The summer night breeze was gentle, yet Fry pulled his red jacket tighter around his neck and shivered. He shuffled back and forth on his feet, trying to stay in the shadows, as he watched Leela’s apartment building across the street. Bender, by contrast, stood completely still, as if he were switched off. It was kinda eerie, because Bender was the fidgetiest machine he had ever known, even when not trying to pick your pocket.
“What’s this ‘we’ you’re talkin’ about, bloodbag?”
“It’s in her apartment. I need to have it. I need to go.”
It hadn’t take long for Bender to warm to the idea as a challenge worthy of his greatness, and within minutes he had been planning the heist with enthusiasm. Zoidberg was eager to help too, but Bender had convinced him that guarding the dumpster was a key part of the plan, and the good doctor had cheerfully volunteered to play his part. So now the young man and the robot watched the street LEDs light up as darkness shrouded the alley.
A daytime breakin was out—too many people around, and Bender had to go on most deliveries with Leela. So that left night. Which was a problem, because Leela typically would go straight home.
Except for one night of the week, apparently. And now Leela emerged from the main entrance in her familiar lime-green jacket, but Fry caught glimpses of a yellow dress around her feet. She glanced up and down the street, as the door opened again behind her, and Amy emerged with Nibbler on a leash.
Nibbler. That had been another conundrum.
“What’s a connudorum? Don’t you buy those at a drugstore?”
“It means a problem, meatbag, a problem. Now shut up and pay attention.”
When stealin’ was on your mind, facing down an animal that could swallow you whole was something you wanted to avoid. Fortunately, Bender had overhead that Amy would take Nibbler for a long walk this evening, so that Leela could go to her ballroom dance lessons, which she had done regularly ever since she had returned to Planet Express months ago. So for an hour or so during the dance lesson Leela’s apartment would be empty. And it just so happened that tonight had been the night.
The news that Leela went dancing regularly bothered Fry, but he couldn’t place the reason for his disquiet. So he had spent the rest of day wandering random streets, riding random airtubes, too nervous to sit still, too wary to go back to Bender’s apartment, too pumped to sleep, and too afraid to dream.
The two women seemed to be smiling ferociously at each other, while avoiding each other’s eyes as much as possible. Nibbler whined and strained at the leash, sniffing the air. The petite Asian woman could barely cling to the leash as the little alien started to pull her across the street. Towards them.
Bender nudged Fry’s elbow, and they retreated back through the alley. In a few minutes they had cut through a chain link fence and were in a different alley, directly behind Leela’s apartment building. It looked relatively new, and it was, since it had been heavily rebuilt just a few weeks—well, over a year ago now, apparently. He still could not believe that he’d been gone a year.
“OK, ready to go up there?” Bender spoke in his whispering mode.
“Why this way again?”
Bender sighed. They’d been through this already. “Big boots, for some strange reason, decided to install the best locks in the business on her door. I learned this the twelfth time I tried to break into her place to hold her diary for ransom. I had better things to do with my time, so I’ve left it alone since. But she has a window in her bedroom now. And I can tell from here she doesn’t have it alarmed.”
Fry looked up. Apartment 1I. First floor. Made sense there was no alarm. There was no ladder.
“Um, tell me again how we’re getting up there?”
“Not we. You. Like this.” And with that Bender seized Fry’s leg, spun the delivery boy around his head, and tossed him high in the air, like a high school graduate tossing a hat. Now all the cute little moron had to do was push the suction cups against the window and then use the handy little cutter from his BabysFirstBurglary kit.
He detected the sound of soft and squishy flesh meeting hard and cold glass. Then nothing.
Oh, that’s right. He’d forgotten to give him the suction cups.
Bender stretched up his arms just in time to keep the falling delivery boy from splattering on the pavement.
“Hehehe. Sorry. Here ya go. Now you’ve had practice. Piece of cake, right?”
The delivery boy’s face was pale and clammy, and he was shivering everywhere, despite the warm night.
“Throw me up again before I throw up.”
