Chapter 32: One Week Later
Useless stared at the canned foods.
It had been two weeks since he had actually gone to work, through no fault of his own. James in Personnel simply hadn’t called like Mr. Jones said he would. The funny thing was, Useless was still getting paid as if he had a steady job.
He didn’t mind getting the money, but he felt weird about not working for it. That was why he went to James in Personnel’s office yesterday.
James had been kind of busy. All he had said to Useless was, ’Look Useless, the boss isn’t going out much these days. He’ll call when he needs you, but for now just sit tight. And get out of my office.”
Now it was his second Friday off in a row, and he had decided to go food shopping.
So he was staring at the canned goods.
Useless couldn’t help but think that he was somehow in trouble. After that woman had left, he wondered if he should have told Mr. Jones.
No. It was probably better now.
The other bouncers had told him things – stuff Useless hadn’t believed. At first Useless thought it had been some sort of initiation, to scare the new guy or something. They told him stories about all the horrible things Mr. Jones does to get his money with great big smiles on their faces.
Really, no one actually kidnaps people and sells them to Red Houses, right? That was such an old century idea, no one does that anymore, right?
Not to mention that Red Houses made Useless uncomfortable to begin with. All those women and men standing outside barely clothed, making lewd gestures…
Useless’ mother had always said that women and men who sold their flesh for sex, were depriving themselves of the whole beauty of love. His mother said that love was wonderful and mysterious and that you couldn’t put a price tag on the real thing; or else of course it wouldn’t be real love.
The other Bouncers had called Mr. Jones enterprising ‘Discount Loving.’
The Canned Green Bean Product didn’t seem very appealing after those thoughts. As his eyes drifted to the Canned Corn Product, more thoughts filtered in past his black pom-pom beanie.
What if Mr. Jones actually did all those things?
Mr. Jones was always so nice to the dancers – he tipped them well and they always came out smiling or bashful. Useless had never seen tears in any of their eyes…
Useless shook his head.
It wasn’t his place to question these things. Mr. Jones was his boss. Besides, Useless knew he wasn’t the brightest guy around, so there was probably something he was missing.
…Then why would such a nice girl help a madman try to kill him?
Useless grabbed the Canned Corn Product and put it into the basket on his arm.
He started plodding down the aisle towards the Canned fruit Product. He was out of Canned Peach Product and that was his favorite. It reminded him of his mother. Some of his best memories were of him helping his mother sit up in bed and the both of them eating together. She had loved peaches.
Sighing, Useless scanned the shelves for the Peach Product.
After locating the desired cans, Useless put several of them in his basket and continued plodding. Soon he had Canned chicken Mini-breast Product, his Peach Product, his Corn Product and a jar of Steril-Feast pickles. (They advertised that of all the engineered vegetables on the market, their cucumbers were the freshest and most nutritious. Useless liked pickles and Steril-Feast was his favorite kind by far.)
As Useless trudged morosely towards the registers and waited his turn to pay, a woman several lanes away caught his eye. Useless dropped a can on the belt and murmured his clumsy apologies to the impatient clerk. He had spotted the black hair just past the support beam that separated a few lanes of cashiers. After he had righted his canned goods, Useless craned his neck to make sure…
Useless already knew that he would recognize Lenora anywhere – even from behind a dozen yards away. Here she was, shopping at Useless’s grocery store.
Useless found himself cowering behind the pillar as he shuffled his items forward. He was hoping not to be seen, regardless of the fact that there were a lot of people between Lenora and him, and her back was turned. As she waited for her items to be scanned she didn’t seem the least bit concerned that she was being watched.
What do I do?
“32.12 Credits, please.” The cashier droned.
Useless flinched, thinking for a moment that one voice out of the beeps and chatter of the checkout aisles would carry over to the woman’s ears and give him away. He paid in a hurry with his CredCard and grabbed up all the bags. He pretended to re-organize them until Lenora had taken her items and started for the doors.
Should I call the boss?
Images of him shouting made Useless quickly grasp up all the bags in one hand and make his way quickly after her.
