Chapter 22 — Fun
Harriet spent the next few hours studying the turnpike plaza. There were cameras everywhere and conspicuous panels lined the ceiling in open areas. There must be turrets indoors too.
She went room to room, taking a mental inventory of each one’s location. If she couldn’t cut the power she’d have to hack into them. Knowing each one’s location would be the first step to making that happen.
“You must be hungry.” A voice spoke from behind her.
She kept calm. It only made sense for Julius to watch over her. He waited next to the burger counter, wearing a paper hat, apron and a nametag with ‘Gary’ printed on it.
‘Gary glanced around and spoke covertly. “I know you don’t have money, but I can look the other way if you need food.”
“Oh? Whatcha got?”
He waved to the board behind him. “Everything on the menu.”
Harriet hadn’t seen a fast food menu for a long time and the idea of ordering a burger sounded amazing– but she decided to play it safe. “Ah, well… I’m a vegan,” she lied. “So maybe you just have a salad?”
“Excellent choice. Everything is fresh. It’s too bad you can’t try the special. We just got a fresh supply in.” Julius turned around and opened a nearby cooler. “Vegan huh, so no cheese? I’ll need to go in the back to make a new one. I have vinaigrette, will that do?”
“Yeah, that’ll work. You mind if I get a drink too?”
“Frank is on his break. Feel free to help yourself to whatever you want. I trust you.” Julius left through the back door.
Yeah, then disable the damn turrets so we can get the hell out of here.
Harriet paced over to the gift shop and plucked a juice and a bottled soda from the cooler. She had a plan. With the drinks in hand, she returned to the food counter.
Julius returned holding a bowl of fresh cut greens. True to his word, it looked great– far better than typical fast food. He spotted the drinks, peered down at them and gave her a confused look. “I didn’t think Vegans usually drank soda.”
She pulled a loose lock of hair behind her ear. “It’s not for me. I was thinking… we can’t just let the guy starve. It’s been weeks since we’ve had anything decent and maybe… that’s why he went crazy.”
Julius pursed his lips together. “Everything he’s done, and you still want to help him?”
“W-well. It’s not ALL bad. I mean he was pretty gentle with me. Don’t tell him I said so, he’d get a fat head. Before everything went to hell, I didn’t really have anyone… so in a twisted sort of way he did me a favor.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Julius said, slamming a hand on the counter. “He’s just conditioned you to not hate him. I read about this in a novel– err… on my breaks I mean.”
Cause I’m sure you have plenty of free time.
“But if you want to give him something, I won’t complain. Did you want to bring him food too?”
“I dunno… maybe some fries? I don’t want to spoil him too much.”
“Fine,” Julius said. “I’ll need a bit for that. The oil isn’t hot. Go ahead and take him the soda for now.”
“Thank you.” Harriet covered Julius’ hand and gave it a squeeze. “I know it’s unreasonable. I’ll think of some way to repay you.”
“No need.” Frank yanked away his hand. “I uh… I’m not into women.”
The look on his face betrayed that.
“Frank might want some company, though,” he said out of the corner of his mouth. “Be careful, though, he’s a regular pig.”
“Is that so?” Harriet said, putting the salad and drinks on a tray. “Thanks for the warning.”
Julius gave her a parting nod and returned to the back room.
Harriet turned to return to the security left with a smile on her face. She plucked a cherry tomato from the salad and ate it whole. It was indeed fresh. Julius must have maintained an indoor garden. She forgot how good fresh veggies could taste.
If Julius, or Frank rather, ever tried to call that favor she would easily find out the weaknesses of the building and she’d be able to do so without laying a finger on him. Lonely men weren’t very good at strategy– she knew that much from her early encounters with Jeff.
Their host didn’t even have the common sense to search their Humvee. He had no interest in stealing the equipment and made no attempts to communicate with the outside world.
