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The World Is Too Darned Big

MaryJanice Davidson

  For everyone who wanted to be the star of their own movie.

  The World


  Too Darned Big

  MaryJanice Davidson


  Writing a novel is a lot like running a marathon. But the novella is more like a forty-yard dash: you've got to get your ass in gear right away. I love this shorter length and am grateful to Alex Kendall, of Red Sage Publishing, for being the first to give me the chance to show readers that I could dash reasonably well. And to Kate Duffy, of Brava, for letting me run wherever I want.


  "You know, bad guys trying to blow my head off isn't as much fun as I thought it would be," Benjamin commented. "It's more stressful than anything else."

  "Typical," Tara said. "Felony assault—it's all hype."

  "Any bright ideas on how to get out of this?"

  "Ben, I am so not the brains of this team. Besides, it's your fault we're even here."

  "The hell! You're the one who wanted to steal the world."

  "I didn't want to steal the world, just a few key pieces of it, not that it's any of your business. You're the one who insisted we save humanity." Tara invested the phrase with heavy sarcasm. "Could there be a bigger waste of time? No? Ask the guy with the gun if you don't believe me."

  "Fine. Anyway, we'd better get out of here before bullets start exploring our temporal lobes. This hallway isn't going to provide cover much longer."

  "So? Think of something, gadget man." Tara stretched out her long, long legs and closed her eyes. "Let me know what you come up with."

  He watched, dumbfounded, as she went to sleep. She could always do that. It was unbelievably aggravating.

  He leaned over and shouted into her gorgeous, still face, "And I did not get us into this!" In the distance, the firing pop of the silencer accentuated his statement.

  "Did, too," Tara said without opening her eyes.

  "Did not!"

  "Don't you remember?"

  As a matter of fact, he did.


  Earlier that day ...

  Bored, Benjamin Dyson put the finishing touches on his Universal remote—a true Universal remote, thank you very much—one that would work on any television set in the world, provided it had been

  built since 1992 . .. which was to say, 92.56% of them.

  It also doubled as a cell phone.

  Well, super. Another gadget, completed well before deadline. The rep from the CIA would be here any minute—or was this one for Honeywell? The Secret Service? It was getting hard to keep them all straight. He could look it up in the log, but frankly, didn't care enough. If he wasn't going to get to use the gadget du jour in the field, he didn't much care who did.

  He yawned and scribbled an invoice, picking a number out of the air—seventeen hundred? Thirty-three hundred? What did he care? He had more money than he'd ever be able to spend. Not that the government was exactly known for paying Net 30. Or even Net 150. Well, it was his patriotic duty. He supposed.

  He heard the car pull in and hit the garage door button clipped to his desk. The sun had come up just an hour or so ago, and the fresh-faced agent in the de rigueur unmarked sedan looked entirely too perky for this time of the day as he popped out of his car and practically trotted into the garage.

  "Hey, Dr. Dyson! How you doing today?"

  "Fine, Tom." Bored, Ben started to hand over the remote and the paperwork. After a moment's thought, he stuffed it all into a used grocery bag from Piggly Wiggly.

  "Thanks for the phone call. My supervisor couldn't believe it. A week ahead of schedule!" Agent Tom Carradine shook his head admiringly. "Unreal! You're worth all of our lab weenies put together."

  "Is that what I am?" he asked, amused. "A lab weenie?"

  "Uh, no offense, Ben. Without you guys, we wouldn't last very long out in The World, you know?"

  "Yeah, yeah." Ben yawned again.

  "And I must say," Tom said, looking around, "this is the most sterile garage I have ever been in. You could eat off the floor in here."

  "Thanks for the visual. Listen, see if you can get Accounts Payable to cough it up a little sooner this

  time, willya?"

  "Not my department," Tom said with irritating cheer. He smoothed back his shiny black hair—Tom needed to lay off the styling products—and clicked the remote at Ben in a friendly way. Behind him, inside the house, Ben could hear his television turning on. "Thanks again. Catch you later."

  "Buh," he grunted, taking a swallow of his hot chocolate. He could see Tom was washing his hands of

  the whole Accounts Payable situation—the typical action of anyone not in Accounts Payable—but was too filled with ennui to stop the process.

  Tom trotted back to his sedan, and Ben watched him go, then hit the garage door switch until the street slid from sight.

  Now what? Take a month off? The Cape was nice this time of year. He supposed he could think about Thanksgiving . . . His parents were still touring the state park system in their RV, but his sister and her new husband would be glad to have him over for dinner. That sounded nice and homey and traditional and ...

  He yawned again.

  For the millionth time, he thought about applying at one of the academies, or giving his guy at Langley

  a call. Sure! He could go through the training patch and be in the field by springtime ... summer at the latest. He could ... could ...

