The Prospective Client
By Lou Blodgett
He got his double espresso, and it was really quite good; the crème on the side of the cup clung with panache. And he paid for it with one of the twenties he’d found, putting two dollars of the change in a gigantic, coffee addict cup that was marked for that purpose, and heel-toed quietly away. He went over to the front of the shop, and enjoyed the initial sips, looking out the plate-glass window. No Hey Person. Then, he swirled the drink against the ceramic and finished the rest, with the shudder of an old gun-fighter taking that medicinal drink before marching out the saloon door at high noon. He placed the cup on the dish counter, and floated out the shop door on a cloud of caffeine.
‘Hey Person’ was sitting on a retaining wall on the rest-of-the-block side of the parking lot, and was getting up. Singleton gave him a wave, then backed quickly around the corner of the strip mall.
Indeed, Hey Person now seemed to be obsessed with Singleton. He thought Singleton’s name was ‘Person’, and every fresh time he met him, thought he may have a smoke. Singleton jogged along stucco, shiny, galvanized struts and glinty, back-signed glass until he got to the first large shop he saw.
It was ‘Gratitude’. Not just on Singleton’s part, having gotten out of sightline of Mister Hey Person, but that was also the name of the charity shop he ran into from all that bright intensity.
And what he saw also cheered him. In a large space, cleared for that purpose, stood bicycles for sale. Singleton perused the selection and got a bright idea. He placed his variety pack of toaster pastries on the counter with an apologetic look to the checker nearest, who had an uncanny resemblance to Errol Flynn.
I do have to describe the ‘Gratitude’ shop further, though. There were egg-shell white walls, fluorescent lighting and acoustic tile on the ceiling. The entire place smelled like a charity shop, namely, evergreen air-deodorizer and old shoes. The scent of a ‘find’. And one of the checkers looked so much like Errol Flynn, that he could have been a Celebrity Undercover Boss. Checker Errol shrugged and told Singleton that he didn’t need to check toaster pastries in.
“I just need two hands free to check out these wonderful bikes!” Singleton responded, hoping to bring friendliness into the conversation. And, besides, the checker may as well have been Errol Flynn, he looked so much like him. I’m not kidding. And no one can withstand that sort of charisma.
“Don’t worry about that,” Errol waved to Singleton and said. “We don’t sell toaster pastries here.”
“They don’t sell ‘em at SenseWorth either,” Singleton answered, and turned quickly to the bikes. The checker was silent. Singleton glanced back around and found that the checker was now frozen in place, looking like he was about to say something. But he was just standing there behind the counter with a sort of interrupted, head-tilt glance.
“I mean, they have them,” Singleton added, then. “They just don’t sell them.” Singleton chuckled softly down the scale, hoping to get some sort of ‘business now as usual’ response from Errol. But, there was none. Instead, the checker continued to stare, not moving a muscle. Then the other checker behind the counter interrupted a sale to walk over to him. She placed a hand on the back of his neck, and with a dirty look to Singleton, pressed a button there, rebooting her colleague. Errol blinked rapidly, but otherwise, hadn’t moved a muscle yet. A lady coming up with drapes sighed full exasperatedly and moved toward the back of the other line.
There was a lovely variety of bicycles in ‘Gratitude’, but they were sold ‘as is’, and some weren’t in rideable condition. Among the ones working, though, Singleton found a smallish, dark blue BMX-Mountain bike hybrid which sold for fifteen dollars. He heard the android’s register working behind him. Errol had successfully rebooted and was ringing up a collection of pots and pans.
Singleton inspected the bike. There seemed to be a kind of aluminum corrosion on the brakes and on the rims, but the bike was in great condition otherwise. It still rolled well, and had a sort of bag-basket Velcro-strapped on the handlebars, which was a plus. He leaned around to look at the design. There’s always a design. This one had a kind of barbed wire motif, silver on black, forming a skull. Well, there’s always a flaw, but some sort of basket was crucial. Singleton wheeled it the short distance to Errol’s register.
Errol leaned over the counter, and Singleton twisted the tag toward him.
“And, that’s fifteen forty. Out of twenty?”
Singleton had learned not to react to the inquisitive tone checkers use when handed bills. No need to respond- ‘yes’, it’s simply required. He gave him the other rumpled twenty dollar litter bill.
