Sæhrímnir and Jörmungandr; Part 1 of 2
Sæhrímnir and Jörmungandr; Part 1 of 2
Chad stood on the corner of Third Street and Clement in the shadows cast by the downtown towers. Tears filled his eyes as he stared across the street at the Braun Edenborough Savings and Loan.
He started gasping and wished the crowds passing by would at least notice he was there; he wanted somebody to stop him, but they just kept walking.
He’d been trying to grow up, to become a decent person. He thought of Robin, someone holding a knife to her throat, and a security guard his friends had killed three months before, gunned down in the street; the papers said he was survived by a wife and kids.
“You take one look at me and start crying, I didn’t think I was that mean,” a girl said. She was standing between him and the bank across the street.
She wore a dress, or maybe a long shirt, in the kind of green they’d make cotton-candy, if green cotton-candy was a thing. Her orange hair made a Jello-bounce as she cocked her head, staring at him.
“…Sorry,” he said.
“Here,” the girl said, forcing something into his hand. It was a little lollipop, a Dum Dum.
He wasn’t hungry but unwrapped it anyway, wondering if it might be green or orange, but it was butterscotch.
“You don’t remember me, do ya? I thought I woulda made an impression- Maybe I made too much of an impression,” she said, snickering; her laugh seemed to ring a bell.
“We’ve met before?” he asked.
“Yeah- So, you got a crush on a bank teller, ’cause Robin’ll be pissed.”
“Jo?” he asked. Jo was the oddly-gender-neutral girl Robin’s ex was dating. The one time they’d met previously she’d been wearing white grease paint.
“Ding ding,” Jo said. “But seriously, bank tellers are trouble, she’ll wanna do your taxes, but that’s just a ruse.”
“I’m just sayin’, when you’re a calculator everything looks like dollars and cents- And you might have some value,” she said, narrowing her eyes, “but I don’t think you’ll add up.”
Chad wasn’t sure he understood her logic, and he didn’t have a crush on a bank teller. He still felt vaguely insulted. “…You know about Gadara, right?” he asked.
“Reilly and his merry band of bank robbers, or the punk band?” she asked. They were one and the same, and, a few short months before, Chad had been one of them.
“You shouldn’t say things like that so loud.”
“Bank robbers!?” she asked with a voice that made him think she had a loud speaker hidden on her person. “These people,” she said, pointing at the gray suits passing them by, “they wouldn’t notice a freight train comin’ at em. Look. Banana! Banana! Banana! Ah! …That guy looked.”
“So what about em? Gadara? You thinkin’ about easy money and easy women- but I always thought punk-girls were kinda skanky….”
“I’m in trouble,” he said and felt the tears welling in his eyes again.
Jo’s face darkened, literally. As she leaned forward her gentle brow cast a dark shadow over her eyes, but Chad could see the sneer she was holding back. “Why don’t ya tell me about it,” she said.
“…They know about Robin, that we’re going out-”
“Are they jealous?”
“Reilly said they’ll hurt her….”
“They want money? ‘Cause I thought you were mooching off Robin’s grandma.”
He thought of correcting her, telling her how Robin had gotten him a job sweeping popcorn at the Perenelle, but it would ring hollow, and she would just say something clever about janitors. “We’re supposed to meet here, in a half-hour. At the end of lunch security changes shift. Reilly says they’re unarmed while they take turns at the gun-safe.”
“So, they want you back in the gang…. Don’t you feel special?”
“No,” he said, but he shouldn’t have answered her nonsense, because now she was smiling. “Don’t tell Robin about this, okay? I wanna tell her myself, if I make it out, and if I don’t…. Just don’t tell her.”
“So, you’re gonna go in guns-blazing?”
“That was the plan,” he said.
“Do you even have guns to blaze? And won’t they just give you the money if you wave a gun around?”
“I’m gonna kill them.”
“That sounds excessive, and who’ll open the safe-”
He was sure she’d already understood, but he explained himself anyway. “I’m going to kill Reilly and the others-”
“Because they were mean to you?”
“Yeah, and because they know about Robin.”
“Well,” Jo said, taking a step forward so she could look up at him, her golden eyes glittering, “I can help you with that.”
Tobie sat at his desk in the big office on the second floor of the People’s Voice.
A big round happy woman stood over him, Jenni. Her hair was dyed an odd shade of brown, but, with her round red cheeks and general exuberance, his first impression had been Mrs. Claus, and his impression hadn’t shifted by much. Though, she wasn’t married.
“Edgar-Rice-Burroughs had her kittens,” she said, tapping at at one of the photos she’d fanned out on his desk, a photo of a tabby splayed out on a flowery comforter in a near-sexually-provocative pose.
