Krzynski hadn’t spoken to either of his parents in years. It wasn’t so much that there was bad blood between them, or that there was no blood. It’s difficult to describe. Love was there, but like an ex-girlfriend told him once, love is a muscle and if you don’t exercise it, it atrophies. Or something like that. Krzynski didn’t remember exactly what she said cuz he wasn’t really paying attention much at the time. She had told him she was leaving him, but he still needed a date that Friday so he was already in another window looking at who else he could ask while she was Skyping him. Perhaps Krzynski’s lack of connection with family tended to extend to other relationships as well. He did seem to be the common denominator, but this simply wasn’t something he consciously thought about very much. He couldn’t put his finger on when his emotional attachment with his parents began to atrophy, but it was somewhere before their divorce and after he got a scholarship to go to California University. He had planned to major in Party, but that only worked for so long. The scholarship was athletics, but he didn’t have the discipline to keep it, and managed to supplement the rest of his tuition with some modeling gigs and a little online hustling, mostly from trading goods and services on ebay, craigs list, and a multitude of lesser known specialty websites and networks. He once started with a pornographic ink pen and traded up to different items each increasing in value until he sold a couple concert tickets for several hundred bucks. Of course, this increasingly took more of his time at the expense of school, which he wasn’t enjoying much anyway. So a few weeks ago when they threatened to kick him out of school due to a misunderstanding regarding his grades and how he got them, he decided to just quit and save them the trouble. Most of what was helping him pay bills and feed his piehole he taught himself anyway. Business management, computer programming, general hustling, social media, and a handful of other talents weren’t being taught in college the way he needed to learn them. A degree was going to determine whether he got a job as a fry cook or a manager of fry cooks. He was more interested in being behind his own laptop computer than someone else’s counter.

He didn’t actually do the deed after all. Other people for whom he did stuff, changed his grades along with many others and they were supposed to get away with it. This time they were caught and prosecuted. No one could prove Krzynski had put them up to it, because he hadn’t. It was a sort of virtual handshake deal; no formal proof and Krzynski was of course surprised when he learned such a thing had happened, and had apparently happened before. He had taken a couple acting classes so he was good at acting surprised. Not good enough though, because he was told by one particular person (Dean something or other) that there was “impropriety and the appearance of impropriety” whatever that means, and he’d dig more until he found something he could pin on Krzynski, and Krzynski simply had no interest in sticking around to find out if this Dean guy had that ability. Formally he was suspended pending an inquiry. Krzynski was supposed to stick around for the rest of the semester in case anyone investigating the case had further questions for him, but he didn’t really want to stick around. That’s when he got word via email that his mom had taken ill back in New York. So Krzynski hopped on a bus because he was afraid of flying, and headed east.

When Krzynski got on the bus in California, he thought he’d be on this same bus the entire trip, and he’d half assumed the people sitting on the bus with him would be there the entire time so he made a half-hearted attempt to get to know the people immediately around him, but quickly got distracted by some interesting chat online about recent television series he’d taken an interest in and whether or not the romantic coupling of characters in these shows were going to make the future for them better or worse. So the first time he noticed a particularly curious couple get on the bus, he didn’t really notice them more than in his periphery.

The man was in a brown leather jacket, white T-shirt and blue jeans. Couldn’t have been more than twenty, real thick accent of some sort. All accents sounded the same to Krzynski he couldn’t place it and didn’t really care much, but the guy’s hands were all over this lady that boarded the bus with him. She looked much older than him but still attractive. Way too thin for Krzynski’s taste. She had no ass, even though the outfit she was wearing was skin tight and designed to show off what ass she didn’t have. The top piece and short skirt was an animal pattern of some sort. Not spotted or striped but kinda in between. Fishnet stockings attempted to give definition to a pair of legs that had some muscle but too much bone. She reminded him of women he met back when he was in modeling, horse-faced ladies who had grown long in the tooth despite multiple plastic surgeries and starving themselves to near death so they could fit the same clothes, but still found ways to keep their hand in the industry by going into design or advertising or producing or running a magazine or marrying or kissing up to the new generation. Fifty plusses going on twenty forever. The man didn’t talk much and when he did it was either broken English or something he couldn’t understand but the lady spoke incessantly, very loudly, quickly, and always in English, though she had an accent of some sort too. The only time she’d shut up was when she put something in her mouth like a bottle or her beau’s tongue. What got Krzynski’s attention more than anything was their smell. Part perfume or cologne and part alcohol and pot mixed in with something he couldn’t place and didn’t want to, all of which tried to cover up the fact they had been doing a lot of sex. Instead of showering before getting on a nationwide bus trip, this couple decided to just splash on some Old Spice or something and make do with a sponge down in the washroom. They headed to the back of the bus, where Krzynski assumed they’d go right back to sexing it up and drinking it down when they thought no one was looking. They couldn’t keep their hands off each other as the bus pulled out of California. There were titters and giggles about it by other people, but Krzynski had already put his earbuds in so he could listen to Pandora while he argued with people online over whether or not plots in a televisions series is more important than the relationships between the characters.

