At first, I didn’t understand the pain. It was like someone was shoving a gun barrel into my forehead, just above my left eye. 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. Then I realized that Arnie and I hadn’t been out celebrating the night before.
Then I remembered that Arnie was locked in the trunk of a car that had been burning for an hour.
I jerked up into sitting position and knocked my head against something that felt kind of hard and rubbery. I ducked down and felt the pain in my head again.
“You should probably try to move slower,” Mandy suggested.
I sat up slowly, and knocked my head on that hard rubbery thing again. “Close,” Mandy said, but not quite. “Move your head to the right and try it again.”
I moved my head to the right and tried lifting it again. This time, it worked out. I had somehow managed to get my head crammed down under the steering wheel—no easy feat for a man with a gut-size like mine—which was the rubbery thing I kept knocking my head into. As for the pain in my forehead, that was a whiskey bottle that had slid out during all the commotion.
I jumped out of the Portmobile and ran to the mangled Chevette that Jimmy had crashed onto a fire hydrant. The firemen were just sort of milling around, trying to figure out what to do with the lump of crap that used to be a hatchback, but when they saw me coming, they all tried to stop me.
“Calm down, man,” One of them said to me. In movies, it always takes about six guys to hold the grieving hero at bay, but in movies, the grieving hero is always someone like Brad Pitt or that dude in Gladiator. In real life, at last in my real life, the hero is played by a fat guy who smokes too much and is in pretty bad shape even without the cigarettes. What I’m saying is, it only took that one guy to hold me back, and I could only struggle for a few seconds before I wore myself out.
“My friend is in there,” I said. “You have to save him.” Arnie’s a pain in the ass, and I spend most of our time together hating him, but the thought of him burning to death in the back of a Chevette really bothered me. Nobody should have to die like that. If you’ve ever seen an ‘eighties model Chevette, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, consider yourself lucky.
“There’s nobody in there, chief.”
“What about remains? Did you check for remains?”
“The water from the hydrant put out the fire almost as soon as it started. The only remains in there is a pack of chicken nuggets that somebody left under the passenger-side seat.”
“Where’s Arnie, then?”
“I don’t know who this Arnie guy is, but if this is his car, he has a lot of explaining to do.”
I tried to explain for a few minutes, but in the end, I just left. He had a lot of questions, but I had to stay on the move. I had to find Arnie. Plus, if I stayed still for too long, I would get locked up.
“Yes, the Amazing Portly Boy?”
“I need you to track down Arnie. He’s not here.”
“Tracking on,” the robot-gangsta voice said, and the engine erupted into life loud enough to make the firemen jump.
“So where’s Arnie?” That was Mandy. It kind of bothered me that she was asking that question, because I was actually hoping that she would have figured out where Arnie was by this point.
Before I had a chance to make up a lie about how I was formulating a plan to find my drunken sidekick, the car said, “Auto-brake engaged.”
I slammed to a stop about three feet from where we had started, right in the parking lot of the convenience store.
“What the hell’s going on?” Mandy asked.
Because I didn’t want to seem as clueless as I was, and because I was still thirsty, I decided to go into the store and grab a Monster Gulp. “I have an idea,” I said. I grabbed some change out of the console, and opened the hatch on the Portmobile.
“Is it a GOOD idea?” Mandy asked, and I just kept walking, pretending that I couldn’t hear her.
I stood there for a second, the air conditioned air soaking through the worn yellow bodysuit and my sweat cooling. Arnie was standing at the counter, talking to the teenage kid that worked the store.
“So then—he can tell that the pipe is rusted through right?—so he drops down on top of the bouncer. The bouncer’s out cold, and Portly By bounds nimbly into the Portmobile, justice served and the world a safer place.”
“That’s amazing, man,” The kid said to Arnie.
“If you think it SOUNDS amazing, you should check out the website. Multi-angle cameras, it’s like you’re right there in the middle of the action. When it asks for your code, type in ‘Arnie’s Password.’ That’s my password. If you like it, show it to your friends, but don’t give ‘em my password, all right? I gotta make money somehow.”
“Sure, dude, no sweat.”
“Arnie, what the hell?” I yelled.
“Hey, it’s him!”
“Damn straight it’s him,” Arnie said. “The man. The legend. This is the Amazing Portly Boy!”
“Get in the car,” I said.
“Don’t forget to check out the website,” Arnie said as we left.
“What the hell are you doing?” I asked him while we walked.
“Pimping the website, man. Have you seen the numbers? It was all over the news last night and this morning. I bet they’re talking about it even more since Jimmy crashed another car.”
