[Part 22] 21:19:51 // 04-JUN-2042 - Continued

Updated: May 26


Dodge kept watch over his shoulder as he power-walked away, and by the time he was satisfied the gamers weren’t following, he was already well past Bathurst, the westernmost edge of the entertainment district. It wasn’t a bad area, mainly condos and warehouses, but the street was nearly empty. Joshua wouldn’t have come this far. He’d have more luck turning around and heading back towards the dazzling lights.

His pulse finally slowing, Dodge noticed a skeevy club called ‘The Duke of Pork’ just up ahead. He wouldn’t have even bothered entering, but he suddenly felt the urge for a drink, no matter how bad it made him feel afterwards.

There was no one at the door, and when he walked in he had the club to himself. The music was so quiet he could hear the wooden floorboards creak under his footsteps.

One lonely bartender watched the monitor perched over the bar as lights fired in his dreadlocks. He didn’t even notice Dodge step up to the bar.

The bartender jumped and put his hand over his chest. “Shit, I didn’t even hear you come in.”

“Didn’t mean to startle you.”

“Yeah, no worries. Just lost in my head there.” He glanced up at the screen, then back at Dodge. “I get you something?”

There were three rows of alcohol on the wall, and Dodge pointed to the third shelf. “How about something from up there.”

“Certainly, sir,” the bartender said, perking up. He gestured to a small yellow bottle, its label decorated with a gyrating watercolor jungle scene. “How ‘bout a Banana Cannabis Blast? Made with real bananas.”

“Real?”

“Absolutely.”

“How much?”

“Forty-five.”

“Gimme one.” Wasn’t his money.

The bartender’s smile grew wider. He grabbed a bottle from the fridge, opened it, poured the thin yellow contents into a tall glass, and set it in front of Dodge.

Dodge bent and inhaled the exotic fruit aroma. Real banana, not that chemical acetone shit. He took a large swallow, and the pale liquid was sweet on his tongue. Alcoholic warmth radiated from his stomach. It wasn’t tryptoxetine, and it was nowhere near the Godwave, but it was better than nothing. He took another mouthful.

Dodge glanced up at the monitor as he drank. It was more about Klaxon. Stan Duran was talking with the director of Klaxon’s latest movie. They must have let Jolene finally get some sleep.

“—feel that this tragedy will hurt the movie?” Duran asked. What a ridiculous question. People had been camping out for tickets for weeks. And that was before Klaxon was murdered.

“No, not at all Stan. I’m sure, and I think Klaxon’s fans will agree with me when they see it, that this is his best movie ever. He gives an amazing performance. Heroic and yet vulnerable. That’s why we’re having the world premier at the Needle itself before it becomes available to stream. Showcasing his last work at the place he died will make a fitting memorial.”

“Thanks, Brett. We’ll see you at the premiere?”

“Sure will, Stan.”

Stan turned to face the camera, “Premiering in only three weeks, ‘The Other Side Of Life’ already has critics hailing it a masterpiece. And industry insiders believe this will be the biggest July weekend box-office take in history. We’ll be able to see for ourselves soon enough.”

Dodge turned away from the monitor and laid his cashcard on the bar. The bartender swiped it through the reader and Dodge added a generous tip to the total.

“Slow night …?” Dodge asked, making small talk while he finished his drink.

The bartender looked away from the screen. “Tell me about it. You’re only the second customer tonight.”

“That’s me, always coming in second.” Dodge appraised the empty club. “They pick up and leave already?”

“Nah, he’s a friend of Jennifer.”

“Is that code for something?”

The bartender narrowed an eye. “What? Oh. no. Jennifer works here. I think they’re engaged or something. Or used to be, I don’t know. She keeps to herself, you know, won’t even stick around for a drink after shift. Anyway, the dude, he hasn’t been around for months. He used to be in here all the time and then just stopped coming by.” The bartender was talkative. He must have been very bored.

“Oh yeah?” Dodge said after swallowing the last of his drink. He’d have to call Blair and tell her his search had been a bust. Maybe she’d have another idea about where to look.

“It’s odd,” said the bartender, resting his lower back against the shelf behind him. “Him looking so much like Klaxon Overdrive and all. He was half the reason the place was so popular there for a while. People came to gawk at the guy. I think he used to do body double work for him, you know, store openings and stuff. Told us all these stories about what an absolute dick Klaxon Overdrive really was, like he was trying to talk us out of liking Klaxon. Told us this one about how he tracked down his father and ruined his life. Made the guy lose his job. Broke up his marriage. All in revenge for leaving when Klaxon was a kid.”

“Yeah, real funny—”

“Klaxon Overdrive dies and Joshua shows up the next day, like Superman and Clark Kent or something. One time he—”

Dodge hadn’t heard anything after ‘Joshua.’

“Where are they?” Dodge asked, his mouth suddenly dry.

“Oh,” the bartender squinted at the question but answered anyway. “In the office, I think. Around the corner here. Just upstairs. But you can’t go up there—”

Dodge had already stalked away from the bar.

The bartender called after him, “Yo, dude! Employees only.”

Dodge ignored him and rounded the bar, taking two steps up the metal staircase towards the office. From the depths of the club, a well-dressed man emerged from swinging doors, clipboard in hand, alerted by the bartender’s shouts. His annoyed grimace made it clear he wouldn’t be receptive to any requests Dodge had about checking out the club’s private office.

“Woah, fella,” the manager called. “Where do you think you’re going?” He looked as though he may have once been a football player—tall and bulging at the middle. In the dim light, his shaved ebony head made his face seem extra long.

With a burst of speed that sent him moving before he could think better of it, Dodge took off up the stairs, leaping them two at a time. The manager followed, slowed by a slight limp. Dodge crested the stairs, already out of breath, pealed through the door at the top and slammed it behind him. He scrambled for a lock, noticed the thick deadbolt, and fumbled it into place just as his pursuers arrived. They started pounding, causing the room to echo like the inside of a bass drum.

He put his back to the bucking door and scanned the room, then blinked and looked again, still not sure what he was looking at. The makeshift table, folding chair, and line of scuffed filing cabinets made complete sense. It was an office, after all. But he had no idea what to make of the petite blonde recoiling against the back wall, tears streaming down her face. She looked as though she was twenty-five, but the lines around her mouth and the pain in her eyes made her seem much older.

Or of Joshua, kneeling in the middle of the floor, tearing at his head as if trying to claw his brain from his skull.

Dodge’s nerves were so far past overload they couldn’t get any more tense. His panic had to just stand back and watch, wait to see what he’d do next. He didn’t even give himself the chance to think, just braced himself, pulled the phone from his jacket and pressed Blair’s programmed number. She answered instantly.

“I found him.” Bam. The door bucked under him. “In a club called ‘Laudanum’.” Bam. “On Tecumseth just north of King.” Bam. Bam.

“What the hell is he doing way over there?”

“How the hell should I know.” Bam. “He doesn’t look too good.” Bam. “He’s with someone named Jennifer.”

“She’s supposed—” Blair’s voice broke. Bam. Bam. Bam. “What the hell’s all that noise?”

“I locked myself in the office with him, and the manager’s trying to get in.” He was surprised how unfucked he sounded, his voice was almost normal. He didn’t let himself consider whether this was a good thing or a sign he was about to have the meltdown of his life. “What should I do?”

“Send me your location.”

As he did, Joshua abruptly ceased tearing at his head and turned to look at Dodge, hatred blazing in his eyes. The door continued to kick behind him.

“Who are you talking to, thief?

Dodge froze. Joshua’s voice was feral. He’d already clocked Dodge once, there was nothing stopping him from cracking his skull again.

He considered running, glanced at the dead bolt, then figured he’d take his chances with Joshua rather than the huge guy on the other side of the door.

Besides, Blair was on her way.

“What was that?” Blair’s voice asked from the mobile.

“You’d better hurry,” Dodge said then ended the call.

He took a step toward Joshua, hands raised. “Easy there, Joshua. Everything will be okay. Let’s just all take a breath …”

“We’re not Joshua,” Joshua snarled, squinting at Dodge maniacally. “We’re Klaxon Overdrive, and you’d best fucking remember that.”