by Trenchcoat Tardigrade and Hadley Monroe
Alfred sat by his window surrounded by the many gadgets and gizmos that represented all the cash he didn’t need for vital things like rent, utilities, and pizza rolls. Each item had been searched for, reviewed, searched again, FAQ-checked, monitored, price matched, and eventually ordered. The excitement of unpacking his new gear was far too often squashed when it turned out he couldn’t even figure out how to turn most of them on. Manuals for high-tech Russian spy gear that didn’t include English translations had that effect on Midwestern Americans. Alfred recently began comparing his apartment to the bedroom of a young child on the day after Christmas, when every new shiny toy had already been stress-tested to critical failure. One day he would get around to searching Google and YouTube to figure everything out, but today would not be that day.
He was focused on watching the house down the street through his brand new Bushnell Legend Ultra HD binoculars, the rare purchase that he could operate successfully. His pizza rolls had gone cold and the can of Diet Sprite lost its fizz waiting for him to remember that he was planning to eat that evening. He didn’t.
”Come on Dirk, you can’t stay in there all night,” he chimed, knowing that his nemesis should be leaving shortly to engage in unknown villainy.
Night after night Alfred spent hours watching his former best friend’s house in anticipation of the inevitable. For many months, the surveillance was little more than watching him haul boxes in from the car. Nothing had been delivered by carrier services to the house in over a year, ever since Alfred not-so-subtly opened one of the packages on Dirk’s porch, but forgot to bring along a roll of packing tape to cover his perusal. From previous snooping excursions he knew that his nemesis had a habit of ordering curiosities that sent Alfred’s sixth sense ringing like a clock shop at noon. Unfortunately, overconfidence in his ability to maintain his backpack led to him forgetting to replace the roll he emptied a few days before. The knowledge that Dirk now owned a rubber duck with cat ears and whiskers did nothing to alleviate his sense of fuck-up-edness.
Dirk’s daily routine consisted of the usual things most normal people did: he gathered his mail and fed his cats when he arrived home from work as a pharmacological chemist, cut his grass on Saturdays, and took the trash to the curb religiously on Wednesdays. Each was categorized in Alfred’s trusted blue notebook by date and time.
Six weeks and two days ago activity escalated when Dirk began driving Uber.
“What are you up to now?” Alfred wondered when he finally watched Dirk strut to his car in the glow of the streetlight.
Whistling “Ride of the Valkyries,” Dirk slid into his two-year-old Lexus. He was feeling good about the night. He still hadn’t been able to actually convince anybody to join him in his endeavors, but his pitch was getting much better. His previous attempts of wearing a full suit were no more promising than that deplorable busted pair of Levi’s and space cat t-shirt. He wouldn’t call either option comfortable. It just so happened that people responded best to him wearing his Polo and khakis when attempting to recruit volunteers for his private foray into the genetic experiments forbidden both by his private lab and practically every government on the planet.
“425 Hawk Street it is,” Dirk gave a good luck pluck to the crystal cat face dangling from his rearview mirror and swerved to the street.
He drove to the location marked on his GPS, double and triple checking his hair and clothes. He was looking good. He took a glance in his rearview mirror to make sure that asshole Alfred wouldn’t be skulking around to interrupt his plans again. The view was clear when he blew the horn to announce his arrival.
“How’s it going?” the passenger asked as he buckled into the back seat.
“Great. It looks like you have a good night planned,” Dirk responded, taking note of the shirt that was a bit too tight and the large muscles it shrink-wrapped.
“Fuck yeah. Going clubbin’, and drinkin’, and not coming home alone, that’s for damn sure.”
Dirk nodded silently as he thought about the potential of his new acquaintance. He didn’t seem too bright, which was good. He was charismatic, which could be useful. He was about twice Dirk’s size, which Dirk found quite frightening.
There were three more bookings for Dirk by ten o’clock. A high school cheerleader who failed to realize she was now in her thirties made him uncomfortable. The elderly couple going back home after a horrible date night wouldn’t stop complaining to each other about the waiter at the buffet. The third was a frat boy who had a blast as Dirk did some creative driving when he thought he was being followed. All in all, hope was receding quickly. The night was dragging on and rides would slow down until the bars started to close and the drunks were forced out.
Dirk checked the notification. It was across town. It was probably his last hope to get in some prep work before resorting to luck of the draw later. He beamed a toothy grin as he saw the new passenger.
