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The Dream World Collective Chapters 1-8 [Free PDF, Mobi, and ePub files attached. Click red and blue icons below the graphic to download.]
1. Neighborliness Michael Zenickowitz, known to his friends as Zen, woke up at 4:23 a.m. with a brilliant idea. He left his Sleeping Hammock, which was bolted to the walls in one corner of his bedroom ceiling, and swung along a rope ladder to his Working Hammock, which was bolted to the opposite corner of the ceiling. He opened a worn lap desk, pulled out five beautiful sheets of ivory résumé paper and an ultrafine black Sharpie, and began writing. Dear Mr. D. in 5B, I observed you yesterday picking up an empty beer can from the sidewalk, an unexpected reminder that there are humans among us. You are a true gentleman and a rare breed in the rushing anonymity of this city and century. If you would ever like to share a cup of tea, please do not hesitate to knock on my door. Your servant, Zen in 3A This took perhaps a quarter of the page. Zen tore it off and began again on the blank remainder. Dear Brown-Haired Girl in 5A, I guess we haven’t met yet, but we should. You look like someone who loves life. Whenever I see you it seems like you’re actually happy to be you and your glow rubs off. Keep smiling, and stop by for a cup of tea if you ever feel like it. Zen in 3A PS – If you happen to like baking, I will show you an unorthodox but highly successful biscuit recipe of my own invention. He tore this off as well and began again. Dear Mrs. Valdez, Thank you for the lovely chat the other day. Your history is fascinating, and it sounds like your husband was a great man. I still need to hear about your years together in Argentina before the war, though, and this time it is my turn to host you. Please come by at your convenience and I will give you a cup of my favorite new Darjeeling blend and, if your timing is good, a homemade cookie. Sincerely, Zen in 3A This completed the first page. Zen started immediately on the second, writing without even stopping to breathe. Dear Max in 4A, We passed by the mailboxes the other day and you struck me as an interesting guy. I’m sort of old-fashioned and think neighbors should actually know each other, so if you’re ever in the mood for a good cup of tea and gourmet snackage of some sort, come downstairs and see if I’m home. Zen in 3A The next was to his floormates in apartment 3B. Dear Marco and Daniela, You guys are the best. Thank you for the box of Earl Grey Lavender you left by the door yesterday. I sat on the rooftop listening to the clouds as I drank my first cup—no cream, light sugar, iced, per your recommendation—and it is truly the best iced tea ever. I’m considering setting aside the thirtieth of September as an annual commemoration, complete with festive decorations, dancing, fires, and the release of many small live birds and/or squirrels. I’m planning another philosophical dinner for Thursday evening. You two are some of my very favorite people, and I would love to have your company at dinner and long into the evening. In anticipation, Zen And so the letters continued, the paper torn rough at the end or beginning of each, one to every resident in the apartment building. When they were done, Zen folded the smooth side edges of each letter into the center and, using a lighter he kept for that purpose, melted a few drops of sealing wax onto each one and stamped them with a crisp rectangular seal bearing the letter Z. He swung down from the hammock onto a floor covered knee-deep in pillows, slipped into pajama bottoms and a white t-shirt, waved goodbye to his roommate Alex, who was getting ready for work, and padded barefoot into the hallways to deliver his letters. For the fifth time in the last three days, he didn’t notice the paper taped onto his front door. 2. Weird Old Lady Drinks At the same time, and not too far away, Zen's old roommate Otto van Muenster sat blissfully awake in the screen-lit shadows of his attic room. Otto did not know that he was also Zen's future roommate. He did not have any particular desire, in fact, to be anyone's roommate, though he had no issue with people in principle. Other people, like mushrooms or French films, were all well and good for those who preferred that sort of thing, but best enjoyed outside one's private domain. Had he known that he was about to have not one but several roommates, it would have caused him more than a little distress. Luckily, some changes in life come completely without warning. Instead, Otto sat contentedly, pizza in one hand as the other flashed over his keyboard, programming on one widescreen monitor, raiding on another, and watching From Russia With Love on a third. Otto could type 60 words per minute with his left hand, 90 with his right, and close to 200 on a good day with both. He