COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
Part Four: 38 (Cont'd)
The front door was already open for the delivery people, but Seth rang the doorbell and stood there in the hall. He was wearing a Sonic Youth T-shirt and ripped Diesel jeans. His normally lively, even manic, brown eyes looked dead. He was subdued—I couldn't tell if he was intimidated, or jealous, or pissed off that I'd disappeared from his radar screen, or some combination of all three.
"Hey, man," he said. "I tracked you down."
"Hey, man," I said, and gave him a hug. "Welcome to my humble abode." I didn't know what else to say. For some reason I was embarrassed. I didn't want him to see the place.
He stayed where he was in the hall. "You weren't going to tell me you were moving?"
"It kind of happened suddenly," I said. "I was going to call you."
He pulled a bottle of cheap New York State champagne from his canvas bicycle-courier bag, handed it to me. "I'm here to celebrate. I figured you were too good for a case of beer anymore."
"Excellent!" I said, taking the bottle and ignoring the dig. "Come on in."
"You dog. This is great," he said in a flat, unenthusiastic voice. "Huge, huh?"
"Two thousand square feet. Check it out." I gave him the tour. He said funny-cutting stuff like "If that's a library, don't you need to have books?" and "Now all you need to furnish the bedroom is a babe." He said my apartment was "sick" and "ill," which was his pseudo-gangsta way of saying he liked it.
He helped me take the plastic wrap and tape off one of the enormous couches so we could sit on it. The couch had been placed in the middle of the living room, sort of floating there, facing the ocean.
"Nice," he said, sinking in. He looked like he wanted to put his feet up on something, but they hadn't brought in the coffee table yet, which was a good thing, because I didn't want him putting his mud-crusted Doc Martens on it.
"You getting manicures now?" he said suspiciously.
"Once in a while," I admitted in a small voice. I couldn't believe he noticed a little detail like my fingernails. Jesus. "Gotta look like an executive, you know."
"What's with the haircut? Seriously."
"What about it?"
"Don't you think it's, I don't know, sort of fruity?"
"Like all fancy looking. You putting shit in your hair, like gel or mousse or something?"
"A little gel," I said defensively. "What about it?"
He squinted, shook his head. "You got cologne on?"
I wanted to change the subject. "I thought you worked tonight," I said.
"Oh, you mean the bartending gig? Nah, I quit that. It turned out to be totally bogus."
"Seemed like a cool place."
"Not if you work there, man. They treat you like you're a fucking waiter."
I almost burst out laughing.
"I got a much better gig," he said. "I'm on the 'mobile energy team' for Red Bull. They give you this cool car to drive around in, and you basically hand out samples and talk to people and shit. Hours are totally flexible. I can do it after the paralegal gig."
"Totally. Gives me plenty of free time to work on my corporate anthem."
"Every big company's got one—like, cheesy rock or rap or something." He sang, badly: "Trion!—Change your world! Like that. If Trion doesn't have one, maybe you could put in a word for me with the right guy. I bet I'd get royalties every time you guys sing it at a corporate picnic or whatever."
"I'll look into it," I said. "Hey, I don't have any glasses. I'm expecting a delivery, but it hasn't come yet. They say the glass is mouth-blown in Italy—wonder if you can still smell the garlic."
"Don't worry about it. The champagne's probably shit anyway."
"You still working at the law firm too?"
He looked embarrassed. "It's my only steady paycheck."
"Hey, that's important."
"Believe me, man, I do as little as possible. I do just enough to keep Shapiro off my back—faxes, copies, searches, whatever—and I still have plenty of time to surf the Web."
"I get like twenty bucks an hour for playing Web games and burning music CDs and pretending to work."
"Great," I said. "You're really getting one over on them." It was pathetic, actually.
"You got it."
And then I don't know why I came out with it, but I said, "So, who do you think you're cheating the most, them or yourself?"
Seth looked at me funny. "What are you talking about?"
"I mean, you fuck around at work, you scam by, doing as little as possible—you ever ask yourself what you're doing it for? Like, what's the point?"
Seth's eyes narrowed in hostility. "What's up with you?"
"At some point you got to commit to something, you know?"
He paused. "Whatever. Hey, you want to get out of here, go somewhere? This is sort of too grown-up for me, it's giving me hives."