Something Going On
"Er-ic!" His office door crashed against the wall. Eric looked up to see -- who else? -- Pizazz and the rest of the Misfits coming at him like a flying wedge.
"Yesss?" he asked, setting down his pen and giving them his best blasé look, knowing it would further annoy Pizazz. He had to have some fun, after all. "What is it now? Lind-Z give Jem and the Holograms twenty more seconds of coverage than you?"
"How come the Stingers have a full pyrotechnics show for their act and all we've got is a few chintzy lasers?" Pizazz demanded, hands on her hips as she went into her full-on Amazon warrior mode. "What are we paying Techrat for, anyway?"
"First of all, 'we' don't pay Techrat -- I do. And I pay him to come up with effects for all of Stinger Sounds' acts, not just the Misfits." Eric reached for an invoice, holding it up for Pizazz to see. "And secondly, those 'chintzy' lasers as you call them are costing me forty thousand dollars."
"We're not paying him to help upstage us!" Roxy stepped up beside Pizazz, mirroring the other woman's stance. As usual, his attempts at logic washed over them like water off a duck's back. "The Stingers are opening for us! People're gonna think we're closing for them! We're gonna look cheap!"
"Too late," Eric muttered, his words lost as the Misfits continued to complain.
"It's not fair, Eric, he's known us longer." Stormer frowned, looking almost as concerned as she was annoyed. "He's been acting really weird lately too. I mean, you know, more so than usual."
"Yeah," Jetta agreed. "I saw that Minx bird brush up against 'im the other day, on purpose even, an' he didn't say nothin' to her! He even smiled at her! I bumped into 'im on accident an' he threw a wobbly at me."
"Is that like a wrench?" Stormer asked. "Because he threw one of those at me once."
That set the rest of the Misfits off and Eric was treated to a four way cataloging of how the Misfits had been the victims of Techrat's cruel and rampant abuse for years and how Eric had better Do Something about it because Favoritism Was Wrong -- especially when the Misfits weren't on the receiving end.
Why did I waste my time getting my MBA when I should have gotten a daycare license?
"Alright! Alright!" Eric yelled, waving his hands in front of his face to try and shut them up. "I'll admit that he does seem to have a bit of a thing for her…"
All four Misfits looked at him with equal expressions of shock and horror before looking at each other as if to confirm that they'd all heard the same thing.
"Ewwww!" they chorused, breaking into individual expressions of dismay.
"Techrat likes Minx? No way! What's she got that I don't?" That, naturally, from Pizazz.
Roxy snorted. "Never thought I'd actually feel sorry for Minx."
"Gor, that wanker? I'd rather date Pee Wee Herman," was Jetta's contribution. "Ugh!"
"I don't know, I mean, it's kind of sweet in a way." But even Stormer's capacity for happy thoughts ultimately failed her. "A really weird and creepy 'Repo Man' meets 'Weird Science' kinda way."
"Look, all I know is that Techrat seems to think Minx is -- is --" Eric paused, unsure what exactly Techrat did think about Minx. On the one hand, he hadn't said anything about her since the night they'd first met, but on the other, he hadn't erased the half-completed circuit diagram she'd drawn on his dry erase board either. Maybe an elaborate pyrotechnics show as Techrat's way of flirting -- a bigger, brighter, showier version of two dozen long-stemmed roses. Maybe his little genius was finally growing up and getting interested in girls.
And maybe Eric would go home early and get on the outside of as much Stoli as it took to get that thought to go away. "All right," he growled. "So I don't know what he thinks of her, but he seems to not completely hate her for whatever reason, okay?"
"Does he like her," Pizazz sounded amused now. "Or does he like her?" She wiggled her hips lasciviously, which set off another chorus of 'ewwws' mixed with malicious giggling.
"I don't know. Techrat's sex life is none of my business," Eric snapped, reaching into his desk drawer for the bottle of painkillers he kept there. The Misfits: Excedrin Headache #401.
