"Stop! Don't touch that!"
Amanda froze, her right hand hovering over the tray of cookies. She
felt like a child caught with her hand in the cookie jar. But she
wasn't a child. She was a grown woman, and everybody knew that
anything left out on the counter in the break room was fair game.
After looking up, Amanda stepped back. "It's all yours. I think
you need it more than I do."
Francine grabbed the last double-chocolate chunk cookie. Her
usually perfectly manicured fingernails were ragged and chipped, her
blond hair was matted with something that was kind of greenish, and
there were odd-colored stains all over her clothes.
"What happened to . . ." Amanda stopped in mid-sentence. The glare
that she received told her not to ask, until massive amounts of
chocolate had been consumed. "I've got some chocolate ice cream
upstairs in the Q Bureau."
"Let's go." The blond turned on her broken heel and wobbled down
the hall toward the elevator, not even waiting for her.
Amanda grabbed a snickerdoodle and followed the odd smell that she
was sure hadn't come from an expensive bottle of French perfume.
Hopefully, the story would be worth missing out on the chocolate
Settling into her chair, with a bowl of ice cream sitting on the
desk in front of her, Amanda made a mental note to disinfect the
couch, where Francine sat wiping green stuff out of her hair.
Finally satisfied, it seemed, with removing what she could of the
unidentified green substance, she dug into her chocolate ice cream.
"Okay," Francine said, as her spoon scraped the bottom of her empty
bowl. "You fed me chocolate, so I guess now you want to know what
"Sure, if you want to." Amanda nodded, trying not to let on how
curious she really was. Knowing Francine, if she looked too eager,
Francine might decide not to share, just for spite.
"It all started with that idiotic spring-cleaning assignment."
Amanda remembered some of the oddballs she'd met in the past during
spring-cleaning. It was definitely something that every agent
"Okay, people, you all have your assignments. I saw your eyes roll
when you heard it was time for spring-cleaning again. Let's just
get our work done and get it behind us." Billy picked up his notes
from the conference room table. "What are you waiting for? Move!"
Francine waited for the other agents to file out ahead of
"Francine, don't even ask. I'm not switching assignments for you.
I'm not going to give yours to some freshman. They are your spring-
cleaning assignments." He walked out of the room and toward his
She followed him through the Bullpen. "But, Billy. The `Save the
Moss Foundation'? You have to be kidding me. Who wants to save the
"Francine, I guess as soon as you check them out, you can find out
firsthand why they want to save the moss." Billy shut his office
door, leaving her facing her boss's nameplate.
Amanda took Francine's bowl and set it with hers on the corner of
her desk. She'd wash them later. "So why do they want to save the
"Do you want to hear this story or not?" Francine quipped, as a
piece of green slime ran down beside her ear.
"Sorry, Francine. Please, continue."
"Excuse me, sir. I'm looking for Sam Peabody of the `Save the Moss
Foundation.' I'm Francine Diamond, and I write for the `Green
America Magazine.'" She took stock of the man in front of her. He
had hippy written all over him--from the long, scraggly hair and the
dazed-out look, all the way down to his scruffy sandals.
"That's me. Green America, huh? I've been trying to get a cover
from them for years and have always been rejected. Even the Eco
groups never understood us. What made you change your mind?" Sam
grabbed his faded backpack and slung it over his shoulder.
"Well, I guess it was because I started working for the magazine and
looked through all the previous requests to find the perfect
Cinderella story. You know, the group that no one ever knew about
but does such wonderful things for our planet." She
followed "sandal man" around the building and down a path through
When he reached a creek, Sam plopped his pack down on a rock and
slipped off his shoes.
"Um, what are you doing?" Francine looked down at her designer
sling-backs, already covered with dust from the trek down the hill.
"Saving the moss, what else?" He waded into the creek and turned a
She knew that the only way she was going to find out if this was
just a normal wacko or a security risk wacko was to follow. After
taking off her shoes and rolling her pant legs up to her knees, she
followed. As she walked, she mentally listed all the people who
would have to pay for this assignment.
What she saw when she rounded the bend was astonishing. There was
the leader of the "Save the Moss Foundation," naked as a jaybird and
rubbing green, slimy moss all over his body.
"In order to save the moss, we must be one with the moss. Come and
join me." He reached toward her with a handful of moss.
As she pivoted and stepped toward the shore, she slipped on a rock
and fell backward, landing in Mossman's arms, which couldn't hold
her up because they were so slimy from his moss bath. She found
herself sitting waist-deep in the water.
"Congratulations, you are now one with the moss." Sam smiled down
at her, his arms outstretched over the top of her head, moss
dripping from his arms and into her hair.
Amanda couldn't help but giggle. Seeing Francine's glare, she knew
she was in for it. "More chocolate, Francine?"
"I don't know why I even told you." Francine stood and stomped
toward the door.
Amanda beat her to it, blocking her way. "I'm sorry, Francine, but
you have to admit it is a funny story. And you know that the Agency
will reimburse you for the ruined clothes."
Francine caught a glimpse of her reflection in the mirror that hung
beside the door. "I just pray that this green goop has some sort of
miraculous conditioning properties."
"You may be on to something. You can get a side job collecting moss
in D.C. streams." Amanda ducked out of the way for fear that a moss-
crusted arm would reach out and grab her.
"You know that the only reason I'm not getting you back for that one
is because I now know you keep chocolate ice cream in your
freezer?" Francine showed a hint of a smile as she headed for the
"So, Francine. The moss man was totally naked, rubbing the moss
everywhere on his body?"
"So, was it the moss that made you lose your balance or a moss-
covered you know what?" Amanda wagged her eyebrows.
"No comment." Francine strode out the door, her natural mossy
perfume still lingering.