After taking my leave of the doc, I head across the street to a small cafe called Jose’s. It’s basically just a sandwich shop, but the food’s cheaper than the hospital cafeteria and about a thousand times better. Plus it’s a nice, cheery setting, with big open windows instead of the industrial gloom of the hospital. It’s not like hanging out in a hospital is ever really going to be fun, but the cafeteria at Carnation really seems to go out of its way to be depressing.
With a table secured and a sandwich ordered, I take out my phone and stare at it for a while. I start a few texts to Brian, delete them each in turn, and eventually send him, “Want to meet at Jose’s for lunch?”
The thing is, I’ve got to ask him for a favor again. It’s a fairly minor one, and it benefits him, too, but still. I’m starting to feel like I take more out of this friendship than I give, and that’s not a comfortable feeling. On the other hand, I’m trying to take down the guy who beat him unconscious a couple of days ago, so I figure this is a favor he’s probably going to be willing to do.
Still, buying him lunch first seems like a nice gesture.
My phone buzzes as my sandwich arrives; it’s Brian, letting me know that he can be here in a little over an hour. I’ve timed things poorly.
After a brief debate on whether I should eat this sandwich now, then another when he gets here, or whether it’s weird to invite someone out for lunch and just watch them eat, I push the sandwich to the side and order a basket of fries and a Coke to keep me occupied and still looking like a customer.
I pass the time like any normal adult would — by ignoring the world around me and messing around on my phone. After browsing the internet for a little while, I pull up my texts and look at the last message before the one from Brian. It’s the unknown number that Vince texted me from, and after a moment, I pull up the conversation and send him a new message: “Do you check this number?”
I follow it a few seconds later with “Loser,” on the theory that goading Vince is more likely to get him to reply. Also on the theory that insulting him is fun and makes me smile, and I don’t care if it is a pretty sad way to get my own back for the various beatings he’s given me. My ribs still hurt every time I breathe too deeply or slouch in my chair, so even if all I can do in return is make him grind his teeth, I’ll take it.
Sadly, after a half an hour, there’s been no response, so I figure it’s probably a burner phone that he threw away after using to harass me. I’m not totally sure how those work, but I hear about them a lot in cop shows, and they sound like a pretty good way to keep the police from tracking you down by cell signal.
Speaking of the police, the fact that I’m getting texts from a wanted criminal is probably information I should share with them. After all, there’s at least a chance that Vince just isn’t checking his phone right now, or that he’s exercising self-restraint and not writing back. I text Peterson the number, along with, “Got a text from Vince Amano from this number. Don’t know if that’s helpful.”
I have no idea if you can track a cellphone by its number. The internet certainly tells me that you can, but it also tells me that the moon landing was faked and that there are four simultaneous days in every 24-hour day, so I’m taking this with a grain of salt. It seems reasonable, though. Cell phones talk to cell towers, which have fixed locations and limited reception, so at the very least you should be able to find out where a text was sent from.
I’m still in the middle of logicking my way into an advanced telecommunications degree when Brian slides into the chair across from me. “Afternoon, dude!” he says cheerily. “Man, you look terrible.”
“Says you, Rorschach!” I retort, pointing at the bruises purpling both sides of his face. “I don’t get any credit for an already-healed nose?”
“Not with those panda eyes,” says Brian, his outstretched finger reaching for my face. I swat his hand away.
“Don’t poke me! I said my nose was healed, not that it had joined a petting zoo. Keep your mitts off.” My nose is way more healed than it should be after only two days, thanks to a remnant of my super-healing, but it’s still sore. And as Brian has so politely pointed out, the black eyes I got as part of the package are still pretty intense. In a week or so, though, I should be able to mock his bruises without receiving in kind.
Assuming I can go a week without getting new ones, anyway. Given that I’m preparing to go on the hunt for Vince, that doesn’t seem like the safest assumption.
The waitress shows up before Brian’s taken a look at the menu, and I tell him, “Hurry up and figure out what you want before I decide to make you pay for it,” which is my way of telling him that lunch is on me.
“Ooh, this is a date? If I’d known, I would have dressed up,” says Brian, which is his way of saying thank you.
We chat for a bit until Brian’s sandwich arrives, and I finally get to eat mine. We’ve both gone through about half of our food before Brian says, “Okay, man, spill. What’s the deal?”
“I need you to be my backup,” I say.
He nods. “Yeah, okay. What’s the play?”
“What, just like that? You don’t even know what for.”
“Okay, first of all, yeah, I do. This is obviously about Vince, man. And second of all, so what? You need a hand, I’ve got you covered, you know? It’s how things work.”
“Yeah, all right. I just — I mean — whatever. Thank you.”
“It’s all good,” says Brian, chewing on his sandwich.
“Okay, so yeah. Basically I just need you to be my safety. I’m going after Vince, and I need someone to know where I was if I don’t turn back up.”
“You ever think about getting the police in on this?”
“Yeah, I thought about it pretty hard, and I think it’s kind of a last resort. I’d have to convince them that there was a guy making clones of himself, that he was using the clones to rob stores, and that I wasn’t a total crackpot. And on top of that, Vince’ll hide from them, but he’ll clearly come after me. I’ve got a much better chance of catching him than the cops do.”
Brian shrugs. “So what do you need from me?”
“Look, the guy’s beaten me up a bunch of times. I think I’m going into this one prepared, but if I’m wrong, I’m gonna need help. That’s when it’s time to get the cops in. If I don’t check in, you call and tell them — I don’t know, that I’ve been kidnapped. Talk to Peterson, he’ll believe you.”
Brian grins. “Haven’t you just spent the last few months trying to keep him from learning anything about you?”
“Yeah, well, things changed. He’ll believe you. I’ll give you his number, in case.”
“So you’re saying I’m not the only guy you’re seeing right now?”
“Shut up or you can pay for your own sandwich.”
We finish our lunches and Brian gets out his phone to check the time. “I probably oughta head over to work. Thanks for lunch, man! And I hope you don’t need me, but I’ve definitely got your back if you do.”
“Yeah, absolutely. Thank you.” A thought strikes me. “Hey, Brian? Do you have my address stored in your phone?”
“Dude, did you forget where you live?” he jokes, and then his face twists. “Aw, no. Did he show up at your house? I am so sorry, man.”
“Hey, not your fault. I just hadn’t figured out where he’d gotten my address from. It makes sense now.”
“No, man, I feel terrible.”
“What, for getting kidnapped and having your phone stolen? This isn’t on you. Shut up and go save someone’s life.”
I stand up to leave, and Brian follows suit. Abruptly, he reaches over and pulls me into a hug. My ribs scream, but I ignore it and return the hug.
“Be careful, man,” he says as he lets go.
“Yeah, I’m hearing that a lot,” I tell him. “Come on, you’ve got to get to work and I’ve got a bus coming in five minutes. Anyway, I don’t kiss on the first date.”
“You’re missing out, man. I’ve got soft lips.”
“With all the CPR you do? I doubt it.”
“Nah, we’ve got machines for that now. These are strictly for romance.”
“Go to work, dude.”