I didn't quite squeal like a pig when they flopped me into the dumpster on top of a passed out stripper I didn't recognize. Part of that was because it was getting harder and harder to draw a breath. The minute I whumped softly into the overflowing refuse, barely feeling the girl under me struggle, the top cover slammed shut over us and I heard more gunshots and screaming.
Something squirmed out from under me in the dark. I breathed in a ripe mouthful of the fetid air and tried to speak, feeling bubbles form around my mouth.
"Move over, Jon." Cristal's voice. She lit a cigarette in the darkness, heedless of the security risk, and I saw a nasty bruise on her face when the lighter flared up. The two of us struggled painfully into a side by side sitting position, me wanting a cigarette so bad I could taste it and her smoking. Thanks a lot, Director in the Sky. Watching the D list actress smoke a cigarette in a dumpster. Wasn't I supposed to be the star of this fuckin' picture?
"What happened?" I whispered with some effort.
"Some kind of large mob. Out early, too. The curfew just ended, they announced it over the chopper's speakers. And people just flooded into the streets throwing bricks and bottles at us."
"Where are we?"
"Just on the other side of 36th & Trolley." Inside I groaned. Of course they flooded out to throw shit at us. A bunch of white marks, obviously injured, walking down this neighborhood even pre riot was not exactly AAA safety rated. "The address you told us about is just up the street. Jon, are you sure this guy is going to help us?"
I winced, leaned back against a squishy pile of something I didn't want to recognize, and let my eyes flutter closed. "It doesn't matter now. The dice are already thrown. If he can't, I die." It was shocking how little I felt at that. My coke had come off a long time ago and I had to be out by now, but the benzos were still jackhammering away in my brain.
A round pinged off the outside of the dumpster with a sound oddly like church bells vibrating the two of us in place. That got us quiet again, and for a time we listened to the chopper buzzing overhead and the shrieks of defiance and the gunshots and the orders to disperse. An unfamiliar, biting acrid smell somehow made itself known over the reek of garbage. I sniffed once, looked questioningly at Cristal, and she shrugged back. I felt for my pistol but it was missing; one of our people out there probably needed it worse than I do.
After a time things quieted down and I felt confident enough to pop the lid a little bit. The side alley was completely empty now and there were casings from bullets fucking everywhere. It looked like a major war had been fought here. I also saw empty canisters from some type of grenade; from the smell, and the lack of craters, I figured they were tear gas grenades or some shit. Of the others there was no sign, but I got my first clue when the dumpster next to us farted.
Slowly, with the caution of a mouse trying to get laid in a nest of snakes with the biggest snake's wife (Did I mention the Benzos? Christ!) we crept out of our dumpsters, all dripping with trash. Rachel shot me a look that said "This is all your fucking fault, Mackey," clear as day, but everyone appeared unscathed. Cesare held out my pistol and shotgun, but I waved it away. I wasn't going to do any fighting anytime soon. We huddled together in the alley.
Phebe took charge, of course. God bless that girl. "Okay, you said he lives in an unnamed street off Atterbury, right?"
"1 Private drive or some shit like that," I grunted. "Brown stone house. Privacy hedges."
"Okay. We can get around this building to another alley; it was where we ran after the tear gas came down. We don't have to get into the open until we cross 40th, and then we have to run what, about four, five hundred yards down atterbury?" Her nipples were dark through that wet coat and her eyes blazed like a cold valium sun.
My brain was swimming and there were angry little pirhanas devouring my thoughts. "I...I can't remember. Shit. Left side of the street." I strained hard, forced synapses together like an inelegant electrician conducting an orchestra of spark plugs.
Hey, asshole, I'm dying, I'm allowed to mix my metaphors.
Finally i twigged it. "Empty gas station right across from it. Old, too-rusty red pumps, the manual kind. It's right across from the drive." I was proud of myself; I had only made the drive once, as a favor to a friend.