was just hitting his groove when he heard a quiet knocking at the door. He tried to ignore it and typed on. After an uncertain moment there was another knock, timid and determined. Otto resisted it, but the mental image of Mrs. Dundenne in her pink nightdress—white hair in curlers, hand hovering, face full of aged concern—was enough to melt a steelier conscience than his. He finished his line of code, put down his pizza, paused the movie, afk’d, took off his headset, and heaved his body out of the gargantuan beanbag that served him as chair, bed, and sometimes laundry hamper. Mrs. Dundenne was standing exactly as he had pictured her. She squinted up at him without her glasses, confused and uncertain. “Otto? I saw the lights under your door.” She framed her words slowly, chewing over each one. “Are you having trouble sleeping again?” “No, Mrs. D, I just stayed up to take care of a couple—” “Why don’t you come down and I’ll make you a nice cup of milk and chamomile,” she continued, feeling for his fat fingers with her cold, fragile hands. “No, I—” Otto glanced back with helpless longing. His guild was at a critical part of the raid. They’d need him there casting mass heals. And Sean Connery was about to…well, be Sean Connery. He tried to pull away from the bony, clutching fingers of Mrs. D. “Don’t worry, dear. You can sit with me at the table and we’ll have a nice warm drink and we’ll talk about it.” The generation gap, Mrs. Dundenne’s elderly determination, and her poor hearing combined to make Otto’s protests completely ineffective, and he didn’t have the heart to forcibly wrench his hand out of hers and…what, lock her out of her own attic apartment? He sighed and followed her downstairs for another earnest one-sided conversation over weird old-fashioned drinks. 3. Painting in the Wee Hours It was 4:30 in the morning when Sushi started painting. Sometimes she painted this late because inspiration had struck, because she was in the zone, and it was better to paint than to sleep or eat or think. This night was different. She’d gained her second wind at 2:00 and lost it an hour later. She’d used up the last of her inspiration all the way back around midnight, with her boss’s voice still echoing in her angry brain: “We’ll need this simpler, Maria. Right to the point, smack Joe Schmoe right between the eyes,” while the client nodded. “It’s pretty, but we’re looking for something with a little more impact. Maybe if we just make the burger bigger and cut out the dancers in the background?” And then Rose, that little bimbo-headed…bimbo, had chimed in, cooing poison. “Yes, I really think the background is too busy. After all, people only see billboards for a few seconds. We all know you’re a great artist, Maria, but maybe this isn’t the place to show it off so much.” So she’d started nearly from scratch, again. Made the burger bigger, higher contrast, brighter colors, bigger words. YUM YUM YUM it’s a #[email protected]%*N’ BURGER, read one of her frustrated revisions around 1:30, and her roommate Summer had come home then and laughed a darkly cheerful laugh at the design and said something friendly and sarcastic about ad agencies, and Sushi had agreed and thought again about quitting the internship. But she’d pulled herself together, even though she’d thrown sixty hours at it already just this week, because the deadline was three days ago and this had to be done and walking away from her first job would be résumé suicide. By 4:20 the billboard design was dumbed down enough to make even the dullest shake-sucking, phone-yapping driver unthinkingly crave a burger, and Sushi had saved it with a snarl of disgust and sent it with a polite one-line e-mail to her boss and their client, and found herself blinking at the computer screen, knowing she had to paint. By then that sickening wee-hours feeling had settled into her gut, where you can’t quite decide whether you should sleep or just push through, and she felt the quick stabs of panic at the thought of tomorrow, when she’d actually have to function like a grown-up again. Her painting felt like nothing to her at that moment, and it was terrible. For six months she’d been working on a series of dreamy landscapes to enter in the big competition at the Gallery At The End. They were life to her, better than chocolate and fast red convertibles and sun on naked skin. In one a parade of elephants marched through a narrow dusty road while confused Arabs hung out of their windows and snatched their laughing children out of the way. Another looked like a brilliant lake high in the Alps, except what looked like a lake reflecting sky was really a huge hole in the landscape, with the distant mountains connected by a frail bridge of earth and dragons banking and swooping through the dizzying starlit gap. Her favorite so far was a painting of giant butterflies