Stargirl

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Chapter 28: Mail

The next week or two passed relatively without incident. TM found himself feeling something like closure, even if things hadn’t resolved the way he would have liked. Life went on, as it were, a life he could now try to live for Ziggy as well as himself.

Then, three years to the day since Ziggy was carried away, Veggie got an email.

‘Oh, you are fucking kidding me,’ he said. TM, legs folded underneath him in a fancy leather office chair, pushed off his desk and wheeled over, peering at the screen of Veggie’s laptop (moderately high-spec, bought on sale).

‘Fuck me,’ TM agreed. ‘It’s the fucking Swede.’

Dear Jonathan (began the email)

I realise we have not spoken for some time, nor did we part on the best of terms. It is, I fear, not with the most auspicious of tidings that I now address this electronic communication to yourself.

‘God, he’s pompous,’ said TM. Veggie scrolled down, grinding his teeth together so hard that the veins on his neck stuck out and his cheeks turned whiter than the background upon which the black text of the email sat.

You see (the email continued), it has come to my attention that your little business venture is now running a certain establishment of sorts: a gymnasium, the selling point of which (or ‘U.S.P.’ as I believe is the fashionable, current and correct business terminology, my attention to which you will doubtless appreciate, I am entirely sure) -

‘Twat,’ said Veggie.

- is that it is conjoined with a seafood restaurant, such as the term may herewith apply. ‘Muscles & Mussels’, I am informed: how quaintly alliterative. Thus commences the source of my quibble.

‘What ridiculous phrasing,’ TM observed.

‘He hasn’t changed,’ said Veggie sourly.

Unfortunately, I believe, and my lawyer tends to agree, that you may, in running such an establishment, be, knowingly or unknowingly, infringing, maliciously or not maliciously, upon my, intellectual and trademarked, property.

‘Too many commas,’ said TM, leaning over and deleting a few words in an effort to make it all make more sense.

Unfortunately (TM’s revision read), I believe that you may be infringing upon my intellectual property.

‘Still not perfect,’ said Veggie, making an alteration of his own.

Unfortunately, I am a colossal asshat.

‘Amusing, but not entirely useful,’ TM said, hitting ctrl-Z.

I, you see (the Swede’s email went on), have been operating a very similar marine-delicacy-cum-physical-improvement-themed franchise (the equally, if not more so, pleasingly named ‘Fish and Fitness’) for some years. I hope the issue maketh itself clear to you now: your enterprise is concerningly alike in its particular oeuvre to my own businessitudes.

’Is ‘businessitudes’ a word?’ Veggie said.

‘Doubt it,’ TM said; Veggie looked satisfied.

As such, I find myself concerned. If you are making money from what I assert to be ultimately my idea, then be assured I shall want a share. I attach for your reference a copy of my documents regarding this matter.

Veggie clicked the attachment.

‘It’s fucking password-protected,’ he said.

‘Email him back for the password?’ TM offered; Veggie raised a hand in absolute denial, so quickly the air vibrated.

‘I’m not emailing him back,’ he said. ‘Ever.’

‘Hang on,’ TM said, ‘there’s an address.’

I look forward to hearing from you with the money to which I am rightfully entitled (concluded the email).

Yours

J.K.

Below that, an address gave the Swede’s current residence as ‘5-12 The Mansions’, which Veggie scoffed at.

‘I’ve got an idea,’ said TM.

’Is it ‘kill the Swede’?’

‘Not exactly.’

‘Then I’m only mildly interested.’

TM raised an eyebrow. ‘I propose,’ he said, ‘a heist.’

Veggie folded the laptop shut, staring at TM in apparent disbelief. ‘You must be fucking joking,’ he said.

‘Why?’ TM demanded. ‘We trained so hard for the last one -’

‘We spent six hours playing games and shit,’ Veggie interrupted. ’Plus, that last one ended in our three-way soulmate being abducted into space.’

‘Well… yeah,’ TM admitted, suddenly feeling a weight descend on his shoulders. He hunched over in his seat; the feeling physically pushed him down, compressing him, dizzying him as he tried not to think about the image of Ziggy being carried away, then the flashes of the light in space that was her and the crashing together of the galaxies. His experience in space might not have killed him, against all odds, but he would not forget it in a hurry. ‘But he says he’s got some proof or other that he came up with this idea,’ he continued, trying to sit up again, ‘so I say we should go and steal it.’ Veggie looked unconvinced. ‘And maybe destroy his house a bit while we’re there,’ TM added.

‘Fine,’ said Veggie. ‘I’m in.’

TM’s phone vibrated.

‘Er,’ TM said, looking at the screen: unknown number calling. It wasn’t all that uncommon for them to receive unknown calls since starting up the gymnastaurant (the unofficial term for the type of establishment M&M was), but something in TM’s stomach told him the timing was too convenient. ‘TM,’ he said, picking up the call.

‘Hello, Thomas,’ said a Swedish voice, overly articulating every letter in an attempt to conceal the accent.

‘Johan,’ TM said coldly, rolling his eyes at Veggie, who mimed shooting himself in the face (including loading his imaginary gun in alarmingly acute detail).

‘I am telephoning yourself,’ said the Swede, ‘because I suspect you will be more favourable of reaction than dear Jonathan. Which is to say, less absurdly apoplectic.’

‘You’re probably not wrong,’ TM admitted; Veggie mouthed ‘Don’t tell him he’s not wrong’ despairingly.

‘I assume he’s read my email,’ the Swede said silkily.