There was a particularly venomous cabal of “Shippers” in multiple online forums, and Joe was having a particularly fun time responding to their inane, shallow desire to see every character kiss every other character with his witty repartee.

As the bus traversed the state line into Nevada, the bus stopped a couple times and the driver went back there in response to other passengers’ complaints. Apparently the smelly couple were making rude noises and cussing out people back there. Krzynski just turned up Pandora and kept chatting. Others on the bus complained or giggled about it and occasionally Krzynski would get roped in a bit to the offline banter, but he was more interested in what was going on online with his favorite tv shows and how many fans of these same shows had a remarkably different opinion of what made them good than he did.

At a truck stop in Reno, Krzynski was peeing in a urinal when the brown leather jacket guy came up to him and punched him on the shoulder, “Parpadeo! Aléjate de mi chica!” he said, obviously drunk off his mind. He looked more tired than threatening though, so Krzynski just kinda half laughed and said, “what?” then shouted “I DON’T UNDERSTAND! SORRY!” The leather jacket guy mumbled “abrir y cerrar” and started to unzip his fly to pee in the urinal next to Krzynski, but then turned around and slammed through the toilet stall behind them to puke. Krzynski zipped up his fly with a shrug, and went back outside where the cat lady with the fishnet stockings was leaned up against a wall.

“You flicker. You know that?” she purred at him.

Krzynski kinda looked at her funny. “Flicker?” She just smiled at him as if she knew something that he didn’t. “Lady, your friend in there can’t speak a lick of English, and he makes more sense than you do.” Then he passed her to order a burger and fries at the counter. He purposefully didn’t look at the cat lady with the fishnet stockings while he ate, but he could feel her eyes on him, even as they reboarded the bus and he settled back in his seat.

The leather jacket guy was the last to board, and he argued again with the driver. It sounded like the driver knew whatever language the jacket guy knew, and was threatening to throw them off the bus if they got more complaints. Crazy cat lady walked up to the front of the bus to comfort her beau and she whispered into the bus driver’s ear long enough to make Krzynski wonder if she was gonna start performing sex acts on the driver too. She pulled back and the driver stopped complaining, and with a demure smile she escorted her beau back to the back of the bus. The leather jacket guy looked a little green in the gills, and was coughing. Thankfully most of the vomit made it into the toilet. Only a little got on the guy’s shirt. Comparatively, the woman looked like she’d just got back from a day at a spa. The desert air seemed to do her some good. Still way too thin for Krzynski’s taste, and no ass to speak of. So Krzynski didn’t think much more about the couple. They quieted down and since the bus had free wifi, he went back to investigating who this mysterious cabal of Shippers were and why they were intentionally politicking network producers to ruin his favorite television programs. Krzynski spent much of the trip arguing with these ladies and also trying to learn who they were by tracing their IPs and otherwise hacking for information. He had managed to learn at least three of the aliases being used in multiple online forums had similar routing information, appeared to be somewhere on the eastern seaboard, where he was heading, and had contacts with the military, or maybe they were spoofing their information to fool someone like Krzynski into thinking they were military so it would scare him off. It kinda worked. Even though Joe was on a bus which would make it difficult for him to be tracked, he wasn’t good enough to pry further without running the risk of bringing attention to himself.

