[If you're just starting this story, you might want to check out Chapter One first. It has potato logs in it.]
Did I really just say that? Really? An angel? Sheesh, choke me with a VHS copy of Star Wars: Episode One because that line was seriously cheesy. But cut me a some slack, it’s not like I’m the only dude to ever get stupid about a beautiful woman.
Her name was Angelique (which now that I think of it has the word “angel” in it, so there). She was a nighthawk like Frog and me, and she worked at the hospital. Her shift ended somewhere around one in the morning on Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Yes. I kept track.
I’m not going to try to describe her to you, because that might get a little…awkward if you know what I mean. It’s not like I would lay awake for hours thinking about the sea-green color of her eyes. Well, not just that anyway.
She was perfect. As beautiful as anyone you’ve ever seen in a movie, the kind of girl guys become photographers for, just so they can tell her she could totally be a model (Why yes, now that you mention it I have considered it; right up until the point where I realized how much a real camera costs.)
Frog had his mouth open about to say something snarky to me, but when he saw Angelique coming through the door, his jaw just sort of hung there useless like a vestigial appendage. She looked at him and then at me, and a confused expression crossed her face. “I thought you worked at the other place,” she said.
I should point out that she hadn’t forgotten the name of the gas station. It’s actually called The Other Place, and it sits right across the road from the Circle K where Frog works.
“I thought I’d get out,” I said, “See how the other half lives.” From behind the counter I heard the sound of Frog remembering he was still holding a nail-studded baseball bat and dropping it to the floor, but I was so busy congratulating myself for having something clever to say to the woman of my dreams I didn’t take much notice. By the time I was done patting myself on the back Angelique was over at the coffee machine getting her customary vanilla cappuccino. When she brought it up to the counter she flashed me a quick smile, the kind that makes your heart do flipflops, and plunked down her coffee. Frog rang her up, and she reached into the pocket of her scrubs and dropped a handful of coins on the counter. Angelique, for reasons I never fully understood, always had exact change.
By this time Frog had found his tongue; he used it to ask, “Did you see anyone outside when you came in?”
“Just Karl,” Angelique replied.
Frog frowned. “That’s not Karl,” he said.
All that had been almost a month ago. It hadn’t been the first time Frog had gotten a little crazy, but it was the incident freshest in my mind. Because it seemed like that was the moment that everything had started to spiral out of control. And as I walked across the parking lot where shimmers of heat danced on top of cars and rolled across the asphalt like ghostly waves I found myself wondering whether I could have done something to prevent all this weirdness.
As hot as it was outside it was hotter in my car, even with the windows rolled down. It wasn’t so bad when I was moving, but traffic seemed to be slower than usual, especially for mid-morning on a Wednesday. After a while the traffic slowed to a crawl and then halted entirely with no sign ahead of what was causing the delay. I pulled to a stop, and pulled out my phone, again dialing Frog’s number. No response.
I kept telling myself that this was probably nothing. Probably Frog’s cheap prepaid phone (he insisted the government was tracking the regular ones) was out of its limited signal area. It happened all the time.
Except I didn’t feel very reassured. Something was wrong this time. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I believed Frog had genuinely uncovered some evil conspiracy and someone had taken steps to shut him up. No I was afraid for a far different reasons.
Frog didn’t like to talk about it much, but he’d told me once that his mom was living in a mental hospital across state. I suppose you might guess she wasn’t all that stable from the fact that she named her only son “Lightbringer” but eventually her paranoia had reached unmanageable levels and she had struck out in violence.
Some of this Frog told me. Some of it I figured out on my own. Point is, to an outside observer Frog might have seemed a bit eccentric, but I always worried he might go too far. And the way he had been acting lately…well lets just say I should have been with him instead of munching potato logs at Walmart. After sitting in the blistering sun for all of ten minutes it became clear that whatever was holding up the line of cars in front of me wasn’t going to be moved soon, so I pulled up onto the shoulder and drove up a few yards to the empty parking lot of a restaurant that had gone out of business a few months back. Then I started walking.
If you’re lucky and you’ve made sensible choices you’ll never have to know what it’s like to be morbidly overweight walking in ninety-seven degree weather with 100% humidity. The walking itself is challenge enough. At a certain point you start to feel every pound in your body crushing down, on your knees, on your ankles, on the balls of your feet, and you think of the fatties that drive the riding carts at the grocery store, the ones everyone secretly or openly snickers at, and you know that one day you’ll be one of them. The heat adds an entirely different kind of torture. Your torso trapped under thick layers of insulating fat quickly begins to overheat, and you feel as if you’re boiling alive in your own skin.
Sweat rolled off my body, drenching my shirt as thoroughly as if I had been walking in the rain. I looked back to gauge my progress and saw that I had only come a few hundred feet.
At this point you may be asking yourself, “Why? Why go through all this for some strange man with a strange name? Is he family? Do you owe him something?” And you’re right to ask. The answers to these questions are “No” and “Yes” respectively. You’ll forgive me if I don’t feel like elaborating at the moment.
The next hour was literally the closest thing to hell I have ever experienced. The memory of that walk has faded into a continuous seemingly-unending blur of heat and blinding sunlight. I remember several of the driver’s stuck in the traffic jam called to me out of their windows, though I have no recollection of what was said.
By the time I reached my destination, by the time I saw the chaos of police cars and the litter of rubble strewn across the road, a faint buzzing had begun to pulse in my head and red spots swam across my vision. For a moment I thought I heard Frog calling my name, but before I could answer I collapsed into a heap on the front lawn of City Hall.
[On the off chance that you haven't given up on this story by now, check out the next chapter: in which our hero goes to work at an exceptionally boring job.]