“Aren’t you the little cutie patootie?” Reading that, I half wanted to kill myself. Two months later and I was back in the same place I was before, this time talking to an 80-year-old man from Portland. Even with the new monitor, I still felt I was missing something, so I stayed with the grind and kept earning. But right then, that second, I couldn’t stand to listen to one more word from some lecherous old timer. I logged off and decided to go for a walk.

Outside, the sun was setting and the sky had a golden tint to it, contrasting with the pastel pink roofing across the Orange Palm. It made me think of theme parks and cotton candy; innocent stuff.

It was a cool night and as I got down the stairs, I shivered. Walking to the vending machine, I noticed the pool was totally empty. If it wasn’t for the floating palm fronds and dead insects, it would’ve looked inviting. Taking a stroll over to the edge, I looked in and was greeted with my reflection. My blue pajama pants, Stallman T-shirt, and messy but short dark hair had me looking like a 21st century schlub. Turning back to the machine, I heard someone call my name.

“Will!” It was Artie, heading straight for the stairs. “Hey man, do you know a dude named Pharaoh? Or did we just get prank called? The apartment number here is wrong according to the fat guy in the office.”

“Yeah, I know him. He’s four doors down from me. I’ll show you the way.” Heading there, I noticed that Artie was in a better mood than usual. “You win the lottery or something?”

“You’re clearly happy. That’s weird. Usually you appear to have a giant metal rod shoved up your ass.”

“It’s my last week working at the restaurant. No more delivery, no more cooking, no more nothing. I got a real job!”

“Real job?” I wasn’t sure what a fake job was.

“Yep, remember Greg from class? He’s been working at Fountainhead, and he got me a job coding for them!”

“Oh wow, that’s great, Artie. Congratulations.” I had no idea what the fuck Fountainhead was. Probably another worthless app start-up that would be dead before the end of the year. “Here’s the door.” I pointed towards Room 213.

“Thanks for showing me the way.” Artie knocked three times. “You’re gonna stand here?”

“Yeah, Pharaoh’s a friend. Maybe I can bum some of this food off him. By the way, since you won’t be working at the restaurant anymore, I’m really looking forward to inviting May into my apartment after she brings me my food.”

“Don’t you even fucking joke about th—”

Pharaoh’s door swung open. “What you yelling about? Huh!?” Pharaoh was dressed in a purple kimono and smelled suspiciously like skunk. “Will? And my food? Took you long enough, China Man.”

While I snickered, Artie didn’t see the humor. “It’s 25 dollars and 38 cents.”

“Well, give me a minute; this robe don’t have no pockets. You can put my food on the coffee table. And Will, you make yourself at home now.”

Stepping inside and ignoring the smell, I was struck, as I was the other two times I visited Pharaoh, by how much nicer his place looked than mine. Furnished with retro lamps, couches, and loveseats, the place was one cool hangout. Along the walls were framed Playboy centerfolds, an autographed baseball bat that once belonged to Hank Aaron, and movie posters from the 70’s. It walked a thin line between cheesy and cool, but on that line it stayed.

Pharaoh was messing with a stack of newspapers on the coffee table as I pulled a beer out of the fridge.

“Ah, here’s a twenty, and…uh, let me go get the rest out of my bedroom.” Pharaoh sauntered off and I was left to listen to Artie’s complaints.

“Does every idiot in this complex get off on wasting my time?”

“Relax, have a beer.”

“I don’t have time for this shit, Will.” He put the food down and started looking through the stack of newspapers.

“What are you doing?”

“Maybe I can find the other five in here.”

“Good luck with that.” I leaned back on a loveseat and turned on the television. The horrific moans of a Japanese woman being hosed with gallons of cum temporarily deafened my ears. The three seconds it took for me to turn it back off seemed to pass by unnaturally slowly.

“Jesus Christ!”

Pharaoh came back out with the five and a couple of quarters. “Thanks again for those movies, Will. Good stuff.”

Artie glared at me while taking the money from Pharaoh.

“What? She was probably paid very well for her performance.”

“Read the obituaries, idiot.” Artie threw one of the papers at me.

Looking it over, I found the obituaries section. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to see.

“Victimless crime, huh?”

“Can you tell me what I’m supposed to be looking at here?”

“Third name, Khalil. Does it ring a bell?”

Skimming it, the third paragraph read: “Khalil Khalid Khalwaja, 28, of Santa Monica, California died June 3rd from an overdose of sleeping pills…member of the Khalwaja family…loved by all…will be remembered by his brother Ali.”

“Oh yeah, I remember him. He was a pedophile. Why are you upset about this?”

“He fucking killed himself, man!”

“Now what the fuck are you two talking about, huh? Whatever it is, it ain’t chill, and I want it out of my home. Only I get to raise my voice in here! Shoo now, go on, get!” Pharaoh corralled us out of his place and back onto the balcony. “You’re welcome back anytime, Will. Just don’t bring this asshole with you.”

As the door closed, Artie went back to chastising me. “This wont just wash away. You get that, right? A man killed himself because of what you did.”

“First of all, you don’t know that. Secondly, he was a pedophile. Third, he was a pedophile.”

“Karma, dude. This shit’s gonna come back to bite you. Now, I gotta go; I got more deliveries to make. Don’t call my sister. Don’t call me. Call a therapist!”

A few minutes later, I was back in my apartment, thinking about what Artie was saying. I didn’t buy it. If Khalil killed himself, which wasn’t certain, it could have been for any reason. And even if it was because I took his money and then cut off contact with him, I wouldn’t say his death was on me. After all, people kill themselves every day. Maybe it would’ve happened anyways, maybe not. Either way, I didn’t think I’d ever have to think about it again. I’d used a VPN and had already spent the money.

Turning on my computer, my eyes drifted around the room and focused on the things I bought with the dead man’s money. The hard drives on my desk, the custom hat, the German chocolate, and finally, looking back at the 4K monitor, any guilt I may have harbored completely evaporated. I was confident I’d done nothing wrong. Staring into that bright blue screen was reassuring, like staring at a beautiful woman. If I had actually done something wrong, why would I be materially rewarded for it? So I worshiped that beautiful blue, just soaked it right in. Until it went black.

All of a sudden, I was surrounded by darkness. The power had gone, and the electronic humming of my PC was replaced with the sound of neighbors arguing and cars driving on a nearby freeway.


For all installments of “Cyber Punk,” click here.

  1. Disc 1