The World Knife Fighting Championships
By D. Richie
When Holmes emerged from the tunnel and the lights hit him he thought he might die from shame and fright. His adrenaline was failing him, failing to overcome what was working against him—and that was everything. The whole world. The goons escorting him fell away, and he stepped up into the ring where the MC introduced him. The crowd was roaring, the lights flooding his senses, and he just couldn’t summon the rage and hate that had served him so well before. Not this time. He didn’t know what to do.
His heart gave a great flip and he hoped he would die before the match started. He wanted his heart to stop. The crowd screamed and the MC said something else and the crowd screamed even louder… But he didn’t drop dead and he retreated to his bull corner as the MC introduced The Swede. The roar flared and The Swede retreated to his corner. Then the ref stepped up and summoned both combatants to the center. He inspected the knife and armor of each man, and pronouncing them legal, told the men to return and wait for the bell.
Holmes felt billions of eyes on the scene. The winner of this match would go on to challenge the reigning World Champion, Ulan Khan. This was the second place match. The other second place match had just finished; therein Travis Wilkins had just BO’d El Cuervo, of Peru. The matt had been scrubbed spotless. If Holmes bested the Swede, he would face Wilkins tomorrow, and the winner would face Khan.
The bell rang, the two slaves emerged from their corners, their knives glittering with polychrome lighting that had been designed to give an hallucinatory effect. The crowds loved it, absolutely loved it, the martyr and sacrifice elements of the championship, the do or die, the finality and every drama which the spectacle aroused in each fan. It was the most lucrative sports event. Not even the Robo Bull Run in Pamplona generated more revenue.
The last thing Holmes remembered was sweeping his shield laterally just above his knees. He came in crouched, wary of The Swede’s knees and feet; Swede was a former Top 10 in the World MMA league until a criminal bust had put him here… Just like had happened to James Javier Holmes.
Khan was the idol of the subjugated countries—called the Third World in the old days. The rage of the peoples manifested itself in their support of Khan. A mystique had developed around this three time World Champion. Khan was tall and thin, a model of Asiatic subtlety and cunning. He dressed in expensive businessman’s silks of the old style. He was apparently modest and kind; he spoke quietly, and his vocabulary was that of a cosmopolitan. He carried the aura of the personality needed to infiltrate the organizations of the dominant West, and corrupt them. The Swede, Holmes did not know. He was a rough fellow, a dock worker who had bashed and fought his way into the notice of the great promoters. Wilkins was a likeable fellow, very much a disciple of the old god, whom Wilkins cited as his mentor and inspiration.
Ninety seconds later the ref jumped up from the prostrate Swede after bellowing “Bee Oh!”, and lifted the arm of the weeping Holmes, and the crowd roared to like loosen the welds on the structure of the dome. And in the corner of his eye he saw that the Swede was indeed bled out, and two pornography actresses brought out the blanket of beaten silver, which they laid over the corpse of the Swede. Victory!
Holmes wasn’t thinking about the enormous royalties coming to him for this victory, or the even greater if he bested Wilkins tomorrow, and Ulan Khan. The only thing on his mind now was escape, exit from this nightmare. Through his blurred eyes he saw the crowd howling and pumping their fists as if it had reached some apotheosis. It flipped his stomach. He wanted to kill them, kill them all, burn them alive. Burn the owners, managers, politicos. Take out the policy trash, the porn queens, the police chiefs, the colonels and admirals and every bulwark of the system… He didn’t care about the millions of shekels coming to him, the women, the adoration and movie contracts, appearances, and the rest. He thought he had been offered as a sacrifice, and the gods had not taken him. And so he thought that something more was coming as Norman’s goons reappeared and escorted him to his waiting room.
“Good match!,” the big one said to him in a friendly way.
“Go fuck your dog.”
They took his armor and blade and locked him in.
By law he had 24 hours to recuperate before his next match. Tomorrow he would face Wilkins.
He had taken only one cut, just above the knee. The med had sealed it with derma-bond. He took a shower and lay on his bed. The room was a bit shabby, appropriate for a gladiator-slave. The industry didn’t waste money on low level assets. There were plenty more tough young men out there willing to fight their way out.
