Jones Drinks One Too Many Red Bulls
Jonesy was walking along the Queen St Mall, feeling fine. The muggy-headed sufferings from before were gone, for how long he didn't know, but he was enjoying the clarity as it came. Perhaps he should have been dead from the jump. He could appreciate that side of the story. Wasn't the ending he had in mind – can't die 'till you're 27, Jonesy-boy – but hey, gravy makes success. Or however that proverb goes.
The Information Kiosk was situated smack-bang in the middle of the mall, where Queen and St formed an x, and was full of hawaii-shirted tourists. Around the center of this particular system were various clumps of teenage kids, deciding that for some reason it was a much better idea to sit in the middle of a paved walkway with ten of their friends than it was to, Jonesy didn't know, be at home studying like he never did. They frustrated him, because he was a fast walker. He knew where he wanted to go, what he was doing the Mall, so he went, feet flurrying, arms a-flutter, heart rate through the roof. Speed was the essence of his escapades, and these pimply teenagers did not get out of the way as he so desired. On top of the kids, he disliked couples who did not know how to not hold hands – though perhaps this was subconscious jealousy rearing its ugly head – parents, parents with prams, parents with children (more hand-holding), old people, slow people, slow old people, the list went on. If you were not Jonesy, you were not welcome in 'his' mall.
Today he didn't mind so much. The sun was climbing up up up to reach the zenith, he reckoned the time was maybe eleven thirty, and was delighted to spy a digital clock that informed him of 11:32am. Two minutes off isn't bad. The air was heated but not humid, but the suit underneath his armpits was unfortunately damp all the same. He thought about rolling up his sleeves, but that would really kill the high level of cool that he had attained with the suit. The material was beautiful, soft and silky, yet strong and masculine. He wondered how much it would cost to buy in the store, and tried not to wonder just why it had been made a gift to him.
Past Hungry Jack's and the thousands of teenagers, he managed to catch a glimpse of his reflection as he walked by. He stopped, halted really, swiveling his body and striking a pose, hand on jaunty hat, which he had found on the way from the Gardens to the Mall, not his hat, no, but someone's. He looked good, the blood- and mud-stains not included, and, oops, there was still a twig in his hair. A dry cleaners was most definitely needed before he dared travel to the squat brown spider that was the casino. For one, Shana would appreciate him at his dapper-est, and the bouncers most certainly would. Looking after the heart and the body, that was our Jonesy.
While studying himself in the mirror, Jonesy removed a can of Red Bull from one of the many deep pockets positioned rather sneakily about the suit. He hadn't bothered just yet with checking out the contents of each and every one, but the small lumps he could feel as he walked along suggested a bit of danger, a bit of curiosity, a bit of fun. In short, a good Saturday.
A few metres up ahead, an old blind guy with a seeing-eye dog was playing on a battered saxophone, the case lying open in front of him for coins. The man was good, he jazzed along all day and, on the weekends, for a lot of the night, and was never short of money. Jonesy had heard somewhere that he had released a CD or two, or maybe that was the guy further up with the steel drums, he could never remember. As always, Jonesy made a promise to himself to locate some change and throw it in, as yet, he had not forgotten. But there was still time.
Moseying further along – and he did remember, the payment of which accorded to him a brief tootle of Miles Davis' Bitches Brew, would you believe it – Jonesy kept his eye out for a dry cleaner. The Red Bull was sliding down nicely, and he was feeling pumped. The can said something about only drinking four a day, and this can right here would be one, two, three, four since he had opened his eyes to the world a few hours earlier, so perhaps he should lay it easy on the beverages. Or perhaps not. He was feeling good, and there were still a couple stashed about his body.
Up and down the mall were the Angel People, an oddity for February, but not so much as to afford an overly large commentary. Generally out in Christmas, they were all white, silent, motionless university students, studying for their drama degree, supposedly. Jonesy wasn't so sure that was true, as most of them were trying to get money off people, but the rumour had been around long enough that it was probably at least partly true. Jonesy loved to watch the kids watching the Angel People. They would sit there, looking up at these white, white faces, their eyes alight, entranced. Mum or Dad would hand them a coin, a twenty-cent piece, maybe, or a dollar, and they would get up, troddle over, and nervously place the coin in the hat (or whatever). Quick as a flash, the Angel Person would change position, moving from an uncomfortable looking seated arrangement to standing, an arm upraised, then resume their lack of motion. The kid would be surprised, would squeal with delight and laugh, then sit back down to play the waiting game. The Angel Boy or Girl always won, of course, because they weren't supposed to move, so they didn't, and eventually the child was bored. Or they put in another coin.
