Posts Tagged ‘butter


Fate Pays The Rent (Tenth Installment)

Chapter 3

Chandler Elementary School had been erected in the mid-1950’s to accommodate the Baby Boomers. New desks and books had been brought in as the old ones wore out and a series of additions had been made to the building so it came to resemble a centipede. The one part of the school that hadn’t been materially altered was the kitchen. The peeling Formica on the countertops was now cracked laminate. Dim fluorescent tubes had replaced the dim incandescent bulbs. A food-spattered copy of the USDA sanitation guidelines, with critical comments penciled in the margins, hung beside the pass-through. The cafeteria ladies, their aprons permanently stained but freshly-washed for today’s visitors, might have been the ones who at a different school baked the rolls with which Clement had been assaulted.
Jeff and Clement were outside the principal’s office. “Doesn’t it seem like they should have bigger chairs for older people to sit in?”
“Maybe they don’t think very many people our age will be sitting outside here.”
Jeff wiggled around and crossed his ankle and his knee. “I don’t remember them being this uncomfortable. Do you?”
“I have no idea. I wasn’t here much.”
“Really? You never went to the principal’s office?”
Clement turned and looked Jeff full in the face. “What do you think?”
“You might have been. Maybe you went over to the dark side now and then and ended up here.”
“The only time I was ever in the principal’s office was when I’d been hit in the head with a roll. The first few times it happened, a teacher dragged me down here and we all ‘tried’ to figure out who did it. Nobody wanted to turn snitch on a friend, nobody else wanted to get hit, and nobody cared all that much about me getting hit so I quit making a fuss about it and so did the teachers.”
“You know, some people get sent down here for just having fun.”
“I wasn’t one of them. Did Mari have fun last night?”
“With her girlfriends? Oh yeah. They always have a good time. She got home about 7 o’clock this morning and barely had time to take a shower and have a cup of coffee before she left for work.”
“That’s good.”
“Something weird though.”
“When she got home, she didn’t really wanna talk much.”
“Maybe she had a headache from last night.”
“That’s kinda what I thought. All the other times though even if she was gulping down a half-dozen aspirin she was telling me stories in between. This morning she had nothing to tell me.”
“Maybe nobody did anything.”
“No, I think people did things. I think people did things she doesn’t want to talk about. I think her ex was there.”
Clement felt his shoulders rise. “Why would you say that?”
Jeff reached into his pocket and took out a small piece of paper. “I found this on the dresser beside the earrings she wore last night. It looks like the stuff on that paper you found in his office except it’s numbers instead of letters. I don’t know how else she would have gotten it if she didn’t see him.” He handed the paper to Clement who put it in his own pocket just as the office door opened and the principal stepped out.
“Passing notes already, gentlemen?”
Clement looked down but Jeff was bouncing forward with his hand out, “Will you give me detention if I am?”
“I’m Mrs. Lamb. You two can call me Mrs. Lamb. You seem very comfortable here. Did you spend a lot of time in the principal’s office?”
“Only enough to get a chair with my name on it. My name is Jeff Matthews in case you want to have the painter standing by for a new one.”
“And this is?”
“This is Clement Powell. He’s spent a lot less time in the principal’s office. He was only really down there when he got hit in the head with a roll.” Clement elbowed Jeff in the ribs but it was too late.
“Mr. Powell, did you also have Jell-O fights in your cafeteria?”
“I never started any.”
“I’ve never met anyone who did admit to starting one so I wouldn’t expect you to be the first.”
“Nah, Clement would tell you; he’s very honest.”
“I wasn’t meaning to put you on the spot, Mr. Powell. I only wanted to point out that if you’re familiar with Jell-O fights and flying dinner rolls you’re going to feel a lot more at ease in our lunchroom than Mr. Matthews here. Some people have a hard time getting used to keeping one eye on the back of their head.”
Jeff watched until the principal had her gone back to her desk for their name tags then he punched Clement hard in the arm. “In case you were going to laugh,” he whispered.
