After some errands, I’m back at home trying to psych myself up for the conversation I’ve been putting off until last: Peterson. I know I’ve got to talk to him; at the very least, he deserves a heads-up before I go vigilante on Vince. He might even have good information about where to find him, or people to ask to track him down. And if things end up as much on fire as I think they might, it’d probably be good to have someone in authority expecting it, and maybe prepared to help smooth things over.
I mean, I doubt Peterson is in favor of arson. But if he understands my reasons for it before it happens, he might at least look the other way if he sees me fleeing the scene.
These are all excellent reasons to give him a call. And yet, after spending half an hour screwing around online while pretending I’m just about to call, I give up the pretense and go downstairs to watch a movie. It’s currently just past 2 o’clock, so I give myself a hard limit of 4:30 to get in touch with Peterson. I figure I can relax for 90 minutes with Netflix, call Peterson up at around 3:30, and spend the rest of my day obligation-free and with the added bonus of knowing that I didn’t delay until the last minute.
So naturally, it’s 4:40 when I reluctantly pause the second movie I’ve started and pick up my phone. I take a deep breath and pull up Peterson’s number in my contacts. As my phone dials, I run through what I want to tell him. No matter how I phrase it, it pretty much all boils down to, “I’m going in search of Vince Amano. Any tips for tracking down violent criminals?”
First ring. This is stupid, I should hang up. I’m telling the police about a premeditated crime. Second ring. No, but Peterson seemed reasonable when I told him what was going on. He’ll appreciate the need to go outside of standard channels for something like this. Third ring. And if he doesn’t? All plausible deniability is gone, and I still have to do it. Vince isn’t going to stop.
Fourth ring. Agh, why is this taking so long? I should hang up. Fifth ring. No, I’ve got to trust him. Peterson’s on my side. I have to believe that.
“You’ve reached the desk of Sam Peterson.”
Voice mail. After all that? I scowl at my phone as the recording continues, simultaneously irritated and relieved. Then there’s a beep, and I realize that I need to leave a message, but that I’m definitely not going to admit my impending vigilantism to the police message system. Also, that the machine is already recording, and I should really start talking.
“Uh, hi, Officer Peterson. This is Dan. Um, Everton. I have, uh, information I’d like to discuss with you. It’s not urgent. But if you can call me back, that’d be great.”
I hang up and press the smooth surface of the cellphone to my forehead in self-loathing. I could not sound like a bigger idiot.
After an uneventful night, I’m up relatively early the next morning to catch a ride out to the hospital and get that oxygen tank from Doc Simmons. I make an effort to make sure that I look more clean-cut than usual, so as to appear more like someone who can be trusted with fire and accelerants. I take extra time shaving and floss after breakfast to make sure I don’t have any specks of food in my teeth. I’m wearing brand-new pants and I’ve got on a button-down shirt instead of my work polo, just to sharpen up the image a little bit more.
Despite this, as the doc hands over the backpack with the oxygen cylinder, the look she gives me is best described as “critical.”
“Dan,” she says to me, looking seriously into my eyes, “do not burn yourself to death with this.”
“I won’t,” I promise.
“If you die because of something I’ve given you, I’ll never forgive myself. The scientific loss would be incalculable.”
“And here I thought you were getting sentimental, Doc!”
She scoffs. “Sentiment is all well and good, but I don’t understand these machines yet! I need you for samples!”
I laugh, even though I’m only mostly sure she’s joking. I mean, obviously not entirely joking, because she does need me for samples, but I think she would miss me even without that. Probably.
The doc shows me how to attach the tubing and how to regulate the airflow, while I try to figure out a way to ask if we’re actually friends or if I’m just her lab rat without sounding totally pathetic. I don’t come up with any solutions, so I just promise Doc Simmons again that I’ll be careful and head out to catch the bus to work.
I sort of thought that by the time I was an adult, I’d be over the “Do you like me? Check yes or no” part of my life. Apparently that’s not ever going to happen, though.
At work, at least, I don’t have these issues. B-Rock is on shift with me again, and there’s absolutely no question about whether he likes me or not. I haven’t even clocked in yet before he’s making fun of me, this time for the oxygen backpack.
“Whatcha got in there, Dan? Schoolbooks? Finally gonna get your GED?”
“It’s an oxygen tank,” I tell him, refusing to rise to the bait.
“Oh yeah? Is the strenuous work of button-pushing and burger-flipping you do around here wearing you out already?”
“No, it just helps me deal with the stink around here.”
Abruptly, B-Rock’s expression darkens. “Who’s in charge here?”
“I said, who is in charge here?”