Krzynski was considering risking it anyway when they hit Kansas City, but that was when their bus was delayed for several hours in a bus station that had cops aall over the place. Joe couldn’t really figure out what the police were looking for, and there were also men in suits wearing sunglasses at night who were standing around looking creepy. They were clearly not looking for a computer hacker, but it freaked Joe out enough to keep himself entertained on the free Wifi with other ‘safer’ ways to pass the time that any government Agency eavesdropping wouldn’t care about, like Twitter and Facebook. Krzynski needed to catch up on Farmville anyway.

When they were allowed to get back on the bus, Joe noticed almost peripherally that he was being directed to a different bus with a different number. Krzynski hadn’t thought about it before, but apparently most people didn’t get on the bus in California to go all the way to New York. Most of the faces in the waiting area with him waiting to board were new. He complained to someone who looked like they worked there and was directed to a lady behind a counter. He was concerned about his luggage and she assured him everything had been transferred to the new bus and if he looked at his boarding information this was part of what he agreed to when he signed for the trip. It should have been explained to him back in California. The bus company didn’t have an express ride where you use the same vehicle to go from California to New York, it just wasn’t feasible. He only had one piece of luggage anyway, aside from his backpack with his laptop that he’d been allowed to carry to his seat. While ending his conversation with the counter lady, Krzynski noticed the foreign couple. She looked great but he looked terrible and was leaning heavily on her like he’d had even more to drink. They were arguing but Joe couldn’t make out a word of it. He was more concerned understanding how the counter lady could have been so sure his luggage was going to be on the same bus he was now getting on.

When he got settled into the seat on the bus, ready for the rest of the ride to New York, he noticed online that the cabal of Shippers had petitioned some of the online forum regulators and moderators he frequented to have him barred from further access to the message boards, along with a dozen or so other people who had been agreeing with him about plotting on television series being more important than shipping. Many people were being censored by these online witches. Joe found himself in live private chats with one guy running a site he’d used for years defending his right to not be blocked. In other forums there was no procedure for his defense at all. He just found his account frozen in those forums with no appeal. Other forums welcomed him and locked out the Cabal, and he found several dozen other frequenters of various online forums who were similarly inconvenienced by this Cabal either presently or in the past. Joe was not the only fan of TV shows which focused more on actual adventure and suspense and good writing, and less on the “will they won’t they” soap opera crap which seemed to take over most TV series. Krzynski and others were enjoying a vast discussion about the history of television and how one could trace the decline of good writing to the series Moonlighting with Cybil Shepherd and Bruce Willis. He was really enjoying the discussion when the servers housing online forums that welcomed “Plotters” and barred “Shippers” were suddenly getting Denial of Service Attacks and trojans and other nasty tricks to shut them down. Krzynski’s firewall on his laptop coupled with a few quick tricks he knew to enact in time managed to protect him from the brunt of the assault, but the forums that had welcomed he and other “Plotters” of like mind went dark almost at the same time. In a matter of moments it was over, and Joe found every online avenue closed to him to discuss Plotting over Shipping. He’d effectively been blackballed, and Joe wasn’t the sort of person to go by multiple online aliases. He kept the same one since he started college and felt no desire to change it now. Many online forums that found themselves in this online war and were allowed to stay open or be allowed to reopen quickly put up disclaimers at the front pages of their sites. Either they were labelled “Shipper-friendly” or they banned any “Plotter-Shipper” discussion entirely. Any attempt to start such a thread would be considered a troll and punished as such. The Cabal had won.

Others like him let him know in email they would fight back, attacking the forums favoring “Shipper” talk, but Krzynski couldn’t help them much from his laptop. Perhaps if he still had access to the equipment at the computer department in the California University, or even his own apartment back in Berkeley, but here there was little more he could do but watch. He could read some of the forums but he couldn’t post. Not as his online name, and changing his name felt like admitting failure. He had his pride, after all. Truth to tell, he wasn’t as good at computers as he liked to imagine. He had his limits, and the Cabal simply brought a thermonuclear warhead to a gun fight. This Cabal was simply out of his league.

