“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?”
“No.”
“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?”
“Yes.”
“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?”
“What?”
“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.”

As they drove to the office on 164th that evening, Clement reflected on how different the neighborhood looked in the twilight than when he had last seen it. The Bi-Lo parking lot was full and he saw mothers going in and out with their children, older kids with their younger brothers and sisters. Some of the children were sharing cans of soda. One girl had a long cord of licorice around her neck. The construction site beside the store, that might have been haunted the night before, rang with the calls of the workers parting for the day. The girders themselves were beautiful, their edges sparking the soon to be setting sun. Even Jeff, sitting in the driver’s seat looking as if one side of his face had been bronzed rather than pasty, appeared less evil than he had earlier in the day.
“So, how did you meet Mari?”
“Huh?”
“How did you meet her? She doesn’t seem like the kind of girl you’d go for.”
“She shot me in the eye.”
“What?”
“With cologne. She had one of those jobs where you show people how great the stuff is by spraying it on them. Brutus sat on my glasses. I was killing an hour while I waited for the people at Binyon’s to fix them and I thought, ‘Well, why not get some of my shopping for Christmas done?’” That was stupid, of course, because I could barely see two feet in front of my face. So I decided to go over and see if I could find this bottle of perfume my mom was hot for. I figured I could at least tell the colors of things and that would help me narrow it down.”
“And?”
“And a whole bunch of other people had the exact same idea because when I got to that part of the department the counter was packed. Some woman with sharp elbows who didn’t have eyes in the back of her head- or maybe she did and just didn’t care- jabbed me and stepped back in kind of a one-two maneuver. She got some space all right because I backed up and almost fell over. I grabbed a table and turned around on my way up and Mari missed a lady’s wrist and got me right in the eye.
“Geez, that must have hurt.”
“No kidding. It was fate though. See, if Brutus hadn’t have sat on my glasses then they would have been in the way of the cologne or maybe I would have been in the bookstore and never have gotten sprayed at all.”
“Then you said, ‘Come with me and let me fulfill your wildest dreams’? And that was the beginning of everything?”
“No. Not really. I mean, yeah. She felt really bad that she shot me in the eye with this stuff so she put the bottle on one of the counters and took me to the Customer Service department and there was a lady there who had a First Aid kit and wasn’t really a nurse but she knew about things. She dragged me off to the break room and Mari sort of trailed along behind us and kept saying, ‘Omigod! You’re gonna be blind and it’s all my fault. I really suck!’ This lady turned on the water and shoved my head under the faucet and kept moving my head around so the water got in both eyes. My whole head was getting wet and I had water down my back and I think I even coughed a little bit because she finally let me up. She gave me a paper to sign that said I wasn’t going to sue the store and then she gave Mari some money and told her to go get me a hot dog or something and not to come back in less than an hour.”
“Did you sign it?”
“Yeah, of course.”
“Idiot.”
“Why?’
“Had you seen a doctor? Did you know if you were going to be blinded for life?”
“What’s wrong with you? Obviously I wasn’t going to be blinded for life. That woman practically drowned me right after it happened which is what all the books say that you’re supposed to do if you get something in your eye. I could see her and I could see Mari and the refrigerator and the microwave. Well, I could see them as well as I can see anything without my glasses on. But I knew I wasn’t gonna be blind.”
“That’s not it.”
“What?”
“You didn’t sign it because you knew you weren’t going to be blind for life.”
“Oh, yeah?”
“You signed it for Mari. You sap. You signed it because you were afraid if you didn’t sign it she was going to get fired. Admit it.”
“Well-“
“You were willing to sacrifice your eyesight for this girl you just met. You’re an idiot.”
“Well, I wasn’t going to sue them anyway. Sure, I didn’t want her to lose her job over something she did by accident. I mean it’s not like she spotted me coming in and said, ‘Boy, that guy sure deserves to be blind for life.’ I’m the one that was down by the floor.”
“So did you sign that paper before or after the woman gave Mari the money to buy you off with lunch?”
“You know, I am really starting to be sorry I said I’d come over here with you. I didn’t know you were gonna spend the whole ride telling me how stupid I am and trying to convince me that my girlfriend isn’t really interested in me.”
“You’re sorry? You came over here with me because I didn’t want to have to waste another whole night doing something really stupid that you asked me to do. If anybody’s stupid, it would be me for even being here again.”
“You know what? Let’s just go home. You’re right. This is a stupid thing to do. I’m an idiot for going out with Mari and I’m stupid for asking you to help me. I should just tell her to get the pictures herself if they even exist. I mean, why the hell should you do this? You had a terrible night last night and you’d probably like to be in bed or soaking in the tub or watching CNN Headline News or something with a Hungry Man Salisbury steak dinner on your chest.”
“First of all, that’s totally uncalled for. You know I do not eat Hungry Man dinners. I do not watch NASCAR. I do not have a fantasy football team. I also don’t enjoy women’s mud-wrestling. Second, I don’t understand why you’re taking your insecurity about your relationship out on me. I’m sorry you and Mari are having problems.”
“I told you we had a great time last night.”
“Yes, you did. I’m sorry you have so much trouble accepting that she had other people in her life before you. Maybe you should pay some nuns somewhere to raise a girl for you specifically the way you want.”