The cable was on. He watched shots of Bowie Arena from a circling chopper, seeing the antlike figures roving from the entrances, weaving through the enormous parking lot and thousands of vehicles. Beyond it, the dry plains of northwest Texas that no longer generated resourceful and obdurate men and women, but their degenerate descendants. He could’t bear to watch. He snapped the cable off and closed his eyes. Sleep was sweet. It pulled at him. But he was hungry and shaking inside with the shock of the brutality. He had been through it before; but one never assimilated it. Holmes knew men who had integrated the bestial mindset of the fatal combatant. In his opinion, they were barely human.
He slept for a while—or he thought it was a while. But he turned the cable back on and there was the chopper camera again. The arena lot was nearly full. What was holding the stinking mob inside? There must be a strip show or something, or clips of past championships being shown. Or maybe reduced beer prices. The longer the owners managed to keep the mob in the arena, the higher their ad ratings, the more revenue. He listened. Above him he heard the murmur of the crowd, their mumblings and feet shifting on the concrete bleachers. A faraway whisper.
He thought of the mezanines too, where the wealthy threw their parties. Those chambers suspended high up, on the periphery above the prime viewing area. There above the mob, the rulers of the world appeared or departed, and no proles save the ones who served them saw them. They were old money and new, front men and paymasters. They composed the controller class, if “class” was the proper term. There were arrivistes and old money. The old money were often extreme degenerates, posing as sensitive reformers, but rarely did anything. They spent most of their time travelling to sex and drug parties, or dickering over deals. The arrivistes liked being around the old money because the old money were usually incompetent and rather easily lured into deals. The more sober of the old money tried to keep the blatant degenerates out of public view. It was a struggle.
And the new players liked the mezanine action for another reason: they were full of fuck bunnies and heiresses. The more aggressive new money often scooped up some party girl, or if he was lucky, married into more money. On this overpopulated planet, with more talent than outlet, extraordinary women found themselves making their way as sex partners. They were hired for the evening by the party man and they circulated amongst the guests. These women often took into this life because of the connections they might make. Holmes remembered this as the internal camera replaced the chopper cam and panned the mezanines for a few seconds, and he saw a girl. He sat up, energized by the sight of the red hair.
Something about the hue of it, and her pose. There in the smoke and milling suits. He had seen her before. Where? The pan moved on, the girl was gone. The ads started, for whiskey, lawyers, tires, laxatives. On and on. He muted the cable and lay back again. He should eat something—he had a stocked mini-kitchen—but he was too pumped up. Later he would realize he was insane in this period of his life—and what man or woman would not be?
He kept watching the screen. Up there in the mezanines it was a laissez world. In the last decade of the old United States money had triumphed. With enough of it you could do anything, have anything. The new masters of the world were the ones who “grew” money out of nothing. A few had been assassinated, but no juggernaut of cleansing emerged, and the ruling class fortified its security.
Holmes remembered that he was a man, and had a history, and there was a world in the old days. It was not a perfect world, but there was space, and the dignity that movement across space aroused in a man. The great plains of Texas served as a model, for it was here that some of the most ferocious outlaws emerged and thrived… He glanced up and the screen had shifted to the chopper shot again, sweeping and circling, showing the cable audience the crowds of happy proles. Holmes had read that an audience of 2.7 to 3 billion was expected for the championship, generating an average expenditure by each of 2.5 shekels, or about one quarter of a day’s wages. It was blood money and it was huge enough to sway civilization.
The comparison with the Roman mobs of old was unavoidable. Too little was known of them, unless you got a pre-consolidation copy of Gibbons. But James Javier Holmes knew he was several cuts above the average so-called man, who was a scoundrel and coward. But given the toxic nature of propaganda now, and its efficiency, a wonder was how any man or woman managed to be anything other than a scoundrel and whore. Only a very few, maybe five percent, were congenitally immune to this propaganda. It was rather easy to escape the worst effects if one didn’t watch cable. But very few people could resist the screen.
Holmes was feeling the deep rage of his position. His muscles were throbbing with the desire to smash and burn. He wasn’t tired. The matches were bursts of lunatic bestiality and focus. They ended usually within three minutes. The average life of a combat knife fighter was four months. Holmes had been around seven now. Ulan Khan had been around an unprecedented two years. In a life so thin there was no recourse to the shelter of humane thoughts, or taking things easy. He wondered how he had lasted so long. He knew he wouldn’t last much longer. He had to get out.
