Bon Voyage from Bluthe

Gary sat in his cubicle, aware of being surrounded by a twelve by twelve array of such cubicles, one third of which was filled by contract workers, one third was empty, and one third were people who resented the hell out of Gary still being there while person X — friend, spouse, lover, less grating colleague — was out on the street. You may know how it is. One group gets decimated while another gets protection, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes through alliances, sometimes because an accountant somewhere was told: “I don’t care how — just make the numbers balance.” But the severance package wasn’t bad — yet — and Gary sometimes wondered how it would feel to have a fistful of paychecks in the pocket and nowhere to be, no deadlines, no reason not to jet off somewhere. But with the economy shaky, these were likely to be one-way layoffs — and even so, they weren’t taking volunteers.

He was watching Expedia and the rest, but hadn’t decided yet where to go. He hadn’t taken any steps, in fact, but he had in his hands a digital recorder with someone’s voice he didn’t recognize — probably, from the sound of it, someone paid to read the text who could barely read. He listened to it three times before he was sure he understood what he was being asked to do. He had in front of him the web page with a certain Robert C. Walton’s contact information. The recorder told him that he was never — under absolutely no circumstances, without violating the terms of their agreement — to contact Mr. Walton. He had a question, though, one that he had had abundant opportunity but no courage to ask, one he thought Walton owed him. What was Scotty? Bob had used “alleged” and the like — did he think this wasn’t an alien intelligence? What did he think it was? Why was he so afraid of it?

Gary took an early lunch and walked out and away from the parking lot. He had the prepaid phone with him, and dialed Bluthe’s office phone. He tried to mask his voice.

“Hello professor Bluthe, this is your colleague Rex I. Piece. Please give me a call back at this number at your earliest convenience — “

He put the phone in his pocket and walked down the street, though he’d never done this before in all his years at that company. He walked with his hands stuffed into his pants pockets, another thing he never did, but somehow today it seemed right, a way to signal his introspection, his independence, something like that. It felt right.

But he nearly jumped out of his skin when the phone rang in his pocket. He took a deep breath before putting it to his ear. “Yeah?”

“This is professor Bluthe. Did I understand your name is professor Piece?” Not a hint of irony. He had been fooled — or wasn’t willing to take the chance.

“This is Bouleregard.”

“What?!” Bluthe shouted. “I don’t know any.” He hung up.

A short time later, Bluthe called back from another phone. “Damn, man, you’ve got to stop this. What shit are you in now?”

Gary bah’ed. “I think it must be elephant shit, it’s that deep. Bluthe, they came to see me.”

A silence. “I don’t know any they, and I know I don’t want to.”

“That’s fine, you won’t have to. We have an arrangement.”

“You and Faust.”

“Who?”

“You can’t have an arrangement with any devil. If you think you’ve outsmarted him, that’s when you know you’re in too fucking deep.”

“Well, there’s a price — I think it’s high enough. But I guess we’ll see. You just have to be silent, not another word. To anyone. Ever. Lose the website, your whole damn archive. Mary has to be silent, too. You can’t even talk to each other about it, in case they’re watching you. And we — you and I had better not talk to each other any more.”

“Well, then, Fuckhead, it’s been a sick voyage, but you made it with me so I’ll just say: Bon Voyage.”

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