on Sunday, December, 11, 2011 9:13 PM
Sam Flynn looked at his phone. It was time. Oh, shit, it was past time. He punched the button that opened his garage door, kicked over the Ducati, and man and machine zoomed into the night.
No, no, no. Damn, damn, damn. He had not meticulously planned this out just to be late and screw it all up. He kicked the Ducati’s throttle up another notch. This was going to be a good one; for the twentieth anniversary of his dad’s disappearance, and yet another pointless release of the OS (one of these days he really should suggest Encom go into the college textbook business), Sam wanted to do something memorable.
The traffic was relatively normal for a Monday evening. It didn’t matter to Sam. Half the reason he eschewed cars in favor of motorcycles was because he could indulge his impatient nature and weave through traffic. Usually it made him laugh to think of all the angry cagers who would be stuck in first gear for another half hour as he zoomed down the open road; tonight he was too focused to smirk. (The other reason he preferred a bike was because it was “free” enough to suit him. No stifling cage, the feel of the speed washing over your body with no steel frame to buffer it and make you feel safe, park it anywhere… and only room for one. When he bought it, Sam had made sure the Ducati had only the single-rider seat. No one could ask you for a ride or to pick something up at the store for them, and it was only natural for someone who did not have, need, or want anyone else in his life. To some people it made a statement… a statement Sam Flynn preferred to put across as often as possible: leave me alone.)
Sam twined the Sport Classic around his fellow motorists as though he were plaiting all the cars together. He hadn’t been riding a motorcycle since the day he turned old enough to score an endorsement for nothing. He’d spent hours, days, weeks getting to know his machine each time he bought a new one and could have driven each in his sleep, aware of precisely how it would lean around a corner and how much he could push his luck before he’d be calling the body shop again.
He wasn’t paying attention to the speedometer. Not that he ever did, anyway. Even if he hadn’t become an expert at thinking like a cop and spotting all the places they’d like to hide out to wait for errant drivers, or indeed spotting the cops themselves when they were taking advantage of said hiding places—what was a speeding ticket to him, even if he couldn’t talk his way out of it for once?
Unfortunately, since he was both single-minded and in a hurry, Sam’s usual sixth sense about cops wasn’t quite functioning up to snuff, so he didn’t notice this one until he saw flashing blue lights pull out behind him. Dammit. No time to pull over and try to put on the charm now; Sam had places to go and people to embarrass, and he was already running behind. Sam flipped up the visor on his helmet and glanced behind him. Yeah, it was a two-wheeler. Well, he could eat Sam’s dust; the guy may’ve been riding a BMW, but it was all loaded down with lights, sirens, com systems, and saddlebags chock-full of all sorts of police gear. That fat-cat sorry excuse for a motorcycle wasn’t about to catch up to the sleek Ducati tonight (way to ruin a great ride, Sam thought; why not just pull out a Goldwing and get it over with? He’d briefly considered one of the Beamer supersports himself, but in the end, the Flynns were always a Ducati family and Sam couldn’t see any reason to break the tradition—and he wasn’t really the sport-bike type anyway; didn’t want to be lumped into the same category as the douchebags he knew who often rode them [sometimes with a tank top/short-shorts/flip-flops wearing girlfriend balanced precariously on the back, which always made Sam cringe. He knew what happened during a motorcycle accident when a person went skidding across asphalt at high rates of speed, and personally, he preferred his women with a little skin on them.]).
There was a reason Sam kept his license plate nice and dirty, even though the bike itself was always shiny-immaculate and waxed, and he figured that with as fast as he’d flashed by, the cop hadn’t had the chance to get a good look anyway.
Sam narrowed his eyes and quickly assessed his options available as they whizzed toward him at 84 mph. His exit was coming up and he was boxed in by a truck; not promising. Or so it would appear to anyone but Sam Flynn. Sam smiled to himself. He’d always been of the opinion that when life hands you lemons, you should put them in a potato gun and shoot them right back, so making the situation work for him was no problem.
A Sport Classic didn’t come standard with the ability to choose whether the lights were on or off, but just as Sam was intimately knowledgeable with the way his bikes handled, their relationship was made all the more cozy by the fact that he also did all of their work himself, down to the customization… in this case, a switch that neatly extinguished all the lights. He took advantage of it, and instead of moving over a lane to exit, he stayed put and laid on the throttle even more.
