Haze took the sealed envelope from Polly. He smiled as he felt the weight of it and heard the chink of metal inside.
“Count it now,” she said, as she always did. “Make sure it’s all there.”
He grabbed a pair of scissors from her desk and slit the envelope open. After replacing the scissors, Haze carefully dumped the contents into his hand. About a dozen coins of varying sizes — a few gold, the rest silver — spilled out. A little slip of paper drifted down on top of them. It was a receipt for additional shares. He tucked the paper in his pocket and then calculated the value of the coins.
“Looks right,” Haze confirmed. He tipped an imaginary hat at Polly. “Always a pleasure.”
She gave him a quick nod and moved on to the next thing. Haze pocketed the money and tossed the empty envelope in a garbage can next to Polly’s desk.
Outside, the sun was shining brightly. May is a fickle month in Northern New Hampshire. It could be cold and harsh, or warm and taunting. Even snow wasn’t wholly out of the question. There was always an old local or two who could tell of some mid-spring squall from their early years — although Haze suspected a rough correlation between one’s memory of winter lengths and the number experienced. Today, the sun was smiling and no clouds seemed intent on wrecking the mood. Parkas and boots had been traded for t-shirts and sandals, for the time being at least.
Haze jingled the coins in his pocket as he walked out of the Plot’s corporate offices and city hall. It was more than he liked to carry around. So he jogged across Market Street to Liberty First Bank.
In the bank lobby, he walked up to an ATM and extracted his Plot ID card from his pocket. He thumbed the gold connectors in a pattern, different than the authentication pattern he had used to get past the Plot’s security checkpoint last night, and then touched the ID card against a designated spot on the ATM. The ATM screen popped up a welcome message and prompted him for his passkey. He entered a string using the touchscreen keyboard and hit “OK.”
Haze selected the option to make a deposit. The ATM beeped at him, ready to accept his funds. He took out the money Polly had just given him and slipped all but two of the coins into a slot. The ATM displayed icons of the coins as he deposited them, along with counts, denominations and the overall deposit amount.
When he was done with the deposit, Haze checked his balances and then hit the button to end the session. As he walked back outside, his pocket felt lighter, but he felt a lot better.
Haze stepped onto Market Street and looked to the left, seeing the familiar shops and offices and vendors and dining establishments. Dozens of other towns and cities he had visited all had some variation of this street, but none of them ever quite felt like home.
When Haze first came to Freedom Plot a few years ago, it was still a new town, freshly incorporated. Market Street had a handful of buildings then. It had taken a lot of prodding and poking to get people to move here, to build their homes and businesses here. Pat was an effective poker and prodder, but even with Haze’s help the work was slow and slogging. Now, there were several times more merchants and businesses as there had been. Yet it still looked so small, way too small for the plans Pat had for it.
Next to the bank was a little commons. It contained several flower-lined paths, a handful of benches and an obligatory bronze effigy of some obscure local ancestor who somehow participated in the Revolutionary War. Near one edge of the commons was a man holding a small plastic bag as he walked along the perimeter, looking at the ground. Suddenly, the man stooped, picked up a wrapper or piece of paper from the ground and placed it in the bag.
“Good morning, Rollins,” Haze said, walking toward him. “How are you?”
Rollins looked up.
“Mr. Haze. Didn’t realize that was you.”
Despite the sun, Rollins wore a heavy flannel shirt fastened to the penultimate button, and jeans. A dingy undershirt peeked from below the flannel.
“Didn’t realize you were back,” Rollins said, continuing his survey of the commons perimeter. “How long you been gone this time?”
“A month altogether,” Haze said. “I stopped in for less than a day last week.”
“Long enough, anyway,” Rollins replied. “Good to see you back. You look in fine health.”
“I feel alright, anyway,” Haze said. The old man stooped again to pick up another bit of trash. “You need a hand?”
“Almost done. ‘Sides, the Group pays me to keep the commons clean, not you. Wouldn’t be right to pass it off.”
“I suppose not.” They walked a few paces in silence. “Anything new in town since I left?”
Rollins laughed. “Hard to tell what’s new and what ain’t, anymore. I never go anywhere but here and over to Tess’s, anyway, ‘sides my own place.”
“How is Tess?”
“Ah, you know her. She’d bitch if she was lickin’ homemade stew out of a bowl made of gold. She hired that Haskins girl to help her out.”
Rollins picked up another piece of trash. “She’ll be in to the market tomorrow, if you’re itchin’ to see her.”
