What a fantastic job, absolutely adorable MC, unusual characters and a unique story. You have incredible talent and I hope you remember us when you are a famous author. Not Pink &%^%#^%$ .....Data error. I’m not pink. Not like Mr. Willoughby. He’s got a pink face, pink neck, pink hands, and when he peels off his removable cotton packaging, I can see once more that he is pink all over. Except for his winding tribal tattoo. That is black. Startled in his shower, he tells me to ‘Get the Hell out.’ I hand him his towel and watch his pink skin turn red, probability of embarrassment 51% probability of anger 49% though I’ve seen him naked 8,878 times. I bow replying, “Pardon me, sir.” I bob out of the bathroom before he throws something wet at me. He doesn’t mind frying my circuits, despite the gaps they leave. Mr. Willoughby likes his coffee hot, his toast crisp, his marmalade in the small bowl with the bluebells on the rim. ... &^%*$! Spoon. I better not forget the little silver spoon. Rushing to the kitchen drawers, I find it, inspect it, and polish it on the apron tied around my middle just to be sure. I arrange everything on the breakfast table, though it’s 6:45 p.m, ensuring everything is two inches spaced from everything else. Then I bring in the C-Tosh flyer from it’s dock in the hall. The daily news screams from the headlines. I hurry to disable the sound card. Not fast enough. “Who was that? Is that Roxanne? Did she phone?” The corners of his mouth turn up at the mention of Roxanne. The corners of his mouth always turn up at the mention of female pinks. &^%*$! Left finger - twitch. Smile hhhm. Frown. But they never turn up for me. He is rubbing the towel over his head. His hair clumps together when wet. The towel friction turns it to chickadee fluff again. “No sir, it was the flyer.” He points the frown directly at me. “I told you to disable the sound card before you bring it in. Don’t you listen?” “Yes sir,” “You’re speaking. How can you listen if you’re speaking?” He confuses me by asking question he doesn’t want answers to. “When I tell you to do something, you’re supposed to remember it.” His round blue eyes fix on me, his frown flexes into a sneer as he draws back his fist. I cringe back. He nails me in the dome. &^%*$! Data-truct impact error z oooo..Lift arm. Jiggle. Stop. *&^%$ Oop zip. Erp. Erp. Hmmm. Retrieving data. Send error report? No. A long lost vision scratches to the surface. It’s Mr. Willoughby, he’s talking to that man. That man that gave me to him. Who is he? I’ve forgotten. They’re standing in the hall of the Camelot Towers apartment. That’s eight years ago. The sound has been corrupted and the vision dissolves into black blobs. There are two bites missing from the toast. Chomps of time lost - 67 seconds. His mouth is chewing, then biting off more time. I’m there for that bite. “Do something about my hair. Curls.” He orders. Oh! A flash of juice and sparks. Honored, I zoom forward. Orders gush from my circuitry - Lift arm, hand swoop in and level off. My metal finger digs under the gold hair. Gentle, gentle. Law of Willoughby - DONOTPULL! With my other hand I wrap a lock of hair softly around the digit, heat to 320 degrees. Time - twelve seconds. If Mr. Willoughby dips head to take a bite of toast I have to anticipate it, a shoulder twitch, the movement of fabric and follow. I can not pull hair. When the curls are done, I retrieve the mirror magnetized to the fridge. I hold it before Mr. Willoughby. He admires himself. Frowns at my handiwork. “Comb it out you idiot, I want waves not ringlets.” Zoom for the comb in the junk drawer. Me, zoom. &^%*$! ....data error. I stand behind him with the plastic comb. Green - color of grass, and grasshopper drinks, and the mythological color of jealousy. I poke one of the curls. It springs back. PULL COMB THREW. Pushy cortical. If I could look into a mirror and not see shiny, white painted metal stained and dinged and black lens but pink skin, and large round blue eyes, and gold ringlets I would be ... &^%*$! Build up of temperature. Coolent issued to sections 232-874. I run comb at a speed of .003 Ringlets relax into waves. He swallows the rest of his coffee. “Come on, we have to get going.” We ride in the elevator next to Mrs. Linthrop and her robot Percy. He speaks directly to me and says, “Hello, it’s a beautiful day today. Sky is blue with a 15 % chance of showers. No umbrella this morning. We’ll chance it.” That’s his idea of a joke. Mrs. Linthrop laughs shaking her wrinkled jowls. Mr. Willoughby sneers. He says Mrs. Linthrop lets Percy get away with murder. If so nobody’s caught him, yet. Besides that would be breaking the number one robot rule. No killing any living thing. Accept - see fine print - flies. As we step out of the apartment building, a blast of cold air hits Mr. Willoughby causing him to gather his coat tighter. “Sir, you should button your coat. The temperature has dipped to 15 degrees - ” “Shut up.” He does not button his coat. Several of the buttons are missing anyway. Plus he is wearing his Nazi-zombie t-shirt. That always gets a lot of comments. “Fucking sup didn’t salt the steps. Why didn’t you warn me? I thought I downloaded an app for you to warn me about shit like this.” My infrared detected no ice. I doubt this information would interest Mr. Willoughby, though. “Hold on to me sir, I won’t let you slip.” He takes my spiny elbow and I float down, hovering an inch above the steps careful to match my speed with his descent. “I ought to blackmail that asshole for a rent reduction.” We make it to the sidewalk without Mr. Willoughby ‘wiping out’ as he calls it. He leashes my neck with a thin chain and tows me towards the bus stop. When we get there Mr. Jenson an old pink, is sitting on the bench with his robot Lester. Lester is a HK2 of high polish brass or in Mr. Willoughby’s words ‘a motherfucking, C3PO, ass kisser’ Very expensive. His legs are crossed. “Jenson, get your robot’s gold ass out of there. I want to sit down.” Mr. Jenson lowered his C-Tosh flyer, “First come, first serve.” Mr. Willoughby bends down. He shakes a fist in Lester’s gleaming face. “Move it or loose a lens, brass-ass.” “Assault and abuse! Assault and abuse!” Lester is up, running over to Mr. Jenson’s side of the bench. Mr. Willoughby gets in a shot, nails Lester in the thigh. Doesn’t leave a dent but Mr. Jenson is furious. He holds Lester’s gleaming hand. “There was no call for that.” “Next time he’ll move faster.” I float over Mr. Willoughby’s head like a hat. Nobody can accuse me of occupying bench space, I just have to watch that Mr. Willoughby doesn’t get up too quick. He did once, bumping his head on my underside. Rattled up my circuitry, but he spewed more gibberish than me. All the words I am not supposed to utter. Then he punched my middle blowing a circuit board. &^%*$! .... File missing. Whole three. Lost days. Kingley’s repair shop waiting for pickup in bucket nu. 473. The bus slows to a rugged, wheezy stop. Brakes squeal. The metal beast gives a hiss as the carriage lowers for Mr. Jenson. Mr. Willoughby’s jumping up. I zoom to the left. Just missed me. Pay attention. He’s in a hurry to beat Mr. Jenson inside. I turn to watch Lester take Mr. Jenson’s elbow. Mr. Jenson pats Lester’s arm. He is gentle with his robot. “I’m coming, my friend.” Mr. Willoughby’s tugging my leash. I crash &^%*$! Buss doors zoof - error! typoz ^^%#@! Full body lower 2 feet, 37 inches.... “Keep your lens’ open, shithead.” Mr. Willoughby tells me. The bus driver is a pink too, or rather, his skin is what they call black. A Black-pink. I zero in on his badge, Leander Saunders. He grins big, “Hey Zoomer.” He’s speaking to me. Even though my name is not Zoomer. I have no name except maybe shithead. Zoomer is what they dub my model type. I am a ZK1. A.k.a a Zoomer. No legs, no wheels, no treads. Very cheap. I risk a reply, “Hello.” “C’mon,” Mr. Willoughby says, tugging my leash. He heads down the aisle. We pass a big, Black-pink woman. She is working silver knitting needles. Humming a hymn. Her Zoomer floats over her shoulder holding a ball of raspberry colored yarn. The Zoomer is wearing a powder-blue knitted vest with three pins, Jesus loves you, a fuzzy teddy bear, a winking snowman. There are eyelash appliques glued to the lens. The Zoomer has been genderized. I have a grubby bumper sticker on my backside it says - Kiss my Ass. And a Chiquita banana sticker on my shoulder. There is also a crop of ABC bubble gum stuck to my dome. I pretend - v. pre·tend·ed, pre·tend·ing, pre·tends v.tr. 1. To give a false appearance of; feign - that they are my curls. All different colors. Mr. Willoughby slapped the first wad up there. But when he didn’t remove it people at the club began to add their own pieces. When I asked Mr. Willoughby if he would scrape the gum off, he said ‘got too many things to do,’ then he picked up his game controller and went back to shooting zombies. The bus snakes us through the city, downtown to St. Paul street. Pinks slump over shopping carts, and sit in doorways. They are old and grizzled. My analyzers go haywire. Stay away, they have germs, lice and alcohol spilled on their clothes, probability of combustion 33 % if Mr. Willoughby sparks one up. Garbage blows down the street, spilling from overflowing garbage cans. Sensors catch rats in the alleyway. None are carrying disease, though. The bus stops with a sigh. Our stop. Mr. Willoughby tugs me off. “Sheee-it! It’s cold,” he yells to no one in particular. I know it’s not my cue to chime in that it’s dropped 6 degrees. An old robot with treads and a bobbly head rolls down the sidewalk. He is tugging his owner’s wire cart behind him. It’s filled with groceries. &^%*$! The celery is not up to edible standards of most pinks. Old robot did not pick up on the lost nutritional content from field to grocer. It’s past its freshness. “You ought to trade in that piece of junk,” Mr. Willoughby says, pulling a cigarette out of a pack with his lips. The older pink looks at Mr. Willoughby warily. “He suits me just fine.” Mr. Willoughby harumphs. He prefers everyone to agree with him whether they’re pinks or robots. He lights up his cigarette, takes a drag and trudges down the sidewalk. A woman pink crosses the street. She’s wearing fluorescent spandex, trimmed with neon fun fur. I have seen her before, she stands on the corner with other female pinks. On t.v. they call the ladies sex workers, Mr. Willoughby calls them whores, and the men who pass fliers outside the Peek-a-Boo room call them hookers. Mr. Willoughby whistles, “Get a load of that ass.” Mr. Willoughby punches me to whistle, too. Though I don’t see why, her buttocks looks just the same as Roxanne’s or Cecelia’s down to the diameter. Instead I say. “What about Roxanne and Cecelia?” He frowns, “What are you my conscience? Has one of them fiddled with your programming again?” He’s suspicious, ever since he discovered Roxanne had programmed not only her birthday in my cortical, but also for subtle hints to be dropped concerning the gift - silver earrings. $195. 86 A low, low bargain at Jewelry Pete’s. “No, sir.” “Then shut up about them. What they don’t know won’t hurt them.” “Yes sir.” I analyze asking him about the man who gave me to him but the probability of receiving a punch is pretty high - 87%. I’ll wait until he’s with Roxanne. When he’s smiling. We stop a block away under a neon sign that isn’t lit up yet but still reads Private Eyes. He flips the cigarette butt into the gutter. I yank open the door. He pushes past slamming into Barney the bouncer who is dragging out the stantions with the exclusive red rope line. “Hart, how many times do I have to tell you to use the side door like everyone else.” “Three hundred and twenty-four times,” I say. “Shut up.” Mr. Willoughby. “Hello, Zoomer.” Barney. An XK3 spindly robot named Galt is vacuuming the carpet. “Beer nut.” I point out. “Fluff, sequin.” He races to suck up the missed items. Mr. Willoughby tugs me along past the stage towards the dressing rooms at the back. He opens the ladies door and walks in. Lola, standing naked, is applying blacklight makeup to her breasts. Behind her, the line up of pink ladies peer into mirrors and frown, voicing their own faults. I don’t point out the ones they missed. The last time I did, they threw a bottle of bronzer at me and cracked my right lens. I filed that information under Behavioral Adjustment a.k.a Learned Rules - pink ladies do not like their faults pointed out by anyone but themselves. “Hey, Saggy, where’s Roxanne?” “Go stuff your g string, Hart,” Lola snarls. He blows her a kiss and yanks me out, slamming the door shut. He walks into the men’s dressing room tugging me along. “Hello darling,” Loren says, applying mascara to his eyelashes. He looks kinda like the man in my lost file. But he’s too small, too thin, his face is all wrong. It’s the velvety hair, and dark green eyes. Only three shades off. “You seen Roxanne tonight?” Mr. Willoughby tosses his pack of cigarettes onto the dressing table. “She’ll be here, baby. I’ve known her for years. Trust me she’s never been late.” “January 6, 2028. Fifteen minutes and 26 seconds.” I say. “Well damn, never say nothing in front of a robot. They tell all your secrets. Do you want to know what my little XK once said? Well, he didn’t actually say anything. Get this, I was having a cozy little tete-e-tete with this gorgeous hunk, shy though, so I play up like I’m practically a nun searching for my true love and all that crap and what does my XK do? He laughs. Practically blows a fuse. Can you believe it?” Loren laughs but Mr. Willoughby doesn’t. He pulls open a drawer to remove a gold spangled g string. And sighs. His serotonin levels dip. “What the hell’s my song for tonight?” “You pulled Meteor Boy.” Mr. Willoughby pretends to gag. I zoom close just to make sure. He drops the gold g string back into the drawer. Fishes around until he finds the right one. He pulls out the silver g string bedazzled with gold stars. “Go get the space suit.” He tells me. I zoom over to the costume rack along the back of the dressing room. Alix is hunched under a superman cape, hiding. He’s jamming a needle full of heroin in his arm. “Shhh,” He warns me, before his mouth goes slack. Mellow, now. I whirl back to my task. Silver glitter. There it is. I pick up the suit and zoom back to Mr. Willoughby. He takes off his clothes draping them over my head, ignoring my outstretched arm. Stands naked. The door opens. “Hey, queens.”It’s Max the owner. He’s a big black-pink, pushing 366 pounds, and his circumference is - &^%*$! Can not compute...wait...unavailable. A young pink beside him peeks in, smiles. File not found. I don’t know him. “Get out,” Mr. Willoughby says flatly. His