As soon as he’d passed the truck, he suddenly swerved the now-dark Ducati in front of it—sorry, buddy, be out of your way in a micro—and brought the bike up to hop the curb. He narrowly missed the guard rail that started up as the highway prepared to become an overpass, and landed neatly on the ramp of his exit, mentally applauding his decision to put the good shocks on the bike. A quick look in the Ducati’s mirror—yep, the cop had sped on past; Sam could see the flashing blue lights receding over the overpass—and Sam continued toward Encom, wondering how long it would take the super trooper to figure out that his quarry had eluded him. Sorry, man. Guess you’re not gonna make your quota off my back tonight.
Sam parked his bike a few blocks away and jogged toward Encom tower. He knew there were no security cameras monitoring the loading dock. He thought it foolish, but what did he care—it wasn’t his company (except it sort of was, but still). A quick hookup of his phone to the electronic lock, and the code cracker ran several million combination possibilities per second—which meant it was only a few moments before the door beeped obligingly and began to open. And open. And open. Sam raised an eyebrow.
“Now that is a big door,” he said to himself with a smile as he edged through.
Now that he was inside, he needed to be quick. It wouldn’t do to get caught before he finished what he came here for.
He could take the elevator most of the way up, and the building would likely be mostly empty, so he could probably get away with it. He did not, however, have the prox card required for the elevator up to the executive levels. He hadn't seen the point of bothering to hack that one; it would be too risky anyway with the executive levels inhabited for the meeting. Technically you'd assume everyone there would be at the meeting, but you never knew who might've stayed behind to work late, hoping they'd run into one of the big cheeses and get a chance to hobnob a little. So the stairs it would have to be. Thank heaven Sam was in okay shape; he wouldn't be dying by the time he got up there (he hoped).
Let's see... there should be a surveillance camera at the top of this flight. He peeked around the corner. Yep, there it was. That was okay; he'd thought of that too. He pulled out a green laser pointer-- and it wasn't one of those wimpy 5mw ones the astronomy geeks were always squawking was the most powerful it was ethical to use-- but then again, Sam didn't plan on shining it into the sky and taking the risk of disrupting jetliners. He just wanted to disrupt a company a bit. Getting the beam right into the camera's iris ought to overwhelm the electronics for a bit, just long enough for a speedy ascent.
A quick dash up the stairs, keeping his head down, just in case-- if you trip and fall now, Flynn, you're a damn idiot, as well as totally screwed-- and then Sam was through the door at the top successfully. Now to the server room... let's see, according to his information, it should be right down this hall.
Sam didn’t see the laser beam stretching across the doorway, at about calf height. Considering the usual security of this place, he wasn’t expecting more than the lock on the door (which, again, his handy little phone app took care of for him). He quickly located the correct server, hooked up his phone, and began his download. As the software was downloading, he also put the phone to work uploading the data simultaneously to several source websites. He grinned to himself. Technology was a beautiful thing.
His upload was nearly finished—nothing like piggybacking off the fast internet speeds of a technology company—when the server room door opened, and a voice yelled,
“I know you’re in here!”
Shit. It had to be security. How had he been caught?
“Come on, come on,” he muttered, hoping there was only one guard and it took him a while to figure out where Sam was at among the large bank of servers. Finally the progress bar was finished, and Sam yanked all the cords, stuffing them and the phone into his pocket as he slipped between the rows of hardware, away from where he saw the flashlight of the security guard. He was just letting the door click quietly shut behind him when he heard the guard’s excited voice yelling for an invisible prey to freeze. Sam shook his head as he jogged down the hall. A day late and a dollar short.
He wasn’t done with the guard yet, though. He waited briefly at the end of the hallway until he saw the guard emerge from the server room. He paused just long enough to allow the guard to see him, then went on. Now he knew what he was up against, too—a chubby rent-a-cop. Piece of cake.
He passed the board room where the meeting was being held and looked in—his little diversion was already on the screen, Marvin’s buggy eyes larger-than-life as he barked at the shocked execs. Did Alan look slightly amused? Sam smiled and went on. He heard the huffing and puffing of the security guard as the guard, too, rounded the corner. Again Sam paused at the stairwell to make it obvious he was headed for the roof, then took the stairs two at a time. Come on, badge boy. Let’s see you burn off some of those doughnuts tonight.
