Tom returned from the bar. “Hey, I’ve got a joke for you,” he said.
“You sure?” asked Marcus, “You always get them wrong.”
“Nah, nah, it’s good this one,” Tom assured. “It’s a good joke, this one. Heard it today at work. You’ll love it.”
Marcus looked across to Alan who glanced in turn to John. John simply shrugged and sipped at his beer. That was enough encouragement for Tom.
“Ok,” he said, gesticulating with his hands, “there’s this truck, right, and it’s night. Well, more like early morning, but the sun’s not up yet so you can’t really see much.”
“It’s still dark,” prompted John. Tom snapped his fingers.
“Yeah, that’s it, it’s still dark. Anyway, there’s this truck and it’s driving down the road through one of those sprawling suburbs. And it’s really quiet except for the truck.”
“Really quiet except for the truck,” murmured Marcus into his glass.
“Yeah, really quiet except for the truck, which is, like, really noisy. So the truck’s going along until it gets to these big wire security gates, and the guard gets out of his booth and the driver says Hello, and the guard says Hello back and then gets back in his booth and opens the gates and the truck drives in.”
“Is this going somewhere?” said Marcus.
“Hang on, I’m getting there.” said Tom before taking a swig of his beer. He put the glass down carefully on a coaster then stared blankly at the small bowl of nuts. “Where was I?”
“Truck goes through the gates,” said Alan.
“Right,” said Tom getting back in the swing, “The truck goes through the gates and drives up to this huge roller door. And on the roller door are painted the words PTERON: Tomorrow’s Company Today! in big bold letters so you know that this door must have stuff for this company Pteron behind it. And the truck pulls up and this kid gets out of the truck.”
“There’s a kid driving the truck?’ said Marcus.
“No no no, his dad’s driving the truck, the kid’s in the passenger seat. So the kid gets out of the truck and opens up the big roller door and then the truck backs up into the shed.” Tom paused for a moment, his hands reaching out but as frozen as the grin on his face. His brow began to wrinkle. Moments thundered past.
Marcus picked at some crumbs on the table. “You’ve forgotten the punchline, haven’t you?”
The tiniest bead of sweat trickled down the side of Tom’s face, coming to rest in the folds of his forced smile. Slowly he put down his hands and settled back into his chair.
There was a very long uncomfortable silence with only the background disco muzak and the occasional clink of pool balls to crack the hush.
Alan picked up his beer and drowned its remaining third. “So John,” he said as he put down the glass, “How’s the wife and kids?”
10 to go …