He looked out the window. His room was just below the surface of the parking lot. His view was of a back lot where the baggage trains parked. He saw the big goon out there, his usual post. Holmes watched him. His back was to Holmes, and Holmes thought how sweet it would be to put a 6.5 soft-point in the back of his head. This one and his weaselly supervisor were Norman’s guard dogs. Lowell Norman “owned” Holmes. He had bought his bond from the Denver superior criminal court a year ago after Holmes had been busted for running weed from Yuma to Boulder. Norman was the foremost fight “promoter” in the world. He owned dozens of top fighters, making billions of shekels off them. And nearly every one died in combat, leaving Norman with the lion’s share of the revenues. The smaller portions went to the fighter’s family, if he had any, and if the family was sharp enough to challenge Norman—which wasn’t often.
And what about Holmes’ family? There wasn’t much left. In a society dominated by money-growers all other energies are lesser; the more decent people were reluctant to reproduce. Over several generations this created a “decency deficit.” Populations grew increasingly stupid and degenerate. Their tastes inevitably fell into cruelties. Watching the screen, Holmes saw this on the faces in the mob, bloated and pale, the hard lines, the ready howling and thrashing. Two generations ago the Holmes family star was rising. His father’s father was James Holmes, Commandant of the World Peace Marine Corps. A flag officer’s status was a good start in this competitive world.
But Commandant Holmes made a very bad error from the advancement point of view. At the Gstaad summit a Rothschild had tapped grandfather Holmes’ chest, making a point. Held up his pale forefiner and touched his medals.
“Don’t touch me again,” Commandant Holmes said.
This Rothschild like the rest regarded all politicos and enforcers as minions, ten cents a dozen. The Commandant’s words were grossly insubordinate. He tapped him again. The Commandant drove his fist into Rothschild’s stomach. The man doubled up, dropping his drink on the rug, gasping, and sidled away, looking at the Commandant, not believing what he had just done. The cocktail party went death-quiet. The others couldn’t believe what Commandant Holmes had just done either. It was unspeakable, and it was over for Commandant Holmes…
Within 48 hours Commandant James Holmes was a civilian again, and the dreaded black flag virus had been embedded in the family’s data. The Holmeses were snakebit forever, or as long as the House of Rothschild ruled. Only the Commandant’s high prestige among the world community of enforcers saved him from physical liquidation, which was usually done in such egregious cases a few years on, after the public heat had died.
But, defying the bankers, the brass of the WPMC continued to deploy security agents for the former Commandant, all of them the sharpest special operations men, and dressed in mufti. They killed one assassin, and a few months later, on a second attempt on the life of Holmes, they threw another Ezra off the Franklin Bridge into the stinking dark waters of the Delaware. After that, the former Commandant was allowed to enjoy his pension in peace.
The Commandant’s only son landed a job as a bridge inspector for the city of New Philadelphia—and lucky he got that. And when grandson James Javier Holmes rotated out of basic school and started looking for work, he found himself turned down for every promising position. No university, no job. At 18 he found himself roaming, taking odd jobs for cash, looking for action. It didn’t take long to get into trouble for a young man who can’t, or won’t, get approved employment. He drifted westward and the wide spaces of the West set something afire in him. It gave him permission. It encouraged him to see value in what most people didn’t see at all. He came out with an esoteric view of what was worth his time, and why it was strategically wise to stay off the clock. And one day in a book shop in Hobbs he saw the autobiography of John Wesley Hardin, the Texas hitman who took out Reconstruction policemen. It was Hardin’s ruthless hate of the Yankee system that impressed James Javier Holmes, because this system was the same one operating now. The system destroying the planet and all identity now was the same system that Hardin fought, the finance power that started in New England and New York and meta’d into the scabrous, repulsive monster of Holmes’ time…
And then a Mexican offered him a chance to deliver some goods, and he took it. He made three runs from Yuma to Boulder. On the fourth he was caught. Now he was remembering that last day of freedom, at the gym in Boulder. There was this sensuous little chicken there with chestnut hair, as Southrons call it. He tried to think about her, as something more pleasurable than this death and black memories, but Holmes was real wired and his mind jumped again—how to get out of this place.
