The Marvelous Mind of Marilyn Hansen

By Lauren Derrick

Episode 1: A Novel Heist

    “Why are we here again?”

    “Grandma is getting a new TV today, and we're going to help her set it up.”

    Finley knocked on a faded blue door. The paint on the white doorway was just starting to peel in the California sun.

    “Great.” Jake muttered as he pulled out his phone.

    Finley’s mouth pulled a little to one side. “What are you doing?”

    “I gotta make sure my phone has enough battery to last through Marley & Me.”

    “Grandma does love her dog movies.” Finley sighed. She knocked. “Hi, Grandma!”

    Marilyn, a teddy-bear-bodied grandmother with tight curls, stood in the doorway, looking a little flustered. She shuffled a bit in her house slippers and adjusted her spectacles before she looked up at her grandchildren. Jake was a tall, husky high school senior with a dark, curly mop of hair and a fair complexion. He had at least an inch on his older sister, Finley.

    “Oh! I thought you two weren't coming until three!”

    Jake shrugged. “Well, there wasn't school today. Martin Luther King Day.”

    “What Jake means to say,” Finley smirked, “is that he only slept in until noon today—so we're early.”

    Marilyn smiled sweetly. Her wrinkled lips rubbed together a little before she shuffled out of her doorway. “Well, I have heard boys his age need a great deal of sleep.”

    Marilyn settled her grandchildren down in the sitting room and shuffled into the kitchen. A baking sheet full of chocolate chip cookies sat on top of the stove. Marilyn took a spatula from an overstuffed kitchen tool crock and began to shovel cookies onto a blue plastic platter with little daisies on the edges. She glanced over at the entrance to the kitchen, then tapped the part of her spectacles that drooped behind her ear.

    “Quentin,” she announced clearly but quietly, “there has been a change in plans. I won't be able to communicate with you over the headset.”

    From a slightly muted speaker, a soft groan sounded. “I thought you said that scenario was unlikely.”

    “It was,” Marilyn agreed calmly, “but unlikely things are known to happen periodically.”

    “Fine.” The voice grumbled from over the line. “But stay the hell out of my memories.”

    Marilyn just smirked.

In the sitting room, Jake leaned back on the faded blue velvet sofa and put his feet up on the coffee table. Finley frowned at him and swiped his feet off with her forearm. Jake yielded, changing his position to set his feet flat on the floor with widely separated knees.

    “Grandma should get a TV in here too,” Jake grumbled.

    Finley pressed her lips together. “She doesn't want a TV in here.”

    Jake's eyes looked to the ceiling for sympathy. The ceiling gave him none, so he whipped out his phone.

    “It's not going to kill you to visit with Grandma.” Finley hissed.
    Jake grimaced.

In a well-kept trailer park nearby, Quentin, a thin middle-aged man with dirty blonde hair walked a light tan pug with a black muzzle. The dog's snoring seemed constant even while the little creature was awake. A pink, heart-shaped tag on the collar named the dog as “Ladybug.”

    “You know, I could have walked your dog after the mission.” Quentin grumbled.

    A voice in his head replied, I can hear what you're thinking. You don't need to say anything out loud.

    Quentin paled, staring down at his working-class jeans and grass-stained shoes. “Don't remind me.”

    Now, Quentin, you see here. While it's true that I have the capacity to invade your mind and review your memories, I do have manners and self-control. I stopped using my powers to invade people’s minds years ago—on principle. I don't even use my powers to interrogate criminals, so please stop worrying.

He shuddered. Ladybug squatted near a decorative pinwheel. Quentin took a grocery sack out of his back pocket and bent down. “You're paying extra for the dog-sitting, I presume?”

You be nice to my baby, Marilyn sent, and she'll be a good helper for you.

Quentin stopped short, his face adopting a disturbed look. “You mean... you're going to... use telepathy on the dog?”

NO, of course not. She's just exceptionally well-trained.

Quentin eyed the dog nervously.

Oh fine. Yes, I used telepathy to train her. She was quite entertained by me knowing what she was thinking.

“I'm sure.” Quentin muttered.

