Cars driving through the center of Eureka on their way towards Global Dynamics were hardly strange. Cars that still ran on fossil fuels, if the smell coming from its exhaust pipe was any indication, were something else entirely.
Leaning against his SUV with a fresh cup of coffee in hand, Sheriff Carter frowned. Jo or Fargo would have warned him if they were expecting a visit from someone at the Department of Defense. Not that Jack would put it past the DoD to show up unannounced just for the heck of it, but the compact economy car hardly screamed Official Government Business. And they were all but crawling through town. In his experience, the DoD liked to demonstrate their superiority complex with an equal mixture of size and barely-legal speed.
"Andy," he called to his android deputy, standing on the other side of the vehicle, "how long since the last backpacker or weekend warrior accidentally wandered into Eureka?"
Ever-cheerful, Andy said, "Exactly four months two weeks and one day. I left off the hours and minutes." His expression turned concerned. "I hope you don't mind, Sheriff Carter."
Jack waved him off. "No problem, buddy."
Which brought the android's usually sunny disposition right back. "It would seem we are 'about due'."
Jack threw his partner a sharp look. He'd said that with far too much pleasure to be safe. "Let's go rescue the tourist, shall we?"
Both men climbed into the SUV. Andy turned towards Jack. “Do you think the traveler poses a serious problem, Sheriff Carter?”
“Eh…probably just a lost tourist. Look at those California plates. But if any of the things I learned as US Marshal have been reinforced in Eureka, is that it is always, always better to be safe than sorry in this town.” Jack sighed deeply. “Except when safe and sorry are in cahoots.” He would have scrubbed his face, but they were almost on top of the little car. “You get to do the honors, Andy.”
Smiling with perhaps too much glee, Andy turned on the outboard speakers. “Driver of the exceedingly slow car, please pull over.” And then a chipper, “Thank you!” when the driver did so.
“You run the plate information, Andy?”
“Sure thing, Sheriff!”
“All right. Whaddaya got?”
“The car is registered to one Willow Rosenberg of Los Angeles, California. There are a few old parking tickets here, all paid. No points against Ms. Rosenberg’s license, and no priors on Ms. Rosenberg’s record.” Andy turned and flashed Jack a brilliant smile.
Jack fought the urge to either frown or roll his eyes. He knew Andy meant well. It was just a lot of cheer. All the time.
He missed Jo.
Sighing, Jack reached for the door. “I think we’ve made her squirm long enough. I’ll go talk to her, you monitor.”
“Sure thing, Sheriff!”
Putting a friendly smile on his face, Jack wandered over to the open window of the compact economy. “Good afternoon, Miss. You seem to be a little lost.”
‘Ms. Rosenberg’ flashed deer in the headlights eyes at him from behind a curtain of long auburn hair. “Did I do something wrong? Is my tail light out? I don’t think I was exceeding the speed limit, but I haven’t actually seen a speed limit sign since I got within town limits. Is it the same? There goes my pledge to not get another ticket for six months! Sheila and Ira are going to be so disappointed with me!”
“Miss!” Jack snapped, sensing a place to finally enter the running monologue. He immediately regretted it when the eyes that met his were scared and wounded. “Sorry, Miss.”
“It’s okay. I’ve been known to ramble.”
“I see.” Jack cleared his throat. “Uh, so it looks like you’re lost. My partner and I can probably help you get yourself reoriented and back on the road.”
Rosenberg’s face brightened, her agitation washing away as if it had never been there. “Could you? That would be so great. It’s really obvious I’m lost, huh? So I guess not speeding. Maybe slowing? I was kinda looking for directions or street signs or something. I mean, I should probably have GPS or whatever, but I can’t really afford it yet and I’m pretty sure this old clunker can’t even hook—“
“Sorry! I ramble when I’m nervous and when I’m excited.”
Jack made a concerted effort not to pinch the bridge of his nose. She wasn’t any worse than the geeks over at GD, he reminded himself. He waved off her apology. “So tell me, where are you heading?”
“Oh! Right! Um, this fancy-pantsy place called Global Dynamics? I’m supposed to start working there in their IT Department tomorrow, but I decided to come up a day early because I’m also kinda known for getting lost,” she said with a self-deprecating smile. Leaning forward conspiratorially, she waggled her eyebrows and stage whispered, “They call me ‘The Wizard’.”
This time Jack didn’t resist the urge to cover his face and mutter a prayer.
“Did I say something wrong? Are they not nice people?”