I woke up by myself, no drunk guy yelling, no phone ringing, no alarms going off. It’s a pretty nice way to wake up—if you have to wake up, I mean. I sat up slowly, waiting for some sort of hangover to attack, some sort of headache to ambush me. None of that happened.
“What the hell’s going on here?” I asked the empty Drunk Tank. It didn’t answer, and I figured that was also a pretty good thing. I felt pretty good—no throbbing head, no lurching stomach, no feeling of immanent danger. It was a pretty odd feeling.
I dumped out the earthly remains of my last pot of coffee and made some fresh stuff. While waiting for the first cup to trickle out, I threw a ham and cheese Hot Pocket into the microwave.
You know in movies, where the good guys walk up to some building or parking lot or whatever, and one of them always says, “It’s quiet?” And the other guy, I guess because he gets paid by the line or something, he always goes, “A little TOO quiet.” And you’re sitting there thinking that it’s obviously not TOO quiet, because you have these two idiots exchanging crappy dialogue when they should be paying attention to whatever trap is awaiting them.
That’s how I felt that morning, like things were just a little too quiet. Of course, I didn’t ruin the silence by saying it out loud—although you wouldn’t believe how tempting the urge was. The microwave beeped, though, and I started to think about delicious Hot Pockets instead of crappy movie lines. I poured my cup of coffee, and sat on my futon to eat my breakfast.
“Did you ever wonder why the Judge and Flixxx didn’t just try to kill you at your house?” Mandy asked. It pretty much scared the shit out of me, her voice erupting in the middle of that a little to quiet moment. I spilled coffee all over my leg and almost dropped my Hot Pocket.
“Are you allowed to do that?” I asked her. “I mean, don’t we have some way of keeping you from just looking at us whenever you want, and interrupting?”
“Geez, man, sorry to interrupt. Next time, I’ll wait until you’re finished scratching your crotch.”
“That could take hours. Have you just been sitting around waiting for me to wake up?”
“Nah, I was doing some work, I just kept the Drunk Tank camera pulled up in a side window.”
“What kind of work?”
“My own personal work—the stuff I do to pay the bills.”
“What do you do, Mandy? I mean, when you aren’t hanging around instigating worry in my life?”
“I’m not telling you that.”
“Why not? You know what we do.”
“You don’t DO anything—you just hang around in your underwear for most of the day playing video games and then you dress up in a different kind of underwear and go out and drive around for a bit. Sometimes you get attacked by other freaks who are dressed up in their underwear.”
“That still counts as doing something.”
“I’m not telling you what I do. Get back on topic: why didn’t they just attack you at your home?”
“Beats me. Probably because they’re melodramatic idiots.”
“It just doesn’t add up. I mean, the Judge, she wants to kill you, man. She isn’t fooling around. And Jimmy, I think he would probably kill you, too, if he got the chance.”
“If I’m going to get killed by a moron like that, I deserve death.” I poured myself a new cup of coffee. My leg had turned all red where I had spilled my first cup. Coffee’s weird how it can get so hot. Something that hot, you would expect it to be all bubbling and steaming and melting rock. Instead, you get a little wisp of steam coming from a beverage that’s more than likely hot enough to melt the flesh off of you. Weird.
“Nah, Jimmy’s still in it the way that Arnie is—it’s all fun and games and mostly for show. He would kill you, I guess, but I don’t think he realizes that this is for keeps.”
“Yeah,” she said. “But the Judge is different. I’ve watched the tapes a few times, and that chick is out for blood, man. You’re lucky she didn’t take a little time for target practice, or else she would have fried you with that first shot.”
“I think you’re overlooking my jungle-cat reflexes.”
She laughed. “Yeah, maybe because they deserve to be overlooked—if only to save you a little embarrassment. Arnie can move, though.”
“Yeah, yeah, Arnie’s great, Arnie’s fantastic, get over it.”
“What? What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Huh? Nothing. So, yeah, the Judge. I’m pretty sure she’s wanted me dead since that night in the park.” “That night in the park” being the night that I was shit-faced drunk and mooned her while she was on her first date in something like two years. “That night in the park” being what pretty much began my career as Portly Boy.