By the time they pulled into Boston, a few days had passed since his trip started in California, but it had felt like one long day. Krzynski didn’t recall actually bothering to sleep, but assumed he must have snoozed now and then in between failed online battle sessions with the Cabal. He took his ear buds out and looked around and outside. Looked like a Denny’s across the street that seemed more inviting than the truck stop gas station they had pulled into. There were other restaurants and stores in close vicinity. Suddenly he felt a chill down his spine. It was very quiet in the bus. There had always seemed to be chatter going on, a drone of laughter and voices and what not that he could hear sometimes even with Pandora blaring, but now there was nothing. No one was talking. He tried to meet some people’s eyes but they just stared forward, and after the bus parked, they got up and filed out. No one seemed upset about the crazy couple in the back. No one seemed tired necessarily. Everyone was acting normal but no one was saying anything or.. He shrugged it off and assumed that like him, everyone was just ready for this trip to be over.

Krzynski made his way to the Denny’s. No sign of the crazy cat lady or her leather jacket beau. He sat down in a booth facing the front window which looked out over the parking lot and the street and the bus across the way in the truck stop gas station. He made eye contact right away with a bright faced brunette waitress with a nice ass who came by with a couple menus. She handed him one with a lovely smile, “long trip, huh?”

“Yeah. Do I look it?”

“A bit ruffled but nothing a bath and a shave can’t fix. You need a minute to think about it, or do you know what you want?”

Krzynski bit his tongue about making a snide comment where he’d ask if she was on the menu, “yeah a minute please, thanks.”

She nodded and stepped away. Krzynski buried his head in the menu. Seconds ticked by. Absent-mindedly he’d pulled his laptop out of his backpack and put it on the table without looking away from the menu. He’d done that so many times it was second nature to him now. Krzynski just about decided that all he wanted was a slice of pie and some coffee, when all the sudden..

“Hey mister?”

Joe looked up from his menu and he saw her. Crazy cat lady. Same weird skin tight outfit with the cat-like design that wasn’t spots and wasn’t stripes but was still cat. Same fishnet stockings though they were showing a little worse for wear. Her hair was in many directions like an abstract art painting. She smelled even worse than when this voyage had began and Joe couldn’t imagine how that was even possible. Joe made a perplexed face at her, cuz something about her wasn’t quite right, but he couldn’t in that instant put his finger on what. Maybe this was the first time he’d seen her in the light of day right in front of him. The times before he wasn’t looking directly at her, or the lighting was dim and subdued. Or it was night. Here in the bright light of a Denny’s morning, with the sun shining in from the windowed wall by the booth, one got the full effect of this lady and it was a bit unnerving. Her bone structure was rather striking. She looked like she had been a model once and could perhaps still be one again. She looked a lot younger in this light than she had been a few nights before. Perhaps it was more than just desert air that was favoring her. Maybe she just needed to get away from California.

Joe had made a face at her, kind of involuntarily, so she made a face back at him, she looked around and outside the large window to her right, Joe’s left, looking outside the diner to the bus they had just left not five minutes ago and he was planning to leave on again in less than half an hour.

“Can I sit? I’m gonna sit,” She sat, “You gonna eat? I’m famished! You using that?” She took the menu out of his hand and buried her head into it, obviously trying to hide from someone. Maybe her beau. Joe thought about objecting, but he’d already decided on some coffee and a slice of apple pie. He didn’t have a lot of money left on him and didn’t think he’d have a lot of time for a big meal anyway. “I’m gonna get a Grand Slam you wanna Grand Slam? I’ll get us two Grand Slams You get the waitress attention don’t you worry I got money I pay you my new best friend..” She continued rambling as Joe waved for the waitress to join them.

“What can I get you?”

The crazy cat lady turned to the waitress, but held the menu in her right hand so that it stayed between her and the window to outside, like she was trying to hide her face from the bus driver or someone out there. “We’re getting two grand slams–”

“You’re getting two grand slams–” Krzynski tried to get a word in edgewise, which was proving difficult.

“–That’s what I said one for you and one for me–”

“–I just want coffee and a slice of apple pie–”

“–Well we’ll get that too but two grand slams and I’d like a carafe of oh jay you want something else to drink besides coffee flicker is it too early for booze here don’t answer that i can tell by your face lady so that’s two grand slams and a pie and coffee and oh jay and ooh an ultimate skillet that sounds fun in case my Carlos gets to feeling better and comes to join us but i don’t think he will okay! so off you go then nice lady chop chop andele andele.”

