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Mandatory Training

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”MEMO: Mandatory computer training: July 30, 1993, 5pm.”

Nick looked at the slip of blue paper he’d found in his police mail slot in the racks near his desk, and then quickly read the details. He scanned the other slots, noting a few empty ones where other officers had picked up their mail, but the rest of the mail slots were filled with paperwork with the blue papers on top. Some staff person had dropped them off after the bigger day shift had left for the day.

“They have got to be kidding.” Nick crumpled the blue paper tight and with a quick side shuffle, tossed it neatly into the garbage. Anyone watching would think it a move picked up on a basketball court, not in a sand-filled sword training yard. His hearing, more than humanly sensitive, picked up an odd rattle as the paper dropped in. He looked inside and saw a small pile of crumpled blue sheets.

“Word Perfect 5.1? What’s that?”

Nick had smelled Schanke before he saw him, so he wasn’t startled. His partner’s penchant for donairs with extra garlic sauce made him extra glad to own a convertible. He wasn’t as garlic-sensitive as a new vampire, but the smell still made his nose itch. Nick didn’t even bother turning around before responding. “Something with computers, Schanke.”

“I got that, Mr. Genius.” Schanke folded the sheet twice and then started to fan himself. The heat wave had hit Toronto two weeks ago and was showing no signs of quitting. Captain Stonetree had authorized a few fans, but they didn’t help much. In these early morning hours, the rest of the bullpen was empty except for them. The fans idly fluttered sheets of piled papers on the desks. “You must be even more of a computer idiot than I am.”

“That would take some doing.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Schanke yawned so widely that Nick heard his jaw pop. “I know you’re Mr. Cool, but this isn’t some hot babe you can dazzle with your pretty blues. This is going to take computer cards or Fortran 77 or something like that.”

With a quick click of heeled pumps, Natalie entered. In concession to the heat, her blazer was draped over one arm; a half-empty McDonald’s pop filled her other hand. She tossed the blazer on Nick’s desk, covering a lone slim folder. “Good news, guys. That mystery corpse I was working on? Natural causes. Heart attack. Daughter identified him an hour ago. You two won’t be assigned any overtime tonight... or today rather.”

“Good job, Nat. I thank you and Myra thanks you. This shift work is hard enough without losing my sleep time. A well rested Don is a cheerful Don.”

”Sounds like something out of one of the Godfather movies,” Natalie said. “What do you have there?”

With an eye roll and a shrug, Schanke handed Natalie the memo then started flipping through the papers on his desk and sorting them in piles in preparation for leaving.

“They’re training us on Word Perfect 5.1? Finally! Grace got it at home and she loves it. I'd heard the government approved its use.” Natalie slurped her drink through the straw, sucking the last drops out of the bottom and making the ice cubes rattle. “If we can set up some templates instead of starting from scratch all the time and having to use that damn typewriter, we’ll save tons of time.”

“I like my typewriter.” Schanke reached down, picked up a clip-board and started fanning his face again. The papers on it fluttered back and forth. “Except when Knight sticks me with the paperwork – at least the keys on the computers keyboards are in the same place.

“I heard you can enlarge the font on the screen and modify the dictionary that comes with it. I can program in all my medical terms and then we won’t ever have to deal with spelling errors ever again.” Natalie got a wistful look. “Think of how much less work we’ll have.”

“Somehow, I don’t think it will be that easy, Nat.” Nick was grinning widely. It made him look like a mischievous Puck.

“Spoilsport.” Natalie poked him in the shoulder.

Nick bent to the side, acting like she’d hit him with a sledgehammer before straightening. “Voice of experience.” Nick kicked the trash can, making the papers rattle. “I remember,” he paused then glanced at Schanke before looking back at Natalie. “I remember my father telling me how when the carbonless copy paper came out in the 1950s, it was supposed to revolutionize everything. I... he said it just made the paperwork three times worse.”

“Ding, dong – this day is dead. I’m out of here.” Schanke shoved the stacked papers on his desk to one side. “If Stonetree needs me, tell him he can fax me at home.”

”You don’t have a fax machine at home,” Nick said.

”And it’s gonna stay that way, no matter what Myra’s mother says. Some technology you can live without.” With a last wave, he headed off for the exit. “Don’t do anything exciting without me.”

“Speaking of ding dongs...” Natalie pulled open a battered cardboard box off the table beside the coffee machine. The glass carafe had some pooled black sludge inside. “Lookee here, a chocolate donut.” Part of it fell back into the box. “Half a donut.”

“You have to be kidding.” Nick’s grimaced and took a step away. “Not even for you, Nat.”

“I know you can eat, Nick.” She waved the donut at him, making Nick jerk back a couple more steps as if she was holding up a cross. She followed, donut aimed straight at him. “You said you ate french fries.”

