The end is nigh!
If this is your first time reading this book, you can find previous chapters here:
- Read Chapter One here
- Read Chapter Two here
- Read Chapter Three here
- Read Chapter Four here
- Read Chapter Five here
- Read Chapter Six here
- Read Chapter Seven here
- Read Chapter Eight here
- Read Chapter Nine here
- Read Chapter Ten here
- Read Chapter Eleven here
- Read Chapter Twelve here
- Read Chapter Thirteen here
- Read Chapter Fourteen here
- Read Chapter Fifteen here
- Read Chapter Sixteen here
- Read Chapter Seventeen here
- Read Chapter Eighteen here
- Read Chapter Nineteen here
- Read Chapter Twenty here
- Read Chapter Twenty-One here
- Read Chapter Twenty-Two here
- Read Chapter Twenty-Three here
- Read Chapter Twenty-Four here
- Read Chapter Twenty-Five here
- Read Chapter Twenty-Six here
- Read Chapter Twenty-Seven here
One in a Million – Chapter 28
Meanwhile, Back in the Tenderloin
Justin Tripp finished Escape from the Planet of the Apes with a sigh of satisfaction. There was no way he could get through the last two movies without pizza. Thank God Gumby’s pizza was almost walking distance. Not that he was going to walk. He ordered two extra large meatasaurus rex pizzas with extra cheese and peppers and a two-liter bottle of Coke. That would do for a start.
He walked into his office and found that D.J. had placed the day’s receipts and monies in the usual drawer of the filing cabinet. Justin glanced at the tape and whistled. “That little Pakuni had a record day. Goddamn!” Justin plucked thirty dollars out of the bag, which covered his meal plus a small tip, and replaced the rest, shutting and locking the cabinet again. Thus flush with cash, he took the spare key off of the nail by the door and walked into his store. His domain. His kingdom. His..empty shelves. His smashed in door. His bare vintage comics wall. Oh, Jesus.
The enormity of what he found took a while to permeate through his pot-addled brain. “I got robbed,” he said, out loud. “Dude. I got robbed.” He reached for his telephone and dialed 9-1-1.
A woman’s voice asked, “Nine One One, what is your emergency?”
“Yeah, I’m like the owner of Comix Comix Comix in the Tenderloin, and I’m inside more store right now. Someone has robbed the place.”
“Okay, sir, are they in the store with you now?”
Justin dropped the phone. He hit the floor. Oh god, why didn’t he think of that. He crawled over to the phone. “Maybe,” he whispered. “I don’t know.”
“Okay, sir, stay on the line, I am sending a squad car.”
The cops? Coming here? Forty seven years of stoner panic took over and he hung up the phone. “I gotta hide the bong, hide the papers, hide the baggie. They’re going to want to see everything. Shit!” He stood up, and then remembered that the robbers could still be in the store and he hit the ground again.
It was in that position that Jeff, the Gumby’s Pizza Delivery boy, found Justin when he walked up to the front door. “Hey, Justin,” he said. Then he stopped and recoiled. “Dude, someone jacked up your door, man.”
“I know,” said Justin from the floor.
“Hey man, are you all right?”
Justin got up. “I think so. I got robbed, man. You didn’t see anything, did you?”
“No,” said Jeff. “Sorry, Dude.”
Justin walked over. They exchanged money and food through the gaping hole in the glass door.
“Thanks, Bro,” said Jeff.
Justin stood in the middle of the store, thoughtfully munching on a piece of pizza as he surveyed the damage. Thank god for insurance. Wait, did he have insurance? Another bath of panic-sweat broke out over him, but before he could do the mental gymnastics to confirm that he did in fact have theft coverage, an eight-foot tall golem made entirely out of comic book boxes strode up to the front door and pulled it completely off of its hinges. It crashed out into the street and the remaining glass exploded like a firework.
Justin was dumbstruck. There was nothing in his world that could explain the boxes walking into the store, taking a quick left turn, on their own locomotion. It’s like a wicker man, only out of cardboard boxes…or a Lego Man…or something…nope, he realized, there was no framework for it.
