No one had contacted me yet and I was adrift, left again to my own devices and my own fairly agreeable company. They say we’re all connected, that we’re all made from the same stuff, that we’re not islands of protoplasm. I had trouble with that, as my natural state seemed to be isolation and alienation. It felt good. It was only when I tried to leave this safety that everything goes fucking crazy. As a private citizen I’m not going to hurt anyone that isn’t a video game enemy.
The country was going down the toilet. I’d been somewhat aware of this process, but my own rise to power had obviously taken precedence. I’ve got mine, after all. Now I finally took notice of the rot that seemed to be devouring everything. It’s funny how easy that rot is to ignore when it’s always happening to someone else. Nothing bad ever happens to me. I’ve even got an actual paying job and a steady source of in-out.
Our great nation, the only nation other than ancient Babylon ever created by the direct will of a deity, was on the ropes. The credit status had been downgraded and no one had any solutions. I’m pretty sure that guy who looks like he’s been embalmed who sells bankruptcy advice doesn’t take on jobs this big. The president gave a speech. “We’re still a great country. This downgrade doesn’t change that.” Yeah. We’ll just change the meaning of words. Plusgood.
They probably gave speeches like that in the final days of Rome. “Friends and citizens! We are still Romans and we are still a mighty empire, even if that empire can now be measured in square feet. Today we will battle a much larger army of bloodthirsty barbarians, but we’ll somehow win because heaven likes us more. Now let’s go die for our beloved child emperor.” QED.
There was only one main point to take away from all of this. Harper was right. We were on the cutting edge of the new economy. In a few years we might even diversify into brigandage and the cutting edge sacking and burning technology. An exciting time to be alive for a man willing to take the big risks to soar with the eagles.
After nearly a week, the doorbell signaled the beginning of Round Two in the big fight to become heavyweight champion of the societal collapse division. There was a fresh rush of panic and a profound difficulty in maintaining my usual noble bearing. The call of history, the pen that would write the future was calling and it was hard to maintain comforting numbness in the face of it. All the joystick and moron box and meaningless sexual intercourse in the world was powerless against the hand of fate knocking on the door, the bell tolling for thee and all that other bullshit.
The visitor was presumably the third man that had been delegated the less than desirable task of performing scenes from the most fucked up Babysitter’s Club book ever written. I’d offer a description worthy of such a cornerstone of the bold future but the truth was this new honored guest at Casa Del Lotus Eater wasn’t exceptional in any way and I forgot his face long before becoming accustomed to it. As best as I can recall he was your typical generic white male professional, the eternal middle manager who loves the local sports team, has a mostly adequate marriage and maybe a skeleton or two like disliking the colored people or being a serial rapist or the like. Nice to know that kidnapping rings produce the same sort of midlevel drone that you find in every other cutting edge field. Change and continuity, powerful forces at work.
The gist of the message was I’d be working an evening shift, which was unusual in and of itself because firstly I never worked an evening and secondly because I’d never worked an actual shift. There would probably have been even more oddities to his statements if they weren’t so brief and forgettable. I assured my partner in crime that it would not be a problem rescheduling the usual late night snacking and onanism to perform my contractually agreed upon tasks. With that, he was gone.
Then time jumped forward again. It was well after that duck-faced pervert finishes the late show, probably the small hours of the morning. I was moving through the streets of the suburban business district, weaving around buildings and through alleys behind independently owned businesses. Everything lay dormant, the only lights came from the street lamps. There was no traffic, car or otherwise. It was easy to imagine that some bird plague or neutron bomb or call home from the old man in the sky had taken all human life just recently. I was the Last Man, somehow immune to a radiation bath or the finger of Jehovah. Even the corner bars showed no activity. It had to be very late. I scaled a small fence and cut behind a locksmith. In a moment of clarity I remembered that this particular business had sponsored my little league team when I was ten. The logo was on the back of our jerseys, complete with a little five pointed star symbolizing law and order. After all, is there anything that says civilization more than a lock? The triumph of private property, the ability to protect the fruits of my labor, to own your efforts, meritocracy, everyone does what they’re best at. That’s the world I want.
