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- Any Coincidence Is - 5/17 -


"That ain't Butthead!" whispered Rhonda. Both toilets flushed, as if their actions in unison would provide an air-tight alibi which, notwithstanding the stern tone in the voice outside, caused them both to giggle. They emerged sheepishly from the restroom as Supervising Manager Denny frowned and shook his head disapprovingly.

"Rhonda, where's Kurt?"

"Sick, I think. Someone said he called in with a stomach ache."

"Then he's fired too."

"Too?!" exclaimed Julia.

"Well, let's see, Julia. You missed your shift yesterday without calling in..."

"I did?"

"You did. And that's the third time this month."

"I can't believe I did it again!"

"You did. And you don't have to tell me which novel you were reading. I don't need to know." He turned to Rhonda. "And I figure if you leave now, we won't need to talk about the beauty supplies that go missing just before your days off."

Rhonda's eyes widened uncontrollably as she gave a guilty grin to the floor tiles.

"So, adios!" With that, he returned to the Osco floor.

Julia's jaw slackened but Rhonda pealed into outright laughter.

"It's not funny!" shouted Julia.

"Oh, forget this Popsicle-stand! You punched in, right?"

A smile formed reluctantly on Julia's face. "Well," continued Rhonda, "let''s take off and punch ourselves out in eight hours!"

The smiles and laughter became contagious as they grabbed their jackets and ran out the back door. The spent the rest of the afternoon taking in all of the shops that lined both sides of the street. Eventually, they found themselves at Popeye's pub, where they had a sandwich and a few beers, and decided to kill the rest of the evening with a movie. After a short walk, they saw the marquee, which read: "BRIDE, GHOULS, & PLAN 9!" Rhonda seemed to have noticed it first, taking Julia's hand and leading her toward the theater.

10. The Second Phase "There was a point to this story, but it has temporarily escaped the chronicler's mind." -- Douglas Adams, "So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish"

"Well done!" the Lab Coat Man exclaimed, rubbing his eyes and replacing the pen in his coat pocket, "Very well done! Not many subjects have been able to answer our comprehensive questionnaire in under three hours."

Prof. Sigger forced a smile to his drawn face. "I take it most people are reluctant to answer your questions without knowing how and why they arrived in a place like this." The room, like the holding area, was also concrete, although this section looked more like an office than a jail.

"That long haired fellow," the Lab Coat Man confided, "we pulled him out of a urinal. Dirty trick, really. Maybe he thinks we're all drug-induced hallucinations. As far as he's concerned, he was leaning against the bathroom wall in order not to stain his shoes and the next moment he's peeing in our corner."

Sigger tried to nod sympathetically.

"Hasn't completed the interview yet," he continued. "Oh that doesn't mean I haven't been able to take a few notes, but I guarantee he'll be missing out on the entertainment for some time to come!"

"Now that I've answered your questions, let me ask you --" Prof. Sigger began.

"No time. I have a number of errands to run. You'll find we're quite organized, once you've been here a while."

"A while?"

"Yes, this may take some time. All good projects do, as I'm sure you understand." Sigger nodded dumbly.

"Now I'm going to turn you over to my assistant, Neoldner."

The door opened, and twenty year-old resembling a ferret and wearing an identical lab coat entered, a clipboard in his hand.

"He's going to help with the second phase," the Lab Coat Man said.

"Hey," Neoldner said.

"Um... yes," Sigger replied.

Neoldner took the seat across from Sigger as the Lab Coat Man moved to the doorway. Forrester, with his strange brown mustache, popped his head into the room.

"I'm going home to finish to schedule for tomorrow this evening. Do you have everything?" Forrester asked.

"How could I? You haven't told me what I need yet," the Lab Coat Man replied.

"I haven't?"

"No, I've been with Prof. Sigger since..." He looked at his watch. "It has been a while, hasn't it?"

Prof. Sigger shrugged, although no one noticed that he had answered.

"I thought Frank would have told you," Forrester said.

"Who's Frank?" asked the Lab Coat Man.

"Oh, I forgot! Frank resigned. That's when we brought you in."

"Right. Just after what's-his-name resigned."

"Frank."

"Exactly."

"That's what I said."

"I know, I just repeated it."

Silence.

"So do you need a list?" Forrester asked.

"If you wouldn't mind. And whatever forms you'll think I'll need."

"Ah, forms. Yes. Definitely. Meet me at my office before you go."

And out popped Forrester's head from the room. The Lab Coat Man sighed and turned to Prof. Sigger.

"Once we're ready, we should be able to conclude everything quickly. Neoldner will help you out with the details. I think you'll enjoy the perks. The travel. The entertainment, if you like that sort of thing."

"What about the entertainment?" Sigger asked.

"Soon!" replied the Lab Coat Man, misunderstanding, his eyes twinkling with an annoying but enigmatic flare.

"So," Neoldner began after the Lab Coat Man had left, "what size jacket do you wear?"

11. An Unintended Mishap "It is a curious thought, but it is only when you see people looking ridiculous that you realize just how much you love them." -- Agatha Christie

Tom walked into his parents' trailer home to find Alona crying on the couch. He barely knew her, saw her only twice before, and with Kurt, so he figured she had to be a loser.

"Why are you here?" he grumbled.

"Kurt's missing!" she shouted, and let loose with a protracted wail. Tom's mother came in and hugged Tom tightly, then slapped him across the cheek. "Your cousin's gone missing, and you don't care!"

Tom rubbed his cheek and said, "He's probably just sleeping off a date with Rhonda in her backseat!"

Alona wailed again. Tom couldn't help thinking that if that wail had been sung, it would have raised the hackles of even the greatest opera devotee, a majestic solo of anguish and a thousand angry paper-cuts.

"Sorry," muttered Tom.

"The police won't do anything until he's been gone twenty-four hours!" Betty exclaimed. "Twenty-four hours! And he disappeared while he was playing in that band of his!" She went on to explain how Alona had called after she received a letter from Kurt -- how he hadn't been at home or with the band -- how, according to the other members of the band and a half-dozen other witnesses, he had disappeared the night before from a bathroom with no windows. Tom listened to most of this and nodded. He kept nodding even after he stopped listening. Once his mother was done talking, he stopped nodding. She didn't seem to notice the difference.

The TV across the room was on a little too loud, so he decided to shut it off, grab a sandwich, and sneak out of the house again. Maybe he should go into work, even though he had the night off. Maybe get a


Any Coincidence Is - 5/17

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