This following is a rough draft of a potential chapter in my upcoming novel, Mencken and the Lost Boys. Please excuse any typos. It is currently unedited.
Melp sat next to him on the couch with his mouth open. “That was. I mean, that was incredible. The raw emotion of it. And when Lando turned, I did not see that coming. And Vader is his father? What? I mean, wow. All I can say is, wow.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty great,” Andi said.
“Is there another one?” Melp asked, leaning forward, his mouth still hanging open. “What happens to Han? Does Luke’s hand grow back? And what about that little green guy? Does he come back?”
“There’s another one,” Andi said, laughing at his new friend.
“Well, turn it on,” Melp said, motioning to the television in front of them.
“I’m going to get some more popcorn first. Do you want any?” Andi said, standing and stretching his arms above his head.
“Yes. And more of this,” Melp said, waving his mug in the air.
Andi laughed again as he walked to the kitchen. “It’s called coffee,” he said. “One more cup, and then you’re cut off. I’m nervous you might explode from all the caffeine.”
Andi’s house was a nine-foot wide, two-story row home. On the first floor was a small living with a couch, coffee table, and TV that led into a small kitchen, followed by a laundry room and a bathroom. Upstairs was a larger bathroom and bedroom. It was modest and simple, perfect for a Slake trying to hide out. Andi liked the neighborhood because the neighbors changed out routinely, which meant he could live there as long as he wanted without explaining why he didn’t age.
“The Council of Malacandria would never allow the great poets to tell such stories,” Melp said, leaning back. “Rebellion. Brotherhood. Battle. Such passion.”
Andi returned to the room carrying a white carafe filled with steaming coffee. Melp held out his mug and Andi filled it with the dark liquid.
“And I see what you mean about the finality of death,” Melp said. “Everything is so heightened.”
Andi put a fresh bag of popcorn in the microwave and pressed a button that brought the machine to life. “When you have limited time, everything matters. Even the smallest conversation.”
“Ugh,” Melp said shaking his head. “I can’t tell you how many pointless routines I’ve transcribed. Day after day, Slakes, and Mardocks, and Conculous all lining up to make me transcribe the events of their week.” Melp set his coffee down so he was free to use his hands. In a low voice, imitating the gravely sound of a Mardock, “This week I had breakfast every morning. Then I examined the roads for cracks. Then I examined the wall. I found no cracks this week because it is a good wall.” Returning to his normal voice, Melp threw himself back on the couch, “I wish I could die so I wouldn’t have to listen to them.”
“I bet the Sinciputs have interesting things to say,” Andi said. “It would at least be entertaining to try and decipher all the grandstanding.”
“They never come to the library. They think we’re too stupid to understand their work, you know, because there aren’t any Sinciput librarians.”
“Interesting,” Andi said, taking the bag out of the microwave. Gently pulling the back open, releasing the steam from the popcorn, he asked, “Who do you think took your shifts?”
“Probably Pollio,” Melp said as he sipped his coffee. “He was my direct subordinate. No doubt they gave my responsibilities to him, probably temporarily though. I made them think Balamak and Bose were kidnapping me.” Melp nodded with pride in this accomplishment.
“Why?” Andi asked.
“In case, when I got outside the city wall, I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to face the punishment if I decided to go back,” Melp said.
“Smart,” Andi said. “So, who took my job?”
“What was your number?” Melp asked.
“Disposal agent 187,” Andi called over his shoulder as he emptied the back of popcorn into a large bowl.
“They divided your sector between 186 and 188,” Melp said.
“Good,” Andi said returning to the couch. “Those guys were the worst.” Putting the bowl between them, Andi grabbed the remote from the coffee table. “Now, I need to warn you in advance, part three is my favorite, so I’m going to need you to remain quiet throughout the entire film.”
Melp stuffed his mouth with popcorn and took a swig of coffee to wash it down. “I make no promises,” he said.
But before Andi could press play, the doorbell rang.
“Is it the Gracanjo?” Melp said, staring at the door.
Andi laughed as he stood and moved toward the door. “If Jose knew you were in here, he wouldn’t ring the doorbell. It’s probably Balamack.”
“I don’t think so,” Melp said. “He said it would take him all day to find this Lefty person.”
Andi pulled the door open and smiled at the two young men standing in front of him. The first was thin with a goatee and thick black glasses. The second was taller, muscular, and stocky.
