Cal hurried back to the clock and punched out. With a wave to the third shift dishwasher, Mike, he headed back to the lockers. Mike didn’t seem to care much. He was already swearing loudly and wrestling with Betsy, the ancient, brushed aluminum dishwasher that took up most of the back area.
Cal tossed his hair net and apron in the laundry and sat down with a sigh. The luxury of sitting down after an eight hour shift only brought to light how tired and sore he was. He bumped his wet shoes off and put them in his locker, hoping they might get slightly drier before he had to put them back on tomorrow night.
Dry socks and dry boots were a comfort. He centered his name badge on the top shelf of his locker facing out. All Denny’s employees were required to wear their name badge at all times while on the clock. His has been in his locker for months now. Some small rebellion against the Tyranny of Temple. He grabbed his coat and backpack and closed his locker on the name badge where It sat, announcing “CALVIN CANNON” to nobody.
Oscar was waiting for him out front. The busboys always got done early.
“Hola, Oscar,” Calvin said as they walked out into the parking lot. It had been raining, so the asphalt was wet, making the night especially dark.
“Hey, Cal,” Oscar replied.
Cal and Oscar were in the middle of their Junior year at Aberdeen high school. Juniors itching to be seniors, itching to be out of there. They’d been friends since a fight in middle school. Cal’s dad got wind of the fight and took Cal over to Oscar’s house to make him apologize. The uncomfortable afternoon strung a connection between the two that had grown into a tight bond in recent years.
“So,” Oscar said as they got to Calvin’s scooter. “What’s the plan tonight?”
“I’m tired, man.” Calvin opened the seat of his scooter and took out his helmet. “I’m gonna go home and crash.”
“Friday night,” Oscar said.
“Yeah, Friday night,” Cal replied.
“There’s a party at Christy Bundle’s.”
Cal shook his head. “I’m sleeping. You going?”
“I dunno,” Oscar said, looking around the parking lot. “Not really my scene.”
“Yeah,” Cal said with a smile. “Except for Christy Bundle.”
“I think she’s warming up to me.
“Yeah? I guess she did invite you to her party.”
“Actually, I heard it from some other guy.”
“Oh,” said Cal, then he decided to change the subject. “Comic Conclave tomorrow though?” Cal asked, trying to start his scooter.
“11am?,” Oscar asked.
The scooter finally started with a pop followed by a quite purr. “I’ll call you. Good luck with Christy Bundle.”
Cal saluted and kicked his scooter of it’s stand. Oscar saluted back, his car keys jingling. With a whine, Cal motored off into the dark night.
* * *
11am came much too early. Cal got home and fell into bed and asleep almost immediately, but Rob’s music kept waking him up. He knew better than to go ask his older brother to turn it down. He just packed a pillow over his head. When his mom got home at 2am, there was a brief shouting match that woke him up again, then it was blissfully quiet.
Cal woke up to a clanking in the kitchen, frustrated with his inability to get a few hours of sleep. His frustration drained out of him as he saw that it was 11am. He laid back in bed wishing he could go back to sleep, but he had to call Oscar. Unfortunately that meant dealing with whoever was in the kitchen. Even more unfortunately, it was probably Rob. His mom was probably at work by now.
He closed his eyes for a moment, savoring one last taste of sleep, then got out of bed. He pulled on a robe and stepped into his slippers as a chill ran through him. It was definitely Fall now.
Opening his bedroom door, he was accosted with the smell of burning toast. Rob did not have a way with food.
Cal’s room was a converted garage, which suited him fine. It was downstairs, away from his brother. He climbed the stairs, ready for the ritual abuse from his brother. He slipped into the kitchen unnoticed. His brother was behind the fridge door, rifling through the contents. His striped pajama bottoms apparent under the door. Something was smoking in the sink. The burned smell was chokingly strong in the kitchen.
All phones and gizmos had to be on the island before bed time. That was a rule from when their dad was still alive. He’d been dead for a few years. His mom didn’t have the time to enforce the rules any more, but Cal still kept his phone there. Partly out of habit, and partly out of respect to his dad. And probably his mom.
It was looking like he could get his phone and get back out of the kitchen without being seen. He crept over to his phone and quietly unplugged it. It vibrated in his hand, a suddenly loud noise in the quiet room and he froze, knowing he would be discovered, but the rummaging in the fridge continued.
He was almost out of the room when a voice made him stop.
“Rob?” the voice asked from the fridge. It was a girl’s voice. Definitely not his mom’s.
Cal turned as the fridge door closed, revealing a girl in Rob’s pajamas.
“Oh,” she said seeming uncomfortable. She pulled down on the pajama top as if it wasn’t covering her. “Sorry. Are you Rob’s brother?”