Jeff pulled the car over into an empty spot in front of a record store. He put the car in “park” but didn’t shut off the ignition. “You’re crazy!”
“I don’t think she even cares about the pictures. I think it’s all you. I think you can’t stand the idea that somebody saw her naked before you did and you want to eliminate any evidence that proves it. I’m surprised you’re willing to stop at getting and destroying the pictures.”
“Why don’t you stop?”
“Come on, Jeff. Tell me you really want to track this guy down and kill him. Beat him to death with your shoe.”
“Beat him with my shoe? What kind of a person does that? I don’t think you could even really hurt someone like that. I mean, you could mash a spider but a human being? I don’t think that’s even possible.”
“It doesn’t matter if it’s possible. You want to kill this guy. Right?”
“No. I just want the pictures if they’re in there.”
“Right?”
“No. Just the pictures.”
“Admit it. You’ll feel better getting it out.”
Jeff buried his head in his hands on the steering wheel. The engine revved and he turned it off. “Okay, maybe I do. I know it’s stupid and sexist but it just kills me. Every time they’re on the phone and she starts laughing and I think, ‘My god, do I make her laugh like that?’”
“I’m sure she laughs with you.”
“I don’t think it’s the same.”
“Of course she does. It’s probably not exactly the same but they have a different history together. They had different experiences.”
“Do you have to say ‘history’? It makes it sound like they were together for years and years. Like they were the sweethearts of the Elizabethan Era of something.”
“Were they together for years and years?”
“How the hell do I know, man? I didn’t ask her that. I didn’t ask her very much. She was the first thing I saw when that woman finally pulled my head out of the sink and I knew I wasn’t going to be blind.”
“So you imprinted on her like one of those baby ducks.”
“Why are you going on about this? Why does it matter if I want to kill that guy or how Mari and I got together in the first place? Am I the only one who’s done something stupid because he liked somebody and they were fun to have lunch with?”
“Obviously not.”
“Okay, wise ass.”
“That’s not what I mean. I was talking about me. Aren’t I out here? And why? Because I like you and you’re fun to have lunch with.”
“Do I make you laugh?”
“Yes, you make me laugh.”
“Do you smell my cologne even when I’m not around?”
“Is it possible for you to shut up? Are we pulling this caper or not?”
“Yeah.”
“Then let’s get going. If he’s leaving early, he should be out of there soon and the faster we get in there and get out the better I’ll feel.”
“That’s not what she said.” Jeff started the car again and rejoined the traffic. The few people who had stopped to watch the argument saw the show was over and started moving along the sidewalk again.
“I’m serious, Jeff. I’ve seen this neighborhood at night and I don’t want to do it again. Now what’s the plan?”
“We’re going to cruise through the parking lot and see if there are any other offices in that building.”
“Yes, there are.”
“So, what else is on the third floor?”
“Why are you asking me these questions? I know the answers; I’m just curious why you don’t know the answers. Did you check any of this out before you sent me over here last night?”
“Well-“
“You didn’t, did you? How do you know there is a parking lot?”
“Well, Mari told me.”
“Right. Mari gave you a key. Mari told you the guy’s schedule. Mari gave you the lay-out. How do you know Mari doesn’t want to kill this guy and she’s sending you over here or sending me over here so we’ll be the saps standing over the body when the cops get here?”
“What the hell is wrong with you? You accuse me of wanting to kill this guy and you badger me until I admit it and now you’re saying maybe my girlfriend is the one that wants to do it and then she wants to be able to pin it on me.”
“I don’t know. Maybe I’m still full of adrenaline from last night or maybe it’s being over here again that’s making me squirrelly. I told you a kid threw grape jelly at me? I was standing at that bus stop we just passed.”
“How did he get that close?”
“What?”
“Why would you let someone get close enough to you to throw grape jelly?”
“He didn’t walk up, idiot. He was in a car. One of the other young men from the store was probably driving- although I didn’t really look at the car -and the passenger put the window down and threw one of those little plastic things of grape jelly at me.”
Jeff started laughing hard. “You were drive-by jellied. Oh my gosh, I can’t stand it.”
“Well, you wouldn’t have thought it was funny if it happened to you. You’d be whining about how it would never come out of your Air LeBron sneakers. I thought I’d gotten all the jelly off mine but-” Clement lifted his right foot and removed a scrap of paper from the bottom of his shoe. “This isn’t your writing.”
“Probably something Mari dropped. She’s always leaving stuff in the car. You know how women are. Ha. Ha. Ha.” He winked dramatically at Clement. “Let me see it.”
“You’re driving. We’re almost there; you can see it in the parking lot.”
“Describe it. What is it? A shopping list? Not a phone number?”
Clement turned the paper around in his hands. He slid his glasses down his nose then propped them on top of his head. “Is she building a beehive?”
“What?”
“Anybody in her family keep bees?”
“Why? Is this it?”
“The building? Yeah.”
“Good.”
“You really have never been here before, have you? I was right.”
“Are we starting that again? Because I thought we were getting along okay.”
“Park in one of these first spaces. Not the handicapped spot. Holy crap. Pull into number eight.”
Jeff did as he was told. He shut off the car, slid his seat back and turned to Clement. “Okay, let me see this beehive.” Clement handed the paper to Jeff. “It’s not a beehive; it’s a stop sign.”
