“You know, this isn’t at all what I expected,” Arnie said.
Somebody like Arnie, you don’t even want to know what he was expecting. But it wasn’t what I was expecting, either. I wasn’t all that sure what I had expected to find in the park where I had once mooned a judge who was out on her first date in about a million years, but it wasn’t this.
We had suited up and hit the streets, Arnie excited and me resentful, over an hour before the law required. We had made it to the park before the five o’clock deadline, screeching to a halt and scaring the shit out of a bunch of congregated pigeons—literally—and had crossed the park to what we guessed was the right bench.
During the ride over, we had watched the news on the little monitor that popped out of the dash, and so far, there hadn’t really been any change—the Judge was just standing there on the rooftop, holding the monkey. The monkey just hung there, eating Skittles.
And now here we were, at two minutes after five, and nothing was happening.
“I’ll secure the area,” Arnie said. He knocked back two shots of whiskey—one from each hand—tossed the little glasses to me, and began diving around the park: ducking, rolling, glancing quickly around. He called this kind of behavior his “evasive tactics,” but it seemed to me that the only thing he had evaded was living a normal life with friends and things. I picked up the shot glasses and walked back to the Portmobile.
“Hey, Mandy, what’s going on with the Judge and the monkey?” I asked. To a normal person, it would look like I was just some lunatic, talking to my car. I don’t generally come into contact with any normal people, though, so I didn’t care.
“Not much,” she said, via the speakers in the Portmobile. “The monkey went and pooped over the side of the building, but other than that, there hasn’t been any change.”
“What did the news people have to say about the pooping?”
“That Judy chick had quite a bit to say about it, actually, but most of it was bleeped. She got splattered.”
“Tell me you taped it!”
“Oh, yeah. I’ll show it to you when you get home to your big-screen.”
“Have I told you lately that I love you?”
“Just because I recorded news footage of a newswoman getting pooped on by a monkey?”
“Think about it. How many guys can say they have a girl that’s done that for them?”
“Good point. But enough about romance. What’s going on at the park? It looks like the cameras on the Drunkard’s suit have gone haywire.”
“Nothing’s going on here, actually. He’s doing his evasion tactics, or whatever. The thing is, there doesn’t seem to be anything to evade.”
“Are you sure you’re in the right park?”
“Yeah, believe it or not. Arnie actually found a pack of his smokes in the spot where he passed out.”
“And the place where you mooned the Judge?”
“Just some homeless guy who told us to get lost. He says we’re messing up his feng shui.”
“I totally see how you two lunatics could pull that off.”
“Harsh. Anyways, there’s nothing here. If we were in the wrong spot, wouldn’t the Judge start tossing monkeys?”
“Please don’t say that again. It sounds like some nasty sex thing that I don’t want to ever know anything about.”
“I’m pretty sure if it was some nasty sex thing, you would already know all about it.”
“Shut it.” Still pretty dangerous ground, I guess. It seems like there’s really no safe ground when you’re teasing a chick about getting busted doing some ultra-erotic sex acts, you know? So sensitive.
“Have the cops started trying to do anything about Jimmy and the Judge?”
“They went into the building about ten minutes ago, but it’s really slow going, apparently. Of course, none of the news crews can go in, so for all the general public knows, the cops could have already killed Jimmy Flicks and are just waiting for the right moment to throw the Judge off the building.”
“That would be too sweet.”
“Don’t get your hopes up, man—that’s not how your luck works.”
“True. So what are we supposed to do? Just hang around here and wait for these lunatics to attack us?”
“Why ask me?”
“Because you’re one of the animal people who would have focused your rage on me if I hadn’t come out here and the judge had started chunking monkeys.”
“Hey, speaking of rage, it looks like you might want to get the Drunkard—looks like he’s pissing off the park regulars.”
“Oh, man. Where’s he at?”
“Beats me. After all that diving around, I would be surprised if even HE knew where he was at.”
“I would be a little surprised if he knew where he was at even if he hadn’t been diving around,” I said, and wandered off to find Arnie.
He didn’t appear to be pissing anyone off when I found him. He was sitting on a park bench next to a couple of winos, adamantly discussing something or another. I couldn’t hear what they were talking about, but all three of them were motioning dramatically with their hands, splashing booze all over the place.
“Drunkard, what are you doing?” I asked.
“What? Uh, nothing. I was just sitting here talking to these guys about the Judge and Flixxx.”
“Well stop it. Let’s go.”
“Is it true that you’ve fought real super-villains?” One of the winos asked me.
“No. They had all kinds of cool gear, but they’re still just a couple of screw-ups. Nothing super about ‘em.”
“I was telling them to steer clear if they run into anyone that matches the description of Flixxx and the Judge,” Arnie said.
“Yeah, that’s a good idea,” I said, even though I generally try not to tell Arnie that he’s had a good idea.
“This is OUR park,” the other wino said, “And I won’t be scared off. I got my shank, I’ll shiv ‘em but good.” He jerked a long jagged piece of glass out of his pocket. The handle was wrapped with electrical tape.
