She walked back up the bar giggling, while Jeromy and Cam stared at her and then at each other. Reluctantly, Cam put the first sheet of paper aside and read question number five: “What is your greatest fear or worst nightmare?”
He read it again, aloud, incredulously. “What the hell?”
“Look at number six,” said Jeromy. Question number six read: “Do you feel better having told someone about it?” The two glanced at each other again then silently read on:
7. What are your hobbies?
8. What is your favourite book that you have never read?
Cam put the second sheet aside, revealing the final page.
9. What do you think of when you hear the term ‘brainstorm’?
10. Do you watch television?
11. Are you open and honest about your feelings with those closest to you?
12. Please add up all your responses and write the sum total in this space:
Cam put the last sheet down, then dramatically slumped forward and put his head down on the bar, letting out an exhasperated sigh. Jeromy heard the loud bump and knew Cam had hit his forehead harder than he intended, but he didn’t laugh, for he too was utterly perplexed. Eventually Cam sat up and spoke. “Okay, putting aside that I understand like, less than half of those questions to begin with, what could that last question possibly fucking mean? Seriously.”
Jeromy considered this. “I have to admit, I have no clue. But clearly that’s the point.”
“I know, I know,” said Cam. “You’re going to say there’s method to this madness. But I say this was written by a bunch of wacko cultists who want to crack our heads open with oyster mallets or some shit.”
“I admit that’s very possible, though I’m not sure about the oyster mallets.” said Jeromy. “But since when do you shy away from adventure?”
“Filling out a quesionnaire is not an adventure.”
“I don’t suggest we fill this out – not yet, anyway,” said Jeromy, and lowered his voice to what Cam felt was an unnecessarily conspiratorial level. “But we have their address now. Let’s go scope it out, see what we can see.”
“Ooh, let’s go do some reconaissance!” mocked Cam, loudly. “Stake this shit out!”
“Hey, look buddy,” said Jeromy, returning to a normal tone. “You wanted a heist, but I’ve got news for you: that’s fucking stupid. This is the closest you’re going to get. We’ll check out these offices after they’re closed, see what sort of operation this is. Maybe we can just walk in there tomorrow, crumple up this survey and throw it in their face.”
Cam perked up. He like the sound of that, as Jeromy knew he would. “Okay fine,” he said. “But first we’re drinking more beer.”
“Fine by me. It’s your turn, by the way.”
Cam grumbled. “Yeah yeah, let’s finish this one first,” he said as he topped off their glasses from the pitcher.
The girl came down the bar towards them, carefully carrying three shot glasses at once for what looked to be the first or second time in her life. She let out a breath of relief as she successfully guided them to the bar in front of Cam and Jeromy, and spoke:
“If you’re done reading that thing, you’ll need these.”
Jeromy stared at the reddish-amber liquid. “What are they?”
“Prairie Fire,” said the girl as she picked up one of the glasses. “Hurry up, I’m working.”
Jeromy and Cam raised their glasses and, with mild grimaces, gulped them back. The spiced shots burned, and both immediately took sips of beer and swished it about like mouthwash. The girl smiled and seemed untroubled, and was about to leave again when Jeromy thought to ask her name.
“Anna, or Anne, or Annie,” she said. “Anything is fine.”
They thanked her again for the shots, and she left. Neither Jeromy nor Cam commented on how cute her voice was, or her adorable mannerisms, or how good she looked in the tight black pants that this bar seemed to make all its female employees wear. They both knew this meant the other planned to pursue her in private – later that night if possible, otherwise in the near future – and neither wanted to expose any weakness, so neither said a word. After a shared moment of scheming, they silently agreed to delay the matter and discuss their new employment venture instead.
“Look, I’m no psychologist but-”
Cam interrupted Jeromy at once. “You’re drunk. Whenever you get drunk, you say you’re ‘no psychologist but’ or ‘no political scientist but’ or ‘no historian but’ and then you go on and on about something.”
Jeromy glared at his friend. “I’m no psychologist,” he said, slowly and firmly, “but I think whoever wrote that survey was.”
“I think you’re confusing psychologists with psychopaths. Or with motorcycles for all I know. But you’re definitely not clear on the meaning of the word.”
“Listen jackass, those questions might be crazy, or they might be carefully designed to see how we will respond to such lunacy,” said Jeromy.
“When you’re drunk, you also start using words like lunacy, which I don’t think anyone has said since the Victorian era.”
“Now who’s ‘no historian but’?” taunted Jeromy.
“I don’t know, that’s just the first thing I thought of. Some creepy Victorian poster for Professor Fuckwick’s Brain Salve: Prevents Lunacy, Calms the Humors.”
Jeromy laughed and pulled the official survey out of his jacket pocket. “Just look how far we’ve come,” he said, opening it up on the bar. “The logos are so much nicer now.”
Cam finished the last of his beer and waved his empty glass in Anna’s direction. Only a handful of people, mostly the owner’s son’s friends, had come into the bar since they’d arrived, and she was taking her time chopping limes on the counter. Jeromy suddenly realized that it was only eight o’clock – he could never fully adjust to the winter’s early sunset and always found himself thinking it was later than it actually was. This explained the lack of a Friday crowd both here and outside the more popular spots he had passed, which was a small mystery but one that had been nagging at him nonetheless. After a few moments, Cam managed to get Anna’s attention and she put aside her limes.
“Another pitcher?” she called, walking towards them. Cam nodded enthusiastically, and pushed the empty pitcher across the bar to her as she arrived. “Same?” she asked.
“No, surprise us,” said Jeromy. He remembered the Prairie Fires. “But nothing with hot sauce in it.”