The sun was getting heavy in the sky, casting reds and oranges, fast shadows growing longer. Dying light poking skinny fingers through the trees in the woods five miles from the centre of town.
“Enchante’” A voice said a little electronic light winked on an e-cigarette, as he took a drag. Sickly sweet steam rising. A podgy man with olive skin and a red beany on his head stood with his other hand in the pocket of a black trenchcoat as Evergreen’s men surrounded him.
“This is, how you say, ‘the welcoming wagon’ yes?” He said as he scratched messy salt and pepper stubble on his double chin. A smiling cupcake on the red sweater underneathe the trench.
Evergreen didn’t move or speak, he regarded the man as one would a gold statue of a dung beetle pushing a ball of shit up hill.
“Ah you are Mr. E I presume, qui?” He put his e-cig in his mouth and walked forward to shake his hand, his arm outstretched.
Evergreen’s men tightened up fast, cocking their hi-spec rifles. Loaded out with so many laser sights and tactical scopes and torches that they looked like black alien dildo’s.
“Ok ok” The man said calmly as he stepped back and took the e-cig out of his mouth coughing too loud like it was forced. ”Allow me to introduce myself. I am Jean Tueur de leon Cecilli”
Evergreen breathed out, eying the buffoon carefully. “Do you understand the rules you agreed upon?”
“Ah qui” The pudgy man nodded, squeezing his double chins and smiling, pursing his lips.
“You don’t have any weapons on you, we don’t need to search you. The game is strictly on site procurement only, for the benefits of faireness. On special occasions our paying customers are compt specific non-firearm based weapons. Do you understand?”
“Non, only as you americans say. I ’ave just my ‘dick’ in my hands and nussing else.” He laughed and grabbed his crotch looking around at the soldiers expecting a laugh. Getting nothing but confused and icey stares at the back of his neck.
“Rigby.” Evergreen turned to his right keeping his eyes on this strange little man. A mercenary not wearing a mask, came up beside him carrying a carbon fibre case in one hand. The Merc was tall and broad with fair hair and the face of a rugby player. Looked less like a face and more like two fists trying to fuck as he scrunched it up trying to size up the strange Frenchman.
Rigby eyed the strange man up and down, like he was looking at leprechaun that just jumped out of his cereal. Continuing to stare at the odd spectacle of a man, he craned his neck back as Evergreen opened the case in his arms.
Evergreen pulled out what looked like an oxygen tank. A truck on the highway behind the tall trees shielding them from the road rushed by honking at the sun going down.
Evergreen let the heavy tank fall by his side as he turned to the strange Frenchman.
He held up a nozzle as he spoke which was connected to the pressurized gas canister and said “A pressurized gas gun. Used by lock smiths to push locks out of their frames. Something similar used by slaughterhouses to kill cattle. Shoots a jet of highly condensed air when a seal is made and it can prove quite destructive.” He said as he handed it to the Frenchman who eyed it with fascination for a moment.
“Mai qui, how you say? ‘What a piece of crap’. I would maybe be better with my dick in my hand.” The Frenchman laughed as he messed with the nozzle shooting out little jets of air messing up the curly hair under his beanie riding high on his head. He squinted and smiled before tossing it back towards Evergreen, landing at his feet.
Rigby picked up the canister still eyeing the Frenchman with an odd distasteful expression and put it back in the case and sealed it shut.
“I find something in town maybe.” He shrugged scrunching up his multiple stubbly chins. He smiled and said ”see you, aurevoir!” As he pushed passed the mercs and started walking towards the main road. “TAXI!” He called out as he climbed an embankment pushing through the trees to get to the road
Rigby watched him go and said in a broad Yorkshire accent “What a total twat”.
Evergreen let out a sigh in agreement.
A little shop bell rang and two figures in large coats dusted snow off their shoes in the entrance of whitefish army navy.
“What are we doing here?” TJ asked, a little strain coming out in his voice, he russled his dark greasy shoulder length hair as he took his furry hood down. “How do you know this town so well, are you from here?” He was a little hot around the collar. They walked the twenty minutes it took them to get here from the convention centre, it was a straight shot with little traffic because of the snow.