The silence in the room was palpable. Joe looked at the lovely waitress and shrugged, then looked back at the crazy cat lady.

“Look I don’t have that much money, lady–”

Crazy cat lady put a couple twenties on the table with a bit too loud of a slam of her fist, “no problemo i got the money me and Carlos we set no you worry about that let’s get some water too but no soda cuz that stuff is poison to me too much caffeine or sugar or whatever else they put innit’s like drinking battery acid not that i’d ever known what battery acid tastes like ha ha ha that was a joke no one’s laughing okay!”

“You can pay at the counter when you leave, miss. I’ll go get your order. Thank you both..” the waitress gave a look to Joe that seemed to be almost apologetic, like she was sorry she was leaving him alone in a booth with this crazy cat lady but she couldn’t help him escape. She had to go get their order.

Then the waitress tried to take the menu from the crazy cat lady, who almost snapped at her. They did a bit of tug of war with it for a couple seconds and then crazy cat lady reached across the table and took Krzynski’s Yankees baseball cap off his head and put it on her own.

“Hey!” Krzynski objected.

“Trust me i do you a favor it looked dumb on you it looks great on me Oh i know it looks great on me I got eyes in back of my head you have no idea.” She hunkered down into the booth seat and covered her eyes with the baseball cap, still obviously failing at being inconspicuous. Joe thought she looked much older several days ago but now she was just revealing herself to be a spoiled bratty debutante type. Like Amy Winehouse on one of her better days, after a couple bad ones.

Back in California, Joe had gotten on the bus a little early, but now it seemed a bit more than a coincidence that of all the people he’d started this trip with, crazy cat lady was the only other face he still recognized. Admittedly, he hadn’t gone out of his way to get to know everyone. Maybe there were other people in the Denny’s now or across the way in the truck stop who had been with him on this journey from California to New York, but it struck him as rather unlikely if there weren’t any other familiar faces that the fact crazy cat lady was still here, that it was coincidence. He supposed it could be coincidence, but he doubted it.

The email he got telling him that his mother wasn’t feeling well. It looked legitimate at the time, but now that he looked at it again on his laptop, it didn’t have a return address. Why hadn’t he noticed that before? Anybody coulda sent it. Why would anyone tell him this anyway? It’s not like they were close. Why the hell had he traveled all this way? Couldn’t he have just made a few phone calls? Then he remembered, he didn’t even know her cellphone number. He only remembered where his mom’s job was, cuz she also lived there, but he never got around to committing her work number to memory. Still, he should have been able to confirm whether or not his mom was really sick without having to travel across country.. then again, the real reason he wanted to leave California was the grade thing. Wasn’t it convenient that his mom just happened to get sick at a time when he needed a legitimate excuse to get out from under an investigation?

Maybe he sent it to himself? He’d remember doing that, wouldn’t he? When was the last time he slept?

Crazy cat lady had continued talking almost non stop but Joe didn’t listen to much of it, at least enough to say any of it would end up in long term memory. The waitress came back after a few minutes of crazy cat lady’s monologue about nothing with their drinks and said the food would be right out, “would you like the pie after breakfast, sir?” the waitress asked him.

Crazy cat lady answered “Oh just bring it all out at the same time I’ll take a slice too if it’s no trouble you got any ice cream oh never mind i say that an i think dairy i gotta watch my figure so anyway so Carlos and me we go way back been with him through thick and thin not married exactly but joined at the hip. i got him thru some bad bouts and he helped me out of some tough scrapes terrible what’s happening to him now wish i knew what it was–”

“what what was?”

“–oh i dunno maybe we should go to the doctor but every time i mention it he gets all upset he don’t believe in doctors he believes in prayer and i tell him i say prayer doesn’t work for the likes of us after all we done don’t get me started and he says prayer always works even when the answer is no and somehow he takes comfort in that i don’t take comfort in that do you take comfort in that Carlos says god forgives everything but you wouldn’t know about that would you flicker?”

“Flicker?”

“You flicker you know that?”

“What do you mean, flicker?”

“I guess you don’t know what i mean then do you that’s probably for the best–”

The waitress interrupted them with two trays of food and began filling the table with two grand slams, an ultimate skillet, two slices of apple pie and some ice cream. She noticed Joe’s coffee mug was empty and promised to come back in a second to top it off for him.

