Chapter VIII:

Leon Stays Late

The phone rang three times before she answered.

“Hey Leon,” she said, her soft, slightly coarse voice having never sounded sweeter.

“Hey Heather. I’m glad you finally answered my phone call.”

“Sorry,” she stated.

Leon bumped into someone, a regular person, non-Quixote, who pushed him away and said “Watch where you’re going, asshole!”

“Sorry about that,” Leon said to Heather, passing around the pedestrian, who was staring him down. “When can I see you?”

“I don’t know, Leon.”

“You don’t know?”

“I’m just saying. You were so distant with me for such a long time. I don’t know what’s changed.”

“I’ve changed. I’m telling you. My life circumstances have changed.”

“How so?”

“I can’t get into it with you here and now.” Leon thought of the Box-Mart account, except that next to the Quixote its impact paled in comparison. “But I need to see you. I’m going fucking crazy.”

“You are?”

“I am. I really am.”

“I don’t want you to go crazy.”

“So you’ll see me again?”

“I have no idea.”

Leon ducked into an alcove of one of the office buildings around the corner from his own. He forced himself to sit down on a concrete bench to keep himself from pacing.

“When can I see you?” he repeated.

Heather sighed.

“I’m at work now, Leon, and I really don’t know how to answer you. I hadn’t expected to sound like this. It just came out. You really hurt me before. I’m not a booty call, Leon.”

“I never said you were.”

“You treated me like one.”

“When can I see you?”

“I’m hanging up now. I might call you back and I might not. How about that?”

“I’ll be waiting for you. I need to see you. I miss you. You have to see me in person at least one more time.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“I’m a changed man.”

“You sound almost romantic about it.”

Leon smiled: he could tell by the tone of her voice that he was getting through to her. My God could he use some fucking. More than that he wanted to see her. She would help to make him feel less alone, which, he was increasingly sure, he was, alone with the Quixotes.

“I’m going to hang up on you,” Heather said.

“Go ahead. I’ll see you later.”

“I’ll call you, okay?”

“Okay.”

“So long, Leon.”

“So long.”

Heather hung up. Leon put his phone in his pocket with the Quixote, whose metallic flesh his finger brushed, and a thrill of loathing shot up his arm. Just then he couldn’t stand the thought of it, though he also couldn’t escape the impression that, somehow, it was trying to help him. But there were Quixotes everywhere, everywhere. It had to be its doing. Didn’t it?

After he circled the block one more time he pushed through the glass doors of his office building and brushed past Cassidy and Vanessa, who were on their way out. He nodded wordlessly at them, but Vanessa, eyes wide and shining with jealousy, called back to him, “Hope you had a good lunch.”

Leon made his way to the elevators, which rocketed him up to the 32nd floor and the empty elevator lobby.

Mathilda was standing at her desk, phone glued to her ear, and she waved to him at his approach. She looked him up and down like she wanted to eat him alive, and Leon, perhaps still feeling the affect of his conversation with Heather, found Mathilda’s appearance pleasing indeed. She was wearing a white blouse and designer jeans, and, with her slim, shapely body, was leaning against her desk tantalizingly.

“I need to talk with you,” he said, walking past her.

She leered back at him but did not answer his request.

In his office behind closed door Leon put the Quixote on his desk and opened the Box-Mart account supplemental materials. Time became fluid as he pored over them, determined to eliminate the Quixote and its duplicates from his mind. But what the hell were they? People? Aliens? And why was he, apparently, the only one who could see them?

Change was in the air. Even when there were no Quixotes present he could still feel their weight. Perhaps they were telepathic. Maybe that’s how they communicated, and the rest of the world hated them for it.

Leafing through the supplemental materials, a single name kept returning to his attention: Louis Fitzgerald. A locally-based Box-Mart executive who, perhaps, could tell him more about what was going on with his company. Leon resolved to ask Mathilda about it when she came in to see him. Except, when he finally looked up from the materials at his clock, pointedly away from the Quixote, he saw that it was already half past four in the afternoon. Had she forgotten?

He got up and crossed the room and opened the door to his office, but Mathilda wasn’t there. She had forgotten, or else had decided she wanted to fuck him more than she wanted to obey his orders. That was the look he had seen in her eyes. Either way she was gone, and the rest of the floor was leaving too, packing their things to go and filing towards the elevators. But Leon’s desk was not in any shape to leave the way it was. He had more work to do. He had to think about something other than himself and the strange things he saw.

