John studied himself in the mirror as best he could through tears. Red, puffy eyes stared back at him, a running nose already leaked just a minute after using a tissue. He couldn't do his job well if he always looked like this. He readjusted his coat and a sneeze caught him unaware. At least he had an appointment with the doctor today.
"Mr. Filner, I am afraid that the results were inconclusive." Dr. Snozuk came bustling into the small room a clipboard in one hand with papers folded over the top and a pen in the other hand. "We only found one thing that you seemed to have a serious immune response to, and it simply doesn't grow in this environment."
"But if I am not allergic to anything else why do I have all the symptoms?" He tried not to wipe his nose on the jacket sleeve. Dr. Snozuk must have noticed John's involuntary half-lift of his arm because he grabbed the box of tissues behind him and set it next to John.
Dr. Snozuk waited while John finished clearing his nose. "The only thing we found was a pretty bad reaction to puffball mushroom spores." John froze in mid wipe. "They really don't have a chance to grow in this dry of a climate, but it seems you know what I am talking about. Do you handle puffball mushrooms?"
"Uh..." Of course he handled the mushrooms, but he really didn't want to explain why. But the alternative was to lie to a very observant doctor with scientific evidence that the only thing causing his allergies was the puffball. "Yes." Short, simple, no need to elaborate.
"May I ask why?"
Of course the doctor could, but John couldn't answer truthfully, it would be stupid. Not only that, it could be suicidal. "It's for research." Skirting the truth.
Dr. Snozuk squinted, realizing the lie, or the multitude of unspoken reasons, but shook his head. "Well you need to wear a basic dust mask when you handle them. Also change your clothing if you don't have lab-wear. He indicated his white coat that went past his knees on his short frame.
John hadn't managed to convince the doctor to prescribe him anything for the allergy beyond the usual over the counter drugs. Of course he wasn't going to wear a mask when he handled the puffballs. He could just imagine it, go into a city official's office and put on a mask before releasing his precious cargo. Unlikely, he would probably get put on a very bad list, if he wasn't already.
Doctors had been much less likely to prescribe any drug since antibiotics were no longer useful. If you didn't have a life threatening disease and a simple way to avoid symptoms then you were out of luck.
John sighed and coughed. He might as well make his way to his supplier, he would just have to find other ways to expose corruption and graft. The months of suffering had to come to an end.
Walking into the warehouse always spooked him. Two large men, maybe men, flanked the entrance and waved him in without cracking a smile. Even given his previous job as a traditional lumberjack for eco/self-sufficiency tour groups he was sure that those two could snap him in half with their eyebrows. Also this time he was telling Timothy that he had to stop, definitely asking for trouble.
Tim made him wait fifteen minutes, not so bad, but still showing him who was in charge. Finally Tim came out of his office grinning, but stopped when he saw John's face.
"What's the matter Johnny?" John didn't cringe, but it didn't seem fair that he couldn't use 'Timmy.'
"I have to stop." It was out, no going back now.
"Stop what?" Tim's face showed surprise, but John knew him well enough to see that the expression was only an amplified reaction, for his benefit.
"Stop using the puffballs. Look at me I can hardly breathe." He coughed but then it actually took and he coughed for longer than he wanted to, leaving Tim to wait. It was finally over, definitely not his best moment.
"Are you sure it's the puffballs? They are engineered for a very specific purpose." An inscrutable look settled over Tim's face, a mask.
John smelled trouble. "I'm sure, I got a doctor to do the test, you know find what I am allergic to?"
"But you weren't allergic a few months ago."
"I am now, must have visited forty or fifty offices."
"They give you anything?" Tim had to be referring to the doctor, he knew all the dark sides of the officials because of John, no need to get anything from them.
"No, I asked."
"Hmm..." Tim looked thoughtful, with and arm across his chest and hand on chin. John started to get uneasy, possibly even jumpy.
"Do you have anything else that could replace the puffballs?" Maybe there was a chance, however unlikely.
"No, everything else is already out of date."
"But I can't wear a mask to interviews." John started to doubt he could really get out of this cleanly.
"Of course not. Who knew that you would develop an allergy?" John supposed that question was rhetorical.
A creak on the metal floor outside the second story office gave away that someone was coming up behind him. At the same moment Tim dropped his arms. John dove to his left. A hand caught the shoulder of his jacket but he slipped out of the grip and landed hard on the dirty metal surface.
"Secure him." Tim pointed at John. and one of the large men advanced, or maybe it was a third one.
"Hold on." John caught his breath. "I have a network right here. It's been recording our whole interaction." He had patted his jacket at very strategic intervals, releasing the recalcitrant spores to take a video recording of what happened.
"So?" The range was short and both of them knew it, for John to collect the information from his targets he needed to go back for follow up interviews and let the little devices dump their data directly to him.
"I set it up so that I could get to a node down the street. My jacket is so full of them I only had to move in order to leave a strong enough trail."
"How convenient, fortunately you are smart enough not to have alerted the authorities. It would have been a silly misunderstanding to deal with."
"No, but it has a deadman switch. If I don't check in soon it will dump the whole thing to Charlie, and several others," he added, getting up into a crouching position, trying to figure out how he could get past the giant.
"But if my memory serves we really haven't said anything other than about your unfortunate allergy. We'll figure something out. Meanwhile you should really consider finding a new career."
"Of course we will need to clean you and your apartment."
"But aren't you going to kill me?" Confusion, were all the rumors untrue?
"No. But you might feel a bit worse after the scrub-down, that is why we need to secure you." Tim signaled and the brute took John by an unresisting arm and then by the shoulders, guiding him down the metal stairs.
A short vignette about the possibility of micro recording devices. Not perfect by any means but just working on a couple different things.
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