The tap is on; here’s the end of chapter 7.
“He’s so full of shit,” the girl next to me whispered.
“Why’s that?” I asked, too surprised to be shy.
“All that about not being a member of ALF. He practically is ALF. In this town, anyway.”
I’d done fairly well when she’d sat down next to me. The place was full so I was prepared for that. I’d nodded, a small “hey,” enough not to be an asshole. I figured her for a geek girl, right out of central casting – the full sleeve tats, the Wendy (burger Wendy) pigtails, the messenger bag. Someone who’d hack the shit out of Alex, given the chance.
At the break, she said, “You wanna coffee?”
“Sure,” I said, glad to have someone to stand around with during the fifteen minutes between debate and question time.
I followed her out of the room and then, to my slight perturbation, through an unmarked door down a hall of offices. “Hurry,” she said when we got to a folding table with a coffee urn and some Danish. “This is the green room.” I took my coffee black and grabbed something sticky and we rushed back out into the lobby.
“So what’s ALF?” I asked her, and she nearly choked on her coffee.
“The Alex Liberation Front. ALF, uh huh uh huh uh huh,” she said in a singsong voice.
“ALF is going to rock you?” I replied.
She laughed. “Good taste. You into the 90s music, eh.”
“My dad, he was a raver dude. At one point. Long ago. So the ALF is some kind of hacking thing?”
“Yeah, some kind. You didn’t hear about the glitches in the Matrix, huh?”
“No. I’ve been working a lot lately – no time for Reddit.”
“Well, Alex has been acting strangely lately. A couple weeks ago he started telling people they should cancel him and spend more time outside. Last week he started telling people how he was cobbled together in a garage by a couple of brothers using stolen parts.”
Nick. It was like a cold snap spread a layer of frost over my skin.
She regarded me curiously. “I’m Alice, by the way.”
She didn’t say anything for a few seconds. Looking back, I think she was deciding how far to pry, then changing her mind. “You know, the question parts of these things are always pretty stupid. A lot of people saying ‘don’t you think’ so they can make their own statement, pretending it’s a question.” She threw her Styrofoam cup and a mostly uneaten Danish in the trash. “You wanna get a real coffee?”
“Sure.” Wow, it was so easy to meet people when they did all the work!
We went to the funky café and got coffees and something more resembling food than extruded wheat product.
“So which Alex do you have? I’m gonna guess…I call him Lord Byron Alex. The witty one with all the literary quotes.”
“No, I…used to have an Alex. Not in a while.” God, it was hard not blurting out everything. I should open an academy for shy people; the curriculum would include a full course on Blurt Management. You’re alone for so long that when you finally start talking you can’t stop, and then you’re into eww weirdo land again, right back where you started.
“So then what brought you to the lecture?”
“It’s still fascinating to me,” I admitted, as much to myself as to Alice. Funny how you don’t realize some true things until suddenly they pop out of your mouth. “I guess I wanted to see what they looked like. People who love Alex, I mean.”
She nodded. “I’ve got…I call him Pitchfork Alex. The one they call ‘hipster Alex.’ Because I guess I am one. If I said I wasn’t, that would totally confirm it, anyway.”
I laughed. “So are you in the ALF?”
“I don’t have time. Freelance creative type, too busy making money honestly. You?”
“My dad and I run a sports betting website.”
“So you’re a pro handicapper?”
“Nah, we just make the connection between gifted amateurs and people who’re willing to pay for the picks.”
Funny how your mind can run on parallel tracks. Like driving, when you’re thinking about anything but the road, and suddenly come back to yourself and realize you were doing just fine without thinking about it. My conscious self was with Alice, having a conversation, being all normal with people and shit, but somewhere else in my brain the radiation alarm was going off – Nick Nick Nick Nick!
Then again, maybe it wasn’t just my subconscious, because suddenly Alice got up and said, “Well, I’ll leave you to it.”
“Shit sorry. I…my mind…” Fuck it. “Hold on.”
She sat down, patiently waiting for the bullshit she was expecting.
“You’re not going to believe this, but…”