In my head, I was thinking about ways I could make Arnie pay. I mean, sure he didn’t get himself kidnapped on purpose, but the sunuvabitch had me thinking he had been burned to a crisp while he was inside shooting the shit with a convenience store guy and drinking a Monster Gulp. I grabbed the Monster Gulp and drank the rest of it.
“Free refills, man,” Arnie said.
“Shut up and get in the car.” I made sure he got into the car, and then I ran back in to get a refill. The convenience store guy tried to talk to me, but I ignored him and went back to the Portmobile.
“All right,” I said, as I started up the car. “What the hell happened?”
“Well, after you went home last night, I decided to play a little Playstation 2. You know that new Spider-Man game that I bought? It’s slick, man. There’s this one part where you’re swinging along, and then there’s this big-“
“Don’t wanna hear about the game, jerk. What happened after Jimmy took you off and stuffed you in the trunk?”
“You don’t care about the new Spider-Man game?” He looked crushed.
“Of course I care about the new Spider-Man game, what am I brain-dead? But I’ll play it later, and right now, I’m more concerned about what happened after Jimmy forced you at knife-point into the trunk of his car.”
“Okay, then.” Jimmy pulled a bottle of Scotch out from under his seat and was about to tear the seal.
“There’s whiskey on this side,” I said. “It about put my eye out, earlier.”
“Shoot, man, give me that one, then. That’s like health hazard or something.” He grabbed the bottle of whiskey from the floorboard, cracked the seal, and took a few deep swallows. “All right,” he said, wiping his mouth. “As you know, that car was a hatchback—not really a trunk to speak of. He crammed me back there with a spare tire and about a thousand pounds of his sister’s dirty laundry. He had my hands tied up, but he didn’t want to tie my ankles in case we had to run away real fast. I heard him chuckle, real evil-like, and then I heard something on the windshield, kind of like hail. I couldn’t see anything, because at that point I was all covered in the laundry that had fallen everywhere. Next thing I know, there’s this big thump, and all kinds of noise. The spare tire rolled on top of me, and by the time I got it pushed it off, everybody was gone. The hatchback had popped open, so I climbed out and went in to get a chaser. Bobby—that’s the guy that was working in there—he untied me and asked me what was going on. So I started telling him all about our adventures.”
“It’s good to have you back, man,” Mandy said. “We were worried.”
“You were worried?” Arnie asked me.
“Only about how to get this damn car started.”
“The auto-search was a pretty good idea, huh?’
“It kind of slowed me down,” I said, not wanting to tell Arnie that, yeah, it was pretty damn clever.
“Sorry, dude, but it was short notice.”
“I think you did fine,” Mandy said. Sheesh. Why not just tell him which motel room you’re waiting in?
“Where’s the Drunkard?” Arnie asked.
“He’s got explosive diarrhea,” I said, feeling a bit spiteful. More than a bit, really.
See, the thing is, Arnie’s mom used to work at a bank in a small town. And any time that Arnie got sick, she would tell just about everybody that rolled up to the drive-through window about how he had diarrhea. This is so detrimental to the psyche that I won’t even delve into it, but you should know that this is exposed flesh, as far as Arnie’s concerned. I mean, this is a guy in high school, he’s trying to build a reputation, he’s trying to form an image, you know? So even if he’s making a little progress with some chick—not that he was, but even IF he was—and her mom comes home telling her about Arnie’s at home with the liquid sits...well, you can see how that would be a bad thing, right?
And the thing is, most of the time it’s not true. Maybe the guy’s just looking for a way to ditch school so that he can make out with a chick, or maybe he just has a head cold. It doesn’t matter, not to his mom. She’s so obsessed with this whole diarrhea thing. “My stomach hurts, I don’t think I’ll go to school today,” you tell your mom. And she tells everybody in town about how you have diarrhea.
“My throat hurts, everything is sore, it hurts when I breathe, I don’t think I’ll go to school today,” you tell your mom. And she tells everybody in town about how you have diarrhea.
“My arm’s broken, the bone is poking out through the skin, and I can’t feel my fingers, I don’t think I should go to school today,” you tell your mom. And she tells everybody in town about how you have diarrhea.
It was a low shot, I admit it. Arnie turned all red and said, “He doesn’t have diarrhea, man, I’m sure he’s fine.”
“I don’t know, dude, he’s been in the bathroom for quite a few hours.”
“Probably he’s just masturbating,” Arnie said, which made me wonder about where the lines of dignity lay, when you get right down to it.