She knew this type of person well. They were so attached to their old lives they refused to move on. He was dangerous but for a reason outside of the world full of lunatics and thieves. He was the type to bend over backward for a taste of normality.
I ‘rehabilitate’ Jeff, then get the hell out of here. Easy as that.
She entered the office to find Jeff asleep. There wasn’t much else for him to do after all. She kicked him in the shin to wake him up. He looked up at her with sleep crusted eyes.
“Brought you food. This might be the only thing worth eating.”
Jeff’s blue eyes went wide. “B-burgers? That’s what he meant. He said customers or ingredients.”
Harriet stabbed a few leaves of salad and held it out to him. “Ingredients?”
Jeff ate it without thinking and went on with his mouth full. “Yeah. I think he… he… kills bandits and uses them for food or something.”
“Glad I went for the salad then,” Harriet said, shrugging. “You think the fries’ll be OK?”
“Fries? Really? Man, it’s been like… a million years since… you know what. I don’t think I want to know what they could be.”
She chuckled. “Potatoes. We’d notice something funny otherwise. I brought you a surprise.”
Jeff gaped at the bottle of soda. Bits of lettuce fell out his mouth. “What the– you STOLE from him?”
“No way.” Harriet tugged on her collar. “Just used a few feminine wiles to get a discount.”
“I didn’t. He offered. This is safe. Prepackaged, no way he could tamper with it.”
“I could kiss you.”
“Not right now. You’re an evil rapist remember?” She leaned closer. “I played the wounded bird angle, let him think I’m in love with my abuser, like a bad Lifetime original movie. I’ll make sure to ham it up when we start talking over drinks.”
“That’s… pretty brilliant. How long do you think it’ll take.”
“Three weeks or so.”
Jeff tensed. “I can’t stay in here for three fricking weeks. I’ll die!”
“I’m obviously joking. I’m gonna make my move tonight… but first…” Harriet pushed open the door a little, just enough to make it seem like she didn’t close it all the way. She wandered back to Jeff, unzipped his pants and pulled them off his boxers.
“What are you doing…?”
Harriet winked back at him. “Making it authentic. There’s no camera in here… so I’m setting up and accident.”
Harriet reached up and unbuttoned another button on her shirt. She leaned forward and smothered him. She sprinkled some bits of lettuce into her cleavage. “Aah! S-stop it! I knew I shouldn’t have trusted you.”
Jeff looked up at her in a panic. “You’re gonna get me killed! Shut up!”
Harriet whispered to him. “Good acting.”
“I– Oh… Oh!” Jeff cleared his throat. “Oh, don’t be like that. I know you like it… otherwise you wouldn’t have come in here looking so sexy.”
They struggled to keep a straight face through the spiel. They’d inadvertently turned it into a scene from ‘Space Clowns from Hell 3’.
Right on time Julius came running flicked open the door and gaped inside.
The crocodile tears came easily. “J-Julius… help! He’s… he’s a monster… even tied up.”
Jeff played the part well enough, getting his teeth around the clasp of her bra. Julius realized it after the third tug.
Julius pulled her away and shot a glare at Jeff. “Ah… s-sorry. I shouldn’t have left you alone with him. And it’s F-frank by the way.”
Harriet cradled her arms across her chest, putting on her best impression of a stereotypical damsel. It was sort of fun, actually. “N-no it’s my fault. I went to feed him a bite of salad and he lunged forward and… and…”
Julius glared at Jeff but didn’t turn violent. It didn’t match his ‘current persona’. She would use this.
“Well, the fries are cooking… so… I’m gonna finish them. You’re OK right?”
“I am now, thanks, Frank. So brave of you to come so quickly.”
“J-just stay out of arms reach, OK?” Julius walked away, looking a little frazzled.
Jeff smirked over at her once his captive was gone. He spoke in a mock falsetto tone. “I am now~.” He batted his eye lashes.
They shared a laugh. This was going to not only be easy but fun too.