The short walk to Dag’s apartment was marked by silence. He had let go of my forearm, but I walked with him all the same. I was non-confrontational like that.
I was in a deep place, too. My mind going dark places as the cat in the box scrabbled.
With the halls and doors all the same I was unsure of how far we had to go. That was until Dag stopped in his tracks and ran his thumb over the handle of the first door on his left.
I was surprised to find that inside was an apartment triple the size of the one I used to occupy. It was dim, lit by an entire wall of monitors and computers stacked high and glowing. Green and red infographics were oscillating in real time, code flying by.
“What is all this?” I recognized most the hardware and programs vaguely. I was piecing it together fast, but I didn’t know what to make of it.
“Work,” was all he told me.
You’re just a riot reservist.
He took the cat box from my hands and sat it on a circular plastic table. He pushed me to sit down there.
Everything was moving along like a dream. All I could think about was not wanting to talk to Delilah about all this. Our best conversations were farthest removed from reality, theories of optimism and what we could be if we ever gave a fuck. But I knew I couldn’t hide from it forever. We were poor at fuck-giving.
“It’s just a simple thing,” I said.
“What’s that?” Dag was flipping off his monitors.
“The cat. I don’t want to say it, but I know why. I just wanted… something.”
He was going through boxes of papers by his bed, holding them up to the white bathroom’s illumination. “Closure.”
“Yeah,” I frowned. “That sounds about right.”
Looking at all the equipment and papers and scrawled on whiteboards, I thought that wasn’t quite the right word. I wanted what I saw. Every piece of this room spoke about function. What the hell was it all for? Work?
I had a job.
I have work.
He threw down a piece of laminated paper in my lap.
I unfolded it to find a map of the city. It crawled out into the Pacific, sprawling all the way across. But our local section, just off old California was visually enlarged. The Eastern Pacific megazone. Dozens of markings and notes were scrawled out, highlighted districts and buildings, showed. I grimaced.
“This is the flesh trade you’re tracking?” I recognized it. The locations of chop shops were marked.
“Yeah.” Dag sat down.
I was panning through the digital landscape of the electric paper. I found where all his trackings and notes had spread outward from. It was a systematic investigation of every surrounding area, expanding from one place.
“Goddammit,” I swore.
I stopped him. “-Let me get this straight,” anger bled into my voice. “Our friend disappears and we search for months. Finally, you just tell me to let it go. Let it go, Frode. That’s what you said.”
“You didn’t let it go!” I had to stand and pace the room, jumping up. “Jesus! What a fucking hypocrite.”
“Quiet, you idiot.”
“What the hell gives you the right to go on searching without me?!”
He bolted up and I stepped back. My fists were clenched.
Dag went on, “you’re always like this! Just…” he sighed. His beard had filled out into a short and unkempt mess which he scratched as he thought. “It’s exactly that. Searching? You wanted to search, Frode. He’s dead. I’m trying to remember him, to do the only feasible thing I can to make it right. And you just screw it up.”
“What the hell?”
He put out his hand as he sat. “Just park it, Frode.”
“Now,” he demanded.
I gave in, backing up into the wall to slide down onto my ass. “Why tell me now?”
“I was trying to do you a favor. Now you show up here, you look half dead, and you’re carrying that cat with you? Clearly you didn’t let it go, Jackass. You argued with Skrimp about his bullshit, but I had to deal with both of you. I didn’t know what to do.”
I had to grit my teeth.
“But,” he said, “I can’t… Wally would be disappointed with how things turned out.”
“Yeah…” I agreed. “He would. Fuck.”
Dag beat the table. “Look at you.”
“No, I’m dead serious. We know who did this, don’t we?”
“We know who did this to me,” I beat my chest. “If that’s what you’re saying.”
I didn’t answer.
“Come on! It’s the flesh trade. They’re fucking disgusting.” He was at the edge of his seat, now. “I’m tracking their operations. On the ground and every chance I get.”
“To what end, man?” I gestured to his scummy apartment. “You report them to Smiler? He looks the other way. They’re cleaning the streets and running a business. The blackout districts are a known refuge for us trash people, it’s appeasement. You’re riot control, you should know that. Nothing changes in this city.”
He nodded. “We don’t do that.”
I was soaking his carpet, sitting there, staring back. “We?”
“Yes.” He reached over and undid the cat’s box, pulling it up and out. “We.”
Dag got up and walked into his bathroom.
“Let’s get her cleaned. But I’m not keeping this thing for you,” he said.