“Are you okay?” Did you ever notice that when somebody’s asking you if you’re okay, you generally aren’t? Imagine if you have a bean, and you put it down on the fifty-yard line of a football field. And then say that you had another bean, and you put this one, let’s say…um, I don’t know. In hell. That second little bean, that’s me. And the distance between me and that first little bean, that’s about how far I am from okay.
“I’m the second little bean,” I muttered. “And I’m in hell.”
“He’s got a concussion, listen to his crazy talk. And his speech is all slurred.” I wasn’t sure who that voice belonged to, and I wasn’t really up to opening up my eyes to find out. It sounded harmless enough, but the way my day was going, it was probably Medusa or something.
“Nah, that’s how he always sounds.” That voice belonged to Arnie. And although he isn’t quite as bad as a mythological beast that turns you to stone if you see it, he’s probably in the top ten.
“Doesn’t that get annoying?” Now I recognized it as the robot gangsta voice I had given the Portmobile. But the Portmobile couldn’t talk.
“Sometimes. Do you think I should move him?”
“How did you get the Portmobile to talk?” I asked.
“That’s Mandy, man. She kept yelling my name, and with that voice you gave her…well, it was having an effect on me.”
“Why was she yelling your name?” These are questions I would generally avoid asking Arnie. I mean, you can just picture the guy doing obscene things to the Portmobile while I’m passed out five feet away, you know? And to have that kind of image confirmed, you’re talking scars for life. So when I asked the question, I cringed, figuring that I had probably given myself brain damage when I fell.
“Oh, you know how chicks are. ‘Arnie! Quit kicking him!’ ‘Arnie, don’t touch him!’ ‘Arnie, just call 911!’ Chick stuff.”
“You were kicking me?”
“More of a nudge, really, but with my foot. I didn’t want to touch you if you were dead, man. That’s creepy as hell.”
“So you changed her voice and kept on kicking me?” I sat up, and regretted it. This actually isn’t too different from waking up on any given morning, though, if you want to know the truth.
“She said I might have to give you CPR, man, with that voice. I just figured that if you hadn’t gone brain-dead yet, waking up to me with my mouth on yours and a boner to boot, that would push you right over the edge.”
“That’s some of the best thinking you’ve done in years, man.”
“Thanks, dog. So are you okay?”
“See, just when I think there’s a chance that you’ve jump-started your brain. My head hurts, my back aches, my mouth tastes like a toilet, and that loser Jimmy Flicks burned down my house. Now, ask yourself, man: is there any possible way that I could be okay?”
“Well not if you’re only going to look at the negative stuff.” He seemed a little hurt, and that made me feel better.
“What other way is there to look at it, man?”
“All kinds of ways. I mean, you have a real enemy now. An arch-nemesis. When you catch him, you’ll be a hero. You’ll do what the cops can’t. You’ll be a real crime-fighter.”
“There are so many things wrong with that, I don’t even know where to begin.” Of course, not knowing where to begin has never stopped me before, so I went off.
“First of all, I don’t want to be a crime-fighter. It was forced on me. Second of al, I don’t want an arch-nemesis. Third of all, if I had one, I wouldn’t want it to be some loser like Jimmy Flicks. Fourth of all, there’s no way that I’m going to catch him before the cops do. They’re trained crime-fighting professionals. We’re just weirdoes in suits, man.”
“We’ll catch him,” Arnie said, with a dark edge to his voice. At least I think it was supposed to be a dark edge—it mostly sounded like when you accidentally burp while you’re talking, but the room didn’t instantly smell like old booze, so I assumed that it was just Arnie trying to be ominous. “We know his habits better than the police do, we know where he hangs out, where we can find him.”
“The only place he ever goes is to his house. Or that bar on Twelfth street, where he hangs out hitting on fat college chicks who’ve had too much to drink and will take any attention they can get.”
“I think that’s a very shit-head statement to make,” Mandy said in her robot gangsta voice. “Just because a girl is over-weight doesn’t mean she’s desperate for attention, or that she’ll sleep with any slimeball that hits on her.”
“The kind of chick that Jimmy looks for does.”
She was quiet for a second, I don’t know if she was considering the statement or trying to think up a witty comeback. And then Arnie goes, “So we know where to look tomorrow. We have a plan! That’s pretty exciting, man.” He threw back a shot of something or other, to celebrate. A premature celebration, in my opinion, and since I was the guy that did the driving, it was my opinion that mattered.