Alfred looked at his notepad on the passenger seat. Dirk had at least two pickups that Alfred wasn’t able to keep up with him for, but this new one was the third address that he tracked well enough to jot down. It was the ADT sticker on the front window that really got him excited. Being a customer support representative for that very company had its perks when it came to learning about Dirk’s potential goons.
This wasn’t the first time he had lucked out, but he had a feeling about this guy. He just had that look. The unbrushed mop on his head and faux vintage t-shirt told Alfred that he was just the kind of guy Dirk could probably exploit.
With the address logged, Alfred drove off to continue tailing the Lexus. He was thankful that Dirk was running his Uber side gig at night. He was also thankful that his own car was nothing special and that he could drive relatively well with the headlights off. Although it should be noted garbage cans result in somewhat noticeable damage when you hit them at over thirty miles per hour.
“Well, there you are Mr. Brenson,” Dirk offered his business card before the stoner slipped out of the car. “Do me a favor and don’t hit up Uber when you are ready to head home. I’ll cut you a deal if you call me direct.”
“That’s awesome man, but like, what kind of deal we talkin’.”
“Let’s just say that you should treat yourself to an extra drink or two, on me.”
Dirk knew that this guy was the real deal. He was smart enough not to be a complete fuck up, but not enough to know what was going on until it was too late, kind of like Alfred was… all those years ago.
He couldn’t believe a grudge still existed from a high school science fair, but Alfred never let Dirk live it down, even when it included a move three hundred miles away.
Alfred watched through the Burger King window as Dirk daydreamed through his value meal. He still couldn’t believe that not coming in first place was enough motivation to sabotage their only real opponent in a meaningless competition for teenage overachievers. They were excited about their project until they realized that you need more than a pipette and blood from the butcher to increase the genetically driven aggression of a venus fly trap. Dirk was confident, Alfred was having fun, and Christina had a project that produced results.
It happened on the night before the event. Alfred and Dirk were discussing their potential to shine the shit that was their experiment into a gold medal, but they both knew that Christina’s presentation that made Einstein accessible to middle schoolers was too much for them to overcome. Christina had been a rift between the two best friends for years. Dirk despised her ability to challenge him for top honors. Alfred appreciated the low-cut shirts and tight jeans she wore daily. It was time for Alfred to declare his allegiance.
Dirk couldn’t accept their fate as he stewed in his bedroom. How could Alfred just shrug off failure so easily? Dirk knew what had to happen. He growled viciously at Alfred and dashed out the door, all the way to the school’s gymnasium. Alfred tried to keep up, but Dirk was already climbing back out the window by the time he caught up. At each question, Dirk would cackle maniacally. The next morning the two of them walked into a hornet’s nest of people trying to figure out how three tables of projects got flipped after the doors were locked.
Alfred pulled his friend around the corner and tried to figure out what had gone through his mind to create so much havoc. Dirk tried to explain that by spreading the damage around, including to their own entry, it would be more difficult to narrow down the culprit. The most important thing, he stressed, was that they wouldn’t lose.
The event was canceled and the two friends never shared a kind word again. Alfred could never let go of the suspicion that Dirk wasn’t going to his limit his nefarious ambitions to teenage mischief.
Dirk took the call from the unknown number and beamed when the voice he was waiting for came through, slurred nicely.
“Hello… Yes, sir… I’ll be there in about ten… Yes, I’m really going to cut you that deal… Yeah, that’ll be more than enough… Alright, see you shortly.”
Dirk had spent the hours taking occasional fares from those who decided to make it an early night, but now he could stop worrying about the random mish-mash of patrons. He laughed in anticipation during the drive.
“Thanks for calling, Mr. Brenson,” Dirk nodded as his fare climbed into the front seat.
“Pish on your Mr. bullshit. The name’s Roy.”
“Alright Roy, where to?”
“Home, I guess,” Roy sulked before he tore into a rant, “Man, let me tell ya, they close these damn bars down too early. I was working on some liquid courage to go chat up this hottie, but no, they had to last call us and she left. Now I’m stuck going home by myself and only half buzzed.”
Dirk could tell that Roy had more than a buzz, but there was no point in telling Roy that.
“So, what do you think about heading somewhere else. I won’t speak to the possibility of women there, but there is plenty of alcohol if you want more.”
“Fuck yeah. That’s what I want. Where’re we going?”