He stalked up to the window. He was at ground level—a poor security siting, but that was their problem. Over by the fence and cans, he saw King Kong still there, the huge goon. He knew the goon admired him immensely, and Holmes had cut him with the insult in the tunnel. Holmes wanted to get away from all these stupid, brutal people. They were wolves; Holmes was not a wolf. He could not think like a wolf for long. Only long enough to reach refuge. This planet is too damned crowded…
Then the cable flickered and a scene was there that jerked Holmes’ attention. At first he didn’t understand what he was seing; the scene was from the air, and it was circling a huge building, a stadium maybe. People were starting to pour from the entrances and a flicker of smoke was rising from a section—the east side, he thought. And then he saw it was Bowie Arena, where he was, but wasn’t sure for 30 seconds or so whether it was a playback from an earlier championship, or a movie clip, or what…
He looked out again. King Kong was still there, with his back to Holmes, and Holmes thought he would like to put a 6.5 soft tip in the back of his head… Wouldn’t that be sweet? And just then Kong turned suddenly, seeing something, walked rapidly towards the loading area and out of Holmes’ sight.
Holmes understood that his boss, the cunning one, had summoned him. And then he looked at the screen and saw that the smoke was thicker now and people were coming out real fast… and just then Holmes felt it, a crump rattle the spine of the arena. A high frequency vibration, come and gone in a flash. And then he read the caption, “Bomb threat, knife championships Bowie Tejas…”
Holmes was confused. Often enough the televised event initiated the material event. But that crump under his feet in the concrete a second ago was real. Then he was looking out the window again and thinking past the mesh. He knew that a camera crew was stationed near his room, ready to film an escape attempt. This was standard industry procedure. His guards were authorized to shoot him. If he survived, he would forfeit all earnings and be returned to the regional prison to serve his sentence. If he died, all his assets would go to the owner of his bond, Norman Lowell. .. Of course, escape attempts were spectacular earners on cable, especially if the fugitive was terminated on film. For this reason Norman Lowell discreetly wanted his gladiator slaves to run once they were firmly in the top ten list…
He watched the cable from the bed. He was on his back. The people were pouring out now, really hauling, near panic, and the smoke was coming. He thought it was a movie. What about the tremor? Just a tremor… If the arena was dying, so what? It was filled with human trash. His mind drifted. He was back in that grungy gym basement in Boulder, seeing that stained mirror behind the free weights, a fragment of image, and here was the little redhead.
“Show me your tattoo,” he said.
She showed him. “I like it,“ he started to say, uneasy because she was very smart and some kind of professional, that was obvious… Then her phone rang, and like a button was pushed inside, her neurons switched, and she drifted off chattering, and Holmes didn’t see her again. Maybe up there, though. In the mezanine tonight. Good god, he shouldn’t be so alone, living like an animal. This was one reason the powers emphasized easy sexuality; porn and prostitution destabilized people, induced drifting, angry individuals who borrowed money for identity shopping. The sex emphasis also prevented community, and by growth, larger political entity formation that might challenge the system. By the gods he would get away from these filthy, dishonorable people… (What was her name? Alex? Aimee?)… Upon which image on the TV flickered and at the same time he heard the crash and thunder of thousands of feet, thousands drumming in panic on the other side of the concrete above him. And it came again, a CRUMP, this one goddamn scary that danced the furniture. Cement dust drifting down. The cable went out, the lights went out.
He shot off the bed, grabbing for his shoes, trou, shirt, jacket. The place was shaking. He looked out the window. The dumpster area was clear. No one was there. The sky was dark. He heard one aircraft. He flipped his bed and took the frame apart by bending it against its welds. It was an old army cot. In moments he had a cross beam, and he heard the footsteps coming. He hefted the length of angle iron. He heard keys and loud nervous voices coming for their billion shekel charge. The key ground in the lock, the door pushed open. The skinny one was there in his shiny suit. Holmes brained him with the beam; he jammed King Kong in the groin, then ran him through an eye. He got the key off the weasel and removed the tracker ring. He locked the Weasel and Kong together by the wrists.
