He says GN to everyone who we pass in the hall but we don't see the person from the front desk again. When we get outside, he confesses that he’s glad to be getting out of there early, he was bored to tears grading students papers. We get into a long black car with very low seats. They are soft and in the dark cabin of the car, warm air blows over my arms, warming them for the first time in hours. I feel myself oozing down deeper and deeper into the seat as all my muscles finally relax. The car is playing ambient melodies and I feel hypnotized as we rock back and forth gently with each stop and start of the car. A car honking wakes me up out of my daze and I grab my handheld to send Lime a message.
"I'm in an old dude's car heading into the valley. If I don't message you back in an hour, alert The Punishers."
I was surprised to see her immediate response.
"What's his name and where were you both seen last in on camera?"
Woah she's serious. I just wanted to complain and she has to jump to the worst conclusions.
"Dr. Horus. He works at The Philosophical Research Society in Los Feliz. I was there and another worker there saw us."
I wait, staring at the screen, watching Horus in my peripheral vision. Am I actually suspicious of this guy? "I'm not suspicious of him, it's more just the situation," I specify. I hope she isn't actually worried.
"..and The Valley" she adds.
"I don't actually think I'm in danger. Just joking. Sorry. It wasn't funny. I'm just really tired." As soon as I send the message, I stuff my handheld back into my bag. I don't want to talk about this anymore. I'm fine.
"Are you hungry?" Horus asks suddenly. "We could get dinner on the way."
I look over at him. He seems so innocent and just excited to be doing something out of his usual life. I wonder what his students are like. Are philosophy paper boring to read? It seems like they would be fun to read. Maybe it's the kind of thing that gets spoiled by ammeteurs.
"I ate before I came to the library," I say.
"That's too bad. Do you mind if I get a little something? I'm just famished. And I'd really like to give Lucy some time to get back to me before I show up at Renault's."
"Where did you have in mind?" I ask. I feel like even in this dark car, I can see his spirits rise at the question.
"Well usually I just get soup at Crane's but maybe we could go to... There's this place called Justice, it's got great chicken, you know like chicken meals? But you have to order a lot of food and it always seemed like a waste for just one person."
"As long as you're paying," I try. "And it's not too cold in there. I'm not exactly dressed to be out at night," I hear myself complain.
"Oh! I have a sweater in the back!" he exclaims and starts rummaging around behind his seat without looking, the wheel moving slightly with each reach.
"I'll look for it," I suggest. "You just... keep driving..."
There is a mess of junk behind the seats but I manage to locate a black sweater. It's one of those kind that's open in the front. I try to take a sniff of it without him noticing. It seems clean enough. Probably cleaner than me. I put it on. The sleeves are way too long and bell out at the wrists. All the buttons are still on it. I suppose he has a regular registered job and can afford to buy nice new things and forget about them in a pile of trash. He looks over to me and laughs a little.
"It looks great on you!"
"Thanks," I say, not completely convinced.
Justice is one of those bright glass cubes, and when we walk inside it is, in fact, cold as hell. I button up all the buttons on the sweater and cross my arms over my chest and I stand next to Horus in his black cape. Now that we are in such a well-lit space, I can see burn marks along the bottom edge of the cloak and his shoes are in terrible shape.
"Do you like tubers? I was going to get the full chicken, fries, rice, and what do you think? Beans? Greens?"
"I trust your judgement," I say through a shiver.
"Maybe we should get the greens. I wonder if they are vinegary..." There is a family of 3 sitting at a table just staring at us. I give them a friendly wave and the children wave back but their guardian just looks the other way. I probably look horrible. I tell Horus I'm going to use the restroom.
"Uh huh..." he says, still reading the spinning golden menu. A cartoon chicken holding a sword runs along the wall toward the bathroom door, lighting up the trim of the door in red when it reaches it, then reappears back on the far wall where it started to run back over again.
The door to the bathroom feels strangely heavy. I scoot to a stall without looking at my face yet. I'm not ready. The lights and mirrors in places like this always do cruel things to my face. Does it make people order more food? Probably. I wait for the person in the stall next to me to finish and leave before I come out. Okay. Here we go.
The mirror isn't kind, but I've looked worse. My eyes look dark and my skin is covered in a speckling of I don't know what. Probably dust from the subway. I take off my gloves, goggles, and headphones, and put them all away in my bag and wash my hands and face in the sink. At least the sweater is covering up my chest. I check my messages. Lime wrote me back. I put my handheld back into my bag without reading it. I just can't talk to her right now. I have to focus on getting rid of these books. If I start talking to her again, I'm going to just want to leave and go see her and she may not even want to see me.