attacking a stampede of panicked rhinos, pummeling them with huge soft wings and carrying them off into the hazy sky. Now she was finishing a painting of the inside of a clock tower, where a blind old man hammered at the elephant-sized cogs while one lazy apprentice gazed out over a moonlit cityscape and another hung from the highest gears like a monkey, making faces at scattering birds. She’d poured her heart into it, laughing at the mischievous little boys and delighting in the details of the tiny flashing bird wings, the domes of the city beyond, and the earnest focus of the old blind clockmaker. Now, in the dullness of sleep-deprived night, it was just shapes and colors. She settled into work on one of the boring parts, the shadowy back corners where ropes and gears and bells loomed indistinctly, painting with grim determination because this was the only time left to her and the deadline was just days away. 4. Muffiny Dilemma Alex sighed as he unlocked the front door of CafeNow and ground his eyeballs into his skull. 4:45 in the morning, again. He fired up the CD player. As usual, the album they were making trendy that week was sophisticated but not snobby, calculatedly unusual, just accessible enough to let everyone feel like they were part of the elite that understood this sort of thing. Macchiato music. He went through the opening routine like a golem—not automatic like a robot, not numb and clumsy like a zombie, just methodical, unstoppable, driven by the line of words in his head: How would you like to be the new GM? Over and over he heard Steve, the guy from Corporate. He’d asked blandly, with a smile like he was doing Alex some sort of favor. How would you like to be the new GM? Up at ungodly hours every day and night. Responsible for everything in the store. Direct liaison with Corporate. Alex fired up the espresso machine and brewed himself a double shot, swallowed it in one scalding, bitter gulp, and made a face. Screw coffee. He didn’t even like coffee. Bitter liquid energy, nothing more. How would you like to be the new GM? He began assembling product: muffins and scones, cups and lids, trendy CDs, coffee journals, coffee mints, coffee bars for the coffee-holic on the go, flavored coffee stir-sticks. Alex laughed a dark laugh, green eyes flashing as he arranged the coffee mints. It would be a very secure job, great benefits, big bonuses if he could keep the store running well, which he could. Minimum one-year commitment, of course, after all the special training they’d give him, but in this economy that’s practically a benefit, Steve had pointed out like a salesman. Right. Job security. After all, who needs a life when you’ve got money, health insurance, and career potential? He wondered how many people had started their careers accidentally, like this, meaning to do something great and then tripping over a great benefits package. He opened the refrigerator for some soy milk, and paused at the sight of an untidy little cling-wrapped bundle of muffins and—squash? He laughed softly as he lifted the note beside the bundle, written in his friend Summer’s rebellious scrawl. Dear Alex, Please please please don’t move these. The squashes are from Mrs. Gaptine’s garden, totally organic homegrown deliciousness, and the muffins are her secret 12-grain recipe. Our customers will eat them up.—Here there was a tiny sketch of a monster chomping muffins.—I know it’s technically against the rules, but you know they’ll catch on and make us money, and you’ll be the best person ever in the world. Peace and sparkles, Summer He laughed again, somewhat despairingly, ran a hand through his soft brown hair, and sighed. All this, and then there was the problem of Summer. 5. Elves and Mushrooms The cool morning air swirled around Summer as she knelt in the dirt, releasing handfuls of bait shop earthworms into the wild. Matty, a little girl in green overalls, helped enthusiastically. Matty’s older brother, Simon, watched with the solemn caution of a bookish seven-year-old. “Fly, little worms!” cried Summer. “I mean—burrow! Let the earth be enriched by your castings. Enjoy our yummy dirt. Avoid the early birds.” “Don’t get eated, worms!” Matty shouted at them through cupped hands. They were in a vacant lot in downtown Thornfield, Minnesota, surrounded by the relatively short, friendly office buildings that marked the town’s skyline, such as it was, against a background of beautiful gray clouds. Curvy paths made of broken bricks wove through invitingly untidy explosions of plant matter. Herbs, flowers, and vegetables were mingled together with an artful sort of carelessness. In one corner, some enterprising children had built flower beds out of old rocks and, in one case, a fence of half-buried bottles. A hand-made sign read: Elves and Mushrooms Community Garden. They had let little Ellie