“That’s nice,” Tobie said. “Are they cute?”
“Adorable,” she said, beaming. “You live alone, don’t you Tobie?”
She knew he did. And he didn’t want a kitten.
“Companionship warms the heart,” she said.
“…I’ve been dating,” Tobie said. A few heads turned, reporters distracted by idle gossip from the stories they were typing.
“Really?!” Jenni said, almost skipping in place.
Tobie would have fed her a few vague details. He was reconciled to dating a man, but thinking of Jo as a man just seemed wrong, a boy maybe, but that felt gross; he was pretty sure Jo was eighteen at least.
He would have told Jenni that Jo was cute and clever using neutral pronouns, because Tobie wasn’t ready to be out at work. He would have, but like thinking about Jo was all it took to summon him, Jo was standing in the doorway of their office, wearing a tunic, or maybe a summer dress, the light green color of young daisy petals.
Tobie was thinking quickly, trying to decide how he would introduce Jo while controlling the conversation so Jo wouldn’t have a chance to play any jokes at his workplace, but when he looked up, still unsure what he was going to say, Jenni and her cat photos were gone.
Jo quickly skipped over, taking her place. “Hi, Sweety,” he said, leaning down and giving Tobie a long, dramatic, kiss.
“…Hi,” Tobie said and heard somebody clear their throat.
“Juh- Jailbait,” the same somebody said, faking a cough like they were in sixth grade.
“Sucking off dogs is wrong, Jeremy,” Jo called to a man a few desks behind him. “I’ll tell your mom if you don’t cut it out- and anyway, from a short little ugly-bastard who lives with his mom, it kinda sounds like jealousy-”
“Jo!” Tobie said.
“Sorry, Jerr’,” Jo said, but his smile wasn’t apologetic.
“This is Jo,” Tobie said, turning in his seat and finding Jeremy Miller, a man in his forties who’d cut his teeth on the news and spent twenty years on the international desk, pale faced and slack jawed. “Jo’s kind of… a comedian.”
Jeremy nodded slowly before returning to his typewriter.
“Do you know him?” Tobie whispered.
“I know something about everybody you work with,” Jo said. “Jeremy shows a standard poodle- He medaled last year- Guys that own poodles are weird….”
“Did you want to get lunch?” Tobie asked. It was the first time Jo had shown up at his work, while he was there at least, and Tobie wanted him out as quickly as possible.
“I have plans…” Jo said, looking down at his toes. Jo seemed to choose the expressions he put on his face, but at that moment he looked authentically depressed. “I’m sorry, Tobie.”
“Is everything okay?”
“Yeah… I just never thought of having lunch together- I could come by tomorrow.”
“I could meet you at the sandwich place across the street-”
“Or a picnic in the park?” Jo said, his face brightening.
“That sounds nice,” Tobie said. It did. They could find a quiet spot in the shade of a tree, far away from anyone who might overhear the strangely vile things that too-frequently leaked from Jo’s mouth. “So, did you just drop by to say hi?”
“Nope,” Jo said, leaning in again and whispering. “I got a hot story.”
“What kind?” Tobie asked.
Jo had started as a source whose info had gotten Tobie a tiny raise and had helped him to get the brand-new senior before his reporter title.
“What if I told you it’s about unsafe work conditions, a huge car crash, and our favorite serial killer, Father Michaelson?”
“…Is it about that?” Tobie asked.
“More or less,” Jo said, tossing a stack of napkins on Tobie’s desk. There was a list of three addresses and three times, written in ball point. The next page was a map with an X and you should be here, written in red. After two more maps, the final page was scribbled with a pair of stick figures holding hands, a taller one with glasses Tobie assumed was himself, and a shorter one with a swash of highlighter-orange hair.
“What’s with the times?” Tobie asked, finding Jo already on his way out of the office.
“Tonight,” Jo said as he slipped out.
Jenni seemed to appear out of thin air, and Tobie jumped in his seat. “She’s quite something,” Jenni said.
“…Thanks,” he said.
“Some of us are trying to work,” Jeremy said, clearing his throat again.
Chad walked into the downtown Big Noodle, just a few blocks from the bank he was supposed to have robbed and a couple of hours after that robbery was supposed to have taken place.
He was planning to get a table and wait for Jo to show up, but he found Jo waiting for him.
“You make the calls?” she asked, kicking out a chair on the other side of her table and pointing at it.
“Yeah,” Chad said taking the seat. He’d just finished making three of the most humiliating phone calls he ever planned to make.
