Even a few days after the events at Maggie’s Diner, Buddy struggled to remove the images of the garish beast from his mind. However, while feeling emotionally vulnerable, he felt physically stronger than he remembered feeling even during his days in the ring.
The doctor had told him he should take it easy for a couple weeks and Maggie was doing her best forcing Buddy to keep to the doctor’s orders. The pain in his side was barely a memory now. The aches and pains he struggled with on a normal basis were also no longer as much of a nuisance in his life. His sister, however, was a different story.
“Now Buddy,” she nagged, “I have to head downtown today to finish some more insurance stuff. Are you sure you’re going to be able to take care of yourself for a few hours?”
“Don’t worry about it, Maggie. I can handle myself.”
“The doctor told you that you need to be on bed rest for at least a week to make sure everything heals correctly. I don’t want to come back to find you sprawled out on the floor because you overdid it.”
“I’m fine. Quit fussing over me already and go do your thing.”
“And I know you’re concerned about getting back to work, but I really think you need–”
“Maggie,” Buddy interjected, “I’ve got everything under control, okay?”
Buddy had yet to let Maggie know about his lack of a home and somehow she hadn’t heard about the closure of Flores Security yet, even though it was all over the news. Since Maggie was doing such a great job of playing nurse, he decided to keep her in the dark. He didn’t want to complicate his current comfortable status as a person who sleeps on a couch with such negative thoughts as having no earthly belongings.
“Okay. But, if you need anything-” Maggie trailed off as she picked up her keys.
“I know, I know. I’ve got your number.”
Maggie walked to Buddy’s side and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Bet you can’t wait to get back to the cot, can you?”
“And miss out on all the attention I’ve been getting?” Buddy smirked.
Maggie laughed as she walked out the door. “Stay on the couch!” she yelled as she went on her way.
Just as Maggie shut the door behind her, the phone rang. Buddy moved quickly to answer it.
“Hey, it’s Maggie’s house. Buddy speaking.”
“Hello, may I speak with Mr. Jackson, please?”
“You’ve got him,” Buddy responded, noticing his voice had somehow gained an unfamiliar happy tone.
“Mr. Jackson, this is Dr. Algen, from Sun City Community Hospital. You had brought in a John Doe the other day.”
“Right, yeah, the naked guy. How’s he doing?”
“He’s awake, Mr. Jackson, and he’s asking to see you. Is there any way for it to be possible for you to make it down here sometime today? We have a lot of questions for him, but he refuses to discuss anything before he has the opportunity to speak with you.”
Buddy, looking for any excuse to leave the house, jumped at the request. “Yeah, I can get down there within the hour, no problem.”
“Thank you, Mr. Jackson. I look forward to seeing you.”
Buddy hung up the phone and ran across the room to grab his jacket, jumping over the couch in the process, and found Maggie standing in the doorway with a stern smile on her face. He froze.
“Oh, hey, Maggie. Did you forget something?”
“I heard the phone ring and thought I should come back in to answer it so you wouldn’t have to get off the couch.”
“Ah, yeah, well, you know. . . “
“So, who called?” Maggie asked, having a difficult time holding her scowl when her brother looked so excited.
“Hospital needs to see me. That dude I saved wants to talk to me. No time to explain, gotta run.” Buddy was out the door before Maggie could contest it. She smiled a new smile, this one not saying anything specific, being merely one of happiness. She went to the doorway and yelled down the hallway after him.
“At least let me give you a ride!”
“Don’t worry about it sis. I could use a good walk.”
“You’re supposed to be taking it easy, doctor’s orders.”
“Seriously, Maggie. The doctor is the one who told me to come in.”
Buddy was amazed at his surplus of energy. He felt young, strong, and vibrant. He walked quickly to the hospital, as though there was some prize awaiting him. He was actually looking, smiling, and waving at people as he passed them.
He noticed things he normally would have ignored, such as businesses he didn’t know existed, graffiti he found interesting, and the female standing on the side of the road with a rickshaw.
The rickshaw seemed very out of place to Buddy. It looked like it had been made in ancient China. It was a simple machine, two large wooden wheels with thick spokes and a high-backed seat covered in some sort of plush red fabric. There was a red retractable cloth roof and two long slender wooden posts leading from the vehicle’s seat. The posts were against the ground and the woman was leaning against it.
However, Buddy quickly became distracted by the many other details of his city he had long forgotten. The grin on his face made him look like an entirely different person. Here he was, no real prospects for the future and somehow he was managing to feel happy once again.
“Hey, you’re Buddy Jackson, right?” said a woman appearing directly in front of him. He almost walked into her. He looked at her face and recognized her as the woman who had been standing by the rickshaw a couple of blocks behind him. He looked over his shoulder and saw the rickshaw was now unattended.
“Hey, weren’t you just–?”
“Yeah, I know, how’d you get here, where’d you come from, can I get your number, blah blah blah. Are you Buddy Jackson or not?”
“Umm. . . yeah, I’m Buddy.”
“Great,” the woman said and then immediately disappeared. Buddy heard her voice coming from the street. He looked and saw her standing with the rickshaw. “Get in,” she said.