"D'you think he wants to? I mean, talk about gross!" Roxy clutched at her stomach with one hand, the other over her mouth as she made retching noises.
"He can't really think he's got a chance with her, can he?" Jetta snorted, shaking her head in amazement. "I mean, who does he think he's fooling?"
"He's not bad looking -- I mean, he's not my type, but maybe Minx likes smart guys." Stormer wrinkled her nose. "Who are really, really, really weird and creepy."
"Or maybe she likes the idea of upstaging us -- and she's getting our pet geek to help her do it!" Pizazz's amusement vanished as quickly as it had arrived, replaced by her more usual petulant jealousy. "Eric, you better do something about this!"
"Need I remind you four that this is a business, not junior high," Eric snapped. "What do you expect me to do? Sit Techrat down and have a heart to heart with him about girls? Or should I tell the Stingers that they can't use effects that the company has already paid for because it's not fair to the other kiddies? Not in this lifetime Pizazz."
Pizazz started to speak, but Eric continued, cutting her off. "Besides, give it a week -- she'll annoy him and he'll be back to his usual surly self." He shook out three tablets, popping them into his mouth. "I'll even ask him to throw something at you, Pizazz, just so you know he's back to normal."
"Not good enough, Eric," Pizazz growled. "Either you do something about this, or we will."
"And what, exactly, are you going to do?" Eric asked.
"We'll fight fire with fire." Pizazz gestured to herself and the rest of the Misfits. "No way that bleached blonde bratwurst can hope to compete with all of us."
"Techrat," Eric said. "The four of you are going to try and seduce Techrat?"
"He's a man, isn't he?" Pizazz sneered. "If he likes her, he'll like us."
"Yeah, do me a favor and send me a cave painting from one million B.C." Eric pulled off his sunglasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Fine, I'll talk to him about this but only on the condition that you four leave him and the Stingers alone. Got it?"
"Fine." Pizazz gave him the same triumphant look he'd seen her give her father when she'd managed to bully him into doing what she wanted. She turned on her heel in a well-practiced flounce, the others following her with better choreography than they'd ever used on stage as Pizazz stalked toward the door. Once there, she turned back to give him the usual dramatic pose/final ultimatum. "Remember Eric, fix this or else!"
# # #
He was halfway through reviewing a merchandising contract when the door to his office opened again.
"Eric, we need to talk." Riot didn't storm into his office. Instead, he strode in like a lion, expecting the other, lesser animals of the savanna to stop and look to him.
Eric leaned back in his chair. "What can I do for you?" he asked.
"It's about Techrat." Riot paused for effect, allowing a faint, concerned frown to wrinkle his brow just so before he continued. "I don't know if I want him working on the Stingers' effects anymore."
If he tells me he's jealous of Minx, I'm quitting the business and getting into something with fewer headaches -- like savings and loans or air traffic control.
Eric took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "I don't see why you wouldn't," he said, trying to keep his tone reasonable. "You said yourself that the show he came up with was, and I quote: 'Truly worthy of the Stingers,' end-quote."
"Oh, it is, it is,." Riot smiled, benevolently. "But, it's come to my attention that Techrat has an unhealthy interest in our Minx and at this point in time, I'd rather eliminate any potential problems as quickly as possible. Before there's an incident."
I am too old for this. Eric glanced at his watch. Pizazz managed to keep her mouth shut for all of an hour and a half. This is a new record.
Riot continued, waving a hand dramatically in the air. "So, of course, you'll talk to him -- won't you? Make sure that he understands his proper place. In the company, of course."
"Of course." Eric's hands itched with the desire to wipe the smirk off Riot's smug face.
"Wonderful!" Riot turned to leave, pausing at the door. "And, Eric, it's for the best, really. He'd only have gotten the wrong idea and Minx would have broken his heart. And then, what use would he have been to us?"
"Yeahh, thanks for your concern." Eric forced the words out through clenched teeth. "Don't worry, I'll deal with it."
"Good, I'd hate to have to do it myself," Riot said. "It would be messy."