Marilyn ambled into the sitting room bearing a tray of cookies. She smiled fondly at her grandchildren. Finley smiled back and discreetly nudged her brother, whose eyes darted briefly to the baked goods before he re-holstered his phone.

    “Thanks.” Jake said, reaching for a cookie.

    Finley eyed the treats for a painful second before quietly slipping one into her hand as well. “Wow, they're still warm and everything.”

    Marilyn bobbed her head. “Perks of showing up early.”

    “Where's Lady?” Finley asked.

    “Ladybug? Ah... well... the vet says I shouldn't give her cookies, and she always makes that face at me... so I put her out back.”

    Finley looked up with a knowing smile, and then her eyebrows furrowed. “Grandma, did you change your glasses just now?”

    “Hmmmm?” Marilyn asked, drawing her fingers up to her ears.

    “Your GLASSES.” Jake said clearly and loudly through a mouth full of chocolatey goodness.

    Marilyn acted startled. “Oh! Well yes—I had my reading spectacles on when you got here. I was reading an article in the paper about a doggy who saved a little girl from a fire. A pug in fact! Went into a burning house and led the poor little thing right out.”

    Finley blinked. “Oh... yeah, I think I heard about that.”

    Jake gave his sister a sideways glance.

    Marilyn gently lowered herself down onto the love seat of her sofa set.

    “So, how are things going with Sara?” Marilyn asked Jake.

    Jake bit his lip and slumped back even further into the sofa. Finley winced. “They... broke it off a few days ago.”

    Marilyn shook her head sadly. “Oh, that's too bad. I'm sorry, Jakey.”

    “It's all right.” Jake mumbled.

    “She's going out of state for college.” Finley offered.

    An awkward silence hung in the air. Marilyn coughed.

    “I suppose it's about time.” The older woman said absently.

    Finley exchanged a look with her brother. “Time? For what?”

    Marilyn jumped a little. “Oh! Ah—the television? No?”

“All right, I'm moving in.” Quentin whispered. “Are you still with me?”

    Yes. I apologize. I'm trying to handle two separate conversations at once. Now when you get to the door make sure you have the correct key in hand. He has an alarm set if anyone stands on his doorstep for more than two minutes fumbling around.

    Quentin walked up to a trailer with a suspiciously nice yellow convertible parked next to it. He ran his hand through his hair. Ladybug jogged loyally at his side as he fished in his pocket. He pulled out an unassuming, silver-colored key from his pocket.

    “This looks like it came from Home Depot.”

    That's because it did.

    “You mean... you stole his original key and took it into a retail store to make a copy?!”

    Marilyn's telepathic voice sounded slightly annoyed. Byrd still has his key and can get in and out of his home just fine. I simply borrowed it.

    Quentin twisted the key into the chrome door knob. “And how did you get it?”

You're becoming side-tracked, Quentin. When I requisitioned you from Special Ops they said you were very good at focusing and meditating.

    “That's what I tell them I'm doing when I'm napping,” Quentin muttered as he and Ladybug entered the trailer and shut the door behind them.

    The trailer had low lighting and brown tones. There was a tan cushioned armchair with orange and brown pinstripes, a thick shag brown carpet, and a musty scent. Quentin licked his lips and set his end of Ladybug's leash down on the floor. Ladybug dropped to her stomach then flopped over to one side, her nasal pant drawing a cringe from Quentin.

Finley checked the time on her phone. “I guess we're almost into the time window they told you. Sometimes they're early... so maybe...”

    “Oh, I must have just been confused.” Marilyn furrowed her eyebrows and turned her gaze downward. “This new medication they have me on has me thinking it's the wrong time practically all day.”

    Jake reached for his third cookie.

    Marilyn pressed her lips together. “You know, I think we could use some milk over here. Is skim alright?”

    Finley's hand flew out towards her grandmother. “You just sat down, Grandma! I can go get it.”

    “Oh, thank you, dear.” She glanced over at her grandson. “Jake, maybe you should go with her to help carry the glasses.”

    “Oh. Okay.” Jake ambled after his sister.

Now listen very carefully, Quentin. This is vital. On the bookshelf there will be a lot of knickknacks. I need you to describe them to me. One thing will be from a different era than everything else.

