Thought I'd bring a change of pace and toss some writing out there. This is actually an older piece that has been reworked slightly. If you've read it before then I apologies. If not, then I hope you like it. Sorry there is no image to go with it, but I kind of see the protagonist as looking a little like Seth's (barryjeffer) "Mechanic" character. Check out his gallery if you want a reference!
Thanks for reading!
BEER & BULLETS - by Alex McGregor
It was a typical dreary night in The City, which meant that there was the usual misty drizzle of rain, the kind of rain that had the ability to find its way down the back of your neck, irrespective of how much water-proof clothing you wore. The foul weather’s one saving grace was that it distorted the glaring neon wall displays that lined the city’s streets, transforming their usual harsh glare into an almost relaxing hazy blur, giving the illusion that the garbage and tramp-infested streets were more picturesque than they deserved to be. Of course this was an entirely superficial transformation and if you let it fool you into forgetting where you actually were the next thing that would most likely happen is you’d have a number of drug-crazed, boosted ripper-borgs standing over your bullet-ridden corpse arguing about which of them would take possession of your boots.
They say that things aren’t that bad everywhere in The City but to me it’s just a matter of perspective. Sure, things are cleaner and nicer in the glittery Century Plaza than they are in the gang controlled zones, but even the Plaza has its own version of ultra-violent psychopaths – the only difference is that they wear suits and carry briefcases and have the power to cover up their various crimes. At least with the gangs, you know exactly what you’re dealing with. If a guy comes up to you with froth in his mouth and a large calibre weapon in his hand you know you have to take him out before he can even so much as ask you the time. Whereas in the Plaza if a guy comes up to you in a suit you have a good idea that you’re about to get fucked – you just don’t know how, when, or where. Give me life in the gang zones any day.
This particular night was a Friday and me and some of the guys were having our weekly meet at Phoenix’s place to watch the Robot Boxing. We weren’t really that interested in the machines knocking chunks out of each other, but it was a good excuse to get drunk.
It was the drink that sent me out onto the rain-slicked streets that particular Friday night. Phoenix had assured us that her cooler was well stocked in preparation for the night so Kenzo and I had brought along the smokes and munchies. Unfortunately, as it turned out, Reno – the last member of our group – had turned up early at Phoenix’s place sporting some fresh cyber-tech and speeding out of his head on Blue Blaze. The only thing that Phoenix could do to shut him up and calm him down (other than put a bullet in him) was show him the cooler. The result was that when Kenzo and I arrived, Reno was out cold on the floor surrounded by dozens of empty beer cans – the cooler completely empty. Reluctantly, Kenzo and I flipped to see who was going to the Mega-Mart to restock. The kid got lucky and I got the duty. Making a mental note to give Reno a lesson in self-control when he woke up, I checked my hardware and made sure my implants were in the green. I flipped up the collar of my long-coat in an effort to keep out the rain and made my way back outside, not in the best of moods.
Gang activity was light that night, and those that I saw on my way to the Mart must have sensed my mood as they gave me no trouble. I wasn’t sure if this was a good or bad thing as I could feel my anger at Reno rising on a continual spiral towards critical mass. In fact, I was getting so wound up that my reflex augments activated in reaction to the raised levels of adrenaline in my bloodstream. If I didn’t let off some steam soon I knew I would explode and if some chump didn’t volunteer himself for some anger management by the time I got back to Phoenix’s then I knew that Reno was going to get a beating that he would remember in his next life.
After ten minutes of walking I spotted the Mega-Mart. It was a flat-topped, single level building set in a little ways from the street. Most of its glass front had been destroyed and replaced with corrugated sheet metal which was covered in graffiti ranging from gang tags to shallow declarations of lust. What little of the Mega-Mart’s surface that wasn’t colourfully spray-painted was decorated with bullet holes and scorch marks of varying size. Oddly, despite all the superficial damage, the Mart’s glowing sign was untouched and working fine, sending its hazy neon glow into the rainy night. I suppose, if I stopped and actually thought about it, it might strike me as strange that of all the buildings in the surrounding neighbourhood the Mega-Mart was among those rare few that wasn’t regularly burned and gutted… but we needed those beers and I was on a deadline to get back before the fights started so I didn’t have time to ponder such things.
Coming to a stop at the end of the street I carefully surveyed my surroundings. The relentless drizzle laid a grey sheet over everything, reducing immediate visibility to only a few meters – with the rest of The City being turned into a collection of ghostly silhouettes punctuated with blurry dots of light. The derelict buildings that surrounded me faded into the background and, since there seemed to be no thrill killers or corporate snipers out that night, I paid them no heed and turned my full attention to the Mega-Mart.
The small parking lot was empty except for one vehicle: a black, customised Makayama motorcycle. I knew there weren’t many that could afford such a work of art and those that could wouldn’t normally be found in a crappy Mega-Mart in the middle of this shitty part of town. At that point I felt the fire that had been building inside me melt into a kind of icy cold as I pondered who might be inside. Caught up in my thoughts, I almost didn’t notice The Frenchman leave the Mart with his usual two cartons of milk. We both paused momentarily and gave each other a nod of professional recognition. With no one else in sight I entered the Mart.
