The Ruiner: That American Life Pt. II Don't Be A Boob and You Won't Get Trapped



Harris backed away from the body and the trip wire and sat down on the floor next to his backpack.

"Well kiddo, what do you think?" he said, speaking directly to the backpack. "Should we poke around and maybe set off a bomb? How bad do you want to grow up? Personally, I'm a little more curious than usual about what's in that box. On the other hand, I enjoy being in one piece most of the time and  it's getting late and I have no idea how much longer you're going to be conked out."

He peeked into his bag and was pleased to find the orphan both asleep and alive. He reached into the bag and rubbed the baby's head for a few seconds. It was meant to be soothing but there was something about rubbing a knocked out baby's head when you're sitting in a room with a corpse hooked up to a suspected explosive device while on a government-sponsored murder spree that made it feel anything but soothing. This fact wasn't lost on Harris, who stood up and rubbed his own head. It was, not surprisingly, also not very soothing.

He considered his options. The way he saw it right now he could just leave everything as it was and let the cleanup crew take care of it. He often worked without a cleanup crew and was routinely responsible for getting rid of the corpses he made. It would be nice to let someone else do the literal dirty work for once.

He could try and disarm the trap, possibly blowing up the building in the process, not to mention himself, a kidnapped orphan, and a bar full of people who had nothing to do with any of this. This option was unappealing not because of the possible collateral damage; it was more selfish than that. Harris really enjoyed being in one piece. There was no way he was going to encourage that to change if he didn't have to. A third option was that he and the baby could just wait around until one of them came up with a better idea.

None of these options seemed particularly appealing to the Ruiner at the moment. He needed more information but wasn't about to expend the extra effort to obtain it. He didn't want to wait around because it's never a good idea to hang out in someone else's apartment with a body and a stolen baby. Plus, it was getting late. He was getting tired and had been hungry for a while now. The whole baby thing wasn't making any of this any smoother.

It wasn't like he could just call the office and ask if they knew anything.  He didn't take his phone when he went out to work. He didn't want to break it or lose it. This was not because he cared;  it was purely about avoiding getting reamed out about it. His phone was classified technology but the fact that it only had one button made it look like a cheap, government subsidized cell-phone for old people and/or children. In other words, it looked like a toy for someone of diminished mental capacities who also suffered from poor hand-eye coordination.

In the end, after dedicating almost an entire minute to deliberation,  the Ruiner decided to have a quick, cursory look around before heading back to his hotel room. A casual inspection of the body and the booby trap revealed little to Harris. The body was, or should have been, Ken Toring. He wasn't about to go searching it to make sure. He made a mental note to start asking for pictures of his targets in the future. The box had something important inside. Obviously, but what? Spaceship parts? Video footage? An alien's finger? Who knew. He'd already seen all of those things before and the mystery wasn't worth an explosion, so he left it alone.

"None of this makes sense,"  he said, pacing in tight circles around the living room. Several minutes passed in this manner without any new revelations. He hesitated to search the rest of the apartment, leery about more traps. Harris' backpack started to emit strange, tiny noises. Quietly at first, but that didn't last long. What started as a cross between a coo and giggle soon became a piercing scream which raged with the intensity of an air raid siren. It was more than enough to distract him from his pacing.

"Uh-oh, that thing's awake," he muttered while opening the backpack. "Whoa, you got bigger?" He took the child from the bag and held it up at arm's length. It did seem bigger and it was slightly heavier too.  The wailing intensified. Harris cradled the child in one arm while the other gently massaged a pair of tiny feet. The wailing stopped and within a few minutes, the baby was sleeping again. He put it back in his bag and exited the apartment in a quiet rush, hoping to get back to his hotel room before the child woke up or got any bigger or heavier. This was a weird night, even by his standards. He wanted to get it over with before it got any weirder.

 Harris stopped at a 24-hour gas station to pay too much for diapers and a few jars of baby food on his way back to his hotel. Once inside his room, he filled the bathtub with towels and blankets. It wasn't the fanciest or most comfortable crib, but at least the kid wouldn't fall off of it in the middle of the night. He placed the baby in the tub and left the bathroom in search of his phone, which was right where he left it, which was always the last place he looked. He pushed the only button on the phone and held it up to his ear.

After three rings, a digital voice thanked him for calling the customer service line for a well-known hygiene product before launching into Harris' available options:

"Say 'check my balance' or 'repeat my options'," the robot stated efficiently and politely.

"Real Person. I want to speak to a real person."

"I'm sorry, I did not understand what you said." Usually at this point Harris would scream "REAL PERSON" into his phone over and over again, locking himself in a revolving door of angry and idiotic screaming until he remembered to ask the robot to transfer his call to a 'live human'. The robot would always politely comply and Harris would always wonder why the phone robot's programmer didn't, or wouldn't, make it aware that 'real person' and 'live human' meant the same thing. There was no way, in his mind, that a person capable of making a robot was incapable of instilling it with an adequate vocabulary. He disliked laziness.  The system had been like that for years, and every one of his complaint letters was ignored.  It was personal to him at this point and he held to his opinions on the matter like a dog on a bone.

That's what he usually did, but he couldn't start yelling into the phone with a sleeping kidnapped baby in the tub. He was trying to avoid the screaming baby scenario as much as possible, although it was a lost cause and he knew it. Kids always scream eventually. That didn't mean he had to encourage it, though. Instead of yelling he spoke to the robot in a curt, clipped tone. It was like he was spitting the words out of his mouth and into the eye of the very idea of robotics. Other than that, the process went as it always did. He was eventually connected with a Fourth Branch Agent who would take his statement. He never got to speak directly to his boss, Agent 34, anymore. She was above report taking and spent most of her time in the office, defending Harris' oddball ways to her superiors.

"Yeah, dead already, did it to himself," he said, growing increasingly disinterested. ''How am I supposed to know? Un huh, yeah, yeah. I said yeah, it's getting bigger. I don't know why, it's just happening. Where the hell is the courier? What do you mean there's been no word in over an hour? OK....OK....OoooooK. Look, I'm done talking now. Tell 34 we need to 'connect' and 'catch up'. Right, yeah. Bye."

He turned his phone off and his attention to getting some sleep. He brushed his teeth while eyeing up the baby. It  had grown bigger again, noticeably so this time. He spit into the sink and fell into bed, barely remembering to switch the light off before giving in to his exhaustion.

Roughly an hour later the door to Harris's room opened, ever so silently, despite there being three "Do Not Disturb" signs hanging on the doorknob. He always brought two with him wherever he went. Harris immediately woke, but remained still, breathing as though he was still sleeping. He even added a little snore every few breaths, just for effect, and waited.

A man slipped through the half-opened door and shut it behind him. He stood still, allowing his eyes to adjust to the dark. Harris was still playing possum, waiting to make sure it was just the one intruder. When he was sure he sat up in bed and turned the light on.

"Is there anything I can help you with?" Harris asked, looking at the man. "Wait...I know you. You're the dead guy from Toring's place."

"Funny thing about that..." He replied, a smug look crossed his face while his hand reached into his coat.

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