Holmes searched them and came up with two pistols, comms, knives, handcuffs, billfolds…. He shot down the hall, wild with exhiliration… He was happy he was unlocked, happy that thousands of stinking animal ghouls were dead… He kept on but smelled burning… an electrical fire, insulation, metal… quick death… No he was not reprieved yet. He returned and found another passage. The double steel doors were not locked. He hurled through them and up stairs, hearing them screaming now, panicking, the ghouls who had been cheering the nightmare slaughter. The wolf in him soared at the sound of their pain. It was just; they were a violation of the principle of imagination…. A klepto-state had encouraged them, subsidized them for a century… and it had come to justice at last.
He turned down corridor “E”, he saw the sign, and these doors were open too. He barged into a stream of people that had just about emptied out. One fellow, down along the wall, grabbed at Holmes. He kicked him in the face, went a few steps, and watched the retreating backs of the last spectators. They disappeared into the bleak geometry of light at the exit doors, their screaming receding in his hearing. Something told him to go back. He did. He found another exit portal and joined this stream. This was thinning, too, and he thought the arena must be nearly evacuated now… Suddenly he cut away, out a custodian’s door, and joined a service passage. He came out in the loading dock area. He turned instinctively; there was his prison room window. There were the dumpsters and grease cans, reeking in the plains heat. No one was around. They didn’t see the place. How strange…
He worked his way along the wall to the next corner and saw the west parking area. A mob was swarming across, looking like ants, sweeping around vehicles in a panicked flight towards the sun. Just before he backed away he happened to glance over there, at the edge of the mob, and noticed a little knot of people. They were flailing in place; their energy was not the same as the mob’s. They were fighting. Frozen in curiousity, Holmes watched a few moments, saw two men in suits standing with a red-haired girl, pushing and shoving with three proles.
Before he knew it he was running towards the tussle of punches and screams. He didn’t know what he was doing but he did know he shouldn’t be doing it. He was violating Rogers’s rule: “Don’t take unecessary risks.” But he charged in and broke the skull of the most aggressive prole, the one dragging the red haired girl by the strap of her dress, exposing her breasts. Holmes’ head filled with a burst of white heat and he scythed another prole down at the knees, and the third prole ran and so did the two well-dressed men.
Holmes stood there panting, his distant ear picking the sounds of aircraft, and the jibbering mob’s energy of panic was heavy. All these seconds the mob was flowing around them like they were unmovable, or the mob did not recognize this node of people, and ignored it. Here was this girl looking at him, herself in the froth of hysterics, but holding herself together. She did not look as if she was surprised. To Holmes this all was like a movie. It could be a movie. Is this the initiator image, or is it the main intention? Then a shoulder slammed into the girl, and she slapped down on the tarmac, and legs and torsos were swarming over them. He reached down and grasped her hand, and she was there pulling herself up, helping herself while he helped her, her hand strong and smart in his. Already he was jerking her sideways, against the flow of mob. She kicked one man away as he hauled her, staying strong in Holmes’s grip. Holmes used the beam as a fender, waist high. He moved diagonally, bisecting the direction of the mob with his own sideways angle. The general terror swelled in their senses. It was less than a minute by the clock when they made it to the corner and around to the loading area.
Immediately he ran for the dumpsters and she was behind him. They came to the fence. He ran along it, looking for a hole. There is always a hole. The cans and compactors screened them. The mob was audible in their distant hearing but no longer concerned them now. Holmes found a hole and they ducked through it and dived down the concrete slope of the arroyo. It was deep, maybe fifteen feet. They skidded down into the dry bed. It was a Texas arroyo outside a recreation facility and so it was filled with the sweepings from flash floods, cans, dead animals, wire, plastic, lumber… Holmes barely slowed as he hauled up the arroyo, away from the arena. She was strong but kept falling back and she called out something and he stopped. He saw she had no shoes. She was running barefoot. She was wearing a cocktail dress and her feet were bleeding through her torn hose.
“Run closer to the sides,” he said, and he shifted to the junction of the slope and the floor, which was clearer. She kept up better now; he slowed; quickly they came to the freeway. Two culverts carried under it. They ran in.
