Safeway | Oct 11 | 7:35pm
I had a wad of singles as salary advance from Harry after my job interview. Some signing bonus. I wanted the kind of wine I used to collect, classy French stuff or a fancy vintage from Napa, but there I was with no option but to drink whatever was under $10 including tax.
Harry also made me take a charger for the company cell phone and a white plastic key card, like a hotel key or those new Clipper transit cards they’re advertising everywhere. It had a label stuck on it with the word “winston,” the fake name the company gave me.
Drinking wine was never very hardcore of me, but it was something I started buying when we had extra money. It was fun. It made me feel special. I didn’t realize I would need it so bad. There were cheaper ways to get drunk, but it wouldn’t be the same. Too bad I didn’t have a choice.
I got in line with my new best friend, an $8.45 Cabernet. Any change after tax I could give someone even worse off than me.
The line moved. I put the bottle at the end of the conveyor belt. There were two people left between me and mental checkout when I felt a vibration in my pocket.
I was in no rush to read Harry’s text message. I looked at the magazine rack, but it was full of stories about that annoying Twilight couple.
The phone shook again. I pulled it out and read.
Order for Neary. 1 macchiato, extra hot, extra whipped cream. Deliver ASAP.
im not starting yet
Before the phone was even back in my pocket, it shook again.
Go to 3735 Buchanan St.
It would take $2 for the bus, more for a taxi, but I needed that cash for the Cab in my hand.
I shoved the phone down deep in my pocket and looked around for something else to distract me, like wondering if the woman ahead of me was transgender or just tall.
The checker read the receipt without looking. “Good day, Mister Quinn.” The idiots at Safeway had her as a man in their records. She took her receipt, and I was up.
The checker slid the bottle across the scanner, and the total tallied on the screen. “Safeway card?” The phone vibrated again in my pocket.
“No.” I didn’t want a card so they could keep track of everything I bought. I pulled out the wad of singles, but the phone came out with them. I couldn’t help but read.
Go now, or you’re fired.
3735 Buchannan St. | 59 min later
The address was a Starbucks.
When I walked in, someone behind the counter was shouting my new code name. The macchiato was waiting for me. I pulled out the 8 bills I had left.
The Barista shook her head. “It’s prepaid.” Interesting.
Another address came in from Harry. Whatever else this company was up to, the coffee delivery system was well organized.
Casa Way | 17 min later
Nobody answered the bell. The Golden Gate Bridge was right there. How much could I drink for the cost of that view?
I noticed the strange lock on “Neary’s” front door. It opened with a card key. I played enough video games growing up to figure it would match the one given to me earlier. I pulled out the plastic card and pressed it against the lock. The bolt clicked. With one finger, I pushed my way into the abandoned living room.
The furniture looked straight out of a catalog photo, so perfectly clean I wondered if an ass had ever dented those couch cushions. In a crowded city with the highest rents in the country, it figured rich assholes like whoever this was would have too many rooms to use them all.
There was a soft rattling from somewhere. I started to follow it, but then it stopped.
I froze. The house was totally quiet. Then there was a click, and I found the direction of the noise. Halfway down a hallway, one of the rooms spilled light into the hallway. As I went towards it, the rattling started again.
Every room I passed was empty, but when I reached that doorway, I found a fat guy at a desk, barely moving, typing on his computer. He stopped and clicked again.
I knocked on the door. He didn’t react. “Neary?”
I went closer. The walls of the room were covered in evenly spaced printouts of satellite imagery, some of whole cities, some detailed enough to make out the hair color of each person.
I tried again. “You Neary?” His head moved that time. I saw it. But his focus never left the screen. He was scruffy, in a suit of smelly mismatched sweats, but I was nobody to judge based on hygiene. From his figure and posture, the sweats were for comfort, not jogging, and he had been in that chair for a while, maybe days. His eyes had an empty zombie stare.
Now I knew why the message said ASAP. This guy needed coffee an hour ago.
I walked up to the desk. “I’m– ” I started to introduce myself but forgot my new fake name. It didn’t matter. “Uh, Hans sent me.” I wasn’t used to being the talkative one.
Still not looking at me, the front of his throat moved a little, and there was a soft noise. I put the cup down and took a step back, just in case he did anything crazy. Did he need to sign for receipt?
He just kept using the computer, staring, ignoring everything else. The whole thing was kinda fucked up. I let myself out. The door latched itself behind me.
My bus transfer was still good. How drunk could I get for 8 bucks? Where could I go in that neighborhood?
Incoming order for Paulsen. Goto BevMo, 1301 Van Ness Avenue. Await further instructions.
That was better. One stop shopping.