At first, I didn’t understand the pain. It was like someone was shoving a gun barrel into my temple, just in front of my left ear. Combined with the sudden urge to urinate, I realized that this was probably the case. I was just about to panic, which is pretty much my only course of action when faced with danger, but I remembered that Arnie and I had been out celebrating the night before. Which meant that I was probably just incredibly hung-over.
I relaxed a little, but then a voice said, “Get up.” The pain increased, and I realized that someone was holding something that felt very much like the barrel of a gun against my head. I opened my eyes and wished that I hadn’t. There was this old guy, and he was standing there with a rifle against my head.
Do you ever have one of those days? It’s like, the second you wake up, you know everything’s going to suck, and you wish you could just go back to sleep. You ever have one of those? Yeah, well I don’t feel bad for you. Because chances are that you CAN go back to sleep. You could call in sick to work. You can skip the funeral, no matter who they’re planting. You can ignore the wedding, even if you’re the one that’s supposed to be getting married. What I’m saying is, you can get out of it, probably. And if you can’t, it’s your own fault—you should practice laying on the bullshit a little better. You can talk your way out of just about anything, if you want to put your mind to it.
But waking up and there’s this old guy telling you to get up and he’s got this gigantic gun pressed against your head, that’s a really tough one to talk your way out of. You can’t just roll over and go back to sleep and deal with things later.
“What happened?” I asked. “The last thing I remember, I was coming home from the library and a voice told me to hand over my wallet.” You would be amazed at how often this lie can get you out of trouble.
“No good, son. You tried that one on me before.” And suddenly I understood who the voice belonged to. With that understanding came a lot of other understanding, most of it unwelcome.
Back in the day, I used to have a semi-normal life. It wasn’t nice, and it wasn’t exciting, and it wasn’t very cool, but it was sort of normal. I went to work, I came home, I drank way too much to forget how bad my life sucked. I know it doesn’t seem much different from what I’m doing these days, and the reason it doesn’t seem that way is because it’s not. Except that back in the day, I worked in retail. Now I work in community service, pretending to fight crime, and sometimes getting lucky (or unlucky, depending on how you look at it) and doing it for real.
Anyways, back in the day, I used to drink way more than is healthy for anyone to drink—that’s another thing that hasn’t really changed much—and I would end up passing out in odd places. One of those places was the public swimming pool in the middle of December. One of those places was a meat locker in one of my neighborhood grocery stores. One of those places was in my neighbor’s backyard.
Out of all the weird places to wake up, the neighbor’s backyard was easily the worst. Mostly because you would wake up and there’s this old guy with a rifle pressed against your head, telling you to get off his “poperty.”
My house, before that lunatic Jimmy Flicks burned it to the ground, was situated in between two other houses. One of those houses was this faded pink color, and no matter what time of day it was, no matter what time of year it was, there was always a shit-pile of little kids running in and out of it, screaming and crying and getting on my nerves. The other house, it always had a broken-down Ford parked in the lawn and there was this old guy that always sat on the porch, drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. He had moved to the city from some weird-ass little town in Oklahoma, I don’t know why. He hated city life, you could tell. I hardly ever spoke to the guy, not unless I could help it, but just looking at him, you could tell that he was not city-folk.
And Heaven help you if you stepped onto his poperty without permission. I passed out in his backyard a few times during the tenure of our neighboring, and I always woke up the same way, with this old guy holding a loaded gun to my head and yelling about get off his poperty. I asked him once why he left out the “R” sound in that first syllable, but I never got an answer. He just cocked back the hammer on his enormous gun and asked if I was making fun of the way he “tawked.”
So there we are, back to square one. I staggered to my feet, and this guy is yakking behind me about how I better start showing some respect, less’n I want some lead added to my ass, and I’m telling him how, yep, right, right, won’t happen again.
I stumbled through the gate and made it all the way to my back door before I realized that I no longer had a back door. I was standing in a pile of ashes and dog piss, and the old guy from next door was yelling about how it’s not so funny running around in my underwear now that one of my hoodlum friends had burned down my place, was it.
