“There’s a message on the machine.” That was my alcoholic friend Arnie, and he sounded kind of worried. Not scared, exactly, because drunk people are hard as hell to scare, but kind of worried, all the same.
“What machine?” My head felt heavy, but it wasn’t spinning, which was kind of odd. I tried to remember what had happened the night before, and it actually came to me within a few seconds after waking up, which was pretty surprising. Usually it takes me about twenty minutes and maybe a home-video before I remember what I’ve been up to the night before.
“The answering machine, man.”
“Ah. Why are you waking me up for that?”
“Um…” I heard the sloshing of liquid, and if you didn’t know Arnie, you might make the mistake of thinking it was coffee in a mug. See, I know Arnie, so I wasn’t fooled for a second. It was probably a mudslide of some sort, with lots of extra booze. I sniffed and was pretty sure I could smell absinthe. “Well, I can’t really remember at this moment. It seemed like a good idea at the time, though.”
I looked at the clock. “Man, are drinking you absinthe at eight in the morning?”
He looked guiltily at the cup, then smiled when he figured out what was in there. “Yeah, man. I can’t drink it while we’re cruising in the Portmobile. I’m not sure if it’s legal in this country yet or not.”
“So what was the message?”
“The message? I guess it would be something like, ‘Don’t drive and drink…absinthe.’ I don’t know, what’s our demographic?”
“Me? Hm, I guess the message to me would be something like-“
“Shut up.” The bad thing about talking to Arnie is, if you do it for too long, you feel like you’ve got a massive hangover, even if you didn’t get to drink anything the night before. I rolled off the hood of the Portmobile and crashed onto the floor. See, I was expecting to roll off a bed, like a normal person. I hadn’t adjusted to sleeping in the Drunk Tank yet.
“We need to get some furniture for down here,” I told Arnie. “I’m tired of sleeping on the hood.”
“Yeah, we could probably get a futon or something.”
“What are you talking about, futon? We should get some nice stuff, man. Cash in on the dough we’re making from the website, get a kick-ass hide-out.”
“Yeah.” I didn’t like the tone in his voice. It was like when your kid asks you for a present and you know that there’s no way that kid’s going to get that present, but you don’t want him to start bawling right there in the middle of the store, so instead of saying, “No, there is no way we can afford to buy that until hell has frozen over and been populated by rabid penguins,” you say, “Well, we’ll come back for it, okay?” I’ve seen parents pull that shit on their kids in stores, and I always get the urge to fill the kid in right quick, just to cause a scene. But bawling kids really annoy me.
“What’s with you, man?”
“You remember that message I was telling you about?”
“The one you were telling me about something like two seconds ago?”
“It was my lawyer, man.”
“Oh, damn, you’ve managed to get us sued, haven’t you?”
“No,” he answered quickly. “No, we aren’t sued, and that’s happy thought. What you need to do right now, man, is focus on that. Keep your happy thought in mind.”
“I don’t like the way this conversation is going.”
“The judge has put a stop on your account, man. I don’t know how she did it. My lawyer told me, but I didn’t understand it. The thing is, we can’t cash in on the website anymore, not for the time being.”
“She put a stop on my account? That’s no problem, dude. I didn’t have any money, anyways. But she can’t keep you from cashing in on your porn.”
“Yeah, man, she can. Remember when I told you about how I was going to give you most of the profit?”
“Well, I did. You actually own most of the website, which is why she can pull shit like this.”
“You’re at the end of your booze, aren’t you?”
That was why the absinthe. Arnie had been saving it for a special occasion, and I guess that running out of booze was a pretty special occasion in his opinion. He didn’t say anything, just nodded.
“Well, we should celebrate,” I said. I grabbed the bottle from him, took a few big swallows, and handed it back. I grabbed the cell phone out of the Portmobile and dialed the number for the evil judge’s office. I didn’t actually dial, it, if you want to know the truth. If you’re Portly Boy—and we’ve been over this before: you aren’t, I am, get down on your knees and thank whatever higher power it is that you’re inclined to thank for this—you have to call in to the evil judge to inform her if you aren’t going to be able to make it into work.
I knew that I would never be able to remember the number, and if I wrote it down on a piece of paper, I knew that I would lose it. So I had programmed it into the cell phone. So instead of dialing, I scrolled down to the entry that said, “Evil Judge,” and hit the “call” button.
After dealing with something like a dozen secretaries and automated menus, the evil judge picked up the phone. “I thought I’d be hearing from you.”
“I was kind of hoping you would be dead of a painful stroke by the time I had to talk to you again,” I told her.
“You aren’t the first to hope that. What do you want?”
“I won’t be able to go out tonight.”
“I try not to.”
“Very clever. And why do you think you should be excused from your community service tonight?”
“I have explosive diarrhea.” I don’t have any of the qualms that Arnie does.
