After a while, you gotta relax, y’know, go with the flow. We’re all in the same boat here, we’re all gonna live. Whatever name you know us by—Mulligans, Do-overs, or my favorite, Locals (y’know, as in we’re not going anywhere, ha-ha)—we’re all the same. All getting killed for a living. But it’s like, Glass, man, he just outright refuses to fit in. Like he’s somethin’ special or somethin’. On his days off, he just sits on his bunk, reading, when your normal Local’s out getting his load on. None of this used to bother me, y’know, to each his own, blah blah blah. But lately, I dunno. Glass has just really started to fuckin’ annoy me.
I tried talking about all this with Taft a couple days ago. We were both on the floor, and we weren’t supposed to be gabbing. But Boss Foley was at lunch, so I figured while the cat’s away and all that.
Now, this was on Thursday, which, on the main floor at McGarity’s Murderfest, is always Chicago at Night. I was a mugger, lurking around the back alleys. The Englewood façade fuzzed out now and again, and the holo-generator stunk like ozone. That’s just the sorta high-class joint McGarity’s is. Anyways, Taft was a gangbanger, the tubbiest gangbanger I’d ever seen. But since he’s black, he usually gets stuck with something like that. I found him in the gutter and helped him up. He’d just been attacked by one of our more overzealous regulars, crazy old Mr. Hardwick, and Taft’s arm was hanging onto his shoulder by a couple of tendons and not much else.
“Hey, Taffy,” I said. “Whaddaya think about Glass?”
“I don’t,” he said.
“Yeah, but don’t you think he’s got kind of an attitude? Y’know, like he’s better’n us?”
Taft let go of his arm to rub at his gut. He’s got this huge belly, and you can always tell when he’s thinking hard about something ‘cause he’ll rub his gut, round and round. “No, not really,” he said. “He just keeps to himself, that’s all. That’s just his way.” Then his arm fell off.
I said, “Yeah, but—man, Taffy, you shoulda seen him at Antietam the other day. Even before the siren goes off, before any tourists had even gotten started, Glass just ran full-bore into the field, man. He was the first one slaughtered!”
“So?” Taft said.
“Whaddaya mean ‘so’?” I said. “Taffy, man, when was the last time you were the first one slaughtered? Glass has been here almost two years now. Only total pussies are the first ones slaughtered. Everyone knows that. He’s givin’ us a bad name.”
Taft rubbed his gut. “I dunno, man, that’s more of an unwritten law, y’know? It’s not set in stone.” He shrugged. You ain’t seen much until you’ve seen a one-armed man shrug. “That’s just his way,” Taft said again.
“Ah, bullshit,” I said.
Taft grinned at me, and his teeth gleamed in the three-dimensional streetlights. “Y’know,” he said, “a lotta times when we criticize others, what we’re really doin’ is criticizing ourselves.”
I said, “Ah, gimme a—” and then I got stabbed in the back by a tourist.
“Terrorize our streets, will ya?” the tourist said, as he plunged the knife into me up to the hilt. Then his face went gray, like so many other tourists I’ve seen, as the blood came rushing, more blood than he ever expected. It got on his hands, and he wiped it off on his bright orange vest, the word GUEST written on it in big letters, and his face went from gray to green. The back of my ratty leather jacket got heavier as it got soaked.
The tourist turned to his family, a well-scrubbed wife and a couple of brats, all dressed in identical stupid-lookin’ orange vests. They were one-size-fits-all, so the kids’ noses barely reached over their collars. With this half-assed smile on his face, the tourist said, “Look, kids! All that blood. It’s so real!” Beads of sweat clung to his forehead.
His wife made a face. One of his kids, this little redhead girl, maybe ten years old, rolled her eyes. “Of course, it’s real, Father,” she said in this tired voice. “The average re-gen”—shit, it’d been a while since someone called me that—“has an immune system that acts at nearly ten thousand times the speed of a normal person’s.” She turned her nose up as she looked at Englewood blinking away like a knock-off Zenith. She said, “Even in a dump like this, the cells of these re-gens undergo mitosis at an amazing—” blah blah blah blah.
Her little brother yawned without taking his eyes off me. His yawn made me yawn, and then Taft nudged me in the ribs. Here came Boss Foley, back from lunch, smoking his after-meal cigar. I didn’t wanna get written up again, so I started screaming in agony: “Ooh, aah, oh God, it hurts, have mercy,” blah blah.
You know who Glass kinda reminds me of is Gansch. The Big Ganeesh, we used to call him. He was an old McGarity’s standby: a big, bald motherfucker, popular during Crusades Day or those Ren-Fair specials we’ll run sometimes. He was a crazy bastard. He’d sit and read a lot too, but he wasn’t above comin’ out and havin’ a beer or three. You get a few beers into that guy, and he’d start telling you all about his crazy dreams.
“I had this dream the other night, you guys, no shit, that I was out in the desert, right? And I was with all these other guys, and we were all dressed in, like, those outfits we wear for the Colosseum days, except all these other guys were wearing orange tourist vests, too. So anyway, we’re out there, and we have this little skinny bastard with glasses with us, all dressed in rags and shit, and we nail him to this cross, right? And then we just sat down and waited for him to die. But then, man, the goddamn nails would melt and he’d fall off. So we’d fuckin’ nail him up there again. Sure as shit, goddamn nails would melt again. So we’d nail him up again. On and on like that, you guys, and I kept saying, ‘What’re we doing, this ain’t working, can’t you see this ain’t working?’ But all the other guys would just ignore me, would just keep nailing this skinny bastard up. On and on like that, you guys, and I couldn’t wake myself up, and it just wouldn’t stop.”
