Chapter XII:

On Chestnut Street

Leon had two hours to kill, and not a single idea on how to go about it. He decided to take a long walk through the Marina District down to the waterfront, away from the crowds. The oppression in his mind seemed to be reaching a peak, the Quixote in his pocket a hateful comfort. He palmed it as he walked. Again, he wondered if he was going insane.

Luckily it was a beautiful evening, and when he reached the waterfront, with a beautiful view of the Bay, the ocean on the other side of the majestic Golden Gate, he found a bench and put his hands in his jacket pockets to guard against the wind. He stared out into the undulating waters, and time melted around him.

He brought the Quixote out and let its power wash through him.

It was one of a kind. It told him so while he held it.

What, oh what, was expected of him?

A few moments later it appeared at his side like it had in his apartment, complete with the golden halo, that and its somewhat smaller stature distinguishing it from the ones he saw walking around.

It sat with him. It told him it was important what he was doing just now, surprising Heather and making her day grand. It told him that she loved him, a question Leon had entertained from time to time over the last year and a half that they had been dating. He didn’t think he loved her back; oftentimes he had lusted for her, and that was enough, but if they were to stay together there needed to be more. Her surprise at seeing him at the wine shop, and her delight, had been more than apparent. The two were very good to each other beneath the sheets, which was where they were going tonight, no question in Leon’s mind. He’d seen the way she’d looked at him. The Quixote by his side, furthermore, confirmed it. It could read her mind. Leon needed to clear his own. Fucking Heather would be the best way to go about it. He couldn’t imagine going into work the next day without her.

Thoughts of telepathic signals, altered pheromones, subtle, super-sensory signals assailed his mind, as he wondered how the regular people did or did not see the Quixotes, and what had possessed Stuart to make Leon’s downfall his raison d’être at Stigel, Lewis. Everyone who saw it became consumed by it. He would be sure to keep it safely apart from Heather, but what on earth else would he have to talk about?

Leon checked his watch. It was an hour since he’d been to the wine shop. Another one needed to pass. The Quixote told him that it would, only he might do well to stay away from busy Chestnut Street. He would have to employ mental heroics this evening if he was to stay focused on his goal. But he was getting a hard on just thinking about it; thinking about her on her knees. He loved the way she gave him blow jobs. He would hope for one tonight, but not all the way, just to get him started, and then he would swing for the homer. That felt like a safer line of thinking than the Quixotes.

Heather loved him. The Quixote told him so.

Behind him came the sound of footsteps, and he turned archly about in a quick jerking motion to see who or what it was. It was a small Quixote: from the donkey’s hooves to the top of the motorcycle couldn’t have been more than four feet. Beyond the small Quixote were two full size ones, walking in lockstep with each other.

There weren’t many children in his neighborhood of Oakland, filled as it was with tight yuppy apartments and hipsters. It had never occurred to him that there were families of Quixotes making it through their day-to-day perhaps even unaware of their changed condition.

The small child Quixote had stopped to look at him. The other two behind it came up to its side as if to re-gather its attention, but instead noticed Leon and stopped to look at him, silent and ridiculous.

“What!?” he barked. “What do you want with me?!”

One of the parent Quixotes seemed to respond by shaking its motorcycle helmets in a ‘no’ motion.

“You don’t make any sense! What on earth are you?”

Of course there was no answer, only the windswept waves crashing on the shoreline’s rocks.

“Do you speak English? Do you know how to leave me alone? Leave me alone!”

The Quixote shook its head again. The smaller one stepped back between its parents and one of them stroked its head with the forearm of the arm holding its lance.

“Fine,” Leon said. “I’m leaving. You win. Even here I can’t just sit in peace because you stupid things can’t leave me alone.”

He stood up.

“Although I do believe that you’re almost totally harmless. It’s the regular people that we have to worry about.”

One of the Quixotes shrugged. Leon decided not to analyze the situation any further. He left back the way he had come, walking so fast it was almost a run. He would have to find some other way to pass the rest of the hour.

Heather, oh Heather. You better make this worth it, he thought.

Leon arrived at the wine shop a shade less than fifty minutes later and was greeted at the door by the same angry blond young man he had disdained the last time he was here. There were two regular people as customers perusing the shelves. No Quixotes to be seen, except outside, where there were many oh so many.

“I’m here for Heather again,” Leon said to the blond boy.

“She’s in the back,” he said. “I’ll go get her.”

Leon stayed in the doorway, somewhat dazed by his frantic thoughts and feelings, and was prodded out of the way by a Quixote that came up behind him, poked him with the lance, and then, after Leon turned around and the thing saw his face, stood in the doorway itself, staring.

“Go on!” he yelled. “Go on! I’m out of your way.”

“What seems to be the problem?” came a lilting, teasing voice.