The freeway was nearly two hundred yards acreoss, 10 lanes each direction, with double shoulders. The oxygen thinned out quickly. They were halfway across, panting and feeling sick, when they felt it, then heard it, another detonation, the one that changed the world again. This was the worst. This was for keeps.
“Don’t stop!” he yelled back.
The atmosphere was fetid—hot and stinking with methane and concrete dust and decaying animal carcasses, mostly armadillos struck by the traffic. They felt the road over their heads tremble, as if a great blade had scraped the place clear. For Holmes and the girl it was not so unnerving because all the while they had far ahead the little square of light.
They came out and she was ready to keep running but he said “Wait. Wait.” They were doubled up, gasping… Resting hands on his knees. The methane was nasty. She was vomiting, and he was close himself. And then he backed up into the hole again, alarmed.
“Come on! Come on!”, and she bolted over, red and flushed and miserable, and he pointed. They both looked up at a purple effusion in the sky. Like ink spreading through water. She was very frightened. So was he, but his adrenaline was fuelling on it. And adrenaline helped him kill people.
“What was it?”, she asked.
He shook his head, held his finger to his lips. “Whisper. I don’t know. A pulse weapon, not a carbon bomb. There would be more burning. More smoke.”
They examined the sky. The purple was fading out. Holmes looked at the arroyo. Here the banks lower, but still a climb.
“Where are we?”
“About a quarter mile north. Everything is over there.”
She fished out a pocket comm from her little bag with the gold strap. He remembered her that instant.
“Damn it! It’s dead!” She looked at it like it had betrayed her. She shook it.
He tried the comms he had taken from the goons. Dead too. He threw them away. They were more like leashes than tools of freedom. Holmes was watching, listening. The were near the culverts, ready to duck back in if anything spooked them. But now all was quiet. Where were the cars on the freeway?
“At least we have some light left,” he whispered.
She sank down on her haunches. “What are we going to do?”
She looked shocked. “Well, I thought—“
He was watching over the edge of the arroyo. “I know where you were. I know your crowd.”
“No friends of mine.”
She pumped herself up to argue, but he was climbing the wall. He peered through the grasses along the shoulder, back at the arena. It was a strange color now, like old adobe, like it aged 300 years in an instant… The cars were there, and bodies—thousands of bodies strewn about like wind straw, smoking. He saw the news helicopter burning in a field. Nothing sounded. Again, exhiliration flared through him like the effects of the best weed.
“What is it?” she hoarsed up to him. “What? You’re scaring me.”
“Like you’re not scared already. You ought to be. Your world is blowing apart.”
“You mezanine people. It’s over.” He laughed cruelly.
The girl pursed her lips, holding her fury in. Holmes noted her self-control. He saw her figure, too. “If I’m going down, so are you,” she said.
“I don’t think so.”
“And besides, you don’t know me. You don’t know who I am or why I was in the mezanine, as you call it.”
Holmes was throwing his imagination out over the map in his mind. What should he do? Distance, distance is what he needed. Here was reprieve! He was jumping with the urge to move out, but this chick was working on his head. “Why not just take her?”, he thought. “Take your pleasure of her here, and then leave? Or terminate her. She is a witness, right? And you are a fugitive.” But maybe she had something he needed. Maybe she could help. Maybe this was a bad time to go it alone….
“Where are you going?” she demanded to know. “Wait!” And if Holmes’s mind had been mostly on her instead of getting away, he would have detected the authority in her voice, a woman who gets what she wants. She was running after him. “Who do you think you are? You asshole!” She was pulling at his arm. “You’re not leaving me.” He jerked his arm away. He turned, looked at her details, like he was inspecting meat. She was too well groomed—spectacular under the right conditions.
“You’ll do fine on your own,” he said, turning away. Much later he would understand his mental condition at this time in his life, that he was neck deep in the lagoon of psychopathy and wading further in. But at this moment this woman to whom the rulers of the world paid a quarter million shekels for a night of pleausre, was dragging on him, just like the rest of the System—a goddamn fish hook in his flesh…
There were lots of women like this, just like there were lots of smart kids murdering their fellow slaves in order to win themselves gold and liberty and respect…. Now wasn’t the time to deal with another lost soul. It was the Wolf Age, and… and… Isn’t it disgusting? But who is this chick? If she runs with the mezanine people she is an agent. She is useful to them, else she would be outcast… This irritation, another voice from the world above, that must be part of this world, a block, a board, a plank, an informer in the system that brutalized minds and marketed the husks…
In the silence—in the few seconds he scanned the landscape of pin oaks and brush, he felt the clutter of the the world, the tumult from overpopulation and too much information, the herds of lost and frightened people…
Altogether it was hostile country. He didn’t have much bush time. He was not confident about making his way out without tech…. then he slapped himself and told him he would make it out, yes, it’s no big deal… You tell yourself you might not make it, and you won’t. He looked at her.