  Get his head blown off. He was thirty-four ... not exactly prime recruiting age for field agents. He had played it safe and stayed in the lab, and made himself indispensable, and rich. Now it was too late for adventures.

  There is plenty of adventure to be had on the other end of a microscope, his physics teacher had been fond of saying. His physics teacher had been as round as he was tall and felt the worst thing to happen

  to an invention was to have people use it. Dr. Thorson was all theory. Had a heart attack in his very

  own lab, as a matter of fact. One supposed you could say he died with his boots on. Died with his slide rule in his pocket? Was that even—

  For God's sake, he grumbled, dumping another packet of Swiss Miss into his mug. Stop complaining,

  you morbid fuck! You've got a great life. A great, safe life. You get paid to tinker, to think shit up.


  Damn right.

  "Oh, fuck," he said, and rested his head on his forearms.


  How could he have let this happen? How could he become a supporting actor in someone else's movie? He'd always fantasized about being Bond, but the plain truth was, he wasn't Bond and never had been and never would be, and that was that, amen and forever. He was Q. He was... What had Tom called him? A lab weenie?

  He heard a car pull up, one with a powerful engine under the hood—cripes, had they strapped a wild animal in there?— and shrugged. Secret service? No, they didn't like the flashy cars. Private dick? No, they couldn't afford the flashy cars. Local law enforcement? No, they couldn't catch the flashy cars.

  Field agent? Maybe. Whoever it was, he was officially on vacation.

  As if in response to the garage door not going up, the car's engine roared, sounding exactly like a pissed-off Bengal in heat. Ben clapped his hands over his ears, then decided it would be easier to tell double-oh fuckhead face-to-face that he was on vacation. He hit the button to raise the door.

  The engine cut off abruptly, and a door slammed shut. Then he saw a pair of shoes walk around and

  wait by the door.

  The left shoe—a red sneaker with black laces and a black skull and crossbones inked on the toe—started tapping impatiently as the door continued to rise, revealing black leggings, a
hip-skimming cherry red baby tee—and what hips!—firm-looking, perfectly rounded breasts, a swanlike neck, sharp chin, Angelina Jolie lips (colored to match her T-shirt), tip-tilted nose (pierced with a tiny silver skull), greenish gray eyes, and close-cropped white-blond hair.

  "Whoa," was the best he could do.

  "Dr. Dyson," the vision said. She was tall—her head passed a bare six inches from the top of his garage door as she entered. "Make me wait a little longer next time."

  "Okay. Nice mouse."

  "Thank you." She stroked the rat, which was as long as her forearm and as white as freshly fallen snow. "It's a Norway Black."

  "But it's white."


  "Okay." He tried to stop staring at her. The rat didn't help. She was larger than life, and that voice! So husky and low, the woman made Kathleen Turner sound as though she was breathing helium. "What

  can I do for you?" Please, please let it be something involving nudity and raspberries ...

  "I need you to make something for me."

  "Oh, I can't."

  She arched blond brows. The rat sneered in his general direction. "You can't? That'll be a first. You're sort of famous, you know, in certain circles."

  Now there was a nerve-wracking idea. "I mean, I'm on vacation."

  "You're hanging out in your garage on vacation? Although, I have to say, this is the nicest, cleanest garage I've ever—"

  "It's my lab," he snapped. "And yes."

  "Terrific," she said, and stroked the rat some more, looking around. She strolled over to a wall of cell phones and almost touched one, then seemed to think better of it.

  He was weirdly reminded of a Bond villain, and half expected her to say something like, "More tea,

  Mr. Bond? Mwah-hah-hah!"

  "So, thanks for stopping by and all, but, see, I'm on vacation now, and—"

  "I guess I could stick my gun in your ear and ask again," she mused.

  "I don't think the CIA would like that."


  "Well, maybe Honeywell. Halliburton. Hell's Angels. Somebody wouldn't like it. I'm almost positive.

  And I don't work for the bad guys. Although, if I was going to break that rule, I sure would in your case. You're six feet tall, right?"

  "Six-one," she said absently. "Dr. Dyson, you dope, you already work for the bad guys. Who did you think wanted the skeleton key card?"

  "The CIA."

  She raised her eyebrows at him again.

  "Oh, fuck," he said. "But they had all the IDs. And the PO. It was even signed by their head buyer!"

  "Oh, so they weren't sloppy bad guys."

  "God dammit," he cursed.

  "Anyway, I want one, too."

  "One what?"

  "I thought you were some kind of genius."

  "Some kind of idiot is more like it," he muttered, and she laughed. It seemed to startle the rat, who froze in her arms. "Of course, this is assuming you're telling the truth about the good guys really being bad guys."

  "Why would I lie about that?" she asked reasonably. "What do I get out of it?"

