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a Scale of One to Ten – the Half-full Glass – Dog-catchers – Hanging up –

“On a scale of one to ten,” says Ysabel, “where one is – ”

“Yeah, I know,” says the man over the phone.

“Where one is – ”

“Not at all satisfied, yeah, I know, you said it already.”

“Please,” says Ysabel. “I need to read the whole question to you as it’s written.” One leg crossed over the other she sits sideways at her narrow carrel, idly plucking at the hem of her skirt there above her knee. “Besides, we might have changed the scale. Just to see if you’re paying attention.”

“So read the question,” says the man.

“On a scale of one to ten, where one is very dissatisfied and ten is very satisfied, how would you rate your most recent visit, overall, to Pet Depot?”

“See?” says the man. “It’s the same one. You didn’t change anything.”

“You’re paying attention,” says Ysabel. She’s pushed her skirt a little higher, fingertips resting on her knee, her thumb drawing loops on the skin of her thigh.

“Can’t you just average up all the numbers I’ve already given you?”

“It wouldn’t be as meaningful as what you say when I ask the question.” Ysabel taps the number seven on her keyboard.

“Well, I’d say seven, but I’ll give ’em a ten if I never get another survey call like this,” says the man.

“I have to ask you to pick just one,” says Ysabel. She’s already hit enter and brought up the next question on her screen.

“I know you heard that one,” she’s whispering. Sits up there on the low bed in the middle of the big dark room, pushing the bare shoulder next to her. Her blond hair ruddied by the light leaking through the tall narrow windows. “Your Grace,” she hisses. “Leo.”

“Cats,” he says, suddenly. “The building’s settled. What?” Grimacing, his head still on the pillow, digging at the corners of his eyes.

“You heard that,” she says.

“Doll,” he says, “there’s a restaurant downstairs. They’re washing up.”

“At three in the morning?” she says, and there’s a clattering crash.

Lights flicker to life in the wide white stairwell as the Duke descends, belting up a dressing gown of purples and golds. “Fucking Tommy,” he’s muttering. “Goes and gets himself killed. Fucking useless Stirrup.” In the foyer, the doors to the right stand open, the room beyond dark. The Duke stands in the doorway a moment. A confusion of chairs upended, resting on tables, legs in the air. A squeak of wood shifting. “Up horse, motherfucker,” says the Duke, feeling for the lightswitch. “Up with the hattock.”

One of the chairs has been set upright on the floor. The man sitting in it is bent over, picking up a platter from the floor. His pants the color of gravel. His shirt the color of ash. He holds the platter up – a lid, from the steam table beside him. “Your eloquence compels me, Your Grace,” he says. His voice slow and lugubrious. His face like old oatmeal. The Duke, there in the doorway, says nothing. The grey man sets the lid on the steam table. “You aren’t happy to see me?”

The Duke swallows. “I did all I said I would do,” he says.

“No,” says the grey man, standing up. “Not for Erymathos.”

“A chance,” says the Duke. “A chance at oblivion.” But the grey man’s walking toward him, shaking his head. “The boar is loose,” he says. “I held him apart, and gave him up to you, and now he’s loose. That’s on your head.”

“Hell,” says the Duke, “she let him walk – ” The grey man puts a hand on his shoulder. The Duke licks his lips, still open around the next word. Closes his eyes.

“You will see me once more yet,” says the grey man.

“Honestly,” says the Duke, “you don’t have to go to all this trouble.” But there’s no one there.

“Hello, people who don’t live here,” says the woman on the television screen.

“Hi, hello!” say the people on the couch.

“I gave you a key for emergencies!” she says. Laughter.

“Why do we go to work so late?” says Ysabel, opening the fridge. “Aren’t you people supposed to work from nine to five?”

Jo’s on her side on the futon, tapping a cigarette into a coffee cup. “Nobody’s worked nine to five in years,” she says. “Third wife sold separately,” says the man on the television screen. More laughter.

“All right,” says Ysabel. “But why do we wait until three in the afternoon?” She’s pinching open a carton of milk.

“We’re calling people at home,” says Jo. She takes a drag. “Better to wait till they’re home from work.” Blows the smoke out. “Life-sized Imperial Stormtroopers from Sharper Image?” says the man on the television screen. “Two,” says the woman.

“So,” says Ysabel, setting a glass on the counter of the narrow kitchenette, “most people just work till three now?”

Jo hitches up on one elbow. “No, Pet Depot’s a national survey. We’re calling the East Coast at three. What are you doing?”

“Pouring milk,” says Ysabel, tilting her head, pouring slowly, watching the level of the milk rise by the four fingers she’s set against the glass. “So it’s people on the East Coast who only work till three?”

“No,” says Jo, “we’re only allowed to make residential calls between six and nine. So we start out there.”

“Right,” says the woman on the television set. “At the end, you choked on a cookie.” The man says, “That was real.” Jo leans up and snaps it off.