    “I'll just dust for prints.” Quentin said casually.

    After a few minutes, Quentin groaned. “He's touched everything on these shelves, hasn't he?”

    Most likely. He's the sort to sit up awake at night, chuckling to himself over the idea of someone dusting for prints only to find his fingerprints all over everything.

    “There's a bunch of classic Coca-Cola memorabilia,” Quentin mumbled, “including a deck of playing cards.”

    It won't be any of the Coca-Cola stuff.

    “Okay. I've got a Tom and Jerry snow globe, a Woody Woodpecker... pipe? Anyway, there's a funny white horse character in a red hat, a Betty Boop, a bendy green... character thing...”

    It's Betty Boop. That womanizer.

    “Using Betty Boop as the key to your office doesn't necessarily make you a womanizer.” Quentin countered idly.

    The Betty Boop figurine was winking and wearing a top hat. Quentin looked closely. There seemed to be a very fine sliver of space between the hat and the head of the figurine. He twisted the top hat and heard a click. A line of light appeared between the shelf and the wall. Quentin approached the gap and gently pushed the sliding bookcase to the side, squeezing into the lit office.

“Here you go,” Finley said, passing Marilyn a hard plastic glass of milk.

    Marilyn smiled sweetly. “Thank you, Finley. So tell me—what's going on in your lives right now?”

    Finley gave Jake a sideways glance as he took a large bite out of his fourth cookie. He shrugged back at her. Finley sighed. “Well, I'm still working on my undergrads—hopefully I'll transfer to a university next fall.”

    “Which one?”

    “Ah—I haven't decided yet. I'm thinking about going into psychology, but Mom thinks that being a therapist might be... a little too...”

Quentin peeked around the office. A pin-up calendar with illegible handwriting on some of the dates decorated the wall just above an ancient, off-white IBM computer. He grimaced. “Well, I found Byrd's computer.”

    Excellent. And you have the thumb drive?

    “Yeah—should I put it in now?”

    I need you to move the mouse around and look at the files on the screen.

    “Won't I need a password?”

    His password is April23Nifty52

    “How did you manage to get his password?”

“It wasn't too straining,” Marilyn thought and said. After a few seconds, she added, “I was a therapist for a short while. It can be very rewarding.”

    Finley brightened.

Did you type it in?

    Quentin let out a breath. “Yeah, yeah—now put in the flash drive with the ransomware?

    Read me the names of the files on his desktop first.

    “Project Omni, Project X53, Recipes, Artillery Codes, Project X54, Project X55, The...The Maltese Affair?”

    OH good. The Maltese Affair is his pet project. Now, I need you to put that smutty novel on your blank flash drive and download it for me.


“Sorry, I think I missed what you just said, Jakey.” Marilyn said, clearing her ear with her little finger. “What have you been up to?”

    Jake shrugged. “Mostly just football and trying to get my Spanish grade up.”

    “Nada mas galletas para ti,” Finley joked, as he reached for another cookie.

    “Yes, I need that.” Marilyn said, then started. “I mean... Jake... needs that. He could use a good dose of cookie therapy right now. He'll burn off the calories at football.”

    Jake took a swig of milk and downed his latest cookie.


    Two conversations at once, Quentin. Marilyn thought at him. I'm not as young as I once was, and it's hard to keep it all straight.

    “All right—you're going to save some for me, right?” Quentin paused. “And is it really right to take his creative works right now? I thought this was about destroying sensitive data.”

    I use up a good deal of self-control not manipulating people with my powers—so I feel entitled to save and read my old associate's creative pursuits when I get the urge. Besides, we're installing a nasty virus on his computer after this, and I'd hate for him to lose his work.

    “So invading someone's mind is violating their privacy, but stealing and reading their private works isn't?” Quentin asked sardonically.

    It's a much more minor infraction that I feel entitled to commit after manifesting such good behavior all these years.

    “Yeah, try telling that to the agency. I'll install the virus now...”

“Don't you dare!” Marilyn declared as Finley reached for the cookies. “I mean, don't you dare take just one, Finley! You can't let Jake eat, ALL of them... and you two ought to eat all those up so your poor old grandmother doesn't put on too much weight from all the leftovers.”

