So two of the punks pick up the wrecked soap dispensers, and look at them hopelessly. I’ve agreed to give them a shot at fixing them, so I go, and the fire alarm kid comes with me.
“There’s a lot riding on your friends here…” I warn him.
“Cliff,” he tells me. Cliff’s got a hang-dog look about him. He knows he’s finished.
“Cliff. I’m Spike,” and I shake his hand. He relaxes, which is good. I want him to help me out. We walk down to the dorm’s kitchen, and I fire up the coffee maker. Four scoops from the store-brand public can. I fish around and find some Styrofoam cups and I offer him one.
“Any cream or sugar?” he asks me.
“No, I looked.” That’s fine with me, though. I drink it black.
He sips his, and winces.
I start with the basic questions: where he lives on campus, what he’s studying. Now it’s time for the serious business.
“You pulled that fire alarm on me. Why?”
“What’re you talking about?”
“I’m talking about this: are you being paid enough to cover your financial aid? Are your buddies gonna give you a place to stay when you lose your housing? Think about those questions Cliff.”
“Yo- what’s to stop me from walking away right now?”
“Nothing. Not a thing. But I’ve got a chance to help you out here. I scratch your back, you scratch mine, huh? Now talk about the fire alarm.”
Something is clicking in Cliff’s brain, and he shrugs. “Yeah. All right, yeah. I was standing guard.”
“It’s part of the package when you deal with my boss.”
“Your boss, huh? Tell me more.”
“It’s a safety net, you know? This guy promises that everything is totally off the books, no online pictures, no RA or cop busts, no nothing. And part of that is paying for guards and that kind of thing.”
“Must get expensive,” I say. But it’s confirming my ideas about the Ostrich.
“Well that’s why his target clientele is like- loaded.”
“Yeah, I noticed that. And the girl I met in the red dress?”
“Another mover and guard. Don’t see her much myself.”
“It’s a sweet deal really. Think about it, man! College is all ‘bout experimenting and stuff. What’s so bad about it if you set it up so no one gets hurt?” Cliff’s eyes get wide as he explains it.
I rub my eyes and take a sip of coffee. “Well that’s not how it’s going down. You see, your clients have been stealing, getting sick, humiliating themselves, and losing all kinds of good stuff because of your products. So don’t tell me no one’s getting hurt.”
I look at my wristwatch. “Hour’s up. Let’s check on your engineering major buddies, huh?” and I cuff him on the shoulder. He looks nervous, so I don’t think he’s got much faith in them.
To be continued…