An hour later Bender walked out the side door of Planet Express, followed by Zoidberg.
“This way, robut.”
“I still say that robots don’t need a prostate exam, but who am I to argue with a bribe?” Bender grumbled. “And I’m dying to know—since when did you get money? I’m going to have to start breaking into your office more often.” He stopped short. “Whoa, hang on here! What are we doing outside?”
“Over this way, please, about a hundred meters.” They crossed the street. “Here.” And they stopped by the dumpster.
“NOW!” Fry shouted, as he tackled Bender. The robot was heavy, but Fry managed to knock him on the ground.
“Who were you yelling at?”, asked Zoidberg.
“I wanted to let myself know when to jump him.” Fry picked up his stick. The next step in his complicated strategy was to beat his friend with something until he started to listen to him. Actually, that was the only step in his strategy.
“Awww, how cute and helpless, he is,” said Zoidberg.
Fry looked down. By accident he had knocked Bender on his back, and the robot was flailing his arms and legs around, unable to move. Oh yeah, the turtle thing. But he kept the stick anyway, as he knelt down next to Bender, just in case. He was in a bad mood.
Bender rolled his eyes over to Fry, then immediately snapped his visor shut, and began humming a tune.
“Hello!” Fry shouted. No response. “I’m here, Bender. Why don’t you talk to me? Why is everyone mad at me?” The humming continued, off-key.
Fry stood up and paced back and forth, as Zoidberg alternated between watching him and eying the dumpster. Fry stopped. While he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the toolbox, he had also lived with his friend for four years. He knelt back down.
“I’ll pay you to listen to me.”
The humming stopped, but the visor remained shut.
“How much ya got?”
Fry felt his pockets. All empty.
“I’ll pay you as soon as I can.”
The humming started up again. Fry turned to Zoidberg. “Do you have any-”
Then he realized who he was talking to.
“Oh, never mind.” He ran over to the dumpster and searched the pile of clothing he had used to wipe himself down that morning. Ah, a quarter. He crouched back down next to Bender.
“I can pay you a little now.”
The humming stopped.
“How much ya got?”
The humming started again, but Fry didn’t despair, because he was staring at the pile of clothing. There was one thing Bender loved almost as much as money or waffles. Fry snapped up the white sailor’s cap from the pile of clothes next to him.
“And you can have this sailor cap. Look, it even has a button on top.”
Bender’s eyes opened and scanned the cap. The LEDs in his eyes brightened slightly, and Fry knew that for the first time in two days that he was getting somewhere.
“Will you still keep paying me not to look for you?”
Puzzled, but eager to say anything to keep his attention, Fry said, “Sure.”
“Paid to talk and not to talk to you. I still have some things to learn about humans,” mused the bending unit, as he twirled the coin in his hand, while still laying on his back. “I’m gonna smoke.”
“Why were you ignoring me?” Fry coughed through the cigar smoke.
“Ya paid me to.”
“You, you moron. You paid me one dollar a week to keep me from going with you when you left, and not to look for you.”
“Wait, I told you I was leaving?” And then a second thing hit Fry. “And all it took to stop you from coming with me was a measly dollar a week?”
Bender held up two hands: one empty, one with the quarter.
“Which hand is worth more?”
“The one with the coin, I guess.”
“Bingo.” His pet was dumb, but with patience, could be taught.
“OK, fine. So if I pay you two dollars a week you’ll talk with me from now on?”
“Fry, good buddy, glad you’re back. It was getting so boring around here, and Big Boots is getting’ mean. I mean, she’s less fun now than when you were around, and that’s sayin’ something. Lift me up, here.”
Fry tried to lift up Bender, but couldn’t do it. Then he saw a red claw grab the other arm, and together he and Zoidberg hauled Bender up. Funny how he kept forgetting about Zoidberg.
“Can I have a cap too?” Zoidberg asked.
“Later, sure,” Fry nooded absently, still looking at Bender.
“How long have I been gone, Bender?”
“Three hundred sixty-three days, ten hours, 14 minutes, five seconds, 46 millseconds, 50 microseconds, starting… now.”
Fry was amazed. Where had he been?
“When did I last talk to you?”
Bender had pulled a small mirror out of his chest and was admiring the sailor’s cap on his head, trying to tilt it at a rakish angle.
“Let’s see, the night after that dance lesson you and Miss Charming dragged me too. Not that I’m complaining. I made a killing that night. Anyway, I had a big party at my apartment to celebrate, and was scoring really well with the ladies, you showed up and blew the moment, told me you were going, said you’d pay me, then left.”
“I didn’t say why? I didn’t say what happened?”
