye?”
“You and Major Hughes are abusing military lines again, sir.” She came over and looked at the tablet when he held it up. A brief scowl touched her lips.
“Don’t blame me, Hawkeye. I keep telling him if he continues to abuse the phone privileges, they’re going to take the cost of the calls out of his pay, but you can’t make Hughes listen to reason. Trust me.”
“I do believe you, sir, but you could always just not participate in these calls,” she said, pitched just loudly enough for all to hear making him wonder if there was an outsider in the anteroom on some business or another. In a softer tone, Riza asked, “Were you talking about me at the end?”
If he told her they were discussing how much romance she might possess, Roy suspected he’d lose his midnight visiting privileges for weeks to come. Riza did not like to be talked about. “Only that he thinks if I get married, I’ll no longer be your problem.”
She rolled her eyes. “Sir, you’re always going to be my problem.”
Roy grinned. “I know. I think it’s time for me to pay the old man a visit.” He fished a chess piece out of his desk. This queen had a false bottom and he slid Maes’s message inside before pocketing her. “Elizabeth and Jacqueline might need to get dressed for a party. I’ll let you know.” He picked up the signed files. “Got half the pile signed.”
Hawkeye nodded. “Maybe I should just let you and Major Hughes talk more. At least you get your paperwork signed during the calls. I just can’t escape the image of two old women gossiping over the fence in the yard as they hang out their laundry whenever you two are on the phone.”
Roy pouted. “Not nice. I probably won’t be back in the office until late.”
“Not a problem, sir. I’ll handle things here.”
“I never doubt that.” Roy couldn’t resist flashing her a bratty smile. He knew that she and Havoc would prepare for a sniper mission while he talked to Grumman about Maes’s message. This was nothing they couldn’t handle. Now, if he could only get Maes to think up codes that weren’t all about his wife and upcoming baby.