The interior was the same as usual and I quickly looked around for potential threats. To my right were shelves and aisles containing various gaudily decorated pre-packs of zero nutrition junk food. There was also a microwave sitting next to a bank of cheap simsense chips – the covers of which depicted immensely breasted women in varying sexual positions: cheap porno for Mr Sleaze. To my left was the checkout, behind which stood Wendy, the seemingly omni-present late night clerk whose only interesting feature was her hair. It changed colour more often than a chameleon standing on a kaleidoscope. It was rumoured that if you watched it too long you would slip into a hypnotic state and be open to suggestion. There was a common belief that this was the only way Wendy got herself a date. Directly to the left of the checkout was a magazine rack and an ancient arcade machine that made insane beeping noises while its screen flashed in a pattern that rivalled Wendy’s techno-hair. Standing to the right of the checkout was the cooler containing the six-packs of beer that I had come for. Just beside the cooler was a doughnut stand at which stood a woman dressed all in black. She was surveying the stand’s contents with a critical eye.
I examined the woman closely for a moment, watching as drops of rain water dripped from her shoulder-length black hair down her black long-coat and onto the grubby, white tiled floor where a small pool was forming. I surmised that she had been standing there for some time mentally weighing up the pros and cons of frosted sugar, pink icing and sprinkles, or chocolate coating. Although I could only see the back of her head I got the distinct feeling that I knew her from somewhere. As I stood inspecting her she must have become aware of my gaze as she shifted her shoulders slightly and angled her head in my direction. I decided that, although the cooler was my destination, I would wait until the woman left before grabbing the precious beer. So I took up position at a shelf containing munchies and dips and feigned interest while I kept an eye on the black-clad doughnut inspector.
As I stood there and tried to act engrossed by crisps and mystery dip, I noticed the woman make a decision on the doughnuts, reach into the dispenser and take out six jam-filled extra sugar specials and put them in a bag before turning to make her way towards the perpetually middle-distance staring Wendy.
Before she got there, however, I heard the Mart doors slide open and I didn’t need to see who it was to know that trouble had just walked in. My amplified hearing kicked in and told me that there were five of them and, even above the noise of the demented arcade machine, I heard the distinctive sound of guns being pulled.
I turned around slowly and, with a sinking feeling in my stomach, saw that my suspicions were true. The group consisted of five young Japanese men all wearing long, black coats out of which sub-machine guns had just been pulled. A quick glance at these guys told me that they were a bunch of wannabe Yakuza acting tough and trying to score some cash and beers. The only thing that made them dangerous was their nervousness - it meant they were likely to start shooting at the slightest provocation. I didn’t need this. The night had gone bad enough so far with Reno’s antics and now I was in a hold up. I realised that this meant I was probably going to miss the first match of the Robot Boxing. Now that made me angry! Friday night’s routine was sacred to me. Plus I’d be letting Phoenix and Kenzo down if I didn’t get back before the first bell sounded.
My mood didn’t improve when one of the punks, presumably the leader, opened his mouth and said the inevitable.
‘Nobody move! This is a hold up!’
‘No shit!’ I thought as I let out a sigh of consternation at the predictability of it all and watched with mild interest as the gang went into action. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Wendy freak out and duck behind the counter. The woman with the doughnuts had made it to the counter and had put her bag down on it. Her shoulders sagged visibly as if a weight had just been laid on them and I detected a slight shake of her head. She was obviously as annoyed about the current situation as I was.
The lead punk stepped forward to coordinate his goons. One stayed by the door and repeatedly glanced outside. Another walked towards the doughnut lady, who still had her back to them, and a third approached me while the last one started to walk around and check for any other shoppers.
The punk that was making his way towards me managed to cover about half the distance before the doughnut lady’s ganger reached her. I saw him jab her in the back with the muzzle of his SMG.
‘Gimmie your CASSSSH!’ He yelled at her.
I could tell she was about to give him something, but not her cash. ‘Here we go...’ I thought to myself and the world around me began to move in slow motion as my reflex boosters kicked in. In one fluid motion I pulled my two Colts from their concealed holsters in my jacket, the smart chipping of the weapons snapping into place with the interfaces in the palms of my hands. In the instant of contact, crosshairs came up in my field of vision and locked onto the now surprised-looking punk that had been coming at me. As my weapons came up my fingers pulled the triggers and sent a couple of bullets through each of the ganger’s eyes, opening up the back of his head like an exploded watermelon. His lifeless body hadn’t hit the ground before I was moving again. The rest of the gang paused in momentary confusion before they managed to react.
