“I couldn’t help noticing you’re still sitting there on that couch,” Mandy said to me.
“I couldn’t help noticing that you’re bothering me again.”
“It’s been almost an hour—the tracer stopped moving about ten minutes ago.”
“That’s all very exciting and stuff, but can it wait for the commercial? This is the good part.” I cracked open another beer and took a swallow.
“He’s on his date, and it will take you at least forty-five minutes for you to get there if something goes wrong.”
“Actually, this is my fourth beer, so I won’t be driving anywhere. So you can make it an hour and a half, if I take the subway. Which I won’t be doing, because I’m watching TV.”
“What will you do if he dies?”
“Beats me, man. Keep doing this Portly Boy crap for a while, and then maybe retire down to Mexico. I heard this guy talking on the subway the other day about this boot school in Oklahoma. Maybe I could go do that.”
“Yeah, it’s like this school, you go and learn how to make boots. Custom boots.”
“And you think that would be a good time?”
“I don’t know…maybe. Sit down on the beach in Mexico and make boots? Beats this lifestyle by a couple of miles, I think.”
“Do you even know where Oklahoma is?”
“It’s in the middle somewhere, isn’t it? I’m sure I could find it, if I really tried. How hard can it be to find a state?”
“Just try to imagine for a second if Arnie dies, and you know you could have saved him, how are you going to feel?”
“Beats me. I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.”
“I’m serious, Howie.”
“I guess I’ll probably feel like shit for a while, if you want to know the truth. But I’ll be alive to feel like shit, you know? I tried to talk him out of it, Mandy! You heard me! I’m not going to spend the rest of my life following him around to make sure he’s safe. It’s not my fault that he’s an idiot, and it’s not my problem. I’m his friend, not his babysitter. Besides, maybe it’s just a date.”
“Why not? Maybe Arnie wooed her, she fell for him, and now they’re out for a romantic evening without bolt blasters or explosions. It could happen.”
“Not with her. She’s best friends with his ex-wife, did either of you remember that?”
“I’m not sure if Arnie even remembers he was married, honestly. But, yeah, I remembered. I’m not her babysitter, either. They need to learn to be responsible for their own actions.”
“You heartless, cold, bast-” And then I turned off the monitor. I knew it would only be a matter of time before she hacked her way back into our system and started bitching at me again, but the silence was nice while it lasted. I thought about just unplugging everything, but I really wanted to play some video games.
About a minute later, the monitor clicked back on. “I can’t believe you turned me off!”
“You were getting on my nerves, man. I’m not going to listen to you piss and moan all night, Mandy—it’s my day off, and I want to enjoy it. And besides, he’s got his utility belt on, so if he gets into danger, he can send a distress signal. Then we can like, call the cops or something.”
“He’s got his utility belt on?”
“Yeah, he does. That’s why you thought I planted a tracking device on him.”
“He wore his Drunkard belt out on a date?”
“Yeah. The dude’s an idiot, man, what do you want?”
“Well, it’s not as good as following him, but maybe it will give him an edge when she attacks, and give us enough time to reach him before something too awful goes down. Why didn’t you tell me that in the very beginning?”
“You’ve been yammering non-stop. Maybe if you could shut your yap once in a while, I could get a word in edgewise.”
“Don’t think you’re getting away with anything here. If he gets into trouble, you’re taking a cab to go to his rescue.”
“Bet me. Listen, you want to play some of this action or what?” I held up my game controller.
“You’re on,” she said.
We played video games for a couple of hours, but it didn’t feel like Mandy really had her heart in it.
“You’re kind of boring me tonight,” I told her. “I mean, I realize that I always smear you all over the continent, but you aren’t even putting up a fight tonight.”
“I’m trying to keep an eye on Arnie’s tracer. So far, it looks like he’s doing fine—just sort of wandering around midtown.”
“That’s great, it really is. You know what I’m kind of sick and tired of talking about tonight? Arnie. I mean, he’s like twenty-something or thirty-something years old! If he can’t take care of himself at this point in life, he deserves whatever he gets.”
“You don’t even know how old he is?”
“Not really, no.”
“Isn’t he your age?”
“Pretty much, yeah. We went to school together and all that.”
“So you’re telling me that you don’t know how old you are?”
“No, I’m not telling you that at all. I think you’re figuring it out by cleverly asking a series of questions and making decisions based on the data. Way to deduce things.”
“You don’t know how old you are?”
“Yeah, I’m like twenty or thirty something. Somewhere in there.”
“You people scare me sometimes, you know? I mean, really, really, scare me.”
“That’s cool. Listen, I’m going to play something else, since you aren’t paying any attention to the game.”
