“So,” Brian says, “prior to totally melding with the couch, what do you want to do about dinner?”
“I don’t know; let’s get pizza,” I say. Brian’s eyebrows start to rise, and I add, “Dude, you just woke me up from a nap, and I don’t even know what’s in the house to eat.”
“I could tell you,” Regina calls down from upstairs.
“Also I want pizza! Is that so wrong?”
Brian puts a hand on my shoulder consolingly. “Hey man, if you don’t know how to work the controls on the oven, there’s no shame in that. We’re here to help you, not to judge.”
I shake his hand off. “Remind me again why we’re friends?”
“I’m just here out of pity, man. I’m an EMT. My whole thing is helping out the suffering, you know?”
“Yeah, well, don’t expect to be helping yourself to any of my pizza, is all I’ve got to say,” I grumble.
“Hey, I brought beer!”
“All right, fine, you’re in for dinner. But put that mask back in the trash.”
Over pizza, we discuss our options for doing research into any of Mr. Tanger’s theoretically hidden activities. These options turn out to be fairly limited. Brian’s already done some internet snooping, and not found much of anything. This makes sense, since unless the guy had a criminal record of some kind, it’s unlikely that there’d be any mention of his illegal activities online.
If any of us knew how to hack his accounts, we might be able to dig something up, but that’s not exactly in any of our skill sets. Which is a shame, because hacking always looks pretty glamorous in the movies, and I’d really love to be able to say, “Yeah, I hacked into a guy’s email; stopped him from wrecking the city. It’s not a big deal.”
I don’t know who I’d say that to. Probably just myself in the mirror. Still, I’d feel pretty cool saying it.
Other unworkable plans include finding a police informant who happens to know something about Mr. Tanger’s shady past, sending him an “I know what you did” note and watching his reaction, and kidnapping him and making him talk. These are discarded as soon as they’re offered up for reasons ranging from “unlikely to happen” to “wildly illegal.”
However, by the time the pizza’s gone, I’m starting to take a second look at a couple of them, because the only decent plans we’ve come up with are hiring a private detective to look into him, and going through his trash. And while the private detective idea sounds decent, none of us know how to hire a decent one, how much it would cost, or how to keep him from being corrupted by the invasive ideas that Mr. Tanger is leaving in his wake. Which leaves us with the “going through his trash” option.
“Okay, here’s what we can do,” I say. “We’ll stake out the building and wait until the janitorial service arrives. Once I get a look at them, I can grow a mask to match overnight, and tomorrow night, I’ll go in his place. We can delay the actual guys by, I don’t know, giving them a flat tire or something. Then, when I’m emptying the trash in the offices, I can check around for any incriminating documents in file cabinets or desk drawers.”
Regina looks skeptical. “Won’t you need to know the guy’s name to sign in with the guard?”
“Yeah, and I’m sure he’s got a keycard or master key to get into the offices, which you won’t have,” says Brian.
“Plus if he was delayed for a flat tire, he’d probably just call over to let them know what had happened,” Regina adds.
“And there’s gonna be more than one dude for an office building that size, you know? You’d never get through half of the offices.”
I throw up my hands. “Fine, my idea sucks! How would you guys do it?”
“Well, there’s probably a dumpster behind the building,” Regina says reasonably.
“It’s probably locked, though. Or there are cameras. But yeah, fine, that’s a much better idea.”
“Are you just mad that this plan doesn’t involve growing a mask, man? ‘Cause you can totally still do that if you want to,” says Brian.
“Maybe I will,” I say.
“When do you want to do this?” asks Regina.
“Midnight?” I suggest. “Seems the right time for this sort of thing.”
“Midnight,” agrees Brian. “So — movies until then?”
“I’m gonna get some rest,” I say. “I’ve gotta be at the construction site at dawn whether or not I’m out raiding my big boss’s garbage at midnight, so I’d better grab sleep now. You guys wake me up when it’s time to go.”
“Check, check,” says Brian. “See you in a few hours.”
Far too soon, there’s a knock on my door, and a call of “Wakey wakey, eggs and bakey!”
I sit up and poke at my face in an exploratory manner. The numbed sensation tells me that my mask and gloves have grown in sufficiently, even in the shortened time frame I had to work with. I grin and swing my legs out of bed.
Outside of my door, Brian is still rambling. “Or, you know, eggs and trash-hunting. Except without the eggs. So just wakey wakey, trash-hunting. Dude, I’ll keep talking out here until you get up.”
On cue, I open the door, and watch with delight as Brian’s face registers a moment of total shock, which quickly collapses into a sour look. “Oh ha ha ha, a mask of me? Very funny.”
“Well, they might recognize me on the cameras, but no one knows who you are,” I tell him still grinning.