“Mr. Matthews! I used to be a teacher which means I have two eyes on the back of my head. This is a school and we do not hit our friends in school.” Jeff rolled his eyes and this time Clement did laugh. “Here are your name tags. Feel free to line up with the children for lunch but please do not take seconds until everyone has had their firsts.”
“Do we have to eat lunch at the tables with them?” Clement asked.
“The children enjoy having grown-ups at their tables so they can show off their good manners. Positive interactions with adults outside their family unit boost their self-esteem and promote appropriate socialization.”
“Then I’ll sit at the table but the first buttered roll I see coming through the air- whether it hits me or not- I’m out of there. Agreed?”
“Mr. Powell, if anyone hit you with a buttered roll I would personally track down the student that did it and see to it that they were reprimanded and punished.”
“Yeah, I know. It never turns out to be that easy but thanks for saying it anyway.”
They could hear the rumbling as soon as they started down the hall in the direction of the cafeteria. Even though it grew louder with each step they were unprepared for the full volume to hit them when the doors opened. The tables, hinged in the middle with four attached stools on either side that folded down, had been arranged in ranks with scarcely enough room to walk between them. Five-hundred children were arranged at tables for eight and they jostled and shouted to be seated and to make themselves heard beneath the cavernous ceiling. Jeff and Clement joined the line snaking from the door to the counter but Mrs. Lamb excused herself to go to the teachers’ lounge. Clement pulled the paper out of his pocket and tried to read it but the noise and the crush of bodies made it impossible to think. He felt a small shoe connect with his calf.
“Hurry it up, mister. There isn’t gonna be anything left.”
“They have to make sure everybody gets firsts before anyone gets seconds. We’ll get some.”
“Yeah, we’ll get something but I wanna make sure I get sloppy Joes.”
“What else are we having?”
“How come you don’t know what we’re having? Geez, I’m only in first grade and I know what we’re having. My mom reads me the menu every morning while I’m eating breakfast.”
“Well, I don’t live with my mom and I don’t always have breakfast.”
“What do you mean you don’t eat breakfast?” Clement felt the boy’s small fingers jab him in the ribs. “Come on, move up! Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. If you don’t eat breakfast then you’re running your car with no fuel or oil in it.”
Clement seized the boy’s wrist and was careful not to twist it as he turned around and thrust it towards its owner. “I know all about breakfast. What I wanna know is can you tell me what else we’re having for lunch besides sloppy Joes.”
The boy stared at Clement’s chest. “What’s that thing say?”
Clement looked down at his name tag. “It says my name is Clement Powell and I work for the Rockin’ Rooster Food Company”
The boy looked at the ceiling thinking. “You the guys that sell those chicken things?”
“Chicken strips? Yes. Do you like them?”
The child pantomimed making himself vomit. “Them are nasty. If we’re having those today, you wanna for sure get the sloppy Joes.”
“What makes them nasty?”
“I don’t know. I don’t cook ‘em. All I know is when we have those chicken things we eat a whole lot of vegetables. The vegetables aren’t good either. The peas are like little rocks, the green beans are kind of like slugs, and the carrots are so hard you can’t chew ‘em.”
“What about the rolls?”
“Oh the rolls are great. The rolls are awesome. See that hole up there?” He pointed to a mark on the wall about six inches from the ceiling. “My brother did that with a roll.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“How far away was he when he threw it?” Clement took a step sideways to keep up with the line.
“He didn’t throw it. You couldn’t throw it and hit the wall that hard and that high up.”
“So, what did he do?”
With his eyes still on the line ahead, the boy gestured Clement to bend down. “He launched it.”
“With a slingshot?” Clement whispered.
“No. He built it himself. None of the teachers know he’s the one that did that and we’re not gonna tell them. Right?” He winked at Clement and Clement, more than a little surprised at himself, nodded. He pulled the piece of paper out of his pocket and showed it to the kid.
“You know what this means?”
“Geez, what do you want from me? I’m only in first grade.” A sly look came into his face. “My brother might. After all he did build that launcher and he’s in sixth grade.”
“Introduce us?”
“For what?”
“I mean-“ the boy rubbed the fingers and thumb of one hand together. “And not money. There’s something else I want.” He licked his lips.
