Tardy Man

Don’t panic, I am a person.

Not a rubber doll. Man in a Tardy suit!

Can’t talk thru suit. That’s why note cards. Name—Keith Flaneur. Born—Oklahoma City. Age—41. Work for Property and Casualty Insurer. Wick, Ltd. Please don’t call. Will explain.

I am a Tardy Man. Tardy as in fire-retardant. Tardy suit connected to spine so can’t remove without help or else death. Complicated!

Sorry I look so funny. Bad idea to draw face on suit. Thought would help but much worse.

Real eyes not large black circles with dots in middle. Real eyes hazel and smallish. Real nose not blob. Real nose like most noses. Skinny but typical.

Worst part is grin. Inside not grinning, trust me. Frowning big time. Very bad day.

In Tardy suit you can go anywhere. Fires, floods, etc. Like superhero! Job to save things. Protect.

Except—bad news. Only allowed to help ppl with Wick policies.

Important you understand. Tardy Men can help only Wick customers. Not allowed to help anyone else! No matter what.

That’s why I’m here. Long story. Be patient, please. Just read cards and you will understand.

Wildfire nearby. We go this a.m. Me and crew. Into nice neighborhood with lots of Wick policies. Big homes. Very fancy.

Fire was approaching. Dark smoke. Scary! Ppl who live there evac’d.

Paintings, jewelry, clothes, etc.—we load all valuables into Tardy bins. This our job. Protect things. But not ppl.

Two hours. Three hours. Loading and loading. Very hard work. Fire coming. Mansion across road burning and collapsing.

Then—a voice. Where from? Help! Help! Small voice. Look all around. But no one there. Very strange. Neighborhood evac’d, so who?

Shiller comes over, makes signal: Hey, why not loading?

Shiller is crew leader. Very strong man. Tough. No funny business. Loyal to Wick. So I pretend nothing and back to work hi ho hi ho.

Loading but now also looking and listening. Worried about the voice. Quiet now. Came from outside, pretty sure.

Very concerned but can’t search until later, when I roll Tardy bin out of house. Walk by pool & OMG! Child underwater!!!

7 yrs old, guessing. Dark hair. Breathing thru snorkel. Looks up and sees me. Very scared boy! I signal to him: Wait there!!

Take Tardy bin to evac pad and get thumbs up from Liza. Liza a friend. Sometime girlfriend, too. Trust Liza. Been thru a lot together. Signal to her: Come with me.

Show Liza little boy. Liza shakes head and walks away fast. Disappointed with Liza but understand. Because big trouble if we help.

Last year a Tardy Man helped old lady escape fire. Now Tardy Man is in a coma. “Accident” from Tardy-suit removal process. Spine/suit interface is dangerous & complex.

Very, very sad situation. Tardy Man a good person. Too good. Wick doesn’t like good ppl.

Plus—Wick took old lady away. What happened? Very mysterious. Maybe killed her, don’t know.

Wick wants zero attention. Tells public no resources to help ppl. Not set up for ppl rescue. Can only rescue things. But a lie.

All about money.

Where is oversight? World too crazy now to notice, maybe. Ppl look other way.

Tardy life—hard life. Nobody dreams of being Tardy Man. Only reason—you’re out of options. Lost everything in fire or parent needs med treatment, etc.

Tardy crews full of sad stories. To survive—give up freedom and go work for big insurance co. and save only rich ppl things.

You become like robot. Feel like nothing outside Tardy suit is real. But then one day you see child in pool with snorkel and remember. All is very real!

This poor child in the pool is very real! Maybe from other country, or maybe poor but still an innocent child! Parents worked at house, guessing. Maybe parents dead now in fire. Who knows.

This time I have to do something!

I take an empty Tardy bin to pool and wait till no one is looking. Shiller upstairs now. One swoop, I grab boy and put him in Tardy bin and close lid.

Safe in there from fire but enough air for only 1 hour. A risk. But no other way. Can’t use evac. Copter is 1 hour out, plus 2 hours for transport. Would take too long.

Plus—don’t know what Wick would do with boy.

Only choice is thru fire. Liza sees me going. She waves bye. I wave bye, too. Very sad. Inside suit, crying. Will never see Liza again, guessing.

I roll Tardy bin into fire. Flames everywhere. Very scary, even in suit. Orange blaze swirling & rolling.

Thinking maybe we will die. Up a hillside, then down, and then up. Hard to do with bin.

Can’t hear boy inside the bin. Fire is loud. So much fire. World on fire.

Walk for an hour and still fire everywhere. Not much air left in bin, fearing. Feel bad for little boy. Praying for little boy. Please, God, just help little boy!

If I can just do this one thing.

Whole time worrying boy is already dead in there, and all for nothing.

Finally reach outer edge of fire. But still too much smoke. Keep going until free of smoke. A long way.

New neighborhood. Ppl evac’d but safe to breathe here, hoping. Open Tardy bin. Been almost two hours, but boy is alive!!

Pull him out of bin and stand him up. Going to be O.K. Big big relief!

Boy is scared of me, though. Look like big rubber doll from nightmare. Do a little dance, but only scares him more.

Take him into house. Give him glass of water and sit him in chair. Take Sharpie and draw my face. See? Human. He understands now but still scared.

Pick up phone but duh. No voice. Not sure what to do. Wick tracking me now, fearing. Will come for me. Can’t stay with boy too long.

Grab note cards and marker. Again we walk. Down road, then another road. Boy behind me few yards. Then in distance see highway. Cars driving.

We go to highway but cars going so fast. Nobody stopping. I step to edge and wave arms. One car slams on brakes! Big accident! 10-car pile-up. Feel so bad! No one dead, praying.

Boy screaming now. I’m scared, too. I pick up boy and run from highway. Down another road and another.

That’s how we got here. Saw you in yard. You look like nice lady. Kind face. So I hide behind fence and write down story fast.

Boy still over there behind fence. Please help him. Up to you now. Hide boy. Help him find relatives.

Wick coming for me so must go. Back into fire, maybe, don’t know. Can last maybe one full day in suit.

When they find me they will take me back to Wick. Will be “accident,” probably.

My brother in Oklahoma City—Travis Flaneur. Find him, please, and tell him I’m sorry for thing with ex-wife. Long story, but he’ll know what means.

My daughter somewhere in North Carolina—Dottie Flaneur. Tell her I’m not total dipshit? Not good man or bad but somewhere in middle?

Didn’t always do right thing but this time did, hoping.

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