Frank glanced at his monitor and pulled over into the exit lane near B24. â€œThe thing youâ€™ve got to remember, Barry, is that itâ€™s just a job. Donâ€™t let it get to you.â€
Barry swiveled around in his seat and stole another long look at the Kim. She was unnerving, even with her eyes closed and her face in slack repose. â€œYeah, okay,â€ he mumbled absently.
â€œIâ€™ve been in transport for 3 years now. Weâ€™ve lost five guys since Iâ€™ve started. They just get too caught up in the merchandise. The guy you replaced took off with Andrea â€“ the police are still looking for him.â€
They were on the exit ramp now. The concrete landscape was turning to lush green as they approached the high-security suburb of Falling Brook. Frank grabbed his infocard off the dashboard and pulled up to the check-in gate.
â€œCan you reach back and turn her on for me? We donâ€™t want to have to be carrying her anywhere â€“ sheâ€™s not a lightweight.â€
Barry suddenly felt put on the spot. â€œUmâ€¦ how do I turn her on?â€
â€œFuck! Didnâ€™t they give you any training at all?â€ Frank looked incredulous as he opened the driverâ€™s side window. He shook his head in disgust. â€œJust reach around to the back of her neck..under the hair. Thereâ€™s a little bump that feels like loose skin, just push it hard.â€
Barry scrambled into the back seat and sat beside Kim. He didnâ€™t feel all that good about putting his hands on her neck; she looked so damn real. It seemed as unnatural and intrusive as touching a woman sleeping on the bus.
Frank passed his infocard to a security guard whoâ€™d walked up to the vehicle. â€œOh for fuckâ€™s sake, kid! Just jam your finger in there and turn her on! Weâ€™re late already.â€
Barryâ€™s gut clenched, but he did as he was told. Gingerly he slipped his hand under the long auburn hair at the back of her neck and poked around. The skin felt so real it freaked him, but he found the spot without any trouble. Suddenly he had visions of flipping the switch and having her turn on him like some crazed killer cyborg. Jesus fucking Christ he thought, getting tough with himself. He angled his finger forward and jabbed into the slack skin. He fully expected her to turn around and slap him. There was a distinct, discrete electronic click and thenâ€¦ nothing.
â€œFrankâ€¦ahâ€¦I donâ€™t think sheâ€™s working,â€ called Barry.
Frank sighed heavily, thanked the guard and pocketed his id. He looked back into the backseat. â€œOh, sheâ€™s working alright. Her systems take a while to boot up.â€
Kimâ€™s head moved suddenly and with languorous grace towards Barryâ€™s, her eyelids slid open as if she were waking from a delicious dream.
â€œWell, hello there.â€ The voice was warm and mellow, seductive but not overly so.
â€œHoly shit,â€ muttered Barry, sliding away from her by a couple of inches.
In the front, Frank chuckled and pulled onto a stately tree-lined boulevard. â€œDonâ€™t let her get to you, kid. Sheâ€™s just merch â€“ remember that.â€
Kim ignored the comment and Barry wasnâ€™t really listening. Like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car, he couldnâ€™t look away from the thing sitting next to him.
â€œItâ€™s a pleasure to meet you. Whatâ€™s your name?â€
â€œHeâ€™s not a client,â€ hollered Frank, who was busy looking at the numbers on the gateposts, driving slowly. â€œOkay, here we are. Number 83.â€
â€œI apologize, my mistake,â€ said Kim. She turned her face away from Barry and it went slack, in profile. Barry felt like someone had turned off the sun.
â€œOkay, kid. Come up front. This is a 24 hire so I hope you were paying attention to the address. Youâ€™ll be picking her up tomorrow.â€
Barry took another long look at Kim and climbed back into the front passenger seat. â€œDamn, sheâ€™s freaky.â€
They drove around a circular drive and pulled up in front of an outrageously huge house. The doors were glass and over ten feet tall. A fifty-something, short, plump man walked out onto the portico.
Frank turned off the engine and got out. â€œMr. Briggs?â€ he asked, walking around to meet the man. Barry opened his door and climbed out, feeling useless, waiting to be told what to do.
â€œThatâ€™s me,â€ said the roly-poly man. â€œDid the office tell you it was for 24 hours? I had to re-book to get that block of time and Iâ€™d be mighty disappointed if theyâ€™d screwed up on me.â€
Frank rechecked his delivery terminal. â€œNope. Everythingâ€™s in order Mr. Briggs. 24 hour hire. Have you ever had one of our girls before?â€
â€œNoâ€¦Never. But Iâ€™ve heard a lot about them.â€
â€œOkay. Well, Barry, why donâ€™t you help Kim out of the transport,â€ Frank said, looking over at Barry. He turned back to Mr. Briggs. â€œAnd Iâ€™ll run through the details with you.â€
Barry put the breaks on a lewd daydream about Kim and pushed opened the rear sliding door. She was still sitting there, where heâ€™d left her, staring mutely ahead. â€œAhâ€¦ Kim?â€
Frank reeled off the rental conditions to Mr. Briggs. â€œâ€¦ no burns, no cuts, no bite-marks please or you forfeit your damage deposit. Sheâ€™s fully charged so there shouldnâ€™t be any power problems. And if sheâ€™s returned to us in a soiled condition, there are surchargesâ€¦â€
In the transport, Kim turned her head to face Barry and smiled again. â€œIs it time?â€
Barry was sure it was his imagination, but he thought she looked a little sad. â€œYup, itâ€™s time.â€ He held out his hand to her to help her down from the transporter. She reached out and took it so gracefully and, fuck, her touch was so warm. She let him lend her a little balance as she stepped down from the running plate. â€œThank you so much.â€
Barry couldnâ€™t help himself; he blushed and stammered, â€œOhâ€¦noâ€¦No problem.â€
In a million years, Barry would never get a girl like this. Well, there werenâ€™t any girls like this â€“ not real ones. And in his wildest dreams, he could never afford her. When heâ€™d interviewed for the delivery job, theyâ€™d told him the girls were valued at somewhere in the region of $80,000 per model.
â€œSo, is everything clear Mr. Briggs? Any questions?â€ Frank was wrapping up the handover spiel.
â€œNoâ€¦no, I donâ€™t think so.â€ The plump little man was no longer paying any attention to Frank. He keyed in his credit number on the delivery terminal without even looking. Kim took up his entire attention as she walked towards him, her hips rolling, her arms swaying, her head held at an endearing angle.
â€œWell, I guess thatâ€™s everything then,â€ said Frank. â€œKim? This is Mr. Briggs. Mr. Briggs, this is Kim, our very best model. If you have any difficulties give our customer service hotline a call.â€
Kim smiled brightly and held out a slender arm, hand extended. â€œItâ€™s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Briggs.â€
The guy beamed and looked questioningly at Frank. Frank nodded sagely, like a father giving away his daughter at her wedding. Mr. Briggs took Kimâ€™s hand in both of his.
â€œOh, itâ€™s a pleasure to meet you too, Kim,â€ the little man squeaked.
Instantly, Barry felt a surge of hatred for the fat, rich little bastard holding onto Kimâ€™s hand. It wasnâ€™t fair that assholes like that could get girls like Kim. It wasnâ€™t fair at all. Frank signaled to Barry to get back in the transporter, and walked around to the driverâ€™s side himself. When they were settled in the car and moving down the driveway, Barry sighed heavily.
Frank grinned and slapped Barry on the shoulder. â€œDonâ€™t worry kid. You get an hourâ€™s credit for every year of employment with the company. Me? Iâ€™m saving up for the four-hour afternoon delight with the Sandra model. Sheâ€™s a blonde.â€