Clement nodded again. Taking the boy by the wrist, he led him past the others standing in line- the shoving students, the Lunch Buddy volunteers, and Jeff to whom a fourth-grade girl was relating the birth of her kittens. As he reached the front of the line, he picked up two trays and two sets of silverware. He placed the trays on the rack and neatly arranged the silverware on them.
The cafeteria lady finished scooping peas onto a tall boy’s plate and looked at Clement. “What are you doing cutting in line? Get back where you were.”
Clement bit his top lip and looked down at the little boy. “No. I don’t have to go back there. I’m a visitor and visitors get served first.” The little boy wriggled his wrist around and squeezed Clement’s hand.
“What about him? He’s not a visitor.”
“This is Wilmot~. He’s my guest.”
“His name isn’t Wilmot and he’s nobody’s guest. He’s a snot-nosed little kid whose brother damages school property.”
Clement looked down at the kid again. The kid gave his head a barely perceptible shake. “I’m not sure who you’re talking about but this boy’s name is Wilmot and he is my guest for lunch. Now then, as a visitor I go to the head of the line and, because Wilmot is my guest, he comes with me. We would like two plates of the sloppy Joes.” Wilmot gave his hand another squeeze. He looked at the kid and he was licking his lips.
“Hey! You’re one of those chicken strip guys. How come you don’t want the chicken strips?”
“I’ve heard they’re nasty.”
“Nah. Me and the other cooks like them.”
“That’s right,” said a woman bringing up an enormous pot of peas.
“Why is that?”
“Because,” said the woman with the pot, “whenever we serve those chicken strips the kids gobble down vegetables like they were going outta style.” The cooks laughed.
“Right. Two plates with sloppy Joes and the corn.”
The first cook sloshed servings of sloppy Joes onto the two plates then handed them to her right where the second woman dolloped each with a spoonful of creamed corn. Clement could see the two mostly liquid foods beginning their fight for possession of the plate and his stomach clenched but he placed one dish on Wilmot’s tray and the second on his own. “And three rolls, please.”
“You got hamburger buns under the Joes.”
“Yes, but I see dinner rolls there and I’d like three of them.”
The cook with the corn snatched three rolls from the pan behind her and dropped them onto his tray. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Wilmot.”
“Tomorrow, he’ll be the guest of Mrs. Lamb.” Wilmot squeezed Clement’s hand hard and Clement half expected another kick to his calf. Instead the boy released his hand, the two removed their trays from the rack, selected their cartons of chocolate milk and merged with the flow of children seeking tables.
“What did you get three rolls for?”
“I assumed your brother would like one. We’re meeting him, right? I filled my part of the bargain.”
“Yeah. That was good thinking with the corn.”
“It was the only vegetable you hadn’t talked about.”
“Thanks for taking me with you. I was just hoping that if you managed to get some sloppy Joe then you’d share it with me.”
“Enough gratitude. Let’s see your brother.”
“My name isn’t Wilmot,” the kid said as they pushed through the crowd to a table in the back row.
“It’s Nick. My brother is Jack. He’s really smart. Not just to me because I’m a first-grader. You’ll see.”
Jack frowned when he saw his brother approaching the table. The frown deepened when he saw Clement. “Mom said you’re not supposed to be bugging me at lunch. And who is this?”
Nick set his tray on the table and climbed onto a stool across from his brother. “His name’s Clement. He needs your help figuring something out.”
“I brought you this.” Clement placed the roll on Jack’s tray, put his own on the table beside Nick’s and sat down. “People grow a lot at your age. I thought you might be hungry.”
Jack slid the papers he’d been examining under his tray and slipped the pencil into his back pocket. “If you know how old I am then you know I’m only in the sixth grade and there’s not much I’m gonna be able to help a grown-up figure out.”
Clement reached for the papers. “May I?”
“You gonna build that thing?”
“Maybe. Maybe someday when I’ve got the money and I don’t have to spend all day in school.”
“You oughta help him, Jack. He’s okay. He got me and him both sloppy Joes and he stood up to Karen and Lydia.”