Gutierrez name the garden, because it was her birthday when they made the sign. “Hey there, kids!” called an old man’s voice. “Morning, Mr. Jack,” Summer called back, then turned around. Mr. Jack was a skinny old man, with skin the color and texture of old leather, a cap, a cane, and suspenders. “Hi Mr. Jack!” shouted Matty. Simon waved silently, his big eyes fastened on the old man. “We got worms!” The little girl waved a handful to demonstrate. A couple worms fell onto Summer’s dreadlocked blond hair. Summer laughed and began fishing them out. “Oh, my!” exclaimed Mr. Jack, very impressed. “What are they for?” “Earthworms are important for the ecosystem,” explained Simon seriously. “They can add nutrients and help plants grow better and their tunnels help break up all the dirt. That’s what my book said.” Summer nodded. “It’s true. He was showing me yesterday. We decided we’d better add some earthworms to our garden.” “Grow, flowers! Grow! Grow!” chanted Matty, running in circles among the plants. “The zucchini are getting ripe, if you want any,” Summer offered. “I suppose I could use a couple,” said Mr. Jack. “My Martha makes the most delicious vegetable soup you ever had.” Soon Mr. Jack had moved on, Matty was hopping down the path like a frog, and Simon had settled himself under a little lemon tree with his bug book. Summer gave a contented sigh. Her pocket buzzed. She rolled her eyes and flipped open her phone. “Blast!” She turned to Simon. “Simon, do you know where your mom is?” “She was going to visit Mrs. Martinez, I think.” “Let’s go find her, ok? I need to be at work in fifteen minutes.” “Ok.” He folded up his book and climbed out from under the tree. “Matty, we have to go find Mommy, ok?” “But I want to look at the bugs!” “You can do that later. We have to go.” She grabbed Matty’s grubby hand, which tried to pull away. “Now,” she added, more harshly than she’d meant to. Matty started wailing. Summer sighed and towed the bawling girl along the path as Simon trundled behind them, reading as he walked. Summer rummaged frantically in her backpack and wrestled her regulation coffee shop visor over and around her tumultuous hair one-handed. “Do you have a job yet, Simon?” she asked. “I’m seven.” “Lucky,” muttered Summer. 6. Promotion Sushi’s alarm rang at 7:50. She’d slept 78 minutes. She swore. She rolled over, fumbled around for the clock, then realized she’d put it across the room before bed so she couldn’t snooze it, because this was 10 minutes before she had to be at work. She got up, pulled on some clothes, brushed her hair, grabbed a cookie, and ran out the door still buttoning up her shirt with the cookie clamped between her lips. A short, brisk walk later she was in the office. As she reached her half-cubicle, Rose, the other intern, brushed past her with a smirk and a self-important flip of her perfect hair. Rose’s desk was empty. “You’re late, Maria,” said the boss, by way of greeting. Bite me. Sushi held back her temper with some effort and instead asked, “Did you get the new design?” The boss sighed. “Yeah, about that.” “What?” She couldn’t stop a swirl of swearing from running through her head. “Look, it’s just not working. The client’s decided to go in a different direction.” “Again?” Warning look from the boss. She was too tired to care. “I’m putting Rose in charge of the project. You’ll be answering to her from here out.” “Wait, but she’s just—“ It started to fall together. The empty desk. The smirk. “You didn’t…” She started swearing again in her head, more intentionally this time. “She’s been given the permanent position. We’ll be happy to renew your internship again so you can be in consideration for the next round of hiring.” “Another year? But you said I’d—“ “You’ve got potential, Maria. If you can just learn to reign yourself in a little, maybe it’ll go better for you next time.” “But I’ve been here more than two years already! You can’t—“ “I’m sorry, Maria. Just stay at it. We’re not firing you.” He changed tone, now that that was settled. “I’ll have Rose send you the next round of mock-ups once she’s talked it through with the client.” “No.” “What?” “I quit.” She started gearing up for a rant, then shrugged. They could figure out why. They’d have time to regret it when they figured out how much of the real work Rose did. “Good luck with Rose. I’m sure you’ll all be watching her career with great interest. Lots of assets there. Hope she learns some design skills on the way.” “Maria–“ She glanced back, following the boss’s warning gaze. Rose was standing behind her, turning pink. Sushi let a sarcastic smile spread across her face as she looked Rose’s perfect body up and down with a long, luxuriant gaze. “Looks like you’ve got everything it takes to get ahead in the business world, babe.” Rose’s eyes hardened. “Wow, talent and people skills,” she retorted. “No