Everyone nodded. There was little need for discussion although Rachel shot me a look I couldn't interpret. There was a sort of low hum in the air, a sort of tangible tension that hit me in the face like seltzer. Suddenly I was totally straight again, walking on my own in a burst of shock, moving at the rear of the column with an eye to the mouth of the alley for trouble, a steely eyed superhero from a dime pulp novel and a hardon that had finally collapsed and apparently a fucking kid on the way. God I wanted a cigarette.
We moved slowly and carefully to the edge of 40th street. A pack of three urban youths wandered by. It was odd-it should have been menacing but it wasn't. They were just striding up a street in their neighborhood, talking about girls, not even looking down the alley for us. Their postures were relaxed, their body language somehow casual, and none appeared armed. It was a novel experience. How fucked up is that, that not being hunted was a novelty? Still, it was unsettling and we waited a good long while before Phebe ventured out onto the sidewalk.
"They're long gone," she said. "Single file, Jon at the rear. Get your shotgun. Everybody follow me. Walk until we have to run." She lifted her chin, rainwater beading on the slender swan curve of her neck, all noble purpose and dour stoicism, everything I should have been the whole goddamn time.
I bet you're waiting for the big climactic battle-there wasn't really one. Once the mob was dispersed in the area we just walked up the road. I barely remember most of it, just a few vague nightmares of gut churning tension whenever a window curtain moved. Once we came across a fresh corpse, a skinny guy halfway stuck out a fucking sewer grate, his shoes missing and several holes in his torso. Another time we came across a Teddy Bear with a leg torn off in a macabre field of damp stuffing, and somehow that was worse. Eventually we reached the gates of this guy's privacy hedges, and by that time I had lost my newfound adrenaline and was sagging against Cesare.
The security camera had been ripped out, but the intercom still worked. When Phebe pounded on the wooden gate with her glock, a harsh, discordant voice rippled like magic from the black box. "GO AWAY. I HAVE A SHOTGUN." It was a tired, rote voice, somehow familiar. Wait, was I the one that was supposed to know this guy?
I reached out and mashed the intercom button, co opting Phebe's place in front. "Dr. MAUSKOVICH! We have some injured and sick people out here!"
"FUCK OFF!" came the buzz predictably. "I'm not a Doctor anymore."
"Doc, I'm hurt real bad," I said, "and we got a couple of sick girls here and..."
"You and every other poor bastard out there." The intercom really fails to convey sarcasm. "Get the fuck out of here or I'm opening fire."
"I've got money, Doc..."
"Money!" The laughter was distant and tinny and somehow that made it more mocking. "You know what fucking money is worth these days, son?" It was snowing again. It made everything quieter, the sounds in the distance muffled by the blanket of white. Fucking snow in febuary-or was it march now? You know what they say about Indiana weather-if you don't like it, wait.
I racked my brain but couldn't remember his vice. I was leaning up against the gate now and just babbling into the intercom. I was just listing off the drugs I had in my bag, the whole Hunter S. Thompson list. Benzos and addies and xanies and lor tabs and acid (though thinking on it, why I had brought acid I would never know) ecstasy vicadin...it just went on and on, rather pathetic really. It seemed to go on a long time while snow rippled down the back of my neck and my breaths between words grew longer and longer. I croaked on. Weed, yellow jackets, rippers, cigarettes, crystal, china, zydrate, soma, happiness, force projection crystals. I was just making shit up now, throwing a cinder block sized blarney stone into the duck pond.
Hey, asshole, I'm dying, I can make no sense if I want to.
I'm not sure what happened next. I think the gate clicked on "Cigarettes." The others were hustling me through and I was still bartering. The hum of a generator swelled up around me as they took me into a little white room and I could hear someone going through my bag. The adventure ended for me at 9:22 that morning when the Doc put me under a hot light on his kitchen table. I was watching Phebe's eyes, letting them ground me all the way home.