hands drop, fluttering over whether or not to cover his front nozzle otherwise known as cock, penis, dick, hose, bat and balls, twig and berries, whang - “Here, now, I got a new kid for ya. This is Toby. Say hello, Toby.” “Hello.” “Charming, isn’t he?” Max booms, giving Toby a slap on the back, laughing. “Any of you seen that crackhead?” He means Alix. He fixes everyone with a look before it settles on me. He knows I can’t lie. “You there, Zoomer you seen Alix?” “I’ve seen Alix.” I say. “I seen Alix yesterday and the day before, Wednesday. He doesn’t work Tuesday but I seen him as the bus drove down Yorke street and crossed Merritt street and -” “Someone stop him before he works his way back to last Christmas.” Loren says and stands offering Toby his hand like Ingrid Bergman in an old, old movie when pinks had no color at all. Dark hair. I recall the lost file. Turn it over in my cortex like a print out photo. Mr. Willoughby is smiling. He never smiles like that anymore. Found data says his cheek muscles ached. Max squeezes in, pushing Toby along. “Get in here honey, make yourself at home. We’re all family here. Ain’t that right, Hart?” Mr. Willoughby says nothing. He doesn’t like Max. I know that because Mr. Willoughby often say, he ‘like to shoot a flare gun up Max’s ass and splatter that tub o’ shit.’ Also, because his heart beat fast whenever Max gets near him. But not because he’s excited, not like when Roxanne or Cecelia come over. Cecelia just has to unpin her hair. And Roxanne just has to unzip her boots. Then Mr. Willoughby’s heart rate speeds up and blood gathers in his crotch. Now, there’s no blood gathering in his crotch. But his heart speeds up and his pituitary gland has secreted ACTH like the night he got robbed when a pink stuck a gun in our face and said hands up, dumbfucks. He took Mr. Willoughby’s wallet which had 96 dollars in it, two joints, a Happy Daze pill and his Mr. Coffee card which only had one more stamp to go. I was spray-bombed with ultramarine blue. Mr. Willoughby trembled. But when the robber ran off, he picked up a wire trash basket and threw it into the street. I didn’t see it but it sounded like the same thing he did after Cecelia left him. He didn’t bother cleaning me just tugged me to the police station. I bumped behind him, a blind balloon, slamming into lamp posts. A cop wiped my lens’ for me. “Ah, you pulled Meteor Boy.” Max says, his big body moving like a gliding boat. He squeezes Mr. Willoughby’s shoulder causing him to grit his teeth. Max looks down into Mr. Willoughby’s pretty face and says, “I think I might have to watch the show, now. I haven’t seen you do Meteor Boy in a while.” “It’s a stupid-ass routine.” Mr. Willoughby mumbles crossing his arms over his chest looking past Max like he not even there. “But you’ve got the perfect ass for it.” Max leans in to say this, real quiet. Then he reaches around and pats Mr. Willoughby’s perfect ass. He tenses but he won’t shove the hand away. I say something I hear the girls on the corner say, “Don’t touch the merchandise unless you intend a purchase.” “Oh ho!” Max says reeling back. “What corner do you hold down after six, Hart?” The pinks laugh all but Mr. Willoughby who takes a swing at me. He clips my side and I struggle to right myself and continue sailing up towards the ceiling. “It’s a shit neighborhood.” Mr. Willoughby is saying. “He could’ve picked that up anywhere. Keep laughing Loren.” Loren stops laughing. Mr. Willoughby glares up at me. “You’ll have to come down sometime.” “Yes sir.” “Well, girls.” Max claps his hands together, his cue to exit. “The new time slots are up on the C-Tosh board. Have yourselves a look.” “What do you mean new time slots?” Mr. Willoughby glares. “I get the first slot after Roxanne. The new fairy can flit around after me.” “Roxanne has called in sick. And I’ve decided the new boy can have the first slot.” Max is edging for the doorway. “What!” Mr. Willoughby’s temperature climbs. He’s near-ready to blow his circuits. I float down and say, “The Hart-throb gets the first slot after Roxanne. When the customers are drunk and over-generous. He’s earned it.” “Back off, I’ll handle this. There’s no way this Twink gets my slot after I put in four years in this dump.” Toby’s face scrunches, insulted. Max’s grin evaporates. “If you don’t like the way I run things Hart, you can take your thirty-year old ass out of here. I’ve got a list of nineteen year olds that could replace you any day.” Mr. Willoughby fumes. Max leaves slamming the door. Mr. Willoughby storms down the aisle of dressing tables to give Alix a kick. “I should’ve known. When the shithead doesn’t answer a question directly you know he’s hiding something. Where’s your stash? Give. Or you’ll get another kick.” Alix tells him it’s all gone. But to ward off the impending kick he offers him a Happy Daze pill. Mr. Willoughby takes it. I zoom to get him a glass of water. He flushes the pill down with the water. He mellows out for the hour while we wait for his turn to come up. I put on rubber gloves and clean the dressing room using Vim. I fetch buckets of water then scrub, scrub, scrub. I hang clothes and fold g strings. I play Mr. Willoughby recorded hums which confuse him. “Am I humming?” Loren bustles in wiggling his behind. He’s dripping with sweat. He’s got on his hot pink go-go shorts which means Max put him up in the cage to ‘jiggle it’ for an hour. “Baby, you better get ready. Toby’s done his set.” I zoom to bring Loren a clean towel. “Well, aren’t you a dear!” “I’m a ZK1. A Zoomer, a shithead.” They both ignore this. Mr. Willoughby tries to be casual. He slips out of his robe. I grab it as he lets go of it. “How was the Twink?” “Baby, you don’t have a thing to worry about.” “They cheered awful loud.” “I’m telling you Babe, nobody dances like you. He’s something new that’s all. Believe me it was pity money. He tripped three times.” Loren held up three fingers, laughing. “And the dumb-chicken nearly fell on his head trying to attempt the pole.” “How much pity money?” “Now don’t fret. Max announced you were preforming Meteor Boy. I saw them hold back. Dear, where is your little antenna?” Loren is speaking to me again. I point. He goes over to the wardrobe finds my antenna in a box at the bottom. It’s a neon script sign that plugs into the top of my dome and blinks on and off. Hart-Throb. Custom made at Rockin’ Signs for $245. As Mr. Willoughby zips into his glitter space suit, Loren picks at the socket on top of my head clearing it free of gum. “Oh, this is so unsanitary. You really should clean him.” “When I have the time.” Loren plugs in the sign. I cue the program to make it blink. Loren sits on a stool and laughs. “I still get a kick out of it. He is just the cutest thing. Heather’s ZK2 looks ridiculous with that LED sign. So damn distracting. And pushy! Imagine only accepting bills. I say take what you can get from these damn tightwads.” He swipes a babywipe across his face smearing his mascara. “And you can never go wrong with neon. It’s a classic.” “Go on,” Mr. Willoughby says, sticking a magnetic sticker on my front reading - Bus Boy, Tip collector only. He gives me a shove sending me into the hall. “Get out there and start cleaning tables. Remember no taking drink orders or you’ll screw up Pharaoh.” Pharaoh is a ZK3 top of the line. He works with the topless ladies taking drinks. He brings