Clement took the paper back and rotated it again. “No, it isn’t. A stop sign is an octagon. It has eight sides. This is a hexagon which means it has six sides. That’s why it looks like a beehive. What does this say?” He held the paper out to Jeff. “I don’t have my reading glasses.”
“I can read it but it doesn’t make any sense.”
“Just tell me what it says.”
“It says, ‘Must be greater than equilateral’. What the hell does that mean?”
“Well, if I remember it right ‘equilateral’ is a kind of triangle. That isn’t a triangle on that paper though.”
“I wonder why she copied this down? There’s some other lines on here too.”
“Just put it in your pocket. What time is it?”
“5:32. He should already have left to get his hair cut.”
“So, before we were so rudely interrupted by the fact that you’d never been here before and had no idea what it was like, we were discussing the plan. What are we going to do if I go in and he’s there because he decided his fingers were flexible enough and he wanted to adopt a slightly shaggier look? And, if I go in and he’s not there, where are we going to meet? And when?”
“Geez, don’t you ever read those Bernie Rhodenbarr novels~? You look at the directory to see what other places are on the third floor. You push the buzzer to get let in. If he answers, you say, ‘Oh gosh. I am so sorry to bother you. I thought I pushed the buzzer for Clarinda’s Flowers’.”
“You wouldn’t put a flower shop on the third floor. Flower shops depend on foot traffic and impulse buying. Nobody’s gonna see a bouquet and think they gotta have it if it’s on the third floor.”
“It doesn’t matter what it is. That’s what you say. ‘Oops.’”
“And what if there’s no buzzer to get in? What if he has the lights off because he’s just closing up or because he was up half the night riding the bus and decided he needed a nap before he went home?”
Jeff reached into the back seat. “I thought of that. I got you a little something.”
“Why, honey! How did you know I didn’t already have a pair of gray coveralls at home?”
“I took a chance.”
“What am I supposed to do with these?” Clement turned to look over the back of his seat. “I don’t see a mop and bucket back there. I’m assuming I’m supposed to look like a custodian. Although I haven’t seen many white, male custodians my age.”
“That’s the beauty part, man. You’ve got a tie on. You’re not a custodian. You’re a custodial supervisor. You’re going around to see what the needs of the tenants in this building are and whether or not they feel they’re being met.”
“This is too much. I’d rather just go up there, knock on the door, and ask what time ‘Pushing Daisies’ is on because the dog ate my TV Guide.”
“You gotta have a shtick. Bernie never goes in as just Bernie. He’s always a preppy or a businessman or a dog walker or an art collector. You should read those.”
“Yeah. I am not taking up burgling. Remember our conversation about that yesterday?”
“Yeah, I remember it. I just thought it might help you if you thought you were somebody else.”
“Method burgling.”
“Kind of. Yeah.”
Clement took off his jacket and laid it carefully on the backseat, putting the arms together and pressing a crease down the center of the spine. “Down the street about a quarter of a mile is a Piggly Wiggly~. Next to the Piggly Wiggly is Anna’s Burgers. If I go in and he isn’t there, I will meet you at Anna’s in forty-five minutes.” “The Piggly Wiggly is eight blocks from here.”
“Okay.”
“You said ‘a quarter of a mile’. That would only be five blocks but the Piggly Wiggly is really eight.”
“Do you know where the Piggly Wiggly is? You saw it on our way here?”
“Yeah.”
“Then it doesn’t really matter how many blocks you have to drive to get there, does it? What matters is that you get there and that as soon as I can- but hopefully in less than forty-five minutes- I will meet you next door to there at Anna’s. All right?”
“I guess. But what happens if you’re not there in forty-five minutes?”
“Then you wait forty-six minutes.”
“How long do I keep waiting? I mean, Mari’s gonna wonder where I am.”
“You’re doing this for Mari, remember?”
“Yeah.”
“Then you wait.”
“What if the cops show up?”
“Am I in the back of the car?”
“No.”
“Then you sit there and pretend like you’re eating a hamburger. Then you pretend like you’re drinking a milkshake and eating a sundae and however many other things they sell until I get there.”
“I’m really not very comfortable with this plan. It seems like I’m left just hanging out there. I’m all alone. Anyone at all could show up. Somebody could ask me what the hell I’m doing there.”
“You tell them you’re eating a hamburger. You wanna go in and look for the phantom pictures?”
“I can’t.”
“Then you go eat a hamburger. What the hell is this?” Clement had climbed into the backseat, where there was not much more room, to take off his jacket and slip on the coveralls.
“It’s a shovel.”
“I can see it’s a shovel. Maybe a better question would be ‘Why the hell is this?’ As in why the hell is there a shovel in the back seat of your car?”
“I dunno. A guy gave it to me.”
“When you were just driving around or you were stopped at a red light or what?”
“I was walking. It was lunchtime and I was walking by an office building where they were doing some landscaping. A guy was digging holes and putting bushes in and the handle on his shovel broke.”
“And instead of throwing it away-“
“He gave it to me. ‘Geez, the cheap crap they give me to work with! Hey you, you want a shovel?’ I said, ‘Sure’ and I put it in the car and it’s been there ever since.”
“Well, if you can’t bring yourself to throw it away at least don’t keep it in the back seat of the car.”