Rockatansky, Gadara’s drummer, was first on the list. Chad had told him how his uncle had died two weeks ago and left him a wad of cash. Chad told him he wanted to buy them off, to buy his way out. He’d told Rockatansky how he felt they were friends, how he trusted him, and gave him a time and a place.
Rockatansky was a complete asshole, and Chad didn’t have any dead-uncles he knew of, or wads of cash, but it was Jo’s story.
The next call had been to Smithee, the bassist, who was slightly less of an asshole but just as psychotic. The content of the call had been basically the same but with a different time and place.
His call to Reilly had been slightly more embarrassing than humiliating, because he’d had to leave the message with Reilly’s step-dad.
“Did Widdle-Chaddy get embarrassed?” Jo said, leaning back in her seat with a sneer on her lips as she kicked him in the shin.
“Yeah,” Chad said. “It was like pulling my own teeth. You happy?”
“I didn’t think it’d be that bad. Sorry,” Jo said, but she didn’t look sorry.
“…What’re we gonna do now?” he asked.
“Eat noodles- and I ordered some inari-zushi.”
“Well, we’re gonna be waiting here for a while- I got here just in time for their Infinite-Noodle-Bowl-Special.”
“Why didn’t I tell ’em we’d meet in the afternoon?” he asked. He liked the Big Noodle well enough, but being forced to spend five hours there while Jo threw daggers at his ego sounded like a yet-unnamed circle of hell.
“Naughty business, sexy or otherwise,” Jo said, “is better done at night.”
Tobie had spent the rest of his day dodging the curious or disdainful stares of his coworkers and was now actually happy to be on the probable-snipe-hunt Jo had sent him on.
He was at a construction site in an odd inland district, a dead-zone just out of the city-proper and a few miles before the you-could-be-home-already subdivisions. It was planned to be some kind of shopping center with a Sears and a grocery at least, but the half constructed skeleton at the center of the lot was at least five stories, currently just concrete pillars and a lot of steel scaffolding.
Tobie hoped he’d found the red X on the map. His Mikey-Vole-watch read somewhere in the area of 7:30, and he’d spent a half-hour sitting behind a pallet of red brick, waiting for somebody named Rockatansky. Rockatansky didn’t sound like a real name, even a Polish one, but there was a little black dot on the map, near that half-built tower, and Rockatansky seemed to be what it said next to the dot.
Even if Jo liked to play pranks, sending him off to spend a moonlit evening at a construction site sounded a little mundane for one of his gags.
“Chad?!” someone yelled and Tobie sat up straight, knocking his head against the stack of bricks.
He peered around the corner carefully as Rockatansky, presumably, yelled again, “Chad! Where the fuck are ya, you cunt?!”
He was standing just about where the black dot had placed him. He looked vaguely biker, Tobie thought, but then he remembered a movie Robin had dragged him to, about cops in dystopic Australia; he couldn’t remember the title.
“If you fuckin’ dragged me out here for nothin’, I’m gonna rape that fat bitch!”
The guy looked ready to give up and had started to walk back to where ever he’d come from, thankfully in the opposite direction of where Tobie was hiding, but then he stopped and crouched down low.
Rockatansky stood up again and seemed to be looking at something. Then he turned in place, looking around for someone, Chad, probably.
In the moment before Tobie hid himself again, he saw what looked liked a piece of paper in Rockatansky’s hand. He was a dozen yards away at least, but it looked like a napkin.
Tobie peered around again, readying himself to dash if he was spotted, but Rockatansky wasn’t looking his way. He seemed to be playing a one man game of tug-of-war with an invisible rope.
Tobie strained his eyes, thinking he needed a new eye-glass prescription.
Rockatansky had a wire in his hands, fine cable shimmering in the moonlight. He was pulling it up from the dusty earth and following it as he went, getting closer and closer to that half-built tower.
The wire came up all together and seemed to connect to a spot ten feet up on the five floors of steel scaffolding.
The guy started to yank the wire and Tobie almost yelled out, knowing whatever Jo had planned wasn’t going to end well.
Rockatansky wrapped the wire around his hand and pulled one last time. There was a little chink like the sound of the glass in a picture frame breaking, a bad omen.
Rockatansky took a step back, but the scaffolding came down all at once. He had time to yell, “Fuh-” before a ten foot long steel pipe skewered him, stabbing through his chest and leaving him half-standing like he was playing limbo.
Tobie felt bile creeping up his throat when he heard a familiar snicker echoing in that once-again-still construction site.
He heard something like a lawnmower engine starting in the distance and saw a single red tail-light recede into the night.