When the temp agency called, I was struggling to make the math work. In one window, I was logged in to my checking account; in the other, I was whittling down my grocery delivery shopping cart into something that would fit into the sliver of overdraft I had available. I kept dragging different configurations of noodles and vegetables in and out of the cart, grimly trying to ward off scurvy until one of several outstanding invoices was paid.
I had my phone right next to me with the ringer on as loud as it would go, so when the call came in it scared the crap out of me. I fumbled to answer, leaving greasy fingerprints on the cracked glass of my phone's screen.
"Anna Tromedlov," I croaked.
"Am I speaking with...the Palindrome?"
"Fucking hell," I hissed before I could stop myself.
I coughed. "Sorry, yes. This is she."
"Do you prefer your civilian name?" There was palpable distaste in the voice on the other end of the call. Some of the recruiters took their work too seriously.
"If you don't mind." I tried to sound breezy, but my voice was still hoarse and anxious.
"I'll make a note of that," the Temp Agency recruiter lied.
I closed my eyes for a long moment, regretting once again filling in the "aliases" section of my hench profile. Two years later, the rookie mistake haunted me in the form of every recruiter addressing me by a nerd's idea of what a villain's name might be. At least the punishment for hubris was on brand.
"Miz Trauma'ed-love, this is a courtesy call to inform you that there is a screening session at the Luthor Street branch of the Temp Agency that includes opportunities that match your skill set. Are you able to attend?"
"When is the screening?" I hunted on my desk for my phone for a moment, to check my schedule, before realizing it was in my hand. I opened a new tab with my calendar.
"Eleven A.M., Miz Trauma'ed-love."
"Today?" That call time was less than an hour away.
"Is that going to be a problem?"
"Not at all, that sounds great." It didn't. "I'll definitely be there."
I wouldn't have time to shower. I decided showing up covered in dry shampoo and desperation was better than missing a chance to pick up a contract. It had been a few weeks since I last worked; the villain I was semi-regularly henching for had their largest aquatic base raided, and almost all of the henches working off-site had our contracts canceled to cover the cost of the rebuild. It was nothing unusual, but I had gone just long enough between jobs that I was
getting a little uncomfortable. You can only eat so much instant ramen.
"We look forward to seeing you in person, Miz Trauma'ed-love," the recruiter lied again, before hanging up.
In the tiny tile rectangle of my bathroom, I discovered last night's winged eyeliner was in decent shape and could be repaired. With a lot of mouthwash, fresh lipstick, and a severe-but-vampy bun, I looked almost presentable. I squeezed myself into my tightest suit (tweed) and called my cab.
Oscar was a new driver. There weren't a ton of cabbies who would work with us, so it was hard for any villain who couldn't hire a personal driver to get a ride in the city. It turns out when some asshole in tights picks up the rideshare you're in and flips it over like a confused tortoise, that's a one-star review. A few cabbies, though, decided that being able to double their rates was worth the threat of getting their car ripped in half by some costumed dirtbag. I'd had to break up with my last driver when he got a little fond of me and told me I was "too nice for this life." When they start getting attached, it's time to move on. Next thing you know they're developing a savior complex and turning you in "for your own good." I was already grocery shopping in the middle of the night after the same cashier saw me buying a single bag of Doritos one time too many and started giving me life advice. I'd been emotionally preparing myself to give up my favorite pizza joint if the delivery guy kept being friendly.
Oscar, though, I liked a lot so far. He'd barely spoken a handful of words since I started calling on him. I could count on his curt nod and a quiet ride wherever I was going; I also got to admire the shocking thickness of his eyebrows in the rearview mirror.