Marty recoils with a shudder and looks away for a moment. “Yes,” he says, turning back to face them. “I have a new neighbor.”
“Yes. Tell us about your new neighbor. We did not have anyone in the neighborhood to witness him move in, but we are interested to know what impressions you made of him.”
“Oh,” Marty says as if it was the crudest of all swear words. “You missed the live performance? What a shame. Don’t worry. I taped it for you. And you can count on at least a few re-runs, maybe even a sequel if you’re really lucky.”
The officers can tell he is getting at something with his obscure metaphors, but they are not following his strange dialect. Their eyes ask for him to explain further and their lips are pursed. They lean in, not quite understanding.
Marty stares at them for a moment. “The guy is nuts,” he blurts.
Both the officers lean back at once with an, “Ahh,” their eyebrows rising in understanding.
“Actually,” says the officer with the round face. “Your…’enthusiastic description’…” he is unsure how to refer to Marty’s curious way of speaking. “It is rather close to our actual purpose here.”
And now Marty is perplexed. Is this man trying to speak to Marty in his own language? Because he is failing.
The other officer clears his throat. “It’s like a show we want taped. That’s what you had said in your…enthusiastic…artistic description.”
Marty still isn’t following. Are they making a joke?
The round-faced officer leans in close. “We want you to tape his show. All four seasons. And…” he pauses for suspense. “Behind the scenes too.” He gives a tremendous wink and sits back in his seat.
Marty blinks. He feels faint.
The square faced officer feels unsure of this whole concept. So he explains. “We would like to install a surveillance post in your upstairs bedroom.”
Marty raises an eyebrow. “Wow,” he says. “You guys are sick.”
The officers make eye contact. Then the round faced one gives Marty a careful glare. He is not sure what is meant by that comment. “We…are indeed,” he says slowly. “Siiiick…Far out.”
Marty doesn’t want to laugh. He hates the very idea of doing so for very deliberate reasons. But he cannot help himself. “And how much are you paying me to install this peep show of yours?”
The officers lean back in unison. “This installment is for the safety of the public.”
“What about the safety of my sanity?”
“There will be benefits,” declares the square-faced one.
Marty gives them a glare. “Thanks,” he says, “Make sure my benefits are cream-filled.”
“With a cherry on top,” adds the round-faced officer. He seems rather proud of his metaphor.
So Marty laughs at him. “No man. A cherry? Do you have any idea how difficult that would be? I was thinking of icing the cake with sugar on top. Cherries are out of the question. And don’t even mention blueberries because I know where you’re coming from. You silly fruit cake.”
Marty cannot help it. He may be sick of comedy, but he cannot help feeling good at being the comedian. It is his life after all.
The officers retreat into a whispered conversation behind their large hands, and Marty narrows his eyes. They emerge for a second as the round-faced one opens his mouth to speak to Marty, but the other one pulls him back into their negotiations. Then the square-faced one speaks.
“We will give you a tax-creditable auxiliary income of twenty-five percent on a bi-weekly pay rate.”
Marty laughs. The square-faced one is attempting a comeback. But wait, there’s more.
“And if you agree to secondary responsibilities we will consider a working contract under strict supervision, but subsidized with a grade two income and additionally scaled benefits.”
Marty smiles. This officer’s got nothing on him. “Your offer is tempting,” he says with a hint of mischief. “But,” he adds, raising a finger to signal his acceptance to the challenge. “I would suggest an alternative. You indicated a benefit package including the scaled pay range of a grade two based on auxiliary responsibilities, but you failed to mention the expiry or length of the accumulation to the pay grade for the promotion and expansion of said responsibilities. Because if I sign into the secondary contract, the variables involved with the danger of a citizen coming into contact with a suspected criminal are undeterminable under such circumstances. Therefore, I would suggest a refinement to the initial terms to include the probability of extreme cases and/or damages to the citizen’s sanity or personal security and feeling of safety in the place of his residence.”
Marty stops himself before he goes too far. But then he finds himself stepping past the backside of a no trespassing sign onto no man’s land. Somehow the officers appear thoughtful. The square-faced one appears to be chewing on cheek as his eyes jump across the ceiling, trying to digest the tumble of words.
Finally his eyes light and he turns to Marty.
“That actually made sense,” he says, as if mildly surprised at his own abilities to comprehend.
Marty smiles. “I’m glad we’re on the same page. I’ll show you to the bedroom.”
The two officers let him know when the surveillance post will be set up, and Marty returns to his kitchen. Sure, things are building all around him. Sure, the very fabric of his reality is bursting with laughter. But he’s ready for it.
“Bring it on,” he says, taking a sip of his extra salty coffee. He makes a sour face and swallows.