I yelled back for him to shut up about it, and I heard the hammer cock back on his monstrous gun, so I quit yelling. I staggered off in search of the nearest pay phone, which turned out to be in a convenience store about six blocks away.
I called Arnie and let the phone ring until the answering machine picked up, then yelled and yelled until Arnie finally picked up. Usually, when Arnie picks up the phone after a night of hard drinking, he says something like, “Huh?” or “Whosis?” He has a barrage of witty opening lines like that when he’s all hung-over and sleepy.
What he doesn’t usually say is, “I have discovered the secret identity of your sidekick, and I have taken him hostage,” which is what the voice that finally picked up said to me. Usually, Arnie doesn’t sound like such a sleazeball, either.
“Jimmy? Where the hell is Arnie?”
“Arnie is, you could say, tied up at the moment.”
“Well untie him, I need a ride.”
“I didn’t say I tied him up, I said he was tied up. It’s a clever play on words.”
“Did you tie him up?”
There were several seconds of silence before Jimmy answered. “Yeah, but that’s not the point. I was using a clever play on words.”
“Jimmy, nothing you do is clever. Now untie Arnie and tell him to come pick me up. I’m at that convenience store down by my house. And hurry up, man, I’m thirsty as hell.”
I waited about ten minutes, but when there was still no Arnie, I started walking to his house. I made it about three blocks before this junked-out Chevrolet Chevette came screeching around the corner. At some point, it had been red, I guess, but it was so sun-bleached that it was now an orange color, like rusty pipe. The windows were covered in peeling tint, and there was a big F spray-painted on the hood. I knew it was trouble as soon as I saw it, and I wished I had spent the buck-fifty for a Monster Gulp at the convenience store. My throat was dry, and the thought of doing anything more strenuous than walking only increased the parched feeling. Jimmy didn’t seem to be slowing down at all, and he looked like he was heading right for me. I picked up a handful of gravel from the street and threw it at his windshield as I stepped further up on sidewalk. He swerved as the gravel bounced harmlessly off his windshield, and crashed into a fire hydrant.
He bailed out of the car just as it burst into flames. “Oh, shit, my sister’s gonna kill me,” he muttered. The last time I had seen him, Jimmy had been wearing a pair of green jogging pants, a t-shirt, and a bathrobe that he had spray-painted to match his car. It had been an S the last time, instead of an F, but I guess that that was because Jimmy hadn’t properly thought out a good villain name. In fact, he still hadn’t. He called himself Flixxx, due mostly to the fact that he had a thing for fire and had, for a brief period in his life, tried to film porn movies. So far, the fire thing hadn’t been working out too well for him.
It looked like he had been trying to work out a costume, though. He still had the jogging pants, although they had a few burn holes in them from all the times he had caught himself on fire. He had scrounged up a t-shirt to match, and this time he an F on his chest instead of the S. It wasn’t painted on, though—it looked like magic marker this time. What looked like a shower curtain was wrapped around his neck to serve as a make-shift cape. It was mostly blue, but you could see a couple of rubber duckies across what would have been the bottom border of the curtain if Jimmy had hung it up in his shower like a normal person. You know, instead of wrapping it around his neck and going out in public.
“Someone should,” I said. He jumped about two feet off the ground, apparently he had forgotten about me, what with the crash and all. I couldn’t think of anything hateful enough to say to this genuine waste of life who had burned down my house and caused me continual misery for the past few days, so I just said, “You’re such a jackass.”
“You’ve thwarted my plans long enough, Portly Boy,” he said.
“Hey, knock off that Portly Boy shit. Nobody gets to call me that until I’m legally forced to answer to it at six.”
“Oh, yes, I know your secret identity. You are foiled!”
“It was in the newspaper, you dipstick! Everybody knows my secret identity. It’s not even a secret. It’s just another stupid name I have to answer to.”
“YOU ARE FOILED!”
