Chapter 5, by Joseph Toman
As he looked around the grimy second floor office with its old metal desk, rickety plastic chair, computer terminal and dead rotary phone (did they make those things any more?) it occured to him that he had made a mistake. "This is fucked.", he thought to himself. He had taken the job as a last gasp of independence from Dad, Mom, and the synthetic sheen of his childhood in La Jolla. His father had told him he was nuts for turning down the full-ride scholarship at UCSB, and now, sitting alone looking at the SFU course guide and watching the roaches fight over yesterday's noodles and fish sauce, he was beginning to think Dad was right.
Time. He turned back to the archaic Wyse terminal and did his job, if you could call it that. He pecked out H-E-I-S-E-N-S-E-I on the keyboard and hit the Return key. Every half hour. And every half hour it would respond with the same lame graphic made out of letters and symbols. He hadn't decided whether it was someone bowing or puking. Probably both. The rhythmic pounding of commerce from Madame Marvella's subsided for a moment. Another insurance saleseman satisfied, he mused. In the quiet he heard a shuffle of feet on the stairs. He hated confronting the junkies who confused the narrow stairwell for a urinal, so he sat and wished the footsteps would go away. They grew louder and then a shadow fell on the sandblasted window in the door. A hand brushed off the lettering "Akiyama Institute" that had been painted on the door who knows how many years ago. And then the shadow knocked.
"Um, Come in?" he said, not knowing what else to say. She looked like the front of a biker magazine, all done up in black and leather and slightly gone to seed. "We don't keep any money in the office!", he stammered.
She smiled. "I'm looking for this guy Akiyama", she said, jerking her thumb over her shoulder toward the glass in the door behind her, "Seen him?". This was starting to look like something other than a robbery.
"Uh, I'm the only one here.", he said, realizing how obvious that was as he said it. Her smile tightened.
"I can see that. What I'm asking is whether you've seen this guy recently, and who are you?"
Honesty seemed like the best policy, or at least all he could come up with. "Uh, Bob Sanderson, I mean, that's my name, I'm Bob. Yeah, I never met him. Nobody ever comes here but me." She was starting to look unhappy as she walked around the desk to stand next to and slightly behind him.
"And what is it you do here, Bob?" she said in a voice not unlike the one his mother used when he was about to get a lecture.
"I don't know, I mean, I just type stuff, you know, when I'm supposed to." He told her about the ad for a data entry clerk he had answered in the Chronicle, and how the interview was just a questionaire he received. "So I just sit here and type the same thing over and over. Pretty dopey, huh? But it pays well enough, I guess." She still didn't look happy, maybe it was her time of the month and not what he said.
" My name's Rosen. Private eye.", she said as she handed him a business card. She walked back to the door and opening it, turned back to face him. "That's my number. It might be worth something to you if you remember anything more. If you see Akiyama, let me know." The glass rattled as she closed the door behind her. Her footsteps receded down the staircase. Time. Oh shit, he was late! Quickly he typed in his message and hit Return. In response he got back a frowny face, underneath which in block letters it said
"RUBERT SANDERSUN, YUU ARE LATE!!! YUU DU NUT FULLUW THE PATH!!!"
And then the dead phone rang.