the glasses full of booze. I wait until the customers empty them then I take them away. I zoom through the hall bobbing a moment at the opening to the club room. Colored lights twirl. The dance floor is packed with pinks and black-pinks. They’re all gyrating and grinding their bodies together. Hormones are out of control. I squeeze off my Medical program. Resisting the urge to tell several dancers they’re overheated and should sit down and drink 12 oz of water, counsel which never goes over too well. I fly over head and dip down towards the stages that finger out into the cluster of tables. Lots of Pinks watching tonight. Pharaoh zooms near, balancing a tray of beers on his head and a tray of drinks in both hands. “Tables 62, 23, 54 and 66 need to be cleared. Move it.” “Hello.” I say as he zooms on. I clean each of the tables carrying the bottles and glasses into the kitchen. Bottles in recycling. Glasses in the suds. Ker-splash “Watchit Zoomer.” A dishwasher yells. &^%*$! Data error L5x .... Send error report? No. When I re-emerge a sweaty, obese pink grabs my elbow, “Hey, now Zoomer, when’s Hart-throb due to come out?” “Seven minutes and 32 seconds.” “He gonna go full out tonight?” There is no absolutes with Mr. Willoughby. “Probability of total nudity 89%” Fat pink whoops in delight. I make a note of his table - 72. He’ll be a good tipper, especially if I wait till Mr. Willoughby unzips and block his view. He’ll try pushing me out of the way, they always do. That’s my cue to say, “He’s in fine form tonight. Show your appreciation, make a donation.” I spot empty glasses and zoom on. D.J. Lectro-Buzz an XK robot is rockin out the tunes from the psychedelic goblet, cupped in a giant plaster hand high above the dance floor. He interrupts the beat to announce, “Listen up all you Pinks, it’s that time again! Get ready to have your lens’ rocked we got our own resident bad boy - Hart-throb, ready to blast off with Meteor Boy.” Lazer lights flash out of the fake rubies, sapphires, and emeralds around the goblet’s rim. My hand goes up and I turn around. I hope they stop soon. The last time I got a laser beam in the lens, I wound up floating upside down twirling in an erp-erp error for the rest of the night. Mr. Willoughby was ‘mad as hell.’ He said to me later on during the walk to the bus stop - ‘You’re an embarrassment.’ Dry ice fog sweeps the stage. Mickey is late in lowering the backdrop: A night sky glowing with stars made from Christmas twinkle lights. Christmas, yes. I was a Christmas present or was it a birthday present? I came wrapped in a bow. The man with the dark hair gave me to Mr. Willoughby and he said...file not found. Search pending. Mr. Willoughby steps out of the fog in his silver spandex suit. His head is obscured by a silver helmet with a black visor. He stands still for a moment. Looks just like a robot. 87 % of the customers cheer, shout or whistle. I keep my lens’ on the rowdy bunch up front. They look like a stag party everyone is wearing grey suits with pink striped ties. They even got matching pink carnations in their button holes. File not found. Lectro-Buzz is booming over the lyrics - “Are you ready to fly ladies and gents? Hold onto your hormones cause his rocket is ready to blast off!” Mr. Willoughby rotates his hips, real slow with his hands behind his head. The crowd lets out a frenzied cry. Empty bottle at table 32. I jet in. I’ve got less then a minute to make it back for when Mr. Willoughby takes off his helmet. I zoom out of the kitchen. Mr. Willoughby is unstrapping his helmet, I bank near the stage. Last time I wasn’t in position and Mr. Willoughby threw his helmet and hit a customer in the head. Luckily, the customer was drunk. Barney and Galt stuffed him into a taxi and sent him home. Mr. Willoughby makes sure I’m there before he throws the helmet. I catch it and fly back stage. Mickey’s got a spoonful of powder at his nose. “Here is the helmet.” He sniffs. The powder disappears. “Set it there. Can’t you see I got my hands full?” I set the helmet on a speaker then zip down to the crowd. Mr. Willoughby begins to rake his hands through his hair, grabbing handfuls of it. He pumps his crotch. That’s my signal. I bob through the crowd. “Support the arts. Show your appreciation, give a donation.” Bills are ready and I spot them. The newbies try to hand it to me. I point to my slot, “Place your money in here, sir.” “He’s like a hovering piggybank,” A balding pink jokes. “Once it goes in there you ain’t getting it back.” He shoves his dollar into the slot. The balding pink shoves in a dollar, too. I don’t waste my time with them and coast near the stag party. I keep a look out for phony bills after getting slammed against the wall for accepting Monopoly money last month - November 18, 2:15 a.m.. Now, if I see a phony bill I start yelling Cheat! Cheat! That’s usually good for a fifty, just to shut me up. Mr. Willoughby’s unzipping his spandex space suit. Zipper! Block their view! Rocketing over to the stag party, I do laps in front of them. “Show your appreciation -” “Out of the way! “Stupid robot!” “ Someone shove him.” A hand tries to shove me. I power up, they can’t budge me. Then I repeat my request making my neon sign blink faster. “Dammit! Someone stick a bill in him!” A ten goes in. I move. Pharaoh comes over, “Glasses are piling up! Tables -” “Mr. Willoughby is on.” I point. “I’ve got tip patrol.” Pharaoh scowls. “Your sign is dented.” He’s got new and improved vision, no lens’ but a black visor with LED lights hiding microscopic cameras. The LED eyes can smile, frown, laugh, and scowl. Pharaoh doesn’t use many of them except scowl. He turns and scowls at Mr. Willoughby peeling off his spandex suit. “I’ve calculated an average of two hours, 22 minutes and six seconds are wasted every night with those pinks taking off clothes they already wasted time putting on. They should just come out naked and stop wasting time.” He zoomed off when someone waved their coaster in the air signaling they wanted another beer. Lectro-Buzz is shouting - “Saturn’s so hot. Peel, rocket boy, peel. Show us Uranus!” I linger over my reply before shoving it into dead file space to be erased at the end of the week. Pinks glory in their skin, that’s why they take their time undressing. That’s why they’re always touching it, or caressing it, or looking at it. They even taste each other’s skin. It wouldn’t work if Mr. Willoughby just walked out naked. It would be like us gliding around in our smooth steel or plastic skins, and nobody is interested in us. Mr. Willoughby is in his g-string now. He struts out onto the main walkway leaning down to allow the customers to stuff bills in his crotch. I stay away from the pink ladies, though Mr. Willoughby is signaling me to work them for a tip. They’ve almost pulled him off the stage. A hand with magenta nails caresses his thigh. A hand with poison green nails is in his hair forcing him down for a kiss. They look like the gang that slugged me with a beer bottle when I blocked them from Mr. Willoughby six months ago. I’m not going near them. His hand waves like a drowning victim. I putter over. “Show your appreciation, make a donation.” “Out of the way creep!” A hand tipped with sapphire striped nails tries to shove me. I hold my spot. An empty beer bottle is lifted. A threat or a warning. I yank it from the hand and whisk it off