“Well, I’m glad he’s safe, too,” Mandy said. A little too sweetly.
“So you think he’s been in there masturbating for the last four hours?” I asked Arnie. “Four hours is a pretty long time.”
“Yeah, well, from what I’ve heard of the Drunkard, four hours is nothing.” He winked at the cigarette lighter.
“Let’s talk about something else,” Mandy said.
“I’m pretty sure it’s explosive diarrhea,” I muttered.
“Hey everybody,” Arnie said to the cigarette lighter. He was dressed up in his Drunkard gear now. I had to drop him off in front of the house and then circle the block while he changed clothes, so that I didn’t violate the terms of my community service. When he ran back out to the car, the first thing he said was to the cigarette lighter, but I think he was trying to talk to the camera that’s hidden somewhere in the vicinity of the cigarette lighter. “Sorry I was gone earlier—I’ve been masturbating.”
“Are you sure it wasn’t diarrhea?” I asked him.
“I’m positive it wasn’t, so shut up about it, all right?”
“No need to get all crappy about it,” I said, and smirked. Smirking is one of those things you always read in books, but you don’t see all that often in real life. It’s also pretty difficult to pull off, until you get the hang of it. Because I’ve been on the hypothetical sidelines for most of my life, making snide remarks, I’m kind of a pro when it comes to smirking. Because that’s how you do it—you say something snide and then you smirk. To the untrained eye, it almost looks like you’re just saying something immature and then smiling about it, but that’s because people with untrained eyes are generally idiots.
“Way mature there, Portly Boy,” Arnie said.
“So what’s the plan for tonight?” He asked. He was still working on the bottle of whiskey that he had opened earlier, and I was kind of surprised that he had made it last so long, until I notice that he had the bottle of Scotch in his other hand.
“Our plan is to drive around for a few hours and relax. I’ve been dealing with crap since I woke up in the neighbor’s lawn this morning, I’ve had to walk all over the city, and I’m tired and grumpy. I just want to take it easy and avoid any more trouble.”
“How is that any different from the plan you form every night?” Mandy asked.
“Because tonight, it’s going to work out. I’m not stopping for anything, I don’t care if there’s a dying preacher in the road, we’re driving around. There will be no pee breaks, no auto-stops at bars or strip clubs, none of that crap that usually preludes a terrible adventure of some sort. We’re going to drive around for three more hours, and then I’m going back home and going to bed.”
“That’s not going to be too good for the website,” Arnie said.
“Come on, man, you have fans now. They expect adventure, they expect heroics. Plus, we still have to track down Flixxx and put an end to his tirade.”
“Uh-uh. No way. That dude has gone over the edge, and he’s definitely enjoying himself down there. He almost got you killed today, Arn…Drunkard. He’s almost killed me like every day this week. That is a job for the police—finding Jimmy, I mean, not killing me. Look, it’s fine to stop a bar fight, especially if I’m the one that’s about to get pummeled in said bar fight. But going after a dangerous psycho that the police can’t seem to hold onto—that’s something I’m not prepared to do at this point.”
“Technically, you are,” Mandy said. “You’ve done it over and over.”
“Nobody asked to hear from you,” I said.
“Why?” A feeling of doom soaked into my soul like grease into a pile of Kleenex, and that feeling was how I always felt when I heard the glee in her voice. That glee means that she’s about to start laughing at me. And when she laughs at me, that usually means that I’m going through, or about to go through, some horrendous experience or another, and she’s getting a real kick out of it.
“Because I have some information.”
“Fine,” I said, hoping to at least be semi-prepared for the awful thing that was about to befall me. “Mandy, I would like to hear from you.”
“You would like to or you would LOVE to?”
“What do you know that’s making you so happy and will make me so miserable?”
“The light up ahead just turned red. And it’s one of those long ones that takes about five minutes to change.”
“That news wasn’t nearly as bad as I had expected.”
“That wasn’t really the news.”
“Hey,” Arnie said as I slowed the Portmobile to a stop in front of the red light. “Flixxx is behind us. It looks like he’s riding a bike this time. He’s gaining on us.”
“THAT was the news,” Mandy said.
My knuckles were white on the steering wheel, and I was seriously debating running through the red light.
“You can’t run through that light, man,” Mandy said. “The judge watches this website all the time, she’ll know if you break the law, and she’ll bust you all the way to the pen.”
“Isn’t there something about how I can run through a light if I’m about to get assaulted?”
“Nope. ‘No running red lights.’ The rules were very specific about that. I guess the judge thought you would abuse a privilege like that.”