Leon spun about again and there was Heather, smiling serenely.

“This guy’s just standing there!” Leon tried to explain. “He doesn’t even come forward. He’s just staring at me!”

Heather made a clicking noise with her mouth, then said to the Quixote in the doorway: “Can I help you?”

The Quixote kept staring at Leon.

“See?” Leon said. “He’s staring at me. People everywhere are doing this to me.”

He couldn’t tell her everything, now could he?

“Come on,” she said, taking his arm in hers. “I’m ready to go.”

She guided him past the Quixote in the doorway, and Leon noticed that the blond boy was coming back, anger springing out of his every step, heading straight for the Quixote like it held the solution to his feelings.

“Let’s get out of here,” Leon breathed.

“What’s going on with you?” Heather asked now that they were out on Chestnut Street. It had grown dark over the last two hours. There weren’t as many people and Quixotes out now. 

“Is it the adventure you were telling me about?” she prodded. “Is it coming to haunt you everywhere you go?”

“You’re more right than you know,” he responded, and, with the left arm, that which wasn’t entwined with Heather’s, he reached into his pocket for the statuette. Maybe it would inspire him. He had no idea what they were going to talk about. Getting her back to her apartment was all he forced himself to think about.

“Do you want a bite to eat?” he asked her, and she nodded, looking at him as if it were all her doing that he’d come to see her. Maybe, to a certain extent, it was. He needed somebody who could feel his pain with him. Maybe Heather could help him, even if she were wrong in part about his motivation.

“Let’s go to the pizza place down the street,” Leon said, having noticed it earlier tonight.

“I’ve never been there.”

“It should be just fine for our purposes.”

“What are you doing here, Leon, if you don’t mind I asking?”

I needed to see you, he thought, but instead he said: “I guess I got sick of waiting for you.”

Heather let the statement hang between them.

“I’ve never been to this pizza place before,” she repeated.

“I’ll cover it. You may be assistant manager now, but I still make more money than you.”

“Yes, you do,” she said with a hint of sharpness in her voice.

Arm still held capture, Leon did his best not to look at the people and the Quixotes that passed on the sidewalk. His head hurt with a dull ache, throbbing at the pressure of their attention. He hoped Heather would steer them true, because he wasn’t raising his head. He couldn’t, couldn’t look at them while he was trying to speak with Heather, trying not to give away the extent of the shape he was in, the damage that was being done him, how he couldn’t think of anything else.

Heather was speaking to him but he hadn’t heard a word she’d said.

“Have you noticed that too, Leon?” she asked.

To the best of his ability, he decided, he would think of them as mere distractions.

“Leon?” she asked. “Did you hear me?”

“No. Sorry.”

“Haven’t you noticed something strange about people over the last few weeks?”

Leon chose to believe what he was hearing, though the perfect relief that washed through him was truly too good to believe.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“It’s hard to say exactly, to get it right. It’s an impression more than anything else.”

“What’s your impression?”

“That some people are getting angry for no particular reason, are yelling and fighting with each other, looking at total strangers like total enemies.”

Leon’s breathing was labored. He worried that she could feel it through her arm which was still entwined with his own.

“Has anything happened to you?” he asked.

“No, but I swear my employees are all talking back to me, you know, veiled insults. They never talked back to Lorraine. The customers too.”

“Who’s Lorraine?”

“My boss.”

“Oh yeah.”

“Jesus Leon, I’m taking a risk telling you about this shit. I’m sort of afraid you’ll think I’m crazy.”

“I don’t think you’re crazy.”

Heather made another clicking sound with her mouth.

“Then you think there’s something to it.”

“There has to be, doesn’t there?”

“I’m not making this up.”

“I know you’re not.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because I’ve noticed the exact same thing and then some.”

Heather’s arm seemed to stiffen, and Leon wondered if he’d made a mistake, laid it on too thick. She probably just thought he was trying to get into her pants, and she wouldn’t be wrong on that account.

For the remaining several blocks she stopped her line of questioning.

“Here’s the pizza place,” she said when they’d arrived at Giovanni’s, a trendy, expensive Italian restaurant with dark lighting, hard oak tables and a full bar.

“Welcome,” said the host, smiling, but looking perhaps afraid, with wide, inquiring eyes. Leon noticed there were three Quixotes at the bar, and the regular human being behind it had his back turned to all of them.

“Table for two?”

“Please,” said Heather.

“Right this way. Would you like to sit by the window?”

“Leon?”

“What?” broken away from his surveillance of the joint.

“How about by the window?”

I’d rather not, he thought, but did not say.

Heather was looking at him very carefully, he saw.

“Yes,” she said to the host at last. “A table by the window would be fine.”

“Right this way,” he replied, raising one arm and directing them to their table.

