JOHN WAS GIVING HIMSELF a whore’s bath with screen-cleaner and a wad of toilet paper when Stephen Turco from Acquisitions got the drop on him. “Eeeeyah!” the man screamed, swinging a blackjack.
Where the hell did he get a blackjack? John flinched, but the thing ratcheted when it hit him in the arm and left a stinging snakebite pain.
A staple glinted in the torchlight of his makeshift sanctuary.
Thinking fast, he sprayed Steve in the mouth with the screen-cleaner. The man recoiled, gagging and coughing. John picked up his spear—made from one of the legs of an aluminum shelf in the supplies room—and followed him, plunging the point into his back. Crack! The spear-point broke off, leaving the tip of a plastic picnic knife embedded in the flesh.
Steve growled in agony, trying to reach behind his back and pull it out, but the angle was too steep. “Ahh,” he breathed, blood gurgling in his lungs, “you fucker, you stabbed me, I can’t believe you stabbed me.”
Turning the pointless spear around, John clobbered him in the head.
All around him was a labyrinth of shadows, a pressboard fort made of office desks stacked on top of each other, and steel bookshelves zip-tied to them as ramparts. “Unfuckingbelievable,” said John, and he beat the writhing Steve until he quit moving. The tooled metal shaft swung like a metronome. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. “I gave you my last Dorito, and this is how you repay me? Are you kidding me?”
“Gnnngrrrddd,” Steve mumbled through a mouthful of broken teeth and blood.
John found a spork in his supply bag and sat down to dig the staple out of his arm. It was a hellacious trial and he bled all over the place, but he finally got it out and flicked the piece of metal away. “Where did you even find more staples, man?”
“Stacy gave you staples? Where did you find Stacy?”
“Four…fourfloor,” Steve said.
“What else did she have? Is there anybody else with her?”
“Mi—Michael.” Steve rolled over onto his back, began to choke, and rolled over again. Blood pooled in his cheek, and a nasty divot down the side of his face told John that his suborbital bone was shattered.
“Michael? Michael Slattery? She’s got that bastard down there with him?”
“You know the twelfth floor is mine,” continued John. “What made you think coming up here was a good idea?”
“Needed what? What did you need?”
“Well, now you need a hell of a lot more than that, don’t you, Steve ol buddy ol pal? Did it ever occur to you that you could have just asked for it?” John turned and stood at the window, gazing out at the desolate vista. The glass had been busted out long ago, and cool wind skirled through the gap, smelling of smoke and nuclear ash.
Wilderness that had been Seattle three months ago was now a shadowy concrete jungle. Campfires twinkled in the distance like red stars. Brady looked sightlessly up at him from a starburst of black far below. The birds had been at him, revealing a gruesome Joker-face of bone and teeth. “You know,” Steve tried to say. “Youff.” He spat out blood. “You know we don’t ask for things anymore, man.”
“I see.” John clasped his hands behind his back and listened to the drums pound below. “So you just take what you want now, is that it? Is that how your new gang of friends works?”
Steve shrugged, his face a bashed ruin. He tried to smile, but it just looked like a thumbprint in a raw hamburger.
“Do you want to be like those guys out there?” asked John.
Steve shook his head and wept.
“I’m sorry,” he gurgled.
“Like I told you this weekend, dumbass, I’m the King of this building,” John said, and he opened a desk drawer.
Inside was a shard of metal he’d scraped to a fine edge, a thin piece of titanium two feet long. It had once been a trophy sitting on a shelf in Brady’s office, but Brady didn’t need it anymore. Their asshole department manager was outside in the plaza, as flat as a pancake. “I want you to take this back to your new friends and tell them not to come back up here unless they want the same thing.”
Steve’s face twisted in surprised confusion—is he about to give me this sword-thing of his?—but then John took Steve’s arm and rested his knee on it, putting all of his weight on the bones in his forearm.
“Aaarrrgh!” bellowed the acquisitions agent.
“You think that hurts?” said John, and he started sawing through Steve’s wrist. “Man, I bet you’re gonna be super gristly, you racquetball-playing fuck.”