12 July 1984
posted 2020-05-30 12:35:42

And Kieth lit a cigar.

Jones cleared his throat. "The landlord won't like you smoking in here," he said.

Kieth shrugged. "Well, I don't like the landlord, so there we are."

"If the sprinklers come on and we get soaked it's not my problem," Jones said. He sat and stretched his legs out on the bed.

"Well, if they do, help me move those boxes out into the hall. Stuff for Brenda. Some of it seems delicate."

"More? Seriously? How long is she going to keep playing this game? What are you two even doing?"

"I'm building a machine," she said around her cigar. Puff, puff. "At least we're building something like a machine. All Brenda tells me is to go places and get things and I go there and get them. Most of the time I don't know what the hell it's about."

"And you have no idea why? About any of it?"

"Brenda is the one with the plan. She said it was a surprise." She tapped ashes onto the floor. "I have to say, it has my interest. It's the most intricate thing I've ever seen, beyond anything I can imagine. I have no idea what it's going to do."

"World's weirdest scavenger hunt," he said, shook his head slightly, gazed out the window.

"Who knows." She looked at some old scars on her knuckles.

"In my considered opinion, I think Brenda is batshit crazy."

"You know, she might actually enjoy hearing you say so," she said, the left side of her mouth grinning. Kieth took the cigar out of her mouth and stared at the cherry-glowing tip. "Anyway. Why are you called IBM Jones? You've never explained it to me."

A shrug. "I dunno. Sounded good, at one point, like futuristic or cyberpunk. I guess. I dunno."

She looked at her arm. "Do you think I should get a tattoo? Like computer circuits, a blueprint, something. Brenda's machine gave me the idea. Maybe on my back."

"Are you sure? Tattoos are so trite, don't you think?"

A shrug. She toed off one red sneaker, struggled with the next, kicked it off, watched it fly across the room. It sailed through the open bathroom door and right into the toilet. She sputtered curses.

"Hold this!" She gave Jones the cigar and went into the bathroom. When she was out of sight, Jones put the cigar out on the bottom of his shoe and set it on the nightstand.

Kieth fished in the toilet for her shoe, withdrew it with two long fingers, tossed it into the bathtub, washed her hands. Standing at the bathroom door she glanced at the nightstand. "What did you do to my cigar?"

Blink, blink.

"You put out my fucking cigar."

Kieth walked to the nightstand and picked up the cigar, held it up to her eyes.

"You put it out."

"Er," Jones said. "They're bad for you?"

"No one puts out my cigars."

The left corner of his mouth grinned.

Kieth set the cigar down, flipped him off, failed to hide her own smile, sat on the bed, chewed a fingernail.

"So what happens now?" he said.

"I don't really know. Wait for a phone call?"

He looked into Kieth's eyes. They were blue, so pale they were almost gray, worn-down as though she'd done this before. Whatever this was. Maybe this was part of a *relationship*.

But she smiled at him. Her mouth was wide, and her nose was big, so whenever she smiled she looked like she was about to burst with joy. In all this she was devastatingly beautiful to him. She stood, and took off her t-shirt, and then slipped out of her jeans. Gorgeously, she wasn't wearing anything underneath.

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