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The Exothermic Loft Alleviation

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The Middleman raised an eyebrow when Wendy put her Eisenhower jacket on over her vest, but said nothing. She could sense his secret, head bopping glee as they combed the dusty archival books for lizard men armies. They were working the case. They were wearing the uniforms. She wasn't even complaining.

His lowered expectations would have irked her on another day, but she had the flu and couldn't bring herself to argue. Comic book evil was in big trouble for hauling her out of her warm bed.

He handed over his handkerchief when she sneezed, and brought her a big cup of cocoa when they took a break. Wendy said thank you, squirmed around in her chair, and tucked her legs underneath herself. She had added a long hoodie to her ensemble.

“You can turn the heat up, Dubbie,” he offered. “If you put on one more layer you won't be able to move.”

She shook her head and wished she could smell her cocoa as it warmed her face. “No. I nearly baked Lacey last night and I was still freezing. I'm just sick. The loft has a draft.”

His brown eyes flickered over her intently, taking in skin tone, her dull hair, red nose – and for all Wendy knew – heart rate and temperature. He put a hand out and felt her forehead.

“Does your neck hurt?”

She cringed. If the boss thought she had meningitis he'd lock her up in some quarantine room for a week. It would be hard to feel better knowing her mother was outside ramming the door with her body.

“I'm not that bad, Boss. If I can get warm I'll be fine,” she reassured him.

“Plastics,” he said inscrutably, nodded once, then went back to his reading.

She thought about leaving it alone, but her mind was off lizard armies and onto the odd answer. “I didn't get that joke when it was in The Graduate. Help me out.”

Book down, he made a note and glanced at her. “Tell your landlord you need plastic sheeting on the window to keep heat in. It's a very cheap, green solution.”

Wendy sneered at her book and muttered, “Not to slumlord Pip it's not.”

They had the luxury of three whole days before the lizard invasion, so The Middleman called a halt at five. He checked his watch and threw Wendy's long wool coat over his arm.

“Come on, Dubbie. The hardware store closes in an hour,” he told her as he pulled her to the Middle mobile. “We'll get your room toasty before bedtime.”

She supposed it was a guy thing for him to be so excited about a store that sold nails and leaf bags. She trailed behind him quietly, and scratched her head as he gestured to a huge roll of plastic.

“Do you staple it,” she asked, sensing his desire to explain the handiness of his solution.

“No, Dubbie. You don't have to. It shrinks to fit. It's great stuff.”

His enthusiasm was not infectious, but she didn't think her flu was either. Her boss measured out long strips of the plastic and rolled it up neatly. She rolled her eyes as he studied the many varieties of duct tape, a broad smile on his lips.

“You're killing me, Boss. I'm tired.”

He insisted on paying for the supplies, and they drove back to the illegal sublet under a grey sky. Wendy let The Middleman into the apartment and stripped off one layer before they went upstairs. He seemed perfectly content in his jacket and she shivered resentfully. Healthy people sucked.

“Do you have a hairdryer,” he asked. “I'll need it to seal things up.”

Digging the bright purple device out took the last of her energy. She plunked down on the bed and watched as he taped the plastic up around the edges of the windows, tugging and fussing until it hung without any excess. He cut out a small segment for the window that opened, and taped it separately.

“I don't want you to suffocate on paint fumes,” The Middleman joked. “Now, we'll cure it.”

He plugged in the dryer and attacked the wall of plastic noisily, but by the time he was done it was a taut surface keeping the cold air away from her. Wendy slipped off the hoodie and poked at her new saran wrapped wall.

“Cool. Thanks, Boss,” she said. “Hey, I should feed you since you did all this work. Would you like pizza or Chinese?”

He shrugged and started cleaning up the shreds of plastic and tape. “You don't have to do that. I'm fine with anything.”

Wendy made the call for a pizza with the works and put her hairdryer away. As she turned to the darkened windows, big flakes of snow started falling.

“Pretty,” she murmured. They stood together next to the bed and she looked up at him. “An army of lizards isn't going to kill everyone on Thursday, is it?”

His mouth set into a grim line before he tipped his chin down and put a hand on the middle of her back. “Nonsense, Dubbie. Do you think I'd take time for a home improvement project if I thought we'd perish in three days?”

The thing is, he would, because it made her more comfortable. Wendy was confident anyway. He was a milk-drinking, world-saving, hairdryer-wielding miracle worker. He would make everything okay. She met his eyes until the moment went too long, threatening that mysterious more-than-friendship vibe she knew they avoided for good reason. She put her hand on his side as she moved past him downstairs.

“I'll go get us some drinks,” she said.

They were back to normal by the time the pizza arrived, and her choice of a zombie movie made the perplexed Middleman chide the on-screen undead between bites.

“Zombies can't leap three times their height, Dubbie,” he complained. “This is terribly inaccurate.”

She grinned and didn't answer, letting him vent his dislike of the genre without interference. Her stomach was full of food, she was absorbing some of his body heat from sitting next to him, snow was falling like spun sugar on their city, and she was very happy.