Behind the thick lenses of his glasses, Yarrow blinked, as if he was fighting back tears. The sudden realization that he was yet another awkward kid she'd been bullying slapped her hard across the face like a drunken husband. Tommy would be about his age, she thought ashamedly. Oh God, Tommy…
Cheeks burning with shame, she directed her attention to her food and busied herself with cutting the sausage links into increasingly small chunks. She could still feel eyes on her.
Across the table, Esther audibly sipped her coffee.
"It's not bullshit," Yarrow protested. His voice was softer now, stripped of a lot of its arrogance, but if his feelings had been hurt he was hiding it well. "It's a quantum state identifier that uses coin faces as random number generators to determine the best possible course of action at any given moment. Of course, with it being quantum, the actions of the observer affect the outcome, so I suppose if you think it's bullshit then it might be, but that's only because you don't understand the thousands of years of Chinese thought that have gone into the I Ching and how it relates to modern 8-bit software architecture…"
His lecture was interrupted by another, louder, slurp of coffee from Esther.
"All right, all right," he conceded. "I'll skip the pleasantries so that Fulcrum doesn't choke herself." From the corner of her eye, Teresa could see him tapping away at his phone. "Your name is Teresa Reyes. Arrested in 1988 for murder. You pled guilty, and were given a 30 year sentence at Frontera Women's' Prison. Paroled after 20 years because the prison closed due to an inmate health scandal. All of this is public record."
He pulled a pair of chopsticks out of his pocket and began to eat his omelet with them, skillfully separating the eggy mass with downward pressure. "Prison records are much more interesting," he continued. "While in prison, you acquired the nickname of 'The Camel,' ostensibly because within a very short time you managed to control the entire cigarette market within the prison. This is because all of the other suppliers inside Frontera amazingly, coincidentally, died or were relocated due to cancer-related illness. Even more amazingly, even though cigarettes were outlawed in California prisons in 2005, you somehow managed to keep the supply flowing. And the ironic part of all this is that while you could have turned this into a massive criminal empire, you didn't. Instead, you chose to smoke the proceeds in what the prison psychologist felt was the slowest, most painful suicide method possible. Between this, and your willingness to share your smokes with the guards, you were essentially left alone."
"What these records don't say – what they can't say, because they can't possibly know – is that you are the source of the health problems within the prison. You, Teresa Reyes, a.k.a. Camel, are cancer's first and possibly only Typhoid Mary. And since medical science says cancer can't possibly work like that," he concluded, "the only reasonable explanation is that you've somehow found a way to tap into the inherently magical paradox of smoking to become the world's first Cancer Mage." He popped a bit of omelet into his mouth, smiling smugly.
"You," Teresa accused, making little stabbing motions toward him with a sausage-laden fork, "are the craziest motherfucker I've seen. And that's saying something, considering where I’ve been." She shoved the food into her mouth and chewed savagely, attempting to cover her mounting fear with an outward show of aggression.
"But okay. Let's just assume, for shits and giggles, that I buy all this. If I'm Miss Cancer 2009 or whatever, what do you want from me? You want I should give cancer to someone for you? And more importantly, why should I do what you want?"
A long sigh escaped Yarrow's lips. "My plan is subtle and complex," he explained with exaggerated precision, as if he were speaking to a child. "But the why of it is very simple, Ms. Reyes. You see, this restaurant is in Nevada. By crossing state lines, you've already violated the terms of your parole."
"Fucker!" Teresa spat, lunging across the table, fist cocked to punch Yarrow in the nose.
"Stop," commanded Esther.
"ROFFLE," said the young girl in cat ears and dressed all in pink as she tossed a plush toy cat onto Yarrow's plate before ducking underneath their table.
Then the cat exploded, and everything was spotlights and jet engines.
END CHAPTER TWO