15
Mar
09

Fate Pays The Rent (Eleventh Installment)

“I noticed you had a table full of admirers.” They were on their way back to Mrs. Lamb’s office to return their name tags. The thud and squeak of tables being folded and rolled around the cafeteria followed them down the hall.
“Age is not protection against my charms.”
“You should work that. Maybe one of those young ladies is your future wife. If you picked her out now you could ship her off-“
“Are we back to that? How did you get along with that junior thug?”
“Wilmot’s a good boy. His brother too. And smart. But I think he’s bored. I think they’re both bored and that’s why they get in so much trouble.”
“Is that why kids hit you in the head with all those rolls? Were they bored?”
“No. Those kids were just evil.”
“I forgot to ask what you did last night.”
“Ate dinner, did the dishes, balanced my checkbook, usual exciting night.”
“Did you go out?”
“Out?”
“Yes. Were you taking advantage of our city’s mass transit again?”
“Oh. No, I didn’t take any buses and I didn’t take any naps in restaurants. I did go for a drive though.”
“By your favorite office?”
“No, actually, I got a craving for a great big cheeseburger from a drive-in restaurant and decided to see if I could find one.”
“You’d just had a cheeseburger at Anna’s.”
“I know and usually I go for months without having one. It was really weird to want to have two in a row.”
“So, did you find a place?”
“Huh?”
“Did you find a drive-in where you could get a cheeseburger?”
“No. I knew where one used to be but it’s a Mexican place now.”
“One of those ‘Open 24 hours’ places?”
“Yeah. I think there might still be a drive-in burger place but they wouldn’t have been open that late and it’s not a big deal anyway.”
“I’ve never seen you like this.”
“Like what?” Clement fingered the folded edge of the paper in his pocket.
“You’re so ambivalent about this burger place. You’re not the kind of person who gives up. Usually when you want something you just go for it. Like today at lunch when you and that kid went charging past the rest of us so you could get sloppy Joes first.”
“Well, sloppy Joes are important and drive-in cheeseburgers aren’t. And the kid wanted to be sure he got the sloppy Joes.”
“So you decided to help him make sure.”
“We’re supposed to be getting to know the students while we’re here. We’re supposed to be good will ambassadors for the company. Besides, our chicken strips are nasty.”
“Where did you hear that?”
“From students and cooks.”
“They’re made from nothing but fresh chicken.”
“I know that.”
“The breading is the highest-quality, the oil has no trans fats, and the strips are flash-frozen after cooking.”
“Jeff, I know all that. I’ve told people that a hundred times on the phone. I didn’t eat the chicken strips; I took other people’s word for them being nasty. Did you try them?”
“Not a chance. After I saw you and that kid flying by and heard you demanding sloppy Joes, I figured you knew what was what and I got sloppy Joes too.”
“So, we were here to promote the chicken strips and neither of us actually had the chicken strips. The boss is gonna be thrilled.”
“What are you doing after this? Going back to the office?”
“Nah, not right away. I’m gonna go look for this burger place so if I get another weird craving tonight I’ll at least know where it is and if it’s even still open. Why?”
“Oh, nothing. I thought you might be going back to call the guys in the lab to get them the reformulate the chicken strips. Seeing as how your young friend found them less than yummy.”
“I wouldn’t do something like that right away. I’d have to check with the other guys and see what people thought at their school and look at some other chicken strips and see what makes them taste good.”
“Right.”
“Why do you care? Why shouldn’t the kids have decent food?”
“They’re kids. It’s a school lunch. Some of them are getting it for free anyway.”
“So it should be nasty? You know what? You’re the one I don’t get. What did these kids do to you? It’s not just them; you haven’t got a good word to say for anybody. You’re not getting along with me. You’re not getting along with Mari.”
“You said maybe she had a headache from last night.”
“And you said it didn’t matter if she had one or not. Look, I was trying to be nice but the truth is you’ve been a pain in the butt for days. I’m not surprised she’s sore at you.”
“She’s sore at me? What? Are we in Mayberry all of a sudden? Was that Opie you ate lunch with?”
Mrs. Lamb opened her door and waved at them to be quiet. “Gentlemen! You are not out on the playground. You need to be using your inside voices. Mr. Matthews has no idea how to behave but I expect better from you Mr. Powell.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry, Mrs. Lamb. We came down to give back our name tags and I guess we got a little loud.”
“More than a little.”
“Yeah. We were kind of disappointed by what people thought of our chicken strips.”
“I hear you had an excellent chat with the Henderson brothers so I hope that made up for it.”
“They’re good kids. Kind of bored though.”
“Geez, Clement. You gonna fix the schools after you fix the chicken strips?”
Mrs. Lamb held her hand out. “I’ll take your name tags now. I have work to get back to and you gentlemen can’t keep your voices down.”
“Sorry again.”
“Thank you for coming in today.” She set the name tags on her desk and came back to shut the door. “Please visit us again, Mr. Powell.”

