Saffron City burned. He could see the light from the fires twisting in the grayblack alleys below. Smoke issuing in tentacles from the smooth concrete cityscape. The sun hung high in the cloudless firmament, a gleaming white halo coruscating off the bare facades of glass skyscrapers. He could hear the low warble of distant sirens. Paramedics and police cruisers and fire engines zigzagging frantically up the pinstriped boulevards. Ants scrambling to defend the colony.
He turned and went back into the apartment that was not his and crossed the cluttered den stepping over stacks of wrinkled newspaper in his going and he entered the bedroom where the dead trainer lay sprawled facedown in his bloodsoaked bed with one thin white arm dangling in suspended animation off one side of the mattress, posed and lifeless and stained blue where the unfixed blood had pooled in the basins of his bloated fingertips. The shutters cast a ladder of dim orange light across the cheap furniture and the empty gypsum walls and the empty hardwood floor. He rummaged in the boy's desk for a tin of dipping tobacco and stood chewing as he gazed down at the unfortunate young corpse. After a while he wandered back out to the den and cleared the dirty clothes and empty snack wrappers off the soft felt couch and sat with his feet up watching the ceiling fan twirl silently overhead. From time to time he spat casually at the crumpled newspapers strewn about the thin wool carpet.
He daydreamed. He thought about his week. Monday he and Thatcher had met with Sabrina to discuss the terms of their agreement. Standard provisions. Half now, half later. Handshake deal. No insurance policies. Tuesday they'd worked the phones, ordering supplies from three separate distributors: one local, one in Pallet Town, one in Viridian City. On Wednesday they'd shared lunch with a golduck named Marco, an insider with security clearance and unmitigated access to all the blueprints, photographs and prepaid phones they would need. Thursday the wares had arrived by express delivery and they'd spent all day putting the thing together in Thatcher's cramped garage outside the city. Yesterday he'd left Thatcher to finish up the legwork and hopped a train downtown. On Sabrina's tip he'd wound up here. He knew nothing about the decorated young trainer who'd been shacking up in this place, only that Sabrina had wanted him dead and all his property destroyed.
A sharp knock at the door startled him awake.
"Who is it?"
"It's me. Thatcher."
He went to the door and pressed one big blue eye to the peephole.
"Are you alone?"
Through the tiny globular lens he could see the chubby gengar frowning and rolling his eyes impatiently.
"DJ, it's me. Will you open the fucking door."
With a sigh he slid back the deadbolt and let him in.
"Did you catch the fireworks?"
DJ latched the door shut behind him. "Every minute," he said.
Thatcher stood surveying the cluttered apartment. "So what's the plan?"
"Bitch said she'd call at six right?"
DJ nodded and gestured toward the balcony. "Check out the view."
It was their week out there, smoldering twenty floors below the porch they stood on. Firefighters doused the burning hospital with long silvery jets of water and water was pooling in the streets and water was flooding the gutters and bright red flames were churning and spewing hotly from the big square building while a thin white mist settled cool and sheetlike over the whole chaotic scene. DJ spat into the open air. Thatcher plucked a cigarette from his pocket. DJ lit it with his tail.
"Marco pulled back security," Thatcher said, smoke trailing from his nose.
"Risky move," DJ chewed, leaning over the railing. "Couldn't that come back to haunt him?"
"Yeah, the fucker. He just threw himself under the bus. I could've handled them myself."
"He got out in time then."
Thatcher nodded. "No contest."
For a while they just stood listening to the distant wail of the sirens and the steady hiss of the firehoses and the rush hour traffic buzzing restlessly in the streets.
DJ spat. "Where'd you end up planting it?"
"Second floor. East wing. There were more offices on the west end but all the loadbearing beams were in the east."
"Yeah. Structural. One bomb ain't enough to bring the whole building down, but those fires should burn nice and long and hot while they're at it. That'll help."
"How many dead?"
"I dunno. Depends how many showed up for work."
Thatcher just looked at him and grimaced and flicked the ash from the tip of his cigarette. "Fuck you." Then he scratched his head and said: "I don't want to think about that shit."
"It's just a number," DJ snorted.
"Just a number."
"Says the math major," Thatcher smirked. "I swear to God, you fuckers are all the same."
"Come on. Let me show you something."
He led Thatcher to the bedroom and waved him in. The rank smell of blood overpowered even Thatcher's cigarette.
"So this is what you've been up to all day?"
DJ nodded slowly and folded his arms.
"I don't know. Our age. Eighteen. Nineteen."
Thatcher nudged the boy's limp head to one side and studied the blank crusted-over eyes. Then he drew up the boy's collar and thumbed the dark red badge above his shirtpocket and turned it to the light.
Ash, it read.
"Never heard of him," Thatcher mumbled.
"Me neither." DJ spat and kicked at the trunk by the foot of the bed. "Check that out."
Thatcher popped off the lock and peered inside. Six shiny pokéballs glared back up at him like a row of little bloodshot eyes. He picked one out and sat examining it, turning it in his hand.
"Pikachu," he read aloud off the nameplate.
"Sabrina wants them all taken care of," DJ said flatly. "Any ideas?"
"How's the bathtub in this place?"
"I don't know. Fine."
"Fill it up."
One by one Thatcher gathered up the pokéballs and followed DJ into the bathroom and stood watching him throw back the curtain and run cold water in the tub until it had nearly overflowed. Then he knelt and dropped the pokéballs into the foaming water and reached right in and pressed them to the floor of the tub. DJ followed his lead. The helpless little spheres were trailing bubbles, struggling to remain buoyant. After a while they just sputtered and gurgled and sank like stones to the hard ceramic floor.
DJ stood and snatched a towel off the counter and dried his hands.
"When was your last time?" Thatcher asked, watching the pokéballs drift silently through the water.
"My last time what?"
"Seven years ago."
"How'd you get out?"
"Wasn't my decision." DJ spat the tobacco from his lip and washed it down the sink. "My trainer let me go when she found out I was stuck at charmeleon."
"I'm not going back," Thatcher said, pulling himself to his feet.
DJ looked at him. "Me neither."