TM nodded.

‘Hello?’ said the Swede down the phone.

‘Oh, right, sorry,’ said TM. ‘Yup.’ Veggie facepalmed.

‘And the response?’ demanded the Swede.

‘Nah,’ said TM, and hung up. Then he turned his phone off. ‘Ready to heist?’ he asked Veggie, who nodded in a way that suggested he was just sort of agreeing, his mind apparently still on thoughts of murdering the Swede.

TM leaned across, flipped Veggie’s laptop open again and jotted down the Swede’s address. ‘He’s conveniently nearby,’ he noted.

‘Hang on,’ Veggie said, standing. ‘I think Marty’s downstairs.’

‘You want to bring him along?’

Veggie thought about it for a moment. ‘Nah,’ he said. ‘Best not involve him in the illegal shit.’

‘Fair play,’ TM agreed.

‘Dominika, though,’ said Veggie thoughtfully.

‘Ahhh,’ TM mused. ‘She probably would come in handy.’

‘No question,’ said Veggie.

‘If she’s downstairs,’ TM suggested, ‘we bring her.’

Veggie nodded, and moved to his bedroom (they had separate ones now). TM made to stand up, but a ping from the laptop brought him back down.

By the way (read the new email) don’t fuck with me.

Also, I heard your partner no. 3 got… disappeared. I imagine you’re useless without her. As I hear it, she was… shall we say, extremely persuasive to investors. Almost incredibly so. I wonder what sort of trouble I might be able to get you in if I were to report that she traded herself for your fortunes? It need not even be true, although I imagine most would believe it.

Kind regards

Give me my fucking money.

‘Oh, you are so fucking dead,’ TM told the screen.

*

Downstairs, which was to say in the gym, Veggie found Marty doing his best to keep up with a treadmill.

‘Didn’t have you down as a… jogging person,’ TM said, coming up behind.

‘Yeah, well,’ Marty said with some difficulty. ‘Gotta keep the rockstar physique, you know?’ He rammed the speed setting, slowing the treadmill belt right down, and looked them over. ‘What’s up with you two?’ he said, sweating and panting profusely. ‘You look like someone promised they’d get you a three-course meal and came back with a Flump.’

‘Emails,’ said Veggie, the word forcing its way out through his lips as if it were some sort of throat-dwelling alien parasite.

‘Say no more,’ Marty said, leaning down to kiss Veggie on the cheek.

‘Ew,’ Veggie said, wiping Marty’s sweat from his face. ‘Have you seen Dominika?’

‘Slacking, natch,’ Marty told them, pointing with a glistening thumb towards the bar area of the gymnastaurant. ‘See you later?’

Veggie gave him a quick peck goodbye. ‘Later,’ he said. ‘Don’t spend too long here - don’t you have a Battle of the Bands to prep for?’

‘Shit, yeah,’ Marty said in realisation as they walked away.

Dominika was, indeed, slacking. Soon after the opening of Muscles & Mussels, she had applied to work for TM and Veggie, much to their surprise. Veggie had conducted the interview, which apparently she had ‘absolutely aced, don’t ask me how because I have no idea but she basically just nodded and we have to hire her’ and that was that: she left whatever other mysterious employment she might have had and came to work as general manager of the business, leaving TM and Veggie free to pursue their more eccentric, less profitable and ultimately much more fun ideas. This was all when they weren’t all working on the spaceship (now sadly obliterated), of course.

At that moment, she was leaning on the seafood bar, chugging oysters and cider in her black Muscles & Mussels T-shirt.

‘Dom, you can’t be doing that in uniform,’ Veggie said; she froze, an oyster halfway to her mouth, then quickly slurped it up and dropped the empty shell down on the bar guiltily.

‘It’s fine,’ TM said, almost laughing. ‘We’re not gonna be big corporate asshole bosses, no worries.’

Dominika leaned over the bar, pulled out a cold bottle of fruit cider and took a hefty swig, looking relieved.

‘We might need your help,’ TM told her.

Dominika raised an eyebrow in a way that said ‘tell me more’.

Veggie shifted about, then took a breath and explained quickly: ‘The Swede emailed me,’ he said. Dominika nodded in understanding.

‘He kind of wants to sue us or shut us down or something,’ TM added. ‘So we’ve decided the only reasonable solution is to break into his house.’ Dominika’s shoulders rose and fell in a way that said ‘fair enough’. ‘Also, he kind of said some shit about Ziggy…’

‘He did?!’ demanded Veggie, his fists clenching so hard TM thought his knuckles might pop out; TM nodded reluctantly. ‘He’s so fucking dead,’ Veggie said, the words vibrating behind his teeth as if he wanted nothing more than to scream them out. Dominika raised her bottle in agreement.

‘So, anyway,’ TM continued, as cheerily as possible, ‘we’re going to break in, steal-slash-destroy whatever evidence the Swede might think he has, possibly kill him - we’re not totally sure about that yet - possibly blow up his house - same situation - then come back and have a fucking Indian takeaway or something.’ He breathed deeply, having forgotten to do so for the entirety of his speech.

‘And then go watch a Battle of the Bands and forget the entire damned thing,’ Veggie finished.

Dominika slammed her bottle down on the counter enthusiastically, sending splashes of dark purple cider up the neck and out onto the polished surface. She mopped it up sheepishly.

‘I’ll take that as a yes,’ TM said. She nodded firmly.

‘Alright,’ Veggie said. ‘Get someone to cover you, Dom, we’re going heisting.’

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