“Yeah, well, that’s a good idea, too, I guess. Let’s roll, Drunkard.”
“Okay.” He handed a bottle of booze to each of the winos. “You guys take it easy. And remember what I said about if you get tired of this lifestyle and want a job.”
“Yeah, yeah, we got your card.”
“What the hell was that all about?” I asked as we walked back to the Portmobile.
“What was what about?”
“The business card thing.”
“Oh, those two guys were film majors at NYU. Partied a little too hard in school, found out that hanging out being a bum is even easier than making movies, and now they just sit around and drink.”
“Where do they get their money?”
“They’re still living off of their parents? Those guys looked like they were in their late forties.”
“Nah, man—they just graduated two years ago. They’re younger than us.”
“Yeah, man, you see a couple of twenty year old kids that look like that, you know they’re living the life.”
“Whatever one they want,” he said, and winked at me all knowingly and shit. It didn’t work out very well because he crashed into a bike rack and damn near broke his neck. When you stay as drunk as Arnie stays, it’s hard enough to walk with both of your eyes open—you really don’t want to try it with only one. Good thing for evasive maneuvers, I guess.
He jumped up off the ground, dusting himself off and looking around to make sure nobody saw. “I’m okay! I’m o-kay!”
“Super. Get in the car.”
He hopped into the Portmobile like an Olympic gymnast, and poured himself a drink. I, on the other hand, still had to kind of wobble over the welded-shut doors and hope I landed in the seat facing the right direction.
“So where are we headed?”
“I don’t really know,” I said, but I kind of did. I had been looking around on the internet and had found a deserted section of the city. It was a prime spot for development in the dot-com boom; people had bought, bought, bought, hoping to build some stuff and then sell, sell, sell, and get rich in the process. But then when everything came crashing down, so did property value. It was outside the city, but close enough to drive there and back without having to deal with any of this crime bullshit along the way. My plan was, I would drive out, cruise around, drive back home, and my shift would be uover.
The great thing was, these lots were EMPTY, man. None of this abandoned warehouse crap, like in movies and comic books where you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting some villain or another. Right in the middle of a bunch of residential areas, low crime rate, a perfect place to chill out for a bit.
I took off, ignoring whatever it was that Mandy and Arnie were talking about, thinking up a good cover story in case either of them asked about why did it look like I was fleeing from the city.
“Hey, are you listening?” Mandy asked me suddenly.
“Yeah, man. What else would I be doing?”
“You’re either thinking about what you’re going to eat for supper, or you’re wondering what you’re going to say when I finally ask you where the hell you’re driving off to.”
“Bite me, Mandy.”
“So what was I saying?”
“Something about unicorns?”
“If you’re going to guess, you should at least practice listening, so you would know what my interests are.”
“I meant computers. Not unicorns: computers.”
“Fine. What were you saying?”
“I was saying that the cops went up to the roof.”
“Did they push the Judge off?”
“Nope. Come to find out, it wasn’t even the Judge.”
“What?” I was so surprised that I would have crashed us, but the Portmobile doesn’t allow you to get away with stupid stuff like crashing. Instead, the steering wheel locked and the vehicle stayed on a steady course until I had calmed down a little.
“See? This is why you should try to pay attention to the conversation going on around you,” Mandy informed me in her scolding voice.
“Oh, please. Most of the time, listening to you two actually causes frontal lobe damage. Like, two percent of the time, it’s beneficial.”
“What’s a lobe?” Arnie asked. “It sounds like something I should put on the website.”
“What I was saying, was, it wasn’t the Judge. The cops busted down the door, rushed the woman on the rooftop, saved the monkey, all that. Come to find out, it was a hooker.”
“The Judge was a hooker?” Arnie asked. Sadly enough, this was the guy who actually HAD been paying attention to the conversation.
“Shut up, Arnie,” Mandy said. “She knew nothing about the threats to animal lives, she knew nothing about the Judge or Flixxx, and she only knew Portly Boy as the fat guy from the news.”
“Dammit! Is that what it’s going to say on my tombstone?”
“Actually, yeah,” Mandy said. “One night while you were in a drunken stupor, you ordered your tombstone off the internet, and that’s what’s engraved on it.”
“You use it as your coffee table.”
“I didn’t even know I had a coffee table,” I told her.
“It’s that piece of furniture under that huge stack of underwear.”
“Oh. So back to the hooker.”
“Back to the hooker: she was getting paid to meet a john on top of the building. That’s all she knew. She was hired earlier in the day, given some money, and promised the rest if she waited until six. She had no idea what all the news crews were doing gathering around on the street below her.”
“What about the monkey?”
“The monkey was part of her, um…act, as it were.”
“Yeah. Anyways, it looks like it was a set-up.”
“A diversion!” Arnie yelled. Sometimes, when he hasn’t said anything moronic in a few minutes, Arnie has the need to blurt out random bits of stupidity at really high volume. I think it’s because he has a natural tendency to make a complete ass out of himself, and if he feels like he’s slacking, he has to make up for it somehow.