“Why not?”
“It’s bad luck.”
“Who says?”
“What do you mean? Everybody says. It’s one of those Old World superstitions. Besides, if I’d sat on it we’d be moving this whole party to the emergency room.” Clement stretched out on the front seat and zipped the coveralls to several inches below the knot of his tie.
Jeff nodded approvingly. “You look good. You could really pass for this guy. Bernie would be proud.”
“Let’s just do this already. You remember the plan?”
“Yeah yeah.”
Clement got out, smoothed down his coveralls and started walking to the building. A woman was just coming out the door and she smilingly held it open for him. Then she saw his tie, her eyes widened, and she pulled out her cell phone. By the time the doors of the elevator opened on the third floor, another woman came flying towards him. “Good evening, ma’am. I’m from the custodial company and I’m just checking in to see how you feel our company is addressing your needs for cleanliness.”
“No no no! Affirmative action! Affirmative action!”
“Excuse me?”
“This is not your building. Mr. Gomez has this building. Mr. Gomez bid for this building fair and square and he won it. You can’t take this building away from him! We won’t let you.”
“You don’t understand. I work for Mr. Gomez. I’m not taking the job away from him; I’m doing a job for him. I’m just going around to talk with our clients to see-“
“No no. Mr. Gomez didn’t hire anybody that looks like you. Mr. Gomez only hire the Mexican people. You are a spy. You’re trying to take the building away from Mr. Gomez.” Clement knew he should leave and preferably at a run but he was too far into the role and he now hated this unseen but heartily defended Mr. Gomez.”
“If Mr. Gomez wouldn’t hire anyone that looks like me then he shouldn’t have this building.”
“I knew it. You want to take his building away.”
“If he’s only hiring Mexicans, he’s practicing discrimination himself and that’s not affirmative action.”
“Yes, because the white people always get the jobs.”
“No, they don’t. Mr. Gomez refusing to hire white people is racist.”
“Mr. Gomez is not a racist. Mr. Gomez is a good man. His people keep our building very clean. They keep it cleaner than the people who did it before. Always I would find dust on top of the door frames and the wastebaskets were only emptied every other day. If someone puts a banana and a yogurt in the garbage and it sits there for two days you can’t get the smell out of the office.”
“No dust on the door frames and the wastebaskets smell great. Okay, thanks.”
“Where are you going?”
“I’ve learned what I needed to and now I can go back and report that Mr. Gomez and his workers are doing a bang-up job.”
“But you only talked to me.”
“That’s right.”
“You didn’t talk to anyone else on this floor.”
“No, I don’t need to talk to everyone. I just need a sampling of opinions and you think they’re doing a great job and that makes me very happy to hear.”
“I think you should talk to the man in this office over here.”
“Why?”
“Because he was here when I moved in and maybe he can tell you something more.”
“I don’t need anything more. They just wanted to know how things were going.” Clement backed a step toward the elevator.
“And you should talk to him because I don’t believe you.” She closed the gap Clement had opened and seized his left arm. “I think you are a spy who is trying to take away the building from Mr. Gomez. I want other people to see you so when I talk to Mr. Gomez and the people who give out contracts then they know I’m not crazy to think someone like you would do this.”
“It’s quite all right. I can go see this man on my own although I had heard he’d already left for the day. I’ve taken up enough of your time and I’m sure you’d like to be able to go back to your work and close up for the day.” Clement tugged at his arm but not very hard.
“My job is making sure the world stays a fair place for people like Mr. Gomez. That’s everybody’s job.”
“I’ve explained that and explained that.”
“I still don’t believe you.” Her constant pressure on his arm and her stubbornly forward steps had moved the two of them further down the hall.
Clement took a deep breath and slowly blew it out. They were now outside the door of “third floor center”. “You know there’s such a thing as kidnapping.”
“What?”
“Keeping someone against their will. Taking them somewhere they don’t want to go.”
“You want to call the police and file charges? I’ve got a phone in my office or I can ask someone to bring my cell phone out here in the hall.”
“I didn’t say I wanted to file charges. I just think you should know about it.”
“Okay, now I know.” She raised her hand to knock and Clement knew there was nothing further he could say that might be useful. Maybe Mari’s former boyfriend wouldn’t be in. Maybe he would be more trusting than this woman and would reassure her enough to let Clement go. Even if he wasn’t there was very little they could do this late in the day. He hadn’t broken into the building; he’d been let in. He hadn’t assaulted anyone. That kept the cops out of it. If they called the custodial company, they wouldn’t get an answer and by morning, when the voicemail was listened to and returned, he’d be miles away.

It had taken Clement closer to an hour to get to Anna’s~ and he had found Jeff on his way out to the car. Taking a trick from Dolores’s book, he had seized his elbow to steer him back to a booth in the corner. Clement bit into a quarter-pound cheeseburger and, as the red onion gave between his teeth, he felt tomato juice running down his chin. He snatched up two napkins and quickly wiped his face. “You know, he didn’t really look the way I’d pictured him. I envisioned him as being a lot more guarded. A man with a past. The keeper of the secret flame. But he wasn’t like that at all.” “Who?”
“Mari’s ex-boyfriend.”