Cal didn’t know what to do. This was a clear violation of the rules of the house. They weren’t supposed to have strangers stay the night.
Not knowing what to do, he did the only thing that came to mind.
“Yes,” he said.
“Oh, he didn’t tell me he had a brother.” She put down a carton of juice and walked over to Cal with her hand out. “Hi, I’m Cindy.”
Cal instinctively took her hand and shook it. It was one of those soft, dead-fish hand shakes. Limp and uninspired. To make matters worse, or perhaps even more fish-like, her hand was also cold and clammy from holding the juice.
“Hi Cindy,” Cal said. She was somewhat cute, but not his type. Anybody that would be with Rob would instantly fall into the category of not his type for whatever reason he could find. Cindy didn’t seem all that bright, which would explain the attraction to Rob.
“You say something, sugar?” Rob asked, entering the kitchen.
Cal winced at the vision of Rob in nothing but his boxers. They had golden retrievers on them. They had never owned a dog.
“Oh,” said Rob, his voice dropping to a more aggressive tone. “I see you’ve met Cal. I thought you’d be out, Cal.”
The three of them stared at each other in a mexican standoff of discomfort. Cal was the one to break it.
“You’re chick is burning all of our bread,” he said, pointing a finger at the new line of smoke coming from the toaster.
“Ah, crap,” Rob said, and ran over to the toaster.
Cindy started to apologize, and Cal escaped back down to his room before they worked things out and more horrific images were burned into his brain.
Back in the safety of his room he dialed Oscar. Oscar answered on the first ring.
“Hey sleepyhead,” Oscar shouted. Why did he have to shout so early in the morning?
“Oscar,” Cal said. “Comic Conclave?”
“Yeah,” Oscar replied. “I’ll be at your place in ten minutes to pick you up.” Then he hung up.
There was a crash from upstairs and he could hear Cindy’s voice chittering away some other apology. Ten minutes was too long to wait.
* * *
Fifty dollars poorer, Oscar and Cal sat in front of Comic Conclave, leafing through their new comics. Comic Conclave was the only reasonable comic book store in town. It used to be The Comics Collector before the old owner killed himself. Jason Dubert talked to the owner’s family and bought the store shortly after. He changed the name and was now the premier comic book store of Aberdeen. Some would argue that Angband Comics across town was a competitor, but real comic fans knew that Jason’s background knowledge of comics made his store the only one worthy of notice. Jason graduated from Aberdeen High two years ago and took classes at The Art Institute of Seattle. There he rubbed elbows with some of the hottest up and coming comic artists of this generation. He decided his skill was more in the collecting rather than the creating and moved back to Aberdeen to run his store. He did have a large back stock in his own comic as well: Spinner, the Invincible Speedster!
Comic shops are, by definition, labors of love, and not great investments. Comic Conclave had already moved twice, and now sat in a nearly vacant mini mall at the edge of town in the industrial district. Midday on a Saturday meant it was fairly deserted. Oscar’s 1992 Corolla sat in the parking lot next to Jason’s 1990 Civic. They were huddled together as if they were afraid of the empty expanse of parking spaces around them.
Thor was in excellent form this month. He was battling his enemies in the faerie realm again, and it was starting to look bad for him.
Oscar looked up as a car on the arterial rode pulled over and stopped. A girl got out of the car and it sped off, clearly displaying the driver’s anger. The girl displayed her own emotion by waving a middle finger at the car.
She was wearing all black. Her hair was black and purple.
“Cal,” Oscar said as the girl looked around and saw them.
Cal was starting to get really worried for Thor. He’d lost his hammer the the faerie queen. That wasn’t supposed to happen.
The girl started to walk over towards them.
“Cal,” Oscar whisper-shouted and elbowed his friend.
“What the hell?” Cal exclaimed, rubbing his shoulder.
Oscar motioned towards the approaching girl with his chin.
Cal looked up and was terrified. It was Angel. She’d shown up at their school last year and he couldn’t stop thinking about her. Being a goth in a town of small-minded folk made her stick out, and people avoided her, but she didn’t seem to care at all. In her dark clothes, heavy make up, piercings, and oddly colored hair, she was about as far opposite from Cal as a girl could get, and that made her irresistible to Cal. She was literally the girl of his dreams and she’s walking up to him and Cal and they’re sitting outside of the comic book store reading comics.
Cal quickly stuffed Thor back into the bag holding his stack of new comics and tried to hide the bag with his leg.
Angel came up to them and looked down at them. Cal could feel her eyes as they moved from him to his stack of comics, then to the store sign, then back to him.
“Hi, Angel,” Cal said weakly.
“Hey Cal,” she said.