“Don’t worry about that. Just sit back and relax. I’ll wake you when we get there.”
Alfred followed at a distance as Dirk drove away with his customer. He could see just enough to recognize the man that hired him, but the direction they drove off in was the wrong one. They headed away from town and toward Dirk and Alfred’s own neighborhood. Something was going on. He continued his distant pursuit.
Dirk turned down random streets and into occasional convenience store parking lots, only to wait a moment before continuing. He couldn’t be sure, but he kept noticing the same car flickering under streetlights, occasionally turning its headlights on and back off. That car could only be Alfred. Dirk would not allow him to upset his plans, not now that he had a real chance of fulfilling his destiny.
Alfred struggled to keep tabs on his quarry. He had to keep turning on his lopsided headlights when other motorists were going about their business. The chances of a police officer taking notice increased the longer they were driving. That fear vanished as he watched Dirk sweep into his driveway.
“Halt, you villainous scum,” Alfred yelled, screeching to a halt and leaping from the car into the dramatic pose he had practiced all those years. “I will not allow you to succeed in whatever evil scheme you’ve cooked up.”
“Evil is it? I’ll give you evil.”
Dirk and Alfred strutted toward each other. Roy stirred back to semi-consciousness at the outburst and tripped over his seatbelt on his way out of the car.
The two enemies met and Alfred struck out with a slap. Dirk retaliated with a flourish block reminiscent of a chicken with a broken wing. An unbalanced kick here. A floppy punch there. Shove. Pop. Crash. Alfred vanished through the now-shattered window into Dirk’s living room. The sight was more glorious than he could ever have imagined. The walls were covered with posters of astronaut cats and complex chemistry formulas written in Sharpie. There were test tubes and burners everywhere. Dirk had even left a dark red viscous liquid simmering over a low flame next to his couch. Alfred bellowed in vindication.
It was Roy’s inebriated encouragement and girlish giggling that ultimately disturbed the neighbors. Porch lights flashed on and spectators in various nightwear stepped out to witness the scuffle as Dirk and Alfred wrestled from one side of the window to the other. They would fall out the door and flop back in. Roy hooted and hollered every stumbled step of the way.
Two police cars arrived to the sight of two men ignoring the furniture that was now on fire while they attempted to do something that looked like fighting, if you squint your eyes, cock your head to the side, and completely forget what fighting looks like. The fight reminded the spectators much more of awkward primary school dance moves gone wrong, but the string of expletives made the intention clear.
“Sir, let me get this straight, you say Dirk Drake is an evil genius and you’ve been spying on him. To do that you’ve been watching his every move since high school and have stolen private information from the customers that trust your employer with said information.”
“Yeah, but he had to be stopped. Don’t you get it? I did what I had to do to protect society.”
“Well, the stuff the two of you destroyed was lab equipment, but the fire damage made evidence gathering difficult. Is there anything you can provide that might help us build a case?”
“You’re damned right I do. I have a whole list information on people I know he corrupted and … and pictures of suspicious things he ordered and all kinds of other stuff. It’s all at my apartment.”
“Are you talking about the private information you stole from your work’s database and the mail you tampered with?”
“Yeah, that’s it.”
“Okay, just hang tight. I’ll be back in a bit.”
“And one more time, why exactly were you bringing Mr. Brenson to your house?”
“I’ve told you, I unlocked the secret for genetic hybridization between similarly complex animal species.”
“So, like giving kids a monkey tail or something like that.”
“No, no, no. Nothing that simple. I am going to merge the human genome with the feline one.”
“Nothing nefarious. I just think that people would benefit from a little more grace and confidence, the kind our furball friends can contribute. It’s all for the greater good. What could possibly go wrong? I am a certified genius and practicing organic chemist after all.”
“And I’m guessing you have all of the paperwork in order? Oversight, safety, things like that?”
“Why would I do something stupid like that. I’m destined to fix the world and no government bureaucratic bullshit is going to get in the way. The people need me!” Dirk screeched.
“Alright, umm,” the detective flipped the pages on his notepad back and forth in bafflement, “I have some of that bureaucratic bullshit of my own to get started on”
As the sun began to crest the horizon, two ambulances arrived at the police station. The EMT’s scurried from their seats and opened the rear doors for the two men being escorted out wearing new outfits, bright white coats with long sleeves wrapped around the back.