edwin couldn't sleep, couldn't eat, and couldn't concentrate on his job at the supermarket because of his continued obsession with samantha. finally he went to a counselor and confessed his plight. he was immediately put under arrest and spent five days in a holding cell while his case was reviewed. because of the overcrowding in the jail, the size of the investigating officer's caseload and his status as a first offender at his advanced age, he was probationally released.
he was reassigned to the midnight shift at the supermarket.
his mates on the midnight shift were almost all men also on probation or parole for suspicion of similar tendencies. because of the relative quiet of the time, the microphones installed to record their conversations were thought to be more efficiently employed.
edwin found himself working an aisle with hongwu, moctezuma, and crispus. hongwu and moctezuma were tight. they were
both grizzled offenders who had fantasized about dozens of women. they were lifers. they would never be released from probation - they would only be remanded to prison if space opened for them or they were suspected of new offenses.
hongwu and moctezuma were always happy to welcome a new mate to their aisle and were friendly to edwin on his first night. edwin found them a little scary. hongwu was tall and lean and moctezuma of average size and build, but they didn't do much on their off time but work out in gyms and were muscular and powerful looking.
"what's your preference, sibling?'" hongwu asked edwin, when a new batch of cartons were ready to be opened. "carrots, peas, lima beans, mixed vegetables?"
"i was always a lima bean guy," edwin answered.
"cool. lima beans it is," hongwu nodded. "i'll take the carrots, moc will take the peas and mixed vegetables. right, moc?"
"sure," moctezuma answered, looking at edwin. "how about beets? we might get some beets later."
"beets were my number two thing, my road game, " edwin answered.
"that's good, sib. we will consider that."
despite his five days absence, edwin quickly got back in the rhythm of stacking the cans of lima beans. since there were no customers in the aisles, he could work faster than he was used to, though not as fast as hongwu and moctezuma. the cans of carrots and peas fairly flew out of their powerful fists.
crispus, the fourth member of the group, mostly assisted the robots in bringing them new cartons. he was different from hongwu and moctezuma and didn't chat with them. he had fantasized about one woman, the lovely rosa lee, and had never admitted any guilt. he spent his off hours in a library, appealing and fighting what he considered an unjust accusation. but handling the heavy full crates had made him powerful looking too. he avoided edwin's gaze.
as the night moved on, and edwin listened to hongwu and moctezuma, he realized that their chat consisted mostly of a code used to disguise the fact that they were talking about women. hongwu frequently looked over at edwin with nods and winks and raised brows, to cue him in and apparently invite him to join in. edwin was perplexed. how much could they be fooling the listeners on the other side of the microphones?
was anybody actually listening? were the microphones just there for show?
"so i was over at mike's gym," hongwu was saying, "and i 'm working on the heavy bag, wailing away, thinking, this is the day, this is the day i get a really good session in, and i see eddie and frank looking out the window. they are looking, you know, like there is something real interesting out there. so i give the bag one really good jab and walked over. and i see a bus,
a big private bus has pulled up outside joey's deli. and a couple of robots in uniform get out and they are carrying this picture, a big old painting in a big old gold frame. and this frame, sibling, is the most perfectly executed thing you ever saw - it's got curves, and curlicues, and curves and curlicues on the curves - "
"like a mandelbrot generation," said moctezuma.
"exactly. it was the most mandelbrotian thing i ever saw."
"what was in the picture?" asked edwin.
"what was in the picture?" hongwu's eyebrows shot up. "the picture was strongly influenced by addonizio's "triumph of diana over alcibiades" with echoes of romero's "the muses confront the seven deadly sins". it portrayed the welcome of tamerlane into byzantium by the empress irene, and in acknowledgment of the magnificence of the conqueror and the splendor of his conquest, the empress had spared nothing , neither from her people nor herself. in the upper left corner of the picture a host of angels with blue gowns and crimson wings have lent themselves to the occasion by playing on golden harps. in the lower left the four virtues, clad in softest white, are softly playing on silver flutes. in the center, above the flowing locks of the empress, helen of troy and mary magdalen are playing tennis with the head of the defeated general belisarius - the head is tastefully delineated with only a few drops of golden blood - "
crispus and a robot deposited a crate of cans of carrots at hongwu's feet. "that is a lot of gold," said the robot to hongwu. "make sure the empress' flowing locks aren't golden too." it seemed to edwin that the robot was used to such descriptions and was good-naturedly needling hongwu.
"the crimson-tinged raven locks of the empress," hongwu continued, "float in the air as the arch of her right foot, clad in a bejewelled golden boot, signals the beginning of a swoon beneath the bronze chariot of tamerlane - " he looked at edwin. "should i go on?"
"i get the picture," said edwin.
the robot and crispus moved off. crispus gave edwin a look clearly indicating that he had, by bonding with hongwu and moctezuma, joined the legion of the damned.
the morning was foggy when the shift was over and they left by the back door. the lot behind the supermarket was deserted except for a little ragamuffin wearing a flat black hat and carrying a small satchel over his shoulder. when he saw them, he approached, taking a small packet out of the satchel.
"love potions, gentlemen!." he cried softly. "guaranteed to soften your dream woman's soul!"
crispus seemed particularly annoyed by his presence and hurried off without a word.
"jojo!," hongwu addressed him. "get out of here. sib, with your knuckleheaded nonsense." he turned to edwin. "he always shows up on a guy's first night on the shift."
"is that any way to talk to the god of love?" asked jojo.