“Very original. I heard you talking about it last night. I thought it was Arnie.”
“Nope. Arnie’s a chronic masturbator. I just have a weak stomach. After dealing with Jimmy, you know, busting him when the cops couldn’t and all, my stomach is a mess.”
“You’re not excused from work. Be out at six, or you go to jail.” And she hung up.
“Did we get that?” I asked Arnie. He was standing in the corner with a digital voice recorder.
“Yep.” I swallowed another few gulps of absinthe and then gave him the thumbs up.
“What now?” It was the evil judge again, and she sounded like she might need to get off the phone soon so that she could go fire the person that had allowed me to talk to her again.
“Helo, Judge,” I said.
“What do you want?”
“I told you, I’m feeling ill, and I need the next few days off.”
“The next few days? I don’t think so. In fact, I don’t think you need even a night off. You will be out patrolling the streets, Mr. McKay, or you will be going to jail.”
“Ahem.” That was Mr. Whitestone, Arnie’s lawyer. If you’re going up against him for any reason whatsoever, you would probably call him any number of bad names, usually made up of a combination of curse words and animal body parts. If he’s on your side, though, you can only call him a genius.
“Who is that?” The evil judge asked. “Am I on speaker phone?”
“As a matter of fact, you are. It’s Jeffrey Whitestone.”
The judge made a sound kind of like a mix between a hissing cat and a tortured demon. She had heard of Whitestone, all right. He was the one who had handled Arnie’s case in the divorce, and he was also the one that made sure everything on the website was perfectly legal. The evil judge would HAVE to hate this man, because she had been trying to ruin Arnie since Arnie’s wife (a friend of the evil judge) caught Arnie in bed with the housekeeper.
“Yeah, it’s nice to talk to you again, too,” Whitestone said. “Now, first things first: I am working for Howard McKay, in case you haven’t figured that out. He is ill, and will be taking the next few days off. If you need some sort of paperwork from a doctor, we will supply it, but there is no legal way that you can force him to work if he is ill. You’ve trampled his rights with this community service sentence, and we both know it.
“However, he has not hired me to get him out of his sentence. For now, we are content with the next three days off, for sick leave, and weekends off.”
“You must be joking,” the evil judge said. “Big shot lawyer or not, there’s no way that you can work the system for weekends off.”
“I don’t plan to work the legal system,” Whitestone said. “I plan to work the media. This man is quickly becoming a hero. He has put away a criminal that the police force was unable to hold onto. The public would love to hear about an inept police force and a harsh judge with no feelings towards the common-man hero. They love to see civil servants as the fools they are.”
“Just who do you think you are?” It sounded like the evil judge was about to explode.
Whitestone’s voice changed from the professional tone to an almost boyish one. “I’m the guy that made off with half your stuff, you rotten bitch. Fax the paperwork to my office within the hour, or we go public.” And he hung up.
“What the hell was that all about?” I asked. I was sure the man had just doomed me.
“They were married in college,” Arnie said to me. “She graduated first, made it as a lawyer, and then told him she didn’t want him going to law school. Put all of their money in her own account, and wouldn’t let him have enough to finish school. Some sort of a dominant complex, I guess. Anyways, because he had already been in law school for a couple of years, and because he’s a genius, Jeff takes her to court, and takes her to the cleaners. The alimony check she paid him every month supported him through the rest of school, and made him the man he is today.”
Whitestone just smiled. He was working on some paperwork on the coffee table. I could see how this guy could be considered the best lawyer in the city. “But why are you working for Arnie?”
“We used to party together,” Whitestone said.
“Nah,” Arnie said. “One night my wife was going off about how terrible her friend’s ex-husband was, what a dirty rotten lousy creep and how he should burn in hell and all this, and she starts telling me all these stories about him. He sounded like a pretty fun guy, so I looked him up.”
“So you were married to the evil judge?” I tried to keep my voice flat, but the words came out with awe and horror.
“Yes, and it was worse than you would imagine.”
“I could imagine some pretty horrible stuff.”
“It was worse. I would rather not talk about it.” And then Jeffery Whitestone, the most powerful lawyer in maybe the entire country, shivered. “Still gives me the creeps,” he explained.
“Completely understandable,” I told him.
“Okay, boys, sign this. Here, here, and here.” He pointed at the paperwork he had been working on, and Arnie and I both signed.
“So what is that?” Arnie asked. I had stupidly assumed he knew what his lawyer was doing.
“Howard just gave you back his percentage of the company, for free. It’s agreed that in time, you will pay him this amount-“ Whitestone pointed to an amount that made my breath quicken, “And any royalties that come later. It also states that he has fifty percent voting power in the rights of the Portly Boy aspect of the site. And then right here-“
“Sum up,” Arnie said. “You know about my attention span.”