Jeff’s hand stopped halfway to his mouth. He stared at Clement then at the French fry between his fingers as if trying to decide which to focus on. Clement won and the fry returned to the plate. “You met him?”
“No. I could have met him. Dolores, who works at the end of the third floor and is very protective of the minority-won cleaning contract for the building, wanted me to meet him but he actually was out of the building getting his nails buffed or whatever.”
“So how do you know what he looks like?”
“There’s a very nice picture of him in his office. It’s on the right-hand wall as you walk in. Very ‘founder of this business empire’ touch.”
“You were in the office? Did you get the photos?”
“Yes, I did. I just said, ‘Dolores, you’re right. I was putting one over on you about being a custodial supervisor. My real purpose was to get into this office and steal some nude photos of the owner’s ex-girlfriend. Now that you’ve been vindicated you can go right on back to your office and close up for the day’.”
“So, no then.”
“No. The trip wasn’t a complete loss. I managed to slip this piece of paper past Dolores. It was on the floor behind the desk and I picked it up after I knocked the pencil on the floor.”
“What pencil?”
“The one I was using to write him a note asking him to call and let us know what he thought of our cleaning service. Don’t worry. Dolores says he said he’d be gone until Friday but she didn’t know where. I’ll get the note back tomorrow night, I’ll have made Dolores happy, and no one will be the wiser.”
“Tomorrow night?”
“When I go back in.”
“Why would you? I mean you almost got caught today, right?”
“That’s why I’m going back. It’s personal now. I want to prove I can go in and get these pictures. It’s no longer just about making Mari happy so you’ll be happy. It is now The Impossible Dream and I’m going to achieve it.”
“I don’t think you should go.”
“Too bad. I’m going.” Clement speared one of his own French fries and chewed it thoughtfully. “So, shall we see what’s on this paper?”
“You didn’t look at it yet?”
“I slipped it into my shoe, put the note on the desk, thanked the lovely Dolores for her help and support, told her to keep her eyes on the prize, and hustled over here before you could leave me.”
“Í wasn’t leaving you; I was leaving here. I wasn’t sure how long I’d have to sit here so I thought I should go over to the ATM and get some more money.”
“And you waited an hour to do that because?”
Jeff put the abandoned French fry into his mouth and said around it, “Do we have to argue all the time? Are we gonna look at this piece of paper or not?”
Clement reached into his shoe, slipped the paper out and unfolded it. He smoothed it onto the table partway between himself and Jeff. “What do you make of this?”
“Looks like a really big window.”
“So why are there letters in the window?”
“It’s one of those puzzles?”
“I‘m pretty sure you only get one letter in each square.”
“Then I dunno. Maybe it’s one of those Joe-Harvey windows.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Mari talked about them one time. It’s all about your relationship to another person and your relationship to yourself and how they all get along.”
“Wouldn’t it have names or something on it instead of big and little letters?”
“You keep asking me like I’m gonna know. Let me see it closer. B. Br. O. W. ‘Cannot be duplicated’.”
“Where’d that come from?”
“Down here in the corner. See? Under all the windows. It says, ‘Too many possibilities. Cannot be duplicated. Hey, somebody drew a little cat on here.”
Clement shrugged and stabbed another fry. “I don’t get it. I’ll put it back tomorrow when I go for the pictures.”
“Yeah, about that. It’s gonna have to be after lunch.”
“I was actually thinking about doing it during lunch, since I figured fewer people would be in the building, but after lunch works too. Why? You wanna go with?”
“It’s not that. You can’t do during lunch because we have plans for lunch.”
“At the White House? Why are you talking in code? I feel like I need a Navajo to come in and tell me what the hell you’re saying.”
“That’s because you’re not going to like what I have to tell you.”
“But I’m going to like it so much better if it’s presented in the form of a riddle. Okay, I’ll play. Animal, vegetable or mineral?”
“Chandler Elementary School.”
“Okay, that probably counts as animal and mineral. Chandler Elementary School what?”
“Chandler Elementary School is where our lunch plans are. While you were out retaking that office building for the white majority, the boss called.”
“No no no. We had to go last time. They can send somebody else this time.”
“They’re sending everybody.”
“What? All the schools are having Career Day on the same day?”
“It’s not Career Day. We really are having lunch there.”
“With the kids? I got jelly thrown at me already this week; Now I gotta get hit in the back of the head with a buttered roll?”
“What?”
“That’s what kids do to you if they don’t like you. They throw a buttered roll at the back of your head. You never even know it’s coming until it hits you and then you have to walk around the rest of the day with this greasy spot in your hair. It doesn’t matter if you go to the bathroom and try to wash it out. You can use hand soap. You can go beg the cafeteria ladies to use dish soap. You can ‘borrow’ some rubbing alcohol from the library. You can try to comb it out or comb your hair over it. Doesn’t matter. You’re gonna have that wet slimy place there and everybody’s gonna know you got hit with a roll.”
“I never heard of that before.”
“You never got hit with a roll in the back of the head?”
“No.”
“What? Did you go to private school?”
“No. I just didn’t go to a school where they let the kids hit each other in the back of the head with bread products. We weren’t allowed to throw our food.”
“You never had a Jell-O fight?”
“Where did you go to school? The zoo? Did the students also pee in the corners to mark their territory and throw feces at the teachers when they became distressed?”
