Fate Pays The Rent (Fifth Installment)

Chapter 2

“Did you get them?”
“You and me? We’re not talking.”
Jeff’s cell phone buzzed. He looked at the caller ID, flipped the phone open and held it out to Clement. Clement backed away from it mouthing, “Who is it?” Jeff dangled the phone by the antenna and made as if to drop it. Clement grabbed it and snarled, “Hello? No, ma’am. I’m sorry I don’t. It was no bother at all and that sounds delicious. I hope you find it and if you ever want plain breaded chicken strips, please call me again.” He snapped the phone shut and dropped it roughly onto Jeff’s desk.
“Why in the hell would you give me that phone call?”
“I talked to the man from Leonard’s Market.”
“We’re supposed to talk to people on the phone. That’s how we get the orders for the chicken strips.” He sighed. “Look in your drawer and see if you have a file for ‘King Foods’. Well?”
“Not in here.”
“Yeah, me neither.”
“What did she want?”
“She wanted some chicken, green pepper and kalamata olive sausages.”
“That sounds good. I wish we did sell that.”
“I wish I knew why she was calling us when she’s not our customer. Yesterday we had the man from the market and he wasn’t ours either. What is going on?”
“Beats me.”
“Well, until you figure it out and even then you and I are not talking to each other. At all.”
“Geez, man. What happened?”
“You’re not listening. You and I? Not talking.”
“Oh, man. You got busted last night, didn’t you? Were you on the way in? On the way out? What happened?”
“Oh, I talked to the cops all right. But I wasn’t on the way in or on the way out. I never even got near the place except for the sidewalk out in front of it.”
“What? What the hell happened?”
“Remember the lifetime ago called ‘yesterday’? Remember when I asked you what this guy’s schedule was?”
“Yeah, and I told you.”
“Do you remember telling me that the son of a gun leaves a light on all the time even when he’s not there?”
“Why not?”
“Because I didn’t know. Was he there? Did he catch you? Is he the one that called the police?”
“I have no idea if he was there or not because I never tried to go in. I saw the light and I figured I better keep an eye on the place and I ended up riding the bus until 3 a.m. at which time the buses stopped running and I walked over and passed out in a Shari’s.”
“Why did you pass out in a Shari’s?”
“Because I didn’t have any change left to call you to come get me when this was your party in the first place. So I walked all the way over to the Shari’s because it was near his office and I fell asleep and somebody called the cops or maybe they came in on their own and the next thing I know I’m face down in my hash browns with two waitresses and two cops staring at me like I’m about to grow horns.”
“Did they arrest you?”
“For sleeping on my toast? No no. They just gave me a ride to the bus stop and told me to be more careful next time. And the Mexican kid didn’t actually beat me up over the poppers either.”
“Poppers? Where the hell were you?”
“Not poppers, poppers. With the jalapeno and the cream cheese. What’s with you people and the drugs? The cop last night thought the same thing when I said ‘poppers’. Right away everybody’s talking about drugs. You fall asleep in the Shari’s and people think you’re on drugs. You wanna buy a snack at a little store and get a drink and some change for the bus and right away people think you must be talking about drugs.”
“Okay, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything. It’s just when you said you passed out and you almost got beaten up then I thought-“
“Yeah, I know what you thought.”
“What time did you go to the office?”
“The last time I was standing outside was about midnight but I also went by on the bus.”
“Well, he wasn’t there at midnight. He always leaves by 8:30 on Tuesdays; He wants to watch the results of ‘Dancing with the Stars’. He loves that show.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“You’re going back, right?”
“Did you hear nothing I just told you? I could have got killed last night. I could have got arrested.”
“But you didn’t. You’re not just gonna quit, are you?”
“How can you do that?”
“Like this: ‘Jeff, old buddy, I had about three hours of sleep not counting the one on the bacon. I had to take a bus over here today because my car is in the shop for repairs it doesn’t need. If you want the pictures that maybe don’t even exist of a girl you shouldn’t even be seeing then you go over there and get them yourself.”
“I can’t.”
“Why the hell not?”
“Because if he did show up and he saw me then he’d know why I was there and he’d call the police and say I was harassing him.”
“Oh, right. And if he showed up and saw me and had no idea who the hell I was or why I was there then I guess he’d feel just fine offering me a cup of coffee and his take on the football game the naked woman showed up for.”
“Did you see that?”
“No, I did not see that because they don’t yet have televisions on the buses. I heard about it from one of the cops who escorted me to the bus stop. My point is that you’d have a lot better chance of getting in there because you could tell him you were there to get something your girlfriend left. Make some remark about women and how they’re always forgetting something and he’ll laugh and you’ll laugh and you’ll go home to your own bed. I’ve already met the cops in that general vicinity and they made it clear they don’t want to be seeing me again.” He walked over to the desk, got his mug, pulled the spigot on the industrial-size coffeepot, and frowned at the trace amount of coffee that came out. “You might think that after the night I had, I could have more than three drops of coffee.”