“Yeah, great. And now they’ll have two angles of me.”
“Dude, if they see two people with identical faces raiding the trash, they’ll just figure we’re using matching Halloween masks. It’s a perfect disguise!”
“I can’t believe this,” Brian says, turning away in disgust, and also I think to hide a smile.
Regina’s drinking coffee in the kitchen, and laughs out loud when I come in. “That’s perfect! Did you make me one, too?”
“No, but you can have this one when I’m done,” I say. “Brian’s got a narcissistic streak. He might be into that.”
Regina laughs again, and Brian just shakes his head. “I’m about to indulge my masochistic streak by punching you in my face,” he says.
“No, man, imitation is, like, the sincerest form of flattery, you know?” I say, doing my best impression of his voice.
“I do not sound like that!”
“Actually, I think that was pretty good,” Regina says.
“Oh, c’mon. Don’t encourage this guy,” says Brian, grinning despite his words.
“Are your feelings hurt?” I ask Brian. “Don’t worry, I’m an EMT. I can call the waah-mbulance.”
Brian turns to Regina. “Can we just get this over with? He’s getting worse by the second.”
We pile into Regina’s car and drive out to the Tanger building. It’s dark for the night, but when we circle around back, the headlights shine on precisely what we’d been hoping to see: an industrial-sized dumpster. Regina stays with the car while Brian and I, flashlights in hand, walk over to the dumpster and clamber inside.
“I already regret this idea,” Brian says. He’s wearing kitchen gloves, and I’ve grown my own, but neither of us have boots or anything like that on. The trash in here is all bagged up, but the dumpster still smells terrible. In fairness, it’s a container for refuse that’s sat out in the sun and gone unwashed for years, so this isn’t a surprise. It’s just still not pleasant.
We dig for a little while, opening up bags of trash, but there’s nothing to mark what office anything comes from and most of what I’m finding is discarded styrofoam cups and candy wrappers. There’s plenty of balled-up paper, but it’s all boring inter-office memos. Frankly, I feel pretty lousy going through other people’s stuff like this. If we were targeting one guy, then fine, but I’m just invading the privacy of dozens of people, and that makes me feel like kind of a heel.
Brian holds up a fistful of shredded paper. “This is bad news, dude. If they’re shredding documents, we’re never going to find anything useful. This was a stupid idea.”
There’s a sharp edge to Brian’s tone that’s unlike him, but he’s got a point. I really shouldn’t have dragged my friends into a half-baked idea like this. It’s a disgusting way to treat people who I’m supposed to care about.
“Ugh, this is disgusting,” says Brian, shaking a glob of something unidentifiable off of his hand. His use of the same word I was just thinking sparks a sudden realization, and I look up at him.
“Hey, Brian? How do you feel about me right now? No sugarcoating. This isn’t for my ego. I need an actual answer.”
“I don’t know. Sort of ticked, I guess? This is a stupid idea, like I said. I’m just kinda mad about that.”
“Would you say you think more poorly of me than you did when we started digging in here?”
Brian pauses, seeing what I’m driving at. “You know — yeah. You think we’re getting close to Mr. Tanger’s stuff?”
“It’d make sense. How do you feel about him running for mayor?”
Brian frowns. “Pretty good, actually. I mean, I was never actually against it, though. I just wanted to know if it was a good idea.”
“Yeah, I think you’re starting to catch his ideas. Let’s keep digging.”
Navigating by emotion is about as unreliable as it sounds, so it takes almost another half an hour before we find a bag of Mr. Tanger’s trash. A lot of it is shredded documents, and mixed with the used tea bags that are also in there, it’s mostly a big papier-mâché lump. There’s some balled-up notes on letterhead confirming that it’s his, though, and in the bottom of the bag, we find a potentially huge prize: a discarded cellphone. I hold it up in triumph.
“You think this is his?” Brian asks.
“Dude, I can barely stand myself right now. It’s got to be his; it’s got his ideas all over it.”
I try turning the phone on, but the battery’s dead. It looks intact, though.
“Let’s get this home, charge it and see if it works. Unless you’ve decided that you like dumpster living?”
“I mean, it’s got a lot to recommend it as a vacation spot, you know?” says Brian. “But I don’t think I want to move in here.”
We haul ourselves back out of the dumpster, brush off as best as we can, and make our way back to the car. Regina wrinkles her nose when we get in.
“You guys smell terrible,” she informs us.
I point at Brian. “Dan smells worse.”
“What? No, he’s Dan!” says Brian, pointing at me. “And he’s right, he does smell worse!”
Regina rolls down the windows. “I don’t care that it’s freezing outside. I’m going to turn on the heat, let the smell blow outside, and hopefully not be able to hear you two over the wind.”