Letting Life Lead
Heavy doors muffled the orchestra and ushers busied themselves with freshening carpets. Martine finished sewing a blouse button before returning to the coatroom. Most things had been hung, but a few needed garment bags and the hats required boxes. She took photos of each item to add to the database. Martine had been commended recently for reducing the number of false claims under the new system she’d designed.
The last wool coat required some extra attention. The smell emanating from the fibers caused a shiver to zipper down her back. It’d been a long time since such luck had fallen in her path. The owner, a gentleman of no particular notoriety, had had no escort with him. Her phone played Pop Goes the Weasel in her back pocket. Lo, her husband, had a odd sense of humor. Martine wiped sweaty palms on her slacks, turned off the alert, and jangled the storage keys.
“Hey, Martine,” said Joey, a man wearing the same black and white employee ensemble. He had a neat gray beard and tight coils of ashy hair.
“You’re late. Getting slow?”
He slipped her a modestly expensive gold watch, held his palm up, and wiggled his fingers. “Speed gets you caught. Slow gets the cash.”
“How’s the apprentice working out?” Martine handed off a discrete roll of bills.
Joey snorted. “Rash and dumber than a jersey barrier.”
“Remind you of you, does he?”
A single guffaw burst from him. “Smart ass.” Joey paused and leaned to speak hushed. “You sure this is the one?”
“You might have to…”
“Oh, hell, no I can’t do that again. If not this one, then…I don’t know. Sparkle dress? She smelled marginally acceptable.”
“Too close to the edge. Might not work.”
“Better than the alternative, Joey.”
He nodded. “Alright, standard cover?”
“Yeah, thanks.” Martine grinned, though worry still creased her brow. “Hang tough, stickyfingers.”
Joey patted her hand and glided away with his naturally light-footed gait.
Just after second intermission when the carpet was ravaged with footprints and bits of paper, the watch’s owner emerged in a state of agitation. Martine could feel the energy before he rounded the corner to the coatroom window.
“Where the hell is the lost and found in this place?” he groused to no one in particular.
“Here, sir. Can I help you?” Martine waved him closer.
“Yes, I’ve misplaced my watch.”
She asked him to describe it detail and showed a photo on the check-in tablet after he answered an identifying question correctly. When the man smiled in relief she went weak in the knees. She might have, at one time, described it as a hunger. Now, it was rather a memory of a desire.
“We keep valuables secure in a safe. Will you come this way please?”
She opened the door and escorted him to the rear. Sweat soaked her bra and her clothing chaffed.
The main door closed with a soft clunk as the automatic lock engaged. The soft lights in the wall lit their way. At one time, it’d been a connector to a high-end speakeasy. Few knew of it. The man, nonplussed, made idle, friendly chit chat. She responded automatically and giggled at the right moments.
“The watch was the last thing my mother gave to me before…the dark times,” he said.
“There’s no one who hasn’t been touched by that tragedy.” Martine sighed. “He was unconscious when I found him. My husband, I mean.”
After they entered the waiting room, Martine pressed her lips into a tight line. She hated bringing the nice ones, but there wasn’t time to be picky.
“Wait here, it’ll be done in just a moment. So sorry about this.”
The door closed behind her and made a soft click. The handle had been removed from the inside. She entered another room and addressed the frothing man in the cage. His feverish, red eyes regarded her. He moaned and held his head and screamed.
“Lo, honey. I know it hurts. Can you smell him? He’s perfect.”
He nodded. Suddenly, he bolted and rammed against the bars. Martine pushed a button and an attached sliding section to the waiting room opened.
Lo rushed in and the man barely had time to gurgle a scream.
Martine babble-yelled to the dying man. “I really am sorry. Zombies aren’t dead right away, you know? You just need to find the right meal to sate the hunger in time.”
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