“Oh, that’s my bad. It’s just that it takes an hour and a half to make enough coffee to fill that thing up so I always wait but one cup is pretty fast. Regular?”
“Of course.” Clement watched Jeff flip the switch on the coffeemaker then walk to the window that faced the brick wall. He stood looking out, saying nothing but Clement could see the muscles in his arms tense as his fists formed and reformed in his jacket pockets. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
Jeff whirled around without taking his hands out and was off balance for a moment. “I just thought we were better friends than this. How am I gonna tell her that you didn’t get the pictures? I told her last night and she was so happy. She was clapping and dancing up and down and kissing me and now I’ve gotta tell her it wasn’t true.”
“Well, it’s not true.”
“But I don’t want to have to tell her that. She was so happy last night. Between that and the slacker cave man, it was an amazing night.”
“I don’t need to hear this.”
“You do need to hear it. She was like Eva Longoria and Britney before she got skanky. I felt like Justin Timberlake.”
“Holy crap.”
“I can’t go tell her and have her take it all back. You have no idea what she did last night.”
“Yeah. Which is fine with me.”
“Please, don’t make me tell her it isn’t true.”
“Fine, I’ll tell her. I’m not getting anything off her. Not that I wanna be. Take your hands out of your pockets. You’re not gonna punch me. This is ridiculous.”
“You don’t understand.” Jeff filled the mug with coffee and handed it to Clement along with four sugars. “Nobody’s gonna have to tell her it isn’t true because it’s going to be true.”
Clement reached into the small refrigerator for the milk. “Come again?”
“You can go back tonight. Now that you know he’s not there. I’ll even go over with you and wait while you see if everything’s okay. If it’s not, you jump in the car and we haul our butts out of there before there’s any trouble. If everything’s fine, you go in and get the pictures and I’ll pick you up someplace else. You know the area, right?”
“Oh yeah.”
Jeff wheeled the chair back to his desk and bounced happily into it. “So you know where we can meet up afterwards. He’ll be out early tonight. He gets his hair done at that men only barbershop where they give you hand massages and stuff. Then he’ll want to watch-. Let’s see, it’s Wednesday. ‘Pushing Daisies’. He likes the knitted desk accessories.”
“What’s wrong with this guy?”
“What do you mean?”
“Geez, he watches ‘Dancing with the Stars’. He watches ‘Pushing Daisies’ for the knitting. That’s not normal.”
“A lot of people watch ‘Dancing with the Stars’.”
“Not guys. Not normal guys.”
“Twenty-seven million people watched ‘Pushing Daisies’ the first week. Some of those had to be normal guys.”
“And how do you know all this stuff? How do you know where he gets his hair cut and what TV shows he likes?”
“Mari talks to him.”
“A lot?”
“Does she talk to him a lot? Tell me- how many times a week would you say that your girlfriend is talking with her ex-boyfriend?”
“I dunno. Two times a week, maybe three.”
“Does that seem like a lot to you?”
“I dunno. I never really thought about it. What are you trying to say? Oh, I get it. You’re trying to say she isn’t really done with him so why should we do this. Right? You’re trying to tell me she’s too close and they’re gonna get back together.”
“I’m not trying to say anything.”
“You know what? There’s people in California who live with their exes. Susan Powter and her husband lived right in the same building as her ex-husband so they could all raise the kids. We don’t live with Mari’s ex-boyfriend and even if we did it wouldn’t matter because I love her and I trust her. You don’t know, man. You weren’t there last night.”
“Easy. Easy. I wasn’t saying any of that. I’m just going back to the idea that if they’re so close that they’re talking a bunch of times a week then she could just ask him for the pictures.”
“But she doesn’t know if he took any.”
“She could ask him that then and save everyone a lot of trouble, keep them from getting carried out of a Shari’s.”
“She can’t ask him. If she asks him and he says ‘yes’ then she has to see whether or not he’s gonna give them back to her. If she asks him and he says ‘no’ then either it looks like she wanted him to take some and he never did or it looks like she thinks he’s the kind of person who would take pictures like that.”
“She broke up with him, right?”
“Well, yeah.”
“Then why in the holy hell does she care what he thinks of what she thinks of him or about him or him thinking about her. Oh, god. My head is starting to hurt. There is not enough coffee in the world to make this a good day.”
“Just do it, huh? She was so happy. And I’ll go with you. You’re right. It wasn’t very fair of me to ask you to do this by yourself while I was home having the kind of night most guys only dream of.”
“It’s okay. It was a little rough in places.” They both laughed. “But what was I gonna do otherwise? Watch ‘Dancing with the Stars’?”
“Or reruns of ‘BattleStar Galactica. Ha!”
“Be careful there, my friend. No dissing on ‘BattleStar Galactica’.”
“So we’re on for tonight?”
“This is so frigging stupid.” He sighed. “Yeah, all right. We get out here early, go pick up my car which has nothing wrong with it, have some dinner and get the pictures.”
“Sperm to worm and womb to tomb.”
“What did I say about that? Especially when I got three hours sleep in a bed and one in the hash browns.”
“Sorry, man. I’m just happy.”

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