“Hello, sir,” the one with glasses said. His voice was crisp and deliberate. “Are you Mr. Andi Tichus who used to work at the Hopkins Theoretical Physics Lab?”
“Oh,” Andi said with surprise. “Um, now isn’t really a good time.”
“I’m so sorry to surprise you like this. All we had was an address,” the young man said. “My name is Amar. This is my friend Simon,” he said motioning to the young man standing in the back. “I’m Dr. Walker’s son. We just need a minute or two of your time.”
Andi sighed and looked back at Melp who was shaking his head and motioning “no” with his hands. Turning back to the men at the door he said, “Come on in.”
Andi led them to the kitchen table. He was surprised to see the stronger one walking with a limp. “Coffee?” he asked.
“No, thank you,” Amar said. “We will just take a few minutes.”
Andi and Melp both took seats at the table. Amar and Simon followed their lead and joined them.
“Well,” Andi said. “I was just the janitor. I don’t know what you could possibly want to ask me, but, I owe your dad a lot. He was a great boss. He gave me the job even though I didn’t have the right paperwork. I was struggling with, um, immigration issues at the time, but your dad didn’t care. And even though I was just there to clean up, when he was there after hours, he would talk to me about everything they were working on, not that I understood a word of it. How is Dr. Walker doing, by the way? Is he still at Hopkins?”
“Um, no,” Amar said, looking at the floor.
“He’s been sick recently,” Simon said.
“Oh,” Andi said. “That’s a shame. Like I said, he treated me well.” He paused to sip his coffee. “So what can I do for Doctor Walker’s son?”
“I wanted to ask you about this,” Amar said as he pulled an old photo from his back pocket. He placed the picture on the table so both Andi and Melp could see it. The photo was of a small black box with decorative scrolling on all the edges.
“Oh my, that’s the,” Melp began to say before he was interrupted by Andi.
“That’s a beautiful box,” Andi finished Melp’s sentence. Under the table, he dug his foot into Melp’s. Melp winced in pain.
“Do you know it?” Simon asked Melp.
“Um, no,” Melp lied. “It’s just very, um,”
“Decorative,” Andi finished.
“So you never saw this box in the lab?” Amar asked.
“Um, well,” Andi said, picking up the picture to study it more closely. “I mean, maybe.” He put the picture down and pushed it back to Amar. The young man was watching him closely. “I didn’t really understand most of what went on there,” Andi said. “Why are you looking for this thing?”
“Sentimental reasons,” Amar said. Andi felt as if the young man’s eyes were looking into his soul. “It was important to my father, but it went missing after the lab closed.”
“Well,” Andi said, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms. “I’m sorry, but I don’t know anything about it. I didn’t understand most of what happened in that place. I just took out the trash, you know. Janitor stuff.”
“Huh,” Amar said. “You sure don’t remember anything about it?”
“No,” Andi said. “Can’t say I do.”
“Well,” Amar said, standing. “Thank you for your time. I appreciate you giving us a moment.”
“Sure,” Andi said, standing. “Sorry I couldn’t be of more help.”
Andi led Amar and Simon back to the front door. Opening it for them, he said, “Thank you for coming by. I’m sorry I didn’t know anything.”
“Thank you for having us,” Amar said as he followed Simon out of the house.”
“Just curious,” Andi said. “Why’d you come to me about it?”
“We’re talking to everybody that worked at the lab,” Simon said.
“Oh,” said Andi.
“You’re the first one to have no recollection of the box though,” Simon said with a smile.
“Really?” Andi said.
“Most say it haunts them. It’s the thing of nightmares,” Amar said.
“Well,” Andi said, gripping the door. “Like I said, I there was a lot of stuff in that lab I didn’t understand, and I was just the janitor.”
“That’s what you said,” Simon said.
Amar nodded graciously and concluded the conversation by saying, “Thank you for your time.”
Andi watched them walk away before he closed the door. Wiping his brow, he took a seat on the couch, breathed deeply, and closed his eyes.
Standing in front of him, Melp said, “That was the Tinker’s box.”
“Yes,” Andi said, his eyes still closed. “Yes it was.”
“And you have it,” Melp said with an accusing tone.
Andi looked at Melp and nodded. “Yes, I do. And you can never tell Balamack.”