It’s not easy for a guy in a torn prison jumpsuit to find fresh clothes. The twisted ankle, broken forearm, and myriad of bruises and cuts didn’t help matters either. At least I didn’t get impaled on a tree branch upon landing. I looked like I got into a lover’s quarrel with a blender. But as I was saying, clothes.
It’s not like I could just march into a local biker bar and beat someone up for their clothes. For one thing, I didn’t even know where to find a biker bar in the little town nearest to the Rubik’s Cube.
Another thing is that this damn jumpsuit made it pretty obvious I escaped. I’d have tossed it, but then I’d have been nude in the middle of Ohio during December. And trust me, being in the middle of Ohio is no way to live. Neither is nuding it up in December, I suppose.
I didn’t have anyone on my tail immediately after the breakout because of all the chaos left in my wake. I worried more about someone clueing in the authorities to my survival and whereabouts. So that’s why I found the back of some cheap dollar store and helped myself to a set of ill-fitting clothes and a jury-rigged sling for my arm.
So while I was stranded about eight hours from any of my equipment, I at least had clothes on my back. A quick visit to the ATM to charm it with my technopathic skills also left me with some money in pocket. I needed a way back to Empyreal City to get my stuff, but it would be a bad time to just steal a car. I stood out and any competent police force would on the lookout for stolen vehicles after a local prison explodes. This was the United States, so the chances of having a competent police force were low, but I couldn’t take the chance.
So while I kept an eye out for anyone selling a junker, I had an important desire to sate. A deep need to fulfill. The need to feed. Which isn’t some metaphor about killing someone. I got well acquainted with the local restaurants to make up for lost time.
I sat in a Huddle House munching on a burger and waffles when a woman ran in and joined me at my booth. I held my burger out in front of me in case I needed to fight her off. “Watch it, lady. I’ve got some serious meat here, and I know where to shove it.”
Despite what some might say, my decision to treat her as potentially hostile had nothing to do with her skin color being dark, but not due to a tan or Hispanic ancestry. Honestly, I wouldn’t have even mentioned it except for who she turned out to be.
She pulled her auburn bangs out of her face and looked me right in the eye. Which got me thinking, maybe I should say she looked me right in the eyes. People with two eyes say “looked me right in the eye” so maybe a person with one eye should say “looked me right in the eyes” instead.
As long as that bit of speculation was, she responded right after moving her bangs. “Calm down, ‘honey’. I’m the one Harlon sent to help you. I’m your wife.”
I looked her over, then sighed. “Huh.”
She did a doubletake. “What, you don’t think I’m pretty enough to be your wife?”
I shook my meat at her. “No, it’s not that. It’s just, prison changes a man. I learned new things about myself and what I like. You’d be surprised what you learn in the showers there.”
“You were in solitary. You couldn’t find out new things in the showers with other guys.”
I smiled. “Good point. But enough joking around here. What is your name and how did you find me?”
She pointed out the window. “Tricia. I was walking by and saw you. A lot of people are in town from the Rubik’s Cube. This isn’t a good spot for you to stay.”
“Why is it called the Rubik’s Cube anyway? I should look that up now.” I went back to eating my meat.
“This supervillain called Rubik built it as his base in the 80s. They put him in prison in the 90s and the government seized it.” She leaned forward for a better look at my eye. “That’s conspicuous. Can you paint it to look normal?”
“Bitch, this eye is fabulous. But I can change the color.” I activated the camoflouge process and made it appear to be a normal eye with plain brown coloring. “So, you got a car?”
She sat a little more stiffly. “Uh, yeah. Do you want to take it from me?”
I shrugged. “I could, or you could drive me. Or we could take turns driving. Either way, your turning up here is pretty convenient for me. After all, you were sent to help me, weren’t you?”
Her mouth was open, and she set her jaw as if impressed at the balls or the presumption that she’d help me. Or so I took it. Y’all draw your own conclusions here. Haven’t y’all heard the author’s not that important anymore? After a moment, she shook her head and said, “I didn’t expect to have to help you that way. I’m just a reporter. Freedom of the press is one thing, but this could get me in trouble anyway.”
