“So you’re telling me my wife didn’t stop by yesterday?”
“Yes, why is that so hard to believe?” I was lying again, but I was ordinarily good at it. Why did he seem so incredulous and angry today?
“Because,” Gary explained, “I already checked the security footage from the parking lot and saw her car was here for an hour.”
Alright, that explained a lot. Even before I’d started sleeping with his wife, Annie, I hadn’t gotten along well with Gary. It probably had to do with why I began sleeping with her, actually. I certainly wished I had considered I stood no chance against the much bigger, more athletic Gary in a fight. I’d never considered him violent, but I’d never seen that vein on his forehead either.
“No, sorry, the only visitor we had was some IT guy I called. He must have the same car.
He studied my face for a beat, taking in my mask of mild concern and bewilderment, before saying, “Let’s go check the keylogger then.”
“Oh no, I met him at the door,” I said easily.
I could tell Gary didn’t believe me yet, but he paused to think. “So, you took him to the rear lab?” he finally asked.
“Sure, yeah. We took a shortcut through the main tanks.” The lighting in there was kept too low for security cameras to see anything. If we’d gone in down the west hall, every camera from Bee Observation to Psittacine Studies would have recorded me with Annie.
I couldn’t place Gary’s look before he said, “Then I’ll just ask Dmitri.” He turned suddenly and strode toward the tank room.
I hurried after him down the hallway flanked by naked mole rats skittering behind glass panels. “Now wait a second, hold on! Don’t you think whatever he says will be a little unreliable?”
He stopped right outside the double doors to glare at me. “I’ve been working with him for a year now, and I’m confident he can converse well enough to tell me what I want to know.” Without waiting for a response, he pushed the door open.
The main tanks smell like an aquarium, naturally, but there’s an ethereal beauty to the way the dim overhead lights pass through the tanks to make the shadows play across the waterproof floors as the filters hum. God, Gary splattering my blood on the floor would definitely ruin the atmosphere.
We walked over to Dmitri’s tank and Gary pressed the button that made a soft buzz. Within a minute, the octopus emerged from his favorite privacy nook and swam up to the platform in front of the glass. I stood behind Gary and shifted my weight nervously.
Gary positioned his hands over the hundreds of buttons on the custom keyboard in front of the tank. “I’ll ask some warm up questions first,” he said with the edge still in his voice, “since he just woke up.” He began to press the pictographic buttons, which were captioned as they showed up on the human side of the display.
QUESTION WATER GOOD NOW, he asked as a typical greeting.
Dmitri moved a tentacle across his waterproof keypad inside the tank. YES GOOD, the response came.
Gary held up two fingers. QUESTION FINGER NUMBER.
A pause. NUMBER TWO FINGER.
Gary turned and glowered at me again. I had relaxed a bit while I watched him communicate with Dmitri, but Gary’s bearing and intensity revived my anxieties.
“Now we’ll get an answer I can actually trust,” he said, jerking his arm into his pocket. He took out his phone and unlocked it to show a picture of him with Annie at some beach. He pressed the phone screen against the glass.
QUESTION PERSON INSIDE RECTANGLE SEE EARLIER, Gary asked.
A tense moment passed as the octopus studied the picture, then looked past it at my stressed face. He held up four tentacles. Shit. I rubbed my brow. I had been afraid of this. Dmitri really knew how to read a room, and he had figured out what his knowledge was worth.
“What the hell is he doing?” Gary muttered. I fidgeted a bit and quietly held up three fingers near my face.
The octopus looked back at Gary’s question on the display. YES PERSON SEE EARLIER.
Gary wheeled around to me with his eyes ablaze. “You son of a bitch!” he shouted.
“Wait, wait, hold on!” I cried, lifting my palm in a stopping gesture. “Maybe he just meant he’d seen you before! Don’t you think you should use a picture with only Annie?”
He reread the last output. “Fine,” he conceded. He turned back to the desk and hunched over his phone to sift through pictures.
Meanwhile, Dmitri and I reestablished eye contact. He dropped all his tentacles then held up five. Dammit. I looked nervously over at Gary then stretched out all five fingers with resignation. He really had me.
“Here’s one,” Gary said at last. He pressed the phone to the glass and asked again: QUESTION PERSON SEE EARLIER.
The answer came quickly this time. NO PERSON EARLIER NO.
Gary eyed Dmitri skeptically, but octopus faces have a way of being hard to read. He pressed the phone against the glass again with a different picture of Annie, asked the same question, got the same result.
After one more round, Gary turned halfway towards me. His brow twitched with uncertainty in the quiet hum of the filters. “I’m going to talk to Anne,” he said at last. He started to say something else, then brushed past me and walked out the door.
Once the doors stopped swinging, I moved up to the desk as Dmitri sent me a message.
FIVE NUMBER REWARD RECTANGLE NOW.
I sighed and opened my wallet to produce five $20 bills. It had to be twenties; Dmitri could tell the portraits apart. I wasn’t looking forward to the day I discovered what he was doing with his bribe money.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adri Persad is from West Virginia though now resides in East Virginia, and pursues interests in writing, engineering, fitness, and general grousing. His work has appeared in Misery Tourism. You may follow his disconnected ravings via @36_chambuhz on Twitter.