wonder you’ve gotten where you are so quickly.” Rose smiled, not sweetly. “It’s ok. Maybe I’ll give you a call if I find a project you can’t screw up too badly. Some of us need all the help we can get.” “Yet, sadly,” replied Sushi evenly, “some of us don’t get all the help we need. Professionally, if you know what I mean.” “Ok, ladies,” broke in the boss. “Maria, maybe if you just—“ She cut him off with a fierce gesture. “Not interested.” Sushi whirled toward the door. “And my name is Sushi,” she snapped as she walked out. 7. Brilliant Zen was on the roof, deep in his colorful hammock, with a travel mug of limeade in a hanging drink holder he’d rigged up, writing on a lap desk under a dramatic cloudy sky. He’d already done some serious writing that morning: an article interpreting the latest fad vampire novels as a sort of capitalist manifesto; a book review of a recent literary novel, The Pendulum’s Dilemma; a third revision of his short story about a man who forgets how to read; and a few recipes for a cookbook he was starting to assemble. His three query letters for the day sat on the rooftop under a brick, ready to be mailed. Now he climbed out, ruffled his pale blond hair in an absentminded way, and started pacing the roof, mumbling to himself, trying to figure out a concept that had been yanking at his innards for weeks now. He clattered down the fire escape and wandered out to go see Summer and Sushi. A few burly guys in black t-shirts were moving books and boxes and cushions out of the building, leaving them in a big pile on the sidewalk. Zen waved vaguely as he drifted by. “What’s going on?” ”Guys in 3A got evicted.” “Oh, interesting, interesting. Say hi to them for me.” Three blocks down the street, he rang the doorbell for Sushi and Summer’s apartment. Sushi slammed the door open. “What?” “Hey, you have any of that good pondering tea left? Put some on. There’s ponderings afoot.” “Not now, Zen.” She was already back at her easel, painting furiously. “Cool, cool.” He trundled into the kitchen, preoccupied with his thinking, and started making the tea. From the next room Sushi yelled at him. “Go home!” “Sure. Here’s the thing. Why do we have jobs? Anyone, I mean? We complain about them so much. What do they even do?” “Damned if I know. I say we just torch the place and go home.” “You ask anyone why they work if they hate their job so much, and they’ll say they need the money, right?” Sushi kept painting like she was hoping Zen would disappear if she ignored him. Zen continued. “But all you get for the money is stuff. What if you could get the stuff without the money?” “That’s burglary. Hard jail time.” “No, if you just had fun making whatever you like making, and you traded it with people who wanted it.” “That’s a medieval peasant system of barter. Plague. And overlords.” “What about living together with the other people and working together to make the stuff, everybody does the part they want?” “Hippie commune. Funny-smelling deadbeats. And possibly plague again.” “Ooh, and sitars! I love sitars!” Zen strummed a huge air-sitar. “Brauunnmm.” He flopped onto the ground, cross-legged, and took a thoughtful sip of his tea. “What if we made it deadbeat-free?” “Pfff. With hippies? Good luck.” “Not with hippies. With us. We figure out crazy brilliant ways to have fun and make stuff we need, or money, or whatever. We could pull it off. Look, what are we all busting our butts at work for? Retirement? Why not just have the fun now?” “Hmph.” Zen could tell Sushi was growing interested despite herself. “What kind of fun?” “All the stuff nobody does because they have to be back at work by Monday, or they’re too tired from all the meetings and paperworks, or too nervous because they’d get fired.” “Or because their unprintable bosses are soul-sucking bastards who can’t recognize real talent with two hands and a flashlight, especially when those hands are busy ogling—” She whacked paint at the canvas. “—blond—” Whack! “—wench—” Whack! “—interns!” Zen was slightly taken aback. “Yeah. Or that.” “Ok.” Sushi stepped back, suddenly calmer. “Let’s do it.” “What?” “Do it. Make a commune. That’s the thing, right? Everybody’s always talking about how awesome it would be to do something awesome. Do it. I’m in. Let’s go.” “Huh.” Zen took a long sip of tea, pondering this. “We’d have to get the others in on it.” “Summer’s in. She’s always trying to do this kind of thing.” “Dude! We should get Otto, too. He could be our official technomage!” “What about Alex?” asked Sushi. “Harder. He’s all…responsible. We’d have to find something that would really shake up—Wait a minute.” “What?” Zen grinned and finished his tea in a great gulp. “3A is us. Brilliant!” He turned to Sushi. “By the way, would you mind helping me move some things? I think it’s starting to rain.” 8. Advancement Alex leaned against the