Paranoia (014 of 170)

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Paranoia
by Joseph Finder
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Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder.
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Part One: 6 (Cont'd)

We both worked at the same Gulf station in high school, until Seth got tired of the holdups and went to Dunkin' Donuts to make donuts on the overnight. For a couple of summers he and I worked cleaning windows for a company that did a lot of downtown skyscrapers, until we decided that dangling from ropes on the twenty-seventh floor sounded cooler than it actually was. Not only was it boring, but it was scary as hell, a lousy combination. Maybe some people consider hanging off the side of a building hundreds of feet up some kind of extreme sport, but to me it seemed more like a slow-motion suicide attempt.

The whistling grew louder. People were looking at the whistler, a chubby balding guy in a suit, and some people were giggling.

"I'm going to fucking lose it," Seth said.

"Don't," I said, but it was too late, he was already headed to the other end of the bar. I took out a cigarette and lighted it as I watched him lean over the bar, glowering at the whistler, looking like he was going to grab the guy's lapel but stopping short. He said something. There was some laughter from the whistler's general vicinity. Looking cool and relaxed, Seth headed back this way. He stopped to talk to a pair of beautiful women, a blonde and a brunette, and flashed them a smile.

"There. I don't believe you're still smoking," he said to me. "Fucking stupid, with your dad." He took a cigarette from my pack, lighted it, took a drag and set it down in the ashtray.

"Thank you for not thanking me for not smoking," I said. "So what's your excuse?"

He exhaled through his nostrils. "Dude, I like to multitask. Also, cancer doesn't run in my family. Just insanity."

"He doesn't have cancer."

"Emphysema. Whatever the fuck. How is the old man?"

"Fine." I shrugged. I didn't want to go there, and neither did Seth.

"Man, one of those babes wants a Cosmopolitan, the other wants a frozen drink. I hate that."

"Why?"

"Too labor-intensive, then they'll tip me a quarter. Women never tip, I've learned this. Jesus, you crack two Buds, you make a couple of bucks. Frozen drinks!" He shook his head. "Man."

He went off for a couple of minutes, banging things around, the blender screaming. Served the girls their drinks with one of his killer smiles. They weren't going to tip him a quarter. They both turned to look at me and smiled.

When he came back, he said, "What are you doing later?"

"Later?" It was already close to ten, and I had to meet with a Wyatt engineer at seven-thirty in the morning. A couple days training with him, some big shot on the Lucid project, then a couple more days with a new-products marketing manager, and regular sessions with an "executive coach." They'd lined up a vicious schedule. Boot camp for bootlickers, was how I thought of it. No more fucking off, getting in at nine or ten. But I couldn't tell Seth; I couldn't tell anyone.

"I'm done at one," he said. "Those two chicks asked if I wanted to go to Nightcrawler with them after. I told them I had a friend. They just checked you out, they're into it."

"Can't," I said.

"Huh?"

"Got to get to work early. On time, really."

Seth looked alarmed, disbelieving. "What? What's going on?"

"Work's getting serious. Early day tomorrow. Big project."

"This is a joke, right?"

"Unfortunately no. Don't you have to work in the morning too?"

"You becoming one of Them? One of the pod people?"

I grinned. "Time to grow up. No more kid stuff."

Seth looked disgusted. "Dude, it's never too late to have a happy childhood."




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