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Chapter 3
me and friends
robot_things
*The Other Clifford And Other People Too*


After that there was a lot of drinking coffee and not talking very much. Leonard kept looking at his shoes and a while later he left. They were to meet at a bar Clifford had been to only once before, though Leonard seemed very keen on it. The time of the meeting was just before supper, just enough so to get to the meeting place, a restaurant. There the ten men would talk.

Clifford got up eventually, and walked slowly to the hole in the wall where the cockpit had been the night before. Seventy-six floors, shit. He felt the breeze on his face and the air told him his skin was smooth and his face well shaped, and for a moment he felt pretty sure he was not bad looking at all. He sat down, hung his legs from the opening, and swung his feet gently, making tiny tornadoes that he couldn’t see but knew were there. It was fun and you could do it absent-mindedly.

A lot had come back now, it was good talking with Leonard. A good thing that there was Leonard.
There was a lot to think about but he wouldn’t do that just now. Not before the meeting tonight, where he’d get the real dirt.
There was a moment, when Clifford rested his head on his pillow, right before his eyes shut and he let himself turn off, when he thought he possibly had never been as interested as he was today. This was very scary and curious and interesting. Then he was off.

Beginning afternoon.

Mid-afternoon.

Late afternoon.

Clifford sat at the bar. There were a few free tables about, but he liked to be sitting on a stool, a little higher than everyone else. He was looking at the people around him. How they used their space. There was a woman, about forty, not bad looking, sitting at the end of the bar. She drew Clifford’s attention because she kept quiet. Clifford could make out three people, two guys and another woman, who were for sure with her, and two more guys who possibly were. She looked at them sometimes, smiled a little when the others laughed (an effort to belong, maybe, but not a big one). Mostly she kept to herself, sometimes took some notes on a napkin.

Two seats down to her right was a man who was also interesting to look at, but Clifford got to do so for no more than thirty seconds. They went by like this: the man, who looked strangely like Clifford, was staring right at him. His left for-arm rested on the bar with his beer clutched tight in his grip, like the beer was keeping him there. It was funny, though, how Clifford was holding his beer in his right hand, with the for-arm resting on the bar much in the same fashion as the man he was staring at. It doesn’t stop there. Not only was their other hand resting in the exact same pant pocket, but they were wearing the same coat.

Clifford blinked and the guy was still there.

He was going to blink again but then someone tapped him on the shoulder and somehow that stopped him.
There was a new beat in the song that was playing, and the bass drum was going faster. Clifford turned and was facing a gorgeous woman, a poignantly beautiful woman who, her face pointed right at him, was trying to make up her mind. “I’d like to know your name”, she finally said, just loud enough so he could hear over the music and the crowd. It didn’t cross his mind even once that she might have been Eda Lilly, right in front of him, asking for his name. Hell, the possibility that the woman might be coming on to him didn’t even cross his mind. Nothing crossed his mind, he drew a blank. “Why?”, he asked. “I want to know if it suits you”, she said, giving it a smile but with her eyes still looking into his, waiting for the answer. She was aware, knew what the moment was about, and where to go with it. What could he do? “Clifford Kobin”, he answered. This is when he remembered the guy sitting somewhere behind, who looked and dressed and sat exactly like him. So he turned to check if the guy was still there.
What he saw took him by surprise.
Where his look-alike had been enjoying his beer now sat the quiet lady, who had obviously grown tired of her group, with a cold drink and a pile of napkins in front of her.

When he turned to talk to the girl who wanted to know his name, she was gone too. He enjoyed a little smile, took a sip of his drink –it was still cold-, and wondered to himself: “Maybe she left with the other me”.

*

Leonard made a personal note to remember this day in his life, tell as many people about it as possible, see if they’d believe it. He couldn’t. The guy had fallen seventy floors. Who did that? Who did that and survived?

He’d just gotten home and barely had time for a nap and a shower before he’d meet Clifford again. A good guy, no doubt, and yes, there was something about him, but there was something about everyone involved in this whole thing. Probably there was something about himself, too.

What did they want him for anyway? You have a guy like Clifford on your side, why need a Leonard too? The old fellow with no name had said to him that he was as crucial an element as any of the others. Crucial to what? To the cause. The cause of what? The survival not only of mankind, but of order everywhere, of everything. Leonard knew he should’ve asked more questions, but it was hard, the man serious, a scary answer to everything. Also giving him the loft for free, what do you say to that? Plus there was the music, and the people, the food, the two other parties later that week… The list of things mentioned that night, man, it was long.

Eventually Leonard was done with the shower and he got a chance to sit naked on his bed and observe the situation. Look at it like it’s something on display. The idea that it was a big drug scam was getting less and less likely. They didn’t seem to have much to do with the government either. No, they were independent. And yet they had some funding of some sort, money somewhere. Man, just look at this loft. They had one for Eda too, and for Clifford. That’s three lofts. They even had money for those huge parties they threw, Leonard thought. He thought about that crazy story the man had said about the Earth being stolen bit by bit, dug from the middle, the alien race taking the dirt and lava and shit, something like that. He thought about the dinner he would attend later today, with all the explanations coming, more crazy stories. He thought, briefly, about why Eda Lily hadn’t shown up at her party. Mostly, though, he wondered who had the money…

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