Posts Tagged ‘chicken

23
Apr
09

Fate Pays The Rent (Eighteenth Installment)

Chapter 7

“They found Mari on a bus headed for Gearhart, Oregon.”
“What?  What the hell time is it?”  Clement unwrapped the cord for the cell phone charger from his arm and sat up to look at his alarm clock.”
“It’s 7:30,” Buzz said.  “Did I wake you?  I figured you’d be getting ready for work.”
Clement unplugged the cell phone and tucked the end of the charger cord behind the bedside table.  He got up and walked over to the closet.  “Yeah, I should have been.”
“Did you set your alarm?”
“No.  I forgot.  I never do that but I got in late last night from riding the bus and-“
“You were on the bus again?  You oughta get a new car.”
“Yeah, that’s what Kenny said last night.”
“Kenny?”
“I can’t believe I forgot to set the alarm.”
“I believe it.  You’ve got a lot on your mind.  You’ve got a friend in jail accused of murder and an unreliable car.”
“Forget the car.  What were you saying about Mari?”
“I was still wondering about Kenny but okay.  They found Mari on a bus headed for Gearhart, Oregon.”
“Did she have relatives there or something?”
“No.  She was actually headed for Peachtree, Georgia but she figured while she was on the road why not stop and see the beautiful Pacific Ocean.”
“Yeah, why not?”
“The answer to that would be if anyone knew her and knew she loved the ocean they wouldn’t have had much trouble tracking her down.  The area along the Oregon and Washington coast isn’t that big.”
“No kidding.  You talk to her yet?”
“No.  She’s smarter than Clement thought she was because as soon as she got back into town she got lawyered up.”
“You want me to try to talk to her?”
“You’re pretty smart too.  Even if you don’t know how to operate an alarm clock.”
“I can’t talk to her first thing this morning because I need to take care of some things in the office.  We’ve been getting some weird calls lately and I feel like I should see what’s going on.  I wasn’t in yesterday and Jeff was gone yesterday and, obviously, won’t be in today either.  Is Jeff coming in today?”
“Not unless Mari throws her lawyers out and starts singing.”
“Right.  So, no Jeff.”
“That sounds right.  How long will it take you to get everything sorted out at the office?”
“Everything?  Longer than both of us have left on Earth.  I can probably get a handle on these weird calls and put a couple of irons in the fire by noon.  You want me to meet you there?”
“Yeah, at noon.  When you say weird calls what do you mean?”
“Not creepy or harassing kind of weird.  People have been calling and asking for products we don’t sell.”
“You sell chicken strips.”
“Yeah, just the plain frozen breaded kind.”
“Sounds awful.”
“No, just boring.  We go to trade shows and sometimes the boss sends us out on good-will missions.”
“That’s where you were two days ago when you met the kid who explained what Mari was working on.”
“Right.  I went back there yesterday afternoon and had a long talk with the principal.”
“About the kids?”
“About them and I wanted to get her impression of Jeff.”
“And?”
“She thinks he has a great capacity for mischief but would never do anything really bad.”
“Does she consider murder to be really bad?”
“I didn’t ask her but I got the feeling she would.”
“That was either brave or foolish of you.”
“What was?”
“Volunteering to go to the principal’s office.”
“Yeah, she’s good people.”
“That doesn’t sound like something you’d usually say.”
“You’re right.  It’s probably from spending so much time on the buses.”
“Blame it on the working poor.  I’ll see you at noon and you can explain about Kenny.”
“Deal.”