“So the time’s different out there?” says Ysabel, opening the fridge

“Time zones,” says Jo. “It’s across the country.” Stubbing out her cigarette in the coffee cup. “The sun moves, you know?”

“Oh,” says Ysabel. “I thought they’d figured it was the other way round. Whichever.” She steps over to the blond armoire in the corner. “It’s twenty of three now.” She pulls out a thin burgundy cardigan. Slips it on. “Or twenty of six. Time for another day on the phones.”

“Are you,” says Jo, and then she looks down and away, smiling, shaking her head. “Are you going to drink the milk?” The glass half-full sits there on the counter by the sink.

“Are you going to take your sword?”

Jo gets up off the futon. “No, Ysabel, I’m not taking the sword with us to work.”

“And I’m not drinking the milk,” says Ysabel.

“Okay then,” says Jo.

“Yes,” he says. And again, “Yes.” He’s behind the scant cover of a payphone, handset tucked between ear and hunched shoulder. His suit’s black. His tie skinny and black, the knot of it lost somewhere under a thick beard the color of mahogany furniture. “I understand,” he says. He’s pulling a black notebook from his jacket, big as the palm of his hand, thumbing the elastic band off the cover. Opens it to a page that says THURS 29 SEPT at the top. “No. No.” He scribbles G-K under that, shoots his cuff, checks the time. “Probably not.” 2.48, he writes. He’s wearing a pair of black sunglasses. Something is written on one lens, in white, spidery letters.

Across the street Jo steps out of the apartment building, laughing, turning to say something to Ysabel behind her. JEANS, he writes, then OVERSHIRT PLAID BERRY, then WHITE SKIRT. “Tonight? This afternoon.” SWEATER = WINE. He crosses out WINE. “As soon as we’re done here.” RED WINE. He closes the notebook, hangs up the phone.

The payphone’s at the edge of a small corner parking lot, by the yellow Pay Here box. He waits behind the phone as they walk past, Jo saying, “that it moves, what I was saying, what I meant was that’s how it,” and then he heads down the line of parked cars toward the black one in the middle, a powerful-looking thing with dark windows. Spidery lines of white paint whorl over the fenders, across the hood and roof. There’s a little guy sitting padmasana on the hood, there in the middle of the concentric rings of cramped white letters. His suit is black. His tie is skinny and black. His eyes behind black sunglasses, the feather tied to one side stirring by the lank grey curls crowding his ear.

“Mr. Charlock,” says the big guy with the thick beard.

The little guy dips his head, rolls it from one side to the other. Takes a deep breath his shoulders opening and tipping back, his chest lifting up and out.

“Mr. Charlock,” says the big guy again.

“Could you shut up for maybe one more goddamn minute?” says the little guy. The big guy shrugs and reaches up for his sunglasses and the little guy says “Wssht!” Roland’s coming up the side street, pale yellow track suit, spotless white shoes, black headphones over his ears, headband stark against his closecut silvery hair. Hands in his pockets. Nodding to himself as he turns the corner after Jo and Ysabel.

“Where they go, he goes,” says Mr. Charlock. He spits in the palm of his hand and dabs a finger in it, then smears a dark wet line right through the circles of letters. Unfolding his legs, he scoots off the hood. “You oughta remember that by now, Mr. Keightlinger.” He yanks off his sunglasses, glaring at the apartment building across the street. “And every fucking thing else. It’s all guns under pillows and leashes on pews up there – I could be at it all night and still get fucking bupkes.”

Mr. Keightlinger opens the door on the driver’s side with a sharp popping squonk. “Time to put it away,” he says. He tucks his sunglasses into a jacket pocket.

“What did our master’s voice whisper in your tremendous ear?” says Mr. Charlock, opening his door. “What errand slipped his mind on the way to the office this morning? Milk to be soured? Thumbs to prick? His dry cleaning?”

Mr. Keightlinger shakes his head. “Something won’t go back where it came from,” he says. “Sullivan’s Gulch.” Jerks a thumb over his shoulder. “Across the river.”

“Some thing,” says Mr. Charlock. He takes in a breath and blows it out, an overdone sigh. “We’re playing dog-catcher?”

“It will be noticed,” says Mr. Keightlinger, climbing into the car. “We keep it out of sight. Favor for a friend.” A jingle of keys. The engine rumbles to life.

“I swear to any fucking god you care to name,” mutters Mr. Charlock, shaking his head, climbing into the car, “if this weren’t the only game in town.”

“On a scale of one to ten,” Guthrie’s saying, as Jo walks by down the narrow aisle of kelly green carrels. “Where one is very dissatisfied and ten is very satisfied.” His T-shirt is black and says Not The Bullet But The Hole. He doesn’t look up. “How would you rate the service provided by the receptionist at Pet Depot?”

Becker’s sitting behind the desk at the front of the office, peering at his computer screen, one hand on his mouse, the other on the phone. Jo snags a chair from an empty carrel and pulls it over by the desk, straddling the back of it. “Hey.”

