The sword’s mostly bullshit. Don’t get me wrong: I know how to use the motherfucker, and I’m fast. But get down to brass tacks, and it just strapped to my ass to impress the tourists.
‘Bout a dozen elves and humans done shown up, wearin heavy vests some street rat told them were lead.
It’s Market Square 4 am, and I can smell that soykaf in they travel mugs. We work out deals. And them tourist motherfuckers get all excited tradin’ chits with a real Zone ork like me, barterin for my services. I ain’t mad at em for it. After all I score some cool shit. Genuine gold watch, three cases of craft beer, one fancy squish couple gave me their flight vouchers back to Minneapolis.
Before we shake on the exchanges, I get them to turn on their comms, see if they can work here. They can’t: never been no kinda signal here, but it’s all part of the hustle: my big trogga smile flashing over snappy jokes and fast talk. Pure urban charm, making them squish forget they ever activated their paydata.
When we all square, I round ‘em up and hike the four miles down to the Shattergraves.
I never wanna take them too deep, don’t wanna wake up anything nasty, but more mornings than not, around dawn, the spirits start kicking up, startin they 40-year-old day. Taxis sputter and hot dog vendors steam up. Pretty dead women stroll to work in their short August skirts. All of em sepia toned, all sad and lost, never knowin that the Sears came down and took them with it.
Part of my game is telling their little stories. Give those ghosts a personal touch. The little terrors, know what I mean? Babies cryin for their mamas in the rubble for years afterward. Shit that make them squishes straight shiver in their burb hotels for a couple nights. Fun yarns to spin around the pool back home or whatever.
My boy, K Breezy is always the last tourist I take money from. He sticks to the back of our group, hackin the tourist’s freshly activated commlinks in AR. Standish’s boys tell us to never take more than what will be noticed. And we more or less careful to follow orders, but we even more careful about kicking up Standish’s cut of our profits every week.
Halfway to the ‘Graves, and I get a call from Reina. It’s high priority, which ain’t normal for her: she normally cool as the other side of the pillow.
I pick up right away. The tourists are surprised, check they own commlinks.
She tells me it’s our boy. It’s his breathing again. She tells me it’s really bad.
I cut the tour short, and me and K-Breezy hustle down the street to our old Ford faster than the marks can follow. We keep all their shit.
Welcome to Chicago, motherfuckers.
* * *
Our baby’s lips are turnin blue.
Since he been born, he been wheezy. He catch a cold and rattle all night. And Reina, she work for a living, so I’m the one who sleeps on the floor by his crib, listenin to the phlegm kickin around in his lungs. Makin sure that rattle don’t stop.
Like I know what the fuck I’ll do if it does.
“I don’t think he’s breathing!” Reina shouts from the backseat. K-Breezy swears under his breath, as a giant fuckin RV cuts us off on 94, heading up to Northside.
“Yo, feel his chest!” I shout back at her, feeling my own lungs tighten. He gotta make it.
Cause, Jesus. If he don’t, I’ll never be right. I know it.
Most mornings, after my tours, I come by Reina’s to take over daddy duty, fore she goes to work. I used to like making his bottles, because I could figure that shit out. Now, I’m always askin little man if he can eat an apple. Or a twinkie. I ask him if he can chew up a pancake. Like, “Yo, Bee. If I put nuts in this, will you chew that shit up?”
He just eighteen months, so it’s not like he can tell me. But he always laughin at his daddy.
No laughs this morning when me and K-Breezy showed up. Just stayed in his mama’s arms, droopy eyed and outta gas. Coughin up green an nasty.
Up ahead, that same fuckin’ RV veers into an ol hippie school bus, and the collision goes slow-motion, the two slammin hitting the barrier and then swingin around, taking out about three other cars. K-Breezy stops in time, and pulls us into the grass, while a rear-ending chain reaction crunches up the whole fuckin highway.
An we stuck. K-Breezy trying to get her movin again, but even if he did, this highway’s jammed.
“David! I don’t know!” Reina’s falling apart. Our boy dyin. “I don’t know! I don’t know!”
Man, I havin trouble to just turn around to see.
When I ain’t busy, I help Reina’s old man Bobby at nights when she has a concert. He calls Bee “Daddy’s Shadow.”
I know now, I ain’t around as many nights as I should be. If little man goes this mornin, will he go thinkin of me as Daddy? Or just some dude who make him pancakes sometimes?
“David,” Reina says. “David.”
“Fuckin’ asshole!” Yells K-Breezy. He poundin the wheel, like that’ll make a difference.
I close my eyes, feel the world under my feet.
Find that hum.
I jump out the car, and open up the back. I see Reina, devastated and beautiful. We ain’t together anymore, she don’t like my schemes and my cheats. But she my girl. And this little barbarian—he our boy.
The kid’s belly swells while he try to gulp air. He just ain’t getting any.
And I feel that ol’ charge. My legs and arms catch fire.
“Give him to me, fast.”
Reina and K-Breezy both knew me when we were kids, back when I was the best tailback this husk of a city ever saw. The people who still loved football, who wouldn’t switch to that urban brawl bullshit called me “Moves.”
She puts little man in my arms. Tiny little ork. His tusks just beginning to sprout out from under his lips. His hair smelling like his shampoo and a hint of Lake Michigan, the good parts of it.
“You still with me, little man?”
The kid moans.
I fire down the shoulder with him coughing in my arms. Dead sprint over the pot-holed freeway and screamin under the shattered streetlights. We blur over my old neighborhoods, over the stores I used to steal from as a little boy, before the bugs and the Knights worked everything over.
Trids and knowsofts call me an “adept,” but that word ain’t been nothin but stupid to me. I’m just the fastest motherfucker alive. I can jump, I can run, and when it matter? My ass can fly.
A coupla beaters swing up through an on ramp, cut me off, and I take the kid right over them. I hear some junkies under the overpass shout up at us. They herdin together against the cold, waiting for their corner boys to show up. We give em a show for a second.
The kid starts to laugh weakly. He feeling the wind in his hair, startin to have fun. An maybe that ain’t such a bad way to go if it’s his time.
My muscles heat up, feelin that energy, that rightness, and I launch us over a truck tumped over on its side on the shoulder. We land smooth and I burn even harder to the same clinic where my momma took me when the Chi went tits up.
Road signs start tellin me that the freeway’s closed ahead, Talkin bout a bridge that collapsed onto the streets bout three years back. They forcin me to the exit, but I ain’t no car. I juke around the orange barrels and plascrete. An I see that big ol pit ahead. Forty foot drop easy.
Clearing it is my little man’s only chance.
“You good for a jump?” I ask him, burning up the road.
He don’t say nothin. Just clings onto me tight.
And then we in the sky.