“You’re being very attentive I used to wait tables for awhile it’s hard work but you’re really good it’s like we were the only ones in the diner.”

“Well to be honest you’re the only ones who have ordered since your bus arrived,” the sweet waitress’ smile seemed forced and in her eyes Joe noticed more than normal concern, “everybody else is still thinking about what they want. Must of been quite a trip, huh?” she walked away hesitantly.

Krzynski looked around the room. It wasn’t crowded but the room was more than half full of people at tables and booths. Other waitresses were walking around or talking to each other behind the counter, looking oddly at the people who had arrived from the bus. There were some animated guests that didn’t look as disheveled or tired as he and his makeshift entourage. Aside from them though, the room was eerily quiet. Menus on tables. People peering into the menus, or perhaps past them into space. Kinda hard to tell from Krzynski’s angle, but it looked like they were sitting and posed to look like they were reading the menus, but they.. weren’t.

So now Krzynski found himself sitting in a diner eating breakfast with this little crazy cat lady he coulda sword was over fifty back in California, but now looked more like twenty, or maybe she was fifteen and had only always been really good at looking older all this time. Joe was having difficulty putting all this together. He wasn’t good at figuring things out in the real world. He preferred trying to figure things out in the online world, but given his recent bout with a mere Shipping Cabal he wasn’t really even good at that now that he mulled over it. He really hadn’t been paying much attention to anything outside his laptop this whole trip unless he had little choice in the matter.

When she wasn’t filling her pie hole with food, crazy cat lady was talking and talking and talking and after awhile it just turned into a whiny droning sound none of which he believed was true anyway and he tried to ignore her with food, his laptop, the clock in his laptop reminding him how much time before they could get back on the bus and finish the final leg of the journey to New York. Time seemed to be taking forever by the way. Krzynski really didn’t want to befriend this woman and her beau that called him dirty foreign names back in Reno at the urinal. He didn’t want to spend the last leg of this journey sitting next to her. She smelled like fucked a guy who vomited on her. And Old Spice. And maybe some Ben Gay mixed in there too. The whole thing was enough to put him off his food. Actually, except for the slice of pie and his coffee, he hadn’t really touched his Grand Slam or whatever else she had ordered for him. She had just finished her Grand Slam and was now asking if she could eat his.

“By my guest,” he said barely looking up from his laptop, playing Farmville, “you paid for it.”

“Thanks anyway as i was saying where you going where you going where you going?”

Joe had stood up and was now collecting his things. He now stopped and looked at her like a child scolded by his mother for getting up from the table without kissing his grandmother on the forehead first.

“I’m gonna go take a leak before we get back on the bus.”

“I wouldn’t go in there my Carlos is in there and he’s got Montezuma’s revenge both coming and going he’s not used to American food he stinking up the place in there it’s gonna be contaminated they’ll have to get exterminators and radio-vation suits and geiger counters and earthquakes will result from what he’s doing in there volcanoes will erupt it’s gonna be a big mess in there you don’t wanna wade in there without a SWAT team backing you up–”

“I’ll take my chances.”

“No i said don’t go in there,” she stood up, “stay with me,” she stepped over to him and wrapped herself rather unceremoniously around him like she was trying to be a boa constrictor. The problem with this was Joe had the build of a college man who could have been a running back but chose instead to be a couch potatoe, and she was built like a garden snake compared to him, not a boa constrictor.

“Geez!” Joe stood there like a statue. He wanted to pry her off him cuz she smelled terrible and looked way too young and thin for his taste, but there was a small part of him that kinda liked it, and really wanted to do what she asked, and it was a part of him that wasn’t him that he’d never noticed inside him before and it was crazy and it really wanted him to do what she wanted and before he knew it, his left hand was cupping her ass.

What ass, he thought to himself. There’s no ass here to cup! I’m trying but..

She cooed in acceptance of this assless cupping, “ooh yeah you do what i say Carlos does what i say now now everybody does what i want when i get all bothered and squirmy i want you to want me and you want me and i let you want me and it feels so good don’t it?”

