COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
I needed to blow off steam. It was everything—the way Nora Sommers had rubbed my face in it, being unable to tell her to go fuck herself, the impossibility of my surviving at Trion long enough to steal even a coffee mug, the general feeling of being in way over my head. And then, the cherry on the cake: my dad. Keeping the anger in, stopping myself from telling him off—you fucking ungrateful bigot, die already!—was corroding my insides.
So I just showed up at Alley Cat, knowing that Seth would be working that night. I just wanted to sit at the bar and get shitfaced on free booze.
"Hey, homey," Seth said, delighted to see me, "your first day at the new place, huh?"
"That bad, huh?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
"Seriously bad. Wow." He poured me a Scotch like I was some old drunk, a regular. "Love the haircut, dude. Don't tell me you got drunk and woke up with that haircut."
I ignored him. The Scotch went immediately to my head. I hadn't eaten any supper, and I was tired. It felt great.
"How bad could it be, bud? It's your first day, they like show you where the bathroom is, right?" He looked up at the basketball game on TV, then back at me.
I told him about Nora Sommers and her cute little Apple Newton trick.
"What a bitch, huh? What'd she come down on you so hard for? What'd she expect—you're new, you don't know anything, right?"
I shook my head. "No, she—" Suddenly I realized that I'd left out a key part of the story, the part about my allegedly being a superstar at Wyatt Telecom. Shit. The anecdote only made sense if you knew the dragon lady was trying to take me down a peg. My brain was fried. Trying to extricate myself from this minor slip seemed an insurmountable goal, like climbing Mount Everest or swimming across the Atlantic. Already I'd gotten caught in a lie. I felt gooey inside and very tired. Fortunately someone caught Seth's eye, signaled to him. "Sorry, man, it's half-price hamburger night," he announced as he went to fetch someone a couple of beers.
I found myself thinking about the people I'd met today, the "cast of characters" as the bizarro Noah Mordden had referred to them, who were now parading through my head, getting more and more grotesque. I wanted to debrief with somebody, but I couldn't. Mostly I wanted to download, talk about Chad and Phil Whatever, the old-timer. I wanted to tell someone about Trion and what it was like and about my sighting of Jock Goddard in the cafeteria. But I couldn't, because I didn't trust myself to remember where the Great Wall ran, which part no one was supposed to know about.