“And, four and sixty.” Errol gave him the change, and, forgetting himself, asked if he needed a bag.
Then both Singleton and Ed laughed. Errol waved him off.
Singleton put two of the dollars in a small, plastic donation jar on the counter. He didn’t know who he was giving the money to. The little sign on it had colorful bubble-writing, though.
He rolled the bike to the doors and looked outside. He thought he saw Hey Person over by a mail deposit box, but he wasn’t sure. With the efficiency of a seasoned spy putting a variety pack of toaster pastries in a boy’s gothic-style handlebar-hugging pack, Singleton did so. He pushed through a hot door and rolled the bike outside the shop. And it was Hey Person who had been waiting near the mailbox next to the busy road.
He said- “Hey, Person!”
Singleton hopped on the bike, waved ‘hey’ to Hey Person, pedaled quickly down the walk, and around the corner of the strip mall.
Singleton knew that the grade further down 35th street was about five percent, as it headed past the corner of a college campus. The college itself was small, but highly rated. The students he’d seen walking around really seemed to be the type to apply themselves. Sadly, though, this was the type of campus that had exactly zero of the eccentric type that toodles around on small bikes through it. Singleton toodled through this tiny corner of campus looking like two thumbs, both inflamed.
Singleton heard his pursuer faintly as he coasted slowly through this weird half-retail-zoned section.
It would be mostly downhill home. He thought he had it made. Because, it was at “Gilligans”, a bar with the obligatory sand-volleyball lot, that the grade home became much steeper for about seven blocks, with no intersections. The wheels on the bike spun quicker, with the knobby tires raising the tone of the hum on the asphalt. Mister Hey Person had followed farther than expected. Singleton thought that maybe he should give up his hunt for a smoke, live a clean life, and run in the Central Bank 10k. It was coming up in September.
Singleton focused on not hurting himself or others as the bike hurtled toward forty miles an hour down the hill. He raced downhill with an apartment complex on one side, and rental houses, some divided into apartments, on the other.
Then, alongside Singleton, and especially behind him, doors suddenly began to swing open. Mister Hey Person had obviously made a phone call. People began shouting- ‘Hey’. With the benefit of torque, he was able to look behind him without any influence on the direction the bike was going, and on both sides of the residential road, doors were opening, and concerned citizens were stepping onto stoops and reacting.
Singleton now feared that, as fast as he was going, it wasn’t fast enough. His initial pursuer had made to the top of the hill, and was talking to someone standing on a lawn. When he turned back to look down the road, his tennis baseball cap flew off his head, which brought a gasp from the gallery, which was unfurling behind him as he raced along.
“Is that really the guy’s name?”
“Wha’d he do?”
“Hey you lost your hat!”
Singleton felt freedom tugging him forward. At times, though, the bike would hit a bump, and control was becoming an issue. Singleton saw that the box of toaster pastries practically danced at times, but was otherwise snug within the basket. The corners of the box would be rubbed free of ink, and some of the pastries may even be cracked, but, his mouth and stomach wouldn’t notice the difference. The neighborhood was thinner at the base of the hill. Those behind him could never get their cars started quickly enough, if they were so disposed. There was just one small house left on the downhill run, just before a large curve.
She came up from a kneel amidst the mums she was transplanting.
“Hey, Mister Person!” She waved with the spadeless hand. She wore a salmon top, jorts, muddy deck shoes, and she had eyes like a cat. There were transfer pots both full and empty at her feet, along with clumps of potting soil. Singleton stopped himself from applying the left brake. He would have gone head over heels anyway. Did she like blueberry Pop Tarts like he did? He understood that that was something he would perhaps never know. But, at least he had second prize. The blueberry Pop Tarts themselves. But then Singleton realized that there were more flavors. Strawberry and Brown Sugar Cinnamon might cover the bases, and he nearly squeezed the brakes as each of the other two options came to mind. He raced around the curve wincing. The regret of not being able to be in two places at once. But all of the tarts were his fiduciary responsibility. That was the clincher that stayed his hand.
“…motherfucker lost his hat!”
Along with that aggressive concern from behind, a whine which was nearly drowned out by the whine of the tires, and the hum of the city all around.
He had been distracted by a split-second of unrequited something, but Singleton put those regrets behind him. He looked forward to making it home, and enjoying blueberry bliss.