“Essentially, it’s saying that as soon as his community service is up, he’ll get any money he should be getting right now. His money will be put into this trust, so he won’t be able to get it until his time is served. Until then, his monetary needs will be met by this dummy company—Fatcheck Inc.—so he won’t starve. What I’m saying is, you boys both get your money, only Howard has to wait for a while until he can cash out and leave the table.”
“So we’re back in business?”
“You’re back in business.” He grabbed the bottle of absinthe from Arnie, and took a big swallow.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about being back in business, per say, but I was going to be getting a weekly salary that was more than I had ever been paid before, and after I got done being Portly Boy, I could happily retire. And it was all legal, so there was nothing the evil judge could do about it.
“Do you think I’ll really be able to get the weekends off?” I asked Whitestone.
“There’s no way you’ll get Saturday nights off. I know that woman, and she’ll fight for whatever mundane victory she can get. But Sunday won’t be a problem at all, and you can probably get Monday off, too.” He took another swig of the absinthe, smiled, and left.
“Well that was very peripheral,” I said to Arnie. We were sitting in the living room, surrounded by bottles of alcohol. So far, they were full, but I knew that it wouldn’t last. Arnie had just had something like ten boxes of booze delivered.
“Yep,” Arnie said. “Sometimes you think something might turn out to be an adventure, but it just turns out to be a little filler.”
“Yep. There’s probably a life lesson to be learned there, if you felt like looking for it.”
“I don’t.” Life lessons have never been my strong point.
“I didn’t figured you would. So what’s the plan?”
“I guess we wait until we hear from Whitestone, and if he makes sure I don’t have to work tonight, we’ll get hammered.” Right on cue, the phone rang. I answered it, and it was Whitestone’s secretary, telling me that everything had been filed, I had the next three days off, and each Sunday and Monday, as well. I tried to remember what day it was, but couldn’t get it, so I asked her. She informed me that it was Friday, a little judgmentally, in my opinion, and I thanked her and hung up.
“Who was that?”
“Whitestone’s secretary. Whitestone had to take off the rest of the afternoon…apparently some sort of flu.”
“Yeah, that’s been going around,” Arnie said, lifting the almost-empty bottle of absinthe. “Are my fingers glowing, or is that just my imagination?”
“They’re glowing,” I told him, and wondered if I had had too much to drink. “Wait a second. Are you on fire?”
“Oh. Oh, yeah. Yeah, I’m on fire. I forgot.” He shook his hands around until the flames died out.
“What the hell was that? And when did you put your gloves on?”
“Sometimes I just wear them around. They make me feel kinda tough. They’re supposed to be fire proof, so I was just testing them out. I dumped some booze on them and lit ‘em up.”
“That was extremely stupid.”
“Yeah, well, when you’re dealing with guys like Flixxx, it’s good to know what kind of gear you’ve got.”
I thought about my stupid suit. I could now afford to pimp it out, make it cool like Arnie’s, but it was against the law. The judge had been very specific about how I had to wear the suit that the court had given me.
But she couldn’t say shit about the Drunk Tank.
“What the hell are the two of you doing, and why aren’t you out patrolling the streets?” That was Mandy. She had been left out of the loop, along with our “fans,” so she didn’t know what had transpired that morning. “I can’t get you guys out of this one, man, I mean it.”
“It’s cool,” I said to her. “Arnie has this high-powered lawyer that got us out of work for the next few days. And good news—I get Sundays and Monday off now.”
“Must have been one hell of a lawyer,” She said.
“Do you just assume that because I talk to you I must be some sort of brain-dead idiot? There’s no way the two of you could afford that guy, not even if you pooled all of your money together and hired yourselves out to parties.”
“Arnie used to chill with him, believe it or not.” Arnie had chilled with lots of famous people, actually, but none of them ever claimed him in public, or even came over after he lost his money. It’s a crappy way to be, but I can’t really blame them.
I told Mandy the story, just as it had happened…or at least how I remembered it happening.
“Okay, let’s pretend for a second that I believe that story. Do you realize you’ve just blown it by transmitting the truth over the website? I mean, I don’t think that drinking high-powered booze actually counts as a sickness.”
“What about alcoholism? That’s a sickness, isn’t it?” That was Arnie. He was over in the corner, messing around without a computer monitor.
“Yeah, maybe for the weak-willed and the bored. But it shouldn’t ever get you out of work. And it’s not going to last with that hard-assed judge after you. And she WILL be after you, man, especially now that she can screw with her ex-husband by doing it.”
“Relax,” Arnie said. “This is a closed-circuit kind of a set-up we’ve got going on. It’s just you and us tonight.”
“You’re kidding me.”
“Nope. You’re a hacker-chick. Check it out.”
A few seconds went by and then Mandy said, “How the hell did you do that?”