“What do you know that can help me right now?”
She didn’t answer. He saw the shrewd light working behind her candy eyes. Of course she was a whore. What else was there for a girl who, like his condition, had no connections? In Holmes’s case, a sports manager had bought his criminal indenture from the state. What was behind her? Too much competition. The porn industry was saturated with spectacular women. Their acts were becoming more degraded as they competed for market. And what about his own, the blood market? If he didn’t do this, he would be locked up in a nightmare prison for twenty years. Holmes knew that the demands of a mob are an eternal thing, and men will always step forth to satisfy any market. And he looked in her eyes again and saw she was helpless against the tide, just like he was.
“Anybody holding a bond on you?”
“No. I’m independent.”
“Who were those guys back there?”
“They ran away.”
“Sure. There’s lots more like me. I’m nothing to them.”
He started to say, “I know what you mean,” but didn’t. “They fought for you.”
“That was Greenfield. He likes me. He has a romance for me.”
“They’re used to moving on if they don’t’ get what they want in a few minutes. They want what they want now. When you’ve got their power, anything you want comes fast.”
The wind was blowing. It picked up, tugging them. They smelled burned bodies and metal.
“Greenfields own most of Dallas.”
“Why didn’t you roll with him?”
“I don’t like those people. Greenfield is a creep. Vicious and cruel.”
“Did you see Lowell Norman?”
“He’s a pal of Greenfield. He didn’t come to your box?”
“Didn’t notice him. There were a lot of people. Smoke, shouting. Whiskey and blow.”
Holmes nodded. He’d find Norman eventually. Kill him slowly if he could. Maybe chain him up for the wild dogs.
“Let it go,” she said.
“Let all that go. We’re free now.”
“What’s this ‘we’ stuff?”
She looked hurt. She said, “I know who you are.”
“Of course you do. You just watched me kill two men. Your clients had millions of shekels on it.”
“I didn’t want to be there any more than you did.”
“You were drinking champagne with them. You just said you were independent.” And this argument was no payoff, and he ordered himself to break off. For a moment he thought about striking her down. That was how he moved on. He killed people. That would end the issue. But he said, “Lots of people read the captions with my pictures, none of which I wrote. So far as you can call it ‘reading’. According to what the cablevision ghouls say, these mobs know and love me. I’m a face on the screen. You know who I am. Okay.”
“Their hands were all over me,” she said, with tears crawling down her cheeks now. “When the order to evacuate came. They didn’t say why. Some of those guys make me sick… Another year and I’d have enough to buy a place in Tierra… “
Holmes knew he was being callous. He didn’t know how to stop. He turned away and looked over the plains again. He saw no features that could lure on the lost. The plains went on forever. Except for the pump jacks that dotted the place, it would look like 10,000 years ago… Dusk was coming on fast. He glanced into the bosque, at the arena and the panorama of broken bodies and machines, the hulk arena, shattered and empty.
“Run,” she said. “You can fight later. If you fight now they’ll capture you again.” She searched the sky as she spoke.
It was proper advice, but he trusted no one, not even his father, who had told him to toe the line, and get fed. But the girl was right. The wind shifted. He smelled the bodies.
“What’s your name?”
“Katie. Katie Melton.”
He extended his hand. “Holmes. My grand dad was commandant of the Marines and they kicked him out. My family has been flagged for 30 years. I can’t find a job that goes anywhere.” He was running his eyes over her, assessing her for the field.
“It’s not what I’d wear to a mass killing and flight,” she said, wiping at a bit of dried blood near her toes. “I threw my heels away. They were worse than bare feet.”
“You know people around?”
She nodded. “In Amarillo. Dallas.”
