The ant’s body turned away, and its mandibles throbbed as a voice filtered from within. “Not a seance. You always make fun of things you don’t understand. Try to be a little more worldly and you won’t always come across as ignorant.”
“Ignor-ant, you mean?” I retorted, smiling.
The ant stared at me, its malice apparent.
“Oh come on, Fred, the only good pun is a bad pun, you know that.” I reached for the recliner to turn it back in its original position, and a sharp, piercing, clicking noise halted my progress. Fred wagged a finger at me. “What? I’m supposed to sit with my back to you?”
“Don’t disrupt the atmosphere. The positioning is crucial?”
“Crucial to what? Kill social interaction?”
“Cleanse the life-spirit.”
My eyebrows raised. “Since when do you buy into metaphysical nonsense like that? I’m moving this chair.”
Fred stood up. His dwarfish body straightened, little chest poking out, and his headlegs quivered threateningly. “Leave it alone. I’ve been paying the rent here, not you. When’s the last time that you even contributed to anything?”
“Is that what this is about?” I snapped. “A little short on funds and you start screwing with the interior decorating?”
“Maybe if you brought in a little money, you’d have more of a say.”
“Fred, you know that at times my business is a little slow. It’s the nature of what I do.”
A strange little snorting sound chuffed from between Fred’s mandibles. “Nature of what I do, he says. If you actually had any sort of initiative, you’d have plenty of work.”
“You know, if you didn’t have a head that looked like a picnic spoiler, I’d say you could definitely pass as my mother.” I attempted to sit in the upsot chair, twisting uncomfortably to continue the conversation. After a few moments of fidgeting and intensifying back pain, I sighed and stood up. “Stupid chair.”
“Heauxjeaux doesn’t seem to have any issues finding work.” Fred muttered.
I glared at him. “You trying to compare me to that fruitcake?”
“A fruitcake with a steady paycheck.”
“Well, stabbing employers in the back at the drop of a hat does pay the bills, I guess,” I retorted.
Fred folded his hands together and shrugged. “I know you hate him, but don’t stand there and try to act like you’re above his tactics. You’re no saint.”
“I wouldn’t have to stand here and act like I’m above anything if you’d let me move the damn furniture.”
Fred waved his hands and me and groaned. “Move it already. I was just trying to make a point.” He sagged back onto the couch. “It’s not easy being the only one bringing in any money. You need to get a job, and soon. Mr. Abraxas is grumpy enough when we pay on time.”
I grunted as I turned the chair, and collapsed into it. Arguing with Fred was far from constructive. He wasn’t exactly a friend, but he was more than an acquaintance. He dated regularly, which was problematic for me since I couldn’t afford a place on my own. Many of his girlfriends didn’t like me hanging around – I think the term leech was the most often used term when describing yours truly – and would often give him some not-so-subtle advice to kick me out. But I’d done Fred a pretty huge favor a few months back, and if there was one monkey that was too strong to be bucked from his back, it was a monkey named Guilt.
“I’ll get some work. Don’t worry. I’m due.”
He tilted his segmented head toward me. “Is the Network looking for anyone to help out?”
“No,” I replied, perhaps too quickly considering the way Fred flinched. “They wouldn’t hire me anyway. Too many of the powers-that-be are pretty sure that I’m more enemy than ally.” I sighed. “I’ve got a few contacts that could probably use me. I just have to muster the feigned excitement at meeting up with them.”
“The Handsome?” he said, sounding nervous.
“Bite your tongue.”
Fred sighed. “Look, Arch, I wasn’t going to bring this up. I know how you feel about my job. But if the doc is looking for anyone else at the lab, I can ask. I doubt it’s anything primo, but…”
“Are you nuts?” I said, throwing my hands up in the air. “Look, maybe you like your line of work, Fred, but yesterday you were just a homely guy with a badly shaven beard. Today, your head’s an advertisement for a bug spray. I’d kind of like to keep my genes consistent, if it’s all the same.”
Fred sat silently for a moment. I thought about apologizing, but then he spoke.
“My beard looked bad?”
I shook my head. “I’m gonna go make some phone calls.” I’ve been holding this off for too long, and now I’ve only got one person that might be willing to toss me some scraps. And I hate that feathered son of a bitch.