“No, I came from the same place as you and you’re wasting your time asking me questions. I don’t know shit, he told me how to find this place and how to find you, he’ll explain, I only know what I need to know.” He looked annoyed like he’d snubbed himself unintentionally.
“I still have no idea what we’re doing here.” TJ was getting hot in his face now, his cheeks were red, the warm shop and the blood pressure rising coming out of the cold.
“We’re in a store that sells guns and knives and all kinds of shit, boots, armor.” He paused looking around wide eyed with his arms open waiting for TJ to say something. “Can someone say, zombie apocalypse round two?” He said raising his two fingers.
“What here? Again?” TJ said with an incredulous look on his face, like a schoolkid getting another detention.
“What did you think you were doing here?” He gestured with his arms flailing around the room.
“I kinda thought that was all a dream” TJ laughed scratching the back of his head grimacing.
“Nope”. Jimmy walked past him into the store looking up and down at all the old army boots hanging off the walls.
“So what now?”
Jimmy turned around annoyed, rummaging around in his coat pocket “Do I have to spell it out for a nigga?” He pulled out a wad of money and pushed it into TJ’s hand got close and said “Buy-some-shit.”
TJ looked at the scrunched up money which was oddly warm and a little wet for some reason. “Why is this money so warm?”
“Ah I kept it in my pants because I didn’t want to check it with the coat”.
“Why not just put in your pocket?” TJ said lifting the money out of his palm with his index finger and thumb.
“They don’t have zips or nothing” He said pointing to his sweatpants.
After a moment of revulsion TJ said “Wait there’s only like twenty bucks here, what am I supposed to get for twenty bucks?”
“I don’t know, a machete or something, maybe some Viagra. Skullfuck a zombie to death, I don’t know, you figure it out.” Jimmy shouted from across the room as he probed a stack of camo pants looking for his size.
TJ shushed him and walked closer to talk in a harsh whisper. “You said this guy would explain everything, I’m ready for that, when’s that coming?”
“You are getting on my nerves” Jimmy said as he looked around his shoulder. Jimmy clocked the old man behind a counter covered in Vietnam memorabilia. Patches and old looking shovels hanging from a chicken wire booth behind him. He sat behind a counter reading a copy of guns and bullets. “hey old man! You got a phone we can use?”
“Payphone in back” The old man cried out without looking up from his magazine. His army boots up on the counter. He wore a set of camo pants and a white shirt, his grey hair slicked back. Salt and pepper stubble completed the ‘small town badass’ look.
“Err thanks” TJ called back a little embarrassed. He turned to Jimmy.
“What” Jimmy said.
“I need change.”
“Change the twenty I gave you.” He said his voice rising a few octaves at the end like it was a question without looking up. “My size” He said as he smiled picking up a set of camo pants.
Jimmy didn’t respond.
“That’s just great” TJ said looking around for something to buy to break the twenty.
The store was tight, camo mesh hung from the ceiling and there were cramped rows of clothes and camping gear. Further in the back he could see some blades hanging on the wall next to stocked rifle cases full of wooden hunting rifles.
He waded through the isles of camo clothes feeling not unlike he was climbing a hill on ho chee men. The sound of the doors playing over the speakers on the sound system, he thought maybe it was peace frog but he was more into alternative music.
He got to the rack, it was reminiscent of a garage wall, tools hanging off nails with chalk outlines, various gas masks hung from the ceiling. Loose paper price tags hanging off the holes in the handles of the machetes on little pieces of string like a garage sale. His eyes grazed the gun rack, all of the rifles were not surprisingly more than twenty dollars without ammo. So what he was really looking at were really expensive and ineffective wooden clubs.
He looked over the machetes and most of them were just regular grass machetes, standard latin machetes you’d see in any episode of the walking dead. Mostly gerber and cold steel. Carbon steel cheap but effective.
