Bernard Walton waved a small wave as Alex and Cal gave their farewells. "Yeah. Bye." The two boys left the office, shutting the door behind them. Once they were gone, Bernard looked around at the now almost-empty office. He'd packed up most of the office supplies, leaving only the desk, chair, and computer. He sighed. "Okay, I guess that's it."
Suddenly, there was a curious beep behind him. "What was that?" He looked around to find its source. In his search, his eyes fell upon his computer screen—and Bernard noticed that it looked different. A little dialog box popped up. "Oh. My computer." He peered closer at the text, and read it aloud. "'Instant message from AREM. Do you wish to respond?'" He paused. "No, I wish to go home! Is there a button for that?" he asked the computer.
After a moment, though, Bernard sighed and sat back down at the desk. "Ehh… might as well see what this guy wants. Not like I have much else to do." He clicked the little 'yes' button in the dialog box.
Instantly, there was a little blip, and a computerized voice spoke. "Hi, there! What are you doing?"
Bernard's eyebrows went up. "Oh! Ha. Didn't know the thing talked." Then he replied "Uh, hi… AREM." The computer voice made no sound. "Hello?" he asked, louder. "Why isn't this thing working?" He studied the screen as he continued muttering. "What's the matter with this… oh." Bernard turned his attention to the keyboard and typed out his message. "'Hello. I'm getting ready to leave my office.' And hit Return."
"So I've heard," AREM replied. "It's probably for the best, though."
"Yeah," he said to himself. Then something occurred to him, and his eyes narrowed. "Wait a minute. 'What's for the best?'"
"That you won't be working with Novacom after all."
It was true. His show, B-TV, had been bought by Novacom, but he'd refused to let their scriptwriters turn it into a secular showboat. So they renegotiated his contract. That was why he was packing up his things. But…
"Now… 'How did you know about that?'"
"I know a lot of things about Novacom."
"'Is that so?'"
"Would you like to know more?"
"You're not interested in what Novacom is doing?"
"Oh, now… 'Is that the only reason you popped up on my computer? You already know I don't work for them anymore.'" Then Bernard muttered, "What this guy wants, I don't know…"
"Maybe you'd be more interested in what your cousin has been up to lately."
Bernard blinked in surprise. "What?" He hadn't expected the thing to ask about family, especially… but it couldn't be talking about him. He shook his head. "'Which cousin?'"
"Eugene Meltsner. He is your cousin, isn't he?"
Apparently, it could. Bernard paused, considering what to type next. "'Why are you interested in Eugene?'"
"He's been very busy lately, with some important work."
Bernard scoffed, then replied. "'Is that all? He's always busy with something like that.'"
"This time, it's something dangerous. If he finds out just how much so, it could land him in serious trouble."
"Hold on, 'Are you telling me Eugene is in danger?'"
"Not yet. But his project is dangerous."
Bernard sat back in his chair. If this thing was telling the truth, and Eugene was really working on something that could put him in danger… well, he wouldn't exactly be surprised. Eugene had done plenty of crazy things before. He'd roped Bernard into some of them, far more than once, even before they found out they were distantly related. But… well, this felt different. Maybe it was just this AREM thing showing up with all these secrets, but this time it seemed serious.
He sighed, then started typing. "'What project?'"
"Would you like me to show you?"
"I, uh… 'I guess so.'"
"Go to the Novacom website and click on 'Special Projects'."
"Website, huh? Okay. How do I get off of this… message thing? Um… oops, that's not it. Hold on. 'I don't know very much about computers.'"
"That's okay. I'll help you."
"'All right. Walk me through it.'"
"Hello, Bernard," Whit greeted as the window-washer came up.
"Oh, hi, Whit." He paused, uncertain of what to say first. "H-have you seen Eugene lately?"
Whit looked surprised by the question, as if he'd expected him to ask a different one. But he replied, "No, not lately. He's been busy with his work at Campbell College, and he's asked if I could spare him for a while."
"Any idea what he's working on?"
"No, he hasn't said anything. Though I got the impression it was something important."
"Oh." Bernard said nothing more for a moment.
"Why all the questions about Eugene?"
"Well, it's the funniest thing. A message popped up on my computer, said something about Eugene and some kind of project."
Whit lifted an eyebrow. "Oh?"
"Yeah. I was just on my way out, too." He paused. "Speaking of which, uh… have you already hired somebody to do your windows?"
"Uh, no. Not yet."
"Ah." Bernard stopped again. Then, a few seconds later, once the silence became unbearable, he added, "You know, if you're gonna say 'I told you so,' will you just say it now and get it over with?"
Whit smiled. "Oh, Bernard, you know I'm not the type to do that!"
He shrugged. "Well…"
"I'm sorry things didn't work out with Novacom."
"Yeah." He thought back on it for a moment, then sighed. "Eh, it's all for the best, I guess. Now I can't wait to get back to my old cable access station again, with the…" His gaze wandered off, as he thought unhappily about the station and its prospects. "…the one camera, and a studio as big as an outhouse."
"Ah, but at least it'll be B-TV."
"Yeah, I suppose." He paused again, then shook his head. It was high time he stopped feeling sorry for himself and went on with business. "Well, I'll start upstairs. Though I need to borrow some paper towels and window cleaner."
"I didn't have a chance to buy new equipment. My old squeegee and bucket, well… ha, they're long gone now."
"Well, why don't you try using mine?"
"Uh, well, no offense, Whit, but I could never use a civilian squeegee."
"Well, could you possibly bring yourself to use… these?" At that, Whit took something from behind the counter and set it on top. The sight made Bernard's eyes widen in wonder.
"Wha—where in the world…?"
Whit laughed. "You recognize them?"
"Ha! I'd know that bi-component, non-slip squeegee handle anywhere! You got my old equipment back! How did you do that?"
"I bought them back from Edwin Blackgaard after I heard what happened at the station."
Bernard felt happier than he'd felt in a long time, and grateful. "Oh… well, thanks, Whit."
"Ah, you're welcome." Whit set a hand on his friend's shoulder. "You deserve it for not compromising your standards."
Whit never ceased to amaze him. "I d—I don't know what to say. Boy, are those things a sight for sore eyes."
"Would you like some time alone with your squeegee?"
Bernard looked at Whit, then picked up his old bucket and squeegee. "Yeah, I believe I'd like to go upstairs now, and…" He looked up at Whit and got a determined glint in his eye. "And don't you worry about a thing, Whit. Your windows are gonna shine like my uncle Emmet's head at high noon!"
"I'm counting on it."
Bernard tipped his hat slightly, then headed toward the stairs, whistling. He'd talk to Eugene some other time. For now, all that mattered was that he was back, and windows needed washing.