“Remember, even if you don’t find that musical thing of yours, you gotta bring back something to make this worth my time. Has to be at least worth fifty bucks. Otherwise, don’t bother coming back out.”
Once again, Fry smacked into the glass, but managed to get a purchase on the smooth surface with one of the suction cups. He activated the glass cutter and slipped into the bedroom. He opened a piece of paper that contained a list of instructions from Bender.
“Read me.” Simple enough.
“Seal the window. That means put the piece of glass back in and use the laser.”
Fry placed the section of cut glass back into its matching hole in the window. The little MyLittleLaser sealed the glass back into place.
“Open the window for quick getaway.”
He unlatched the window and opened it.
“Fifty bucks,” he heard from below. “And you got about fifty minutes left before her lesson ends.”
Fry shut the window, then turned around and surveyed the room. He started to realize how foolhardy this entire thing was. He was breaking into the room of one of the most dangerous people he knew, based on little more than a hunch. Maybe he should have tried to talk to her first…
“I can’t maintain my wait mode forever,” he heard from outside.
Leela’s room was always gray and spare even when fully lit. And now, shrouded in the dark, the sharp outlines of the room seemed almost sinister. In fact, as Fry stood he could almost image hearing something rustling in the walls…
He shook his head, and scanned the list Bender had compiled for him. “Bedroom”. Um, he’d do that later. The living room first.
Not much here, other than the sofa and the TV, and he finished quickly, much to his relief, since he had died here last year and didn’t like the memory. Next on Bender’s list: “Kitchen”.
It was really hard to find, and by the time he started riffling through the refrigerator, he felt that he was behind schedule. And by the time he realized that a holophoner could not possibly fit inside a mayonnaise jar, he had already opened every jar in the fridge, and now he was definitely behind. He opened the freezer and groaned. A month’s worth of pre-cooked meals lay wrapped inside. He pulled out Bender’s list.
Don’t bother with the freezer, dummy. And remember that the flute thing can’t fit into a jar.
Oh, OK. Man, he never knew how many nooks and crannies there were in a kitchen, and how many really nasty chemicals there were to spill on yourself. And now he was really in trouble with time. But finally he was done with the kitchen. That left the bedroom.
The bedroom had actually been first on Bender’s list, but Fry hadn’t been able to bring himself to start there. Leela was such a private person that rifling through her clothes almost felt like violating her. Besides, he remembered only humiliation and disappointment in this room. But he was out of options. And time.
He closed his eyes while running his hands through the underclothes in her dresser. He felt that he was close to taking the offramp to Pervertville. He did not want to go to Pervertville. Nothing here. Then he noticed the nightstand, and the single picture that stood on it. He picked it up. Leela was in a ballroom gown, leaning back, staring across the photo to a man, in a nice dancing outfit, who was also leaning back. The pair had grasped each other’s arms to prevent each other from falling backward. The disquiet Fry felt over learning about Leela’s dance lessons grew as he saw the smile whe wore in the photo.
He had seen this guy before. Just two days ago—or a year ago. The guy at the dance. Gary. But why a photo on her nightstand-?
The world began to blur at the corners of his eyes, and the floor was like quicksand underneath his feet. No, no, no, he told himself. This is not happening. This can’t be happening. Why hadn’t Bender said anything? He had almost been able to suppress the memory of Leela’s venom-filled look at him, pretend that it was something temporary, but here he was holding solid, undeniable proof that the world had changed on him. Absently, he fumbled the photo back into place and started feeling under the bed and between the mattresses. No, no, no. Find the holophoner. It will make everything clear. And for a moment he thought he imagined something heavy sliding on the floor above--
Finally there was only one place left. Her wall closet stood across the room from him, covering almost the entire width of the wall. The mirrored sliding door stood partly open, and he could only see darkness beyond, like the mouth of a cave. And now his courage, already strained to its limits, broke, and he whimpered in fear. He was glad he had gone to the bathroom before starting this.
And at that moment he heard the entry door into the apartment open.