“No way am I going to a bar with you again,” I said. “Have you forgotten what happens when we go to bars, man?”
“I think you should definitely check out the bar,” Mandy said, because she thinks it’s real funny when I almost get killed.
“Shut up, you,” I said to her. And then to Arnie, “It’s the rule, not the exception, that when we go to bars, I almost get killed. While you’re in boozing it up and having a good time, there are people out in the parking lot TRYING TO KILL ME. That Super-G out in the parking lot of Marcy’s, that dude wasn’t just trying to hurt me, do you understand that?”
“You shouldn’t have been looking at his girl,” Mandy said, and then went, “Ha, ha, ha,” just like when you write it. Because she had to type in everything.
“Shut up, you. I was looking at the clock, wondering when my drunk-ass sidekick was going to get out of the strip club so we could get to safety.”
“We made it out,” Arnie. “Every time we go to a bar, we fight crime and live to fight another day. That’s what heroes do.”
“Every time we’ve survived, it’s been due to luck. And WE AREN’T HEROES!”
“You got the tights,” Mandy said. “You’ve got the sweet ride. You’ve got the cool pad. Seems like if you aren’t trying to be heroes, you should quit acting like ‘em.”
“My crappy house got burned down, or else I would be staying there!”
“It got burned down by your arch-nemesis,” Arnie said.
“I don’t have an arch-nemesis! Stop saying that.”
“Why would he burn down your house if he wasn’t your arch-nemesis?” Mandy asked. You could tell she was sitting in front of her computer laughing her ass off at this whole conversation. See, Arnie’s a drunk moron who hasn’t had a very strong grip on reality at all for the past ten years or so. So all this crap about being heroes and fighting an arch-nemesis, and all that crap, he believes it. He believes IN it, which is even more frightening than just believing it, and probably a damn spell more dangerous.
But Mandy, she’s just in it for the laughs. I feel she probably has at least an idea of what sanity is, so when she says that Jimmy Flicks is my arch-nemesis, you can practically hear the laughter in her robot voice.
“He would burn down my house because he’s a raving lunatic, which is exactly what the two of you are if you think that we’re going to even half-ass search for him tomorrow. I’m going to bed.” I stood up too fast, fell down, got up again, and went to bed. The whole time, that robot voice was going, “Ha, ha, ha, ha…”
“Take a right here.” That was Arnie, all in his Drunkard gear, aching to go find Jimmy Flicks.
“Piss off,” I said. I had my stupid yellow tights on again, and was “patrolling” the streets, mostly avoiding places Jimmy Flicks might hang out. By some miracle, he had evaded the police for over forty-eight hours. In the middle of that forty-eight hours, he had stopped to burn his car down, and had still managed to flee before the cops got to the scene.
“What about here?” That was Mandy, back with her slutty voice. I wanted to annoy her every time she said something to us, and plus it turned me on. I’m a pig, I admit it. If you have a problem, you just turn yourself into some second-hand villain and come after me in your bathrobe, I guess. Or, if you’re not a stark-raving mad lunatic like Jimmy Flicks, you can just ignore me. Now which one of those options seems like the better idea?
“Evil judge closing in,” the Portmobile’s robot gangsta voice said.
“Which way?” I asked. There was a bit of panic in my voice. I had absolutely no idea what she wanted, but since she seemed to only show up to wreck my life, I decided it was probably better to just ignore her. Or run away from her, same difference.
“Looks like two blocks to the left,” Arnie said, looking at the little GPS screen. “Moving pretty fast.”
I slammed my foot down on the gas pedal. Usually, the only thing this accomplishes is that I speed uncontrollably down the street until I almost run something over, in which case the Portmobile slams on the auto-brake. This time, I was prepared for it. Or maybe it was just I really wanted to get away from the judge. I made it about three minutes before the auto-brake had to kick on, and by that time, we had left the judge something like seven miles behind. I was actually pretty glad when the auto-brake engaged, if you want to know the truth, because handling that kind of power for too long will make you piss yourself, I bet, if you aren’t used to it. It’s this weird mix of terrifying power, and it just seems like something you would want to ease yourself into, you know? And the last thing you want is a giant wet spot on your fluorescent yellow body-suit, so it was probably better that I almost hit something.
The bad part was that the something I almost hit was Jimmy Flicks. Without thinking about it, I slammed my foot down on the gas again, but the Portmobile wouldn’t run over anything, even if it was a gigantic waste of life like Jimmy Flicks.