Once he was outside, he furtively watched her cross the street and head to the left. Useless looked at the four bags in his one hand in dismay. He wasn’t very quiet, and stealth was not his strong suit, but without knowing what else to do, he started to follow her. Useless was content in knowing that if all else failed, at least she was heading in the direction of his apartment, and he wouldn’t get too lost.
Who would have thought they lived in the same sector?
About a block away from the grocery store, Useless watched Lenora kneel to greet a small mechanical creature.
Useless had only ever seen CATs on the ad-screen… and if they all ended up looking like this one, Useless wondered why she hadn’t returned it yet. Even from here, Useless could see the awkward looking sling on it’s back left leg, and the metallic glint of where the fur had worn away on it’s body.
Maybe it was just an older model.
Whatever the case may be, Useless saw it bump clumsily against her leg as if it were happy to see her, and then when she rose to continue on, it followed obediently behind.
The image made Useless smile, and he started falling behind when he stopped to watch the CAT lumber beside her. As he hurried to catch up, the dilemma ran through his head once more.
What do I do?
He had his Telecomm in his pocket, and he anxiously fiddled with it with his free hand. All Useless had to do was pick it up and dial James in Personnel. He could tell James that he knows where the girl was. After that, well…
Well what? Useless felt uneasy at the last part. Not knowing or not wanting to know what happens next felt wrong to him. As he continued to follow Lenora down the street, he racked his brain for a solution. Useless pondered calling the police, but Mr. Jones would find out about it and then be angry at Useless for not telling him.
Useless was so anxious that he didn’t notice the CAT cast him a glance before it rounded a corner. He barely noticed the people walking past him in the opposite direction, his bulk forcing them to swerve around him as he lumbered forward.
Useless pondered not saying anything. He could just continue on towards his apartment and act like he didn’t see anything at all. Lenora could go home with her CAT and unload her groceries, and Useless could make himself dinner. She didn’t even have to know how close Useless lived.
And then Giselle’s face blossomed in Useless’s mind, plaguing him with the most frightening thoughts; If he didn’t tell someone, she would come by again and make him talk. What if it was worse than last time? What if she actually touched him?
Useless felt his stomach lurch and he swallowed some dryness in his throat. That thought made him want to curl up under his comforter and never come out of his apartment again. It was astonishing and humiliating that a woman so small could make him so afraid.
But then again, lots of people were scared of spiders, and they were tiny.
Soon enough, Useless was faced with an unfamiliar part of town, and a complex he didn’t remember. He was on a familiar enough street, but he concluded that he usually never followed it this far down before. The road for his complex was three blocks behind them.
Useless tucked himself behind the corner of the nearest building and watched Lenora struggle with the bags and her keys, the CAT watching in stoic amusement.
Useless felt heat rising to his cheeks as he watched.
His mother used to say that bad people lacked courage. As Useless stood there, cowering in the shadows, he wondered if this meant he was a coward and a bad guy. He certainly didn’t want to be. His heart weighed heavily in his chest as he thought about it.
Lenora opened the door and disappeared inside. Useless sighed.
At least he wouldn’t be able to tell what apartment she was in. There must be more than two dozen apartments in this complex, if anything came of this then she would at least have time to get away, right?
Useless was just beginning to scold himself for thinking she would have to flee for her life when a large window on the second floor lit up from within.
His heart sank to his knees when he saw Lenora struggle towards the window and pull the curtains shut.
Useless bowed his head burdened with indecision. As the rampant thoughts of silence versus loyalty streamed across his mind, he slogged back down the three blocks to his street, and eventually back to his own apartment.
There’s some time, Useless thought, I can think about it and decide later.
When making dinner was usually very soothing for him, Useless found no pleasure in it that night. When he finally ate it, he barely noticed the flavors. Instead he found himself wishing his mother was there to give him some more words of advice.
What he remembered of her had not prepared him for difficult thoughts such as these, but he knew that if she were there she would have come up with something brilliant. His mother would have said just the right thing to clear up all this confusion in Useless’s head and set a clear path for him.
Mother, what do I do?