“Amarillo is better. Towards the mountains.” He fished in his pocket, brought out a pistol from the goons. “You know this?”
He handed it to her, with two magazines. Then they heard it, the first response to the attack, a chopper coming from the east. It was a drone, and another drone behind it. Holmes pointed, and they came out of the arroyo and ran the open ground into the shelter of the bosque. Holmes felt more secure under the natural cover now than under manmade cover; the bush implied escape from human control. On their stomachs they watched the drones. Over on the freeway military vehicles were pulling up. All civilian vehicles were gone. How authority managed to clear the freeway was a mystery.
“Let’s get the heck out of here,” Katie said, peering through the sandy vegetation.
“No, we’ll stay here. Not yet. I need to watch some.”
“But the drones will see us, won’t they, if we stay?”
“They’ll see us if we move. Maybe.”
They were on their bellies in the bush. “We have to get you some clothes,” he said. He focused on the edge of the lot, looking for female corpses. He saw one, not far away, but on the other side of a wide open area that would expose him. In the meantime, more police and military vehicles were screaming up on the freeway, their blues blipping in the deepening night. Then trucks came, making a lot of racket. Gates popped, troops disembarked, and began lining the shoulders with small lights.
“What are they doing?” Katie asked.
“I don’t know,” Holmes answered, his mind elsewhere. “Listen. I’m going to go get you some clothes. Wait here.”
“No!” she said, but he had already shot out. She watched him scooting across the ground, using shadow and cover, and come out in the open. He stayed low, like an ape walking, but anyone watching the area would spot him instantly. She watched his figure recede, grow smaller, and disappear among the background of cars and corpses. Minutes later it emerged, and he crouched and dodged back in. Panting, he laid a bundle down.
“I think they’ll fit,” he said.
She unrolled the bundle and saw a woman’s trousers, shirt, jacket, shoes. She stripped off her dress and put them on. The shoes fit well enough. Now on the freeway they saw what the troops were up to when a military transport plane appeared, circling the arena lower and lower. It landed on the freeway, using less than a mile. Now manned choppers were circling, and hundreds of lights were blipping across the landscape.
“Gods! It’s like drowning,” he hissed.
“Who do you think did it?” she whispered.
“Probably the government.” He swept his hand, indicating the world. “These guys like the job security, and fear is good for business.” He started to add that the 80,000 deaths were a good thing, no loss at all among the ghouls. Katie was shivering. The temperature was getting down in the ‘30s. The field was a blaze of lights now. Troops were fanning out with body bags. “We have to move. They’re going to see us eventually.”
“Where?” she asked.
Holmes turned silent, thinking and watching. After a while he answered, “Amarillo. It’s four hundred miles.” That was too far; they both felt it. “We’d be better off in a big city, or the mountains,” he added, half to himself. He eyed the hundreds of government vehicles. Maybe he could lift one… Then dismissed the idea. Way too risky. Katie waited.
If the government captured them it would be over for Holmes. The government would want to know why these two lived when everyone else had died. Do you know something? And when they were done with him he would go back to Norman, or prison. He thought about popping the little .380 in his mouth and pulling the trigger…. Except for the light of action, the electrifying prospect of more action when he broke out of here…. And what about this girl? Then, altogether he relaxed and thought he had more reason to be optimistic than to foresee his capture and lights-out…
His thoughts returned—thinking, rationality, not low-level emotion around flight and fighting. They were in Bowie, and the Red River was just up the road to Lawton. They might make their way out in the river valley. And the arroyo would feed to the river—eventually. How far? He didn’t know. But that meant they’d have to go back down, past the arena. Out of the question. The more he considered their position, the more he realized that their only way out was the hardest way out. No rides here, just slogging across the high plains, like the ancestors had to do. Use the cover of night. Back to the elements. They would make it. He knew it.
“We’ll follow along the freeway,” he said, thinking aloud. She turned her head, competely listening. “We’ll follow it west, then find old 81, turn north for the river. We’ll find something. I’ll steal a truck or something.” It was the best he could do. He looked her over. She was ready for anything. “Let’s roll,” he said.
On their bellies they turned around, and he pointed into the black night of wilderness. They moved out, away from the arena of death and government, naked in the elements.