    Finley looked troubled. “Grandma, are you okay?”

    “I'm fine,” Marilyn assured her. “But the doctor says I'm on a fast course to diabetes if I don't get my diet under control. Maybe you can take some with you to work—how's that going by the way?”

“Don't let them eat up ALL the cookies.” Quentin joked. “I want some.”

    I'll make you a whole batch if you bring me that novel. I want to read it. And if he hasn't hidden any government secrets in there I'll edit it for him and give it back when I'm done so he doesn't lose his progress.

    “How magnanimous.”

I am rather generous when I feel like it—now focus, Quentin.

“Sorry, dear, I think my hearing is going.” Marilyn apologized as Finley stared up expectantly for a reply. “Could you say that again?”

    Finley grimaced and spoke louder. “My boss has been making me put in some pretty weird hours lately.”

Quentin drummed his fingers on the desk next to the IBM. “This download is taking forever. Are you sure you need this?”

    Absolutely. While you're waiting, why don't you see if he's got anything interesting written on his calendar?

    “Oh, the pin-up bikini calendar? That's useless, his handwriting is completely illegible.”

“That womanizer,” Marilyn muttered.

    Finley looked taken aback. “I... I'm not sure it's that.”

    “Oh. Well, don't let your boss walk all over you just because you're nice.” Marilyn said absently, but then she met Finley's eyes. “So, you were thinking psychology as a major, perhaps?”

    “Well,” Finley paused as she sipped her milk, “I've also considered a career in writing. I know that's competitive, but Mom says you might still know some people.”

    Marilyn grinned. “Oh I might. If you want to do psychology you should do psychology, but I still have some old contacts that still work for major publishing companies—do you know what you'd like to write?”

Quentin stiffened at the sound of a door creaking open. Marilyn, he thought, I think Byrd is back. I need to get out of here.

    Did you get the file onto the flash drive?

    Yes, Quentin thought back. And I successfully installed the virus. Now how do I get out of here?!

    You just sit back and wait. Get up when I tell you and slip out the front door.

    “Just sit back and wait?!” Quentin hissed. “He’ll skewer me!”

    An elderly man with sunglasses and a stately air stepped into the trailer. Apprehensively, he set his keys down on a side table next to the door. Ladybug sat upright, panting noisily and wagging her curly tail. A small drizzle of drool began to stretch from her mouth.

    The man removed his sunglasses and bent down slowly, his yellow golf-tee folding onto his legs. His eyes were wide for a second before a look of realization replaced the surprise and he tilted his head in annoyance. He gave Ladybug a scratch behind the ears. Her bulging eyes looked into his expectantly.

    “You mind telling me what you're doing in here?” Byrd called out loudly.

    No one answered.

    The man stood straight, a contemplative look in his glassy blue eyes. In an instant, the small pug leaped onto the side table and grabbed the keys. Ladybug bolted out the door.

    A mixed look of shock and horror replaced the contemplation on Byrd's face. He jogged out after Ladybug. He glanced around, but the little dog had disappeared from sight. Byrd put his hands on his hips.

    An engine roared.

    Byrd turned to see his yellow Jaguar convertible slowly sliding down his driveway in neutral. After a few seconds, a little pug perched her paws up on the steering wheel.

    “Hey!” Byrd yelled, his hands flying out towards the car. “No, no, no, no, NO! Bad dog!”

Jake wiped cookie crumbs off onto his pants, earning a dirty look from Finley. “I don't know. I think she'd be just as good at nonfiction. Fin did win the school essay contest a few years ago. I think it was the one about hot glue guns.”

    Marilyn contorted a little, snorting. She cleared her throat. “Excuse me, I need the restroom.”

    Mustering as much composure as she could, Marilyn teetered to the bathroom. Seconds later Jake and Finley could hear giggles erupting from that direction.

    “Was it something I said or is Grandma... losing it?” Jake asked quietly.

    Finley bit her lip. “I actually can't tell.”