“Where’s this coming from? Is this because I got you to admit you’d like to beat that guy to death?”
“No. I’m just wondering what kind of things a child could learn in that sort of environment. Apparently you students were only this far from being completely feral.” He held his thumb and forefinger apart so light was barely visible in the space between them. “I hope the kids aren’t like that tomorrow. Maybe we should wear our company gimme caps just in case.”
“It’d give them something to aim at but it might deflect a little of the grease.”
“You going home after this?”
“Yeah. You? Going out with Mari?”
“Nah. She’s meeting some friends. Some female friends.”
“What do I care? So what are you gonna do?”
“Go home and read.”
“Right. What?”
“It’s a book about a serial killer who’s also a cannibal. You know, like Jeffrey Dahmer. It’s fascinating though because all through the book they put in some of his recipes.”
“That’s disgusting. What’s the name of this crap?”
“’Goat’s-Head Soup’.”~
“That’s the name of a Rolling Stones record. What the hell? Does the guy eat goats?”
“No, it’s a metaphor. Metaphor? You know, a symbol.”
“For what?”
“The author says that serial killers aren’t really bad because everyone would kill a lot of different people if they had the guts and thought they could get away with it. Serial killers are the scapegoats that carry out the bad thoughts everybody has.”
“So the serial killer is the goat?”
“Right.”
“And the serial killer isn’t the one that gets eaten?”
“Right.”
“Then it’s an even stupider name for a book because it also doesn’t make sense.”
“Yeah?”
“Calling it ‘Goat’s-Head Soup’ makes it sound like there’s a soup and in the soup is the head of a goat. But if the cannibal is the goat then it’s the goat’s head that’s doing the eating. See my point?”
“It’s still a good book.”
“It’s a disgusting book. This whole thing makes me wish I hadn’t had dinner. Or maybe it’s good I had dinner because I won’t be eating anything for a while. Especially because it’s gonna be hard to eat tomorrow when I gotta keep one eye on the back of my head the whole time.”
Jeff started laughing and Clement punched him in the arm. “Ow! What’s wrong with you? You said something funny. If you say something funny then I’m gonna laugh.” He rubbed his arm then pulled up his sleeve and blew on the red mark. “Ow! Why are you hitting people?”
“I’m not hitting people; I’m hitting you. The reason I’m hitting you is because you’re deliberately misunderstanding what I say so you can laugh at me.”
“I’m a person and we don’t hit people.”
“Thanks, Mom. I didn’t- You know what? It’s not worth it. Just take me back to my car.”
“What is it?”
“It’s a green thing with wheels and an engine that travels on roads but that’s not important now.”
“So am I allowed to laugh at that? You’re being intentionally funny? I wouldn’t want to misunderstand.”
“I’m intentionally trying to say it’s been a rough couple of days and you don’t deserve everything I’m throwing at you. Some of it? Yeah.”
“You’re such a jerk.”
“Thanks. That means a lot coming from you.”
Jeff placed the tip under a corner of his plate. Clement added a dollar and rearranged the bills so they were at right angle to the napkin dispenser. Jeff got to the door first and started to hold it open.
“You know, last time someone held the door open for me I ended up nearly wetting myself so I better get that.”
Jeff stepped aside with a bow, both men walked through and continued to Jeff’s car. “Did they really throw buttered rolls at your school?”
“No, some were the throwers and some were the thrown at.”
“Oh.”
“That’s right. I was a thrown at. Once you’re a thrown at you don’t move to the other side. Even when you move on to junior high.” He sighed. “Even when you move on to high school.”
“And that’s why you’re such a jerk.”
“That’s why.”
“It’s a heart-warming story really. It’s a lot like that show with Mickey Rooney where you find out how the baby grew up to be Santa Claus.”
“It’s exactly like that. Thanks for noticing.”
“I have another book at my house if you wanna come over for a while.”
“Jeff, we’re not bonding; I am just trying to let you know what we’re in for tomorrow and why you shouldn’t be surprised if I grab a kid by the shirt-front and march him backwards to the principal’s office.”
“Okay okay. So how are you planning to get back into the office tomorrow and return that paper?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“But it’s my girlfriend and her pictures.”
“No. This was about your girlfriend and her pictures but now it’s not. Now it’s about me being able to get in there without having to ride the bus for hours and without having to explain what the hell I’m doing there. I told you before: It’s personal now.”
“She’s still my girlfriend.”
“I understand that. You have to understand that the fewer people who know what I’m planning to do the better it is for everyone. You asked me to do you a favor and now I’m doing one without being asked.”
“I don’t get it.”
“If I tell you when I’m going into that office and how and then something happens and the police find out that you knew ahead of time and didn’t tell anyone then it’s gonna be bad for you.”
“Right.”
“But if I don’t tell you and you don’t know then if the police come to you and ask if you knew anything you can truthfully say ‘no’. ‘I have no idea. He said something about red geraniums and asked me about the best thing to use if he wanted to bleach his hair. Didn’t mean anything to me. I told him to get some Summer Blonde and a heat lamp and call his mother’.”
“What if something happens to you?”
“Nothing happened to me last night. You had no idea where I was or what the hell I was doing until I came in this morning and told you. I guarantee tomorrow’s going to be a day at the park after that.”