There was one Angel Person that Jonesy hated with a fiery passion. She was always there, it seemed, irrespective of the month or the festive occasion, 'filching' coins from the children, Jonesy believed. And she wasn't all that good, either. Although, even Jonesy had to admit that the whole trick of sitting on nothing for twenty minutes without so much as wavering was pretty impressive, but he was quite certain he could do the same if he chose.
He spied a sign for dry cleaning. By some random girl's clothes shop was a small doorway with an ominous looking staircase and three little signs, one for Chinese acupuncture, one for authentic herbal remedies, and the last for dry cleaning. He climbed the stairs, his shoes scuffing the gleaming, hardly-trodden on steps.
The staircase curled around three times, until it was facing away from the street, the long hallway extending deep into the heart of the Mall's unknown areas. There were a lot more than three doors, none but the advertised being marked. Jonesy passed the first, the acupuncture, looking in to see a very large man, hairy and naked, on his stomach, a thousand tiny needles protruding from his back while a sharp-faced Chinese woman observed with Asiatic calm. She saw Jonesy watching, came over and snapped the blinds shut with a grimace.
He continued on. The unmarked doors were just that: plain, white, and completely devoid of any defining information. Behind the white could just as easily be an office as a bear pit, a clothes shop as a gunsmith. The curiosity so common to the young welled up inside him, but he promised to himself that now was not the time, first he must get clean and Look Handsome for Shana.
The dry cleaner was on the right, he waltzed in, giving the place a quick once-over. Everything seemed in order. There was a counter, white, with a battered old cash register. A scratch pad was beside it with a couple of pens in a holder. There were rows of plastic bagged clothing, tagged and labeled, and above the counter was a Quartz clock. It was 11:45am.
-Hey, how are you? I can help? A small man came out from the back room, a trail of wispy steam following him before dispersing into the aether.
-Sure, hi, Jonesy said, glancing about and avoiding eye contact. -I want some dry cleaning done.
-That's why you come, hey? I can do it, he said, a smile of quiet satisfaction in his own skill-set on his face. -Hey, where the clothes?
-Um. That's the thing, Jonesy said, trailing off. For the first time he made eye contact. The man's eyes were brown and looked friendly enough. -I want this dry cleaned, he said, patting his clothing.
-But you are wearing that! What's the joke, hey?
-No joke, uh, hey, Jonesy said. -I need these dry cleaned by, he looked up at the clock. Same time as it was when he entered, -By, let's say, two?
-Two? Two! Hey, that's a big ask. I can do it, I can. Buuut, what are you doing for clothes before then, hey?
-Could you help me out with that, perhaps? I was thinking another suit, but whatever.
-A suit. The man stroked his chin, looking up at Jonesy with a grin, this time his smile seemed a merry one rather than self-satisfied. -You know, I have a suit. I can let you borrow it, hey? But you can't tell anyone.
-Who am I going to tell? Jonesy asked, spreading his hands and grinning. Good ol' charisma, never fails me. -It'll be our secret...?
-The name's Chad. But you can call me Ralph, hey? That's what all the best customers call me.
-Ok, Ralph, I can do that. He extended his hand, -The name's Jonesy, you can call me Jonesy.
Ralph laughed. -I like that, hey? A funny guy? I'm a funny guy, sometimes. I'll tell you a joke, you'll be laughing, won't be able to stop for a week! Ralph's grip was firm, stronger than Jonesy would have supposed, given the man's tiny stature, almost midget-like, though without the inherent wonder. -But, the suit, you want a suit, hey?
-Yes, a suit...hey, Jonesy agreed. -That won't be too much of a problem?
-No, no problem! I'm Ralph, you're Jonesy, we're friends. Friends do things for friends, don't you think, hey?
-Alright, alright, sounds good, Ralph. Is there somewhere I can, you know, get changed?
Ralph didn't say anything for a moment, then blinked with sudden understanding. -Oh, sure! Sure! This way, this way. Out the back. Pick a suit, no, here, take this one, hey? It suits you, I can tell! He laughed at his own joke, chuckling and shaking his head.
Jonesy accepted the opaque plastic bag, curious as to how Ralph had known it was a suit. He guessed that knowing what was in these bags was all part of the job, and Ralph certainly seemed to enjoy his job. Or talking, Jonesy hadn't decided which yet.
Out the back was a series of huge metal steamers, each one manned...womanned...by an equally tiny female. One was older, the rest young, Jonesy supposed that the older was the wife, the younger, the daughters. He wasn't far off: The older one was a sister, one of the younger, a wife, the other girls his sister's daughters, but hey, either way. Steam filled the air, wetting his lungs with each breath, but in a warm way that seemed oddly healthy. Everything was white.
Ralph led him into a small room with a computer and a bunch of folders overflowing with yellowing pages, the word 'accounts' scribbled in poor handwriting on the spine. -Here, you change here, hey?