Clement drained the day-old coffee into a large pitcher and dumped it down the sink before dismantling and washing the coffee urn.  He wrapped his index finger in a soapy paper towel and scrubbed inside each piece.  “Why the hell are these people calling and asking for things we don’t sell?”  He remembered how his mouth had watered when the woman described the sausages filled with chicken, green pepper and kalamata olives and Jeff saying, “I wish we did sell those.”  He rinsed the pieces and set them on a three-layer stack of paper towels to air-dry.  Opening the refrigerator, he found a can of Red Bull, which he took, and the last half of a tuna sandwich bearing impressions of the eater’s fingers , which he did not.  Sitting down at his desk, he popped the top on the can, set it on the upper left corner of the blotter, and pulled his Rolodex closer.
“Yeah, Mike?  This is Clement Powell.  Yeah, like you know a lot of other Clements.  You ever hear of sausages with chicken, green peppers and kalamata olives in them?  Who’d know about them?  Some woman called me and asked if I could track them down for her and she’ll pay me extra.  I dunno.  I think they sound good too.  Yeah, I’ll let you know if I find them.  Thanks.”
He flipped several cards forward.  “Eco Meats.  Who the hell is Eco Meats?  Must have been from a trade show.”  He continued to look through cards but kept coming back to Eco Meats.  He dialed.  “Yeah, you’re gonna think I’m crazy but I’m looking for some sausages made with chicken, green peppers and kalamata olives.  Do you have anything like that?  You do?  Oh, this is Clement Powell from Rockin’ Rooster.  Yeah, the plain breaded chicken strips.  How many to a package do the sausages come?  Really?  What else do you have?  With curry and apples?  Well, it doesn’t grab me but I’m more of a Nathan’s Finest guy.  Could you fax me over a price list?  No, I’ve got somebody calling me wanting to know if I can order them and she’ll pay me extra.  No, I’ve never thought about jumping ship.  No no, just send me the price list.  Yeah.  555-4166.  Got it?”  Clement hung up the phone and put a paper clip on the Rolodex card for Eco Meats.  Then he called the woman from King Foods and told her he was waiting on a price list and he’d be in touch and yes she was very welcome and no he hadn’t thought of selling the sausages himself instead of the chicken strips which weren’t very good.  She thanked him again, he hung up, he picked up the Red Bull, turned off the lights and went downtown to talk to Mari.

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15
Apr
09

Chicken-Fried Hypocrite (You Know Who You Are)

You watch all the TV shows on how to get in shape.
You criticize the girls who’d look pregnant if they ate a grape
Hold down one end of the sofa like you was Jabba the Hut.
You say I could lose a couple more inches offa my butt.

You are a batter-dipped, chicken-fried, fat-filled hypocrite.
Man, you must be crazy and I’m getting tired of it.
You tell us all to shake a leg
When all you do is sit.
You are a batter-dipped and chicken-fried fat-filled hypocrite.

Now you’re diabetic- triglycerides off the scale.
The drawstring on your PJs would fit a baby whale.
About two hundred pounds a-riding on your size 7 shoes.
Pick up the phone and say “Hello”
The Biggest Loser’s looking for you.

You are a batter-dipped, chicken-fried, fat-filled hypocrite.
Man, you must be crazy and I’m getting tired of it.
You tell us all to shake a leg
When all you do is sit.
You are a batter-dipped and chicken-fried fat-filled hypocrite.

22
Mar
09

Fate Pays The Rent (Twelfth Installment)