I sat silently, which is something that I almost never do. I was trying like hell to come up with some kind of plan or another, which is something else I almost never do. Jimmy was quickly closing the space between the Portmobile and himself. He had found a new shirt somewhere, and magic-markered his stupid F on it, but this one was purple. The shower curtain cape was still in place, but it looked like it had been torn to a much shorter length. He still had on the sweats, too, and they were looking pretty terrible, what with all the burn-holes and car crashes.
“What are we gonna do?” Arnie asked. You could tell that he wasn’t too scared. That’s what pisses me off so much about drunk people when I’m sober—they never know when to be afraid.
“Well,” I said, “Shit.” I threw the Portmobile into reverse, floored it, and shot towards Jimmy.
“What are you doing?” Mandy asked. She wasn’t drunk, apparently, because even with her sexy voice, you could hear the fear.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said.
“Awesome!” Arnie said.
I saw the look of terror on Jimmy’s face, which confirmed my theory that he didn’t know about the stupid auto-brake function on the Portmobile. He skidded to a stop, tipped over, and got his cape caught in the bicycle chain. I tried to do that cool thing like in the movies, where they slam on the brakes and spin the car a slick 180 degrees so that they’re facing the exact opposite direction they were just a second ago, but like so many things in life, it never goes like in the movies.
The car slammed to halt, causing my eyeballs to almost fly out of my head, and causing Arnie to almost spill his drink. I did a three-point turn in the middle of the street, until I was facing Jimmy. He was still terrified, and the more he jerked on his goofy cape, the less he got free. He still thought I was going to run him over, I guess, which is probably one of the better assumptions of his life, except for this time I couldn’t run him down because of the auto-brake.
I searched the dashboard until I found the right button, and then pushed it.
Arnie didn’t eject out of the Portmobile, if that’s what you’re thinking. Instead, a giant net shot out and wrapped itself around Jimmy Flicks. I picked up the cell phone and called the police. Then I turned on the speaker and told Jimmy that if he didn’t quit struggling right now, I was going to drive back and forth over him until he was some nasty sort of paste. Then I cranked the volume up on the outside speakers, and—Heaven help me—I turned on our theme song.
I had seen the effects of the high-volume speaker before, back at the Copper Gate Pub, and it had pretty much the same effect on Jimmy. And the old guy who was walking down the sidewalk. I grabbed some earplugs out of the glove compartment, stuffed them into my ears, and then grabbed another pair to run out to the old guy. When I got to him, I realized that it was my ex-neighbor, the one who was always pointing a gun at me. I was debating whether I wanted to give him the extra earplugs, watching him roll around on the ground, trying his best to block the noise with his ear, when I saw the cops come around the corner. I tossed the ear plugs to the old guy, then ran back to the Portmobile and turned the volume all the way down.
“The old guy says you tried to blow up his head with some sort of sonic weapon.” That was one of the cops.
“No, it was just our theme song, I said.” It’s kind of loud, but it was needed to keep Jimmy in check until you guys got here.”
The officer shrugged, showing that he didn’t much care for the opinion of the old guy anyway—the old man had kicked the cop three or four times while they tried to question him, so he wasn’t in good graces at all.
“So you have cameras all over that thing, huh?” He gestured with his head towards the Portmobile.
“Unfortunately, yeah. Otherwise, I would have just beaten Jimmy unconscious and waited for you guys to show up.”
“I wouldn’t mind giving him a few licks myself, after making us look like such asses.”
“Nah, man, you guys have done a great job—he just got extremely lucky a few times.”
“Says the hot-shot superhero.” It was a challenge, you could tell. He wanted me to puff up, to start something. Lucky for me, I’m a coward. I knew that the boys in blue would probably be the only thing saving my ass one of these days, and I didn’t want to piss any of them off. Plus, I hate confrontation.
“It’s a sentence for me, it’s a life for you. There’s a big difference. Besides, you would have got him in about two seconds if it was YOU the idiot was trying to stalk.”
“Well good job, Portly Boy.” He clapped me on the back and I tried not to flinch, but it stung, and I knew that I had at least winched.
They hauled Jimmy’s ass to jail, and we listened to the radio until we heard that they had made it all the way there, this time.
“We need to celebrate!” That was Arnie, as we were nearing the Drunk Tank.
“Sure thing,” I said. I went in and changed clothes, had half a beer, and fell asleep.
Sure it was a pretty anti-climactic thing to do, but screw you guys, sometimes a guy just has to get some sleep.