Jeff leaned against the side of his car. He was looking at a tree and his right hand stroked the hood of the car. “You know, I think I might go for a drive too.”
“Yeah?”
“You’re right about me being prickly lately.”
“I think we’ve been taking turns.”
“Yeah, but you’re a jerk a lot of time. This isn’t unusual for you. I’m more like a duck. Only lately I haven’t been feeling so ducklike.”
“That’s probably not all bad. I imagine those feathers get pretty ticklish.”
“When I was a kid and me and my dad weren’t getting along he used to take me for a drive.”
“Did he tell you ahead of time? Like ‘Jeff, you and me are going for a long ride out in the country’? That must have put the fear of God into you.”
“Nah. We’d ride along and not say anything and then all of a sudden we’d start talking about some wrestling match we saw on TV and then we’d like each other again.”
“What a nice story.”
“I think maybe that’s what I gotta do now. I need to take myself out for a long ride and not think about any of this stuff.”
Clement clapped him on the back. “Come back happy.”
“You know, I think I really will.”

Chapter 4

Clement found the drive-in—a faded but still functioning A&W—about half a mile from where he had thought it would be and parked across the street. The smell of the onion rings made his mouth water but also set the few bites of sloppy Joe he’d eaten churning in his stomach. “Maybe get a Sprite and use the bathroom just to get a feel for the place.”
“Brad! You’re not supposed to be squirting the milkshake mix into your mouth! Hey! Restrooms are for customers only.”
“I am a customer.”
“Nope. A customer buys something.”
“I’m going to buy something but I don’t want to take it into the bathroom with me and I don’t want to leave it on the table. Seeing as how I didn’t bring somebody with me to baby-sit my food and since you ladies and Brad are so busy I’m going to go use the bathroom first.”
“Be sure you wash your hands,” she called. Clement went into the restroom. It backed against the kitchen and only the flushing of the toilet blocked out her voice. He was able to follow her story while seated on the toilet, washing his hands, drying them, and walking up the hall to the front counter.
“I’d like a Sprite, please.”
“Hang on a minute. I’m telling Vicky something.”
“But I’m attempting to become a customer.”
She rolled her eyes. “Brad, get this guy a Sprite, huh? You want large?”
“Yes, please.”
“Fries?”
“No, thank you.”
“Brad, get him a Sprite and ring him up, huh? Geez, the people we get in here. So this lady comes in and she’s got a brand new Escalade. She tells me they came over right from the dealership; they picked it up and this is the first place they went. She comes in and she wants four Coney’s and four floats.” She paused to ensure Brad wasn’t putting in too little ice or too much soda. “I told her you gotta be careful when you put the straw in the float. If you just jam it down in there then the whole things gonna overflow. She says to me, ‘I don’t need you to tell me how to eat and ice cream float. I have been eating ice cream floats for forty years.” Another pause while Brad rang up the Sprite, handed Clement his change and gestured him to a table. “So she goes out with a bag and a drink carrier. Five minutes later, she’s back. ‘You owe me for having my car detailed!’ I said, ‘How do you figure that?’ What happened is she gives the floats to the kids and right away they jam the straws in and now there’s ice cream and root beer all over the seats of this new car. She says, ‘Those things made a mess and you’re going to pay for it.’ I said, ‘I’m not going to pay for anything and you can sue A&W but I don’t think they should pay you either. I tried to give you instructions.’ She said, ‘Oh, I don’t have to listen to you. You’re an idiot.’ I said, ‘Yeah, well, who’s the one who gave kids root beer floats and Coney’s in a brand new car?’”
“An Escalade.” Brad whistled and Vicky looked at him critically.
“If you’re leaning, you should be cleaning.”
“Yeah, right. Suck-up.”
Clement tossed the rest of his Sprite in the trash-can outside the restaurant door. Jeff wasn’t at his desk when Clement got back to the office and he sat down and began flipping through his Rolodex file. The phone rang.
“Clement? Is Jeff there?”
“No.”
“Good because I need to talk to you.”
“No, again.”
“Clement, look. I’m sorry about last night. I shouldn’t have called you. I know that. Sometimes when I drink I do stupid things.”
“Kind of the point, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but I didn’t mean to get you involved in all this.”