The golem nodded to Justin once, as if in understanding, and then Justin watched as the boxes, one by one, dropped off of the giant automaton. As each box hit the floor, the lid bounced off and comic books, toys, and whatever else was in them slid out and then glided back to their place in the store like reverse stop-motion animation. Comics walked and occasionally tumbled back up the wall, coming to rest just as they had been laid out originally. Some boxes returned, unopened, to their spot behind the counter. The whole process took ten minutes, and it was the most surreal, most beautiful, most unbelievable thing Justin had ever seen in his whole life.
Never had any amount of drugs and alcohol in any combination ever given him so clear and lucid an altered state of reality. When the last box slid quietly into place, and the giant cardboard man was no more, he felt a tear roll down his cheek. He also realized he had unchewed food still in his mouth. He was standing like that in his store, one opened pizza box in his hand, and the other one upside down on the floor, when the cops pulled up, thirty five minutes later.
Mike Bretz’s magic was a capricious thing, often obeying the letter of his commands rather than the spirit. For example, when he told Jerry, Seb, Stevie, and Phong to get back in the van, he didn’t think he had to specify what that meant. Not having anything more concrete to go on, the seven magic voodoo dolls of power that worked only for Mike Bretz obligingly depositing the quartet into the van, with no thought as to what else might be in there.
Of the four, Sebastian got off the luckiest. His arm had rematerialized half inside the driver’s seat. He was trapped, but not strictly helpless. Phong found himself wedged into the metal shelves that held various components and in such a way that the shelves would have to be unbolted in order for him to escape. Stevie ended up under all of the displaced components with a broken Plasma screen television on his chest. He was pinned, with no leverage to pull himself out, and no one able to help him. Jerry found himself upside down in the van, with one foot punched through the roof, right at the ankle.
Jerry, Stevie, Phong and Sebastian had screamed themselves hoarse, and now there was nothing left but to try and wait out an eventual rescue. Jerry had fallen into a kind of half-sleep when he felt the van rocking. He lifted his head up, an effort which brought considerable pain upon his whole person, and saw that Sebastian had found a box cutter and was sawing madly at the upholstery that had him trapped.
“What are you doing?” he said.
“Getting the fuck out of here,” said Sebastian. “I ain’t getting caught again.”
“Well, can you free us, too?” Jerry whined.
Sebastian stopped hacking at the vinyl and foam long enough to turn around. “Look at all of you! You’re fucked!” Seb laughed and got back to work. “I don’t know how you got your foot caught like that, Dude, but I ain’t sticking around to see you get it out. Sonofabitch!” He dropped the box cutter. A scarlet ribbon ran down his elbow.
“You’re destroying company property!” Jerry said.
Seb laughed again. “Yeah, about that. I quit.” He began wriggling his arms this way and that, trying to work it out of the hole.
“Seb, please don’t leave us,” Jerry pleaded. “We’re your friends.”
The laugh was a bark this time. “What? Man, you have a killer gaming rig, all right. We played Call of Duty together a few times. That don’t make us friends, dude. We were colleagues at best.”
His arm popped out, and he was rewarded with another nick from the box cutter. He scrambled over the ruined front seat and said, ”Good Luck!” Seb slammed the door and walked off, whistling.
“Boy, what a asshole,” said Phong. “Right guys?”
“Go fuck yourself,” said Jerry.
“Yeah, what he said,” said Stevie.
“You sold us out to your hoodlum brother, Phong! That’s some bullshit right there!” Jerry was livid. “What happened to honor among thieves? Did you think we weren’t going to split the loot with you?”
“Your little plan?” Phong scoffed. “One time. Small time. I get in good with Le’s gang? I’m a made man. For life.”
“What a player you are,” said Stevie.
“You know who’s fault this is?” Jerry said. “It’s Sebastian’s fault. And I’m going to get him, if it’s the—“
“SHUT UP, JERRY! JUST SHUT UP!” Stevie screamed, his voice cracking in the middle. “It’s your fault! You wanted vengeance! You wanted revenge! Well how does it feel, Jerry? You feeling like Kahn, yet, Jerry? Your bullshit notions of what’s fair and what’s right are the reason why I’m trapped under a bunch of stereo equipment and you’re hanging upside down by your foot!”
“No need to get personal, Stevie,” said Jerry. “Jeez, if you feel that way about it, maybe we shouldn’t hang out anymore.”
“Oh go fuck yourself,” said Stevie.
“Yeah, what he said,” said Phong.