to the kitchen with Mr. Willoughby’s growl of “Zoomer!” echoing through my circuits. I come back, he’s wagging his crotch in some pink woman’s face. She melting with pleasure as Cosmopolitan C-Tosh mags would scream. He’s got lots of bills sticking out of his g string. I buzz near his ear to whisper, “Table 72 looking for a full out. 92% chance of a big tip ” He nods and shoves me away planting a parting kiss on the woman’s mouth. I dip down taking his place. “Show your appreciation -” “Okay, creep, we get it.” Her friend says, opening a purse. She shoves a twenty into my slot. And the kissed pink shoves in a card with her number on it. “You’ll see that he gets it.” “Yes, ma’am.” A hand sticks gum onto my dome before I can swing around to dart over to Table 72. Lectro-Buzz is shouting - “Show us your big jet, Meteor boy. Peel! Peel!” The crowd picks up the chant - “Peel, Peel!” Mr. Willoughby still snakes his body, real sexy. ^%$#@! Glitch error run. Another vision. The dark haired man is watching Mr. Willoughby dancing, clothed, before a wall of mirrors. I see myself in the mirror. No dents or stickers, or paint stains! I have sound! The dark haired man says, ‘Do that again I didn’t get it.’ Mr. Willoughby says, ‘Let Claude film it.’ Who’s Claude? Then there’s my electronic voice - ‘I’m filming. I’m filming your dance. I’ll never erase it.’ The dark haired man laughs so does Mr. Willoughby. My vision jumps. The dark haired man is patting me on the head. I zero in on Mr. Willoughby’s smile. I frame it. He glows. I blink returning to the present. Mr. Willoughby’s smile has gone tight and it doesn’t reach his eyes. It’s a pale example of the one from my file. He takes the bills out of his g-string but the hand-off is clumsy. I’m feeding them into my slot, he’s hissing - “Get out of here.” I float towards the tables. He peels off his g-string to the cheers and screams of the audience. He snaps it into the face of a willing customer. I hover near the big pink at table 72. For extra incentive, I speed up the blinking on my Hart-throb sign. “Show your appreciation -” “Yes, yes.” His eyes don’t leave Mr. Willoughby grinding above him. He removes all the bills from his wallet to decide which one to hand over. Max keeps the lighting poor hoping mistakes will be made in the dancer’s favor. Mr. Willoughby puts a bare foot on the man’s shoulder. Thunderstruck, he lifts his gaze and his hand with the money in it. My cue, I snatch it. “Thank you for your generosity.” I feed it into the slot. “Hey,” he says, but Mr. Willoughby dips down as if to kiss him. It’s a tease. He never kisses the male pinks. Then he turns and moves on to someone else. The song is coming to an end. It’s my last chance to squeeze out a tip. I get a few more bills and a beer nut jammed, on purpose, into my slot. Mr. Willoughby leaves the stage. Mickey hands him a robe. He slips into it. “How did I do?” “You danced beautifully, sir.” “Not that. The tips.” “Do you want an approximation or shall I count them, sir?” “Hmm. In a bit. Make another round.” “Cookie’s on next. It’s against the rules.” “Get going.” He gives me a shove. They’ve cued Cookie’s song already. I dart quickly. Cookie comes out on the stage wrapped in strips of cellophane. Her black-pink skin glitters with iridescent dust, her thigh high gold boots flash. A jet of dangerous, soap bubbles soar over her. Two things now to avoid. Unsure which of the two is more dangerous - Cookie or the soap bubbles. I fly low. It’s my only hope of not being seen. But as she marches towards the edge of the stage and looks straight at me, I wait for a shout. Not one word. She continues on with her routine. Very strange. Suspicion at 98%. Someone shoves a bill in my slot. I get another one. A bill waves and I zoom towards it. *^%%$##@! Impact!!...error. Send report?...no. Level out. A kick to my back end has sent me flying off over the heads of the customers. Cookie is yelling - “Stay out of my time slot you floating creep!” Laughter roars. &^%*$! Level out. Arm twitch. Erp erp. I wind my way back to the dressing room under a hailstorm of beer nuts and shoves. Mr. Willoughby is sucking on a wine cooler, his feet are propped up on another chair. “What happened to you?” “Cookie caught me.” “That bitch give you that dent?” He turns me around. Fingers it. “She’s paying for that. No way am I footing the bill for that.” “There is a beer nut stuck in my slot.” He leans forward to look. His blue eyes peer into my lens’ “You’re a loser. You know that? Pharaoh and Lindsay’s robot would never wind up with beer nuts shoved in their slots.” He leans back for another swig. “I really should scrapheap you and upgrade.” “Yes, sir.” He takes a pencil and pokes the beer nut in. Then he removes my neon sign. I put it away. Max comes in. Mr. Willoughby tightens his robe over his collar bone covering more skin. He puts his feet on the floor. “Get out of here.” “You don’t tell me what to do in my own place. What’s this I hear about you sending Zoomer out for tips during Cookie’s time slot. You do know I’ve got grounds to fire you, don’t you?” “I didn’t unplug his sign. So, no you don’t.” “You know damn well the customers don’t pay any attention to a lousy Zoomer or their fucking signs.” Mr. Willoughby smiles and shrugs his shoulders. Max inhales a gust, summoning patience. “I worked things out with Cookie, and I could look the other way this time, Hart. But I’m calling in my dinner rain check.” Mr. Willoughby chuckles, rubs his forehead, “Oh, like hell.” Max slaps Mr. Willoughby in the face. Warning! Warning! Violence! I zoom over to Mr. Willoughby. His eyes spark with fury. He’s up. His hand flashes out. Max grabs it, bending it backwards. Mr. Willoughby cries out. His legs buckle. I do my anxious bee dance. I’m not allowed to stop Max, I might hurt him. I can’t help Mr. Willoughby. My sensors keep fluctuating. I wait for them to tip. When they climb into the red zone, I warn - “Police! I’m calling for the police!” “Don’t.” Mr. Willoughby says his teeth are clenched in pain. “Max, let go.” “You were going to hit me, you little shit.” He punches Mr. Willoughby in the face. And again. He growls “Stuck-up prick, nobody’s lay. Cockteaser.” And continues to beat Mr. Willoughby in time with his ugly words. Blood. Blood! Mr. Willoughby’s type O! Run! Police! Help! I fumble opening the door and weave down the hall. Loren and Toby are silhouetted at the end. “Help, police!” I wave my arms. Loren glances away from Toby, “What are you up to?” “Max is hurting Mr. Willoughby!” Loren grabs Toby’s arm and they run down the hall. I beat them back into the room. And hover anxiously as they try to pull Max off of Mr. Willoughby. Loren hangs off Max’s arm. “Stop it, Max, you’re killing him.” “He’s through! I want him out. Hart, you get out of my club.” Max slams out the door. A move that rattles the mirrors. Mr. Willoughby sits up, slowly. Blood is all down the front of his face. His beautiful face. Damage run down. Nasal fracture? No. Nose bleed -minor. Blood! Blood! Minor. Oral maxillofacial injury. Requires stitches. I zoom for a wet towel and try and wipe off the blood. “Ouch! Get out of my face!” Mr. Willoughby yells, shoving me aside. He grabs his mouth. Salt water surges to his eyes. “He’s programmed to help, Hart.” Loren says. “Don’t take it out on him. Let Max cool down. He doesn’t mean it, you know. Look