The Cleaners, Part 4: Whicker

Continued from The Cleaners Part 3: Diane Vs. William

“No, you may not come in.” It wasn’t enough that robots were trying to force themselves into my house, now humans had to, too? Now that I’d faced one of those silly robots directly they weren’t so frightening anymore. I could ignore the biweekly doorbell ring comfortably now. Ignoring the doorbell had just become a habit of mine, actually. This man was worse than a Cleaner. He rang three times before I finally shut down my eBook in the middle of a particularly enthralling chapter and forced myself out of my chair to go answer.

The man was tall and so young. He couldn’t have been a day over forty five. He looked handsome and earnest in his suit, but the cleaners also wore suits and acted like earnest young men. “Please, Ma’am. I’m with the Anti-Cleaners. We want to help you.”

“Yes, you said that. I still don’t trust you. Tell me what you want.”

The man furrowed his brow at me. “Is there somewhere else private where we could talk, Ma’am?”

“I don’t think I would feel safe alone with a strange man,” I said bluntly.

“Ah,” The man exhaled in embarassment. “I’m sorry, I didn’t even consider that angle. My name is Henry Whicker. You probably don’t remember, but I was one of the men who took care of Rob for you.”

My memory wasn’t what it used to be. I had to take him at his word. “Thanks for that,” I said flatly, “Shall I bring out a chair and we can discuss what you have to say right here on the porch?”

The man, Mr. Whicker, was clearly uncomfortable. I stared at him while he pursed his lips together and looked to either side. Out of habit, I looked behind him just to see if Tony Fletcher was pointing another camera at me behind the Fletcher fence, but there was no one there. Mr. Whicker bit his lip and rolled his shoulders. “Well,” he said, “I, um, I think that what we have to discuss would be better for everyone if it stayed private.”

“Oh, please,” I said, “you’re going to tell me a secret? Tell me here. Then I’ll decide whether to let you in.”

“Yeah, ok,” said Mr. Whicker. Then he leaned in close to me, “You’re Angry Grandma.”

I grit my teeth. “Are you threatening me?” I asked. “I tell you, it’s a miracle not everyone knows already! My face isn’t exactly obscured!”

Mr. Whicker leaned down to me. “I won’t tell anyone. I haven’t told anyone. You should tell them. You’re a hero.”

This was ridiculous. This was so ridiculous I just burst out laughing. “I’m not a hero. All I did was push a robot.”

“Ma’am, may I ask your name?” He was so handsome and polite, this Henry.

“No. Keep calling me Ma’am.” I shook my head and smiled.

“Ok, Ma’am. May I come inside?”

“Why don’t we go around back.”

He sat at an old glass picnic table. I brought out some peanut butter cookies and lemonade, which he accepted with gusto. “Ma’am, you have no idea how long it took me to find you. Oh, these cookies are delicious!”

“Oh, it’s just a recipe from the Internet.” I waved his compliment away, then leaned forward. “Tell me about what you did to find me.” Somehow it didn’t feel so much like an invasion of my privacy when this handsome young man was hunting down the hero of the Anti-Cleaners.

“I’m from Pittsburgh just a few hours away. I knew I recognized your face from one of my trips to deactivate Cleaners, but I didn’t remember which one. It was so much fun, Ma’am. Once we got a request we’d call in sick to work, put on our suits, then pile in a van and rush over to kick some Cleaner…”, Henry knew he was not in the right company to say the next word, “well, you know. In any case, we didn’t have a list of all the places we’d gone, so I had to search the cleaner forums for all the Cleaners that met ‘unexpected difficulties’ in their cleaning duties in the western Pennsylvania area. Then I spent a week knocking on doors. The Cleaners weren’t always shut down right in front of the requestor’s house, so I had to scour whole blocks.”

“Did you always ring the doorbell three times?” I smiled.

“Five times, actually,” Henry laughed nervously, “I figured the Angry Grandma herself would not be keen to answer the door, and I was right. I was relieved when you came on only the third ring, to tell you the truth.”

“Goodness gracious!” I chortled, “Well, you found me. I told you I’m not a hero, though. Just an old woman. What could I possibly do to help the Anti-Cleaners?”

“You’re not that old.” Flatterer, “but people saw the lengths you went to to get rid of that Cleaner. You nearly got yourself hurt. It was inspiring. You represent the victimhood of America’s privacy, and the lengths to which we’ll go to get it back. Now anything you do, people will cheer you on! We think that if you continue to confront the Cleaners, people will notice, and eventually enough anger will build that they’ll have to let us opt out of their ‘service'” He put air quotes around the word.

I remembered that look. Hope glimmered in his eyes. An emotion for the young. I reached out and put my hand on his. “That’s beautiful, Henry, but I’m really too old. It looked like I could have hurt myself because I nearly did hurt myself.”

Henry pulled his hand out from under mine. “That’s the whole point, Ma’am!” he stammered “Ma’am.” he did not like not knowing my name, it was clear. He continued, “You’re an inspiration because you know how important it is to defend privacy! You know it’s bigger than you and you risk yourself. You do it for the benefit of everyone!”

“How old are you, Henry?”

Henry exhaled sharply and pressed his lips into a thin line. “I’m 39.”

“You’re the leader this movement needs, Henry. You’re clearly committed, and you’re so young. I don’t want to confront the Cleaners anymore. That was the first thing I realized after I had time to think about what happened that day. I’m just too old to be so aggressive. I let the Cleaners know how I felt and now I can ignore them. I’ve made my peace.”

Henry stood suddenly. He crossed his arms and looked briefly away before returning his burning gaze back on me.

“You are already this movement’s leader, Ma’am. We need you. We need Angry Grandma.”

“I’m sorry, Henry. I’ve given you my answer.”

Henry frowned at me. He never would have admitted it, but the poor thing looked like he could cry. He’d spent weeks looking for me and I couldn’t even help him. I sighed. “It was nice meeting you, Henry. Please drop by anytime. I really appreciate what you’re doing, and I always have cookies. I’ll trade them for a story any time.”

Henry shoved his hand into his coat pocket and withdrew a business card. “Ma’am. If you change your mind, here’s my card.” He held it out and pulled it back again abruptly like he’d touched something hot. He whipped a pen out of another pocket and scribbled something on the back and then handed it to me. “That’s the Cleaner corporate headquarters. It’s not on their website, but I looked up their articles of incorporation and that’s where it is. You should go visit it if you get curious.” After a moment, he added, “Then tell me you’re at peace with The Cleaners.”

I accepted the card and waved to Henry as he walked away. I looked at the back. 2240 E. Collins Drive, Youngstown, Ohio. Youngstown was less than thirty minutes from Cheder. It wasn’t even a day trip. I could do it in a morning. I shook my head. I lifted myself out of my chair and walked back into the house. I placed the business card on the dining room table and sat back down. I settled in and took a sip of my lemonade, which I hadn’t touched the whole time we had talked. In moments I had found where I’d left off in my eBook. Finally I could find out what happened next.

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