Her hair hung down, partially hiding her face. Cal could see emotions boiling behind the hair, but couldn’t read them. The important part was that she knew his name. It was a conflict of elation that she remembered him from school, and knowing that he couldn’t claim that he wasn’t that dork sitting outside of a comic book store.
“Comics?” she asked.
“This is Oscar,” Cal said, pointing at Oscar, trying to change the subject or at least trying to put the blame on Oscar.
“I know,” Angel replied. “We’re lab partners in chemistry.” She turned towards Oscar. “Did you finish your write up?”
“Yeah,” Oscar replied. “I think we’re screwed. The values we got are nowhere near what we were supposed to get.”
“Dammit,” she said.
Cal was generally a good student, except for Chemistry. There was something about that science that just didn’t make any sense to him. He struggled against just passing that class, while Oscar sailed ahead and got into AP Chemistry. It was the class that was going to define this year of school. The one he’d have to man-up for just to pass. The milestone he’d have to work hard to earn, and even then probably just a passing grade. This future was laid out before him after the second week of the semester, and so far, it had come true. And now here his best friend and the girl of his dreams were bonding over the science of his nightmares.
“Hey,” she said to Oscar. “Can I borrow your phone for a second?”
Before Oscar could answer, Cal was on his feet offering her his phone.
“You need a ride somewhere?” Cal asked. He gently pushed his comics towards Oscar with his foot.
Angel looked at Cal. She had on fake eyelashes. They were thick and full and had a long line that extended off to the side. It gave her an exotic, almost asian look. The lashes and heavy black eyeliner made her green eyes especially vibrant. He dropped into a deeper trance as her perfume reached him. It’s dark, smokey scent putting further mysteries into his brain.
“Don’t you ride a scooter?” she asked. Cal’s trance evaporated.
“No,” he said, stammering. “I mean yes, I do ride a scooter, but,” he pointed past her to the Corolla, “Oscar has a car.”
As she turned to look at Oscar’s car, he hit Cal in the calf.
She turned back and was about to answer when they heard the squealing of tires and an impact behind from behind the store. They looked at each other. Oscar jumped up to his feet and the three of them ran to the edge of the store and looked around it.
There was nothing there, but they heard a man’s voice shouting. He sounded very angry. The three of them crept down the side of the building. As they approached the rear of the building, they could hear the man clearly.
“You can’t do this,” he yelled. “You know who I am. People will talk about this. They’re going to know.”
The three kids exchanged a look, but continued to creep forward. They peered around the corner and saw the empty backlot of the strip mall. He stood with his back to the wall pointing and shouting at a man in a black suit with black sunglasses. A black SUV with dark, tinted windows sat with its engine idling. A small, red compact car was off to the side of the lot.
The man against the wall had on a dark tshirt and jeans with a green jacket. He had wild black hair that stuck out from his head in odd disheveled angles. The man in the suit walked towards him calmly. The man pushed off of the wall, launching towards the man in the suit. The man in the suit moved with a calm precision. He struck the other man twice, knocking him to the ground. He then picked the other man up by his shoulder and dragged him to the SUV. He pulled him up and shoved him into the back seat. Once the door was closed, the SUV sped off. The man in the suit looked around, causing the kids to hide behind the corner. They heard a door close and an engine start. Cal chanced a look around the corner and saw the red compact car take off, following the SUV.
“What was that?” Cal asked the others.
“Guys,” Angel said. “Let’s get out of here.”
Oscar nodded and the three of them ran to the front of the store. Oscar unlocked his car and got in the driver’s seat. Angel climbed in the back and Cal was about to get in, but realized he’d forgotten his comics. He left the passenger side door open and ran back up to snatch his bag. He caught Jason’s eye through the window and Jason waved. Cal waved and jogged back to the now running car. As he reached it, he saw the black SUV heading down the road at a fast speed, a red compact car following close behind.
He dropped in the car and closed the door.
“What-”, he started to ask.
“Drive,” Angel said to Oscar.
Oscar didn’t need any further encouragement. He sped out of the parking lot and turned right.
“This is the way the SUV went,” Cal said.
“Hold on,” Oscar said as he looked over his shoulder.
The car bumped over the median as he did a fairly illegal U-Turn and accelerated down the road in the other direction.
“What was that?” Cal said.
“I have no idea,” Oscar replied. “I think we should just forget about it.”
“Yeah,” Agnel said from the backseat. “I lived with my dad in New York for a while. That kinda stuff happens there a lot. That guy was abducted.”
“Abducted?” Oscar asked. “Like by aliens?”
“No,” Angel replied. “Like by the mob. You guys have gangs here?”
“Yeah,” said Cal darkly. “A biker gang, The Lemolos. They sell drugs. They killed my dad.”