Once on the roof, Sam adjusted his chute, tightening the straps snugly. This was going to be a blast. He climbed onto the crane arm and walked carefully out to the end.
Wow, what a view. Sam looked out over the millions of lights that stretched as far as his eye could see. Even from up here, the city seemed to go on forever. Was his father out there somewhere? If he watched the news, did he see Sam’s little pranks every year and know it was all for him? Sam took a deep breath.
“Hey, Dad, how you doin’?” He didn’t receive an answer, and he hadn’t expected one. As a kid, Sam had talked to his dad as if Kevin Flynn were actually there. “Hey, Dad, the kids at school were asking about you again today. That stupid guidance counselor won’t leave me alone but I don’t want to talk about anything.” “Hey, Dad, it’s my birthday today. I wish you were here to see my new bike. Aunt Lora made me the coolest cake with Transformers on it and she drew it all on there herself with icing.” “Hey, Dad, that jerk at school is still at it. What do you think I should do? He wants to fight me on Thursday.” “Hey, Dad, I still miss you. Please come home. I promise I’ll be good.” He never got an answer then, either, and finally after a couple years he had given up and accepted that his dad was never coming back.
Sam turned when he heard the security guard’s triumphant voice.
“Where you gonna run to now?” Sam nearly groaned; the overzealous idiot was hauling himself onto the crane and he began edging nervously out toward Sam. Whoa, there, buddy. Hang on. We’re hundreds of feet above a big sea of concrete, his thing’s narrow, you don’t look too stable, and you’re not equipped like I am. Sam held up a hand in warning.
“You don’t want to do that.” The guard ignored him, too hopped up on ambition to stop now.
“Didn’t anybody ever tell you? Stealing is wrong.”
“You can’t steal something that was designed to be free,” Sam pointed out. “Your boss is okay with it.” The guard nearly snorted.
“The hell he is!” Well, Sam had to hand it to the guy. He was dedicated. Sam wondered if Encom knew they were lucky to have a dude so committed to their interests. He guessed not, or this guy wouldn’t be on the grunt shift. Most security guards probably wouldn’t have bothered to get out of the control room for this, and here was this one, chasing Sam practically to the end of the earth even though he was clearly terrified of heights, while his younger partner remained on the safety of the roof and tried to pretend he was helping by attempting to shine a flashlight at the pair. Robocop here oughta be working at a PD or something and busting bank robbers, not two-bit vandals like me. It was almost amusing.
“Look,” Sam told him. “Your boss works for the CEO. And the CEO works for the shareholders. Now, do you know who the biggest shareholder is?” The guard, clearly having no idea where this was going and tired of having his time wasted, shrugged.
“I don’t know; some kid.” Sam shrugged and gave him a smile. Here in the flesh, Robocop. Nice to meet ya. Even in the dark, Sam saw the guard’s demeanor change as his eyebrows went up and a new tone entered his voice.
“You’re Mr. Flynn?” Ah, one of those true believers still loyal to the idea of Kevin Flynn, even though the guy skipped town 20 years ago, leaving Encom in the lurch (not to mention his own son). Sam knew they still existed, even within the company, hadn’t all been weeded out by Mackey and his Board. The guard went on in protest. “But this was your dad’s company.” ‘Was’ is the operative word here, big guy. Was. Sam shook his head.
“Not anymore.” Yeah, that was a good parting line. Sam looked over his shoulder, down at the tiny lines of light below that he knew were cars. The coast looked clear; AirFlynn, you’re cleared for takeoff. Robocop figured it out a split second before Sam took to the sky.
“Hey. Hey, kid.” He sounded alarmed. Suddenly it occurred to Sam that unfortunately, in the dark it was probably impossible for the guard to see black parachute straps against a black jacket, so he got the totally wrong idea. Well, he’d figure it out soon enough. Sam merely leaned and let himself fall, the guard’s cry echoing behind him. “Nooooo!”
Sam let himself enjoy the rush of the fall for a few moments, a tribute to those few times back in high school when he’d considered taking the same plunge sans chute. Finally he pulled the cord and sailed over the city.
He was just congratulating himself on a good jump when he saw the traffic light looming straight ahead of him. Oh, shit. Wasn’t really counting on stuff like that.
