The overwhelming stench of onions and maple syrup wafted through the air, assaulting my nose and waking me from a cold sleep. From the ringing in my ears, I wasn’t sure if I had been drugged or knocked unconscious. Either way, I was in Saving Time’s basement with that spineless Blue Tie and Jack Acetone.
My eyes were squinting tight in an effort to focus. Jack Acetone paced the dingy room. He was scrolling through a partially broken phone, my phone, with a furrowed brow.
Namer and Darlene’s ATM flanked either side of me. A ribbon of paper slowly printed out of the ATM’s receipt slot. Large block letters of blue ink: “Who did you call?”
“Don’t waste your time, sweetheart,” Acetone said. “She called Conscience Cleaners.” He let the phone drop to the floor and slowly crushed what was left of it underneath his shiny leather loafer. “Really?” he asked me with a chuckle. “What’s a bunch of janitors going to do? Mop me to death?” He broke out into an echoing and sinister laugh. The Darlene ATM rattled with amusement. “People are so unreliable. Unlike machines.” He had crossed the small room to place a hand on the ATM, patting it gently.
“Why are you turning these people into machines? They have families, kids!”
His smile darkened into a sneer. “Because, my dear, people, for the most part,” he said glancing at me bitterly, “don’t want to think. They want to do as they are told. I just help them get rid of that annoying ‘free thinking’ crap.”
The door opened slowly behind me letting in a beam of florescent light. “Hey, Dad? What’s the WiFi password? I tried typing ‘boobies’ upside down, like usual, but that didn’t work.”
“Not now,” Jack Acetone growled.
“Well, well, well. So we meet again,” Jack Jr. leaned casually on the door frame and shot me a wink.
“Fine,” Jack Jr. sighed. “Call me, babe!” and the door slammed.
Jack Acetone mumbled under his breath and shouted to no one in particular, “Melt down the last bin of gold parts and let’s get the hell out of here!”
“Gold?” I asked. “This is about money?”
“Of course it’s about money. Everything is always about money,” Jack snapped back at me through gritted teeth. “I already own this crummy town. Pretty soon I’ll be so rich, I’ll own this entire greasy state.”
“There’s a problem with the, uh, gold parts, Mr. Acetone, sir,” Blue Tie said quivering.
“What now?” Jack yelled.
“The, uh, parts were sorted,” Blue Ties eyes darted to me, “by design instead of by color.”
As Jack Acetone spun on Blue Tie, the door opened again. “Never mind, Dad. I figured it out,” Jack Jr said without looking up from his phone. “Oh and the janitor is here.”
A tall and heavily muscled man in a navy blue jumpsuit strode across the floor with casual steps.
“Who the hell are you?” Mr. Acetone growled.
The man sauntered passed Mr. Acetone and stood in front of me with an outstretched hand. In a thick Italian accent he asked, “Are you alright, signora?” He didn’t wait for an answer, but swept me up in his arm. He guided me toward the door pausing momentarily face to face with Mr. Acetone. “It would appear that you have made a mess of things,” he purred with his rich accent.
I retreated a few steps closer to the exit.
“Get outta my face, mop jockey,” Acetone’s face reddened with anger.
The man held out his hands in a gesture of innocence. “Don’t worry, Mr. Acetone. We’ll get this mess cleaned up.” He smiled at Mr. Acetone and winked in my direction.
A dozen men and women, all in matching navy blue jumpsuits, flooded into the room and seized Jack Acetone, his son, and Blue Tie. A few even took the opportunity to land a cheap shot or two to a solar plexus or kidney.
A middle-aged woman entered the now crowded basement room. She was clad in the same uniform, except hers had a strange insignia with an Italian flag on her chest and back. “The family is angry, Mr. Acetone. I doubt this slight will be forgiven.”
Mr. Acetone remained silent, despite the angry glare aimed at the woman.
“Thank you, miss,” she said to me. “I believe you have our number if you need anything.”
I nodded and backed slowly up the stairs. No one attempted to stop me, so I turned and fled Saving Time.
On the sidewalk outside, a man stood between the two entrances with a look of confusion. He held a package under his arm.
“Excuse me, ma’am?” he said. “My boss asked me to deliver this part for a, uh,” he looked at the label on the package, “Separator? Do you work here?”
“Hell no,” I said. “I quit.”
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