“Maybe I’ll stop by.” After a few more steps, Haze said, “Sun’s out in force today.”
“Beats the rain.”
“Definitely. This weather’s perfect. I just wish I hadn’t lost my sunglasses.”
“Where’d you leave ‘em?”
“At a hotel, I think. They were nice ones, too, wraparounds, really dark, just the right size for my wide head.”
“Call ‘em up. Maybe someone found ‘em and can send ‘em to you.”
“They, uh, wouldn’t have a record of my stay,” Haze said. “And I’m not a big fan of giving people my address if I don’t have to. If someone did find them, hopefully they’re getting good use out of them. Guess I’ll just have to buy a new pair.”
“Reckon you will.”
They reached the corner of the commons. Rollins looked up.
“Well, that’s my chore. Good talkin’ to ya, Haze.”
The old man stuck out his hand.
“Take care of yourself, Rollins,” Haze said as he shook the older man’s hand. “And tell Tess I said hi.”
Rollins walked to a pickup truck parked nearby, knotting the small bag as he went and tossing it into the back. He got in the cab and drove away.
“Well,” Haze said to the bronze war hero, “I think I’ll go shopping for sunglasses.”
There were a few people walking along Market Street, but nobody Haze new. He recognized one man walking into an office building, but he couldn’t remember his name, so he just smiled politely and nodded. The man didn’t bother to return either the smile or the nod. A block further, Haze stepped into a little convenience store.
“May I help you?”
The proprietor was a short, balding man in a worn gray polo and navy slacks. He had the unenthusiastic face of a kenneled collie.
“Got any sunglasses?”
The man pointed to a countertop carousel containing an assortment of cheap sun-sifters, no different than what Haze could find in any number of drug stores and truck stops across the country. None of them came close to the quality of the shades he left behind. Haze spent a minute flicking the carousel around, and then turned to leave.
“You might try over at I-Wear,” the proprietor said.
“Down past Blush on the right.” The proprietor waved the direction he meant. “It’s new, one of those one-hour places. They do prescription lenses, but they might have some regular sunglasses there, too. Designer stuff, if that’s what you’re looking for.”
Haze thanked him and left.
The I-Wear building had a transparent modern look to it. Posters in the windows advertised frame specials and eye exam discounts. A big sign read, “Walk-Ins Welcome.” Haze walked in, and an electronic buzzer announced his presence.
A woman in her mid-thirties was sitting at a small consultation desk. Her dirty blonde hair was pulled back into a pony tail. She wore a white doctor’s smock over a dark blue dress, and glasses. She was talking with an older woman.
Haze looked around the store and saw a wall display of sunglasses. He migrated to the display and began trying on different sets. He didn’t know how long he was there before the woman in the smock approached him.
“Can I help you?”
“I’m just looking at sunglasses,” Haze replied. “But I can’t really decide what I like.”
“Ah,” the woman said. She studied his face. Then, she reached over to the display and selected a pair. “Try these.”
Haze looked in the mirror. They looked good.
“How did you pick those out just like that?”
The woman smiled and shrugged.
“I’ve always been pretty good at things like that. So, do you have a prescription, or do you need an exam?”
“Oh, no, I just need sunglasses. My eyes are fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m pretty sure.”
“When’s the last time you had them checked?”
Haze shrugged. “A few years ago.”
“Come on, then. Exam’s free, as long as you’re buying those anyway.”
She walked away, toward the back of the store, without waiting for his answer.
Haze replaced the sunglasses and followed her. She led him to an exam room. After performing all the usual tests, she stood and looked at him as though she was annoyed.
“What’s the matter?” Haze asked.
“You were right.”
“Your vision. It’s perfectly fine. I was going to sell you lenses with an anti-glare coating and all sorts of other expensive add-ons that have high profit margins.”
“It’s not your fault. At least, not in a conscious way.”
“So can I get those sunglasses then?”
The woman rang up the sunglasses. The price came up in dollars.
“Can you break this?” Haze asked, pulling out a quarter-ounce gold coin he had kept from his pay.
“Oh,” the woman said. “Actually, I can only take U.S. currency.”
“Not many people use that here.”
“So I’ve learned. It’s a corporate thing. We also take cards.”
“No, I have bills.”
He would have to take out more cash before he left town again anyway. Gold and silver didn’t do him any good when he was off-Plot.
Haze walked outside with his new sunglasses and put them on in front of the store. He felt boss. His stomach rumbled. He pulled out his phone and glanced at the time. The only decision he had to make now was whether to have breakfast or lunch.