“No… no… no no no…” Thwump. And so, our aspiring hero comes to a bad end, he thought, struggling to release the chute as he saw the flashing lights of the police cars drawing nearer. But he was stuck fast. Dammit. He’d just have to cut himself loose, unless he wanted the whole country watching footage on the news of the son of Encom’s most famous CEO swinging ridiculously above Edward R. Murrow Avenue like a deranged Tarzan. Sam dropped a huge sigh—dammit, I just got this chute—then yanked the release, timing his fall so a passing taxi would keep him from breaking a leg or two on the asphalt below.
As he landed, he grabbed the lighted sign on top of the car to keep him from rolling off the cab’s roof and under the wheels of another car. He couldn’t help but laugh at himself and the stupid situation he’d gotten himself into as he heard the taxi driver banging on the roof and yelling. Then the driver started swerving. Damn, you trying to kill me? Sam hung on for dear life. Finally it occurred to the driver to slam on the brakes, and Sam tumbled down the hood and hit the pavement running. The flashing lights were all around now, and sure, they were going to get him, but Sam figured he might as well make them earn their keep tonight. He vaulted over the hood of one of the cop cars, but found himself suddenly lit from above. Sam looked up. Really? You brought out the helicopter? Well, don’t I feel special. He laughed to himself as he raised his hands and looked around at all of the cops with way-too-serious expressions, even though half the faces were marginally familiar to Sam. Come on guys, haven’t we done this enough that you should know better than that?
“All right, all right, you got me,” he called out, resisting the urge to add sardonically, you caught the ‘Tater, as a couple cops moved in on him.
Connolly shoved Sam into the backseat of his cruiser and moments later, slid behind the wheel.
“Dammit, Flynn.” Connolly’s partner, Stewart, turned around and spoke through the plastic barrier. "Did you have to make it such a big production tonight? It’s my anniversary, you asshole, and I was hoping to get off on time for once.”
“Sorry about that.” Sam grinned.
“Quit smiling or I’ll come back there and wipe that smirk right off your face. This is going to be a shit-ton of paperwork, I’ve just missed a chance to get lucky and I’ll be sleeping on the couch tonight. What the hell did you do this time?”
“Made a gift of OS-12 to the masses. Want to know where to download it?” Connolly groaned.
“My fourteen-year-old will thank you, but I don’t know. They might actually press charges for that one.”
“Nah. They wouldn’t risk the embarrassment.”
“So where’d you stash the ride? I doubt you took the bus down here.”
“Down at Cass and Howard. And yeah, I’d appreciate it if you guys would pick it up; I’d rather it still has wheels and stuff in the morning.”
“I should key the fuck out of the damn thing myself. Impound should just give you an assigned space.” But Stewart keyed up the radio anyway.
“Hey, somebody wanna run over to Cass and Howard and pick up the perp’s bike? It’s a Ducati.” He turned to Sam with a smirk. “What is that, like a 400cc or something?” Sam didn’t bother to answer the crack verbally; he just slouched back in his seat and extended his middle finger.
“Yeah, love you too, sweetheart.” Stewart's voice dripped sarcastic acid. Connolly heaved a huge sigh.
“Would you two knock off the romance already? We’re here.”
Down in Booking, the desk sergeant on duty groaned as the three walked in the door. Great, Schneider tonight. The dude was a dickhead who couldn’t take a joke.
“Oh, holy hell,” Schneider groaned. “I was afraid it was you. Aren’t you getting a little old for this bullshit?” Connolly took the cuffs off and Sam rubbed his wrists as Schneider opened up his inkpad. “Come on, hotshot. You know the drill.” Sam handed his jacket to Stewart and emptied his pockets, raised his arms straight to the sides for another patdown, then obediently held out his left hand for Schneider, one finger already helpfully extended for printing.
“We’ll start with your thumb, smartass,” Schneider growled. Connolly and Stewart said nothing as they took their leave; Schneider wasn’t entirely popular around the department, either.
Six hours later, Sam walked out the door of the PD, a free man once again after posting bail. A quick trip to the guy in the Impound lot—“Hey, Carl”—and the Ducati was liberated as well. The pair roared home, Sam stopping at the 24-hour market on the way to pick up some deli brisket for Marvin the movie star.