wall, despite his better judgment. Steve walked into the back room. “Professional bearing, Alex,” Steve reminded him. “Sorry.” Alex straightened up and tried to look…busier. “Have to set a good example for the underlings,” laughed Steve in a corporate attempt at camaraderie. Summer exploded into the back room, a tangle of backpack and visor and blushing apologies. Steve eloquently raised his eyebrows. “I’ll—“ Summer hesitated, stowed her backpack under the coat hooks. “Go wipe the tables? Sorry to interrupt.” She brushed past them to go out behind the counter. Steve spoke up. “Time card?” “Oh, right. Sorry.” Summer turned back to punch in, avoiding his eye. She flashed a pleading glance at Alex as she went back out. He returned it, sympathetic but pained. What can I do? “She may have to go,” observed Steve once Summer was out of earshot. “Nah, she’s all right most of the time.” “Seriously? I mean, did you see her there?” Steve laughed, and the disrespect in his tone annoyed Alex. “What? Late? That happens to all of us sometimes. No big deal.” “Not you. See, what I like about you is that you really understand what it takes to run a successful business.” Steve’s attempt at flattery was jarring, too transparent. “I guess. But Summer’s a good worker. She cares about people.” “Right.” “I’m serious. She’s made friends with practically every customer who comes in during her shifts. She generates incredible brand loyalty.” Putting it in those terms made Alex feel a little dirty, as if the real point of good relationships was to generate business and not the other way around. But he had to use whatever was most likely to get through to Steve. One glance at his boss’s sympathetic grimace showed him it hadn’t worked, though. “Look, I know she’s your friend, Alex, but she’s got to go.” “No, it’s cool, man. I’ll work with her. You know, give her a warning, make sure she straightens up. I’ve handled this sort of thing before.” “We’ve tried that already. She’s just not working out.” “Steve, I can—” “Sorry, Alex. If you’re going to advance here, you need to show me you can put the store first. I’m telling you, as your boss. You need to fire Summer.” “Really? Just like that?” “She had her chance.” Alex felt himself getting angry. “Don’t give me that, Steve. You can test me all you want, but don’t bring a perfectly good worker’s job into this.” Steve sighed. “I’ve already made my assessment of her. She is going to lose her job, Alex. The only real question here is how much you care about yours.” “I see.” “It’s not so bad after you get used to it. Firing people is just one of the necessities of the job. You’ll understand once you’ve been in higher management for a while.” “How did you get into this line of work, Steve? Is it what you planned for in college?” Steve laughed. “No, I studied to be an architect, if you can believe it. Guess I was just in the right place at the right time. Corporate kept moving me up in the ranks, salary, benefits, the whole thing, and I certainly wasn’t going to turn down a living like that. Pretty much the same as you, really.” “Wrong,” said Alex. Steve glanced up, uncomprehending. “What?” “You’re wrong. I’m giving my two weeks’ notice.” “Over Summer? Alex, she’s already gone.” Alex shrugged. Steve smiled his broad, ingratiating smile. “Ok, you know what? Don’t even worry about her. I’ll take care of that myself.” “No, Steve. Sorry. I’m…going to head out. Mandy’s got this shift under control.” Alex hung up his apron and found Summer wiping tables furiously. “They’re going to fire you,” he said. “Just thought you should know.” Summer looked up sharply. “What?” “Sorry.” He held her eye for a long moment, then smiled sadly. “It’s ok. You don’t deserve them.” Alex walked out into a light drizzle, and laughed. When he arrived at home he found a buzz of activity, with Zen and Sushi and several neighbors carting books and electronics off the sidewalk, and covering a huge tumbled pile with tarps, garbage bags, and Zen’s hammocks. Zen and Sushi were each hauling one end of a big trunk. He grabbed Zen by the shoulder. “What’s going on?” Zen laughed a trifle nervously. “We got evicted. Destruction of property, apparently. I’m not sure what he’s talking about.” Sushi broke in. “Maybe your hammocks bolted all over the walls? And the fire pit in the living room?” “That was solid brick!” Zen protested. “And Alex made it all…smart. It didn’t even get hot on the outsides.” “Yeah,” Sushi shot back, “And I bet it did wonders for the hardwood floors.” Alex just stared at the pile of all their earthly belongings, then laughed darkly and spread his arms wide. “It’s a brand new day, gentlemen,” he announced in an odd voice. “And ladies,” Sushi corrected him. “And ladies,” agreed Alex with a curious, almost sinister smile. “Tickled Pig, anyone? Drinks are on me.” And he stalked off into the rain.