Devin smirked as he adjusted his night vision goggles. Hidden under the face mask, no one would ever know about his little clever man’s advantage.
Clever person’s advantage, he corrected himself. It wouldn’t do to go normalizing androcentric language and minimizing the important contributions of women to world history and culture, not even in his head.
Speaking of women, why wasn’t Amber back yet? He had put her on his team for a reason. Athletic and svelte, he knew she would be a valuable partner. She could go the distance—much like, naturally, any other woman, though in Amber’s case he knew from personal experience.
A cigarette exploded into existence, amplified to the appearance of a nuclear bomb going off by the green filter of his night vision goggles. Really, in night vision, everything was just green splotches. He toggled them off and squinted in the absurdly low moonlight. The cherry of the cigarette was still bobbing in the moonlight, though it no longer had the look of a mushroom cloud going off. He was pretty sure that Earl, the manager from shipping and receiving, had lit the cigarette. They were on the same team.
Earl swiveled on a dime and fired his paintball gun from the hip as he did so, planting a bright pink neon splash on Devin’s face mask. The other man’s instincts were apparently razor sharp. Devin never went down to the docks if he could avoid it, so he had never really had a conversation with Earl, but now he suspected the other man was a veteran.
“Oh, shit.” The cigarette bobbed up and down in time with Earl’s mouth. “I didn’t realize it was you, Mr. Fischer. I guess you’re out.”
Devin removed his face mask, surreptitiously taking the night vision goggles with it so Earl wouldn’t see his little . . . accoutrement. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a towel he just so happened to have brought with him, totally unrelated to the game in any way, naturally, and began furiously polishing the paint and pollen from his mask.
“No, that’s all right, Earl. Honest mistake. We’ll just call it even and not mention it to anyone, hmm?”
If he didn’t know better, he would’ve thought Earl had just rolled his eyes at him, though it had come off as little more than an owl’s eyes shimmering in the bare moonlight.
“Never got any take backs on friendly fire in Afghanistan,” Earl muttered.
“Sorry, what was that, Earl?” Devin said, pretending to still be concentrating on his face mask, though he had heard every word. His hearing was flawless, like his eyesight, physique, and moral rectitude.
“I said . . . you’d better get your mask back on there, Mr. Fischer. Remember, ah, your rules about never taking them off.”
“Call me Devin, please,” he said, though, frankly, some barely contained miniscule iota of as yet un-re-social-engineered speck of masculine machismo somewhere deep inside thrilled a little bit at being treated with such deference. As he fitted the mask back on, he asked the question he’d really wanted to ask all along. “Do you know where Amber is?”
“Amber . . .” Earl repeated, furrowing his brow. “I don’t know a lot of people outside of the docks. What does she look like?”
Devin cleared his throat. A sneeze struck him. His hay fever had been acting up ever since they’d arrived.
“Well, um, she’s ah, very fit. Trim. A bit slender.”
Earl’s eyes lit up. “Oh yeah, the blonde? I know who you mean. She’s a real looker, that lady. If I were a couple of years younger, you know?”
He blew a puff of air from between his lips. It took everything in Devin not to smile knowingly, nod, and admit that he had been slamming that hot piece of ass—that looker, rather . . . no, that attractive young lady—for the better part of six months.
“Well, ah, workplace romances, ah, you know, Earl. Don’t want to get caught up in a sexual harassment complaint or anything. Besides, I think our female coworkers deserve a little bit more respect than that, don’t you? We’re not on the docks right now, you know.”
Earl’s face turned cold, but the important thing was that Devin had put the lowly box monkey back in his place. No. That wasn’t it. The important thing was that he had defended Amber’s honor. No! A woman could defend her own honor, she didn’t need a man swooping in like a white knight . . .
Devin shook his head, trying to clear it. His thoughts were all a jumble. It was like he couldn’t quite piece together the right two words.
Earl, though, seemed to be under no such limitations. He sneezed, and then spoke. “Hey, Mr. Fischer—Devin—did I ever tell you...