By evening Fronk dared to leave his apartment. He put the hood on his sweater all the way up and hurried down the stairwell. The neighborhood had turned into a shadowy ghost town. A thin layer of snow lay on the streets and yards. People had either holed up at home or travelled to their families for the holidays. Fronk was obviously pleased. At last he was left completely alone.
This time of the year, nightfall came early. Fronk walked into the thicket surrounding the apartment complexes. The bare branches of the American basswood stood out against the dark gray sky. He wandered a couple of hours aimlessly outside. The last time when he had spent so much time in the nature had probably been on the eighth grade. His thoughts kept on coming and going, unrestrained; he didn’t focus on anything in particular. Gradually he began to crave an ice-cold Diet Coke and—as the urge became increasingly harder to resist—decided to head back home.
At the apartment, Fronk cracked open a can immediately and gulped down some fizzy soda. He spontaneously switched on the computer until remembering yet again his current situation. An overwhelming sense of ennui was about to strike him so he hastily clicked on YouTube and ended up watching old concert videos from his favorite bands until the small hours. Another can of Coke opened up. Finally he shut down the computer, went to take a leak in the filthy toilet, and collapsed into bed.
Fronk spent a total of eight days in captivity. Even though time was often dragging by and he occasionally got pretty twisted ideas into his head, it wasn’t all that bad in the end. On many evenings he returned to the thicket to get a breath of fresh winter air. Having followed the news every now and then, he had learnt a lot about the current state of his country. He thought he had even lost a few pounds. Despite the few unexpected pros of his condition, the moment of liberation came as a huge relief. Afterward Fronk assumed that he had only enjoyed his time offline due to the nationwide state of emergency and the holiday season as there was no one else to bother him. However, he couldn’t have taken one more day as a hostage, he convinced himself.
On New Year’s Eve, C. J. and the Agent had another brief face-to-face meeting. The Agent had been acting weird for the past few days and repeating the same cryptic nonsense about a “special operation” and the “backup team”. It was pretty clear that Jefferson didn’t want to tell him everything which in turn might have been due to his fear that the enemy was listening. In any case, Jefferson’s restraint infuriated C. J. and he desired to give the Agent a good thump in his hollow head. However, he settled for swallowing his frustration for now and just stared through the white room’s window at the slowly darkening sky.
The fireworks were cracking all around the projects. Fronk leaned against the desk and listened to the noise bitterly. He yearned to run away, someplace where he wouldn’t feel so alone and alienated. But the one safe haven that he knew about had been taken away from him and he was pretty much stuck in his shitty old hole. A captive inside his own head. Little by little, Fronk’s forehead slumped down on the desk and he began to sob quietly with his shoulders rhytmically quivering.
At around 10 p.m. Fronk’s phone vibrated. Having just lowered his pants and started to touch himself, he hastily hung up and pushed the phone aside. Not long after, it began trembling again. He swore quietly, turned up the volume on the computer, and tried his best to concentrate on the firm buttocks jiggling on the screen. The vibration ended. Fronk had just managed to loosen up a bit when suddenly a woman’s voice came out on his headphones, speaking over the constant, passionate moaning.
“Yo, fat-ass! Here’s your guardian angel. Get yourself back to the City immediately!”
Fronk scrunched into a crouch, covering his naked body and at the same time pulling the sweatpants back on. He thought he heard a muffled giggle, then the line went silent. Only the shrieks of pleasure from the porno continued to echo through his headphones. Fronk closed the video, leaned back on the gaming chair, and buried his face in his hands, counting down from ten in his head, slow and steady… Then he reached for the VR headset and put it on.
C. J. noticed that he was back in the living room of his house on the hills. The bright lights of downtown shimmered through the large windows. The fireworks here were way more impressive than on the other side. He turned around and saw Native sitting on the couch, playing on her phone. She looked up from the screen, stretched her arms, and called, “Look who’s back. Had a funny feeling you might end up in here.”
C. J. stared at his colleague lounging on the couch, astonished. She seemed to have discovered every last fact about his life. Maybe he had in fact underestimated Native’s capabilities before.
“Wh-what happened?” he stuttered.
“Got you out of the cooler. You’re a free man. Or at least a bit more free that is,” Native said and glared at C. J. who was still standing by the window, glued to the spot. “That happened.”
“Yeah, um… Right,” C. J. spluttered. “But how?”
“Y’know, the usual way,” she shrugged her shoulders. “By sniffing around here and there. Connecting the dots. Using your noodle… And let’s say the Feds gave me a little helping hand this time too.”
“Eh? Give me something at least, Little Miss Strange,” C. J. snarled.
“Take a break, old man. We’ll get to the wrap-up report soon enough. First you’ve got a paycheck to deposit, and by the way, I need the dough. Now, no offense but I’d rather ring in the new year someplace else than here stuck with you.”
C. J. felt his blood was starting to boil.
“Aight. I’ll handle it,” he said and dug the phone out of his pocket.
“Oh, I also raised my rate. Now calling for a fifty percent share.”
“You get forty-five,” C. J. growled and typed a brief message for his contact in the federal agency, then clicked “Send”.
“Done. This might take a while though…”
He walked away from the window and collapsed on a black armchair beside Native.
“Whatever happened to that Agent?” he asked then, frowning.
“Oh, yeah. Blew a hole in the guy’s stomach. Old habit,” Native sneered.
C. J. gave a low long whistle. He was feeling utterly confused as he realized that he had actually started to like that punk with a mohawk, at least a bit. Abruptly Native sprang out of the couch and headed for the door.
“So, I’m off. Don’t forget the money!” she hollered.
C. J. twisted his face in a funny way as though he was going through some kind of internal conflict. Finally he managed to spit the words out.
Native glanced at him from the hallway with a big grin on her face. The studs on her leather jacket and the silver star-shaped earrings reflected the light of a halogen lamp as she gave him an enticing wink.