They took their seats and Heather asked for water for the both of them. Leon found himself looking unhappily out the window at the Quixotes parading past.

“Well,” she said, taking off her coat, revealing her supremely unsexy purple store uniform, “now that that’s taken care of.”

Leon grunted. He didn’t know where to begin. His thoughts swam in circles. He hadn’t expected her to lead the charge. His charm had abandoned him into thoughts of what, Heather-confirmed, was really happening. He wasn’t crazy after all.

She had an inquiring, unsympathetic look in her eyes, but was not one to discount immediately the truthfulness of Leon’s account. She always had been accepting of his eccentricities. Being someone with a lot of money meant that people treated you with respect. But was there something more to it tonight?

“What have you noticed?” she asked.

“Huh?”

“You’re lost in thought,” she noted.

Leon swallowed, then was momentarily saved when the server appeared and angrily slammed the two water glasses down on the table.

“I can’t explain it,” he said.

“What, like I just did?”

“It’s not that.”

“It’s your adventure, isn’t it? The one you were telling me about at the Sushi restaurant?”

Leon drank from his water, then recoiled from two Quixotes who had noticed him through the window and had stopped to stare at him. Their psychic probings assaulted his mind: what did they want from him? What did they see when they stopped like that?

“Hey!” Heather yelled and slapped the glass. “Scram! Get lost!”

One of the Quixotes turned towards her then back to Leon. Heather hit the glass again.

“See something green? What the hell is wrong with you? Get out of here!”

Leon jerked his thumb and arm inadvertently over his shoulder, echoing Heather’s sentiment.

“Get out of here,” he said.

At this the Quixotes jumped and moved on. Interesting. He had never tried to command them before.

“See?” he said.

“Did you know those people?”

“Is that what they looked like?”

Heather snorted incredulous laughter.

“Say what?” she said.

“Let’s just order,” he said, and picked up his menu.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

Leon did not answer her question. The Quixote in his pocket throbbed uncomfortably. He felt cornered by the entire world.

After another moment of silence Heather picked up her menu.

“Do you want to split one or get personals?” she asked.

“Let’s share,” he said.

“Okay Leon,” she piped. “What do you want to get?”

“Italian sausage.”

“Works for me.”

She laid her menu on the table but Leon kept looking at his own. Anything but her beautiful, rapacious eyes, and the Quixotes just outside. He did not feel himself. He wanted back the desperate, fleshy lack of control that her body inspired in him. But he couldn’t, not with them marching past the window.

“Put your menu down,” she said.

“No,” he answered.

“The waiter will never come to our table if you don’t.”

Leon sighed. He did as she had told him, then he folded his hands together at the table and met her glare with his own, defensive, proud, and frank. If everyone was going nuts why hadn’t it affected her?

Yes, his eyes seemed to tell her, I am going crazy.

“I noticed something was wrong with everyone,” she said.

“You did.”

“Even before I saw you.”

“When did you first notice?”

“I don’t know. It’s been a gradual thing.”

“Have you ever felt threatened?”

“Nope. Well, almost. When one of our workers quit the other day at the drop of a hat. He stormed about the store before he left, after taking his shirt off and grinding it into the floor with his heel.”

The waiter arrived.

“What can I get you?” he asked glibly.

“The two-person sausage,” Leon answered. “And a large side salad.”

“Yes,” Heather echoed. “A large salad.”

“Gotcha,” said the waiter, and flipped closed his order book and marched away.

“See?” she said. “It’s like he doesn’t even know we’re going to tip him later.”

“Maybe we won’t.”

Heather grinned. She loved him so much. But that thought was too sudden for her and she quickly looked away from him, afraid that he would see it in her, all the damage he had done her over the last eighteen months, since he’d known her: the diffidence, the sleepless nights, the objectification. As if all that mattered was he had money and nobody else did. That he was the only person she knew who could turn her on that way. He had a power about him, though he sure was different tonight.

“Do you think it’s happening to everybody?” she asked.

Leon nodded.

“Then how come nobody’s talking about it?”

“I don’t know,” he mumbled and dropped his eyes.

“Are you lying to me?” she asked. “Do you think you know?”

“You’re sure on the ball tonight, Heather.”

“I am? Why thank you. Honestly I can’t tell whether you are or not.”

“Neither can I.”

Heather was having a blast.

“Sure hope the pizza comes soon,” he said.

“So do I. I can’t wait to take you back to my apartment tonight and fuck you silly,” she said, grinning all the way and leaning across the table.

“Kiss me,” she said.

“Kiss you?”

“Right here and now.”

“Okay.”

Leon leaned across the table and kissed her on the mouth, and she came alive at his touch and moved forward closer and pressed their faces together and Leon pushed back too. He was getting a hard on.

Then she discontinued and pulled back.