My body seemed to know where it was going and I didn’t resist the pull of the autopilot. When I was in junior high I had a combination lock that I opened by feel. I completely forgot the numbers, my hand just knew what to do from muscle memory. That’s how that nocturnal skulking felt. The mortal prison had its own volition. My friend reason, what remained of him, was restricted to drifting into the past, thinking about little league and lock companies and “no batter, no batter” and you struck out again and his face will be like that forever and on and on. Somewhere a dog was barking. It could have been miles away, the night was that still. It did cause a momentary flash of panic. The last thing I need was a battle against the soulless canines of the dead world.
I turned a corner, passing under a globe that presented the continents in a manner that wasn’t strictly accurate, geographically speaking. For one thing, the real planet doesn’t have “Almost Ordinary Bar” written across parts of what might have been central Asia a hundred million years ago. Get with the times, man. Pangea is so last geologic age. Everyone is about discrete individual continents now, none of this lame single land mass jive. We be plate tectonicing.
Moving out of the dim light generated by the bizarre globe I picked my way through the inky blackness of the adjacent parking lot and then cut back into another alley. “Almost there.” The thought came and went in a flash, accepted as fact without any proof. The horse knows the way, just let it have its head and show a little faith. I took one final hard right and found myself facing a battery of dumpsters. This is it.
Being careful not to play on or around the impressive disposal technology I skulked into a dark corner. There it was. It was one of those brown grocery bags that looked like it had been used repeatedly, possibly in an attempt to save our world from the endless rapine of Mother Man. Paper, not plastic. Still moving on instinct, I carefully unfolded the object of my night quest. The expectations were quickly confirmed: it was filled to the brim with neatly banded Federal Reserve run-off. This was the stuff dreams are built from, right here. I tucked it under an arm like a new born inflation baby and prepared to melt back into the shadows.
“Who the fuck ar’ ya?” Oh no, I’ve been discovered! Possible ninja scenarios flashed through my mind as an unidentified mass of carbon-based material wrapped in filthy cloth staggered into my field of vision. Better kill him quick, before my cover is further compromised. Maybe a face full of poison powder or a throwing star to the forehead or the old staff-sword into the guts. Then I remembered that none of these options were actually available. I didn’t even have the old Saturday evening six to blast my way out of this.
“What you got there?” For a second I made out a fat unshaven peasant face as the figure passed through the halo of a nearby streetlight. Ok, it is a human being. We can dismiss the theory of being attacked by intelligent gas blobs from Pluto. Which wasn’t to say this individual didn’t have at least some gas blob tendencies, but his origin was far less exotic. “You hearin’ me? What you got dar?”
“It’s nothing. I was just leaving.” It was the type of situation where popping some Mentos would not have been inappropriate, but again I was shocking under-equipped. This is what happens when you’re not allowed to be in the Boy Scouts because your parents think they’ll have to drive your troop around and they can’t afford the gas or whatever the weak excuse was. This. Right here. If only my ten year old self could foresee this future problem and make the most convincing argument possible. “You don’t want my human meat racket to fall apart because I didn’t know the importance of proper preparation, do you?” Of course you don’t.
And there I was, in a fix. So close to successful and lucrative criminality, but so very far away.
“You got a bottle, don’t ya? Let me have a pull.” I noted the all-American beer belly stretching a stained shirt displaying the corporate logo of a professional sporting concern. There would be rich irony there, if it wasn’t such a common bit of dissonance. Even standing near the latest advances in waste management solutions I could still clearly discriminate the rich bouquet of sweat and domestic beer emanating from the threat to successful bag-manning.
“Gimme the fucking bottle!” Furry arms worthy of an out-of-shape bruin extended toward my retirement found, the stained white meat of grease-coated hands seeming to glow in the poor illumination. I tried to pull a move worthy of a Nice Fucking Life running back by evading the rush with a quick spin move. It didn’t quite come off and I collided with the lover of the grain and forsaker of the soap sending both of us crashing to the filth encrusted pavement. How come all my crimes seem to end up with short trips and bad landings? My inner ears were good last time I checked. Maybe that undiagnosed Uncontrollable Falling Down Syndrome needs to finally be addressed and deadened by taking colorful pills that cause impotence and self-wetting. But hey, at least you’re not slapping skin with the ground so often. There is, after all, a strong correlation between successful extortion schemes and the ability to maintain verticality.