Chapter Thirty-one

   We exited the building just seconds before the blast, which turned out to be no more powerful than a child's pop gun.
   "Ouch!" That was Vinnie, so I guess he wasn't hurt too badly.
   "How did you find me?" a grateful Maureen asked as we crossed the street and entered a 24-hour coffee shop -- no, make that an expensive, four star restaurant.
   "I just asked, babe," I answered flippantly.
   We sashayed through the doors and into Chez Fantastique let's call it. A snooty maitre d' approached, but with great trepidation. He looked at me as if I was holding a gun to his head, and then I realized -- I was holding a gun to his head!
   "I'm sorry," I apologized, putting it away. Maureen was shocked.
   "Where'd you get that?"
   "It came to me in a dream," I ad-libbed.
   "I don't like guns."
   "Neither do I. But they like me, so -- "
   The maitre d' was motioning to us, so we followed him to what I assumed would be the worst possible table.
   "I prefer a steady, cold draft on my back while I eat," I quipped facetiously as we were shown to a private booth in a quiet garden-like setting that was, actually, quite lovely.
   "Beautiful!" gasped Maureen who, like me, was not prepared for this. Hell, we almost went to a greasy spoon.
   "Jim, can you afford this?"
   "I thought you were going to pay! -- just kidding. Don't worry, we don't have to pay. I'm the writer, remember?"
   A waiter appeared, and handed us menus.
   "We don't need menus," I told him, and handed them back.
   "But, Jim, how will we order?"
   "I know what I want. And I'll order for the lady."
   "As you wish, monsieur," the waiter agreed, obsequiously.
   "Give me eggs, over easy, with sausage, hash browns, whole wheat toast, and coffee. Same thing for her, but make the coffee decaf. Got that?"
   He sneered, pivoted, and departed.
   "Jim, I don't feel like eggs."
   "It's still early in the morning, Maureen, or have you forgotten? I -- we -- have to go to work in about an hour. I need protein and a big jolt of java if I'm ever going to get through this day."
   "Well, still, we're here -- and all I thought was, we could have at least tried the lobster, or -- "
   "Lobster? Do you know what they get for a lobster here?"
   "I thought you said it didn't matter, that you're the writer. You don't have to pay for the food in your own book, do you?"
   "Well, there's a limit. We're talking about a two hundred dollar meal -- which is what it would come to when you add in the wine, the dessert, the after-dinner cognac, the cigars."
   "So? Have a Pink Owl."
   "Very funny."
   The waiter returned with our orders.
   "Where's the toast?" I asked, not seeing any on his tray.
   "It's coming."
   "Because I can't eat eggs, especially fried eggs, without toast. I need something to use as a sop. That's what the toast is for."
   "It's coming, sir."
   "You heard him, Jim, it's coming. You know what, I'm getting an appetite. These eggs look spectacular!"
   "Go ahead and start. I'm going to wait for the toast. I can't eat eggs without toast."
   The waiter bowed and retreated, the concept of toast now firmly planted in his brain.

(This ends Chapter Thirty-one. No, not really, not yet.)

   I could still see the waiter retreating from us when Maureen looked up from her plate and asked, "What should we talk about?"
   "I don't know... how about my great aunt?"
   "What about her? I thought you said you made her up?"
   "Well, I think I did. But it seems like everything I 'make up' these days turns out to be real. Like you, and the eggs you're eating. And, if you assume my great aunt does exist, and the mob is still looking for me, then she could be in some danger."
   "Pass the pepper." I passed her the pepper. The waiter returned, finally, with the damn toast.
   "About time, Frenchy," I said, as politely as possible.
   "Jim -- "
   "Will there be anything else, monsieur?"
   "No, nothing else -- oh wait, yes, there is one thing: Let's say a certain someone finds himself, hypothetically now, living in a different state, a different conscious state, a whole new world created when that certain someone photocopied -- Xeroxed if you will -- his own mind. And, let's say that certain someone wants to return to his normal state of consciousness, how would that certain someone go about doing that?"
   "First -- are you the 'certain someone' you're referring to?" the waiter asked.
   "Well, yes, I am," I answered sheepishly.
   "And, second, monsieur, why are you asking me, the French waiter? The French waiter you so derogatorily referred to as 'Frenchy' only moments ago?"
   "Pretend like I never said it, okay? More coffee -- and the check please." I was in a lousy mood, a curmudgeony mood. I always get that way when I'm about to return to the everyday humdrum world of nine-to-five monotony called work. There was no reason to treat the waiter like that. But, to go back and change it at this point would be too time-consuming. Besides, he was gone already.
   "Jim, do you really think you're living in a Xerox world?"
   "Yes, I do."
   "What if you stuck your head in the Xerox again? It might reverse the situation, like what happens with electrical polarity." (? -- Ed.)
   "You think so?"
   "We could try it at work. What could go wrong?"
   "What could go wrong? What could go wrong?"
   The waiter brought our check, we paid, and left. Nothing of great interest happened until we arrived at work, about an hour later.

(This ends Chapter Thirty-one, really.)

Chapter Thirty-two