“You are an ass,” I said, and charged him. I don’t generally do things like charge people, but Jimmy’s a wimp, even compared to me, and I knew that he was either going to try to run or I would stomp him. He tried to run.
The direction he was trying to run was behind him, I guess, because that’s the way he turned when he started to take off. That running thing didn’t work out for him much better than the fire thing. He stepped on the edge of the shower curtain he had wrapped around his neck, and choked himself. Considering the effort that little bastard put into his getaway, he’s lucky he didn’t snap his neck.
As it was, he just strangled himself for a second and then fell to the ground, gagging and gasping for breath. I just about fell to the ground myself, but it was only because I was laughing so hard.
“You are the world’s worst excuse for a villain,” I said to him. “And you’re in the top ten of the world’s worst human beings. How did you ever make it out of your mother without screwing everything up?”
He reached into one of the pockets of his jogging suit and tossed a handful of something at me. Because it was Jimmy Flicks, I had no idea what to expect. It could have been dirt, it could have been Skittles, it could have been a bunch of live scorpions. My point is, you just never can tell when you’re dealing with a lunatic.
I flinched back, expecting the worst. I heard a bunch of snapping around me, and felt a few stings on my forehead. Once I realized I wasn’t in any serious danger, I opened my eyes. You know those things parents give to their really small children on the Fourth of July? They aren’t quite firecrackers, they’re just those little white balls filled with sawdust and some little bitty explosive. You toss one onto the ground and it goes, pop, and that’s it. That’s what Jimmy had thrown at me. He probably swiped those from his little sister, too, about ten years ago, before she was old enough to have a car for him to steal.
Anyway, I looked up, and Jimmy was almost a block away. “Until next time,” he yelled. He was running pretty fast, and I knew there was no way I could catch him, even when he broke out into a coughing fit because of his yelling.
I flipped him the bird and walked the rest of the way to Arnie’s house.
“What’s new, fighters from justice?” That was Mandy, with her stone-sexy Portmobile voice.
“What’s new is, it’s fight-er from justice, singular,” I told her.
“Geez, did you finally kill him?”
“Although it may seem hard to believe, no. He’s been kidnapped. Or taken hostage, if you believe the note.”
“The note that Jimmy Flicks left after he kidnapped Arnie.”
“I can’t believe the cops haven’t caught him yet. They’ve put another team on him, did you know that?”
“Man, it’s been all over the news. What the hell have you been doing all day?”
“Well, I woke up with a gun to my head, then I caused Jimmy to crash his latest attempt at a villain car, and then I walked over here to find out that my sidekick has been kidnapped.”
“For a guy that sleeps in until two in the afternoon, you sure do manage to lead an interesting life.”
“Yeah, I’m pretty amazing. So Jimmy’s on the news?”
“Yeah, and so are you and the Drunkard and the website.”
“Why the website?”
“Someone phoned in to the local news station and told them that while the police are running around looking for this guy, you’ve turned him in not once, but twice.”
“Yeah, man, I have. How the hell did he get away last night?”
“Apparently his clothes were still smoldering when they loaded him into the car. He burst into flames while they were hauling him back to the police station, so they had to stop. As soon as they opened the door to pull him out, he took off running.”
“They couldn’t have shot him and saved us all some trouble?”
“He was already on fire, man. How easy do you think it would be to explain why you shot a prisoner in the back while he was handcuffed and on fire?”
“I would just tell ‘em that it was Jimmy Flicks, and I didn’t want to take any chances with him reproducing.”
“Yeah, well, we don’t all have your superior wit, now, do we?”
“Anyway, so somebody called into the local news station and tells them that you guys had caught Jimmy twice, and they could get footage from the website.”
“Was it you? Were you the one that called?”
“No way. I like to think the two of you are my own private amusement. I don’t really want to share you with the rest of the world.”
“Ah, that’s sweet,” I said. I said it in a really sarcastic tone, because that’s the only tone I ever use when I say something is sweet or cute or adorable.
“It’s like having a couple of clowns at your birthday party—you don’t want the neighbor kid having them at his party the next weekend, you know?”