Quentin slipped out of the trailer to see an elderly man in a yellow shirt chasing down a blue convertible that seemed to be sliding downhill in neutral. A small pug stood at the steering wheel, barking excitedly at the man.

    “I'm happy to see that you find good, moral uses for your powers.” Quentin muttered.

    No response came.


    I'm sorry, bathroom break. You know, old people and their bladders.

    Quentin stopped in his tracks. “Pardon?”

    Marilyn took a few seconds to respond. Sorry, I'm getting lazy at lying—I've maxed out my old-lady excuses for the day. Anyhow, the television is due to arrive any minute now, so you just bring those flash drives over and slide them inside the box. I have your cookies in the kitchen. I'll put them in the window.

Marilyn came back into the sitting room. She was eager to tell Jake and Finley the funniest story she had just read in the bathroom about a little dog who had started up a convertible car, put it into neutral, and then started cruising down the street.

    Finley smiled, looking a little relieved. “You sure love your dog stories, don't you, Grandma?”

    Marilyn signed for her new flat-screen television a few minutes later. A couple of flash drives in the bottom of the box surprised Jake and Finley, but Marilyn said that she had requested a digital instruction manual because she could zoom in on her computer and see the letters better.

    “They were so nice about it on the phone, though it must have been an odd request,” Marilyn said as she squirreled the flash drives away in her dress pocket.

    Ladybug mysteriously showed up in the front yard without her collar soon after, and Marilyn cried out in surprise as soon as she saw her. “How long has my baby girl been out in the front with all the cars? You come back inside right now, Ladybug, and I'll get you a treat.”

    At the word “treat,” the little tan pug came waddling right in.

    It took Jake and Finley some time, but they set up the television and spent the evening showing their grandmother their favorite shows on Netflix, which Jake insisted that Marilyn “had to get.”

The next morning, Marilyn walked Ladybug to the dog park. She released the clip on the leash to let Ladybug run around and play. After several minutes, a tall old man in a green polo golf shirt sat down next to her.

    “Well played, Mar. Well played.”

    Marilyn simply smiled. “Thank you, Robert.”

    He pulled a wadded-up dog leash and collar out of his pocket and passed it to her. “You read it yet?”

    “I've been waiting for decades. I stayed up all night to finish it.”

    Robert Byrd's fingers interlocked, and he stared at the ground. “And?”

    Marilyn folded her arms. “You should have sent that in to be edited and published years ago. It's a fine novel. A bit smutty, but there is certainly a market for that sort of thing.”

    Byrd snorted. “Lot of effort you went through just to read a book.”

    Marilyn retorted, “You have wanted to publish that novel for more than half your life now. I like you too well to see you die before you get it done.”

    “How'd you manage to get it cleared?”

    “Oh, you're not going to like it. I told them I thought you were holding on to some old files from that case we worked back in '85.”

    Byrd shot her a sideways glance and rubbed his temples. “At least that explains why you crashed my computer.”

    “Oh, don't give me that. I know you have at least two back-ups.”

    They watched silently as Ladybug sniffed around a tree and then flopped down in the shade, scratching her back in the grass as she seemed to be reaching for her tail with her mouth.

    “You've always been incredible, Mar.” Byrd sighed. “Especially when you used to wear that little black...”

    He trailed off and cleared his throat as Marilyn's gaze turned cold. “You're a powerful and intimidating woman—yet here you are in your floral print dress walking your pug to the park. You ever going to let people know what you're capable of?”

    Marilyn raised an eyebrow. “Oh, so this is about me now?”

    Byrd fixed a cool stare on her through his shades.

    “It's really not that complicated. Pugs and little old ladies aren't all that threatening. Sometimes that makes us more powerful.”

    “I guess a little kid isn't going to follow a big scary dog to get out of a fire.”


    “You ever going to let your grandkids know?”

    Marilyn paused. “If I tell them they'll be wondering if I've been manipulating them from the shadows all these years. If they find out—if they can know without me knowing that they know—well, maybe I can still be their grandma instead of some sort of scary mind-reading monster.”

    Byrd shook his head. “I used to wish I could be telepathic. Do what you do. Guess it's not all it's cracked up to be, eh?”

    “You have no idea.”


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