Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Within Reason

Lehar dropped her handbag onto the overstuffed blue futon and kicked her shoes off. High heels weren't really appropriate for waitressing in a cafe, even the Excess Cafe, but at only five feet tall she appreciated the additional height they gave her. She looked around her studio flat as she unbuttoned her light grey summer jacket, and then dropped that onto the futon as well. She needed to tidy up a little. There were coats and handbags all over the futon, four pairs of high heels scattered on the carpet in front of it, and a stack of magazines next to it. In the kitchenette on the other side of the room there were dirty dishes piled high in the sink, an unwrapped loaf of bread on the breadboard, some ham left out on the counter and a dish of soft butter. The microwave door hung open and something orange was puddled inside it.

She had just started unbuttoning her blouse when the man in the pin-striped suit stepped out of the bathroom. He was taller than her, and handsome in the same way that her father was handsome. In his left hand he held a leather document wallet, and in his right hand he was holding her toothbrush. There was a look of disgust on his face.

"This was the cleanest thing I could find in your flat," he said, and limped across the room to the futon. She noticed that both trouser legs of his suit appeared to have been sliced into a little below the knee. "Don't you ever clean up, Lehar? You have two rooms, that's hardly a lot."
"It's my flat," she said quickly, and then mentally upbraided herself for sounding defensive. The besuited man reminded her of her father in more ways than one.
"Actually, since we pay the rent, it's our flat. I think we should make your tidying a condition of you living here, if only to protect our investment." He dropped the toothbrush onto the pile of shoes and sat down on the futon. He winced a little as he did.
"Is that why you're here?" she said. "You're checking up on me as my landlord?"
"No. I'm here to let you know that things are becoming... difficult. There may have to be changes."
"Go on." Lehar's eyes narrowed and she buttoned her blouse back up again, then went to the counter and started putting the food away.
"When did you last see Anna-Mix?"
"Last Tu--" she paused, and then stopped what she was doing and turned to face the besuited man. "I don't know," she said slowly. "I was going to say last Tuesday, but I know it was more recently than that. But I can't remember when."
"That's what I expected you to say," said the besuited man. "We've activated Dax, he'll be coming to the cafe in the next couple of days. You're to serve him whatever he orders."
"Ok," said Lehar. "That might be expensive, you know that."
"We do. That's been accounted for." He stood up, wincing again. "Clean up, Lehar. Things are not as they are supposed to be, and we all need to be ready to move fast."
He looked at the stack of magazines and smiled. "Still hiding research papers in the gossip rags, Lehar?" Then he left.

Lehar turned back to the counter and started tidying again, but she was distracted. She knew that she'd seen Anna-Mix only recently, but couldn't remember anything else, and she knew that Anna-Mix shouldn't be able to mess with her mind. She started humming a tune she remembered from growing up, and quietly worried.

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