Working Stiffs on Sale for 99-cents

Posted: June 3, 2018 in Books, The Write Stuff
Tags: , , , , ,

What’s under a buck? Deer balls. Oh, and Working Stiffs.

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Excerpt:

The line at the clinic stretched along the sidewalk for half a block. Located on Wentworth, on the opposite side of the street from Chang’s store, the clinic occupied a building that retained traces of the original Chinatown architecture. Faded, ratty signs written with complex Chinese characters decorated nearly every storefront. We joined the line in front of what was once a US Post Office, closed like the rest of them. Somebody had spray painted the words, Sorry, the rent check was in the mail. Under that, another tagger added, All postal employee termination notices sent by email. Thank you, USPS.

A faded-out For Lease sign hung in the window, taped inside the glass. It had been there for all six years I’d lived in the neighborhood.

“What time did you say your appointment was?” I asked Chelle.

“Ten.”

I reflexively glanced at my wrist before I remembered my IT service had disavowed all knowledge of me after the sixth disconnect notice. I asked a chubby guy ahead of me for the time.

“Nine forty,” he said from behind his surgical mask. I nodded my thanks.

“Damn, Chelle, we’ll never make it on time.”

“I told you to hurry up and get ready.”

My part of getting ready had taken all of ten minutes, thus screwing up the atomic clock by which Chelle ran her life.

At least we had nice weather for standing in line. Late April in Chicago was hard to beat, mid-sixties, blue sky, a few fluffy clouds . . . What more could you ask for? In February we’d be standing out here turning to popsicles. The homeless and unemployed were out in force, droves of them meandering, begging, pilfering and picking through the trash lining the gutters. In other words, doing whatever it took to get through another great day in the Windy City.

Speaking of popsicles . . . My stomach grumbled, reminding me two pickles for breakfast was a rotten trick to play on it. I eyed Chang’s front door and considered creative credit terms: zero down payment, two pocket spending limit, and a forever repayment term. Penalties may apply.

I didn’t see the dead woman until she was almost on us. A Revivant, shuffling along the line of patients, handing out paper flyers. Female, about twenty or so when she died, dark-skinned and slender. Pretty once, I supposed, with a good figure, full lips, and dark, almond-shaped eyes. The owners had dressed her in a sexy maid’s outfit with high heels and a higher skirt; the light breeze brushed it above her panty line every few minutes. The nanos running through her were having a hard time managing the heels, and she scuffed forward in wobble-steps in a parody of a sexy sway.

My empty stomach bubbled with acid.

“I hate those things,” the guy with the mask mumbled.

“Yeah, me too.” I accepted the flyer the Revvie handed me without looking at her. “They creep me out.”

The man’s mask crinkled when he grimaced. “What I want to know, how do they make them look so alive?”

The line had grown behind us. A couple of dropouts from the School of Morons had joined the tail a few minutes ago and entertained everyone with a steady stream of obscenities laced with curse words. Hey, I’m no saint when it comes to foul language, but still, there are limits, right? The taller of the two mental giants shouted out, “Woo-hoo, lookit dis fine bitch!”

“I hear dead pussy’s mighty cold,” his running buddy claimed.

Both of them were racially ambiguous teens (their parental gametocytes swam in a diversity stream) decked out in trendy grunge clothes and wearing the flat-brim, Amish-style hats favored by the discerning hoodlum. Without squinting, I could count another score of hoodlums exactly like them within a two-block radius, poised like IEDs, waiting for the unwary so they could explode with uncontained violence.

The taller one, in a Bear’s T-shirt, cupped the crotch of his basketball shorts and shook it. “Hey, Dead Mamma, izzat true? Lemme see how cold yo pussy is.”

His buddy, in a green T-shirt and plaid boxers, reached out and clamped a hand on the dead woman’s breast. “Oooh, Sanjay, you should be fillin’ dis. It fills goooood,” he crooned.

The Revivant woman stumbled and would have fallen hadn’t the one called Sanjay grabbed her around the waist. Her dull expression never changed. She wobbled in place the way a drunk might, if you squinched your eyes and pretended she wasn’t dead and reanimated with a gazillion tiny machines running along her arteries.

“Fly-er, sir?” she dead-panned.

The morons laughed and pawed at the woman’s chest, clawing at her top.

