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Futureman came down from upstairs with his eyes closed and his voice heavy and he told us it was over. “I don’t know,” he said, so we agreed. His shirt was this dirty shade of grey and his pants were black with dirt or ash. We were never really sure. His hair had this tangled quality and it always stood up in strange contortions that certain circles of girls considered stylish. His name was John, but everyone called him Futureman because he would always talk about spaceships and computers and other things he read about in Popular Science. He was certain that technology was improving and evolving and changing our world before our eyes. He drove a pretty crappy car though, and his house was an old mansion that was peeling and rotting and dying.
We had come to his house because he had a parcel for us. Futureman was a salesman of all things vulgar and profane. At school during lunch he sat alone at this table, eating his egg salad on rye and all kinds of kids would come sit down and talk to him. He conversed in a thin, mercury manner; his words would ease out of his mouth like heavy smoke. Usually after a minute or two, the kid would get up and Futureman would go back to his egg salad. The deal had been made.
I was the one who had to go up to Futureman during lunch and make the deal. We picked straws and I was sure that Walton had lost, but he pleaded not to go, and I wasn’t going to argue. So I went to Futureman. He had on these long, round sunglasses and there was egg salad in his stubble and he didn’t look up when I sat down.
“Don’t worry, Bob. I know what you need.” My name isn’t Bob, that’s just what he called people.
“Yea? How you so sure?”
“Does it matter how? You’re still gonna pay two hundred for it.” So the deal was made. Manfred had said that anything above three would be unreasonable, so I took it. When I got back to our table, the guys seemed alright. No one was ecstatic, but Futureman isn’t the easiest kid to deal with. We got our money together and decided to call it a day.
I was the only one who had been to Futureman’s house before, but I didn’t tell anyone because then they would have made me go in alone. Forsythe drove because he had the Beamer and we wanted to look respectable, or at least that’s what we told ourselves. I think Manfred wanted to show Futureman that we were better than him, that we had more money and more class. Walton even wore a suit. We looked kind of ridiculous, the four of us getting out of a Beamer at Futureman’s dilapidated castle.
Inside the house it was dank and empty. Our guarded footsteps echoed as we made our way up the stairs to the top, where Futureman’s room was. He was sitting behind a big, wooden desk with neatly organized papers and a stapler and a mug full of pens. He looked up from his desk as he was smoking something that probably wasn’t a cigarette. A grin formed at his face when he saw us.
“It’s mine,” Forsythe blurted.
“Great, Bob. Great.” Futureman removed the cylinder from his mouth and took off his sunglasses. His eyes were frightening. They were spaced far apart and they were a sad shade of green. “Roger,” he said, rubbing his face. “Take the money from the kid in the suit, and tell your friends to wait downstairs.” Walton looked at me in disbelief for a few seconds, but then I moved in towards him and he took the envelope from his sport coat. Forsythe and Manfred stood still for a moment, but they got the idea and left. When it was just me and Futureman, the room fell quiet I sat down at the lone chair in front of his desk, and threw the envelope on the table.
“It’s all there,” I assured him. He took the envelope and put it in his desk.
“Don’t worry. I believe you. I just have one question, Roger. Why do four kids like you need this?”
“I can’t go into it.”
“I guess everyone’s entitled to their secrets.” Then he got up and brushed off his sweater. “I’m gonna need you to turn around. You understand.” I agreed so I got up and turned my back to Futureman. I heard the ruffling of boxes and items moving. Something fell and there was more digging; then it stopped.
“You need to go downstairs,” he said under heavy breath.
“What about our money?”
“Just go.” I didn’t want to put up a fight, so I went downstairs. It was only fifty dollars, and the more I thought about it, I didn’t really need the parcel. Downstairs they were all waiting impatiently, sweating through their coats. No one asked questions when I came down. I took a seat on an old couch and began tapping my foot.
It was Manfred who wanted it in the first place. He needed it the most and we all knew why, but we didn’t fight it. “I just have some loose ends to tie up,” he said, so we agreed. He also had the money to buy it himself, but it would’ve looked bad if he went alone, and he was dead afraid of Futureman. Getting all three of us to chip in and come along was just a formality. Forsythe had the Beamer and Walton could be talked into anything, so we all came along. Manfred knew that I had history with Futureman, so he drew me in, but he talked in a sly manner and used different pretenses. “Come on, Roger. What’s the big deal?” he assured me. So I agreed.
