An old man glanced furtively from side to side, then stumped across the hallway. The wheels on his walker squeaked across gray linoleum. He reached the door marked “utility closet” and rapped twice, paused, then knocked three times. He waited. He glanced left and right, muttered something under his breath, and lifted his hand to knock again.
The door cracked open and a woman with bushy white eyebrows peered out. “Is that you, George?”
“Hurry up,” George said, his fingers clamping on his walker. “Someone might come!”
“It’s George,” she announced, then pulled the door wider. George stumped past her as fast as he could. The door swung itself shut behind him, the lock clicking into place.
“That’s everyone,” said the woman with the bushy eyebrows. George could never recall her name. It was something irritating that started with an M. Marguerite? Magdalena? Maggot?
Avery nodded at George, his hair slicked back as usual. Trying to look suave in front of a wall of toilet paper, gloves, depends, wipes, and plastic spray bottles.
Dot had squeezed her walker up next to Avery and was sitting on it, beaming. She gave George a cheery wave with her lace handkerchief. Something warm smote his chest, then imploded when Maggot banged into his shoulder trying to get past the mops.
“It’s time to act,” said George, clenching his hands on his walker. “Or we’ll be pushing up daisies by springtime.”
“Oh,” Dot clucked her tongue. “Is it really as bad as all that? I mean, it’s dreadful, to be sure, but ‘pushing up daisies’ dreadful? Do you really think so?”
“Yes I do!” George banged his fist. “And I’m tired of shrinking and cowering. It’s time we made a stand. Who’s with me?”
“I am,” said Maggot. She plucked a loose hair out of her eyebrows. “Let’s go out in a blaze of glory.”
Avery steepled his fingers under his chin. He’d once confided to George that it made him look distinguished and therefore more attractive to the ladies. George ground his teeth. “I agree,” said Avery. “Something must be done. The sooner the better.”
“Intrigue and rebellion,” grinned Maggot. “I love this stuff.”
“All very well,” Avery said, fingers jabbing into his chin. “But what we really need is a winning strategy.”
It should be dramatic,” said Maggot, grabbing a mop handle. “Something they can’t unpin from the bulletin board or put in the paper shredder and pretend never happened. Something to show them we mean business.”
“Yes,” Avery nodded, quirking his eyebrows in concentration.
A shadow crossed over Dot’s face. “But what?”
George curled his fingertips, pressing them into the foam on his walker with extreme force. “I have a plan,” he snapped. “And if you’d all shut your traps for a moment, I’ll let you hear it.”
They stared at him in surprise. George didn’t waste the silence. He bent down, his stiff knees cracking, and fumbled for the large paper bag in the basket of his walker. The bottles inside clinked against each other. George fiddled with it, then pulled out one of the bottles. It was smooth and dark against his gnarled fingers. “Remember this stuff?”
Maggot chortled and smacked her hands together. “Brilliant.”
Avery whistled his appreciation. “How on earth did you get it?”
Dot just stared, wide-eyed.
George put the bottle back in the paper and stowed it in the walker basket. “I made some calls, pulled some strings.” He shrugged, pride welling in his chest. “Grandson’s a chef, he understands.”
“How sweet,” Dot smiled. “Followed in your footsteps.”
George shrugged, his voice gruff. “There’s stipulations of course. It has to be voluntary. And nobody with heart problems can take it. And it won’t work with milk.”
“Easy,” said Avery, “I’ll work up a list. It shouldn’t be hard to convince people. They’re as up-to-here as we are. When will we do it?”
“Saturday,” said Maggot. “The board is eating in the cafeteria. Also, I know a girl who used to volunteer here before she got an internship at the paper. I’ll give her a call, drop some hints.”
George swept his hands back and forth across his walker grips. His fingers trembled. Finally.