“Whatever. I’m going to check on some things.”
She clicked off, and I started a new game. I wasn’t really sure what it was called, but there were monsters all over the place, popping out and scaring the shit out of me. It was a good thing I had a bottle of Scotch to settle my nerves.
I had made my way halfway through a world covered in tombstones when Mandy clicked back on. “How’s it going?” She asked.
“Pretty good. I’ve got the monsters on the run, I think.”
“Did that one rip your arm off just now?”
“Yeah, it’s all part of my master plan. I’m like a battle genius or something. Call me Patton!”
“You never join in any of my reindeer games.”
“It makes my soul feel dirty when you say things like that.”
“Yeah.” The monsters had pretty much ripped me apart by this time, so I tossed the controller onto the couch beside me and took a drink out of whatever liquor bottle was beside me. My eyes weren’t focusing too well at this point, and I wasn’t sure how many bottles I had gone through while playing the game. I looked at the clock and it seemed to mock me. “How long have I been drinking?”
“About four hours. The question is, how much have you been drinking?”
“As much as I can get in my mouth. How’s Arnie doing, anyways?”
“Fine, actually. I’ve been tracking their movements through the city, and I’ve been able to hack into security cameras in a couple of places to makes sure everything’s cool.”
“Like what security cameras?”
“They walked by a bank a few minutes ago, and I checked that out right quick, just to get a visual.”
“All that computer genius, and you’re wasting it on tracking Arnie? Couldn’t you maybe like check out the changing rooms at the mall or something?”
“No—first of all, I’m not a pervert like you are.”
“You’re a pervert in a way that puts me to shame,” I said.
“Shut up. Second of all, that’s usually closed-circuit. I can only tap into stuff that has something to tap. In a mall, you have a guy sitting right there in a booth on location, so there’s no system that I could get into. But when you’re talking about a place with off-location security, they’ve got to have a way to see what’s going on. And what they see, I can see.”
“You know it.”
“And with all that omnipotence, you can’t set it up to where I can see into a locker room or something?”
“You’re making me sick. Besides, just get on the internet—there’s like a thousand sites just like that.”
“Not the same.”
“It’s just not. Besides, what’s the point? There’s nothing in voyeurism for me…can you order me some tacos with all of your computer genius?”
“That, I can do.”
“Awesome. Twelve of ‘em.”
“You’re going to eat twelve tacos?”
“Nah, I just want three. But I have to feed the turtle.” I decided to find our pet turtle. This is one of my favorite drinking games.
“I thought the turtle was dead.”
“Nah, he’s just sleeping. But he still needs his tacos.” I pounced over the couch, just in case.
“How drunk are you?”
“Not really very drunk at all. What I am is taco-hungry. Hungry for tacos. Order up, my fine young friend. Come out to play, little turtle, and we’ll see who wins the race this time! I’ve got your hummelberry! No, wait, I’ll be it! I’ll be your hummelberry!”
“Heaven forbid. I’m going to get you some coffee too, okay?”
“I like coffee.”
“I know you do.”
“Hey, have you ever seen the…hey.”
“It looks like something’s beeping here.”
“You’re staring at the microwave. The clock needs to be set.”
“How ironic?” I said.
“Is it? I don’t think it is.”
“And that would be the greatest irony of all.” I wandered away from the microwave, not sure what was going on. I felt like I was in control of myself, but I could tell by the way I was rambling on that this was definitely not the case. “I think that I may be botched.”
“I would have to agree.”
“How’s that order of coffee and tacos coming along?”
“Should be there in a few minutes.”
“How long ago did you order it?”
“About thirty minutes ago.”
“I’ve lost time, here, man—either I’ve been abducted or I’m piss-pot wasted.”
“I think you’re wasted.”
“Check your watch, isn’t that how they can always tell on the X-Files?”
“You were staring at the microwave for a good fifteen minutes, man.”
“Unheard of! Check your watch. We’re the X-Files, making our way the only way we know how! But that’s just a little bit more than the law will allow!”
“Have you lost your mind completely?”
“I think I drank one of Arnie’s left-over bottles of absinthe.”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake!”
“Definitely for someone’s sake, that’s what I think. And it isn’t my own.” The doorbell rang, and I ran up the stairs to answer it.
I made it about halfway up, caught my toe on the edge of the step, and tripped. I tumbled all the way back down, landed on my face, and picked myself up quickly, drunkenly hoping that no one noticed. I wasn’t sure if there were any cameras installed in the stairwell, but just in case, I leaned over and acted like I was picking something up off the ground. “I forgot this quarter,” I said, “So I had to come back and get it.”
