32. Puppets

Doris glanced at me and then at the clock.

I blinked. After the underworld, even the kitchen lights seemed bright. Outside it was dark.

“What time is it?” I asked.

“Six.”

“AM or PM?”

Charles. You don’t know what time of the day it is. You’re filthy. What am I supposed to think?”

“I had an appointment.”

“Inside a vacuum cleaner?”

“With Duke.”

“The underworld,” she said. “You know better.”

I shrugged.

“He just took me there, handed me off.”

“Handed you off?”

“To his partners. Pimplipper. Graydon.”

“Those blood suckers,” she said.

“You’re telling me.” I pulled up my sleeve. Blood still wept through the filthy rag.

“You didn’t… Not again…” She gave me a hard, appraising look. “What did you sign?”

“No big deal. A contract. Duke looked it over.”

“How about a straight answer?”

“Matching me with the opportunities.”

“You could be more specific.”

“That’s what we’re working on. The specifics. My personality. Their product development. A match-up. They’ve got a whole team down there.”

“I don’t understand. What do you need? More money? A bigger house? A better car? You have all those things.”

“You do.”

“I keep saying it’s ours. You refuse to believe me.”

“I want some of it to be mine. Truly.”

“It is yours! Does the hair in your ears keep you from hearing?”

“The hair in my ears? That’s, I don’t know, insulting, baby.”

“You’re a puppet for a bunch of dead guys. Oh, Charles.”

“Why didn’t you tell me I had hair in my ears?”

“Right now it’s not the most important thing, okay?”

I rubbed a finger lightly over my ear. She was right. Christ. Another sign. An old crock living off his girlfriend. Me.

“We’re already puppets,” I said. “We live in Duke’s house. We spend his money. We’re on his string. That’s what he wanted.”

“We can walk away.”

“We’re not going to do that.”

“For all I care we can go back to our little house.”

“Not exactly.”

“What?”

“It’s part of the deal. They’re fixing it up. Turning it into a consulting space.”

“A consulting space? You didn’t think you should mention it?”

“Things happened fast.”

“Consulting for what?”

“Life coaching. Something like that.”

“By the dead?”

“They know a lot. Really.”

She covered her eyes with her hands and shook her head.

Again she said, “Oh, Charles.”

Tomorrow: As if the hammer of wealth hadn’t hit us

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