  "How the hell should I know? And FYI, this is the most surreal conversation I've had this week."

  "Yeah, well, it's not really working for me, either. Look, don't beat yourself up. I mean it—put that board down," she ordered. "With all the stuff you crank out, you were bound to trip up eventually."

  "They fooled me. They fooled me. Me." He remembered the card well; an actual challenge, for a change, and good money, which he expected. The go-between had shown up about twenty minutes before Agent Tom. And he'd never suspected a thing.

  "Take it easy," she said. "So, I take it you're not going to—"


  "Well, crud. If you're not going to make me one, and if I'm not going to make you make me one, I guess I'll go steal it from the bad guys, then. See ya."

  "Wait!" He was frantically digging through his desk, the file cabinets, the hidden compartment in the back of his mini-fridge. He grabbed a blackberry yogurt, peeked at the label, and stuffed it into his satchel. "I'm coming with you," he said over his shoulder. "They can get into any building in the world with that card."

  "I thought you were on vacation."

  "Well," he said, exasperated, "now I'm doing this."

  "So they should be stopped before they wreak havoc?" she asked, sounding bored.

  "They should be stopped because they tricked me. Me! I was top of my class at MIT!"

  "I never would have guessed," she said, eyeing his tie, which was four inches wide at its broadest point. "So, you're tagging along—"

  "Actually, I'm letting you tag along."

  "Oh, please. And when you get this back, you'll give it to me?"

  "Umm," he said, then darted out the garage door. "Come on, come on!"

  She trudged after him. "I knew I should have gone back to bed when my semiauto jammed before breakfast."

  "Can I drive?" He was circling her banana yellow convertible and caressing the leather seats.

  "Forget it, Dr. Dork."

  "It's Ben."

  "Tara. Tara Marx."

  "Of course it is," he said, and grinned at her. "Did anyone ever tell you, you're sort of like a Bond villain, except with great legs?"

  "Christ," she muttered.

  "Come to think of it, we should definitely take my car."



  Tara Marx tried to sneak looks at Dr. Dyson without being obvious. She couldn't believe it, but she'd let him talk her into taking his car. His dark green Dodge Neon. The geek-mobile. There was barely enough room for Katya, who was currently grooming herself in the backseat, never mind the two of them.

  "I still don't understand why we couldn't take my Alfa Romeo."

  "And I don't understand why the rat had to come with us."

  "Don't talk about Katya like that. She's not 'the rat.' "

  "Jeez, sorry, what is she, 'the duck'? Anyway, this baby is loaded with extras." Dyson actually patted the steering wheel, just in case she hadn't tumbled to what a gigantic geek he was. "You won't be sorry."

  "I'm already sorry." She snuck another peek. It was the eyes; it wasn't her fault. Well, the eyes and the hair. The mussed dark red hair, which stood straight up as if he spent the day running his fingers through it. He needed a haircut; that's why he was so distracting and shaggy. She'd never seen hair that color before ... so dark a red it was like mahogany.

  No, the eye. The vivid, whiskey-colored eye (the other one was blue). No, the stubble, blooming along his chin, that whole too-busy-to-shave thing was really sexy. No, the height, all rangy power—who would have thought a redheaded lab geek would have a swimmer's shoulders and a weight-lifter's legs?

  She'd heard tales of the Dr. Dyson for years, and he certainly wasn't anything like she'd pictured him. Of course, you shouldn't put stock in stereotypes, but he was so far the opposite of one it was a joke, or a crime. He looked like an escapee from a Hunky Men of Love calendar, not a lab drone. And he'd been so outraged when she told him about Krueger & Co., he'd demanded he come with her. Most people would have called the cops. Or shrugged and gone back to work. Now she had a partner.

  She did not play well with others.

  "It's just," she tried again, "my car gets better gas mileage, among other things."

  "Urn," he said, or something like it. He was stabbing buttons on the dashboard—turning on the air conditioner?— and then the entire right-hand side of the windshield went opaque. Fortunately, his side stayed clear, or she would have been deeply, deeply concerned. Then the shield divided into grids and then resolved itself into a map. She could see two dots steadily moving and heard the light "ping-ping"

  of a radar system.

  "Excellent," she managed. Dr. Dyson was years ahead of American technology, which wasn't so impressive, but he was also years ahead of the Germans, which was. "That'll work."

  "Gotcha," he muttered, and stomped on the accelerator.

  "Easy, big guy," she said, which was nothing but the truth—she was big, and almost never ran into taller men, but he had three inches on her, easily. Maybe that was it. It was so weird—and nice—to be with a guy who had some height on her. "I want to get them, too, but getting a ticket will slow you down. And be a major inconvenience to me, not that you care."

  "Um," he said. Then he elaborated. "This car can see every radar gun in a five-mile radius." He pressed