I started back up the steps. I began tilting, and reached out for the rail, which was a mistake that I realized instantly. The bad part about being that drunk is, you can tell you’re about to screw up, but there’s nothing you can do about it—you want to react, but your brain is out like playing by the pool or something. My hand came down upon the rail, and wrapped around it, and the next thing I knew, I was being launched out into the kitchen. If you don’t know why, check the back issues, and curse yourself for not being a long-time fan.
I stood up slowly, hoping that the world would stop spinning, or at least start spinning in a different direction so that I could get a bead on things. I couldn’t remember what I was doing up in the kitchen. The doorbell rang again.
“Someone’s at the door,” I said.
“Yeah, it’s your tacos and your coffee,” Mandy told me. I wasn’t for sure where her voice was coming from, and I didn’t feel like looking around.
“Sounds like a plan.” I walked into the living room, stopping along the way to pet the artificial plants. “Do I need to pay this guy or something?”
“It’s taken care of.”
“Rock.” I opened the door and a teenage kid handed me a box of tacos and four giant cups of coffee.
“Hava good night,” he said, and walked away.
“I most certainly will, thank you…unless I have to go running around town in my underwear!”
He gave me the finger as he climbed back onto his bike, and rode away into the night. I think he might have yelled out asshole, too, but I’m not sure because I was thinking so hard trying to come up with a good insult. I finally thought one up, but he was about eighteen blocks away at that point, so I just went back in and started eating my tacos.
“I thought you were going to share some with the turtle.”
“If the turtle wants some tacos, he needs to come upstairs. I’m pretty sure he’s been stealing my Hot Pockets, anyways.”
“Drink more coffee.”
“You’re not the boss of me.”
“Drink your coffee.”
“Look, I’m going to drink this coffee, but it’s not because you’re telling me to. It’s because I’m extremely drunk, and I feel like coffee may be the thing to drink. In movies, it always makes people sober up a bit.”
Four cups of coffee later, I was still just as drunk, but I was now wired out of my skull, too. I was talking about something, but I couldn’t be bothered to think of what it was. I was blasting Vanilla Ice through Arnie’s six thousand dollar music system, just to see what would happen, and I was swinging some sort of stuffed animal around by the tail.
“Calm down!” Mandy yelled at me.
“No way. Check out my hook, Mandy! Check it out right now, because my DJ is revolving it! Word to ya motha!”
“I am going to kill you,” she told me.
“Check out my hook, first! Oops, there goes my DJ again: revolve it, my DJ!”
“Have you lost you mind, or are you just that drunk?”
“I think it’s a little of both. Where’s that turtle? Who’s cat is this?” I tossed the cat onto the couch and it ran off.
“You told me that was a stuffed animal!” Mandy screamed in horror.
“Yeah, that’s pretty weird, all right. Hey, where did those tacos go? I need more tacos.” I ran into the kitchen and saw the turtle eat the last of the tacos. “Did you see that?” I asked Mandy. “That turtle is alive and well and just ate all my tacos!”
“I don’t see a turtle anywhere.”
“Oh, he’s there, all right. Those tacos didn’t just eat themselves, although that would have been pretty weird, too.”
“Eat some bread or something.”
“Not hungry for bread. What’s up with Arnie?”
“Oh, shit! Arnie! I forgot all about him.”
“And I’m the one who needs to sober up? Is it who or whom? Is it any of those? Hello?”
“Shut up! I’m trying to track him down!”
I hummed a few parts of random songs that I remembered a little from TV, and then went wandering off into the house. I went into the bathroom and peed, and then looked into the mirror for a few seconds, daring it to come alive and try to grab me and drag me into an alternate universe. It didn’t, and I creeped myself out, so I decided to go back out into the living room. I was watching TV when I heard a noise.
“What was that?” I asked, but no one answered. “Mandy?” No answer. It was some sort of alarm, I was sobering up enough to recognize that, but I wasn’t sure why it was going off. After a few seconds, it stopped, so I figured everything had worked itself out. I saw the turtle walk across the hallway, and figured that he must have set off some alarm or another. I was really impressed that he knew how to deactivate the alarms. Heck, man, even I don’t know how to do that.
I turned on the TV, looked around for a clock, but passed out before I found one.
When I woke up, it was dark in the house. I had no idea how long I had been out, I had no idea what day it was, and I was totally discombobulated. I staggered to the bathroom, unzipping on the way, and flipped the light switch just as I was about to release the flow.
I immediately heard a scream, and I instinctively looked at the light switch, as it was the only thing I had touched since coming in. It appeared to be fine.
I turned around and saw the Judge, sitting on the toilet, naked.
I started screaming, too. And that was when the bathroom door flew open, hitting me in the back of the head, and knocking me into the shower and out cold.