-Sure, thanks Ralph. How much will all this be?
-For you? $20.
-Twenty, Jonesy mused, -that's not bad, all things considered. It's a deal.
Ralph left. Jonesy closed the door and unzipped the bag. Inside was a dark black suit, double breasted. It looked very expensive. Stumbling about, he changed quickly, the black suit slipping on as easily as the grey slipped off. They had a similar feel to them, the feel of money well spent. He knew it wasn't, but the suit felt tailored to fit his body shape, or if not his, then someone built identically.
Two minutes tops had passed, and Jonesy opened the door a crack. The women were working quietly, not a word being exchanged between the four of them. Their necks looked almost permanently bent down, and their hands were small and white.
-Hey, what's that, speak up, hey?
Jonesy could see Ralph's back, the man was talking into a phone on the front desk, a phone he hadn't noticed before.
-No, that's right, that's what I said! Yes, yes, yes, he's here. Grey suit. Yes. No. Yes. What do you want me to do, hey?
Jonesy froze. He's here. He means me. I'm here. Who is he talking to? About me? Jonesy crept forward, the girls didn't look up, barely moved in fact.
-I'm telling you, he, he came in with a grey suit, hey? He said he wanted it cleaned. No, I haven't cleaned it. Yes, I know. I gave him some clothes to wear. What do you want me to do with the suit, hey? With him?
This did not sound very good at all. Jonesy decided that maybe now it would be a good idea to better acquaint himself with this dry cleaning operation, or to be more specific, with the back door. One of the girls, the smallest, looked up for a moment, eyes curious. He put a finger to his lips and shhhh'ed. She smiled and nodded, surprising Jonesy. He gave her a closer look. Not bad, actually, now that he really took the time to study her. Small breasts, tiny waist, and yes, the material of her clothing was slightly wet from all the steam and, well, he could make out the figure of her body really well, her clothes were just clinging and...
-No time for dirty thoughts, Jonesy-boy, he whispered to himself, winking at the girl and glancing about for an exit. He ducked down low, so that Ralph wouldn't see him, creeping along past one steamer, then two, then three. Behind them were rows and rows of clothing, stretching back further than he would have thought possible, was there really this much of a market for dry cleaning? He grabbed at one of the tags, 'Black Suit, M, 32 W 12 Collar', then another. It was the same, or at least, it was black suit. A quick glance told him that they were pretty much all black suits.
He passed through several rows, the steam obscuring his vision and making it difficult to find the exit. He stopped, not lost but almost, row after row of black suits in every direction.
A touch on his hand caused his heart to skip a beat. He looked down. There was the girl, crouching, looking up at him, her eyes sparkling.
-What are you doing? She asked in a whisper that was far too loud for Jonesy's liking.
-Nothing. Um. I'm hiding, from, your dad, or whatever.
-Why are you hiding?
-Because...how old are you?
She sniffed. -That's a pretty rude question, don't you think?
-Hey, hey, hey, he held up his hands. -Let's just keep on with those whispers, hey?
-Just like Ralph, she giggled. -Hey? Hey? Hey?
Jonesy smiled weakly. -Listen, do you know how to get out of this place. No, not that way, like, a back way or something?
She nodded. -It'll cost you.
Jonesy felt about the suit, -I know I put my wallet in here somewhere. His hands stopped. -Oh, fuck, I left it on the table.
-No, not money. What's your phone number?
-You want my phone number? He yelled, then slapped his hand against his mouth. -You want my phone number? He whispered.
-Sure. You're cute. She stood, the tip of her head reaching his shoulder. -That's the price. Or I'll start screaming and Ralph'll come running.
-Nooo, don't scream. Don't scream. Okay, here it is, Jonesy rattled off his mobile number, warning her that he did not, at this time, actually have the mobile on him, it was at home, and he might not have it until tomorrow.
-Fine, fine, here's mine, she said, scribbling some numbers onto a piece of paper. -Oh, and I'm nineteen.
-Okay, listen, that's great, nineteen is a great age, I was nineteen once, few years back, but hey, um, I'm rambling and I really really need to get out of here, ok?
She grinned. -This way, she said, taking his hand and leading him through a twisty maze of suits that seemed, to him, to be unnecessarily complicated. -Here, she pushed towards an unmarked door. -If I don't hear from you in three hours... She trailed off.
-You will, you will. You're cute, too. Jonesy assured her, putting his hand on the doorknob and turning. -Listen, this conversation has been suitably absurd – my second today! - and I gotta get going.
-Right, Lauren, I gotta get going, Lauren. Peace.
Jonesy opened the door and stepped inside.