“Can’t say I really blame her. So why didn’t she just come to your house and kill you?”
“You know what I think?”
“Nope, and I’m pretty glad for that fact, most of the time.”
“Wow, look at you try to be witty. You should probably leave that kind of thing up to the professionals. What I’m thinking is that maybe she just didn’t have time. I mean, that woman HATES me. You said about how if she had taken a little time for target practice, she would have killed us right away. But she didn’t take that time. What she did was, she got her fancy suit, maybe took a few minutes to learn how to use it, and then she came after us.”
“Makes sense, I guess. But then why aren’t they attacking the house right now?”
“What, are you nuts? It’s like nine in the morning. A proper villain doesn’t attack at nine in the morning. They have to wait until at least after lunch, just to make sure that the news crews will be up and around.”
“What kind of twisted reasoning is that?”
“Look, if I don’t go by my own twisted reasoning, I have to assume that those two maniacs are going to attack me before lunch. If not today, then tomorrow. And I don’t like being up this early, man. I like to sleep until two or three. I don’t need to trouble my sleep with worries about whether I’m being attacked.”
“And this is what you call logic?”
“Yeah, sure, why not?” I was getting kind of bored with this conversation, and I needed another cup of coffee. “Besides, Jimmy’s lazy as hell. He’s not going to be getting up before noon just to play villain.”
“You should probably do something, anyways.”
“Do something? Like what? You want to know a secret? You can’t protect yourself from the insane. They’re everywhere. They shop where you shop, they eat where you eat. They sort mail where you go to buy stamps. To get through life without freaking out, about the only thing you can do is just ignore the crazies, and hope that they decide to lose their shit either before or after they meet you. ‘Do something?’ There’s no way to do something about this.”
“That’s not the right attitude.” That was Arnie. He was picking himself up off of the ground. Apparently, I was so pumped up about my little speech that I hadn’t noticed him toppling down the stairs. “Good morning, Mandy,” he said, and waved his glass of spirits at her. I wasn’t sure what it was, but it sort of smelled like cognac and coffee.
“Morning, Arnie,” Mandy said.
“Good morning, Howie.”
“No it’s not, Arnie. I’ve been up for something like twenty minutes, and I already have to deal with the two of you, not to mention the fact that I’ve got two more lunatics after me—and those two are actually trying to kill me. Explain to me how that could possible be classified as a good morning.”
“You’de amongst friendz, me foine lad,” he said with some weird Irish accent.
“Shut up, Arnie.” Arnie’s always doing things like changing his voice and trying to talk with accents and things. It’s so completely annoying that your mind tries to block it; most of the time, you only end up noticing that he’s done it in retrospect. He sings a lot, too, and not very well. When he starts doing that, your best bet is to tear-gas him. Oh, yeah, and if you tell him to shut up, you’re almost always just wasting your breath.
“I don’t know why you always have to be so hateful,” He said.
“I guess it’s because there’s so much to hate.”
“But there’s so much to be happy for.”
“Well, for one thing, I…hey, where did my lemon go?”
I hadn’t noticed it before, but there was a lemon rolling across the floor. “It’s there—rolling across the floor.”
“Oh, right.” Arnie pounced on the lemon, tore it apart with his teeth, and squeezed the remains into his drink. He finished off his drink and looked up expectantly. His train of thought had crashed, killing hundreds in the process…
“Well?” That was Mandy. She’s a pretty smart chick, but she doesn’t know Arnie like I do. For some bizarre reason, she expected him to hold onto his thought process though the whole lemon fiasco.
“Yes, very, thank you,” Arnie said. In his head, she had asked him if he was doing well. In real life, she just wanted to finish his damn thought. I just stayed out of it—I wanted another Hot Pocket and my coffee needed another spoon of sugar.
I don’t generally put anything in my coffee—I like it black and strong, and if it makes me hallucinate, it almost has enough caffeine. If I ever do decide to put stuff in it, it’s usually some sort of booze, and I’m only drinking the mad concoction so that I can stay up longer and drink more booze. Occasionally, though, I’ll decide to put cream and sugar in my coffee, just for the hell of it, kind of. When I do that, I always end up putting in entirely too much sugar in, and entirely too much cream. Then I’ll add more coffee, trying to even it up a bit. I’ll take a few sips, add more cream. Another sip. Maybe more coffee. Another sip. Little more sugar. Now it needs a bit more coffee. I think you can understand the process. I usually end up with the perfect cup of coffee, but by this time, I’ve already gone through something like three pots of coffee, two quarts of cream, and a pound of sugar.
