Red Tape

Image Courtesy of Photoaltan

 

Chapter Two

Bureaucrats

 

Interstate 495

The Washington Beltway

Conrad navigates the perpetually congested Washington Beltway in her late-model Ford SUV, with the intent of getting to her Silver Spring home before lunchtime. Although her eyes are fixed on the road, her mind drifts back to the meeting with Hanahan. The thought of being active again is both appealing and honestly quite frightening—How would she transition back to active duty? What would she do to keep them all on the same page? These thoughts run through her mind just before the ringtone of James Brown’s “The Big Payback” from her cell breaks through her fugue. She looks at the caller ID and sees that it’s Maurice Hodges, case officer with the Montgomery County Department of Child Welfare Services. Hodges has been a constant thorn in her side since the beginning of her custody case with the county. Her disposition immediately changes as she lifts the phone to her ear.

In a flat voice she answers, “Conrad.”

            Maurice Hodges’s voice is the perfect amalgam of the character Steve Urkel from the 1990s television show Family Matters and comic actor and economist Ben Stein.    

“Yes, Ms. Conrad, this is Maurice Hodges from the Department of Child Welfare Services.”

She can’t help but grit her teeth every time he opens his mouth.

“Yeah, I know who you are. What exactly is it that you want?”

“Just calling to remind you of your pending court date.”

“Yes, I do remember, Mr. Hodges. Is there anything else you would like to waste my daytime minutes on?”

Hodges is put off by the curt response and pauses a moment to gather himself before responding.

“No, nothing else, but I have to say, your tone and manner are quite rude, considering that you’re one of our decorated servicewomen—”

She interrupts him mid-sentence. “Look, I’d love to listen to your diatribe on proper phone etiquette, but unlike some people–such as yourself–I use the air I breathe to do work that actually matters. So if you’ll excuse me…”

She presses the “End” button on her phone and flings it into the lap of the passenger seat. The absolute nerve of him…he seriously needs to invest in getting a life. I promised mom that I’d keep us together. There is no way they’re taking Camille and Cameron away from me.

Conrad turns on her multimedia player and plugs it into the center console audio-input jack. Her SUV is suddenly immersed in the sounds of James Taylor’s Fire and Rain. Little did she know how prescient that song title would be.      

 

Characters copyright and trademark Paa-Kofi Obeng 

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