“You are, but -”
“And you think it’s appropriate to make fun of your manager?”
“What? Dude, we work in a burger joint. It smells of old grease.”
“Don’t ‘dude’ me. I want you to apologize right now.”
“For what? I -”
“If the next thing out of your mouth is not an apology, I’m going to write this incident up.”
Okay, time to placate the crazy person. “I’m sorry you think I said you smell bad.”
B-Rock glares at me. “Learn some respect.”
He stalks off to the front of the restaurant, and I stow the backpack in a locker and change into my work polo. It’s clearly going to be a fun day here at Børger.
As the day wears on, it actually seems like accidentally mocking B-Rock was the best thing I could have done. He’s clearly still sulking about it, but that means that he’s largely avoiding me. This is an enormous improvement over his standard jeering conversation. I’ll take dirty looks over aggravating comments any day.
Still, I know that he’s just waiting for me to screw up so he can get on my case, so I’m scrupulously observing all procedures. Every customer gets the corporate-approved greeting and upsell, every meal is aligned correctly on the trays, every i is dotted and every ø is slashed.
This means, among other things, that when my phone buzzes with an incoming call, I don’t even consider trying to duck out to answer it. The only people who might be calling are Peterson or my parents, and neither conversation is one that I can have in two minutes, hunched and whispering in the break room. So I virtuously ignore the call, then forget about it until my break.
It turns out that it was Peterson who was calling, and he’s left a voicemail. I pull it up and listen.
“Mr. Everton, Sam Peterson. Thanks to your tip on the cellphone number, we have Mr. Amano and…associates in custody. Thank you for your assistance.”
I stare straight ahead in horror, then frantically call Peterson back. He doesn’t know how Vince makes his clones! I only found out once Vince came to my house, and I haven’t talked to Peterson since then. If Peterson’s brought him into the police station, Vince could be wreaking havoc in there right now.
My call to Peterson goes to voicemail, and I leave a garbled, panicked message: “Vince clones himself out of the walls! You can’t leave him unattended. He can walk through anything!”
I hang up and start desperately searching for the phone number of the local police online, cursing my slow data plan. As I’m trying to will pages to load faster, B-Rock sticks his head into the room.
“How long are you planning on being on break, then?”
“B-Rock! Can I borrow your car? I need to get to the police station!”
“Shoot, fine, I’ll Uber it.” I close the browser and pull up the Uber app to call for a car.
“Not in the middle of your shift, you won’t.”
I gawk at him. “This is life or death!”
“If you leave now, you won’t be coming back here. I’ll make sure of it.”
“Fine, man. Whatever floats your boat.”
I storm out of the back door of Børger, letting it slam behind me. Then I immediately have to come back in to retrieve the oxygen canister, which I’ve left in its backpack in the locker. B-Rock sneers at me when I come back in, but I stare him down and leave again before he can think of anything to say.
The police station’s only about ten minutes away, but I call Peterson twice more on the way, getting his voicemail each time. I spend the rest of the time trying to find the police department’s number, but it is remarkably hard to find their non-emergency number. I debate calling 911, but I don’t know that anything’s wrong, and I’m almost there.
When I get to the station, I leap out and run inside. There, everything looks normal. An officer behind glass glances up as I dash in, and says with mild surprise, “Can I help you?”
Yes, I think a man is cloning himself in your building. Yes, your walls are in danger of being turned into people. Yes, do you have any space in your cells? I’d like you to lock me up as a lunatic immediately.
Obviously, I say none of those things. Instead, I ask, “Is Officer Peterson here? Sam Peterson. It’s extremely important.”
After several interminable minutes, the door to the interior of the station opens. Peterson stands in the doorway, looking confused.
“Mr. Everton? Is everything all right?”
I cast a sidelong glance at the desk officer, but he’s not paying attention. I lower my voice anyway. “It’s Vince. His clones — he makes them out of inanimate matter. Whatever’s on hand. If you’ve left him alone in a room, he can take it apart and make an army.”
“He’s in an observation room. I’m sure everything is fine.”
As soon as those words leave Peterson’s mouth, someone shouts “Get down on the ground!” behind him, followed by several more people adding things like “Now!” The sound of chairs being pushed back and people leaping to their feet echoes through the room, but over it all, I hear Vince’s voice, clear as a bell.
“Where are you, Dan? I can tell you’re close. I can feel your psychic stink. You sit on my brain like rancid oil, Dan.”
The shouted orders continue, but Vince keeps speaking to me. “Come here, Dan. Or I’m going to start hurting people.”
I eye Peterson desperately, then push past him to enter the station. “I’m here!”