“Let’s stop at Walgreen’s and get you one of those medical alert bracelets.”
“What the hell for?”
“Let’s say somebody comes up behind you and hits you on the head with something harder than a buttered roll. As you’re headed for the ground, just before you lose consciousness, you press the button and the emergency people come.”
“No, they don’t. An ambulance comes. Maybe a fire truck comes. No police will be coming to rescue me. The police don’t go to alert calls where somebody fell and broke their hip and can’t reach the phone. Anyway, what’s with all this talk about me getting hit on the head? It’s an office. It’s located near other offices. I’m not going into a war zone. I’m not doing anything dangerous. Nobody’s even gonna know I’m there so who would hit me?”
“I’d just feel better if you told me.”
“No. You know my lunch plans and that’s it.”
“Your lunch plans?”
“Yes, idiot. You’re going to be there too.”
“Oh, yeah.”

Clement took a chicken tikka masala dinner out of the freezer and set it on the counter. He turned the oven to ”preheat” and the temperature to 350, opened the oven door and checked to see that the thermometer was still on the middle rack. He pulled a cherry pie from the refrigerator, measured 1/8 of it, cut the slice and placed it on a Blue Willow plate along with a fork. He pushed the button on the Mr. Coffee and when two cups had brewed through he poured it into a mug, added four sugars and a tablespoon of milk, then carried plate and mug into the dining room to wait for the oven to get up to temperature. He ate the pie and drank the coffee slowly, wiping his mouth with a napkin after each bite. When he’d finished, he filled the sink with warm soapy water and placed the plate, mug, and fork in it, put the dinner in the oven, and walked to the bedroom. He hung his jacket on its wooden hanger in the closet, nestled his shoes on the shoe-rack, and changed into his pajamas.
“What if I went into that office tonight? I told Jeff I was going in tomorrow and maybe that was a mistake. For that matter, how do I know this guy is even going to be gone for two days? Sure, Dolores told me but maybe that was a trick. Maybe she told me to come back in two days because she wanted to allow time to talk to him herself or maybe she’s trying to work out some arrangement with Mr. Gomez about the building. She obviously didn’t buy my story about being a supervisor working for Mr. Gomez. Does she really think I’m trying to take his building away?” The oven pinged and Clement carried the dinner and a clean fork back to the dining room.
When he had finished eating, he rinsed the dishes and silverware. He drained the sink, wiped it out, and filled it with hot soapy water. He washed and rinsed each item, turning it several times, before placing it in the drainer to air-dry.
He walked into the dining room and removed a calculator, a box of checks, a box of privacy envelopes, and a book of stamps from the left-most part of the buffet drawer. He positioned everything on the dining room table and walked toward the front door. He was just taking the bills from the clothespin near the door, where he stored them all week, when the phone rang. Clement listened, his hand still on the clothespin, as his answering machine took the call.
“Clement, this is Mari. Please pick up if you’re there. I really need to talk to you.”
Clement picked up the receiver and had barely time to say “Hello” before she said, “I’m sorry to bother you. I’m sure you’re really busy.”
“I was just cleaning up after dinner.” He put the bills on the dining room table and walked into the kitchen to mix another cup of coffee.”
“You’re so good about that. My mom didn’t teach me much about cleaning and I have to admit I haven’t put a lot of work into learning it on my own.”
“Your place looks good.”
“Mine looks okay but you’re so good you could probably do it for a living.” Clement heard her sip something and took a drink of his coffee. “You know, Clement, Jeff told me about a little cleaning job you’re doing for us.”
“He shouldn’t have told you that. We’re taking care of it.”
“I know you are. I bet you’ll be good at that kind of cleaning, too.” Another sip of her drink and another swallow of his coffee. “You know, since he did tell me and since you’re working so hard I thought maybe I should do something to show you how much I appreciate it.”
“Well, that’s nice of you but I haven’t even done the job yet.” A sip and quiet then Clement thought he heard female laughter in the middle distance. “Jeff said you were hanging out with some friends tonight.”
“Yep, he was right. Me and my girls are kickin’ it all right.” More laughter and farther away this time. “You and me oughta kick it some time.” She giggled.
“Where are you? Are you at your place?”
“No, I’m at Allison’s place. Why? You wanna come over?”
“No. I was just wondering how you were going to get home. You’re not driving are you?”
“Aren’t you sweet to be worrying about me? I don’t think Jeff realizes how good a friend you are. I’ll be okay though. Lora’s not drinking and she’s gonna give me a ride home. Or I could even stay here I guess.”
“That’s a good idea. If you stay there then you won’t have to drive back for your car in the morning.”
“You are so smart, Clement. It really was sweet of you thinking about me being safe and asking how I was gonna get home. You know what? Jeff didn’t even ask me.”
“He knows you better than I do. He probably already knew you’d make arrangements so he wasn’t worried.”
“I don’t think that’s it at all. I don’t think he cares as much about me as you do. You’re the one going after the pictures, right?”
“Well, yeah.”
“Well, I’m his girlfriend so don’t you think he should be doing it?”
“Jeff has a lot of other things on his plate right now. They’re really riding us at work lately and I’m afraid that poor Jeff is taking most of the heat.”
