I ran downstairs to find a box stacked on one of the couches. I overturned it, throwing out the pile there of old clothes onto the floor, and put the cat, coat and all, inside. With the top flaps of cardboard folded over each other, I looked to my bike.
The cardboard would melt in my lap as I drove.
I had a second coat as I usually did, waterproofed as well. I slipped out of it and wrapped it over the box. Just a black tee covering me now, my arms burned on the air.
Man, I loved winter.
Couldn’t think about that now. My bike groaned to life with the rustling cat-box snug in my lap. I could manage this. No light, low fuel, bare skin on the frozen rain. I would be fine.
I rolled until the front door was in my path. Then, I rocketed out.
Let’s make it fast. I was going home.
After a few miles of rain and road, I slowed down in front of the apartments.
They had cleaned up since I lived here. The homeless had been run out from near the apartment entrance, I noticed. As I pulled in and parked, I made a dizzy dismount. The automatic space lowered my bike into the asphalt behind me. With the box in my hand I approached the locked rotating gate.
I swiped my card and received a loud buzzer.
“You are not permitted to enter this building, Frode,” the Smiler replied. His little face appeared on the card reader.
“I just need to make a visit,” I said.
He was silent for a moment. “What’s in the box, Frode?”
I didn’t answer. The cat had gone still.
“It’s private you glorified answering machine… Let me in!”
“FINE!” I shouted. I so didn’t want to do this. The last thing that I wanted to do. Meet up after all this time because I still hadn’t let it go. But by God was I going to return this cat. It was my singular purpose and I was pissed. “Page me to Skrimp…” I said. “Silas McClellan.”
“Silas is no longer a resident.”
My mind drifted for a moment, imagining the worst. I shook my head. I had to deal with that thought later. “Fuck it! Dag, then.”
It occurred to me that neither of them should still be living in this cramped shithole, by all rights. If even I had gotten out.
“Calling Dag Young.”
The monitor went black.
A ring sounded. Then another. And another.
My name would be on the ID. Even if he was home-
“…Hello?” finally, he picked up. “Frode? Is that you?”
I closed my eyes and spoke. “Yeah… Yeah. It’s me. Can you buzz me in?”
“What?” He sounded like he’d just woken up. “Why are you here?”
“I just…” My mind was drawing a blank. I wasn’t very good at lying. Or reading people. Or predicting myself. Or for that matter getting out of long awkward silences.
To hell with it.
“I found the cat.”
Come on. Please.
The line had gone dead.
“Call ended,” Smiler said.
I cut my eyes down, staring at my feet. The shivering was just as bad, the frosted metal of my arm like needles where it met my shoulder. All of the sudden I was right back in that pinkly lit rain. No conduit for my indescript will to do absolutely anything. Capable of anything.
I was frozen where I stood.
In just a short moment, footsteps had started down the hall, beyond the gate. Dag came jogging around the corner. My heart soared.
“Oh, hell. Man.” I finally caught a break. “I didn’t think you would.”
He grimaced, sliding his card and letting me push through the revolving bars.
“Yeah. Come on,” he said. “I’m not gonna keep you waiting.”
I shook the box in my arms and it meowed back at us. “See?”
“Uh-huh.” Unimpressed as always. “Not just any old cat?”
What would be the odds of that?
I chose to discount the possibility. “No.”
“Alright, you know where this guy lives?” We approached the elevator.
“Yeah,” I hit the button. “I remember.” Off we went.
I started to say something else but stopped on the first syllable. Dag raised an eyebrow.
“It’s just…” I got a girlfriend. I’m an idiot. “How you been? Been a while, you know?”
“Got through training well enough. I’m a cop, now.” He was pleased at that.
I recoiled at the thought. “Seriously? What’s that like?”
“Lots of people work. Some riot control. Mainly working on the Mask gangs. Shit like that.”
“Oh… So no more fun, huh?”
“You telling me you’ve been hanging out in the unsurveiled districts, then? Really?”
“No.” I couldn’t even stand this building anymore. Shadows crept wherever I went.
“I didn’t think so.”
The elevator dinged.
I saw the door and ran immediately.
The old patterned carpet had gone, the walls and ceiling renovated. So many cameras dotted it again, logistically impossible to remove them all.
That was Smiler’s last method of ensuring his control. Being too much to bother with.
When I reached the door I hesitated.
Dag reached past me and knocked. After a few seconds it opened to the length of the chain.
A middle aged woman peered between the crack. She took one look at us and sneered. “What do you want?”
“No, no,” I said. My heart sunk again. “Where’s the man who used to live here?”
She rolled her eyes and closed the door without another word.
I was stunned for a moment.
“Hey!” I shouted, banging on the door. “It’s a simple question!”
Dag put a hand on my shoulder. “Frode.”
“I’ll call the cops!” her muffled warning came through.
I kicked the door one last time before stumbling back into the opposite wall.
“What was that?” Dag demanded.
“I hadn’t… been expecting this. I’m just a little not okay, alright?” I hadn’t even wanted to see the look on his face. “I can’t explain it. I just need to do this.”
Now I can’t.
In my hand the cat was sticking its paw out the crack between the folded cardboard, swatting at me. The stupid thing had no idea what was going on.
What can I do now?
Dag made up his mind. “We need to talk.”
I shook my head. “…I should just get home.”
He painfully squeezed my shoulder, transitioning to a hold on my arm as he began to walk. “Let’s go, Frode. I want to show you something.”