Bender was silent for a moment, then responded.
“Nope. But you sure were gone the next day, and like you said one dollar a week showed up in my account. Big boots vanished too, but came back four months later. Wouldn’t say where she’d been. And it’s been boring ever since.”
There was something in Bender’s voice that made Fry think that he might have successfully bargained his friendship down to a dollar and a half per week.
The cigar had burned down to a stub.
“Well, this is all well and good, but I’ve got scams to plan, message boards to lurk…”
“I need to get into my apartment.”
“Oh, that.” Bender chuckled. “I sold all your stuff, you said I could. But yeah, sure.”
OK, that was a start, right? Go to the apartment, take a shower, then do something. But why did he have a bad feeling about going by his apartment?
He came too, and saw both Zoidberg and Bender looking at him. Now what?
Fry could think of only one thing to do. He handed a folded piece of paper to Bender.
“Give this to Leela for me. Tell her she needs to read it.”
Bender put on his monocle and opened the letter.
“ ‘Leela, please talk to me. Why don’t you like me anymore?’ Waxin’ poetic, I see. Well, maybe she’ll read it, but maybe—“
Bender computed the potential consequences, then handed the letter to Zoidberg.
“I’ll let you do it. Because I want you to feel important.”
“Hurray! I’m useful.”
At that moment the side door to the Planet Express building opened, and Amy peeked out. Her voice carried faintly across the street.
“Zoidberg, have you seen Bender? Leela’s getting really—“ she stopped mid-sentence, looking at Fry, who rose from his crouch by Bender.
“Amy,” he began, but couldn’t finish as Amy gave him a strong slap across the face. Wow, how did she move so quickly?
“How could you?” she hissed. “Sleesh. How could you even talk about such things with her? Use me like that? Use her like that? And yes, I know,” she said, looking at Fry’s confused expression. “She dropped me some hints last night, and I figured out enough to know you’re one of the worst things that ever happened to her.” And then she spit out a stream of Cantonese invective that probably would have made Fry blush, if he could have understood it.
“Oh, and Bender?” she turned her head. “Leela says that if you don’t show up now, she’s going to make you talk to the ship’s computer again. And maybe, maybe, I’ll even tell her who you’re talking to out here.” And she spun around and marched back inside.
“Coffin stuffer,” Bender muttered as the door slammed shut behind Amy. “Help me. What did ya do to the purple meatsicle anyway? I thought you were all mush-mush and kissy-kissy over her?”
“You don’t know either?”
“Seeing how much she talks, bosses me around, and complains about her social life, you’d think I’d know by now. But nope, not a clue.” He swiveled his head toward Fry. “Now what? Said meatsicle is probably coming right now.”
“O'Zorgnax's pub, this afternoon” Fry snapped, hurrying around the corner, trying to convince himself that it was clever, and not cowardly, to avoid meeting Leela right now. He had to get money, quickly. Where was he going to do that?
Something glinted in the corner of his eye. He turned and saw the afternoon rays of the sun reflect off a rapidly drying rain puddle.
And then he saw a glimmer in the rubble underneath one of the beams….
Maybe it he gave up this thing, they’d go away.
And for some reason he thought about his holophoner again.
“Ah, yes, we remember you very good. Look, mama, is the Fry boy.”
“Oooh, yes. You no come see us no more. Why?”
Good question. Fry and his friends had spent a lot of time helping the Cygnoids out with their pizza store across the street, and then next week had stopped visiting them completely, and had forgotten about them for years. His life at PE had been fairly episodic that way.
“Umm, you smell good. Really tasty. You want be cook?”
He still hadn’t been able to wipe the ooze completely out of his hair. And now he remembered why he had never come back to this place.
“I need to make some money real quick. Can I do something for you?”
“Here, you a-hungri? Have some pizza. Cockroaches home grown.”
“Um, thanks, but I really need to make some Earthican money.”
“Oh, mama, we get to have first human worker!” Papa Cygnoid beamed. He looked around and opened up an oven. “Here, you can a-crawl in here and scrapa out the bottom. We need more toppings and this will sava us some money.”
Fry looked into the dark cavern of the oven. Why did he seem to remember climbing into a dark and narrow place recently?
“Heresa brush. Oh, one thing. Mama here very forgetful, so if she shut the door on you, and you start to feel hot, kicka hard on the side. Makea sure you kicka real hard. We don’t hava ears like you, we only feel vibration. Oh here.” And he shoved a bottle of BBQ sauce in Fry’s hand.
“Just in case we enda up cooking you by accident, put this on you. We think you go good with this.”