“So you guys have been all over the news, making the cops look like chumps, and they put another team on Jimmy to show the city that they can do a better job than a drunk and a deviant.”
“That’s great. So it’s not just going to be the criminals that want to kick my ass when they see me anymore—now the cops hate me, too.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it too much. In the end, you’ll probably end up making the police force look like gods. So what are you going to do about the Drunkard?”
“I don’t know, really. I doubt I’ll even be able to get the Portmobile going, so I’ll probably have to walk tonight. Even if I wanted to look for Arn…uh, the Drunkard, I doubt I’d be able to find him. At least with the Portmobile, I could cruise around with air conditioning, and maybe run across Jimmy—I can’t seem to go anywhere without finding him.”
“What’s wrong with the Portmobile?”
“That bastard made it so I couldn’t leave him behind, so usually the car won’t even start unless he’s sitting in there with me.”
“So aren’t you worried about him?”
“Nah. Him and Jimmy are friends. They’re probably just sitting around getting wasted and talking about how cool that explosion was the other night. Or Jimmy’s daring escape. Something stupid like that. He’ll probably be back in a day or two, after he runs out of booze or semi-clean underwear.”
“Damn, man, I hope my life never depends on you.”
“You’re pretty safe, actually—none of the people who want to be my arch-nemesis are smart enough to figure out who you are. And the people who might be smart enough to figure out who you are don’t care enough about it to put forth the effort. You’ve probably got a lot of perverts from the website doing obscene things to themselves while they listen to your voice, but other than that, you’re fine.”
“You’re such a bastard.”
“Ah, a pet name. We must be bonding.” I noticed the time, and told her, “I gotta grab a shower and get ready. I guess I’ll talk to you later.”
“Yes, the Amazing Portly Boy?”
“Arnie’s been kidnapped. I have to go look for him.”
“He told us you would say that.” If you’ve ever seen the movie Fight Club, you know exactly how this voice sounds. It’s a direct recording from that movie, that part where they’re about to cut off Edward Norton’s testicles. Only in the movie, the line is, “You told us you would say that.” Instead of the “you,” part, there was Arnie’s voice saying, “he.” It was a poor editing job, you could hear the click as the audio switched from Arnie’s voice to the voice of the guy in the movie, but I guess Arnie was just working with what he had. And when you consider how much he drinks, I figured he had done pretty well. Of course, Arnie’s always been pretty good at pissing me off.
The first rule of Fat Club is, you do not leave without your drunken sidekick.
“No, I’m serious. That dill-hole Jimmy kidnapped him,” I said to the car.
“He told us you would say that, too.”
The second rule of Fat Club is, you DO NOT leave without your drunken sidekick.
“Look, Portmobile, I don’t like you, and you don’t like me. But Arnie’s not here. See, the thing is, Arnie got kidnapped. There’s no way that I’m going to find him unless I have you to drive around in. So, please, just let’s go!” I was starting to get worried, because I only had about ten minutes before I had to be out on the streets patrolling the city for crime, and if I didn’t have the Portmobile, I was going to end up walking. When you’re way overweight, and lazy as hell, the thought of walking through the city for six hours can make you panic. Add to that equation the fact you drink way too much and smoke all the time, and you’re lucky if you don’t pee yourself.
“He told us you would say that, too.”
The third rule of Fat Club is, YOU DO NOT leave without your drunken sidekick.
“He did not,” I said. “He never told you I would say that, you lying piece of junk.”
“Yeah, that part was a lie,” the Portmobile said. And then it didn’t say anything else, no matter how much I talked. And I was doing a lot of talking, what with time slipping away and a six-hour hike through the city while dressed in a yellow bodysuit looming before me.
“Hey, man.” It was Mandy’s stone-sexy voice, through the speakers of the Portmobile, which was a welcome change from the robot-gangsta voice that was the Portmobile itself.