“You should be dialing,” says Becker. “I just opened up Central. Fresh new numbers, ready and waiting.”

“State law,” says Jo. “Fifteen minutes paid break every two hours of work.”

“You’ve been here an hour and a half.”

She shrugs, elbows propped on the back of the chair. “Wanted to catch you before Tartt left. Tomorrow’s payday. Everything cool?”

Becker takes his hand off the mouse and his hand off the phone and folds them in his lap, sitting back, head tilted. He’s wearing a floppy white T-shirt and his hair’s sticking up in a number of different directions. There’s a pen behind each ear. “Yes, Jo. Everything’s cool. Ysabel will get a check cut tomorrow.”

Jo lets out a breath, dips her head to rest a moment on her forearms. Lifts it grinning. “Great,” she says, getting up. “Thanks, Becker.”

“You’re going to have to tell me,” he says, “one of these days, I mean, how you ended up doing all this stuff for her. It’s nice, it’s great, but.” He looks down, then over at his computer screen. Grabs his mouse. “I mean, it’s your business. Obviously.” Down at the end of the narrow aisle Ysabel’s laughing into the mike of her headset. Nodding, she’s saying something, smiling. Sees Jo and shakes her head, rolls her eyes, leans forward in her carrel, never losing that smile.

“Yeah,” says Jo. “There’s a story there. Look, I should get back on the phones.”

“Thought you were on break,” says Becker.

“Did I say that? I’m talking to my supervisor. We still do that on the clock, right?” Becker scowls over the top of his monitor. “Anyway,” says Jo, “breaks are every two hours. I’ve got another twenty-five minutes to go. At least.” She leans over the desk. “I’m beating rate,” she says.

“You were,” says Becker. “You got nine on the board. You need two more by five to beat rate.”

“Oh ye of little faith,” says Jo, heading back to her carrel.

“Ten minutes, tops,” says Jo into her headset. “And you’ll be helping Pet Depot learn how better to serve their customers.” She frowns.

“I just,” says the woman, into her phone. She’s kneeling, scooping up a clump from the litter box. Sifting loose bits of litter from the clump. “I only ever went the one time.”

“Doesn’t matter,” says Jo. “They still want to know what you think.”

“But we normally go to Pet Samaritan,” says the woman, dumping the clump into a plastic shopping bag that says Thank You! Have a nice day. “I don’t really like those big-box places.” Her sleeve riding up exposes arabesques of blue-black ink circling her forearm. More ink like ivy curls up past the collar of her T-shirt.

“So you’re here in Portland?” says Jo. “I really don’t think,” says the woman, as Jo’s saying, “I mean, Pet Samaritan, right?” Ysabel’s standing by her carrel, her sweater draped over one arm. Jo points to her headset. A short, older woman pushes past, shouldering a gym bag.

“I really don’t think that’s necessary,” says the woman, standing, picking up the shopping bag.

Jo leans forward, elbows on her carrel’s desk, crowding her keyboard. “Everything you say, ma’am, is held in the strictest confidence. It’s why Pet Depot hired Barshefsky Associates. They don’t want to see who’s answering the questions, they just want to see what people are saying. We strip out your contact information when we’re done.”

“I still,” says the woman. “I just don’t think.” She backs through a swinging door into a bright kitchen, yellow walls, an avocado refrigerator. Bag still hanging from one hand. “We only went that one time, for the flea emergency.”

Jo’s bent over, forehead on fingertips, eyes closed. “For the survey to mean anything we have to talk to as many people as possible, whether they like it or not, whether they go all the time or not.”

“Well,” says the woman, opening the back door out of the kitchen. “You could tell them I saw a flea on Colin on a Sunday and he was due for more Advantage anyway, but it was a Sunday – ” From around the corner there’s a clatter, a snorting grunt.

“Well,” says Jo, “there’s a set of questions I need to ask of everybody who does the survey. Like I said, it takes about ten minutes – ”

“Colin?” says the woman, heading down the back stairs, phone still to her ear.

“Ma’am?” says Jo.

“Colin,” says the woman. There’s a clopping sound. The side of the house suddenly lights up, empty yellow recycling tub, green garbage can on its side, clutter everywhere, paper towels, eggshells, a takeout carton ripped open. The shopping bag that says Thank You! Have a nice day plops to the ground. The boar looks up, harsh light catching the grey-white fringe of the ruff behind the blocky wedge of his head. Tusks curling up and up and around, one smeared with peanut sauce. Dark eyes glittering. The phone drops to the ground. The woman lifts a hand to her mouth.

“Ma’am?” says Jo. She frowns. Shakes her head. Lifts her headset off, blowing out a sigh. “She hung up,” she says.

“Whatever,” says Ysabel. “Let’s go.”

“Let me do my timesheet,” says Jo.

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The One with the Tiny T-Shirt” written by Adam Chase, ©1997 Warner Bros.