Eastern Standard Tribe – Day 22 of 64

“Mom took me home and screamed herself raw, and I played it all very contrite, then walked over to the minimall so that I could buy some saline solution for my eyes, which were still as red as stoplights. We never spoke of it again, and on my sixteenth birthday, Mom gave me the keys to a Veddic Series 8, and the first thing I did was download new firmware for the antitheft transponder that killed it. Two months later, it was stolen. I haven’t driven a Sony since.”

Linda smiles and then purses her lips. “Unrehearsed enough?”

Art shakes his head. “Wow. What a story.”

“Do you want to kiss me now?” Linda says, conversationally.

“I believe I do,” Art says, and he does.

Linda pulls the back of his head to hers with one arm, and with the other, she half-shrugs out of her robe. Art pulls his shirt up to his armpits, feels the scorching softness of her chest on his, and groans. His erection grinds into her mons through his Jockey shorts, and he groans again as she sucks his tongue into her mouth and masticates it just shy of hard enough to hurt.

She breaks off and reaches down for the waistband of his Jockeys and his whole body arches in anticipation.

Then his comm rings.


“Fuck!” Art says, just as Linda says, “Shit!” and they both snort a laugh. Linda pulls his hand to her nipple again and Art shivers, sighs, and reaches for his comm, which won’t stop ringing.

“It’s me,” Fede says.

“Jesus, Fede. What is it?”

“What is it? Art, you haven’t been to the office for more than four hours in a week. It’s going on noon, and you still aren’t here.” Fede’s voice is hot and unreasoning.

Art feels his own temper rise in response. Where the hell did Fede get off, anyway? “So fucking what, Fede? I don’t actually work for you, you know. I’ve been taking care of stuff offsite.”

“Oh, sure. Art, if you get in trouble, I’ll get in trouble, and you know exactly what I mean.”

“I’m not in trouble, Fede. I’m taking the day off—why don’t you call me tomorrow?”

“What the hell does that mean? You can’t just ‘take the day off.’ I wrote the goddamned procedure. You have to fill in the form and get it signed by your supervisor. It needs to be documented. Are you trying to undermine me?”

“You are so goddamned paranoid, Federico. I got mugged last night, all right? I’ve been in a police station for the past eighteen hours straight. I am going to take a shower and I am going to take a nap and I am going to get a massage, and I am not going into the office and I am not going to fill in any forms. This is not about you.”

Fede pauses for a moment, and Art senses him marshalling his bad temper for another salvo. “I don’t give a shit, Art. If you’re not coming into the office, you tell me, you hear? The VP of HR is going berserk, and I know exactly what it’s about. He is on to us, you hear me? Every day that you’re away and I’m covering for your ass, he gets more and more certain. If you keep this shit up, we’re both dead.”

“Hey, fuck you, Fede.” Art is surprised to hear the words coming out of his mouth, but once they’re out, he decides to go with them. “You can indulge your paranoid fantasies to your heart’s content, but don’t drag me into them. I got mugged last night. I had a near-fatal car crash a week ago. If the VP of HR wants to find out why I haven’t been in the office, he can send me an email and I’ll tell him exactly what’s going on, and if he doesn’t like it, he can toss my goddamned salad. But I don’t report to you. If you want to have a discussion, you call me and act like a human goddamned being. Tomorrow. Good-bye, Fede.” Art rings the comm off and snarls at it, then switches it off, switches off the emergency override, and briefly considers tossing it out the goddamned window onto the precious English paving stones below. Instead, he hurls it into the soft cushions of the sofa.

He turns back to Linda and makes a conscious effort to wipe the snarl off his face. He ratchets a smile onto his lips. “Sorry, sorry. Last time, I swear.” He crawls over to her on all fours. She’s pulled her robe tight around her, and he slides a finger under the collar and slides it aside and darts in for a kiss on the hollow of her collarbone. She shies away and drops her cheek to her shoulder, shielding the affected area.

“I’m not—” she starts. “The moment’s passed, OK? Why don’t we just cuddle, OK?”

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