The best one on the rack was an estwing lawn machete with a sawback in a blister pack hanging from a nail driven into the backboard. It was small but looked sturdy with a handle like their hammer designs but it was forty bucks. He sighed and snatched up a gerber gator sawback for eighteen bucks and sulked his way to the counter.
He plonked it on the counter space, it was a white counter covered in black boot scrapings from all the times he must have put his feet up there. The counter was hemmed in by chicken wire with patches and caps hanging off of it. Under the counter were glass cases all the way around full of nick nacks from ww2 and ww1. As well as just crap like belt buckles that looked like grenades and lighters and pens with naked chicks on them. WW2 knives and WW1 trench clubs, real antiques and probably a lot of reproduction pieces.
The old man looked up from his magazine and then down at the machete and said “Twenty buck.” And then went back to his magazine.
“But the tag said eighteen” TJ whined.
“And I’m saying ‘twenty buck’’” He said sucking his gums without looking up. The old man probably in his late fifties, early sixties but still looked lean and gristled with age. Like a skinny tough piece of boot leather dried by the sun.
“But then I don’t have enough for the phone.” TJ whined. His eyes leaned up and he saw the glass case behind the old man’s head was full of old army helmets and jackets and memorabilia. Naturally the rack of samurai swords with dragon engravings caught his eye. The price tag for the full set was ten times what he had in his pocket.
The old man hoped out of his seat with what seemed like a practiced malice, he reached under the counter.
TJ caught his breath closing his eyes and pulling a stupid face, expecting a shotgun to be on the other end of his nose.
He opened them hearing a small clicking sound. The old man plonked a little pen knife on the counter and sat back down reading his magazine and said “Ten buck.”
TJ picked up the little knife, it was real piece of crap, a no brand Chinese copy of an old spyderco design. It looked like an old 1950’s buck with a spyderhole in the blade, a back lock that rattled even just picking it up.
TJ sighed and put the twenty down on the counter. The old man took the twenty and put the change down on the counter and went back to his magazine. TJ turned away and walked towards the back muttering under his breath. Tightening his fat buns as he heard a sharp whistling sound coming from the counter.
He turned back to the counter and the old man said “You gonna put the machete back where ya found it?”
TJ sighed and sulked back over to the counter, picked up the machete and gave a tired salty look at the old man who didn’t look up. He walked back to the wall and put the machete back on the hanger and walked deeper into the store.
The back of the store was a little grotto of war memorabilia, the central focus a giant replica mounted m-60 on a raised pedestal. Mannequins were all over the place, it seemed to get tighter and more creepy as you got further into it. Mannequins with gas masks and camo gear holding shovels looking menacing seemed to be in every corner. It seemed like it was getting hotter and there were actual jungle sounds playing over the loudspeakers now. TJ could feel his pits and taint getting swampy.
He turned and jumped as it seemed like a wax work Vietnam fighter jumped out of a rack of camo backpacks and water purifier bottles. It’s face all painted camo, mouth open crying out some silent battle cry, holding a wooden replica m16.
He finally found the phone in the back. It was on the wall painted green for some reason, it looked like an antique itself. An anologue ring dialer payphone with the coin slot at the top. TJ wondered for a moment if it would even work. But he had the change in his hand already so he straightened it out in his hand and readied himself to drop it in the coin slot. Before he could put the coin in the phone, it started ringing. The ringing sound was jarring enough because it sounded like a sharp piece of metal actually taping a bell, so it was loud and alarming.
He picked up and fumbled the handset just to get it to shut up. For a minute he just held it in his hands catching his breath. Listening to a muffled voice coming out of his hand saying “Hello?”
He put it to his ear and said “Who is this?”
“You order Chinese food?” The voice said on the other end in a weird chinese accent.
“What?” TJ squinted.
“You order Chinese food?” The voice said again.
“Ah I’m fucking with you man, TJ, TJ, Teeejay. I’m so happy to hear your voice man, I’m a big fan.”
“Who are you and how do you know my name?” TJ said doing his best Liam Neeson impression staring intently at the air.
“How do I know your name? The whole deepweb knows your name budd, you’re a big star now, that and your little girlfriend, is she your girlfriend now man, because if not... haha.”