He groaned when he saw the familiar Volvo parked near his apartment. Should’ve known to expect that… but really, at this time of night? Isn’t it way past the old man’s bedtime by now? The garage door opened and Sam pulled the Ducati neatly in. He paused to toss Marv his treat—even though you don’t deserve it, you shelter mutt; way to protect the place from intruders, though he supposed he shouldn't expect the little dog to be much protection from an “intruder” he happened to be insanely fond of. If Marv could've unlocked the door for Alan, he probably would have, and Sam wasn't sure he'd put it past the clever little animal to have tried. Sam hit the button for the door on the opposite side of the apartment, and opened the fridge, not bothering to turn before speaking.
“Why are you in my apartment, Alan?” Not that he really needed to ask. No doubt it was lecture time yet again. You would think one silver lining to the cloud of having no dad would be a lack of lectures, but Sam wasn’t so lucky—he had Alan. He pulled a beer out of the fridge and cracked it open.
His father’s oldest friend shrugged as he walked in from Sam's back deck overlooking the river. Sam wondered how long he'd been out there waiting.
“You don’t answer your phone.” No shit, Sherlock. That’s ‘cause all my stuff was safely locked away with Desk Sergeant Schneider, who, while you were attempting to call me, was no doubt perusing my phone hoping I’d have naked pictures of some girl tucked away on there. “How you been, Sam?” Oh, Lord. Small talk? Bullshit, Alan. Quit beating around the bush and get to the point already.
“ Yeah, well, you know, I appreciated the surrogate-father thing when I was twelve, but come on, Alan. I got it all under control now.” Unsaid, old man: get off my back. Sam knew, too, that his choice of words would bring the message across loud and clear. Alan had always tried hard to be a sort of replacement for Flynn, despite the fact that he and Lora had never wanted children of their own. It was something Sam had alternately appreciated and railed against over the years. And he knew this dig—remember you aren’t, and never could be, my dad—would be painful.
“Oh,” Alan said sarcastically. Dammit, he’d always been so good at that. It also showed that Sam’s barb had found its mark. “Clearly.” Not tonight, Alan, please, not tonight. Let’s pass on the sarcasm tonight. But Sam couldn’t help carrying the goad just a little further.
“What is it, you wanna help me with my homework, like old times, have a catch?” Sam tossed a second can to Alan, who barely caught it and smiled (Alan playing catch. Ha. They’d tried it maybe twice. But Alan Bradley belonged firmly behind a computer screen, not a baseball glove. He may have been king of his domain in a programming environment, but when it came to anything involving sports… well, the less said, the better). Go on and open it right now, Sam thought. I gave it a good shake, too. Cleaning up the mess will be worth it.
“Nice view you’ve got here,” Alan commented pointedly, setting the can down. Sam didn’t answer. He wrinkled his nose as a pungent smell wafted to it. That jerk Stewart must’ve been pretty sore about the anniversary thing, because he’d made sure Sam got tossed into the drunk tank instead of regular holding.
“Sorry, man,” he’d said with a shit-eating type of grin. “We’re pretty full-up tonight.” One of Sam's cell mates had been slumped in a corner talking to himself. The other had been dead-asleep, but it was also painfully obvious he’d pissed himself… which, judging by the smell in the cell, was not an uncommon experience for its previous inhabitants, either.
What Sam really wanted was a shower, but he supposed that would have to wait until Alan had said his piece—and there was no hurrying Alan along; he’d just talk until he was done—and left. Sam settled for digging up a clean(ish) shirt out of a corner and told himself that if Alan wanted to barge in unannounced at inconvenient times, he’d just have to deal with a little nudity. Sam turned his back to Alan, tossed his smelly shirt into the same corner, and pulled on the new one.
“Hear you did a triple axel off of her a few hours ago,” Alan went on. “Rough landing, huh?”
“Eh, could’ve been worse,” Sam answered shortly; it was time to end this streak of sarcasm. Alan, apparently, didn’t agree.
“I also thought your... message to the Board was... very clever.”
“Oh, did you like that?” Sam lowered himself, somewhat-painfully, onto the couch. “Yeah, that was Marv's idea.” Alan gave a chuckle... but it was one of those ones he had that meant he wasn't actually that amused. The sort he'd always used when Sam had done something that may have been marginally funny, but not funny enough to keep him out of trouble. Sam looked up. Oh, dammit. Why did Alan have to be so damn good at dirty looks? Every time, it made Sam feel ten years old again and like he'd gotten into yet another playground fight. Sam shrugged, tried to laugh, failed miserably. Alan continued to glare. Sam sighed. Not this again. Not. This. Again.
