The words “Made in Tuehltipec” called to mind manufacturing centers in savage cities built on pyramids of human sacrifice.
“Made in Tuehltipec”.
Leon would swear that the words hadn’t been there before, printed on the donkey’s underbelly. He could not have been so dunderheaded as to have missed them.
“Leon!” Stuart appeared in his office doorway. “Want to grab lunch?”
“Yeah that sounds all right.”
Stuart eyed him at length:
“Meet you at the elevators in five,” he said and vanished, and Leon’s mind felt murky as he closed his laptop, locked his office door behind him, therewith a breach of security as had happened with the Quixote would not happen twice, though he was beginning to believe that the thing had materialized out of the aether.
Stuart and the others were already gathered at the elevator waiting for him, and it was all Leon could do to wait with them for the bell and the light, because he was not feeling like himself today and he worried that they all would start talking about the Quixote, eventually, just like Heather did, before he’d seen it. He worried that he was losing his mind.
They descended to the lobby as they did every day.
They ordered from the Sandwich Company and they ate their sandwiches in the outdoor garden again, overlooking Montgomery Street, around them clicking tourist cameras and honks of taxis and urban butterflies flitting through the air, and Stuart said to Leon:
“I think I have a lead on your mystery object.”
Leon checked, but the others weren’t listening.
“First off, we need a metal works. A factory that makes figurines.”
“Well it wouldn’t be too hard to come up with a list of such factories. Places…”
“Stu, I appreciate your input, but I really don’t need your help.”
“Oh come on, Leo.”
“I don’t need your help. In fact I don’t even want it.”
“Your mystery knight, Leon?” asked William, who had been listening after all.
“Yes, my mystery! I don’t need any of you interfering with it.” Leon felt his voice had become shrill. He flushed in embarrassment, but it was too late, he was already spinning in the wrong direction.
“He’s going right off the deep end that one,” William murmured.
“Look, don’t you have anything else to talk about?” he asked. “It’s not like it’s bothering any of you guys.”
“Jeez Louise. A guy tries to do somebody a favor…”
“You’re just no fun at all, are you?” smiled Vanessa.
“Accounts? Sales reports?” Leon continued. “What about the 49ers? Huh? The Giants winning the NCS? How about that? Anything else at all.”
“A wild card team if I ever saw one,” grumbled Stuart.
“It’s just that I don’t understand why you all care so much if it isn’t a big deal like you keep saying.”
“If it’s not a big deal then why don’t you let us help you?” asked William.
“He’s worried that I’ll figure it out before he does,” Stuart explained.
“Let me take a look at it when we get back,” said William.
“No!” Leon shouted. “No one sees it any more! Got it? Game over.”
But it didn’t stop there. The conversation continued around him without including him. Indeed, Leon seemed to have only made matters worse.
Sandwiches finished, the group crumpled their wax paper wrappers and tossed them into a garbage can on the way out of the garden. Through the indoor mall on Montgomery Street, and down the street back to the office Leon was the odd man out again, his losing streak continued. But what else could he do? He couldn’t just let all of them, every one of them, smear their dirty paws all over his possession. In its strange ridiculousness it needed to be protected.
But everybody knows that if you are to gauge the social hierarchy of a workplace, there is no better time than lunch time, when the truest reflections of the pecking orders are laid out in humiliating detail. The eccentrics eat alone, the office flirts are handled with careful disgust. Leon was becoming something of the former, that is, the office pet. His careless humor had abandoned him.
As he returned to his office and Mathilda smiled winningly at him, he reflected that he had to get his game back, and he knew that the place to look first was the Quixote, the very cause of his problems.
He would look at the Quixote until it blinded him. He would follow his latest clue. He would look for Tuehltipec.