Joe looked around the diner. No one was responding to this display. The diner was not crowded but it wasn’t empty either. There should be people snickering or giggling or being offended by this but no one was really paying attention. At least not directly. Everyone was eerily silent and expressionless, even the people who had come in to the diner but didn’t arrive by his bus. Some were eating now and the waitresses were going about their jobs but it seemed the only two who had been talking for the past several minutes were Joe and..

“What’d you say your name was again, lady?”

“I didn’t baby you tougher than others i like a challenge.”

His left hand goosed her tiny right buttock and she gave a high pitched yelp of approval that should have sounded sexy but she was just too young and smelled bad funky and she had no ass. There was hardly any ass here to goose he thought to himself. This just wasn’t happening. Yet still he couldn’t pull himself out of her embrace.

“Lady you ain’t bathed in a week you still got Carl on ya.”

“We been on a bus for days you no prize either just do what i say.”

“NO.”

he let go of her tiny ass. He put his hands up in the air. She had her legs wrapped around him like the tail of a monkey.

“Let go of me lady.”

She hugged him tighter. He felt sick, but he stood his ground, feeling like an idiot.

“how can you resist me?” She looked up at him dumbfounded, “nobody can resist me. that’s what she said would happen. I get bothered and they obey. Is it cuz you flicker?”

“Who said nobody can resist you? Yer mother? Spoiled brat. That explains a lot. How old are you really, anyway?”

“you don’t wanna know,” she looked at their reflection in the glass, her clinging to Joe and Joe holding his hands up in the air as if in surrender, “how you resist me? Nobody can when i want em hard enough.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Maybe you don’t really want me. I know I don’t really want you.”

“But you flicker.”

“no i don’t. get off me.”

“oh no oh no oh no” she let go of him and then put a boot on the booth seat and then climbed up onto the table, kicking off dishes and stepping into pancakes and almost his laptop but he managed to grab it just in time. She posed in front of the glass wall checking herself out in the hazy reflection, with a view of the parking lot and their bus and the street beyond she grabbed at her fishnet stocking and her cat-patterned suit top. “my clothes don’t fit no more. it ain’t stopping it still going how do i stop it?”

“Look lady,” Joe put his laptop into his backpack and collected his wind breaker and other things, “you can keep my ball cap goodness knows what’s living in your hair. I’m going. The bus is leaving soon.”

“Bus leave when i say. Driver been in me since Kansas. It keep going i don’t know how to stop it.”

“Okay good luck with that.” Joe put his backpack on as he took a step towards the restroom cuz he really needed to pee, but then he stopped, because in front of him and around his peripheral vision he noticed something really creepy.

Every person in the room had stopped whatever they were doing and their necks swiveled in unison to look directly at him with dead eyes. Like they were there but whatever was in them was in the back seat and someone else was driving them, but not doing a good job of it. It was the creepiest thing in the world to be standing there and suddenly have a couple dozen pairs of eyes train themselves on you with absolutely no emotion or expression on their faces. He looked about the room, afraid to take another step. One person was about to take a bite from their fork when they swiveled to face him, and now the fork hung there inches from her face as she looked at him with dead eyes and an agape mouth. The biteful of food fell off the fork and she didn’t react as it fell onto her blouse and into her cleavage. She just sat there looking at him.

“Don’t go in there,” the crazy cat lady said still standing on the table. Joe then heard one other voice in the back of the room stutter, “d-d-don’t.”

That little part of him that wasn’t him that wanted this crazy girl was now completely not there, but he could feel something outside his head pounding to get back in. Joe was now frozen in place however for fear if he moved to the bathroom or the front door, a dozen or so people were gonna lunge for him like zombie puppets controlled by this crazy lady, but that’s impossible. Didn’t he just fail a psych class that made it crystal clear there was no substantial evidence anywhere in the history of mankind that extra sensory perception of any kind existed? And he flunked that test cuz he got that question wrong? Well, that and several other ones.

“How are you doing this?” then it occurred to him, “Am I being Punked? Is this some kind of bullshit reality show?” Where’s the c cameras?”

“Please.” Cat lady said.

“..please.” more voices in the room spoke more or less in unison.