He shut the door again and locked it, returned to his desk and buried himself in the materials again.

When he looked up from the bewildering spread of folders and documents, he saw that it was almost a quarter after six. He was probably one of the last employees in office.

Leon realized that the last few hours had passed in a fog, and he’d retained nothing from the materials he’d so closely scrutinized except for the mysterious name Louis Fitzgerald.

He decided that enough was enough, and packed up his suitcase and laptop, sure to grab the Quixote and put it in his pocket.

When he opened the door to his office he was struck by the quiet darkness of the 32nd floor. He hadn’t stayed this late in years, there was never a point, he always finished his work on time. Today, time had swept away from him, and he couldn’t explain why.

He shut and locked the door to his office. He heard the whirring susurration of a steam cleaner working the carpets, somewhere on the floor. It was the cleaning lady, Consuela, with whom Leon was on a first name basis. For some reason the Quixote in his pocket wordlessly compelled him to find her.

Leon struck off from his office door, through the abandoned labyrinth of xerox machines, computer desks, offices and cubicles. The lights were only on bright enough to allow Consuela to do her work. And Leon found her around the corner from the break room and not far from the elevator lobby. Her back was to him, and she was wearing a brown dress tied at the waist with a leather belt. She was bent over the steam cleaner, pushing it back and forth. Even though he wasn’t sure why he was coming to talk to her, Leon endeavored to gain her attention:

“Ahem,” he said, but not loud enough over the steam cleaner.

“AHEM!”

Still nothing. Consuela moved the steam cleaner back and forth.

Leon decided to engage the risk of unexpected human contact by tapping her on the shoulder. He took several steps towards her, and was barely an arms’ length distance from her when she turned the steamer off and straightened her back, causing Leon to jump and retract his hand.

“You have a question for me?” he heard a screechy, inhuman voice ask.

“Ahem,” Leon cleared his throat again, stopped in his tracks.

“Ask me your question, trapped man. Why did you want to tap me on the shoulder?”

Leon couldn’t believe what he was hearing. It was as if he was watching a film from the protagonist’s perspective, but he had little control over his actions. The Quixote was piloting him through and through, even when he opened his mouth to answer her:

“Did you put this in my office?” he asked, taking the Quixote out of his pocket like an Old West Sheriff drawing his pistol.

“No I did not,” she said, back still facing him.

“How can you say you did or you didn’t if you can’t see what I have to show you?”

“I know what you have. But I didn’t put it in your office.”

Leon took a deep breath. Maybe he was getting somewhere with someone, at least, at last.

“This is like a dream,” he said, looking Consuela’s thick backside up and down. He noted that her brown dress looked heavier of a sudden. Her dark hair was pulled into a ponytail. She was holding something, and it wasn’t the carpet steamer.

“Turn around,” he said. “Please.”

“Okay, but you won’t like what you see,” she answered, and turned around.

Leon’s breath cut short. She was holding a midnight black motorcycle helmet, and, when he raised his eyes to meet her face he saw that it was not Consuela at all, but a grinning, round-eyed hobgoblin with dark leathery skin. She was wearing a leather jerkin, it was no cleaning uniform at all. It was a Quixote, but it wasn’t wearing its helmet. It screeched a piercing shrill of laughter at his blank and pale expression.

“You see? I told you.”

“I don’t… I don’t understand.”

“Run away Leon Ramble. Go on. Run. You aren’t ready for this yet.”

Leon wasn’t ready to run just yet.

“I see you aren’t ready to run just yet.”

Oh my God.

“Oh my God. Get out of here, Leon. Run as fast as you can, and, if you’ll take my advice, throw that thing away the first chance you get.”

With panic constricting his chest, and a dull, painful pressure forming in the frontal part of his mind he turned away from her and vaulted back the way he had come.

“Don’t come back to me, trapped man. It will only get worse from here.”

Leon ran into the elevator lobby and found that he was crying in thick, heavy sobs.

He pressed the button but the elevator was already here. There was a ding and he went in and frantically pressed the button to close the doors. Before they did he heard the brushing noise of the carpet steamer going back to work. Then the elevator was plummeting to the first floor. He left the building unable to believe what he had witnessed, and his first thought was to call Heather to find comfort, but that would be a mistake. Instead he proceeded down the street to the BART station.

On the way home his own levelheadedness surprised himself. Perhaps something had prepared him for the vision he had seen. He would never stay late on the 32nd floor again.

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