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Feels good:
Laughing with friends
By the school, each of us
Waving a poster of a dead


Fate Pays The Rent (Fifth Installment)

Chapter 2

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


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?”
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 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.’”
“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.”