“Come on, Alan. Are we really going to do this again? Do I really look like I'm ready to run a Fortune-500 company?” Fix your own damn company, Alan. Leave me alone.
“No.” Okay, well, maybe you didn’t need to be entirely honest. “And truthfully? The company likes you just where you are.”
“I bet.” I can be sarcastic too. Sam grabbed a Ducati repair manual that sat on top of the pile of magazines on his coffee table, and tried to feign indifference. He hoped if he looked bored, Alan would give up and go away. He also really didn’t want to talk about this, and if he looked Alan in the eye right now, the older man would see precisely how much. Unfortunately, Sam was aware that any attempt to hide his emotions from Alan provided a thin façade at best; he was an expert at closing himself off from other people, but Alan Bradley knew him too well, especially on this subject, for the act to be successful, and Sam knew it. The best Sam could do when it came to Alan was put on the 'sullen teenager' act he’d utilized for well over a decade and hope the old man chose not to pursue the matter.
“See, that way they can just… keep doing whatever they want.” I can’t change the world, Alan. “You know, what I find curious is… the crazy charities, the annual prank on the company. You sure have an interesting way of being disinterested, Sam.” Damn, Bradley, do you ever need to mind your own business and quit playing armchair psychologist. Sam interrupted his old friend quickly.
“Why are you here, Alan?” he asked quietly. What he meant was, why are you really here? He knew Alan hadn’t come over just to deliver a sermon about his prank, nor to needle him about taking over the company—though Alan would treat the opportunity like icing on the cake of whatever his real motives were; Alan Bradley always had been a multitasker.
“Sam, I was paged last night.” Sam looked up momentarily; Alan was indeed holding aloft a pager. Sam hadn’t seen one of those in… well, a long time. Leave it to Alan to be anachronistic. It was a good excuse for an attempt to change the subject. Sam smiled and put on a light tone.
“Oh, man. Still rocking the pager, Alan. Good for you.” Alan smiled too, but Sam could already tell it was that half-smile that meant Alan still had other things on his mind. Sure enough, his face turned serious again soon enough. Damn, so much for diversion.
“Yeah, your dad once told me I had to sleep with it. I still do.” Congratulations, Alan. Do you want an award? Should I make it out to ‘guy who’s been carrying a torch way too long’ or ‘dude who has a really unhealthy obsession with electronics’? “The page came from your dad’s office at the arcade.” Oh God, not those pranksters again. I thought they gave up years ago. What do you expect me to do about it, Alan? Sam tried—and failed miserably—to keep his voice disinterested.
“’So’?” That number’s been disconnected for twenty years!” So? Sam thought, too wise to say it out loud this time. So somebody figured out how to spoof a phone number. What else is new?
“ Sam, two nights before he disappeared, he came to my house. ‘I’ve cracked it,’ he kept saying.” Is there a point to this? Do you really have to bring him up every couple years like clockwork? Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten he’s gone. “Now, he was talking about genetic algorithms, quantum teleportation… he said he was about to change everything: science, medicine, religion… he wouldn’t have left that, Sam.” Then Alan seemed to think better of his words, realized how the sentence sounded, and he sat next to Sam on the couch, put on a lighter tone, and punched Sam’s arm gently. “He wouldn’t have left you.” Sam tried not to roll his eyes. Come on, Alan. I’m not ten years old anymore. Cut the bullshit. It was time to end the charade; Sam didn’t want to be here all night.
“Oh, Alan.” He stood abruptly and walked to his back deck to look out over the river. “You’re the only one who still believes that.” He turned to confront Alan again; he was tired of Alan always dragging him backward when he just wanted to forget about it and get on with his life. “Look, he’s either dead, or chilling in Costa Rica. And probably both. Look, I'm sorry. I'm tired, and I smell like jail. Let's just reconvene in another couple of years, huh, what do you say?” He turned away again.
“Here. These are the keys to the arcade. I haven’t been over there yet. I thought you should be the one.” Fat chance. What the hell is there for me?
“Alan. You act like I’m going to find him there working, just, ‘hey kiddo, lost track of time!’” Sam was getting tired of the ridiculousness of this conversation. It was too late at night for this bullshit.
“Wouldn’t that be something.” What the hell is that supposed to mean? But Sam raised a hand to catch the keys when Alan tossed them, though he’d have preferred to let them sail on by and hope they’d land in the river (but he knew better than to hope. Alan’s arm had never been that good). Now are you done?