Jimmy took a few seconds to register the fact that he had almost been run down, and it took him a few more seconds to realize what vehicle had almost run him down. He had screamed and dropped the bag he was carrying, and was running before it hit the ground.
“Let’s get out and get him” Arnie yelled. He pulled at the door handle, forgetting that he had welded them shut. The door handed him a beer.
“Hang on,” I said, and the adrenaline was pumping. I didn’t really want to get out, just in case Jimmy had another one of those stupid fire-bombs handy, but I didn’t want him getting away, either, and he was running pretty fast. I had stayed up half the night figuring out the cool stuff the Portmobile could do to subdue enemies, and aside from just being afraid to get out of the car, I wanted to try out some of that cool stuff.
“Watch this,” I said. Arnie leaned forward to watch this. I hit a button and Arnie shot out of the vehicle so fast that it was almost like he had just disappeared. I heard a shrill squeal and then a thud.
“Dammit!” That was me. I had been expecting a big net to shoot out from the Portmobile, safely wrapping up Jimmy until the police arrived.
“You know, I have a problem thinking that even YOU are sick enough to have planned that.” That was Mandy.
I looked out the windshield and saw that Arnie had landed squarely on top of Jimmy Flicks. See, when I was studying up on the Portmobile gadgets, I guess I drank a little more than I thought. And you know how it is, when you get mixed up after a night of drinking, I don’t know. In short, I had forgotten that the big red button was eject. I got it confused, really, with the smaller red button a few inches down. That was the button that you pushed if you wanted to shoot a net.
Arnie stood up slowly, kind of shaking his head. He took a big slug from the bottle of Bacardi 151 in his hand. Then he noticed the crumpled human pooled at his feet. “Hey, look at that! We got him. We’re heroes, just like I said.”
“Right, whatever,” I said. “Just make sure he stays unconscious. I’m calling the cops.” I used the cell phone in the Portmobile to call and spent ten minutes trying to convince the guy that I was really Portly Boy. Actually, I spent ten minutes trying to explain to him who Portly Boy was. In the end, I just told him that I was the fat guy from the news and I had captured the guy that had burned down my house.
I looked up to tell Arnie that the police were on their way, and saw him standing there talking to Jimmy. They were laughing and having a drink.
“Drunkard, what are you doing?”
“What? Nothing. Waiting for the boys in blue.”
“Don’t give him a drink, man, he burned down my house.”
“Yeah, we were just talking about that. He said he didn’t mean to. He was just trying to write his name with fire on your front yard.”
“I don’t care what he said. Tie him up or something. Don’t you have some handcuffs or something?” Arnie started checking around on his belt, looking for cuffs. He asked Jimmy to hold the bottle of booze for a second, and resumed checking various pockets and clips. Jimmy saluted me with the bottle and spilled alcohol all over his shirt.
“I hate my life,” I said to nobody in particular.
“You’re gonna hate it more in a few seconds,” Mandy said. “Especially if you don’t close the top on the Portmobile.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked, looking down at the cigarette lighter.
“Look at Jimmy.” I looked up and saw that Jimmy had torn off a piece of his shirt, the piece that was saturated with booze. He was lighting it.
This is the kind of situation where my life as a coward pays off. I saw that flame, and I felt no need to warn Arnie, I felt no instinct to save anyone other than myself. Even a second of hesitation, and we all would have been doomed. But with reflexes like a terrified jungle cat, I slammed my finger down on the button that closed the top of the Portmobile. It slid shut just as the firebomb hit, engulfing everything in flames.
The flame burned out in a matter of seconds, and I peered through the windshield to see Arnie standing there with a confused look on his face and a new bottle of rum in his hand. I also saw a ball of flame rolling around on the ground. Apparently, Jimmy hadn’t ripped off enough of his shirt—there was still some booze-soaked fabric there, and it had caught on fire when he lit up the fire bomb.
“Stop, drop, and roll!” I wasn’t sure if it was Jimmy or Arnie yelling that, but whoever was yelling it was yelling it over and over again.
“That dude definitely needs to think of a new gimmick,” Mandy said. “The flame thing doesn’t seem to be working out for him.”
“Nothing works out for him,” I said. “He’s more of a loser than I am.”
“How is it that he hasn’t been arrested yet? At first, I was thinking he was incredibly wily or something, but he’s just a numb-nuts.”