Manfred was wealthy and well respected and he wore his hair in a slick combed style that certain circles of girls considered stylish. He was still painfully shrewd and clever and no one quite knew his honest intentions. He would pick me up on weekends in his sports car and take me to dull parties with even duller girls. I think he liked me because I beat him up a few years back after I caught him trying to steal my sweater in gym. Steeling a sweater was the kind of thing everyone knew Manfred would do, but no one would call him out on. I wouldn’t have called him out if it hadn’t been my sweater. After the fight, he shook my hand and told me to hang out with him and to tell no one what really happened. He looked at me with a sly grin as he clasped my hand tightly, so I agreed.
He wanted the parcel because there was a girl he had to keep quiet. I don’t know what happened in his sports car that night, but I do know it couldn’t be covered up with a handshake and a grin. He had a nervous sheen on his face when he approached me and asked me about Futureman. His veins were bulging and there was sweat slowly ambling down his forehead. “You know Futureman, right?” he asked. He knew the answer, but I reassured him anyway. The next day Forsythe and Walton were at the table and we were told about the possible expenses. The only thing left to do was to interrupt Futureman’s egg salad on rye and make the deal.
I had always liked Walton because he wasn’t pompous or entitled like Manfred; he was just nervous. Walton could have easily been a big man like Manfred—he had the money and the hair—but he rattled like a roller coaster. You could tell he was especially shook up when he wore a suit. It was always a royal shade of blue with gold buttons and brown pants. Sometimes, when he was really worked up, he would wear an ascot around his neck above the collar of his dress shirt. The suit was his protection against the less refined little people, who were always getting in his way.
A few years back, Walton said something he shouldn’t have to some one he shouldn’t have been talking to, and he got really nervous. It was a kid from southtown, some one who was dark and dangerous. Walton was wearing his blazer and rushing to a test and he bumped into the kid. Walton fell down and erupted. He started spewing all sorts of things that no person of his reputation should say. Things got ugly but they rushed Walton away. After that incident, Walton got really scared. He started driving to school in a big truck with a body guard. Rumors spread that he was wearing Kevlar to school underneath his suit. Walton started avoiding southtown like the plague.
Manfred kept Walton around because, in comparison, Manfred looked calm and collective. When Walton was in the backseat of Manfred’s sports car biting his nails, Manfred was upfront with a girl riding shotgun. It was hard to tell if Walton was smart enough to realize what was going on. Anyone whose teeth chatter when he answers a math question is prone to look stupid. I had a hunch that Walton was a smart guy though. He read the Times every morning and watched the McLaughlin group. Maybe Walton caught Manfred trying to steal an ascot, and that’s why he was always around. I wasn’t sure, but I still thought he was a good guy.
When Futureman came down the rusty stairs to the living room, we got off the couch and stood, waiting for him to approach us. There was a look of exasperation on his face, but it wasn’t strained. I don’t think anything got Futureman frustrated enough to do anything drastic. He just kind of looked us over—his sunglasses were off—and took out a cigarette. I could smell the sweat dripping down Walton’s face. Forsythe was behind me, clasping onto the keys to the Beamer in his pocket. Futureman sat down on the couch and spoke.
“I don’t know,” he said, staring blankly at our shoes. Manfred was fuming.
“What happened?” I asked. I was kind of relieved.
“It’s not where I left it. I don’t know what happened. But I can assure you that this wasn’t intentional.” He looked up at Manfred. “You do know it was a heavy thing, what you asked for. It was a weighty item.”
“What does weight have to do with anything?” asked Manfred. His face was red.
“What I mean is. You guys tried to get a very heavy item, and sometimes things just yield too much power. Too much authority over others. You understand.” Futureman threw the envelope at me. “I’m sorry.” He got off the couch and climbed the stairs, making labored sounds every time he scaled a step.
“What happens now?” asked Manfred.
“We leave,” I said. “We go home.” I started walking to the door, and Forsythe followed with his keys. Walton followed too, and then Manfred. Manfred’s eyes were quiet. There was no sly grin on his face. His hands were in his pockets, fingering his wallet.
When we got out to the car, Forsythe shook my hand. He was thankful, but for what I didn’t know. I never really knew much about Forsythe. He was kind of ephemeral. Sometimes he was there, and sometimes he wasn’t. He was this strange ghost of a kid, gliding swiftly between people and groups, to the point where no one knew him. I never really saw him after he dropped me off. No one ever mentioned him. The more I think about it now, maybe he wasn’t real. Maybe he was just in my head, driving me nowhere and saying nothing, not breathing or eating. I guess I’ll never know.