“What?” You have to look at the cigarette lighter when you talk to Mandy, because that’s where one of the web-cams is located…well, somewhere in that vicinity—neither Arnie or I really know where the damn thing is, for sure. Talking to a cigarette lighter isn’t the best thing for your grip on reality, but neither is anything else I do, so it all kind of works out.
“I just checked my e-mail, and there’s one from Arnie.”
“Is it an invitation to join his porno website?”
“As a mater of fact, it is. But there was an attachment, too. Like a personal thing.”
“How did he get your e-mail address?”
“We’ve been e-mailing back and forth for a few days now.” I felt a little pang of jealousy, but it was the same kind of envy I experienced any time anything good happened to Arnie. Of course he’s going to get the girl—he’s rich, he’s stupid, and he’s easy to take advantage of. What else could a woman want in a man? The pang passed, and curiosity took over.
“Does he type very well? I mean, the guy can barely make a sentence when he talks, I would hate to have to read what he’s trying to say.”
“You can get through it if you don’t mind typos. It’s kind of like if a super-intelligent monkey was typing.”
“I would have pegged him at the level of a very intelligent monkey,” I said, “But never super-intelligent monkey.”
“Well, maybe super-intelligent is pushing it, but that’s not the point. The point is, he said for you to go get the disc off of the kitchen counter and put it in the CD player of the Portmobile.”
I hate to go along with Arnie’s ideas as a general rule, but since he wasn’t around, I figured I would go ahead and do it. If he ever asked me about it, I could always deny everything.
I clapped my hands twice, and the platform that the Portmobile was parked on rose into the garage. It took about forty seconds, which was a lot faster than if I had tried to climb the steep staircase from the Drunk Tank to Arnie’s kitchen. I grabbed the disc off the counter and went back to the Portmobile.
“What do you think it is?” Mandy asked.
“Probably a porn movie,” I said, and slid the disc into the player. There was a bit of mechanical humming and then a screen opened up from the dash.
“A screen just popped up out of the dash,” I told Mandy.
“Yeah, I can see it.”
“How can you see it?” I was under the impression that there was only one camera inside the cab of the Portmobile.
“There’s another camera mounted in the ceiling. Looks like it’s from the dome light, but that’s just guess.”
“Hey, the Amazing Portly Boy.” That was Arnie. He had just shown up on the screen, dressed in his Drunkard gear, smiling and waving a martini around. “If you’re watching this, it means that I’m not around and that Mandy’s contacted you. It’s pretty heavy, man: Flixxx has discovered my secret identity, as well as yours. Actually, I guess everybody knows your secret identity, since it was on the news and all. Not much of a secret, really. Anyway, he found out who was your sidekick, and he’s here to take me hostage.”
Arnie is sitting in his living room, by the way. The tape was probably made on the same camera that he had bought for Jimmy. He doesn’t seem to be in any trouble, and you can see Jimmy in the background—in the kitchen, trying to make a sandwich.
“Listen, man, I know you don’t have much time, so be sure to get the Portmobile up to the garage. Push pause until you’re up there and the door is open.” I hit the pause button on the control panel and opened the garage door. I had about a minute before six. If I wasn’t rolling by then, I went to jail. I pushed the “play” button.
“Yes, the Drunkard?”
“Tracking on. Come get me.”
The engine roared to life, and the Portmobile shot out of the garage, backwards. I screamed like a little girl, which I generally hate to do, but I felt like it was justifiable this time. The car threw itself into gear and shot down the street, going something like a million miles an hour.
“Hey, you told me you couldn’t drive yourself,” I said to the Portmobile. The only answer was the head-exploding drum beats that Arnie called our theme song. I turned it down, mostly just so I could feel like I had at least a little control in the situation. I grabbed the steering wheel and tried to turn it, but it wouldn’t budge. Then I realized that it probably isn’t a good idea to yank the steering wheel from side to side while flying down a residential street at light speed, so I stopped messing with the wheel. I tried the brake pedal, but the Portmobile would have none of it.
“The Portmobile is tracking me now, in case you’re wondering,” Arnie on the screen says.
“Hey do you have any mustard?” Jimmy asks from behind him.