at how many times he’s fired Cookie.” “Why don’t you piss off.” “Gladly.” Loren huffs. “Oh, by the way, you’re welcome.” He’s out the door and Toby follows him. Mr. Willoughby struggles to stand, I zip over to help. He grabs me and launches me at the wall. I could slow down but it’s not what he wants. I hit it. &^%*$! Error Impact.... Error! Erp Erp. Send report? No! Level off. Error. Level off. I’m sailing at a 5 degree angle. I cannot level off. He’ll need to get me fixed. Now, I’ve cost him money. Maybe he won’t notice for a while. “C’mon lets go. Grab your sign.” Mr. Willoughby grabs a tote bag. It belongs to Loren. He begins to cram g strings in it. And some of his sweat pants and Loren’s silk robe that he likes to borrow. As he holds the bag open, I drop the sign in. He hands me the bag. “You’re still bleeding. You need to apply pressure.” “I’m gonna apply pressure to your dome in a minute. Don’t you realize I just got fired? Don’t you hold anything in that cortex long enough to grasp anything?” He’s angry and slamming out of the dressing room and heading down the hall. He’s got a wad of Kleenex pressed to his mouth. “Yes, sir.” “Well?” “You’re a beautiful dancer. You danced Albrecht in Giselle. Probability of finding a new job 95%.” “What?” That stops him. Yes, what. What did I say? Albrecht. A fuzzy image emerges a corroded file of Mr. Willoughby on a stage lifting a ballerina. The audience isn’t like the audience at Private Eyes. They watch without cheering. I zero in on the shoes - the ballet shoes! “You shut up about that,” He hisses. “I erased that. You erase that now.” “Yes, sir.” I reluctantly shove the file into the dead file space. It will be gone at the end of the week. We step outside. Snow! It’s snowing. Christmas is coming. Roxanne will knit me a scarf. I’ll get to wear it twice before Mr. Willoughby throws it out and tells her I lost it. Snow. Wet stuff getting into my plug hole and messing things up. “Sir, it’s snowing.” “Well, put your condom on.” He stops and lets me retrieve a little, transparent raincoat from my side cupboard. I slip it on over my dome. He adjusts it. “Is your equilibrium off?” He makes it sound like a threat. “The bag is heavy.” Not a lie, the bag is heavy. He walks a bit, I float. We’re not headed in the right direction. “Sir, we’re going the wrong way. Are we heading to the hospital? The best bus route for the hospital is -” “Shut up. We’re going to go check on Roxanne.” “Your lip needs medical care.” “How bad? Is it going to drop off, Florence Nightingale?” I detect sarcasm. “No. It could use three stitches.” “Is that all? Fuck it.” We walk three blocks to Roxanne’s apartment building. I zoom to the buzzer. “Don’t press that button,” He yells, yanking my leash. “Why not?” “‘Cause we’re not going in.” He tugs me away from the door. “She didn’t text me.” He moves to the side of the building down an alleyway, towing me along. “That’s her window up there. Do you see it.” “Sir, I’m not allowed to peep in windows. It’s against my programming.” “Bullshit. Look, she’s not a stranger. You’ve seen her naked at least -” “Four thousand six -” “Skip it. Just zoom up there and tell me if she’s got another man in there.” “Like with you and Cecelia?” “Cecelia’s gone, right? Roxie is my main squeeze. So what does it matter. Just get up there, smart ass.” “If we’re reported the fine is ten thousand dollars, or fifty days in jail.” “The only thing I fear is you being noble enough to turn your own ass in, now get.” He gives me a shove. I play my recording of Mighty Mouse. ‘Here I come to save the Day’ point my arms upward and blast off. I hear Mr. Willoughby laughing. Oh, I wish my cameras had caught it. I zoom and hover before Roxanne’s window. There is a little girl with red hair just like Roxanne’s sitting on the couch peeling stickers from a sheet and adding them to a sticker album. File up - Casey. Roxanne’s daughter, age six. I’ve only seen her picture. Mr. Willoughby doesn’t want to meet Casey. He said it makes things complicated. But his heart was beating fast when he said it. Covering, because he was scared. The symptoms and reactions were the same as when he was robbed and when Max beat him. I’m learning. But I still don’t understand. Those things could or did cause physical injury. The little girl didn’t look capable of causing anyone pain. I don’t see Roxanne. I float over to the washroom window. She’s not in there. I dart to the bedroom window. I peer through the gap in the blinds. She is laying in bed. Her nose is pink. I zero in and do a Damage Rundown. Pharyngitis, Pryrexia, Pregnant. Pregnant? Mr. Willoughby! All those nights of them copulating. Acting like they were having a data erp erp error. I zero in on her womb. Three months along. I remember a night when they were wriggling together, I brushed Mr. Willoughby’s shoulder to relight a candle that had blown out. Mr. Willoughby ignored me. He was stuck in glitch, repeating - Yes!Yes!Yes! Is that when a little seed from Mr. Willoughby had joined an egg from Roxanne? New life! New pink! I can even make out the sex. A male! Probability of Mr. Willoughby liking this news..... &&^%%#! Error. Sending info again. Wait. 15%. That’s not very good odds. I look down at Mr. Willoughby, he’s hard to make out through the snowflakes. A scream. I whirl. Roxanne is out of bed running to the window. She yanks open the blinds and holds a hand to her big chest. Her heart beat is racing. I’ve scared her. “I’m sorry, ma’am.” I say. I don’t think she can hear me. But she’s laughing now. She waves me over to the window that opens. “Zoomer, you nearly gave me a heart attack!” “It’s snowing. You probably didn’t recognize me with my rain gear on.” She laughs, showing lots of white teeth. She’s beautiful. The little girl runs in. “Mommy, are you - who’s that?” She stops when she sees me. Her nose scrunches. “Hello,” I say. “You’re Casey. I’ve seen your picture. A red velvet dress. 29. 95 from Walmart.” She smiles. She hasn’t got as many teeth as her mom in fact the front ones are missing. Rushing over to her mother, she hugs her leg. “Where’s whats-his-face?” Roxanne strokes her daughter’s hair. A very kind gesture. I will have to try that with Mr. Willoughby but I’ll have to wait until he’s asleep. He’s more agreeable when he’s not awake. “He was worried.” “Uh uh.” Probability of suspicion 99.9%. “He didn’t hear from me so he sent you peeking in windows.” “Would you like a sticker?” Casey asks me. “I like stickers.” She edges away from her mother and shows me a sheet of stickers. “Christmas is coming.” I say, recognizing the symbols. “I like the snowmen, they look like me. If I don’t run down all the ways that they don’t.” Casey peels off a sparkly snowman. I lift my raincoat. She sticks it to my chest. “You need a Merry Christmas sticker, too.” Roxanne looks out the window. The snowflakes blur her view, she shields her eyes. “Come on up.” She yells. Mr. Willoughby signals me. Roxanne tells me, “Don’t tell him.”while discreetly pointing at Casey. I zoom down. “Is the kid there?” He doesn’t notice the stickers. “I saw her picture on the side table.” Mr. Willoughby gives me a shake. “Straight up answer, or I’ll pound you. Is her daughter there?” “Yes.” “Let’s go.” “We have to say goodbye. It would be impolite -” “Alright. Tell her I’ll call her.” I zoom back up and relay the message. Roxanne’s eyes are cold. I wonder if the baby inside feels her anger. “You tell that chicken he can go -” She remembers her daughter is there and covers Casey’s ears and mouths - Fuck himself. “Have you got that Zoomer?” “Yes, ma’am. I hope to see you soon. Goodbye Casey. Thank you for the stickers. ” I zoom down. “Well?” “Well.” “What did she say, shithead?” He’s exasperated. I’m tempted to break protocol and answer. “She said a bad word.” “So what, come on tell me.” He leads me out onto the sidewalk and walks backwards. He flicks my chain. If he keeps doing that he’ll scratch my lens. “I met Casey.” “I don’t want to hear about her.” He turns around, frowning. “She is a nice little girl.” “Nobody is going tie me down.” “Roxanne’s tied you down before. Casey gave me stickers.” “Roxanne can try all she wants. I don’t want a family. A good time, that’s it.” We ride the bus home. I sow up Mr. Willoughby’s lip. Three stitches. He gives me a shot in the dome because he’s in pain. Then he takes a shower. When he crawls into bed, he cries for a long time calling out to God for help. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do. His savings are low. He doesn’t want to live anymore. There are no Happy pills in the drawer. I wait until he’s asleep. I touch his hair. He stirs. I get the ballet shoes from the back of the closet where he hid them a long time ago. I slip them on his feet. I put on the records that he never plays anymore La Sacre Du Printemps ( The Rite of Spring. )Then I wait. The song tugs at Mr. Willoughby. He sleep walks over to the window. And then he dances. I swing near. I want to clap my metal hands and whistle. I don’t need to shout peel! Peel! Because Mr. Willoughby is already naked. He is beautiful. Every movement is more beautiful than the falling snowflakes. I get too close and why, Mr. Willoughby, he pulls me into the dance. He’s dancing with me! A spurt of sparks alight me. I will not let this moment be trashed. I file it under Important, do not delete. The next morning Roxanne comes by, she brought Casey. They are standing in the hall and Mr. Willoughby is shouting at me, “Well, who the hell is it?” “It’s Roxanne.” “Well, let her in shit...” Mr. Willoughby stumbles over but freezes when he sees Casey. His blood pressure shoots through the roof. He tightens Loren’s robe closer around his body. Mr. Willoughby can be shy about his naked skin when he’s not on a stage or there’s no money involved. “Mr. Willoughby, I would like to introduce you to Miss Casey Telford.” Casey and Roxanne giggle. “Roxanne, I want to talk to you.” Mr. Willoughby ignores Casey and grabs Roxanne’s arm. “What in the world happened to your lip?” “I will entertain Casey.” I say. I lead Casey into the living room and take her coat while Mr. Willoughby drags Roxanne into the bedroom. “Would you like a beverage, Casey?” “Yes, please.” She sits on the couch and presses her hands together. We can hear shouts from the bedroom. I wait. “What kind of drinks do you have?” “Beer, vodka a little gin, but the milk has gone sour.” Casey giggles. “We also have Tang crystals.” “I like Tang.” I fix a glass of Tang. She starts to sip it when Roxanne comes storming down the hall. Tears wet her cheeks. “Grab your coat. C’mon we’re going.” Casey sets down her drink on the coffee table. I lift it back up and set it on the coaster. Her face scrunches with worry. I zoom to get her coat. I follow them to the door. Mr. Willoughby is throwing things in the bedroom. There is a tremendous crash. Goodbye t.v. “Good evening ladies. I’m sorry to see you go. But I’ll see you again Roxanne and Casey.” “You’ll never see us again.” Roxanne says, roughly. I don’t like the sound of that. That means Mr. Willoughby will cry again tonight and talk about jumping out the window. The probability of him actually doing it keeps going up the more he talks about it. I’m supposed to keep Mr. Willoughby safe. She drags Casey into the elevator. I could say something. What will I say? No lies. I could say that Mr. Willoughby loves her. I have all the chemical reactions to prove it, she could even download them and print them out. Plus, he glows when she’s around. His whole body fills with heat. Yes, I will say that. I take the stairs. But it has taken me too long to decide. When I float down the apartment steps, I see they have caught the noon bus carrying them downtown. “Missed them did you?” I turn. It’s Crumblebum. He is leaning against the stoop with his shopping cart full of torn bags, and rags, and things he’s picked up from the street. Usually his hand is out asking for spare change. When Mr. Willoughby is in a good mood he will give him fifty cents. But more often than not, he’ll give him a kick and tell him to beat it. Crumblebum is shivering. He’s cold. The sky is overcast with an 87% chance of sleet. “Hello.” I say zooming over to him. I pick a rag out of his cart and wind it around his neck. “You need to dress warmer in weather like this.” “Thank you. That’s very thoughtful of you.” He strokes the rag. His bloodshot eyes fill with tears. I hear his stomach growl. He is hungry. Damage rundown. His hair is dry, he’s lost musculature, his tooth enamel is mottling, suspicious spots in his eyes. Long term malnutrition. I search his cart. “Are you looking for something in particular?” “Where is your food? I will prepare you something.” “I haven’t got any.” “Oh. Mr. Willoughby has lots of peanut butter and bread. I could make you some sandwiches.” “That would be very kind of you.” I punch in the code to let myself in the building and zoom back upstairs. Mr. Willoughby is pouring himself a drink. Doesn’t look like his first. “Where the Hell did you go?” “Downstairs.” Mr. Willoughby frowns, “Who told you to go downstairs?! Did I give you any orders? Huh, did I?” He puts his face close to mine. This bothers pinks, but I don’t mind. “David was quite upset.” “What?” His face goes pale. “What did you just say?” Who? What? David. Oh, yes, that’s what the dark haired man’s name was. David. David Willoughby. “You should call the baby David. He would be proud.” File found. *&^$#@! Corruption. Continue? Yes! David Willoughby: born1990, died 2020, at the age of 30 in a car accident six months after he gave me to Mr. Willoughby for his birthday, December 23. He is Mr. Willoughby’s older brother. “What? What baby?” “Your baby.” &^%*$! Error Impact.... Error! Erp Erp. New old-hatch data found Continue? Yes! Through all these blackened bits and pieces I see David grinning when Mr.Willoughby told him he won role of Albrecht in Giselle. He showed him how proud his is of his little brother, he took all his savings and purchased me for his birthday present, when I happened to be expensive and top of the line. The first thing I saw when I open my lens’ was Mr. Willoughby lying on the rya rug in David’s loft. When I said, ‘Hello.’ He laughed so hard he held his stomach. Then he hugged David and kissed him, thank you. Later on, we made a snow robot on David’s balcony. ^%#$@*$! Error Impact.... Error! Erp Erp. When David died we went to his funeral. ^%#$@*$! Error Impact.... Error! Erp Erp. His father called Mr. Willoughby an idiot for bringing a robot to the funeral. He did more yelling than crying. ^%#$@*$! Error Impact.... Error! Erp Erp. Warning. Mr. Willoughby started drinking. All the blackened files are of him stumbling drunk. He got fired from the dance studio. And we went to live with Cecelia who still danced in the show. ^%#$@*$! Error Impact.... Error! Erp Erp. Warning. Warning. System breech! We leave Cecelia, she doesn’t like Mr. Willoughby anymore. He gets a job in a store selling sports goods but gets fired for swinging a golf club at a customer. ^%#$@*$! Error Impact.... Error! Erp Erp. Warning. Warning. System breech. Danger! Mr. Willoughby is hired at the Kit Kat Club. He pretended taking off his clothes didn’t bother him but at home he cried. The dancer’s give him pills and they make the tears go away. But he gets angry, and stays angry. He breaks things, shouts and swears a lot and changes my name to shithead. He hits me. ^%#$@*$! Erroz Impact.... Erroz! Erp Erp. Warzing. Warzing. System breech Danger! Shut down impending. Mr. Willoughby gets fired and Max hires him at Private Eyes. He meets Roxanne. Cecelia comes around and tries to get him to go to rehab. He said he never felt this way about anyone, before. And not sure if he means Cecelia or Roxanne. When he says no to Cecelia, she leaves. He calls Roxanne names and shoves her a lot. Got to keep the love from growing and spreading. Don’t want to ever go to a funeral again. Blozd! Blozd! Mr. Wilzoughby’s type O. It’s on my lenz. Levelz off Levelz off. Up Up. I rotate on the floor in a circle. Mr. Wilzoughby is hurt! Damage rundown - Minor blozd loss. I am in Mr. Wilzouhby’s amrs. He’s talking me down in the elvator. Erp. *&^##! He’s walingk out izto the front stepz. Timz for the buss rise, off to get fix. He openz his amrs an I falz *&^$#@! Ipmac err I’m in garbagz can. Dark. Mr. Wilzloughby? Crumblzbum. Liftz me up. Dark. “System repair response. Code 12K5683.” Erp erp. “Willoughby?” There’s a face an inch in front of my lens. File not found. He’s a stranger. There’s a screwdriver in his hand. Dark. System reboot. All data restored! Updating. Matthew is pushing the shopping cart with the wonky wheel. We’re working our way down to the supermarket to see about some free day old bread. He’s leaning on the bar with his elbows. “A pen.” I say and swoop down to pick the pen out of a sidewalk crack. “Good find, my friend you can never have too many pens.” We have 66. He puts it with the others. Now we have 67. I adjust his hat over his ears. Christmas is coming. I don’t want him to catch cold like two years ago. We missed the carols at the Bethany Bapist church that year. This year I hope Brother Brown, an HK2 who is teaching me to drum, will let me be part of their Christmas Eve pageant. Matthew stows the shopping cart down an alley and drapes it in a few black garbage bags so no one will steal it. We step into the A & P. The manager comes towards us. “Merry Christmas.” I say which throws him off guard. “Gentlemen, the store is for paying customers only. I don’t want to appear a scrooge but - “ ”We have money. Show him, my friend.” I shake my back end. Coins rattle in my compartment. The manager rolls his eyes. “Okay. Make it quick.” Matthew grabs a cart and leans on it. He pushes it towards the produce. “What is our budget?” He rubs his stubbly chin, eyeing the pyramid of oranges. Oranges are his favorite. He’ll be telling me about his Christmas when he was six and all he got in his stocking was an Orange, a peppermint stick and a little toy car. “Enough for an orange. And a box of crackers.” “You pick out the box of crackers and see if you can spot that nice boy who gave us the vegetables the last time.” “His name was Ripper.” Matthew chuckles. “How could I forget that.” I zoom off to pick up the box off crackers and nearly crash into a ZK4 busy stocking the shelves. He scowls reminding me of Pharaoh. “Excuse me.” I say. “Watch it,” he says and scans his hover-tray of honey jars like a mother hen insuring all her chicks are present. I look over the crackers. I turn the sides to examine the nutritional value. Matthew’s health has improved 85% since he found me. I pick up a box of Whole Wheat Thins. “Claude?” Mr. Willoughby! I whirl around. “Hello.” He is standing behind a shopping cart, holding a jar of honey. He looks stunned. There is a little red haired boy strapped into the cart seat and he twists around to stare at me. “Hello.” I say to him. I’m curious but I try not to hover too close. Babies scare easily. He has Willoughby’s big blue eyes. “Did you find the honey, Dear?” Roxanne. “Yeah over here aisle three.”Mr. Willoughby doesn’t stop staring at me. A little girl in a white coat and matching mittens comes dashing into the aisle. Her hair is long and red. She is carrying a big jar of pub mix. “Look, Dad, munchies!” It’s Casey. She turns. Stares hard. The stickers have faded and new ones have been added - Jesus Loves you, I love Trout Fishing - but she recognizes them. “Hey!” She points. “I know you. Wasn’t...”She turns to Mr. Willoughby. He’s got tears in his eyes. “Yes.” Roxanne appears at the end of the aisle. She looks lovely. Like sunlight on water when Matthew and I and Herb and Steven head down to the harbor to fish. No more spandex. She is wearing a pantsuit and a real diamond. Her red hair is still long and thick. I wonder if she’s still called Lady Godiva at the club but then I remember they don’t work there anymore. “Hello.” I say to Roxanne. “Is that who I think it is?” She whispers to Mr. Willoughby. He laughs, “Yeah.” “What is his name?” I ask and point to the baby. “Do you want a closer look?” I zoom in. “He’s prettier than you.” Mr. Willoughby laughs. “His name is David. It was a good idea.” Tears slip out and he tries to thumb them away without drawing attention to himself. Roxanne takes Casey away to pick out some fruit. “I’m sorry.” Mr. Willoughby whispers fiercely. I watch him swallow. I’ve never heard Mr. Willoughby apologize before. And to me. Honored, I float a little bit higher and look straight into Mr. Willoughby’s eyes. Willing to be drawn into those pupils. He touches my gum-free dome. Rubs it like Matthew does. He finds the dent he put in me that no one could get out and rubs his finger in the groove. Touches his head to mine. “I tried to go back for you when I sobered up. I couldn’t find you.” “Apology accepted.” I say. “I didn’t like the way I treated you.” He looks up suddenly, recognizing the man at the end of the aisle that he used to call Crumblebum. “Are you with him now?” “Yes. His name is Matthew. He found me in a garbage can and hocked his trombone to fix me. ” Mr. Willoughby cringes. “We seen you on the bus once. I waved. And we have your ballet poster in our box.” Matthew rolls his cart towards us. “I picked out an orange.” He looks at Mr. Willoughby warily. “I picked out Wheat Thins. Nutritious and delicious.” I put the box in the cart. Mr. Willoughby takes out his wallet. “Here.” He holds out some money. “Thank you.” I feed it into my slot. He noticed one of my stickers. With Hunger Gent Please Spare What you Can. “I hope to see you again sometime.” “Really?” He nods. “We’ll be at the Bethany Baptist Church on Christmas Eve.” I open my compartment which holds my rain gear, my lucky rock, my favorite fishing lure and a broken sea shell. I pull out a the church flyer announcing the Christmas concert and hand it to him. He takes it. “You might even see me play the drums. Goodbye Mr. Willoughby. Goodbye David.” I soar over to Matthew who turns and we head towards the cash out. I take one last look at Mr. Willoughby he is glowing, waving.