“It’s been too long,” she said.

Leon felt the pieces of the puzzle falling into place. Maybe she’d stepped too far just now, revealing her enthusiasm for that which Leon had come for. But he had never expected that she would talk about the Quixotes like she was. He’d always known that she was a tough cookie, a different kind of person. Difference was he’d always had the upper hand. Now the mere notion of upper hands was meaningless. As she stared at him joyfully, lustfully, he felt them becoming one. The Quixotes outside the window did not stop to look at him.

A few minutes later the waiter appeared with their pizza and a plate for each of them.

“Enjoy,” he said, and left them.

“He can talk only in monosyllables, apparently,” Heather enthused.

“Apparently.”

Leon cut out one of the pieces and used the knife as a spatula to get it to Heather’s plate, then he did the same for himself. He found that he was smiling. He hadn’t felt happy for quite some time.

They ate in relative silence. At one point Leon asked her how her job was treating her, and Heather told him that it was fine, just that it took getting used to the veiled insubordination and hostility of her employees. Leon nodded, but he didn’t tell her any more about his own experiences with the Quixote. Instead he fell silent and Heather became irritated.

“What are you seeing, exactly?” she asked him after a certain point, anger entering into her voice.

“What do you mean?”

“Those people that stopped to look at you. What did they look like to you?”

Leon took another bite of his pizza and chewed. He swallowed, then he said “I can’t tell you.”

“You what?”

“I can’t. Seriously, Heather. I just can’t.”

“Why the hell not?”

He told her the truth: “Because I don’t think it’s safe.”

“What? You don’t think I can handle it?”

Leon didn’t say anything.

“Answer me, Leon. God damn you. I was feeling so good just a little while ago. What happened?”

“I don’t know.”

“Yes you do. You decided not to let me in, not to tell me what’s really going on with you. But you didn’t think I was crazy when I told you what I noticed.”

“Maybe it’s a full moon or something.”

“It’s not a full moon. I checked that already.”

Leon almost laughed aloud. “Did you?”

“I did. I thought of everything, and I don’t even believe that horoscope gravitational bullshit.”

“You’re getting a mouth on you tonight.”

“Leon. Tell me what’s going on with you? Something is terribly wrong, I’d have to be blind not to see that. What is happening with you?”

“It’s just a feeling.”

“That’s what you said at the sushi restaurant. It’s become more than that though, hasn’t it?”

Leon didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t bring her in. He couldn’t do it. But the Quixote in his pocket; it wanted to get out. He could feel it asking it of him, insisting in sibilant, sinister tones, ingratiating, requesting it as a favor, to become an irrevocable part of his life, of his salvation, of the one person that could help him tonight. It wanted to become a part of her too, maybe it liked the attention.

“Not on my watch,” he said, and Heather frowned, frustration mounting in her tightened lips.

“I’m going to find out,” she said.

“No you’re not,” he answered.

“I will Leon. One way or another, you’re going to tell me or you’re not coming back to my apartment.”

“Don’t say that.”

“I am saying that, because I can tell that’s just how it’s going to go.”

“No it’s not.”

“I have money now, Leon. I’m not your little bitch any more.”

“You love me.”

“I hate you.”

“Do you want me to say the same thing to you?”

Her eyes widened still further, then she blinked and shook her head.

“I know you don’t love me, Leon. How can you be so cruel? I was going to fuck you silly tonight.”

“What?”

“Don’t say that shit to me.”

“I didn’t mean it.”

“You didn’t mean it? Well guess what, Leon, I want to know about it. And you better well fucking tell me or you’re not getting anything from me ever again and I am dead fucking serious about that. You hear me?”

She was quivering with rage, furious eyes. Something inside of Leon was smiling.

“I hear you.”

“Do you believe me?”

“I believe you.”

“So, that’s where we stand tonight. Tell me. Right. Now! What did you see when those people stopped to look at you?”

Leon reached into his pocket.

“I saw something that wasn’t there.”

“Tell me.”

Okay, Heather, you asked for it, he sighed inwardly, because it felt like a game with her. She was so young. He loved how she’d gamed him tonight.

“Are we done eating?” he asked.

“I’m done.”

“Me too.”

“Tell me what they look like.”

“Okay. But don’t blame me when the consequences bite you on the ass.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Just what it amounts to. I’m telling you. You want to know what they look like? I don’t want to know what affect it will have on you.”

“Affect?”

“Worse than anybody else. Everyone.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Here it is, Heather, I’m showing you, but I feel strong-armed just now.”

“I’ll fuck the fucking shit out of you.”

“Here it is.”

He took the Quixote out of his pocket and placed it in the middle of the table.

“This is what they look like,” he said.

His heart leapt into his throat when his girlfriend reached out and picked it up.

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