The doughnut lady moved fast and used the distraction I had caused as her chance to take action. She span around and grabbed the wrists of the punk behind her, the momentum of the sudden action turning him to his left. Before the startled ganger could react she reversed the movement and snapped to his right, jerking his SMG from his hands and sending it clattering to the floor. The woman’s confused assailant wound up with his back to her and stared at his companions, not entirely sure of what had just happened to him. It was then that the remainder of the gang managed to collect themselves enough to react. The lead punk turned his attention to the doughnut lady and opened fire with his SMG. Again, the woman was faster. With a double-palm strike to the back of the goon in front of her she sent the young Japanese man into the gunfire intended for her. The unfortunate youth jerked an involuntary dance, like a puppet being shaken by its strings, as the hot lead tore into him and sent him spinning to the floor.
The punk that had been checking for other shoppers turned towards me and opened up with a burst of wild, continuous fire. Luckily I was already moving and managed to dive across the aisle. The gunfire impacted into the shelf behind where I had been standing and sent the contents of a dozen shredded crisp packets and shattered mystery-dip jars into the air like an explosive kibble fountain. As I hit the ground I rolled up into a crouch and brought my guns to bear on the ganger’s wild-looking face as glass shards and crisp fragments rained down around me.
By this time the doughnut lady had pulled two of her own handguns and, with effortless grace, leaped into the air and turned a back-flip over the counter where she came down next to the trembling Wendy. Bullets ripped into the counter as the lead punk and the goon at the door corrected their aim. Miraculously the bag of doughnuts that sat on the counter didn’t take a single hit.
The manic youth that had been shooting at me began to scream something in Japanese and swung his SMG towards me, cutting a trail of destruction across the shelf behind me and along the floor, the gunfire eating out chunks from the dirty, white tiles. Before this swathe of lead could be brought to bear on me I opened fire with multiple shots, sending bullets into his body. Blood splattered out from his perforated torso and splashed up against the wall where it added dashes of vivid colour to the otherwise dull advertisements there. As the ganger’s body fell his gun swung up and the continuous fire from the weapon shattered one of the strip-lights on the ceiling, sending a shower of sparks down on me. I paused for a second and considered how much more interesting the added blood had made the advert on the wall. I wondered for a moment if there was a possible market for that kind of thing before I turned my attention to the remaining gangers.
The hatch on the side of the checkout counter flipped up and the doughnut lady rolled out to the side, firing her guns at the lead punk. He and the goon at the door desperately tried to correct their aim but they were, yet again, too slow. As they moved I added my own fire to the battle, but knew full well that the woman didn’t need any help. Our combined fire lanced through the lead punk’s body in multiple places and sent him to the floor a bloody mess. The last ganger’s SMG clicked empty and the woman and I aimed our weapons at him. The unfortunate punk knew what was going to happen and I could see the fear in his eyes. Doughnut lady must have seen the same thing and we both waited, giving the youth a chance to make a choice. The guy chose right and tossed his empty weapon to the floor before he turned and ran out of the door.
The whole incident had taken less than thirty seconds.
Now the fire-fight was over my reflexes uncoiled and the adrenaline flushed out of my system, sending a shiver through my body and leaving me momentarily weary. The world moved back up to normal speed and I surveyed the carnage, the smell of blood and cordite mixing oddly with the tang of spilt mystery-dip to form a heady aroma in my nostrils. Doughnut lady and I looked warily at each other for a moment before we slowly re-holstered our guns. Seeing her face clearly for the first time I realised who she was and almost laughed at just how unlucky those punks had been when they had decided to try and hold up the Mart. The woman gave me a cursory once-over with her eyes and I felt myself involuntarily pull my stomach in a little and try to stand a little taller. She smirked and reached out to pick up her unscathed bag of doughnuts before walking towards me.
‘Rough night, huh?’ she asked with an arch of an eyebrow.
‘Hey,’ I answered. ‘All I wanted was some drinks. Shit happens, right?’
She nodded her head in agreement then turned and walked out of the door. I stood for a moment then made my way through the bullet-ridden bodies and scattered food-stuffs towards the cooler. Outside I heard the custom bike start up and pull off, the engine sound fading away into the night. After selecting a couple of six-packs I turned to the counter just as Wendy was tentatively getting to her feet. She saw me and quickly ducked back behind the counter, emitting a squeak. After leaving some money on the counter to pay for the drinks I made my way outside, checking my watch as I left. I was in luck - there was still time to get back before the Robot Boxing started.
Perhaps tonight wasn’t going to be so bad after all.
Sep 28, 2012 1:01:57 pmby SidheRoseGraphics Homepage »
This is a kick-arse read Alex!! As Seth said, you paint a very detailed and visual image with your words. This is so well written, it's like an image ;) I mean that. Found myself laughing a few times. Love the title too. What a guy has to go through just for a beer these days!!! Really excellent my friend.
Sep 29, 2012 11:25:31 pmby JuliSonne Homepage »
Your story "Survivor shopping" I experience here every week, and then I must first drink a beer .... *wink* Of course not!
Your story is very well written. You have a pictorial and vivid language and with a little imagination, I have a "mental cinema"