"You don't know the half of it," Eric muttered as Riot left.
# # #
A quick call to Rochelle cleared his calendar for the rest of the afternoon, allowing Eric to drive out to the Rathole. On the way, he stopped off at a diner near Techrat's compound and picked up a sack of cheeseburgers to go just in case. Techrat had a tendency to forget to eat, especially when he was in the middle of working on a project. Hunger made him hard to deal with, in much the same way that PCP made junkies hard to arrest.
Eric sat the food on the floorboards of his car before pulling out of the parking lot. He decided to take the long way, to give him time to think about how, exactly, he was going to handle this.
It had occurred to him that even after knowing Techrat for all these years, he still didn't know for sure if the kid even liked girls. To be honest, he wasn't entirely sure Techrat knew that women existed as anything other than bumpy people with higher voices. He'd certainly never seen him show much interest in them -- and by 'much' he meant 'any.'
No, the only things Eric had ever seen Techrat interested in were, well, things. Lasers were beautiful to Techrat. Flying platforms and computers were beautiful to Techrat. Hell, he'd practically proposed to Eric's original Fitzgerald Beck robot statue but until Minx, women had seemed superfluous to Techrat.
Eric was pretty sure Techrat was equally disinterested in men. At least, he kind of hoped he wasn't because, well, the universe had already painted one target on Techrat. And while Eric considered himself to be a pretty open-minded guy about such things, he knew that some people weren't -- even in the music industry.
But, more to the point, Techrat tolerated Minx. More than tolerated her, in fact. During the planning meeting where Techrat had outlined his effects show for Eric and the Stingers, the two of them had gotten into another discussion about electronics. This time, it had been something about making computers talk to one another. Eric had listened in for about two minutes before he'd given up, unable to follow a word of it. He'd been about to try and interrupt them to get them back on track when Minx had walked her fingers up Techrat's arm like she was strolling through the Yellow Pages.
Amazingly enough, Techrat hadn't pulled away or yelled about being touched. Instead, he'd stood there and taken it -- though admittedly he'd flinched and grimaced with each 'step', looking for all the world like that bulldog in the old Warner Brothers' cartoons when that little girl kitten would claw into his back to make a nest. And he'd even managed to keep chattering on to her about DARPA and BBS and God knew what else until Eric had shaken off his surprise and managed to force the meeting back on track.
Eric scowled. It didn't seem fair, somehow. Not that he was a romantic by any stretch of the imagination, hot girl falls for geeky loner was something out of a John Hughes movie, not real life. But really? Where was the harm in letting Techrat dream a little dream? It wasn't as if he really had a chance; there was a big difference between a little finger walking and --
He cut himself short, deciding it would be best not to cross that particular bridge any time soon. In fact, it would probably be best to blow it up, just in case.
# # #
He pulled into the Rathole, parking in front of Techrat's main garage/lab/apartment. Walking up to the door, he tried the knob only to find that the door was locked. With a long-suffering sigh, he pushed the intercom call button. "Techrat, it's Eric, open up!"
After what felt like fifteen minutes in the sweltering heat of the early afternoon, Techrat's voice came over the speaker. "Go away," he snapped, the speaker squealing from feedback.
"Hell no!" Eric pushed the button again. "Open the damn door, Techrat, we need to talk."
"Later. I'm busy."
"No, now! C'mon, I got you burgers from Angelo's -- extra everything, just like you like them." Eric rustled the bag near the intercom. "Let me in already."
Another longer pause, but at least this time the door opened a crack and Techrat looked out at him. "Give me the burgers and go away."
"Give you my lunch? Get real." Eric shoved the door, hard, knocking Techrat backwards as he pushed his way into the garage.
"Will you get out of here?!" Techrat scrambled back to his feet as Eric basked in the refreshingly cool blast of Techrat's air conditioner.