“Shut up, Arnie,” I told him.
“I hate to say it, but he might be right,” Mandy told me. Unlike Arnie, Mandy isn’t naturally inclined to be a fool.
“What?” I asked her.
“Look, man: there was a lot of heat going down once they took hostages.”
“Animals, not hostages.” I’m not an animal guy. Sometimes I throw the crusts of my sandwich to the squirrels in the park, and I rarely kick the pigeons when I’m walking down the sidewalk. That’s about as animal-friendly as I get. These people who get all fanatic about their pets, I think they’re morons. Every dog I see dressed in clothes or being pushed around in a little stroller, every cat I see that gets to lounge on the table and eat off of the owner’s plate, every monkey I see that isn’t being used in some space experiment, what I’m seeing is just another reason why the planet would be better off without the human race. It’s time we just give up and let the elements take us out. I mean, what’s the point of curing cancer if we’re just going to use the extra years of life to pick up dog poop from the grass and put it in little plastic baggies until we find a trash can? I swear, man, sometimes I feel like I’m living in a futuristic science fiction movie where everything’s gone terribly wrong.
“Animals are people, too,” Arnie said.
“Shut up, Drunkard. Half of the people I know aren’t even people, too—let alone their stupid pets.”
“Why do you hate animals so much?” Mandy asked me.
“I don’t hate animals—I hate pets. There’s a big difference there. I mean, you haven’t had a burger until you’ve had one made out of new-born kittens. Talk about loving cats.” I’ve actually never eaten a burger made of baby kittens (at least to the best of my knowledge), but I figured it would get a rise out of Many. Chicks always get all upset at the idea of eating adorable little kitties, I don’t know why.
“What about Night Rider?” Arnie asked.
“Night Rider—our turtle.”
“Dude, the microwave is named Night Rider, not the turtle.”
“I changed the microwave’s name to General Heat.”
“What?” I asked Arnie.
“You ate a kitten?” Mandy asked me.
“Do you hate Night Rider?” Arnie asked. I don’t know who the hell he was asking—with Arnie, it’s just too hard to tell. “I don’t want you eating him.”
“I’m not going to eat the turtle,” I said. “Turtles don’t taste very good.”
“You ate a kitten?” Mandy asked again.
“Relax. No, I didn’t eat a kitten. I bet that would be a good burger, though.”
“Out of all the shit you’ve seen me do, this is the first time it’s crossed your mind that I’m despicable? See, this just proves my point that all of you animal people are nuts.”
You might think that a conversation like this would drive me insane, or at least to the edge of some weird sort of mental breakdown. I’m pretty sure if would break your average person. But A: Living around Arnie and Mandy, I was kind of used to this kind of insanity—as used to it as you can ever get, anyways. And B: I was taking comfort in the fact that I was driving through nice, quiet, residential areas, not encountering any crime that I had to get out and risk my life to stop. Plus, nobody was talking about the Judge or Jimmy Flicks, which was also pretty cool. I was willing to sit around discussing whatever stupid animal crap that came up, as long as my main concern wasn’t going to be getting home alive.
Just to ruin things, though, Mandy said, “Look, this is all beside the point. Let’s get back on topic.”
“Toppings?” I asked. “For kittens? Probably a tomato-based sauce, and lots of cheese. Man, I wish McDonalds would get on this: ‘For a limited time only, you can get the McMeow, a lean kitty patty, smothered with our zesty tomato sauce and topped with three kinds of cheese and a pickle.’ The odd-factor alone would make them millions of dollars. The beauty of it is, they could actually just keep using that weird meat they were using for chicken nuggets for so long.”
“I said topic, jerk, and you know it. The topic being the Judge and Flixxx. So what I was saying was, once they had the media’s attention at that lab downtown, that’s where the cops had to gather. You can’t have some bizarre crime going down in the middle of the city without lots of cop cars—it’s bad P.R., plus the news footage just doesn’t look right without a bunch of red and blue lights flashing all over the place. So maybe what they do is, they get some hooker to show up downtown, right?”
“Obviously,” I said.
“And then they send you two on a wild goose chase.”
“I don’t understand that part,” I said. “Why get us involved at all?”
“Probably just to make you look like idiots, I don’t know. Plus, there will be more cops following you.”
“Yeah, man, as soon as they put that crap on TV about how you had to meet them in the park, the cops were all over you. So you’ve got a bunch of cops spread out all over the city, everything very high-profile. So if some no-name little bank in one of the boroughs gets robbed, who’s going to notice?”
“I give up. Who?”
“Me, that’s who. And it wasn’t just one—it was three.”
“I knew it!” Arnie yelled. He was dumping three bottles of liquor into a beer mug, I don’t know if that’s even a real drink or just some drunk guy trying to push to limits.
“You did not,” I told him.
“I said diversion, I remember.”
“You don’t remember anything, you screwball. Just sit over there and make your drink.”
And that’s when everything exploded.