Buddy looked at the young woman in confusion. He then found himself staring at her. She was gorgeous. Her long blond hair reached down to just above her hips. Her hair served to accentuate the way her hips curved around the center of her body. Flowing from there were two perfectly toned and slender legs, bursting at the denim trying to contain them. Growing up from her center was the body of a goddess. The curves of her form were hidden underneath a red-hooded sweatshirt, but Buddy could still see she was given nothing less than perfection. His jaw opened slightly as he surveyed the beauty of this vixen and found himself wishing he were ten years younger.
“Hey, pal! Eyes off the goods and get your butt in the vehicle!” She sounded more angry at his lack of movement than she was at the fact he had been ogling her.
Buddy became aware of the rest of the world once again and struggled with the proper response to such an odd situation. He had difficulty thinking of any possible risks involved in a beautiful woman abducting an overweight man in a rickshaw and decided that if there were any, they might be worth it.
He climbed into the rickshaw and as soon as he rested his head against the red-cushioned interior he felt the entire world melt away and his body ripped from it. Outside the vehicle the world now appeared as some sort of technicolor day-dream, nothing but colors and lights streaking past.
Buddy opened his mouth to ask what was going on, but couldn’t formulate the words necessary to do so, at least not in the time provided. He saw a bright blue light and the world formed around him again, but his place in it had changed.
He was now inside a parking garage. The cars parked inside this cavernous building numbered in the thousands.
“First time traveling at sub-light, huh?” the woman asked with a smile on her face. Her voice echoed. There was a slight twinkle of giddiness in her eyes.
“Don’t worry, the queasiness should wear off in a few minutes. Look, I’m sorry for ambushing you like this, but my boss really wants to see you. Oh, yeah, and my name’s Alexa.” Buddy noticed she didn’t seem to breathe between words.
“Nice to meet you,” Buddy said, as he struggled to pull himself out of the rickshaw. Alexa assisted him.
“Come on, Artie’s not too patient when waiting for people, so we should get in there.”
“What just happened?”
Alexa led Buddy to a door near where they had parked the rickshaw. “Just a little high speed transport, nothing special.”
They went through the door and entered an enormous foyer. There was a elaborate fountain immediately in front of him in the shape of a D. Coming up from the fountain were seven streams of water, each a different color, all landing in a mishmash in the bottom. The colors didn’t blend into each other, but intermingled in a magical dance. There was a desk positioned in the middle of the room. Alexa led Buddy to it.
The desk was a standard reception desk, but instead of a chair, or a person sitting in a chair, behind the desk, there was a set of computer monitors. Each monitor showed a different image of the room they were currently in. Across the images were emblazoned the words Data Analysis Watchdog Network. Alexa walked to the desk and leaned against it. The monitors flickered and a computer generated face of a woman appeared on all of the screens.
“Hey D.A.W.N., Artie ready to see me?”
“Hi, Alexa, so nice to see you. Mr. Flores has asked that I ensure you head directly into his office. And I would really appreciate it if you would quit leaning against everything like that. It’s so unbecoming of a woman.”
“Whatever, D.A.W.N..” Alexa walk toward a gated door in the back of the room.
“Not so fast, Alexa.”
“What now, D.A.W.N.?”
“You know that all visitors must be signed in and receive a visitor’s badge before entering the building.”
“What, you mean Buddy? He’s no visitor, D.A.W.N. He built the place.”
Buddy looked up in surprise. He felt quite confident he would remember such a place, especially if he had been the one to construct it.
“Oh, yes. So sorry, Mr. Jackson. I didn’t recognize you with the added padding around your posterior. I’m so glad you have returned. I’ve made sure to prepare your room in the manner it was when you last left. I hope you enjoy.”
“Um. . . yeah. Thanks, D.A.W.N.”
“Please feel free to head directly to Arthur’s office, Alexa. And make sure to take extra special care of Buddy for me.”
Alexa started toward the door in the back of the room again. Buddy followed. She looked at Buddy and spoke in a whisper. “I think Carl’s been messing with her programming again. She’s starting to sound like my mother.” Alexa pressed a button located to the right of the door. It lit up and beeped.
“Don’t think I didn’t hear that, Alexa!” D.A.W.N.’s image appeared on a screen next to the doorway, with a motherly scowl.
The gate in front of the doors slid down into the floor and the doors slid open. Behind the doors was a beautiful elevator car, covered wall-to-wall in leather. The floor had brown ceramic tiles. The console had nine buttons. Seven of the buttons were the same colors Buddy had seen in the fountain. The eighth was black and the ninth white. Alexa pressed the red button.
Buddy grew anxious about what awaited him as the doors to the elevator shut. He became even more anxious when he realized the elevator was going down instead of up. All of the thoughts bouncing around in his head gave him another boost of energy and he was incapable of standing still. Alexa noticed his fidgeting.
“There’s nothing to be scared about, Buddy. Artie just wants you to do a job for him. That almost never means he wants to kill you.”
Go to Chapter Six