“Beats me,” Arnie said. “But I set it up so that if you have a microphone of some sort, you could just talk to us instead of having to type everything.”
“I don’t have a mic.”
“Liar. You’re a computer geek. I know you’ve got loads of stuff. You’re lucky I didn’t feel like setting it up so that we could see you over the web-cam you’ve probably got sitting on top of your monitor.”
“There’s no way you could do something like that.”
Arnie shrugged. He quit messing with the monitor and smiled. After a few seconds, he started typing on the laptop we had brought down to the Drunk Tank. “Hm. Looks like you’ve got some electricians tape over the camera. Are you that paranoid?”
I felt a little dirty standing next to him right then. It was weird that he had so nonchalantly invaded her privacy and swiped her anonymity right out from under her. In that second, if not for the grace of the black plastic electrician tape, we would have seen her as she really was, destroyed the mystery, and ended the relationship we had with her as we knew it.
Well, it wasn’t so much that I FELT dirty as I felt like I SHOULD feel dirty. In my mind, I was cursing the electrician who thought up that black tape.
Oh, come on, man, like you wouldn’t want to see her. Mystery’s cool, but satisfying curiosity is cooler. I mean, even if it turns out she’s some kind of a mutt, at least you know not to talk to her anymore, you know?
“Don’t be a baby,” Arnie said. “You practically dared me. Besides, you’re the type of person that would put tape over a non-active web-cam. If I thought for a second that I could have seen you, I wouldn’t have done it.”
And the thing is, Arnie was telling the truth. He wouldn’t have done it. You remember a second ago, when I was saying how I wanted to see her, no matter what the cost? I was just kidding. No, really. I mean, what kind of a creep do you think I am?
Okay, so I’m that kind of creep. Sue me.
“So what are you two knuckle-heads going to do with your time off, and why did you feel the need to include me in your insanity?”
“It’s just not the same without you,” I said. “And what we’re doing is, see, we have this booze, a lot of it, and we have money, a lot of that, too. And we have this crappy secret fort, and I’m tired of sleeping on the hood of the Portmobile. So we’re going to fix it up.”
“So what? You thought you’d get a girl involved to help you redecorate? What kind of sexist crap is that?”
“Actually, we were hoping that you might be able to keep us in line, maybe a little. It has nothing to do with being a girl, I promise. It’s just that, see the booze we got, most of it’s absinthe.” I held a bottle up to the camera so that she could see it. I sloshed it around a bit. I looked at it nervously and then back to the camera.
“Sheesh,” She said. “Someone should lock the two of you up.”
“They did,” I said. “But it didn’t help.”
Maybe we should talk about absinthe for a second. I mean, I can talk about drinking beer and drinking gin and drinking whiskey, and most people have a general concept of what I’m talking about. But absinthe, that’s a different story. If you’ve never had it, you have no idea.
Let me start out by saying that I don’t recommend or condone drinking absinthe. I don’t condone the drinking of it, and I don’t condone the actions of people who drink it—not while they’re drinking and not any time after that. Drinking absinthe is what you do when you just aren’t ready to commit yourself to just drinking battery acid and killing yourself. It’s something like a million proof, and if you breathe too close to an open flame after drinking absinthe, you run the risk of blowing up a city block.
It’s an icky color that looks a lot like NyQuil, but tastes about sixteen times worse, if you can believe it. The taste is also slightly reminiscent of NyQuil, too, that nasty taste of black licorice that you might get at a candy shop in Hell.
When he’s in a conspiracy-theory kind of mood, Arnie will go on and on about how NyQuil is actually just watered-down absinthe, and how it’s all England’s doing because they’re trying to re-take this country. Essentially, his theory is that since everybody’s an addict at heart, the best way to hook everyone is by giving them something that is supposed to make them feel better. You know, medicine. So you get them addicted to this stuff that’s supposed to make them feel better, but really alls it’s doing is making them too sleepy to fight for their land. And then, bang, England gets all that tax money back, plus interest.
He also believes that James Bond and the Tele-tubbies are part of this plan.
Anyway, Arnie’s insane theories and speculations aside, absinthe is still really bad stuff.
The bad thing is, inside your head, you understand how stupid you’re acting. You understand that you’re out of control, but it just seems like such a good idea at the time. It’s not as bad as the ether scene in that movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but it’s kind of the same idea. Except that even Hunter S. Thompson that you couldn’t help the way you acted when you were breathing ether. With absinthe, you could totally help it, you just don’t care to.
I could go on and on about the horrors of absinthe, I could lecture for hours about the horrors of it, but then I would sound like Arnie. So what I’ll do instead is promise that the next installment of Portly Boy will be much more exciting. I mean, come on, man, we’re drinking absinthe and we have credit cards.
Don’t miss it.