Jeff took the mug from his desk, placed it in front of the coffee-pot, pulled the spigot and looked at the still-empty mug. Clement was just coming out of the bathroom. “So did you make coffee and then act like a selfish jerk and drink it all or did you just never make any?”
“I never made any; I had a Red Bull. Besides, why would I make any for you? You’ve been gone for hours. Where the hell did you go?”
“Where I said I was gonna go. I drove around and tried to forget about my problems.”
“Did it work?”
“Yeah, till I came in here and found out there wasn’t any coffee. Then they all came flooding back.” He put his mug back on the desk, opened the refrigerator and the milk carton, swirled the milk in the carton and smelled it. “Geez, we need to get a new cow.”
“There’s another Red Bull in there. Go for it.”
“What did you do while I was gone?”
“I have been working. I talked to fifteen of our guys who ate lunch at a school today. Nobody ate the chicken strips and everyone they talked with about them cast their mark on the ‘nasty’ side of the ledger.”
“I don’t understand how that’s possible. We’ve been selling these things for two years. I guess I should say that I’ve been selling them two years. You’ve been selling them even longer. You must be really surprised.”
“Yes and no. I’ve been selling them but it’s not like I’ve been eating them. We didn’t eat them today and now that I think about it I can’t remember the last time I did eat any.”
“Yeah, but at trade shows-“
“We don’t eat them at trade shows. No one ever eats their own food at trade shows. I don’t even eat other people’s chicken strips at trade shows. I eat the white-chocolate and raspberry scones. I eat the chicken sausages. I eat the new kinds of apples.”
“Last time they had those Pink Lady apples. Wow!”
“My point is that we don’t eat our product on a regular basis so we have no idea how it tastes. Maybe they’ve been nasty for the last two years and we just didn’t know about it.”
“If they taste so bad, why do so many people buy them?”
“Because they’re cheap. The cooks at Chandler Elementary said they love the chicken strips because they get the kids to eat more vegetables.”
“Geez, I had the peas and they were like gravel.”
“You should have had the corn. At least, we could chew it.”
“Well, nobody told me to get the corn. That would have been a friendly thing to do, by the way. The little girls were too busy telling me about all the life-changing events their pets had experienced to have time to tell me what I should and shouldn’t get. If I hadn’t been trying not to listen to a dog’s hysterectomy, I wouldn’t have known about the sloppy Joes either.”
“Yeah, sorry about that.”
“ So what are we going to do?”
“About what?”
“About the chicken strips? Are we going to keep selling them?”
“I suppose. Why wouldn’t we?”
“Hello? Because everyone thinks they’re nasty. Because little kids would rather eat peas that are like rocks than eat the chicken strips.”
“Maybe they’re not that way everywhere. Maybe some cooks know how to do them right.”
“And maybe I’m Santa Claus. How many guys did you talk to?”
“Fifteen.”
“Is that fifteen schools then?”
“No, it’s probably about ten schools.”
“They were bad everywhere?”
“We don’t really know. Everybody else was like us. Some kid warned them off the chicken strips and they figured the kids would know. Maybe the chicken strips were fine at those schools and maybe they weren’t. Nobody wanted to push their luck so we don’t know.”
“I don’t think I can sell them if they’re that bad.”
“What?”
“I don’t want to sell something that’s going to make a bunch of people sick.”
“Nobody said anything about making people sick. All anybody is claiming is that they don’t taste good. Maybe they just don’t taste good to kids”
“I don’t wanna do it anyway.”
“You’re the company’s conscience now? The guy who wanted me to break into a stranger’s office.”
“Yeah, don’t worry about that any more either.”
“Why?”
“It’s over.”
“How?”
“How what?”
“How did it get to be over?”
“It’s really simple. It’s over because I killed him.”
“You killed him? How?”
“Geez, Clement.” Jeff pushed his chair back, pulled out the bottom left drawer, shoved the files to the back and rested his feet on top of the rack. “I followed your advice and beat him to death with a shoe. I guess it was actually a boot. Is one of those Doc Marten’s considered a boot or a shoe? Anyway that’s what I used.”
Clement walked around the desk and shoved Jeff’s chair further back. Jeff’s feet thudded to the floor. Clement stuck his finger in Jeff’s face. “You lousy son of a gun! Why?”
“It’s just like you said. I couldn’t stand the idea that somebody else had been with Mari before I was. I went over there and confronted him about last night and he laughed in my face. I wrenched one of his boots off and beat him to death with it. Or is it a shoe?”
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a boot or a shoe. What matters is that you killed another human being. You went over there and deliberately took the life of someone else.” He walked back to his own side of the desk and dropped into the chair. “You know what else doesn’t matter? Whether or not you want to keep selling chicken strips. That doesn’t matter because even if you don’t go to jail I can’t work with you any more.” He picked up the Red Bull can and rolled it between his palms. “You really did it? You really beat him to death?”
“Of course I did. You’ve known me for two years. Do you think I would come in here and lie and tell you I killed someone if I didn’t.”
Clement had dropped the can back onto the desk and was now rocking in his chair. “I don’t know. I don’t think so but then I never thought you’d kill someone either.”
Jeff sipped his energy drink and watched his friend. He counted under his breath. When he reached one-hundred-twenty, he said, “Clement, it’s all right.”
“No.”
“Clement, it’s really all right.”
“How can it be?”
“I didn’t kill him.”
“You just told me you killed him.”
“I told you that but it wasn’t true. I just wanted you to lay off me. I didn’t know you’d take it so hard. Then when you did I figured I’d better tell you the truth.”
“You didn’t know I’d take it so hard? Jeff, he’s a person.”
“Yeah, but you don’t know him.”
“It doesn’t matter if I know him or not. What? Are you thinking if you beat someone to death and I don’t know them or I’ve never seen a picture of them then it’s fine.”
“Maybe.”
“I don’t know if I think you’re crazier now or you were crazier when I believed you’d killed him. I’ve gotta get out of here for a while.”
“Clement, can’t you see it’s okay?”
“How is this okay?”
“I didn’t really kill him. Nobody’s dead. We can go on selling chicken strips or whatever together.”
“How will we do that, Jeff?”
“Same way as always. Trade show booths, cold-calling, leads from the boss or from people we meet- the usual.”
“But we did those things as a team. Don’t you get it? How are we going to be a team now? How can I trust you?”
“You trust the people that make the chicken strips.”
“That’s different.”
“How is that different? For years we’ve been telling people the chicken strips were good and now it turns out that’s not true. For two years you’ve been thinking I was an okay guy and then for two minutes you thought I killed somebody and now you know that’s not true either. Yeah, I lied to you. For two minutes and then I told the truth. The Rockin’ Rooster people have been lying to us for two years.”
“Jeff, shut up! I have to get out of here and think.”
“Are you coming back?”
“Probably not today. I’ve had some pretty big shocks today.”
“It’s gonna be okay. We’ll find something else to sell. We’ll find something that’s really good, something kids like. Yeah, you wanna find a different job. That only makes sense. We can still be friends though. That doesn’t have to change, right?”
“Jeff, let go of my arm. I said I’d be back but you’re not helping.”
“Call me tonight. Will you call me?”
“Okay. Later. Probably. Okay, for sure. I just gotta get out.” Clement heard the heel of Jeff’s shoe scrape as it left the floor and returned to the desk drawer. When he looked back, both shoes were back in place and Jeff was reading the Business section of the morning’s paper.