I ground my teeth and looked away. Don’t get involved in fights you can’t win. That was my creed, and I planned to stick to it. My new friend with the mask caught my eye and grimaced. His expression said: Look at what the world’s coming to when dead people can’t even walk the streets. Tragic.

The line crept forward a few feet, and I tugged at Chelle’s hand. She didn’t budge.

“Look at those two,” she hissed. Staring at the twins from Stupidville, her jaw set in a hard line, Chelle sounded mad enough to chew nails and shit steel wire.

“Yeah, I see ’em. Let’s go.” I tugged her hand again, but she refused to budge.

“That’s disgusting!”

The twins had the Revivant woman’s outfit yanked down to her waist and were commenting—loudly—on the size, quality, and firmness of her breasts.

“C’mon, Chelle. It’s none of our business.” I pulled a little harder. It was like trying to move a fencepost. “Chelle . . .” I used my stern voice. “Don’t start—”

“Hey, fucktards!” Chelle barked. “Leave that woman alone!”

“—any trouble.”

The fucktards in question snapped to attention and pinned Chelle with twin feral stares. Werewolves, scenting new prey.

Sanjay shoved the Revivant. She fell in the street, landing awkwardly on her butt, hard enough to make me wince even though I knew she felt no pain. Her breasts bounced, and the flyers she carried scattered across the pavement.

“Who you callin’ a fucktard?” Sanjay demanded. “You wan’ me come up dere and split you open?”

Chelle glared at me with an Are you just gonna stand there? challenge. Her eyes narrowed when I failed to immediately leap into my Superman unitard and smack some ganstah ass. She snarled at Sanjay instead and pointed at his crotch. “You’d have to get it up first.”

That did it.

Sanjay and his buddy stalked forward past a line of suddenly disinterested, blind, deaf, and mute people. I was not ordinarily a violent person. The reason I avoid fights: I learned at an early age everyone in an eighteen-square-mile radius—including grandmas and small children—could beat the dog snot out of me without breaking a sweat.

I gave Chelle a nice knowing you smile and prepared to die.

“Hey, Sanjay, look . . .” I started forward, hands spread in supplication. “You know they can’t treat it here, right? This clinic doesn’t do that kind of medicine.”

“Da hell?” Sanjay’s eyebrows twisted together in a knot. He and his pal were close enough, I could smell the stupid rolling off them in waves, like the smell of unwiped ass.

“They can’t fix burst testicles,” I said and kicked him with maximum applied force in the nutsack. When you don’t fight well, you learn to fight dirty.

Sanjay folded like a cheap lawn chair. Which left Fucktard #2 to take the lead in beating the shit out of Mean Joe Warren. Within half a second, I ate three punches in a row, all of them hard enough to rattle my brain and loosen a few teeth. The world spun—Look! Pretty colors!—and tilted under my feet. Legs wobbling worse than the Revvie on high heels, I bumbled around in a dizzy circle for a lost moment in time, then whap!-thud!-smack! Three more punches knocked me to the ground.

Pretty ground. Concrete. Old chewing gum. I like it down here. I think I’ll stay.

Some other Joe Warren living nearby reported that Chelle had taken a piece of the action and was going all Loud Bitch Kung Fu on the green-shirted gangster, shrieking and clawing and kicking and spitting. Probably biting too.

I hoped she had her tetanus booster.

This all happened from far away, in a distant galaxy, with swirling stars and muted sounds. The other Joe told me the female Revivant had gotten to her feet and was wandering away. Her maid’s outfit hung from her waist, leaving her topless. She didn’t seem bothered. (“Fly-er, sir?”)

“Bye-bye,” I muttered, my breath blowing dust and candy wrappers away from my face.

A shadow eclipsed the sun and a pair of black boots stopped in front of my nose. The soles were really, really thick.

Whap!

The dull, meat-like thud of hard object meeting soft skull sounds like nothing else. Once you’ve heard it, you never forget it. The gangster fell on the other side of the black boots. His right eye appeared to bulge from its socket and there was a crease on that side of his head.

I forced my blurry vision to track upward to the source of that sound. A couple of years later, I found the top. Black boots, as noted already. Black pants bloused into the boot tops. Belt with a hardware store and armory attached. Black shirt with bright blue patch on the sleeve. Badge. Riot helmet.

Homeland Security, to the rescue.

Yay.

Night-night, Mr. Police Officer.

 

 

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