Adding shit to my coffee is generally a pretty bad idea. Fortunately, I’m generally too lazy to even try.
I don’t know why I decided to add crap to my coffee—maybe it was because I was up so early without a hangover, maybe it was so I would have something to do while Arnie and Mandy babbled on about whatever the hell it was they were talking about.
Next thing I know, though, I’ve killed five pots of coffee, I can’t decide if my heart’s beating so fast because of the mass quantities of caffeine I’ve just attacked it with, or if it’s only some bizarre sort of sugar high.
Arnie’s sitting over there at the computer, not talking at all—he’s just humming the Nightrider song and typing. He’s got the turtle sitting there on the floor beside him.
“What are you doing? What’s Mandy doing?” My voice is all shaky, and the words are coming out too fast. My stomach feels funny.
“Man, I told you,” Arnie said. “We’re building a fortress.”
“Huh? What fortress? What are you talking about?”
“See?” Mandy said. “I told you he wasn’t listening.”
“I was listening. I just didn’t pay attention to what I was listening to. What fortress?”
“We’ve got these builders coming in from California,” Arnie said. “They specialize in building indestructible houses. We’re flying them out so that they can make our house a fortress.”
“A fortress. Like a girl fort? What are you talking about?”
“What are YOU talking about?” Mandy asked.
“What did you people do to me? Have you drugged my coffee, Arnie?”
“Not that I remember. It doesn’t really sound like something I would do, but you never can tell about me.”
“My brain itches.”
“Yeah, it’ll do that.”
“What do you mean? Why will it do that? Did you implant me with something?”
There are people in the world who snort coke and crank without a second thought. There are people who mainline speed without pausing, and continue with whatever they’re doing. Hanging around with Arnie during his rich days, I saw high-powered people doing shit like that all the time. They were all very rich and very famous, and they all seemed to enjoy the hustle and bustle of lighting-quick-paced society so much that they had an irresistible urge to kill themselves.
That kind of thing was never for me. Maybe because I’m fat and slow, I don’t know, but the fast lane was always one I watched without envy. Jacking your heart up, talking too fast about stupid shit, that was never my gig. Plus, if my heart is going to explode, I’m determined that it will have something to do with my cholesterol level rather than super-dope.
What I’m saying is, drinking five pots of coffee is really overdoing it for me. I felt like I was losing control of my mind, in a mudslide kind of way, like where the ground you’re standing on just lurches out from under you and there’s nothing you can do to help it.
“Dude, you need to calm down,” Mandy said. “The only person that did anything to you was you—you’re over there with your caffeine overdose mixed with a super-sugar rush. What the hell were you thinking, anyways?”
“I was just trying to get it right. So about this fortress? What’s going on with that?”
“Yeah, man, we’re still trying to get in touch with them,” Arnie said.
“How much does something like that cost?”
“It costs a lot. We’ll still have a little money left over, but not much.”
“No, dude, just quit trying to contact them.”
“See?” Mandy said. “I told you we shouldn’t have told him.”
“Come on, man,” Arnie said to me. “This is something we need to have done. Otherwise, we’re vulnerable to any outside attack.”
“No, Arnie. No way am I spending my hard-earned money on your house.”
“It’s not just MY HOUSE! It’s our HEADQUARTERS, man!”
“No way, think of something else.” And then, because my mind was racing, I cried out, “Get me the blueprints to this house!”
“You heard me! Blueprints! I need them immediately.”
Mandy said, “Howie, nobody has blueprints of their house. I mean, that’s something you see in movies, or maybe in public buildings or something. Nobody has a blueprint of the house.”
“We need one, dammit! A blueprint, that’s the key. The guy that built this place was obviously some sort of crazy—I mean he built this whole panic room along with that platform that lowers from the garage. Before you go spending all kinds of money trying to get the house all extra-reinforced or whatever you were talking about, check to make sure this guy didn’t already do it.”