Mari was waiting by Clement’s car. “You don’t understand how scared I am.”
“No, you don’t understand how scared you should be. You need to get out of town and you need to do it fast.”
“Why? I wanted you to talk to Jeff about Aaron.”
“Yeah well, it’s too late for that. Get in.” Clement walked around to the passenger’s side and unlocked the door. He looked back at the building. Mari reached across to unlock the driver’s door and he climbed in and pressed the switch re-locking both doors. Mari had removed a pencil from her purse and she was tapping the eraser end rhythmically against her teeth. “I might as well tell you that there’s no point in my talking to Jeff about Aaron when Jeff has already talked to Aaron.”
Mari dropped the pencil and covered her mouth with her hands. “I can’t believe he’d do that.”
“I wouldn’t go believing everything just yet. He told me that he confronted him about last night and that Aaron laughed at him.”
“I told you he would.”
“He said he lost his temper after that and beat him to death.”
“Omigod!”
“Then he said he didn’t kill him. That’s why you’ve got to get out of here. If anyone figures out what you were working on and thinks Aaron might have been working with you and you decided not to share or they think he was holding something over you, you’ll be the first suspect. That’s if he’s dead. If he’s not dead and Jeff believes there really is something still going on between the two of you, he’ll have a lot of questions for you. Just a tip: he doesn’t seem to be in the mood for a long conversation that requires a lot of patience.”
“So what do I do?”
“Do you have relatives in a different part of the country? Not like your parents but somebody you’ve never really talked about. Do you have anybody living somewhere Jeff can’t imagine you’d want to go?”
“I’ve got an uncle who-“
“No. I don’t wanna know. Take as little as you can stand to and get the hell out of town. Wherever you’re going there are stores and you can buy things. The more you leave behind the less suspicious it will look when Jeff gets home tonight.”
“How do you know this stuff?”
“I read. It’s what some of us do instead of going to parties and drinking too much.”
“I said I was sorry.” Mari picked up the pencil and put it back into her purse.
“Yeah, you did. Maybe I should be sorry too.” Clement took the two pieces of paper from his pocket and handed them to her. “Take these with you too.” She opened a zippered compartment, tucked the papers into it, and zipped it again. She reached for the door handle and Clement took her elbow. “Were you still seeing Aaron?”
“Sometimes. But not last night and not in the way you mean. A couple of times a week, he’d come by work and we’d have lunch in the food court. Two old friends eating and talking in a public place in full view of mothers and fathers and aunties and grandmothers.”
“Why?”
“Jeff likes me because I’m cute. He likes me because I’m goofy and he doesn’t have to pay too much attention to what I’m saying because it was probably on ‘Entertainment Tonight’ or the cover of ‘People’ and, if he misses my saying it, he can watch the show tomorrow night or read the magazine and it’s all good. He doesn’t expect a lot from me and sometimes that’s nice because I don’t have to work at it.”
“But you still saw Aaron. Why?”
“Because Aaron is smart.” She sighed. “Was smart. He knew I was smart and he liked that about me. I’m not just a girl who likes shoes and acts like a klutz around lots of glass bottles. Aaron understood that.”
“So why Jeff?”
“Aaron wanted me to be smart all the time. That takes a lot of energy and sometimes it took more energy than I had.”
“You’re wrong about Aaron.”
“Yeah?”
“He didn’t want you to be smart all the time. If he had, you two would have stopped seeing each other when you hooked up with Jeff.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.” She sighed again and made a second attempt at the door handle. He pressed the switch to unlock her door.
“Mari, be smart this time.”
“Yeah?”
“Get the hell out of here.” He went to her side and opened the door. She ran to her car, stopping halfway between the two cars to blow him a kiss, and Clement was glad the only window in the office faced the brick wall.

