I’m completely dead. You remember the last time I was here after a big day, and Larkins was all “You look like shit dude” and everyone else either avoided me or made fun of me. This is that, but so much worse.
When I get into the Atlanta Cares this morning, first thing the whole staff of this damn bank just looks at me with eyes of pity. Like I’m a ragged pet that barely escaped a scrap with a much bigger animal, and didn’t even get any food out of it.
That much is true, but only in metaphorical form.
And Larkins, oh Mr. Larkins. He takes one glance at me, shakes his head, and goes into his office. My disheveled appearance and baggy-eyed demeanor is no longer worth even a snarky comment.
At this point, I have to wonder what everyone thinks is going on in my life. Did I join an underground wrestling circuit and fight off against some beefy dude named Bonesaw who absolutely pummeled me? Did I fall into the tragic world of addiction and increasingly dangerous actions to fulfill that need? Am I in an abusive domestic relationship? Am I a twenty-two year old vigilante with a real penchant for getting into the worst of trouble? If you answered yes to all of these questions… you’d be completely wrong. But if you answered yes only to the final one, then you’d be correct, but also a little bit weird, because clearly you daydream too much.
It’s not that bad though. At least I’m not covered in bruises and a black eye like usual. It’s just the whole way I carry myself that is damaged and wrong.
Anyway, I carry on with my work however I can. They don’t put me at the front counter today for obvious reasons, so mostly I’m just here to send e-mail reports and fetch coffee for everyone else. I’m the kind of secretary you picture from 60s movies where the macho cigar-smoking boss sits back in his corner office chair and occasionally tries to sexually harass me.
Fortunately, for everything else Mr. Larkins is, at least he’s not a total creep. That I know of.
Unfortunately, his earlier ignoring of me changes and he goes into the back office just to chat me up. It’s not like he’s interrupting work of vital importance, but… I’m really bad at getting anything done when he talks to me. Which leads to him talking to me more to yell at my performance. A cycle of bad workerness, never to be broken.
“Guess what?” he asks with very little hesitation. “I’m loaded now.”
Why is he still a branch manager if he’s rich? I’m eternally confused about this. “You won the horse race, didn’t you?”
“Well, my horse did,” he says. “And now I’m way better off.”
“Who’d you pick?”
He gives a stilted laugh, as if the entire reason he came over here was so that I would ask that specific question. “I was so concerned about what horse to bet on, and they all looked so competitive. Striped Racer, Merry Rick, They Live, Joshua, and even that little scrappy Ivo Kintobor… I just couldn’t decide. So I did exactly what I do with politicians and small businesses: I covered the spread.”
“I bet on every single horse in the race!”
“I minimized risk and maximized my chances of success. That horse They Live was real long odds, but he managed to eke out a win and I raked in the cash. Yeah, less than if I just bet all on him, but I still made a profit overall.”
“Only because you were very lucky though, right? If Merry Rick had won, wouldn’t you have lost money in the aggregate? Since his odds weren’t so long?”
“Huh.” He stops and puts his index finger to his chin. “Maybe I should have just done day trading on the stock market.”
“Now that’s some gambling we can get behind,” I say.
The conversation fizzles out from there, and I decide to try really hard to stop thinking about Mr. Larkins for a while to prevent my brain from having any sort of sudden uncontrolled aneurysm. It’s almost lunch, anyway, so I sneak out of the office about ten minutes early and fly down to the food court to beat the lunch rush.
…I don’t succeed.
Looks like everyone in the whole of Peach Towers today decided to use the exact same tactic as me, but they all left FIFTEEN minutes early, so now I’m stuck behind a huge line and it’s not even noon yet. Soup’n ‘n Green’n is hardly worth it when the wait’s this long.
Nah, just kidding. I love me some caesar salad, no matter how long it takes to reach my belly. Today, it’s something like twenty minutes, and it’s worth it.
However… Today isn’t going to be so easy for me.
I’ve hardly got the spork in my mouth when an open hand slams down on the table beside me, shaking the whole thing and splashing a little bit of salad dressing everywhere.
I turn my head up and see those furrowed eyebrows. That teeth-gritting growl. That kinda cute ponytail.
“It’s Tony,” I say to myself.
But she’s so close up to my face that she catches my snarky whisper perfectly. “Yeah, your worst nightmare is here.”
“Please don’t take me to Anime Attic again… I don’t think I could handle it.”
She shakes her head slowly and disdainfully. “I knew you were pathetic, craven, and irredeemable, but with that comment you’ve sunken to the bowels of the most useless anglerfish in its pointless deep sea existence.”
What’s she got against anglerfish? “Honest, swear to God,” I say, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Of course you don’t, you selfish asshat. It’s not like you to check up on your victims.”
“I feel very attacked right now.”
“Tony,” I say. “Miss, uh, whatever your last name is.”
“Miss LeFay. I’m really sorry about what I did. Whatever I did. I’m not sure what it is.”
“Oh. Well, I’m sorry for existing. I will rectify this in any way I can.”
“Go jump into a pit of feces and stay there until you drown.”
“Any way but that.”
“You know what happened because I helped you?” Tony asks. “I got fired! The whole store got ransacked and everything got stolen. Including the gold, thank you very much. Then when people came in to investigate, management found out about how I accessed those accounts for you. For you. Then they found out about it at the coffee shop, and I got fired there too. So I’m jobless and you’re still breathing, which makes my day real low.”
“Wait, who ransacked the place? Do you know?”
“Why the hell would I tell you that?”
“Well, I’m doing an investigation,” I say. “Remember?”
“I don’t remember and I don’t care,” Tony says.
“All I remember is that VR machine you absolutely accessed sometime in the past. That’s stuck in my mind forever.”
“That wasn’t me! I didn’t visit the—Oh, whatever. You won’t believe me about that or anything else, I guess.”
“Die,” she spits.
“Feel free to attack me,” I say. “If it makes you feel better, I will accept all pain you deal me.”
“Ew, no. I’m not giving you some fetish pleasure, creep.”
“…What can I do, then? Anything?”
“Besides dying, nothing.”
“Are you sure you can’t give me any good info?” I ask. “Nothing to help me solve the mystery of the gold and help save Atlanta from certain destruction?”
“As long as I’m fired and you’re alive, then Atlanta deserves everything it gets.”
“So that’s a no you can’t give me any good info…”
“Mark my words, Morgan,” Tony says. “You will rue the day you got me fired. Your shitty little smirk right now will be wiped off the face of your descendants for generations to come.”
“I’m not even smirking.”
She turns around and walks away, apparently finished with me… hopefully forever.
I feel really, really bad about this. Tony didn’t deserve to lose her job, and it genuinely is all my fault that it happened to her.
But… this is a brand-new very intriguing wrinkle in the Mighty Slammer/Ohata King case, and I’m way too curious about it all. Sorry, Tony, but my brain’s kicking right into sleuthing mode.
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The 1000 follower requirement’s stayed for a week and only increased since last week. So it looks like I’m going to be publishing my next web serial in the next three or four weeks, even if it takes a ton of work to get it ready in time. Stay tuned for me to shill that a lot.
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