Mall. Partner. Night shift / The Nerd, Session Five

In a distant suburb, the evening was closing in. Several ugly, gray apartment complexes stood by the street in a neat row. They had been constructed in haste a decade ago as part of a massive public housing project. As of now, the vast majority of the residents were young, lonely men. Slowly, the days went by, cheap cola and energy drinks streamed in, and the corners of the studios gathered more and more dust. A wobbly layer of fat began to form around the unused muscles, eventually concentrating in the hips, arms, and thighs of the residents.

Fronk marched along the familiar path to the mall with a plastic bag full of empty cans in his hand. He had pulled the hood on his jacket all the way up and was listening to stoner rock on the earbuds. In front of the mall, a gang of teenagers were smoking cigarettes and slurping down energy drinks. Fronk had an unpleasant feeling that the youths laughed secretly at him as he walked by and he lowered his gaze to the ground.

At the convenience store, Fronk returned the empty cans and then shoved two six-packs of energy drink in the shopping basket. He wandered between the shelves in an accustomed manner and grabbed a few days’ worth of frozen French fries, fish sticks, garlic bread, meatballs, and potato chips on his way. Generic brands and discounted goods that caught his eye. Having filled up the basket, Fronk walked to the self-checkout, paid for the groceries, and put them in the plastic bag. As he left the mall, he was already looking forward to get back home, turn on the oven, and hop right back on his black and red gaming chair.

***

Despite the Agent’s lack of interest in the case, C. J. still strongly believed that there was some shady plotting taking place in Laguna Beach. He continued to patrol the area on a daily basis but didn’t bump into Rat King’s group anymore nor did anyone start chasing him again. In the evenings, he went to check out Malibu, as usual, but the clientele now consisted solely of the regular partygoers and occasional thrill-seekers. It seemed like Rat King had gone underground. After nightfall, C. J. sometimes climbed up a hill in Laguna Beach. From there, he watched the town glowing beneath him, the beach, and the dark ocean and just contemplated this whole complex mystery.

After a few days, C. J. texted a long-time business partner of his called Native. They had shared a number of gigs for the government over the years. Now C. J. felt like he could really use an extra pair of eyes. A meeting was set up on the very same afternoon. The sun was beating down relentlessly, the waves broke down on the shore, and people were playing beach volleyball nearby. C. J. sat under the shade of a palm tree and waited. Soon, he saw a familiar-looking woman approaching. The pink mohawk was easy to spot even from a distance. Native was wearing a black trench coat.

“‘sup,” she greeted him joyfully. “Haven’t seen you around for a while. You missed me?”

C. J. sucked on a cigarette, taking his time. He had always thought of her kind of as a naive and bit annoying little sister, to whom everything needed to be explained in great length.

“Yeah, I’m on to something here,” he replied then. “A cabal of anti-government hotheads. I’ve already traced them down to Laguna Beach. Thought you might be also interested.”

“Sure thing, boy, but my cut will be thirty-five percent,” Native said. “That’s cheap money, I reckon.”

“I’ll give you thirty,” C. J. grunted.

“Thirty-five! Love it or leave it.”

“Alright, alright. Jesus… Your help better be good. So, basically I need Laguna Beach monitored 24/7.”

“OK, let’s split it in half then. I’ll take the day shift,” Native answered.

“Yeah, whatever,” C. J. said, irritated.

“Hmm, Laguna Beach you say… I actually went to this arts festival there one summer,” Native began reminiscing. “They sure got a lively scene there!”

The two fell silent and stared at the cars that were zooming down Beach Boulevard. In the distance, a lone junkie staggered away.

“So, when do I start?” Native asked.

“Now,” C. J. replied and rummaged through his bag for a printed picture of Rat King. “This is the afro-headed guy we’re looking for.” He handed the picture over to Native.

Then he glanced at her and added: “And go get a haircut while you’re at it. You look like a fucking walking Christmas tree.”

Native shoved the picture in her coat pocket and stuck her tongue out at him.

***

Time kept dragging on in the night shift. C. J. sat in his car by the roadside and stared vacantly at the empty Main Street of Laguna Beach. Every twenty minutes or so, he went for a drive in different parts of the town, bit by bit getting to know the surrounding area. He tried to avoid attracting any unwanted attention but at the same time hoped to observe as vast a space as possible. To go on patrol was to continuously balance between the two.

The town was silent as a grave. Apparently, the place lacked completely the weirdos, bums, and junkies that strolled along the streets of downtown each night. During his never-ending shift, C. J. had noticed nothing but a few cars and trucks driving though the town and two house cats that were sneaking around the neighborhood. Getting sick of the Spanish radio, he switched to a station that blared out old ’80s hits. After a while, he switched again to the Techno radio and finally turned the whole thing off, feeling pretty fed up. Nothing to be reported this night, most likely.

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