“Oh poo. He never said anything to me about that. I’ll bet he isn’t doing it because he doesn’t care. You’re the one who asked if I’d be okay. You’re the one who’s getting my pictures back. You should be my boyfriend.”
Clement heard a door open near her and footsteps unsteadily crossing the floor. “Mari? What the hell you doing in here, girl? You drunk-dialing?”
Mari giggled. “I’m not drunk. I’m just talking to my friend Clement. I hardly ever get to see him alone because we always end up with Jeff along. We should go someplace by ourselves, Clement. We really oughta kick it.”
Clement heard Mari snort then start coughing. Her friend pounded her on the back and said into the phone, “Mari’s having a little trouble standing, talking, and laughing all at the same time so we’re gonna have to hang up now.”
“Is she all right?”
“Oh she will be fine. Right now though she’s a little impaired.” A giggle and a denial from Mari followed. “She says she’s good to go but we’re gonna drag her into the other room and make her play Sleeping Beauty for a while.”
“If she isn’t okay, you’ll call me right?”
“Who is this again?”
“My name is Clement. I’m a friend of Mari and Jeff but mostly of Jeff.”
“She called you just now?”
“Yes. Can I give you my number?”
“You can give it to me but I don’t guarantee I’ll remember it. I’m about ready to find a soft place to fall my own self.”
“Can you write it down?”
“No, because there ain’t no damn pen by the phone. Can’t ever find a pen by the phone. Maybe people don’t put a pen there because of cordless phones going all over the place. You think so?”
“It’s really hard to tell. Hey, even if she called me my phone number should still be in the phone’s memory now. Right?”
“Honey, you are asking the wrong girl about that. I couldn’t tell you that if I was stone-cold sober. Which I’m not.” She chuckled.
“Okay, if anything goes wrong like somebody can’t drive Mari home or she tries to leave on her own, please call me.”
“You gonna come for her?”
“You bet. What’s your name?”
“Lisa.”
“You bet, Lisa.”

Clement turned off the lights in the living room, dining room and kitchen. He turned off the lights in the bedroom, climbed into bed and pulled the covers up to his chest before tucking them under his arms. He lay there thinking about anything but Mari and the phone call. After an hour, he got out of bed and snapped the light on. He walked to the dresser and pulled open the top left drawer. At the bottom was a light blue envelope addressed in loopy girlish handwriting. He took the envelope out and plopped down on the bed.
“You’re so stupid. I can’t believe you’re still so stupid. After all you’ve been through you still haven’t learned that a girl like her doesn’t really want anything to do with you. Lisa was right. She was drunk-dialing. That’s why she called you. Why do you think she was laughing so much?” He opened the envelope and removed and unfolded the letter.
“Dear Clement,
Thanks for helping me with all my History homework. I’ve always pretty much hated history but you made it kind of fun. You made it sound like you knew everybody and we were just talking about the parties on the weekend.
Which brings me to the hard part of this. Um, I know I told you a lot that I like you and I think you’re really cool and maybe because I told you that you thought we were going to the Sadie Hawkins Dance together. Maybe I even kind of asked you to go. But the thing is… I can’t go to the dance with you. I can’t go to the dance with anybody. We’re gonna be moving to Chicago in a couple weeks and my parents want me to stop being friends with people so when we move it won’t be so hard to leave.
Some people are really jealous cuz you and I have been hanging out together and they might say something really mean like the reason I went out with you is because Shannon and Holly dared me but if you don’t believe it what difference does it make.
Stay cool forever,
Elise.”
“She didn’t move though, did she? You poor sap. She was there all that year and all the next year. Who did she go to the dance with? It wasn’t you. Don’t be stupid again. Mari is Jeff’s girlfriend. Even if she wasn’t Jeff’s girlfriend she would not go out with you. Maybe big girls play Truth or Dare too only they get drunk first. Maybe she wasn’t just drunk-dialing; she was also on a dare. Don’t get lured.” He smiled for a minute, turned the light off again, put the letter under his pillow, and climbed under the covers. He closed his eyes and pictured himself whirling across Kansas in the tornado that carried Dorothy.
When the call came three hours later, Clement was sitting up and breathing hard at the second ring and by the third he was in the living room with the receiver in his hand. “Hello? Hello? I’ll be right there. Just give me the address.”
“Wait a minute. Is this Mo?”
“Mo? I think you have the wrong number.”
“Mo’ money, mo’ problems, you stupid son of a-“
Clement hung up before the caller could finish and sank onto the sofa in a daze. He sat there until his heart rate had slowed then he walked into the dining room and replaced the bill-paying supplies he’d abandoned earlier. He put away the newly dry dishes in the kitchen, walked into the bathroom and brushed his teeth. He opened the bedroom closet and stood, staring into it, for several minutes before putting on a pair of jeans, a black turtleneck, a watch cap, and some green sneakers. He looked at the clock on the bedside table as he finished tying his shoes.
“12:35. Does anyone sleep at night? Will I ever sleep through the night again? Do you have to be drunk at a slumber party to do it?” He dropped his keys into the pocket of a dark gray sweatshirt. “Should I leave a note?” He was almost to the car when he remembered the letter from Elise was still under his pillow. He went back into the house and the bedroom to retrieve it. He folded it in half and stuck it into the right back pocket of his jeans. The phone started to ring as he re-locked the front door but he kept walking.

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