“You think he already had the house built to withstand explosions?” Arnie asked.
“I think something along those lines, maybe.” To be honest, the coffee was already pulling my brain in another direction, and I was actually thinking about maybe going and making some cookies. With sprinkles on the top, so they looked all festive. I was wondering who it was that thought up decorating cookies with those little sprinkles, and why they cost three bucks for a little bottle of them at the store. It didn’t seem like there would be that much involved with making them, and I didn’t see why they should be so expensive. I started thinking about how maybe after this Portly Boy gig, I should get in the cookie-sprinkle business, making sprinkles cheaper for the common man and/or woman, how that would be a market ripe for the picking. I mean, you know those corporate bastards who make the sprinkles, they would never even expect it. They were comfortable being mundane; they felt safe.
I mean, who is ever going to challenge them? Nobody thinks about making cookie sprinkles, do they? Blindside them, catch them off guard. They look at their spreadsheets one day, they’re like, “Hey, what’s going on over here? Looks like we lost about ninety percent of our sales in this category. Johnson, what IS this category?”
“Uh, that would be…um, give me just a second to look that up. Uh, cookie sprinkles?”
“Johnson, don’t be an idiot. Cookie sprinkles? Nobody makes cookie sprinkles. Hell, man, even WE don’t—that’s just the crap we sweep up off the floor at the end of the day making real cookies. Who goes into business to make sprinkles?”
“I don’t know, sir. Some unknown company, they took the market by storm. Sold better quality product for half of the price, made a killing.”
“Well, do something about it! Drop our prices. Make better sprinkles! Blow these no-names out of the water.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but we can’t. Due to the massive drop in sales, out sprinkle factory was shut down this morning.”
“Johnson, are you out of your mind? We don’t have a sprinkle factory! I just told you that’s the crap we sweep up off the floor!”
“Yes, sir, but due to our massive loss in cookie sprinkle sales, we’ve had to fire the guys with the brooms.”
Poor Johnson. You know he gets yelled at a lot. In my head, there’s always a huge corporate fat-cat, and he’s always yelling at Johnson about all kinds of stuff. There’s also some lady sitting there, waiting for the ax to fall so that she can get Johnson’s job. I don’t know what her name is, but it’s probably Melinda. Because you can hear Johnson talking to his wife at the end of the day: “Melinda’s out to get my job. You can tell she’s about to burst with glee every time that the boss yells at me. She wants my job, I just know it. I’m going to have to watch out for her.”
And Johnson’s wife goes, “Hush, dear, it will all work out fine.” And then she turns off the light and they have freaky off-camera sex. Meanwhile, Melinda is at home fixing herself a single martini, scheming about how she can get Johnson fired. She’s bitter because she doesn’t have anyone to love. Instead, she uses her professional life as an outlet, and she doesn’t care who she steps on to get ahead. At some point in life, she’ll meet some handsome stranger in a bar, they’ll fall in love, and she’ll realize that work really isn’t all that’s important in life. Of course, she’ll realize it too late—after the handsome stranger has already given up on her because she chose to go to an important business meeting instead of celebrate some special even with him. So what happens is, she stands up, right in the middle of the meeting, and she says something like, “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m terribly sorry, but I have to go. Johnson, you do a great job, and I’m sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused.” And then she runs off, hoping to catch the handsome stranger before his plane takes off.
She gets to the airport just as the plane leaves the ground, and she bursts into tears. And then, as she’s sitting there crying, the handsome stranger walks up behind her, and he uses the same pick-up line he used when they very first met in the bar. She’ll turn around, and her tears turn to laughter and they hug and kiss, right there in the airport, and that’s when some cheesy girl music starts playing. Roll credits.
By the time all of this had gone through my head, Arnie had already gone upstairs. I thought about going up there to make sure he wasn’t spending my fortune on some dumb shit like securing our safety for the immediate future, but then I realized that I didn’t feel like messing around with climbing the stairs—the caffeine was wearing off, and I was already getting tired again. In the last but of coffee-powered thought, I realized I could probably use the automatic handrail that we had installed in the staircase, but I always got hurt when I did that, so I decided to take a nap, instead.