“I think it’s in the door of the refrigerator.” Arnie’s voice drops to a whisper. “Listen, man, I think he’s lost it this time, for real. He just keeps talking about how it’s the last time you’ve ruined him, and I can’t change the subject at all. No matter what I talk about, he just keeps talking about you’ve ruined him for the last time. He told me to make this tape, so that you could see that he really had abducted me, and I wasn’t just passed out somewhere. He told me that I wasn’t supposed to mention that he was setting a trap for you, but be careful, because he’s setting a trap for you. He doesn’t know about the tracking device, so he figures you’ll have to wait until he calls before you can come rescue me. You’ll have the element of surprise on your side, my friend---use it wisely.”
At this point, Jimmy comes in from the kitchen. “Did you tell him that I had taken you hostage?”
“You didn’t tell him about the trap, did you?”
“Good.” Jimmy takes a bite of his sandwich and while he’s chewing, an idea strikes him. When ideas strike guys like Jimmy Flicks, it’s kind of a new experience, and he got on odd look on his face like maybe he didn’t really dig on this whole thinking thing. “Hey that thing isn’t still recording, is it?”
“Nah, I turned it off just before you came in,” Arnie tells him.
“Cool. I’m tellin’ ya, man, this is the last time that guy ruins my plans. I’m serious.”
“Yeah, man. What are you doing for wheels?”
“I borrowed my sister’s car.” At this point, the phone starts ringing. Arnie starts to stand up, but Jimmy screams at him to sit down. “The end-game begins,” Jimmy says, and tries to smile all sinister-like. He has a piece of lettuce stuck between his teeth, so he just looks like a vegetarian mongoloid, though.
In the background, you can hear my voice, yelling at Arnie to get his drunk ass out of bed, I’m down at the gas station and I’m thirsty as hell, but I don’t want to drop the buck fifty to get a Monster Gulp. After a few minutes of my ranting, Jimmy says, “I have his location. This might work out better than my original plan.” He grabs the phone off the hook and talks to me for a minute.
“No, man,” Arnie says. “I thought your original plan was gold. You can’t beat perfection--you should stick with it.”
“Come with me,” Jimmy says, and he pulls the mustard-covered butcher-knife off of his plate and kind of pokes Arnie in the side with it. Arnie stands up, and then the camera gets all jerky as he grabs it.
“What are you doing with that?” Jimmy asks.
“I thought you might want me to record some more, you know—just in case you need to leave a different message because of the improvised plan.” It’s kind of bizarre to hear fear in Arnie’s voice. For the most part, he’s oblivious to the world around him, so he’s either happy-drunk or crying-drunk. But afraid-drunk, that just makes you feel like the world might be about to end.
“We won’t need it anymore. Besides, you won’t be able to record anything from the trunk.” The camera drops at this point, and you see their feet as they walk out the front door.
I hit the stop button and looked at the cigarette lighter. “Shit,” I said.
“Major shit,” Mandy said back to me.
“That guy’s nuts,” I said.
“And he’s still loose.”
“And he blames me for ruining his life.”
In the back of my mind, I could hear the truth giggling it’s hysterical little giggle, and I wondered what I was missing. I knew it was something important, or that giggle wouldn’t be so high-pitched, and I assumed that once the shock wore off, I would tag it. But I didn’t really have that kind of time, so I figured I would just ask Mandy.
“What really important part am I missing?”
“The part you’re missing,” she said, “Is that Arnie’s locked in the trunk of a car that you saw catch on fire almost an hour ago.”
That was when I realized that the Portmobile was taking me back to where Jimmy had tried to run me over, and that was when I realized that my best friend was still locked in the trunk of a car that I had last seen through a screen of fire.
I saw the fire trucks, but that was about it. I felt the blackness descend, like a brick through an elevator shaft full of smoke, and then I passed out.
Just before I lost consciousness, I heard two things. One was Mandy saying, “Holy shit!” The other was the Portmobile saying, “Auto-brake engaged.”