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.”

30
Jan
09

Fate Pays The Rent (First Installment)

“I just want you to see if he’s got any pictures of her.”
“And he’d have them at work why?”
“I dunno. Maybe he’s got a wife and he doesn’t want her to see them.”
“Right. So because he may or may not have a wife and she may or may not know he had a girlfriend who is now your girlfriend- God only knows why- he would keep pictures of her at work so some employee can find them and blackmail him or at least spread them all over the Internet?”
“Yeah.”
Clement looked across their desks at Jeff~, letting his eyes drift up to the framed 24×36 print showing the anatomy of a chicken. Jeff had found it at one of their first trade show and paid for the framing himself before proudly hanging it and declaring it ‘an inoffensive display of breasts and thighs.” Now he wanted pictures of another female’s anatomy. “Jeff, you’re an idiot. Not quite a flaming moron but definitely an idiot.”
“Clement, you’re my buddy, my pal. You gotta do this. Womb to tomb, remember?”
“Look, I only met you two years ago at the Cluck-Fest in Seattle.”
“And took me under your wing.”
“ And don’t give me that ‘West Side Story’ crap. Those guys all ended up dead or in ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’ which is almost the same.”
“How do you know that?”
“I got culture and insomnia.”
“They got a cure for culture. You oughta go see your doctor.”
“Idiot, you still haven’t convinced me why I should break into this guy’s office to see if he maybe has pictures of the person who is unfortunately your girlfriend.”
“That’s the coolest part. You wouldn’t be breaking in. She’s got a key and she’s gonna give it to me and I’m gonna give it to you.”
“Right. She got this how?”
“She made a copy of it when they were still together.”
“Right. The reason she doesn’t just go to this guy and say ‘Look, freak, I know you’ve got pictures of me and I want you to either give them to me or shred them’ is what?”
“She doesn’t know for sure. She always thought he had pictures but if he does he took them while she was asleep.”
“Asleep? Geez, I’ve been over at your place when she was asleep. Not only does she snore, which admittedly wouldn’t show up in the pictures, but she drools and her hair gets all stuck to one side of her face. Why does he want a picture of that? Unless he’s a freak about hydration.”
“Because she sleeps naked.”
“So what? Women tan naked. If he wanted naked, he could go to one of those tanning places and take a picture over the three-quarter wall with his cell phone. If he was quick, he’d get away with it. Or go to the nude beach. Put the camera in a diaper bag with the lens pointing through the clear part where the changing pad goes only don’t put the changing pad in it. Focus the camera at a mid-range distance so when he sees someone he wants a picture of he just has to push the button and it’s that quick.”
“Wow. You know a lot about this stuff. You do it?”
“Hell no. You think you gotta do something to know about it? I read the papers. I listen to people. I’m still listening to you to find out why I’m gonna do this.”
“She’s really worried he’s gonna put the pictures on the Internet. Like that ‘Hot or Not’ site where people vote on whether your girlfriend is worth it or not.”
“I know what the site is but why the hell would he care what people think of his ex-girlfriend? Especially when he’s married. Or if he’s married. This is really stupid. How come she’s got a key to his office and we don’t even know if he’s married or not? How come she doesn’t know if he’s married?”
“She never asked him. She didn’t wanna know if he was or not. If she asks him and he says he is then she has to know she’s the kind of girl who goes out with married guys. If she knows then she’s a home-wrecker.”
“Holy crap. She shouldn’t have to ask him. There are posts all over the Internet telling women how to tell. And nobody’s a home-wrecker anymore. People figure guys are autonomous and they don’t cheat because they got lured. Guys don’t get lured.”
“Girls.”
“What?”
“Girls don’t get lured. It’s from Bull Durham. This girl is talking to Annie Savoy, played by Susan Sarandon, and she says she didn’t mean to fall for this guy but she got lured and Susan Sarandon says ‘You did not get lured. Girls do not get lured.’”