I find Horus sitting at a plastic table tapping at his own handheld. There are 3 paper cups on the table.
"I didn't know what you might want so I got you a coke. But then I thought, well maybe you can't drink sugar so I got you an antiCoke too. I'm drinking a regular one because I'm close to death anyway." He laughs.
"Are you?" I say, picking up the antiCoke.
"Yes. I'm reaching my expiration date." He nods seriously. He doesn't seem sad. I wonder if he does know his death date. I've seen advertisements for disposable software that will calculate it for you. It must be expensive or everyone would buy one. I can still hear the vocaloid small print. "You must let Death Date calibrate for 2-4 weeks for accurate results." I always wondered what the range of accuracy was. Does it have to be on the day? On the hour? Just the general season of a specific year?
The side of my paper cup has a graphic of the same chicken holding a sword. The sword shines white as I tilt the cup back and forth.
"Any word from..." I start before Horus interrupts me.
"No! I don't know why everyone is being so slow!"
"Did you just like... ask them if they want an illegal book?" I laughed. Not everyone wants to reply to messages like that.
He narrows his eyebrows at me and then laughs. I can't tell if he is being sarcastic or if he is truly annoyed.
The chicken is delicious. It was roasted in a hot chili glaze and it's flaming red on the outside and juicy and orange on the inside. The bones are delicate and crumble under just a little force.
"How do they cook this? Pressurecrisp?" I ask Horus, my mouth still full of orange chicken grease-covered rice.
"No idea. Well, it's some scientific process that was restricted to restaurant-only cooking because it involves some dangerous chemical process that mutilated consumers in their kitchens. It's one of those things that's perfectly safe for someone who's trained in the process, but people tried to use it out of the box, only having watched the demonstration commercials and then SSSSSS!!!! Dad's missing his face." He laughs. The fuck is wrong with this guy?
"Wow," I say. I'm not sure what else I can say.
"Before your time, I suppose. The whole thing was a huge scandal and so they passed one of those emergency bills banning it, and then about 30 years later, the bill was quietly amended to allow restaurants or you know, trained professionals to use it. But people had forgotten about it so here it is, delicious as the devil's dick and no one knows!" He licks the oil off his fingers before waving his hand around a mostly empty store.
"Well you knew about it," I say. He grins, his teeth glowing yellow. I remember that Spiro said he likes to look in the know, or like he has connections. I'm glad that no one could confuse this for a date. It's too sleazy. Right? I wipe my hands on my hundredth napkin and start drinking the regular coke. "Did you want this?" I say, pointing the straw back at him.
"No, you go ahead, I don't think I could fit another drop of anything inside me." He looks like he really enjoyed himself. Strange that this is the kind of place a philiosophy doctor gets his kicks. What should I say to him?
"Do you ever get the feeling no one enjoys anything anymore?" I ask.
"Absolutely. Half the people I work with don't even want to talk about philosophy. I took that post years ago because I had an mystical experience. It was a new level of consciousness that I hadn't seen described anywhere and I wanted to publish about it but I needed people who were versed in theories of consciousness to bounce ideas off, you know? They all thought I was mad but they would listen and, I think, even grew to enjoy hearing my new, wacky ideas. But then one old post is filled by a new post until suddenly I'm surrounded with people who only want to analyze these old expressions that have been dead for centuries. And it's not even for the love of history, I don't think. It's like an odd obsession. They want to find the secret hidden in the past, not to understand the past, but to illuminate the present. And it's such miserable work..." He throws the last drumstick bone back to the pile of carcass. "So to answer your question, yes."
I pick up the wreckage and throw it all away in the trash bin by the counter. I lean over afterwards to thank the cooks for their risky labor, and that the chicken was the best I had ever had. They just looked at each other and back to me without saying a word. Was Horus lying?
"Feeling better, Sugar?" he says, looking up from his phone.
"Yeah but I feel like there is about 2 gallons of water in my stomach," I say. My mouth still feels oily.
"Well you look better!" he says.
"Did I look like shit before?" I ask, stepping out the door, holding it open for him.
"No! I didn't say that! Just that now you look revived! Ready to take on the night! Fired up with the red hot hen!" He swings his fist up into the air.
"Yeah! Let's go make that CASH money!" I yell.
"Oh yeah, about that. I uh, actually don't have a CASH account anymore. Is there some other way that we could..." he starts.
"Can I just make you one?" I sigh, falling back into the car.
"Ooh! Would you?" he exclaims. "That'd be great!"