“What, who are you?” TJ squinted pricked with annoyance.
“Ahh I’m just kidding bud. Who am I? I’m your backer bud.”
“Shadowbroker, benefactor, master, sithlord, whatever you prefer. Yours, Jimmy’s and Sunday’s”
“Sunday? She’s alive?” TJ bounced awake hearing her name.
The voice on the other end sucked in some air and said “I think you need some surprises bud. Can’t go blow the whole game right at the start.”
“Just tell me, is she alive? Is she here?” TJ was getting out of breath now, his heart started to pound.
“Ahh, I’m not saying yes and I’m not saying no.”
“Look doon’t fuck with me-!” He spat.
“Or what? You’ll cry on me, cut me like a fat autist ninja who shit his pants haha, reeeeeeee!” He paused for a second to laugh. “I don’t need you fat boy, you need me, so you’re gonna listen and if all goes well, you, Jimmy and maybe Sunday will make it out of this just fine.”
“What do you want?” TJ swallowed back some of his nervous rage, his phincter tightening.
“I want what you want, to win. To escape, I guess. Happily ever after, get the girl, fuck her, raise a couple a kids, I dunno, just spitballing.”
“You’re gonna help us get out of here?” He asked his head down thinking.
“Sure thing pal, what did you think, I was just gonna leave ya there? That’s why I backed Jimmy, so I could get to you. See you’re a main player now, all eyes on you. I knew if I backed Jimmy I get in contact with him easy and he could get you someplace we could talk, toss you a few bucks, help you out.”
“A few bucks, you think twenty bucks was enough.”
“Twenty? I gave that little asshole five hundred bucks for all three of you, what the fuck did he spend it on dinner and a movie?” He sucked his gums and said “Ah it doesn’t matter, you can’t stay here too long, they can’t see in here but they’re tracking you. As soon as you finish here, there’s an all night diner not too far from here called ‘Cowgirl coffee’. It’s the only other place around here with a payphone, so I want you to go there for further instruction.”
“Tracking me, payphones why payphones?”
“Cos, they’re monitoring all the cell traffic in or out, who uses payphones anymore? Oh yeah, you got a knife or something?”
“There’s a tracking device in your neck, gotta cut it out.”
“In my neck? What d’ya mean ‘cut it out’” He shouted.
“I mean, find it and cut it out, just feel around back there, any skin tags that weren’t there before, bumps like a mole. Shouldn’t be too deep, like popping a zit, come on man, don’t be a pussy.”
TJ scrunched up his face like he was concentrating and started padding the back of his neck. His longish dark hair was matted, sweaty and greasy, he couldn’t remember the last time he showered. After a few seconds of fingering his neck through what were actual zits he touched something that felt quite alien. Like a mole, but there was no feeling at all when he pressed on it.
“You got it, great, get to the diner and you can have a little more privacy, maybe do something about it, until then…”
“Wait a minute, this isn’t some spy movie, you gotta tell me if she’s ok.” He said losing the place of the mole and grabbing the receiver with both hands.
“Oh my god, can you hear yourself right now? You sound like a little bitch, are you the hero of this story or not?”
TJ scratched his neckbeard and said “Well I’m kinda the everyman aren’t I?”
“Hmm, I guess that is kinda true. Well if you wanna live through another week you better stop being everyman, because everyman dies and you don’t wanna do that.”
“Ok so what do I call you?” He said as he dropped his hand away from his face.
“What do you call me?”
“Yeah you got a code name or something?” He said making superfluous hand gestures to someone who couldn’t see them.
“Err, how bout; ‘double penetration’”.
“I’m not calling you that”. TJ said shaking his head for someone that couldn’t see.
“Yeah, yeah you are haha. You can call me ‘dp’ for short”
TJ rubbed his temples and sighed and said “What now?”
“What do you mean, what now? I told you, get your fat ass to that diner and await further instructions.”
“Buh-bye now” Dp said as the phone went dead.
TJ racked the phone breathing out and said “Fuck my life.”