I waved her off as I chewed up another bite. When the waitress next passed by, she inquired if my lady friend would like something to eat. I pointed to the waitress and raised my eyebrows, but Tricia shook her head and declined. I asked for another burger and a drink to go.
“It’s really that good compared to prison food?” asked Tricia.
“I barely even tasted the food in there. They spent half the month trying to drug me with it. One day, I got halfway through what I thought was a biscuit, then realized it was mashed potatoes. What’s really odd is that it tasted like pepperoni.”
“Eh, I like pepperoni. Which car’s yours?” I turned to look out the window, then stopped and turned back to the table. “Nevermind, don’t point, don’t even look out there.”
Tricia reached down to her purse and her head twitched toward the window, but she stopped herself. “What is it?”
I reached up and stretched as if I had nothing more urgent to do. Then my arm reminded me it was broken. “Oh, just a man in a black suit in a black sedan with a phone to his ear. If I’m wrong, we’re avoiding meeting the eyes of the local funeral home director. If I’m right, we have a Federal agent on our tail who might be calling in someone to stuff me back down the rabbit hole. I ain’t going back in some rabbit’s hole again. Uh uh. I don’t do beastiality.”
“What should we do?” asked Tricia as she tried to look like a woman simply searching through her purse. Or maybe she just searched her purse for something.
I wiped at my face and hands thoroughly, then used the condensation off my cup to help moisten my hands for another wipe. “We sit here until we get the rest of my order, then we walk calmly out with me holding your arm and get into your car. You’ll have to drive unless I can force a confrontation.”
When the waitress brought me my stuff, I asked for the check and dropped a couple hundred dollars on the table in twenties, then escorted a shocked Tricia outside by the arm. “Now remember,” I told her as we stepped outside, “If you scream, I’ll kill you.”
“You will?” she asked, looking at me wide-eyed. Then I saw her eyes flick past me, to the black car and the man within.
“Relax.” I rolled my eye. It felt weird with just the one eye. “It was just cover. See, now if anyone asks about all this, you’ll be able to say you were coerced and legally you’re free and clear.”
She blew out a breathe, “Whew. You didn’t mean that. God, you scared me for a minute. This is my car, by the way.”
We stopped at a pale green two-door from last decade while she looked for her keys. “Well, I will kill you if you scream or otherwise let someone know it’s me, but my primary intent was to make sure you didn’t wind up in jail too. See, I’m helping!”
She almost dropped her keys and her skin lightened up a shade, but Tricia unlocked the car and said quietly, “That’s some help.”
I helped myself in on the other side and took a swig of my drink. “Sometimes my help hurts. Don’t worry. In prison, someone told me ‘you’ll go through a little bit of suffering, but it’ll make things better in the long run.’
Tricia scrunched her eyebrows at me as she started the car. “You’re going to tell me that dying is going to make things better for me in the long run?”
I pulled down the passenger side makeup mirror to check my teeth. “Nah, but that’s what she thought. Didn’t know if you’d be dumb enough to fall for it. I’m glad you didn’t, but we really must be off.”
“For someone who just broke out of one of the most secure prisons on Earth, you are taking things in stride. Did you expect to be out so soon?” My fake wife showed her credentials as a true reporter, asking away even then.
“The way my life is, I half expected a Thanksgiving turkey to break me out. No, don’t laugh. That wasn’t a joke. Last year, I had to save Baby New Year. The year before, I had to save Santa. Yes, Santa Claus. The way things are going for me, I wouldn’t have been surprised at all if a hundred foot tall turkey rampaged around and unearthed my cell to help it fight off a giant pilgrim in Tokyo. Something like that.“
She went quiet as she found the highway with the aid of her GPS navigator and myself. Then she blurted out, “Oh! I know who the guy is from the parking lot. Agent Chester. He’s talked to me about letting them cut you open. He said he’s been talking with you some.”
