Count on me
Michel Encinosa Fú ©1999
Axxón 102 -- September 1999
(Translation: Daniel W. Koon)

        I look into the mirror and after putting up with its daily round of insults I walk out onto the street. The multicolored monotony of the asphalt hell and the megaholoposters assault my eyes and caress my neurons. I adore this city of shit, most of all at night. Especially at night. Only at night. I am a night rat and my job is to dodge the light. I cruise with Doubleheader. His real name is Johnny Kisser and his great great grandmother was a Brazilian rock star. He is the best there is; a real ball-buster. Number one in fights and women. He is not like those idiots in the Esmeralda barrio: Crazy Blue, Oriflama, Disgusted Submissive and the others. He is different. He is the king. We are different. We are the kings of the November barrio. And we are friends. More than friends: brothers. We’re thick as thieves.
        I slip away through the cracks, hiding myself coyly from the Steam Giants, a gang of armored street warriors who are looking for the hundreds of newyen I owe them, and I reach the doors of the Arcturus vs Vaseline. I sit down at my usual table, next to the window, and order an Absolute Zero with two drops of mint. I sample the acid landscape of the street through the plexiglass. I wait. It is early. The action is just starting to pick up.
        Doubleheader finally approaches, dodging the dancing and jostling bodies. He gives me a brotherly hug and dumps a clutch of dermos in my hands. That’s how he is, generous, frank. He is my friend.
        “Look,” he lets go of me, pointing to the two babes crossing the street. I’m in love. They are dressed like Consumption Corporation students, dresses from the latest Astral Jewels Collection IV. Both blondes.
        “The one on the left is mine, the other is yours,” Doubleheader quickly sizes them up, “Shall we follow?”
        “Count on me.” I pop some uppers and we leave the bar. We are on the prowl, and this barrio is our own private hunting ground.
        “Hello, strangers.”
        They back up a couple of steps, surprised. We have appeared out of nowhere. They examine us; our classic urban gladiator getup, our tribal tats, our amused eyes.
        “Innocent damsels, we are happy, healthy youth who only wish for a bit of your pleasant company,” our body language announces.
        “Are they worth it?” their eyes enquire. “Maybe we should check them out and see!”
        And they put us to the test. Torres, the bouncer of club Utopia X, is a childhood buddy. He lets us in, no hassle.
        We order drinks, we dance. We are the kings of the evening. The Gods of the Lower Village. The game begins.
        My girl is stupendous. She knows how to move her body, how to shake it. I delight in her reptile movements and I sample her lips. Tongues. Music. Dance. Dermos. Sweat.
        We go out into the fresh air. Doubleheader’s apartment is nearby. This is our neighborhood, our private stomping grounds. We enjoy the envious gazes of the kiddies who are being led around by their squalid, B-level princesses. We’ve got the queens, and the queens are playing along.
        Just two doors down from the apartment, five armored thugs leap out; Steam Giants. The leader steps forward:
        “Hey, Johnny Kisser, that’s my girl.” The blonde looks at Doubleheader through guilty lashes and moves out of the way. Doubleheader smiles.
        “Come on, brother, I didn’t see your name on her dress. No harm done, right?”
        “No, but there’s going to be.”
        We are quick. Before their leader can pull out his piece, Doubleheader falls on top of him and sticks a vibroblade in his throat. I roll across the ground, ducking two lasersabers, and I make my revolver growl. One of them falls, his knee blown apart.
        “Retreat, bro,” Doubleheader yells at me. We take off without a scratch, leaving three of them bloodied and one in the full throes of agony. We recover our breath ten blocks later. We laugh.
        “We are the best there is, brother!”
        “Your hideout is too hot,” I say to Johnny.
        “But yours isn’t,” he smiles at me, showing off his blonde’s wallet. ”See what we have here.”
        We open it and laugh once more. Several neurotrans. Little Dragon; very much prized on the market. Some fifty thousand newyen the lot.
        We’ll get rid of these in a couple days,” Doubleheader vows, “I’ll go consult with my contacts.”
        He leaves. I drag the loot back to my house, eight levels below the asphalt. I hide the wallet in a hole behind my closet. I drink a cheap beer and go to bed. Doubleheader will drop by in the morning and then we’ll make plans.
        They wake me up at dawn with a punch to the stomach. I roll over. Three of them hold me while the other six turn my apartment upside down.
        “Where are they, asshole?”
        “The neuro...,” I stutter.
        “Bullshit!” one of them on top of me says. “Listen closely, shithead. We don’t give a rat’s ass about the neurotrans. We want the wallet.” Several hands reach into the closet.
        “Doubleheader has it!” I spit out.
        “And where is he?”
        The hands leave the closet. I search my memory. Doubleheader; his contacts, a pair of videophone codes, maybe five addresses. I cough up what I know.
        “Good. That’ll do. And you can thank your lucky stars that your father and mine were like brothers. Get out of this neighborhood. This is for your silence.” The guy slips a thousand newyen into my chip. “Let’s go.”
        And they leave.
        I wash my face; I have a cut on my lip. I search the wallet. I cut the lining. A picocircuit: very high-tech, dangerously high-tech. I toss it in the toilet and flush. I shrug my shoulders with relief. I hide the neurotrans again and walk out onto the street.
        I manage to recognize one of the voices behind the helmets of the armored goons. I look up a cheap hit man I know.
        “Who?” he asks me, after receiving his advance of two hundred.
        “Torres, the bouncer at...”
        “I know him. He’s my friend.”
        “Five hundred when you finish, then.”
        “Make it snappy.”
        He returns two hours later. “Done. Twenty grams of lead in the skull.”
        I pay him the rest and I notice he hesitates.
        “What?” I ask him.
        “They wasted your buddy, the Doubleheader. Steam Giants. I don’t know why, but word has it they were looking for something that he didn’t have. They left him all...”
        “Spare me the details,” I interrupt.
        I return home. Shame about Torres; my childhood buddy. But I hate traitors. Friendship is the only thing that matters in this world. I look at the mirror. It’s a real bastard, all saucy and shameless, it copies my features and insults me. I break it with my fist. Shit. I’ve cut my hand. I’m in a hurry. I have a bunch of Little Dragons to unload and a couple of hours to change neighborhoods. Life is hard. Now I cruise with Oriflama. He is a true ball-breaker; not like those useless ones in November Barrio; Red Shield, Croaker and the dead and forgotten Doubleheader and company. He is different. We are sitting on an abandoned dumpster and are enjoying the night. Some guy crosses the street.
        “That one owes me. Coming?” Oriflama nudges me.
        “Count on me,” I respond. I pop some uppers and follow him. We’re different. Thick as thieves. And we are the kings of Esmeralda barrio; him and me. True friendship is the greatest thing on this earth.
        (c) 1999 Michel Encinosa Fú
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