Global Positioning by Josh Denslow


Cody and Squid were both on the clock, but Squid had spent most of the night in the cashier’s booth talking to Alicia. Cody figured Squid would never admit that Alicia wasn’t interested in white guys. Though she did seem to put up with him, which was more than Cody could say for himself.
     Squid was scared of his own intelligence so he overcompensated by acting confused all the time. Cody found him tiring. In an alternate universe, the two of them were probably great friends, but here in the real world, Cody took a deep breath and enjoyed the silence of his small piece of pavement in the shadow of a building that had survived the Chicago fire.
     The last ten minutes of his shift were always bittersweet. After midnight, the south side sighed and sunk into an armchair. The streets were bathed in the mist of streetlights and pollution. Other than the whisk of a passing car, the only sound was the thrum of lights in the garage and the low throb of Lake Shore Drive. City silence.
     Leaning against the wall at his post, a slight breeze at his collar, Cody found the only place he belonged. Within the hour, he’d return to his apartment and watch movies until the sun peaked through the apartment complexes across the street. His dad said he needed to stop feeling sorry for himself. But that wasn’t accurate.
     Even parking cars was surreal. People he’d never met, probably never see again, allowed him to enter their most expensive possession. No background check. No driving record. The majority of the time, not even a hello. If he knocked on their door, they’d never invite him into their homes. But inside their cars, he had access to private information. Glove boxes were full of insurance cards, checkbooks, utility bills. Hell, if they wouldn’t allow him into their homes, he had their address and keys. He could let himself in. Cody had heard of such things.
     What was surely the last car of the night squeaked to a stop in front of him. A silver Toyota Camry. A man with no hair got out and waved cheerfully.
     “Can’t believe you’re still here.”
     “Just a few more minutes,” Cody said.
     The man slipped a ten-dollar bill into Cody’s hand along with his key. It was rare to get a tip on the way in, especially one so large, so Cody returned the man’s ballooning smile.
     “Have a great night,” the man said and disappeared into the hotel.
     Cody sank into the driver seat. It smelled like someone who had given up smoking months ago but was scared to be rid of the stale odor. The man had a GPS mounted on the dash. As Cody pulled forward, a woman’s voice proclaimed, “Your destination is on the right.”
     Up the exit ramp of the garage, Cody saw Squid talking to Alicia by the register as she snuck glances at a paperback. Cody hit the gas and idled at the stop sign at the end of the street. He clicked the GPS and saw that the man’s previous stop was less than a mile away on Halsted.
     Squid wouldn’t even notice he was gone.
     Three traffic lights later, Cody found himself in front of a dim Greek restaurant. He watched the remaining employees tuck chairs under tables and fold napkins. He clicked on the radio and a Buddy Guy song bled from the speakers.
     Cody wondered who had dinner with the man. Had they planned to meet again? Or maybe she was meeting him at the hotel later. Cody turned off the radio and selected the hotel address in the GPS.
     He purposefully took a different route.
     Cody tucked the Camry near the exit and waved at Alicia as he returned to his post. She didn’t look up from her book.
     Squid was in the process of locking the key box and storing the time stamp for the night.
     “You leaving?” he said.
     Cody pictured his apartment. “I’ll probably get some coffee first.”
     “I’m going to Alicia’s when she gets off in an hour.”
     “You wish.”
     “You here tomorrow?” Squid pulled out a wad of tips from his pocket and began sorting them.
     “Late shift,” Cody said.
     “I’ll let you smell my fingers.”
     “On that note, I’m leaving.”
     Squid laughed and continued folding bills.
     Cody crossed an empty State Street and stepped into Dunkin’ Donuts.
     Samir was working, his eyes heavy in his smooth face. He had Cody’s coffee waiting on the counter in front of him.
     “Busy tonight?” Samir dumped a packet of sugar in the steaming cup.
     “Average. What happens if I didn’t show up?”
     Samir gave a tired smile. “I’d drink it.”
     “How’s school?” Cody said.
     “Two years and I’ll be a nurse.”
     “I don’t know how you find the time.”
     “You say that every weekend.”
     Cody slid five dollars across the counter. “Keep the change.”
     “You know I won’t do that.”
     “I know, but I have to try.”
     Samir handed him his change and leaned against the counter. “You can always find the time, Cody. If it’s important enough.”
     “And that’s what you say every weekend.”
     Cody nodded as he walked out the door. Samir pulled a textbook from under the counter. He propped his head in his hands and began reading, his back hunched behind him.
     Cody walked down State Street toward the el. His fingertips buzzed. He wanted to get back in the Camry and retrace every place the man had ever been. Through every relationship. All the way to the place of his birth. A life told through global positioning.
     Cody thought about his own GPS, a futuristic lifeline. Maybe he should listen to his dad more.
     A loud voice drifted from the alley. Cody took a sip of his coffee and crept toward the opening. A trashcan overflowed on the curb.
     Thirty feet into the alley, a white guy in tattered pants with a winter cap pumped his arms. “I have a gun,” the guy yelled to someone in a white collared shirt.
     Even though his back was to him, Cody knew the victim was Squid. His enormous head was unmistakable and his parking vest was draped over his shoulder.
     “Let me see the gun,” Squid said.
     “I will shoot you!”
     “I just don’t know how I’m supposed to know you really have a gun there.”
     The mugger shook with rage. “You’re about to find out.” His voice bounced between the buildings.
     Cody could almost hear Squid thinking. Was whatever he made in tips that night worth the chance that this guy might actually have a gun? He was surely thinking about Marvin as well. The reason Cody had this job was because the previous valet had been beaten to death with a baseball bat. Though Cody had heard it was a crime of passion; Marvin’s girlfriend had set him up or something because of an abortion. But Squid would verbally attack anyone who suggested such a thing.
     Cody’s first instinct was to stand and watch. Maybe he was seeing the last thing Squid would ever do. He imagined two small words appearing over the scene, like a movie from the forties. THE END. If Cody did nothing, it would be the end. Squid would probably be fine; just out a hundred bucks or so. He’d show up to work talking about what happened. But Cody wouldn’t be a part of it.
     Instead, Cody tossed his coffee into the trash and took a large step into the alley. He had no idea what was going to happen.
     
     
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Josh Denslow’s stories have appeared in Third Coast, Black Clock, Pear Noir!, and Cutbank, among others. He is a staff editor for SmokeLong Quarterly and an Associate Editor for Unstuck. He plays the drums in the band Borrisokane.