“Ah, so that’s a face and a name to the voice. For obvious reasons, I didn’t get a good look at him in the Cube. Agent Chester, eh? What kind of FBI agent goes by his first name?”
“No, his first name’s Lester. I thought it was strange too, so I looked him up. You’re right about him being FBI.” If she hadn’t kept her eyes on the road, I’d have thought she made that up. I stared at her to see if she’d crack. When she glanced over, she didn’t break into a smile or anything. She just asked, “What?”
“Agent Lester Chester. I hope he got to kill his parents for that. Only way that gets worse is if his middle name is Fester.” That broke through the tension and brought the beginnings of a smile to Tricia’s lips and cheeks.
Agent Chester must have known we were talking about him, because he followed us and got right on our ass about twenty miles outside of town. Then he swerved over and cut in front of us. “Should I pull over?” asked Tricia.
“May as well. Let’s see what he’s got to say to us before he drives us off the road and wrecks our transportation.”
So we all stopped to have ourselves a little chat. A truncated palaver, if such a thing was possible. I got out and leaned on the hood while Agent Chester slammed his car door and headed for me. I waved and gave him a big smile. “Hey there, secret agent man.”
“You bastard! You’ve ruined everything. Do you know what you set free back there? Do you know how much you cost everybody? You got me suspended, you asshole!” He raged at me, but kept himself from walking right up to grab my collar or get in my face. Lucky him.
“How dare I try to survive, right? It’s not like people typically react badly to being cornered.” I held up a hand my good hand as Tricia stepped around the car. “Don’t come closer, honeybunny.”
Lester Chester pointed at her, “And you were in on it somehow! I’ll have you thrown in a cell with this…this…ragh!” In all his angry ranting, the man’s coat opened enough to expose his sidearm.
“Yo, dude, chill. You lost. Better luck next time.” I eased closer in case I needed to disarm him.
He pulled it on me. “Back off! Dead or alive, you’re coming with me and you’re going to sing and you’re going to make up for everything. I don’t care if we have to send you after Spinetingler, you’re going to be our pet gecko now.”
“Now, I know I’m a little wounded, but are you sure a gun’s going to be enough to put me down? I thought the FBI had better tricks than that.” I waved Tricia off again, but couldn’t see where she went to.
He reached into his coat and pulled out a metallic sphere with a blue glow showing through an opening. “No, the CIA has better tricks.” He crushed it in his hands and a similarly-colored glow shot through his body, racing just beneath his skin. He dropped the remains of the sphere and removed his coat.
The bones of his hands tore their way out of his skin, forming claws. His head warped and grew taller, a second pair of eyes forming underneath the originals. His skin turned a light blue and he grew taller.
Yeah, in my current state, that would have done it. Not that good of a trick, though. The FBI’s version was red. “Honey,” I called back to Tricia, “I’m going to need my meat for this one.”
I’m sure there would have been even more changes, but that’s when a brilliant yellow light burned its way through his head and moved downward to split his chest. That certainly truncated the palaver. I’m glad it stopped before it truncated me.
When the late Lester Chester fell down and stayed there, I looked up to see another man in a suit. This one wore a bolo tie with a feather on each end. He shoved a gnarled stick of wood in his coat and smiled at me. “Hello, Psycho Gecko.”
I bowed. “Nice to meet you. Faustus, right?”
He cleared his throat. “I’m with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but I’ve heard vague rumors of an organization by that name.”
I crossed my good arm over my bad one. “Right…I guess I have something in my head that could be valuable, right? Hephaestus, possibly, if you’ve heard something about that organization too. Thanks for the save, by the way.”
The man nodded. “You’re welcome. As for this other business…might be we have ourselves a deal. Let’s head up the road a ways, get clear of this nasty piece of buzzard feed right here ‘fore someone comes asking ‘round.”
Looks like my offer of information for help worked for me after all. I’m getting to be more of a genius by the day.