"No, I told you, we need to talk." Eric looked Techrat over. Instead of his usual Punk/New Wave style suit, he was dressed in a heavy coverall, welders gloves and a pair of dark black welding goggles. His cheeks and the shaved side of his head were streaked with grease and grime. All of which combined to make him look like a refugee from some post-apocalyptic future where Devo ruled supreme. "How long has it been since you've eaten, anyway? You know how you get when you don't eat."
"He made us omelets about an hour ago." Eric's head snapped up and over toward the sound of Minx's voice. "I've never seen anyone cook with a blow torch before."
Minx stood posed in the doorway of Techrat's bedroom suite and smiled broadly at Eric. She was wearing a robe, presumably Techrat's, and not much else that Eric could see. At least not from about the knees down.
He gawped a moment, torn between "Oh no!" and "All right!" before whipping his head back around to stare at Techrat. "What did you do?" he demanded, managing to stop himself before he added 'young man.'
"He's just been showing me how to handle his equipment." Minx's tone was just too innocent, too carefully guileless. Eric reached out to grab Techrat by his coveralls but the younger man was too fast for him.
"She wanted to learn how to use an arc welder," Techrat said, taking a couple extra steps backwards, watching Eric warily. "We were talking about it the other day so when her rehearsal was done this morning she caught a cab out here. "
"Okay, so why is she -- she -- where are her pants?!" Eric wasn't sure what bothered him more, not knowing what happened or the fact he was beginning to sound like his father.
"I just about to take a shower before you stormed in here being very silly." Minx giggled. "What did you think we were doing, Eric?"
"Err -- nothing. Nothing." Eric felt himself blushing. "I'm just surprised, that's all. It's not the sort of thing I'd figure you to be interested in."
Minx's grin didn't falter, but her eyes hardened and her voice was brittle. "Oh? You'd be surprised what interests me, Eric." Some of the ice in her look migrated to her eyes. "And who."
"You said you had burgers," Techrat said, looking longingly at the bag in Eric's hand. "Hand 'em over."
"Yeah, sure," Eric held up the bag. "Here."
Techrat darted in, snatching the bag from Eric's hand and moved over toward a workbench. "You wanted to talk to me?"
"It can wait," Eric said. "Err, Minx, if you need a ride into town, I'd be happy to oblige."
"Of course you would!" Minx beamed at him before disappearing into Techrat's bedroom, shutting the door behind her.
Eric watched Techrat munching on a burger while he stared at one of his computer screens, seemingly unconcerned that a gorgeous woman was currently undressing not twenty feet away from him. Oddly enough, Eric found this a comforting sign of normality.
"Soooo," he said. "You taught her how to use an arc welder, huh?"
"Yes." Techrat grunted, frowned and tapped a few keys on one of the keyboards in front of him.
"And that went well?" Eric asked.
"More or less." More tapping, followed by another frown.
"And it was just the two of you out here? All alone?"
Techrat looked over at him as if he'd lost his mind, which must have been an interesting new experience for him. "What is it, Eric?"
"I…" Eric sighed, rubbing his temples. "Look, I just want to know if there's anything you need to tell me about today? Anything at all?"
Techrat considered the question, finishing his first burger and rooting around in the bag for a second before he answered. "Yes."
His urge to kill rising, Eric forced himself to remain calm. "And what would that be?"
"I want a generator." Techrat looked stubborn, as if he was expecting an argument.
Eric's mouth started going before his mind had fully processed what was said. "Well, I just hope you two took some precautions, these days you can't be too care…excuse me, you want a what?"
"A generator." Techrat stared at him. "Eric, are you feeling okay? You're not making sense."
Eric searched Techrat's face for some sign that he was being had. "A generator? You really just want a generator? There's nothing else you think I need to know about?"
"Yes, a generator. I'm tired of running my welder off car batteries; it's a hassle, especially on larger projects. And I could use some more CO2 tanks and some metal bar stock. In fact, I can make you a list." Techrat rummaged for a piece of paper on his worktable, finally settling for a scrap of burger wrapper.
"Yeah, you do that," Eric said, surrendering to the inevitable. "And give me a burger while you're at it."