“Enlightening.”
“The reason he’d put her picture up on ‘Hot or Not’ is if you’re gonna cheat on your wife-“
“Assuming you’re married.”
“You wanna be sure the girl is worth it. You’re gonna get caught and your wife is gonna want a divorce and you’re gonna end up eating dog food from a can for the rest of your life.”
“This isn’t a community property state. Nobody’s gonna end up eating dog food. That’s old people with no pensions. And even if he was married, she’s his ex-girlfriend so for better or for worse he got away with it and it doesn’t matter if she looks like a baboon’s butt. Which I’m not saying she does.”
“Look, just do this. Okay? It’d mean a lot to her so it’d mean a lot to me. She completes me.”
“Holy crap.”
The phone on Jeff’s desk rang. “Yeah. Yeah. No, sir, we didn’t. No. I can understand your anger and disappointment. I will check with my associate and see what he says but I can assure you we would never have done something like that without checking with you first. Thanks for calling, sir. Bye now.” He replaced the receiver, snatched a half-eaten pencil from the edge of Clement’s desk and arced it into the wastebasket. “Leonard’s Market says we delivered them smoked chicken strips and they ordered plain breaded ones.”
“We don’t sell smoked chicken strips.”
“I know. That’s what I told him.”
Clement pulled a lower desk drawer open and flipped through the files. “I don’t have a ‘Leonard’s Market’ in here. Do you have ‘Leonard’s Market’ in your drawer?”
Jeff scanned the files on his side. “No.”
“So this man who just called and received empathy from you is not even a customer of ours?”
“No. It would appear he is not.”
“Would you like to call him back and apprise him of the error?”
“No. I would not.”
“Did she ask you who you were?”
“You heard it. I didn’t even get to say ‘Hello’. I picked up the phone and he said, ‘You the guys that sell the chicken?’ I said, ‘Yeah’. He said, ‘Frozen chicken strips?’ I said, ‘Yeah’. He said, ‘Well, you’ve really screwed up my week. You know why? You sent me smoked chicken strips again when I ordered the plain ones.’ I said, ‘No, we didn’t’ and we were off to the races.”
“Unbelievable. Almost as unbelievable as you wanting me to break into this guy’s office.”
“You’re not even breaking in. You’ll have a key. She says he never locks the desk or anything. All you gotta do is let yourself in after he’s gone, look through some things. If you find any pictures then you bring them out with you. If you find anything else interesting, that’s yours too.”
“Now hold on. I’m not breaking in anywhere and I’m not stealing anything. The only way I’m justifying this whole thing to myself at all is by saying that since the pictures- if they even exist- are of her then really they belong to her. I don’t do this. It’s not my problem and it’s not my job. I’m not asking for any money to go in and you’re not paying me. Not even with naked pictures. After I’m done, assuming I turn out to be as stupid as you are, you’re gonna take me to Outback for a steak dinner and you’re gonna pay for that and you’re gonna buy one for yourself and you’re gonna sit there while we both eat. You’re not leaving a minute before I do because I am not gonna be fingered later for breaking and entering or entering without breaking. Got it?”
“So, you’re gonna do it?”
“Geez, I don’t know. It’s just so stupid and there’s so many maybes and I could stay home and watch ‘Battlestar Galactica’.”
“Come on…”
“Can you at least find out his schedule and whether or not he is married?”
“Man, I knew it! I knew you were gonna say ‘yes’.”
“I didn’t say ‘yes’; I asked you if you could find out a couple of things.”
“But you wouldn’t even ask me if you weren’t gonna do it. Oh man, we’re like that movie ‘Damon and Pythius”.”
“Right. That makes one of us Jerry Lewis and the other Dean Martin. I’ve heard you sing and your drinking is worse. When are you gonna see the Naked Drooler?”
“Tonight. Right after work, I’m going over there. Tuesdays we have Chinese and watch that cavemen show. She thinks that slacker caveman is hot and I’m not gonna complain. Lot of excess energy if you know what I mean.”
“TMI, Jerry. If you know what I mean.”