“Yeah.” I opened up the Portmobile and yelled for Arnie to come get in the car. “I don’t know, man. He’s either very lucky or the world really does hate me as much as I’ve always claimed.”
“I’m going to choose to believe that he’s lucky,” Mandy said. “It scares me to think that I’ve been in contact with someone the world hates that much.”
“Hey, man.” That was Arnie. “Good thinking with the ejection seat, but it kind of caught me by surprise. Think you could maybe warn me next time?”
“Sorry, dude, I can’t promise anything. When your instincts are honed as completely as mine are, sometimes your body is acting before you even realize you’re moving.”
“Plus, he did say to ‘watch this,’” Mandy chimed in.
“That’s true. So what are we going to do about Flixx? Seems like he’s having quite a time getting those flames to die out.”
“We’re gonna let him burn, that’s what. He’ll never learn not to play with fire without serious scarring.”
“Seems kind of like a hard attitude for a hero.”
“A HOMELESS hero, due to that silly bastard rolling around over there.”
“Yeah, but listen to him scream,” Arnie said. It was kind of like a plea, but it kind of backfired on him.
“Yeah, I have been.” I smiled. It was sort of because I’m a sick and I got a little pleasure out of Jimmy Flicks catching himself on fire. It was also because I got a great idea. The idea was only great because I’m sick and got pleasure out of Jimmy Flicks catching himself on fire, but so what. I messed around with a few buttons on the dash, hoping I was remembering things right, and then smiled at Arnie when I was finished.
“What did you just do?” That was Mandy asking, and although she just sounded sexy as all get out, you could tell she was suspicious about something.
“Nothing to you, don’t worry,” I said.
“Flixx is still screaming,” Arnie said.
“That’s not a pain scream,” I explained. “He’s just surprised.”
“He’s been on fire for about three minutes now,” Mandy said. “I think the surprise has probably worn off.”
“Maybe he’s surprised that the fire is still going,” I said.
“Come on, man.”
“Fine.” I climbed out of the Portmobile and grabbed a fire extinguisher out of the back. I was kind of pissed that I had to pt a stop to my fun, but I didn’t want Jimmy Flicks burned to a crisp. Not before he had paid for the damage to my house, anyway.
“You stay from me,” Jimmy screamed as I approached him.
“Shut up.” I sprayed him down with that white crap that they put in fire extinguishers, and then thumped his head with the empty canister, making it look like an accident.
“Ouch, man! Watch what you’re doing.”
“What I’m doing is saving your life, you jackass.” I heard approaching sirens, so I figured I only had a minute or so with Jimmy. That was good, since I had all those cameras pointed at me from the Portmobile, and I couldn’t beat Jimmy without getting in all kinds of trouble. I figured any more than three minutes, and I would be beating the shit out of him, cameras or not. Two, if he talked. “Now just sit here with your mouth closed until the police arrive and take you away to jail.”
“I’ll be out by tomorrow morning,” he said. “I got a good lawyer.”
“I don’t know, man. You’ve been pissing the cops off. They had something like twenty guys out looking for you. They think you’re an asshole, and I agree.”
“They don’t care about me, man. In a city like this, burning down a house that belongs to a jerk like you is nothing.”
Like I said, I couldn’t hit him. “Yeah, dude, but there is a house full of kids next door. You know how cops are about kids.”
Jimmy turned white, you could see it even through all that gunk I had sprayed him down with. I was still pissed at the little dick for burning down my house, but that look on his face made me feel a little better. “By the way,” I said, “Good move getting busted while you’re wearing tights. The guys in County are gonna love how your clothes are all tight.”
Jimmy passed out. I turned around and gave Arnie and the Portmobile a thumbs-up. Arnie cheered.
The police arrived a minute or so later, and hauled Jimmy away. I hung around answering questions, and then went down to the station to sign some stuff, and by the time everything was done, my shift was over. Arnie and I changed clothes and went out for drinks. We tried to get Mandy to come out and join us—a celebration of that magnitude, and you want all kinds of people around to brag to—but she said she’s rather not go out tonight, but she’d talk to us tomorrow.
I felt pretty good. I had caught the guy that burned down my house, and I had caught the guy that the cops hadn’t been able to catch. I know that I just got lucky and that it had absolutely nothing to do with talent, but still. It always makes me feel better when I do something that someone else was unable to, because I’m a jerk that takes pleasure out of other people’s failure. And if it’s only luck? So what. Luck owes me, man. In fact, that was our toast that night.
Here’s to Lady Luck! That bitch owes me.