“If you drew those, Jack, then I think you know enough to help me. I wanna show you a piece of paper. If you understand it and you can tell me what it is, that’s great. If not, you got a roll and your brother got sloppy Joes like he wanted and that’s okay too.”
“Please look, Jack.”
Jack nodded and held out his hand. Clement took the paper from his jacket pocket, smoothed it onto the table and handed it to Jack. Jack looked at it, pulled a sheet from his own stack of paper and took out his pencil. He began writing down numbers, adding them, crossing them out, writing down, adding and crossing out others. He stopped writing and smiled at Clement. “Who did this? Where did you get it?”
“Because they’re smart. They know numbers.”
“What do you mean? How do they know numbers?”
“I’ll tell you if you tell me where you got this and who did it.”
“I don’t believe I’m having this conversation. What does your mother feed you boys for breakfast? Your brother shakes me down for sloppy Joes to even get to meet you and now you want information from me before you’ll give me any.” He rose halfway from the stool and looked around for Jeff. He was sitting toward the front on the left-hand side at a table filled with little girls; They were giggling and talking all at once and he seemed to be making a flower with his napkin. Clement leaned forward and said, “I need you to tell me first, Jack, because I don’t want someone to get into trouble. You understand that, right?”
“Yeah.” Jack studied the two papers again. “There are people who know numbers and people who know math. People who know math can figure things out fast. Sometimes they’re just like a computer they’re so fast. Other people aren’t so fast at doing the work but they know numbers. The person who did this might also know math but they for sure know numbers.”
“Why do you say that?”
“This note here says, ‘9 is wasteful not weird’.”
“I saw that. What does it mean?”
“It means they were looking for a number that could be classified as weird. There’s all kinds of numbers. My teacher was talking about adjectives one day and she gave us a list of them to study. I don’t like words but I do like numbers. I spend a lot of time in the hall for bothering people and my mom gets mad at me. I decide I don’t wanna get in trouble so much so I start taking these adjectives and putting the word ‘number’ behind them and looking the whole thing up. Some combinations work like ‘generous’, ‘weird’, ‘efficient’, sublime, ‘friendly’, and ‘wasteful’.”
“A weird number is one where if you add up the divisors the total is greater than the number itself. But you’re not putting the number itself in there. Like twelve. Twelve looks like a weird number. Sixteen. See?” He ran his pencil along the line of figures and Clement nodded. “But to find out if it’s truly weird you have to add up the divisors in different combinations to see if they equal the number. If any of them do- 2+4+6=12 –then it’s not a weird number.”
“Yeah. What about ‘wasteful’?”
“It’s just like it sounds. You’ve got extra numbers. Here’s nine. Nine is a one digit number, right?”
“Nine is three times three or three squared, right?”
“So you’ve got an extra number. Nine is only one digit but three squared has two digits because you have a three and a two.”
Clement turned the paper around so all the numbers were facing him. “Why would someone do this? Why would they want to know whether or not nine was weird or wasteful?”
“Beats me. Maybe they’re working on something or maybe they just like numbers. So, who did this?”
“The girlfriend of a friend of mine, I think. He found it next to a pair of her earrings.”
“Keep an eye on her.”
“She’s smart and if she’s working on something you might wanna be around when she gets done with it. It might be worth a whole lot of money. Leave your tray, Nick. He’ll take it back. Won’t you?” He looked at Clement who nodded. “I gotta get to recess and Nick’s gotta get to class.” He folded the larger sheet of paper in half, laid Clement’s paper on top and slid them across the table. “You can keep these. Thanks for the roll. I’ll use it wisely.” He winked at Clement, Nick waved, and both boys were lost to him in the crowd.



A slice of medium-rare roast beef
A shmear of icy-sharp horseradish
A mound of mashed potatoes
A pat of golden butter, placed atop the potatoes but melting;
Rivulets of butter trickling down, spreading across the plate,
Mingling with the rising steam.


Fate Pays The Rent (Eighth Installment)

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.”
“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?”
“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?”
“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?”
“And the serial killer isn’t the one that gets eaten?”
“Then it’s an even stupider name for a book because it also doesn’t make sense.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”