And then we’d all laugh, ‘cause the Big Ganeesh, man, he was fuckin’ crazy. And then he’d get all mopey and sit there, and no matter how many beers we bought him, and no matter how many times we told him we were just messin’ around, he’d just sit there. Sit there with that same stupid look that Glass always has on his stupid face whenever I see him in the bunkhouse, or the mess, or fucking anywhere, until I just wanna run up and punch him the fucking mouth.
So. Anyways, yeah. The Big Ganeesh. Couple years back, a tourist violated McGarity’s number one unwritten law—don’t go for a Local’s head—and hacked the Big Ganeesh’s melon off with a battle-ax. Man, were the Bosses pissed. You can schedule a Local to work if he’s just missing an arm or a leg, sure, but a Local with no head’s just about useless ‘til it grows back. And then after that, it was like the Big Ganeesh just wasn’t himself anymore. I’d see him around and try to kid with him, y’know, ask him if he could still look around and stuff as his head flew through the air. But all he’d do was just give me that same fuckin’ mopey face.
And then one day, he was just gone. Up and split, just like that, never to be heard from again. Fuckin’ crazy.
So anyways, Friday, the day after I talked to Taft, that was my day off, a whole day to myself in the big, bad city. The goddamn people-mover was, like, two hours off schedule, and I didn’t have enough money for a cab or a transporter deck. So I had to ride the bus into town, sitting in the back, not looking at anybody. I recognized a couple of tourists from work—hell, the bus driver was crazy old Mr. Hardwick himself—but it’s sort of an unwritten law to, y’know, lay low. You were supposed to have died at McGarity’s, and even though he knew better, the paying customer wants to keep his fantasy intact and blah blah blah.
I rode the bus to the end of the line, and from there, it’s only a couple blocks to the Lazarus, this run-down little Local bar on the south side. It’s a lot easier to lay low in a joint like this. In other, normal bars, there’s too many familiar tourist faces, or worse, you get some wise-ass trying to pick a fight with you so he can see you bleed for free. Fuck that.
So I get to the Lazarus, and there’s Taft drinking it up with some of the guys from Bernie’s Discount Kill-Em-All. I went up to him and said, “Hey, Taffy, I thought you were working today.” Friday, there’s always a race riot special on the back floor at McGarity’s, so Taft was usually scheduled, natch.
“Glass took my shift,” Taft said.
“Glass?” I said.
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s the Rodney King riots today, so they can always use another shit-scared white guy.” He laughed and his big gut shook, his teeth gleamed by the light of the video darts machine. His left sleeve was flat and empty.
“Man,” I said, “doesn’t that guy work enough? The hell’s wrong with that guy?”
“Well,” Taft said, running his hand over his gut, “better him than me.”
So, Saturday was the World War II Memorial Slaughterfest: Europe on the main floor and the Pacific on the second. I asked Boss Samuels if Glass was working, pretty much knowing what he was gonna say—yeah, Glass was a kraut on the beach at Normandy. I asked Boss Samuels if I could be one, too. He eyed me kinda funny and wanted to know why. I told him my old man was gonna be there and that he hated me almost as much as he hated Germans. Which wasn’t a total lie. Boss Samuels said he guessed it would be all right.
A few hours later, Boss Samuels was up on 2; he told me later that the whole Pacific Ocean kept turning from green to dark red ‘cause one of the holograph doo-hickeys kept fritzing out. Anyways, I found Glass in a machine-gun nest, a couple of bullet holes in his side, one in each hand. It looked like he’d been there a while, but there was still fresh blood everywhere. I asked him for a cigarette. He said he was fresh out.
I had to make this quick before Boss Samuels got back. I said, “Glass, what the hell is your problem?”
He looked at me all innocent, this skinny little bastard with glasses. “Hey, I’m sorry,” he said, “I’ll pick some up later...”
“No, not that, you moron,” I said, “I mean, what’re you doing here if you’re so miserable? Huh? Moping around, feeling sorry for yourself all the time, like you’re the only one who has it rough. Man, life is way too drawn out for that kinda bullshit.”
Just then, a grenade came sailing over the sandbags and rolled next to me. Glass blinked as the grenade exploded and my leg bounced off his helmet and landed somewhere up the beach. I gave a few dying moans and gasps over my shoulder, then I fired a few pathetic shots off the machine gun, like I’d died with my finger on the trigger. That would buy a couple minutes of privacy, hopefully.
I jabbed a finger in his chest. “You think you’re fuckin’ better’n me, Glass, is that it?” I said.
His eyes went wide. He tried to push himself away from me, but he kept slipping in our blood. “No!” he said. “No, it’s not that—”
“What is it then? What’s your fuckin’ problem?” I said.
“I...I,” he said, “I just—I don’t want to live.”
I gave him a look. “Yeah, well, tough shit,” I told him.
I don’t see Taft again until today, Chicago at Night again. My new leg had grown all in by Monday, but it still tingles like a son of a bitch. Like when your foot falls asleep, y’know? So the siren goes off, giving the tourists the go-ahead to kill at will. I find Taft and say, “Hey, Taffy, I had it out with Glass finally.”
“Yeah?” he says.
“Yeah,” I say. “He says he don’t wanna live.” I laugh. “You believe that shit?” I say.
“Yeah,” he says.
I say, “Whats’a matter, Taffy, you seem kinda—” and then this fat old housewife-lookin’ tourist comes outta nowhere and nails me in the head with a brick. My new leg just crumples under me. I see Taft look away as I fall.
“Please stop beating my head in now, please,” I say.
I don’t think she hears me.