“I was literally out of my mind and dreaming.” Nick grabbed his leather jacket off the back of his seat, waving it at her like he was a matador warding off a bull and then flipping it around and putting it on. “And you’re out of your mind if you think I’m eating that. I’ve got some fresh bottles at home waiting in the fridge.”

“But it’s chocolate!”

“So?”

Natalie looked down at the donut in her hand. She sniffed it. “It is stale, but still – chocolate.” With a visible effort, she stepped back and dropped it into the garbage. “Hard to resist, but I’m trying to cut back. It’s addictive.”

“Speak for yourself. I’ve never had it.”

“You’re showing your age.” Her high heels clicked against the floor as she walked towards him. She eyed him up and down, wiped a stray bead of sweat off her brow and then flicked her fingers against his chest. “And you’re showing your nature. It’s the middle of a heat wave, Nick – skip the jacket.”

“Too much for August?”

“It’s better, marginally, than your outback duster, but looking cool in sunglasses and a leather jacket while everyone else’ clothes are plastered on with sweat is bound to bring the mob to your door.”

“Ready to stake me?” Nick jammed his hands into the jacket pockets.

“That, or to demand the secret of internal air conditioning.”

“It’s called being dead.”

“It’s called having a screwed-up metabolism, Nick.” Natalie sighed and then tugged at the front lapels of the leather jacket, straightening one so they both fell neatly across his chest. “And being mortal again means getting used to the bad as well as the good.”

Nick reached into his jacket and pulled out his car keys. He twirled them around his fingers. “I like this jacket. And the top’s already down on the convertible."

“Fine!” Natalie waved him off. “Fly into the night!”

“I’ve got my car.”

If Natalie had been ten years old, the expression on her face would have been called a ‘stink eye’, but since she was a responsible and honest taxpaying civilian crime-fighting citizen, she would have described it as annoyed. “Drive into the night.”

“Want a lift?”

“In your car?”

“I’ll put the top down and drive as fast as legally permitted, being the police detective that I am. By the time we get to your apartment, you’ll have forgotten this heat wave.”

“You’ve got a deal.” Natalie stepped over and grabbed her blazer. “I wonder how many people are going to be at the computer training tomorrow. I suspect there’s going to be a lot of police detectives discovering ‘urgent’ new leads.”

“I’ll be busy.” Nick adjusted the jacket labels so they stood up, a habit he’d never quite lost from the 50s. “I’m not scheduled for tomorrow and...” as they were walking past the mailboxes, he grabbed a sheet from another person’s box and slipped it into his own, “obviously didn’t get to my mail before leaving tonight.”

“I can get them to close the blinds so you don’t start to sizzle.”

“Come on, Nat. It’s computers. I know the basics, but really – except for storing files, doing calculations and now for better word processing – what good are they?”

“Two words. Game. Boy.”

He laughed and opened the door for her before gesturing for her to precede him. “That’s not fair, Nat. Also, I think Gameboy is one word.”

Natalie stepped through the door then looked back at him. “You’re the one with the stash of games in his loft, Nick.”

“I also paint and enjoy classical music. A modern man has to be well-rounded.” He shrugged. “It’s better than throwing cards in the air or bouncing balls off the walls.”

“You’re addicted to ‘Super Mario Land’. Don’t bother to deny it. All things considered, I see it as a promising sign of humanity.”

“I’ve beaten the Tetris game too.” Nick wiggled his fingers. “Vampire reflexes.”

“There you go. Today Tetris, tomorrow... who knows? Maybe the world?”

”I don’t think computers will ever take over the world, Nat.”

As they stepped outside, the air was thick and heavy, warning of potential thunderstorms for the heat of the coming afternoon. Streetlights lit up the darkness, and looking up, Nat couldn’t see any stars despite knowing they were there. “Sometimes I,” she hesitated, footsteps slowing, “I wonder what the world will be like in another twenty or thirty years. Where we’ll all be, what we’ll be doing.”

”Twenty years is a long time, Nat.” He opened up the side door for her, and then waited for her to get in before closing it and moving to the other side. “Just think about tomorrow for now.”

”Computer training. I wonder if Stacy from the admin desk will be phoning everyone in a few hours. At least it’s bound to be air-conditioned in the computer room.” Natalie leaned back into the seat and rested her head.

”Look at the bright side – with this weather and all those air-conditioners, power’s bound to go out.

”You wish.”

Nick looked over at her. With her eyes drifting shut, she looked vulnerable and so very human. “I wish for lots of things,” he whispered.

”What?” Natalie blinked and sat up straight. “More tired than I thought. What did you say?”

”Nothing new,” Nick said. He leaned down and flipped on the radio then adjusting the band until the catchy tune of an old Elvis song filled the air.

They drove off.