And was greeted by an office full of black-suited men. Nobody seemed particularly curious about the new arrival, their eyes firmly glued to the computers in front of them. The air in this office was still, and a clock could be heard ticking above the gentle clatter of fingers on keyboards. The cubicles were all identical, small but comfortable, and from what he could see, there wasn't a single personal effect in any of them.
Jonesy shut the door quietly behind him and sauntered in, walking like he owned the place. The first empty cubicle he spotted he assumed as his own, relaxing into the chair and cracking his fingers nonchalantly. The computer was off, he switched it on. His movements were all quiet, measured and unbelievably trying on his nerves. His heart was racing pretty damn fast right now, and he had the distinct feeling that he had gone from the frying pan into the fire.
By his left leg was a small refrigerator, he opened it, tapping his feet in time with the tick-tock of the unseen but loud clock. The 'fridge was stocked with Red Bull, V drinks and milk, he selected a Red Bull, opening the can with a csh that sounded far too loud in the deathly silence of the office room.
The computer had finished booting up, and did not look at all like the friendly Windows XP he had installed at home. He idly searched about for solitaire, instead finding weird sounding games like ksirtet and tuxracer. Bored, he circled the mouse pointer about the desktop, trying to figure out why the words 'Trust Us' were emblazoned so heavily on a black background. Seemed kind of creepy.
Jonesy swiveled in his chair, looking up at the speaker. -Sure. Yes. I am. He stood. -Jone- the name's Smith, Clinton Smith, how are you?
The man frowned, consulting with the clipboard he held in front of his chest like a shield. -I don't have a, wait, yes I do, I have a Smith on here. Not a C Smith, though, I've got a S...
-Yes, Simon, that's my name. The man's eyebrows rose and his bushy sideburns twitched. -Sorry, you see, I go by, my middle name is Clinton, and I prefer it to Simon, and...
-Alright, Smith, settle down. The man frowned and made a tick on his clipboard. -I can understand first day nerves, but pull yourself together!
-Have you been told what you are doing here, yet? Did Cole walk you through the process?
-No, sir, not yet...
The man waved his hand, -Sound like Cole. Never mind, I'll speak to him. Here, let me show you. It's all pretty basic stuff, but – and here his voice became stern(er) – We don't like mistakes, no we don't. One will get you a reprimand, two will get you fired. And I don't mean looking for a new job fired, you understood the risks when you signed up.
-I sure did! Jonesy said, far too enthusiastically he decided after the words had left his mouth.
The man gave him a look. -This is what you do, he said, leaning forward. Jonesy thought he could hear some rather unsavoury words under the man's breath, but let it slide. Now was not the time to be protesting against swearing in the workplace.
-What you are to do is very simple. This database, here, he clicked on an icon that said, helpfully, database, -Is all you need to concern yourself with. It's all you can access, at any rate. Now, in this database, we have a listing of every single clock in the CBD that fits into the Wecker system. What I want you to do – and it is tedious, I know – is check the time and date of every malfunction, every breakdown, every problem. If the system is working, they should all be recorded in this program here, he clicked on another icon, 'Data Record'. -If something is wrong, instead of data, there will be a large red button. Before you push it, call me over, and I'll take a look. I can't stress that enough, Smith. Do you understand what you are doing?
-I suppose so, yes.
-Not very encouraging, Smith. Wecker wasn't build on supposing, it was built on hard work, efficiency, and accuracy. Last time I checked, supposing didn't even come close to accuracy. The man sat down on the desk, breathing heavily, face red. -Were you properly informed as to the gravity of your role, Smith?
-Sure, I mean yes, I was. Sir.
The man was quiet for some time, gazing up at the white ceiling. -I'm an easy man to get along with, Smith. All I want you to do is your job, and I want you to do that with one hundred percent accuracy and as close to one hundred percent efficiency as you can manage. That's all. Do that, and we will get along. Fail, and I wouldn't want to be in your suit. Understood?
-That's better, the man said, smiling, his face looking rather unsuited to the task. Tapping his clipboard, he stood up and left the cubicle, turning only once. -Enjoy the rest of your day.
Jonesy sighed with relief when the man was gone. He was pleased that the man's suit didn't fit him all that well, but that was about the only positive that had come from the meeting. He turned towards the database, studying the fields of information.
-Name, address, amount spent on clocks, breakdown times, amount of clocks, potential for more clocks, type of clocks, whether the clock runs on A, B or C Series time, time until the clock goes into permanent breakdown, wow, this database sure is anal.
He spun in his chair, twice, then gulped down the Red Bull. There was a clock in the bottom right-hand corner of the computer, it read 12:01pm. The day was turning into night, not yet, but it would. Morning was over, half a Saturday gone, and here was Jonesy entering data into a computer. Working. On the weekend.