Joe craned his neck back at the crazy girl in abject silence. She was welling up in tears. Whatever she was doing to these people, it was hurting her to do it. She was shaking. He could tell she’d peed herself through her fishnet stockings. The expression on her face told him she didn’t know much more about what was happening then he did, and she didn’t know how to stop it.

“..don’t make me hurt you, Flicker.”

“Ffffffffffflicker,” the chorus of voices sounded low, raspy, and a little disturbed, like a room full of dirty old men saying hi to a girl scout.

Behind him, Joe heard a whimper. He looked forward and to his left at the counter. Behind it he could see their cute brunette waitress behind the counter. She had picked up a pot of coffee seconds before the crazy girl had somehow taken control of the room of people and was going to pour it into a coffee mug. Now she was frozen in place, but the she was looking right at Joe, shaking, crying. The coffee pot in her hand very slowly moved away from him, as if in slow motion to swing back toward him when it reached its apex.

“..please don’t make me hurt him,” tears welling up in the waitress’ eyes.

Joe spinned back around on his heels, “Okay! Fine! Lady, you win. I won’t go check on your boyfriend. Just. Let these people go.”

The crazy cat lady’s hands were to her ears. She looked in pain, or maybe she was having an orgasm. It was kinda hard to tell. Her legs were shaking and a bit of drool came out of her lips.

The entire room chanted in unison, a combination of painful woes of an insane asylum gone mad coupled with some macabre church session of monks in robes singing gregorian chants.

“I. CAN’T. I. DON’T. KNOW. HOW. IT. WORKS!”

Joe spinned back around to the waitress, jumped over the counter and grabbed the pot of coffee out of her hand. He then threw the pot of coffee at the crazy cat lady. It missed, went past her, and shattered the glass wall with a loud crash that broke the silence and seemed to break the crazy cat lady’s euphoric pained status and she fell to her knees on the table. Everyone else in the room fainted in unison as the crazy lady collapsed. Joe caught the waitress in his arms just in the nick of time, preventing her from falling unceremoniously to the floor. He looked outside. He saw a couple black SUVs drive into view along with a cop car. Not sure how they knew so soon, but then the crazy lady had been acting earlier as if she was afraid someone was after her. Maybe they’d been responsible for more in Reno and Kansas City then Joe was aware.

He carefully laid the waitress safely to the floor, then made for the bathroom. He was too far away from the front door to make an escape before the cops arrived, but he felt all of this had something to do with Carlos and he didn’t know why but he had to stop this guy. He had to make sure this didn’t happen anymore. Whatever was going on inside the crazy lady, her beau seemed to be at the center of it. He had been getting sicker as she started looking better. Maybe he was exuding control over her somehow.

Entering the bathroom with a slam of the door, first thing he noticed was how much dimmer it was in here than out in the diner. Even through the dim light he could tell someone was on the ground in the last stall. Joe ran over there and pushed the stall door open.

Prone on the floor next to the toilet was Carlos, or at least a very very old man in Carlos’ clothes. Brown leather jacket. Puke stained T-shirt. Blue jeans, but Carlos looked practically mummified. Carlos managed to look up at Joe, his dark eyes twinkled in the dim light.

“..ayudame..” Carlos raised a shaking arm towards Joe, and then the arm fell limp as Carlos passed away. That’s when Joe got struck on the back of his head and fell unconscious.

After Krzynski fell to the ground next to Carlos, the imposing dark suited figure in sunglasses that just knocked him out cold with the butt of his gun stood towering over him for a melodramatic moment. Then he tapped his right ear.

“Control? This is Agent Demitre. We got a Code Cobalt here.”

“Say again?” was the reply.

“You heard me the first time. Send a clean up crew to my twenty.”

“But that’s impossible.”

“Yeah tell me about it.”

“No you don’t understand we’re not allowed to announce Code Cobalts. The Agency’s formal stance is that they never happen and never will.”

“I know all that.”

“You have to call it something else, I’m not coding this cobalt.”

“Just do what I say, Morgan.”

“I don’t want my name on this.”

“To hell with what you want, Morgan. And I’m gonna need an interrogation room. I got a live one here. Didn’t go down with the others.”

“We’ll set you up in the Lotus. In Manhattan.”

“I know where Lotus is why can’t I use the safe house in Boston?”

“Fumigating.”

“Copy that.”

[to be continued]

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