Sam tossed back the rest of his beer as Alan, his piece said, made his dramatic exit with the smug air of virtue he always exuded when he’d successfully dispensed a lecture he felt ethically obligated to deliver. Sam stared at the lights across the water as he slowly crushed the can in his hand. Dammit. He’d mostly been doing okay tonight. The pranks always lifted his spirits enough to edge him through the anniversaries, and now Alan had come by and fucked it up. Thanks a lot, man. Sam let the can drop where he stood and stalked back into his apartment, angrily mashing the button to close the door.
“What’re you looking at?” he asked Marv. He pulled his shirt off violently, throwing it back into the same corner he’d gotten it from, and headed for the shower, shedding his clothes in a trail as he went like some sort of modern-day, nudist Hansel and Gretel who hoped it might help him find his way back to sanity.
He turned the water as hot as he could stand, and then turned it up a little more. It stung momentarily when it hit the lacerations on his back, but right now the pain felt good. And once he got over the initial burn, the heat was soothing to his sore muscles.
He just stood, one hand braced high against the wall of the shower and his head tilted to lean against his upstretched arm, as the hot water pounded against his back. Finally—he didn’t know how long he stood there—he roused himself enough to shampoo his hair (twice, just to make sure; damn that asshole Stewart) and let the suds stay on his hands long enough to allow his Head & Shoulders to do double duty as body wash as he scrubbed down the rest of himself. He stood in the precise center of the spray for probably longer than he needed for rinsing off, his head tilted back slightly to keep soap out of his eyes. Then he snapped the shower off, grabbed a towel and rubbed it hard against his eyes, and wrapped it around his waist. He averted his eyes from the fogged-up mirror as he went past.
He tripped over Marvin as he went up to his bedroom, and let the towel fall into a damp heap on the floor before flopping across the bed and making a half-hearted effort to pull the blankets up. He simply closed his eyes where he lay, sprawled on his stomach; he didn’t feel like messing around with trying to get perfectly comfortable. He just wanted this day to be over.
Unfortunately, Sam found it wasn’t that easy. An hour later, he was now on his back, staring at the ceiling, though the endless minutes had found him in just about every position in between as well. Even Marv had tired of the constant tossing and turning and had gone to seek his dog bed in the corner, where every so often he emitted a self-satisfied groan that probably meant he was dreaming of chasing squirrels (or perhaps just fending off a brisket-induced tummyache).
Finally, Sam sat straight up in bed. Damn. It. Alan had known precisely what he was doing when he gave Sam those keys. He’d known Sam all his life, and therefore he was well aware that Sam couldn’t let a mystery or problem go unsolved. This wasn’t the first time Alan had used it to his own advantage; Sam supposed it wouldn’t be the last. Well, curiosity killed the cat, Flynn; he thought. Might as well go and see.
He pulled on jeans and a t-shirt, and added a sweatshirt against the night chill. Automatically he stopped in the bathroom and tipped a few drops of gel into his hand, smoothing his bangs up, then laughed at himself when he realized what he was doing. It’s the middle of the night, man, you’re headed out to an old building nobody’s set foot in for years, and you act like you’re going on a date. But even though he felt like the equivalent of the housewife who puts on makeup for a quick run to the gas station, he didn’t stop himself. Alan, you act like I’m going to find him just sitting there… Wouldn’t that be something. Sam shook his head. Since when was he prone to superstition? But he resisted the urge to mash his palm against his forehead to flatten his hair out anyway, and instead went downstairs to fire up the Ducati.
The whole way to the arcade, Sam fought the urge to turn around and go back. What are you afraid you’re going to find there? It’s just a dusty old building. Soon you’re going to be back home and in bed, feeling like a fool, and maybe then those keys will be at the bottom of the river.
He pulled up outside and stood there, looking at the familiar building. He’d loved going there as a kid. Playing the games (he vowed some day he’d beat his dad’s high score), hanging out in his dad’s office (which used to be his apartment as well—and of course Sam thought that was the awesomest thing in the world and regularly wished they lived at the arcade, too)… the regulars knew and loved him and Sam always felt cool when the older kids would ruffle his hair and let him go up against them at Space Paranoids (and when he won, it wasn't always because they'd let him). How many years had it been since he’d even forced himself to go down the street? Come on, Flynn. Just go in. He took a deep breath and killed the Ducati’s motor.
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