“I’m not involved in anything, Mari. You’re Jeff’s girlfriend and you got drunk and you called me and said a lot of things you didn’t mean and today you’re sober and not feeling as stupid or maybe you’re feeling stupid for a different reason. That’s it. The end.”
“That’s not it. I really need to talk to you.”
“No. I’m not getting lured. Whatever you need to work out with Jeff you need to do talking to Jeff.”
“This doesn’t have anything to do with Jeff. It has to do with Aaron.”
“Who’s Aaron?”~
“He’s my boyfriend. He’s my ex-boyfriend.”
“’She’s my daughter. She’s my sister. She’s my sister and my daughter.’ I’ve watched this scene before, Mari.”
“Clement, please. Aaron was my boyfriend before Jeff.”
“I’m surprised you dumped him. He was a good-looking guy. A little gaunt and colorless but not bad.”
“You saw him? Where?”
“In the photo in his office. I was in there. Remember? The famous nude photos I was supposed to be getting for you?”
“Yes yes. I just forgot for a second. This is bigger than the pictures.”
“Bigger than being blackmailed or having your body rated on ‘Hot or Not’?”
“Yes. I’m worried about Aaron.”
“That’s touching.”
“You don’t understand. Jeff can be kind of possessive and I don’t know why but he’s always hated Aaron.”
“I could explain it to you but I don’t think you wanna do that now.”
“He was acting really weird this morning, kind of secretive. I think he thinks I was with Aaron last night.”
“Not that it’s any of my business but were you?”
“You know I wasn’t.”
“I don’t know anything about what you did last night.”
“Yes, you do. I talked to you on the phone and then Lisa sort of walked/dragged me into her guest room, slid my top half onto the bed, dropped my feet on there too, threw a coat over me and that was it until this morning. I never saw Aaron. We never went out and no guys came over to Allison’s house.”
“Why are you telling me all this?”
“Maybe you can ask him. Ask him if he’s mad at me and he thinks I saw Aaron.”
“Why would he think so?”
“This morning, when I came home, I put my earrings from last night on the dresser. There was a piece of paper beside them. I felt bad about the house being a mess so I came home for lunch to clean up a little bit. I found my earrings in my jewelry box and the paper was gone.”
Clement took both pieces of paper from his pocket and smoothed them onto the desk in front of him. “Why would that mean you’d seen Aaron?”
“There were some things written on the paper. Things you’d have to be a smart person to understand. I don’t think Jeff believes I’m that smart.”
“Are you?”
“Am I what?”
“Are you smart enough to understand what’s written on the paper? Do you know what makes a number weird, for example?”
“Omigod, how do you know about that?”
“I know about it and a couple of kids named Nick and Jack know about it. Is it Aaron’s or are you keeping secrets from Jeff?”
“It’s not Aaron’s, it’s mine.”
“And the beehive?”
“It’s not a beehive. It’s an hexagonal pyramid.”
“You’ve been busy.”
“Does Jeff know?”
“Do you mean does Jeff know you’re lying about how smart you are or does Jeff know you’ve been working on something worth a million dollars and you’re not gonna let him in on it?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You know what? I don’t wanna know either way. It’s not my relationship, it’s not my problem, and I got enough to do figuring out why the chicken strips taste so nasty.”
“Please, just tell me if Jeff thinks I was with Aaron.”
“Of course he does. You said it yourself he doesn’t think you’re that smart. We found the paper with the cat on it in Aaron’s office and then he found that thing this morning. He knows you didn’t get it from me. None of your girlfriends are that smart so it had to come from Aaron which means you’re seeing him.”
“Oh my god! But I’m not. I swear I’m not.”
“Mari, it doesn’t matter to me one way or the other.”
“He has to know that! Talk to him.”
“If you want him to know something from you then you tell him.”
“He won’t listen to me. He’ll think I’m lying.”
“Surprised?”
“Why won’t you talk to him? Why won’t you help me? Did I do something to you?”
“No, it wasn’t you. It was someone a lot like you and you’re getting the credit for it.”
“Maybe I can talk to Aaron. Maybe he’ll tell Jeff we’re not seeing each other. Maybe he’ll tell him we haven’t been together since I met him.”
“That’s a smart idea, Mari. Now you’re thinking.”
“Clement, I am so scared. If Jeff gets to him first, Aaron will just laugh at him. He might even tell him we were together last night and it’s not true.”
“Yeah, well, I gotta talk to a man about a chicken.”
“Goodbye, Clement.” Her voice finally broke.
“Yeah. Stay cool, Mari.”

Advertisements

1 Response to “Fate Pays The Rent (Eleventh Installment)”



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: