A deafening crack and the lights went out. Malmquist’s chair vanished and he found himself on the patio floor. Ray and the other customers were gone. Streetlight illumination revealed the premises to be empty and dilapidated and shrouded in dust.
Malmquist sat up to get his bearings. Outside chatter suggested it was still early evening. He got up to explore the restaurant, and what he saw cautioned him to stay inside until after midnight. The city wrapped in silence but for incessant ambulance and fire-engine sirens, he emerged after jimmying open a window—the front and back entrances were padlocked shut—and headed down Lunt toward Sheridan Road on foot, for his bicycle was gone.
He had barely crossed under the El track bridge when a man pulled up pointing an AK-47 at him through his car window. “You’re a fucking pedophile!”
“What did you call me?”
Malmquist walked up to the car, grabbed the rifle out of the man’s hands and stuck the gun barrel down his throat. “If you don’t want your car interior to be soiled with brain matter, you’re going to do exactly what I say. Park the car in the fire-hydrant spot there. Nice and easy.” Malmquist walked with the car as the man pulled into the space by the curb, the gun in his mouth. “Now, take off your clothes. And drop them behind you in the back seat. Start with your shoes and pants. Underwear too. Move your hands slowly or I shoot. Keep your T-shirt on.”
Malmquist got in the back seat, with the gun barrel now at the man’s neck. With his other hand he rummaged through the man’s pants and found the pockets empty. “Give me your watch.” He folded up the clothes into a bundle next to him. “Now, take Touhy over to 94 and head south down 90/94. We’re going to Indiana. Gary. New Gary.”
The man turned to Malmquist in disbelief. “You can’t go there! All routes are blocked by the National Guard.”
“Take 94, not 90, at the junction on the South Side. When we get to Hammond I’ll tell you what to do next. Now get moving. Don’t speak unless I ask you to. What’s your name?”
“Cahill. I have to give the car instructions where to go.” He spoke into the dash and the car turned around and headed west, past the abandoned Heartland Cafe.
Malmquist tossed the man’s smartwatch out the window and slunk down in the back seat, gun poised. He would have preferred the man’s hands were attached to a steering wheel but there was no steering wheel in the self-driving vehicle. “Fold your hands over your chest and keep them there.”
In Hammond, forty miles later, the car turned north at the 912 junction and pulled over onto the shoulder where the highway faced the Zone. At this late hour, the shooters using New Gary for target practice had all gone home.
“Tell the car to take you to 666 West 26th Street in Chicago,” Malmquist said.
The man spoke the instructions into the dash.
“Now get out of the car.”
Malmquist slammed the rifle into the man’s stomach. He buckled onto the asphalt. He smashed the man’s face with the gun and shoved him unconscious into the back seat face up, tearing the man’s T-shirt into strips to bind his hands and arms behind him and looping the seatbelts around his legs and neck. He stopped up his mouth with the stray underpants so he couldn’t issue the car new commands. With the blood dripping from the man’s face, Malmquist drew the words “SUCK MY DICK DANNY” across his torso. He pushed the door shut, and the car drove off.
Malmquist crawled through a hole in the fence and walked over to Delilah’s building. He found the window to her studio and tapped on it. Her face popped in view and she went round to the entrance to let him in. She was dressed in nothing but a T-shirt.
“What the hell happened? Where did you go?” she said.
“I just got back from the year 2115. I have no idea how I left your place.”
“The ganja must have really fucked you up.”
“How much time has passed?”
“Not much. You took off when I was taking a shower before we went to bed. Where did you get the gun? And what’s this ridiculous woman’s clothing you’re wearing?” she said, pointing to his tunic.
“I was up on the North Side of Chicago. I was accosted by a terrorist. I managed to subdue him and got his gun. Now I’m worried the gun has a GPS signal and we can be tracked down.”
“No, it’s an old AK-47. Practically antique.”
“How do you know so much about guns?”
“Oh, we know all about them. The gun factories here produce more guns than anywhere else in the world and it’s common knowledge. Now get cleaned up and come to bed with me. Don’t you fucking dare try leaving again or you’ll experience anal sex with the AK. And I won’t grease the barrel.”
“Nice language coming from a seventeen-year old. Your mouth needs washing out with soap. But get me a beer first. Do you have any?”
He nestled into bed with her after showering. They clinked shots of vodka as she wrapped her arm and a naked leg over him.
“I’m unsettled from what just happened,” he said. “My hands are still shaking. I need to wind down for a few minutes. I know you think I’m making this all up, but if I was only out for a short time, how did I manage to come back with this tunic, a different set of male clothes, and the gun?”
She plugged her mouth onto his and deep-kissed him.
“Delilah, do we have to go through this again? You’re only seventeen. You’re not ready for sex.”
“Yeah, right. I’m not ready for sex. Give me a break,” she sniggered. She got off the bed to put some slow Chicago blues on the stereo and jumped back into Malmquist’s arms. “You know, you have no idea how to kiss.”
“Your mouth is dead. Let me teach you. Think of your tongue as a cock and my lips as a vagina. Then think of my tongue as a cock and your lips as a vagina, so we’re like two shemales fucking each other at the same time with our tongues. I’m bi, you see, and you really need to be bi to understand kissing. Now curl your tongue to make it stiff and pointy like this, like a little penis.”
She kissed him again.
“Stick your tongue all the way in. Fuck me in the mouth with it.”
A long kiss resumed.
“You’re learning. Now, apply the same technique.” She switched off the light, turned around and centered her legs over his face.
They slept till noon and woke to a rapping on the window. It was Gunther. Delilah got up to fetch him.
“You’re going to go get him like that?”
“Yeah.” She headed out of the apartment naked.
Gunther could be heard speaking to her in the corridor as they returned. “Delilah, would put some clothes on please?”
“Nobody tells me how to dress in my home.”
“The building hallway is not your home. Hey, how’s it going,” he said to Malmquist. “How’s your new girlfriend?”
“A bit scary,” Malmquist said as he put on David Cahill’s clothes.
“Whose gun?” asked Gunther.
“He somehow escaped from here last night and got robbed out on 912 but turned the attacker’s gun on him.”
“Wow. You tried to escape from the Zone again?”
“That’s not exactly what happened. But for the sake of keeping things simple, yes.”
“Something just like that was in the news tonight. On the North Side, a pedo suspect turned a driver’s gun against him and hijacked him in his own car. The driver was beaten pretty bad and there’s an all-points bulletin out for the attacker.”
“Oh, Jesus. That’s me.”
“No way. You weren’t on the North Side.”
“I was. I really was. Can they locate me with the nanochip in my brain?”
“They can if the driver pinged you.”
“How would he ping me?”
“Whatever device he was using.”
“The only thing he had on him was some kind of digital watch, which I threw out of his car way up in Rogers Park when he accosted me. And this AK-47.”
“The watch would have pinged you. Even if they don’t find the watch right away everything about you is easily tracked in the network.”
“So they know where I am now?”
“Sure. But you’re probably safe, because you’re not in Chicago. You’re no longer a danger.”
“It’s just the latest scandal on the daily news,” added Delilah. “The public won’t believe you made it safely back to New Gary. They’ll just assume you’re hiding out somewhere in the city. That will give this news story a few more hours of life until the next day’s story.”
“But his car drove me down here to highway 912 and surely has a GPS tracker.”
“This is out of their jurisdiction. Chicago cops are Chicago cops. They don’t get messed up in New Gary stuff. And there’s hundreds of stories like this flying about all the time, rumors of pedophiles crawling all over the city. You’re as insignificant as a fly.”
“It’s not the cops you need to worry about, it’s the bounty hunters.”
“How much is the bounty?”
“Depends on things. The biggest is for pedos caught in the act. Or if the guy you beat up organized a posse to try to hunt you down here and perform some kind of extrajudicial revenge or even just a citizen’s arrest. It doesn’t matter where they arrest you, once they got you,” said Gunther.
“Would the police give him my coordinates?”
“They don’t have to. The coordinates of known pedophiles are publicly accessible.”
“I heard the Chicago gunmen who shoot at us occasionally enter the Zone to track suspects down,” said Malmquist. “Leroy told me that. They could already be here and surrounding the building.” He went over to look out of the window of the studio.
“They would only do that late at night after the shooters all go home, or they’ll be in the line of fire.”
“They could come for us tonight.”
“No. Listen. The guy was by himself, right? And he was beat up pretty bad and hospitalized. He’s not going anywhere for a while. He’s probably a loner who doesn’t even have any friends. What kind of posse is he going to pull together anytime soon, if ever?”
“Except that I made him program the car to take him to this angry boy Danny’s house who has a massive gun collection and hunts pedophiles as a hobby.”
“Why did you do that?”
“I thought they might be good for each other.”
“They might be. And that’s not good for you.”
“Naw,” said Gunther, “I still don’t think they’ll do anything. It takes a lot of guts to come all the way down here and actually enter New Gary to hunt people down on our territory. We’re not allowed to have guns but there are guns around and they know it.”
“Yeah, they’re afraid of us,” said Delilah. “They’re terrified of this place. It’s hell on earth to them. They want to drive everyone down here, not capture us. We would just be sent back here anyway. We’re trash to them, and that protects us.”
“Oh, I just recall something. The Chicago cops who put the nanochip in me said it was a special type of chip that actively alerts them to my whereabouts. They want me to inform on the surgeons here who secretly operate on people to remove their chip. Are there such surgeons?”
“Yep. But the rumors are the operation causes brain damage so nobody wants to do it. Anyway, there you go. They don’t care about the guy you beat up. They’re just waiting for you to get operated on.”
“Speaking of brain damage, let’s smoke up. Look what I brought, Delilah. Honey oil. It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten my hands on this.”
“Oh, cool. Yeah, let’s spoon some. Have you ever spooned oil before?”
“I’m not in the mood,” said Malmquist. “I’ll get paranoid if I get high now.”
“C’mon, just have one hit.”
“We can sneak into Chicago, the three of us,” said Gunther.
“Me and Delilah did it before. It’s fun. The South Side. It’s all Blacks there, and they don’t care much about pedos. They’re more interested in music.”
“The ghetto? That would scare the shit out of me.”
“Don’t fuck with him, Gunther. He’s had a rough past few days.”
“Just bullshittin’ ya. Tee hee.”
Delilah retrieved a handheld butane burner, a spoon, and a funnel. She heated the spoon until it glowed red. From the vial Gunther scooped up a drop of the thick oil with an earpick and held it over the spoon. The heat melted the oil and it dropped onto the spoon, bounced around and exploded in a ball of white smoke, which Delilah sucked up through the funnel. She held it in as long as she could until she coughed it out. They repeated the procedure with Gunther and Malmquist.
“Okay, let’s go get something to eat,” she announced.
“This stuff doesn’t hit you right away. It takes about ten minutes, and then, boom! You’re fucked,” Gunther told Malmquist.
“Where are we having lunch?”
“There are no restaurants anymore, like Chicago?”
“We don’t have the money to splurge on stuff like that. Every factory has its own cafeteria. And each neighborhood has a public cafeteria.”
“Forget it. Pretty grim. How’s the food?”
“It’s okay. Mostly we cook at home.”
“Can you guys treat? The cops only gave me a thousand dollars to last till my first pay check.”
“Why are you bringing the tunic with you?”
“Tell you when we get there,” said Delilah.
The cafeteria was clean and colorless, like an old-fashioned hospital. They sat down with their trays of food: fried chicken, mashed and gravy, and okra for Malmquist; cheeseburger, fries, and banana cream pie for Gunther; black-eyed peas, grits, and sweet potato pie for Delilah. Delilah went up to speak with one of the servers.
“Fuck is this shit powerful,” Malmquist said to Gunther. “I’m not even sure I have an appetite. One minute I’m fine, the next—total confusion.”
“Told you so.”
Delilah came back with the server and invited her to sit down. “This is Deshondra. You know Gunther. This is Jeff. She’s a seamstress by trade. Now tell me if you’ve seen this type of dress and stitching before and where it comes from,” Delilah said, handing her Malmquist’s tunic.
Deshondra ran her fingers through it. “I like the design. The material a bit coarse, though. This hemp. Where you get this? I thought they don’t allow hemp no more. You got me. Looks like something from the past, even before I was born, though it’s in good shape. Why ain’t no clothing tag on it? Must be homemade. Yep, this homemade.”
“He says it’s from the future. The year 2115.”
“He he. What you dudes been smoking? I can smell it on you, you know. Sorry, Delilah, I gotta get back to work or I’ll get chewed out by the boss.”
“Thanks. I’ll talk to you later.”
Turning to Malmquist she said, “What other stuff from the future did you bring back? I want to see more evidence.”
“That’s it. But I’ll tell you something interesting. I keep being teleported between here and a full-scale replica of ancient Rome in China called New Rome. I’m a slave there and my master gave me a tunic to wear as well, a magic tunic. When you write on it, you can communicate with someone else who is wearing the same tunic. When the cops caught me here last time, they took it. Then when I was back in New Rome I got another one of those tunics and discovered I could communicate with the police inspector here. But where in the hell is that tunic now?”
“The honey oil really fucked him up, Delilah.”
“His name is Melynchuk. Maybe you’ve heard of him. You can ask him.”
“Can you communicate with this tunic?”
“I don’t think so.”
“I want to wear it. I kind of like it.” She stood up to take her shirt off.
“Would you please do that in the restroom, Delilah? You know what happened the last time you tried that here,” said Gunther.
“It was a hot summer day and the aircon was broken. She just took her shirt off and her tits were hanging there like she was in her own bathroom. Everyone was laughing and the boss kicked her out.”
“Yeah, that was funny. I’ll be back in a minute.” She headed off to the ladies room.
“Okay, start over,” said Gunther. “Explain to me how you get back and forth between here and China.”
Malmquist did the best he could. Gunther looked pleasantly entertained. They finished their meal.
“What’s taking Delilah so long? Hey, Deshondra,” called Gunther. “Can you go find out what Delilah’s doing? She went into the restroom to put on the tunic and she’s been in there for ages. Her food is already cold.”
Deshondra came back a few minutes later carrying Delilah’s clothes, minus the tunic. “She gone. Can’t find her nowhere.”
* * *
Forthcoming (summer 2017): The Kitchens of Canton