CHAPTER 10: EVERYONE'S A WINNER
The bright lights hit my eyes like a fist. I knew where I was, I guess I'd always known. There are no secret destinations, no cruel twists of fate. My ancestors were given to extra-terrestrial dalliance, which explained the dual citizenship of my respiratory system and my love of a good time. What it didn't explain was--what now?
The US of A in my mind's eye was a kaleidoscope of scratchy 45s and movie magazines, the realm of Li'l Orphan OJ and the Possee Comatosis. Nothing mama done told me between gulps of grain liquor could have prepared me for the decaying giant known as Times Square, or the senseless corruption that oozed from every pore of its volcanic multitude.
"Alright, step up, everyone's a winner, everybody wins and nobody loses."
It sounded like Pro Wrestling to me, but what the hell? I moved to a spot near the front where a little rat in designer sweats and a doo-rag was holding court. His pin prick eyes alighted on me.
"Sir, you seem like a smart man, a wise man, maybe even a family man..."
"Get to the point."
"I've got three cards in front of me, as you can see. Two are black and one is red. Pick the red one and you're a winner, do you have five dollars, sir? Remember, everyone's a winner."
I checked the pockets of my rumpled suit pants. Sure enough, they'd slipped me some loot before the blackout. It was easy come, easy action.
"I got five on it."
"Show me the five and you're a winner, sir. Which card is it?"
A crowd had formed around us and I smelled con as thick as the ozone. I'd seen some jokers guess the red, but they were obvious set-ups. Still, you can't win for losing. I pointed to a card.
"Sorry, sir, but that was close, look again because it happens very fast. Where's the red card now? Five dollars."
Mesmerized, I looked at his cold hands moving across the top of that orange crate. I thought about hands across the water. Then hands across the cosmos and then hands across this bastard's throat if I came up short again. I was sure I had hit it this time.
"Wrong again, sir, but put up ten and you get twenty back, no one leaves a loser. Sir, you strike me as an intelligent man."
Did I mention that I hate to lose?
"You also strike me as an honest man, sir."
"I just might strike you period, pal," I said, watching the black card come up yet again.
"Put up fifty, you're a guaranteed winner."
"Tell you what," I said, pulling out my Luger and pointing it straight at his heart, "I'll trade ya."
The dealer ran fast, leaving the cash and a stain where his stool used to be. I guess there's a sucker born every minute. I bought a bag of yellow powder off a dead end kid and pulled up a gutter seat. Now that amateur hour was over, I had to face the cold hard lavatory floor.
Somehow, find Suzy. Not for the EQ or the Korps, not even for her sake, but for mine. I figured my best bet would be to access New York's Finest for strategic advice, back up, and maybe a boysenberry danish. I also knew that stories of interstellar abduction might just win me a spot on the Bellvue Express, but I figured I could use the practice weaving baskets.
I snorted a big line of gak, cursing my weakness of spirit and the high cost of pleasure on planet Earth.
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CHAPTER 11: POWDER KEG HELL-HOLE